Ah, New York. The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps. Home of street-corner hot dog and crack vendors. I’d always wanted to experience the sights and sounds of New York City but never had the chance until recently, when I embarked on a trip courtesy of the good people at MasterCard (who, I’m guessing, will probably want that money back at some point).
I was accompanied by my friend Sam. Many people wanted to go with me, but Sam eventually won out by proving he was the one friend I had who could actually afford to go.
And this is our story.
We had previously supposed that taxis were smelly and in disrepair. Turns out this is only true of the drivers. The cabs themselves are in pretty decent condition. I was disappointed, as I had hoped to tell harrowing stories of driving with maniacs at 90 mph in hostile traffic conditions. I can still tell those stories, but they all take place on University Parkway in Provo.
After a 45-minute drive, we arrived at the Arlington Hotel near the corner of 25th Street and Broadway. We had decided upon this hotel because it was recommended by Sam’s friend David, whom we quickly learned never to trust again. Aside from David’s recommendation, though, it was also only $99 a night and thus the cheapest place to stay in Manhattan, including park benches.
We were on the 11th floor, attainable by riding the world’s slowest elevator. Our shower delivered hot water arbitrarily and capriciously, usually making it too hot to bear, except between 8 and 10 a.m., when it was ice cold because everyone else in the hotel was taking their showers, too.
The Arlington was truly a melting pot, and typical of New York in general. It was owned and run by Chinese people, although not everyone who is Chinese actually speaks Chinese, which we learned when Sam tried it on the guy at the front desk and was met with a blank stare. The Chinese folks also run the adjacent Taste Good Chinese Restaurant (“It really taste good!” is what we imagined their slogan to be). Many of the guests were French, which made us wonder why the showers were so busy, and the maids were Hispanic. Sam and I were very, very white.
The New York experience
We wanted to know how far our hotel was from the Theater District, where we’d be spending a lot of time. So at 11 a.m. on our first morning in New York, we walked up Broadway toward Times Square.
This was an educational experience, as it gave us a good taste of New York. Basically, everything you’ve heard about it is true. There are A LOT of people. Taxis outnumber regular cars 10-to-one. Everyone honks all the time, for no apparent reason, perhaps as a mating call. People walk fast, except the tourists, who walk slow.
There are newsstands, full of newspapers and pornography, at nearly every corner. (Pornography flows through the streets of New York like water.) The city is covered with trash. Everyone smokes. There is not a single public restroom. Few people are outwardly, aggressively rude; they’re mostly apathetic, acting rudely only if you do something intolerable to them first, such as speaking to them.
Another thing about New Yorkers: They’re ugly. Seriously, it was rare for us to see someone of either gender who was at all attractive – rare enough to make it worth mentioning when we did see it. Seeing a beautiful woman walk down the street was far more impressive to us than, say, the Statue of Liberty (not that Lady Liberty isn’t beautiful in her own way).
The walk to Times Square didn’t take very long, and we enjoyed the trip. But, being lazy, we bought subway passes for future use. You can get one-week unlimited passes for $17, which turned out to be quite a bargain, and we learned the subway system as well as it is possible to learn the subway system (i.e., not at all).
We also purchased a good street map of Manhattan. This proved to be an invaluable (by which I mean valuable) part of our vacation. I would sooner have left the hotel without pants than without that map.
Anyway, the subways aren’t quite as nice as the taxis, but they’re not horrible, either. They do smell funny, and they’re not exactly clean. Also, we once saw a man relieving himself on a subway track, which is something you generally would not see in a taxi. My first thought was, “Why would a person do this?” But my second thought was, “Why WOULDN’T a person do this?” My third thought was, “I’m hungry.”
Eating in New York
We had been advised by Sam’s friend David not to eat at any restaurants near Times Square, because they are too expensive. Again, just as with his recommendation of the Arlington Hotel, David failed us. We found plenty of reasonably priced places all around the Theater District, and we vowed not to listen to David anymore, although we later broke that vow and had to remake it again, after which we again rebroke it.
Here’s what we learned about restaurants in New York: They don’t care. They’re not even interested in bringing you your food. They just want your money. The servers are like Halley’s Comet: If you’re lucky, and if you time it just right, you might see them twice in your life. But three times? Forget it, Hector.
