New York City
April 2006

Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday

I had never been to New York. When confessing this to people who know me or read Degenerate Press efforts the reaction is always, “Really?!?
Yes, really. It’s been on the To Do list for a while, but other things kept coming up. In 1996 a bunch of fellow students from the GSU sculpture department went for a gallery and museum trip, but I had just been accepted to a study abroad program in Italy and couldn’t afford both (actually I couldn’t afford either, but that’s another story.)
Since then there have been times of no money and/or no vacation and/or other lame excuses. So when SW pitched the idea and a bunch of degenerates wanted to go I couldn’t think of a reason not to. April 1 we boarded a plane and flew above the fluffiest clouds I've ever seen headed non-stop to Yankeetown.

We arrived at LaGuardia on Saturday afternoon and piled into a van reserved by SW. She had made pretty much all the arrangements and done all the research for our trip this time. SW had read Let’s Go New York City cover to cover and highlighted things she wanted to see, including things in every neighborhood in case we ended up somewhere with a moment to spare. She even had a spreadsheet of what was open when.
For many reasons, I didn’t even Google anything in advance. For me, NYC wasn’t real. It’s sort of like Hollywood, one of those places you hear so much about and see so much of in popular media, populated by characters you know well. Some of these characters themselves are fiction, so the entire place becomes something of a fantasy. I once had a coworker who took his mother to Israel. She was a good Southern Baptist woman and had read about Israel and the surrounding areas every day in her bible, but had a hard time with the idea that these places were real. In her mind, they were equivalent to heaven, places of great importance that can’t actually be visited.
This is how I felt about NYC. Frankly, it had me intimidated. I couldn’t research what I would want to do because there was just too much and none of it could possibly really be there.
So I’m happy to say we kicked its ass.
And it kicked ours in return.

We managed to get to our little boutique hotel, The Da Vinci, without losing any fingers in the baggage carousel. The hotel was a couple blocks from Central Park and Times Square. The rooms were small and the bed was saggy, but it was clean, friendly and centrally located so it was as convenient as anything in the city, i.e. just a short walk, cab or subway ride away from anything you could want to see.

One of the skyscrapers on the same block
as our hotel.

A few blocks down we had our first meal at Da Tommaso, a pricey Italian place with pretty tasty food. I went for grilled sausage with peppers and onions, not bad. Others raved about their pasta dishes. I shared a slice of chocolate cherry cake with the table that was delicious. One espresso later, we were off and running.

Or riding.

No trip to NYC could be complete with out getting lost on the subway, missing a train, finding out you can’t get there from here due to construction, and getting misdirected by a local, all without seeing a moment of daylight. The system is a labyrinth of confusing tunnels, grimy steps and platforms (often smelling of piss) where you can’t get where you think you can and the signs don’t help much unless you already know all the location names and understand the abbreviations and jargon, in which case you probably don't need the signs.

Eventually we found our way to the East Village neighborhood. Funky, punky shops, ethnic restaurants, Irish pubs and sidewalk vendors lined the streets. You could buy everything from Russian worker’s revolution art on T-shirts to glass pipes for smoking weed.

We found our way to the Nuyorican Poets Café, a famous bar for local Puerto Ricans. They were celebrating the life of some famous poet or musician or something. Yeah, I should do some fact-checking, but it was inconsequential because by the time we had gotten lost on the subway, trekked through the neighborhood, stopped for a cocktail, and found the place the street portion of the festival had moved entirely indoors and the bar was crowded to capacity.

So off we went to another bar for a beverage, a place called D.B.A. They have more beers and whiskeys than you could shake a straw at, and a fine courtyard patio for lounging complete with two tables for smokers. (One of the many things I love about New York is the lack of indoor smokers. I wish Atlanta would see the light on this issue. It was wonderful to go into a crowded room and not have my eyes burn, then return to the hotel at nights and not reek like hell!)

Then we trekked back around the corner to Mama’s Food Shop, a tiny little soul food place with servings large enough for 2-3 meals. But the food was so damn good I couldn’t help but eat it all. Perfect fried chicken and the best zucchini I’ve ever had. Most of their vegetables are vegan but they do a great job making them delicious even without a hunk of pork fat. And all that for about $9 – a steal in New York prices.

Portraits of mothers adorn the walls and the furniture is homey and comfortable. If I lived in the neighborhood I'd eat there every other day.

I noticed many flower stands everywhere we walked. Perhaps the locals in their man-made environment need that little bit of nature brought into their lives?

We returned to the hotel to get snazzied up and stopped by the bar/restaurant in the basement for one for the road. Others in our group had dined there for dinner and raved. The lovely Argentinean bartender was friendly and they had a fair selection of drinks so it was a good place to meet before heading off in search of more entertainment.

The Slipper Room had burlesque on Saturdays, but I wouldn’t recommend it for the show itself. The room was too small for the crowd and the stage too low to actually see any of the action once people began to crowd around. Standing on my toes, I was able to glimpse the top of the heads of some performers. Others in our group stood on the rungs of a barstool to catch a bit of one of the acts but the place was crammed with people obviously there because it was the place to be, not because they were interested in the show.
On the up side, my absurd polyester attire did generate plenty of compliments and conversations, including being hit on by a couple of drunk girls, one of whom insisted on wearing sunglasses at night. I spotted this affectation by several people over the course of the weekend so we may have this season’s stupid fashion trend.
The Slipper Room got more crowded and loud and pointless so we slipped out to hop from bar to bar, trying to find a place where we could actually order a drink and stand around to enjoy it. But on a lovely Saturday night in a trendy neighborhood we found nothing but sardine-can conditions.

I was determined to find something so I scouted around the block and found Schiller’s Liquor Bar with tables and a small bar that wasn’t too crowded. We had a few minutes wait and got a table for all of us. The drinks were a bit pricey – $9.50 for “specialty drinks” such as the fresh lemonade with vodka and muddled strawberries that some of our gang enjoyed.

The décor was fantastic, all white tile and industrial looking fixtures, sort of like a forgotten subway stop or the kitchen of a 1930’s insane asylum. Some of the gang stepped out for smokes, leaving me with the only non-smoker, SW. No, not “my” SW, another degenerate with the same initials. I tried to avoid subjects that would bore most people, such as the geeky games I and other friends enjoy, but she insisted on details so the conversation was about as uncool as it could possibly be in such a swinging bar, or swinging town for that matter.

Ah well.

We stopped by a hotdog place, a little counter tucked in between bars and restaurants somewhere along the route back to the hotel. I wasn’t brave enough to get a dog from a street vendor over the weekend, but others did and lived to tell about it.

Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday

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