Once we ate in a Vietnamese restaurant that, in its entirety, was smaller than my apartment — and I live in a BYU-approved apartment OK’d for six tenants, so you know it’s tiny — and yet we still received bad service. It’s an epidemic in that city, and I suggest Mayor Rudolph Guiliani do something about it, now that he’s swept the hookers out of Times Square.
Oh, yeah, Times Square
Apparently, Times Square used to be full of prostitutes, depravity and moral decay, but Mayor Guiliani has cleaned up the place. Now Disney has two Broadway shows and a huge merchandise store there, and while Times Square is still offensive, it is now offensive for different reasons. For one thing, Disney has two Broadway shows and a huge merchandise store there. For another thing, “Cats” is still running, despite being a stupid show about cats.
Sam expressed disappointment that Times Square was not actually a literal square, but this seemed like such an odd complaint that I chose not to even mention it in this article.
We wanted to see “The Lion King,” as it had been recommended by everyone (not just David, or else we would have doubted it). Naturally, it is impossible to see the show. It is so popular, in fact, that no one can get tickets to it, which makes me wonder how anyone is able to recommend it, since no one can seen it.
Anyway, a few of the shows we did see:
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” Every high school on Earth has performed this show at some point, as mandated by law. It was revived on Broadway in January, and we enjoyed it a lot, more than we thought we would. It’s a charming, funny show, far surpassing the old and tired comic strip upon which it is based and which has apparently been written by humorless robots for the last 15 years.
“Rent.” This is a Gen-X rock opera about a bunch of Gen-Xers in New York, none of whom have jobs and most of whom have AIDS. They sing joyfully of “La Vie Boheme” (literally, “It’s Fun to be Unemployed and Dying”). The point of the show is that you should seize the moment and think about today, never worrying about tomorrow. This is a fine attitude, I guess, except that seizing the moment without regard for tomorrow is more or less how all the characters wound up in the situations they’re in to begin with. But I guess a musical about responsible people who try to make something of their lives would be boring.
“Miss Saigon.” This is a very popular musical from the team of French guys who brought us “Les Miserables.” It’s about an American soldier in Vietnam who impregnates a local girl before getting shipped home. Only he doesn’t know about the whole pregnancy thing until he gets word three years later that she has a little boy (played by a little girl). So the soldier heads back to Saigon to see what he needs to do, and I won’t spoil the ending, but I will tell you that a certain character gets shot in the head by herself, and the whole thing ends up pretty depressing. Also, if you get the $15 seats, you’ll be surrounded by other cheap people who see no reason why they shouldn’t talk through the whole show.
“Les Miserables.” This is a very popular musical from the team of French guys who brought us “Miss Saigon.” It’s a very long show, based on a very long book that deals with one of France’s many internal revolutions. (Most of France’s wars have been fought against France, because France knows that France is the only country it can beat.) A fellow named Jean Valjean steals some bread, goes to prison, gets out, lies to everyone, and becomes a hero. In the meantime, there’s a revolution, and pretty much everyone gets killed, and it’s really inspiring. I guess you’d have to see it.
It really is a great show, though. The night we were there, it got a standing ovation, and New York audiences don’t hand those out like Halloween candy, the way Utah audiences do. That alone was impressive.
One morning, we took the subway down to Battery Park, named after the misdemeanor that is committed most often there, from which the Liberty Island ferries depart. Battery Park was bustling with tourists and schoolkids on field trips. It was also bustling with guys with Caribbean accents selling Rolex watches. Many of these Rolex watches were going for as little as $20, which Sam and I considered to be quite a bargain. How in the world does Rolex make any money, selling their watches for so little money?! we wondered.
Neither of us needed a watch, so we headed for the line to get on the ferry. Sam’s increasingly inaccurate friend David had said the ferry to Liberty Island was free, but after standing in line for 20 minutes or so, we noticed that the other people were holding tickets. Sam stayed in line while I ran to buy tickets, which I learned were a mere $7 apiece. We cursed David’s name yet again and swore we would never follow another bit of advice from him (which we did anyway).
While we waited for the ferry, we were entertained by a guy playing the steel drum. He played — I am not kidding here — “Greensleeves,” followed immediately by the theme from “The Addams Family.” I had thought I would go my entire life without hearing “Greensleeves” on the steel drum, but New York is a place where many dreams are fulfilled.
We got on the ferry and rode to the island. The man telling us things about the statue kept referring to it as “the monument,” as opposed to “her” or “she,” which was unfortunate, because I would like to have heard statements like, “No smoking inside the woman.”
We didn’t go up inside the woman, mostly because the line was too long, but also because so what, you know? I mean, it’s more impressive to look at her from the outside. The funny thing about Liberty Island was that there was a guy whose entire job was tell people to keep it movin’. He stood on the shore as we exited the ferry and just kept saying, “All right, move a little faster down the gangplank. Keep walking. Use both lanes. Move a little faster.” He wasn’t even trying to be nice about it. We got a kick out of him, and rest assured, we kept moving.
We poked around the island for a minute and then got back on the ferry and headed back to Battery Park. By the time we got there, it was raining heavily. Sam had an umbrella with him; I, on the other hand, lacked such foresight, and when my umbrella was ruined by a powerful storm in Philadelphia in January 1995, I neglected to replace it, apparently thinking I would never be in the rain again. Fortunately, the Rolex guys had turned into umbrella guys, and I bought one for $5.
Our first visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, was cut short by the fact that the museum was closed by the time we got there. We went back another time, though, and spent two hours in the place, barely getting through half of it. Sam enjoyed it more than I did. This is because I have no sense of culture or beauty.
We also went to the Museum of Modern Art, which is essentially the same as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is full of paintings of naked people and sculptures of naked people and ancient tools crudely fashioned by naked people.
We are confident that New York has some kind of night life. Sam and I generally sat in the hotel room, wishing our feet didn’t hurt. One night, we watched “2001: A Space Odyssey” on TV and learned it is the most over-rated film in history. Note to Stanley Kubrick (and yes, I realize he won’t receive this): Just because no one understands you doesn’t mean you’re an artist.
(Note to Herald readers: Could you please organize yourselves so that only ONE of you sends me a nasty e-mail objecting to my assessment of “2001”? Have that person speak on behalf of the group, and it will save us all a lot of time.)
Empire State One on particularly gorgeous day, we thought it would be a good time to go to the top of the Empire State Building. Unfortunately, about a million other people had the same idea, and the line was too long, so we didn’t go.
This concludes my report on the Empire State Building.
Manhattan is just one of five “boroughs” that comprise New York City; the others are the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and New Jersey.
Manhattan itself is also sub-divided into little villages. For example, there’s Greenwich Village, a pleasant little community full of restaurants, theaters, and homosexuals. There’s also SoHo, which is where the artists hang out, and where there are a ton of art galleries and pretentious people. It’s a lot like L.A.
Two of Manhattan’s most famous areas, of course, are Chinatown and Little Italy. Visiting Chinatown was very much like walking down a Chinese city street, according to Sam, who has spent time in China, Taiwan and parts of Jupiter. Everyone walked really slow, though, which vexed me no end. The place needed that “keep it movin'” guy from the Statue of Liberty.
Little Italy was a little disappointing. We had wanted to eat in a small Italian cafe such as where Mafiosos might hang out, but we could find no such place. Little Italy looked like the rest of Manhattan, except that the shopowners were slightly more Italian than in the rest of the city.
And that was the trip. New York is a living cliche: Everything you’ve heard about it is true. It really is the way it’s portrayed on TV and in the movies. And the people seem to know they’re living in “NEW YORK.” It’s not like it’s no big deal because it’s just their hometown; it IS a big deal, and they know it.
I think people are proud to be from New York. People love New York. Heck, I love New York, and I’ve only just met the place. I’m going back sometime, as soon as I can convince The Daily Herald to send me there on assignment, since I’m sure MasterCard will be of no further help.
I took this trip in April, but it didn't occur to me until August that I could write a funny (and really long) column about it for The Daily Herald.
This ran as a feature story, not as an official "Snide Remarks," but it's as "Snide Remarks" as anything I've ever seen. Daily Herald photo wiz Robert Johnson created some very cool pictures to run with it, too, including one of me as the Statue of Liberty. (These pictures seem to have disappeared in one of this site's redesigns.)
The day the article ran, I received a phone call from a Provo resident who was a New York native who took great offensive at the article. In particular, he didn't like it when I said New Yorkers are ugly (which they are). He asked how I would like it if he made fun of Utah, and I said I would have no problem with that, and that I do it all the time myself. This vexed him, and he went away.