One day in particular brought me to New York City, for a series of social events. It's the sort of day that has its own momentum. You spend a few weeks doing a lot of arranging and organizing so that when the day itself comes it just carries you along.
I remain enamored of New York City, I think more so with each passing year. There is just so much there, so much cultural resonance in the streets and so much social history in the architecture and so many people to watch and so much wonderful food to eat.
My NYC day was the Sunday before Christmas. I was staying with my parents in New Jersey, so I made my father get up and drive me to the train station in Red Bank. After all these years and all these trips, I still love taking the train. I love the historic Red Bank train station, and I love the sights of suburbs and decaying NJ industrial cities you see on the trip to Penn Station, and mostly I love sitting on the train and not having to drive -- I read magazines and doze off for a little and feel very old-fashioned. And then you get to Penn Station, where every single time you arrive you can mourn anew at the destruction of the original building. Throughout the new Penn Station you can now see a display of photographs of the original Penn Station, interior and exterior. It must have been a grand arrival into a grand city, back in the day when New York was the City of Dreams. Now you arrive in a scary hot sub-basement of train tracks, where you emerge to find a crowded long walk to a confusing indoor characterless concourse.
I was heading to NYC for the annual gathering of a group of my college friends, mostly from the Brown Band but not entirely. This year the gathering was at my friend Alan's, where I'd be staying the night. Alan lives at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, which is an easy subway ride from Penn Station. Despite the heat and confusion and general chaos, I do love the subway. It's that historical resonance thing I mentioned. By pre-determination, I arrived an hour before the scheduled start of the party to meet up with my college friends Bill (visiting from Boston) and Liz and her husband Dave (visiting from DC) at the area around the South Street Seaport. They had already been to the Seaport Museum, so we just went to the big shopping mall on the dock and walked up to the empty food court at the East River side of the top floor, in a landing with windows on three sides. Despite the mallification of this area, it really is a grand view up and down the River. We sat and chatted and caught up about our jobs before walking over to Alan's, where I announced over the intercom that the percussion section had arrived -- which was true, with me Liz and Bill all together. Ok, so it's been thirty years, but it's still an identity.
In time about 16 or so people arrived, including some of the now-in-college-themselves kids of the attendees. This party is always a very happy time for me, as I'm surrounded by people who've been with me, in one sense or another, for a very long time. There are always very serious things going on in various lives (people getting elected mayor of their town, teenage children winning awards for filmmaking) and there's always lots of food and the time moves by so fast it's as if the film is playing at the wrong speed.
The party broke up shortly before dinner, at which point my friend Bill joined me to take a bus through the Lower East Side to meet up with theoctothorpe for dinner in what I think is actually the East Village. We got off the bus about 10 blocks early so that we could stroll up 2nd (1st?) Avenue, which was absolutely lined with so many restaurants that I wanted to try that I was overwhelmed. We met theoctothorpe at a sort of new age Asian fusion noodle house with astonishing and unusual dishes. I really should write these things down, or at least write about them immediately, because at this point I can remember neither the restaurant name nor what I ate. But I remember being delighted. I told Bill in advance (when it looked as if we might be joined by bearfuz as well) that we were meeting people for dinner he would definitely be friends with if they lived in the same city. I still think I was correct about this, as it turns out that Bill and Christopher have professional contacts and connections far beyond what I even predicted. In any case, it was a fine time. Then we walked over to Max Brenner's Hot Chocolate Restaurant on 2nd Avenue for more conversation. My chocolate drink was dark chocolate with coconut flavoring, which tasted like a melted liquid Mounds bar.
After the hot chocolate we bid goodbye to Bill and headed off to the New York Eagle in Chelsea. (Did we really walk across town? I think so.) Once again, I so love love love walking through the streets of New York and imagining the life of the old town houses and apartment buildings. On the way to the Eagle (on W 28th, practically on the Hudson) we passed an amazing apartment complex so large and overwhelming I can't believe I'd never noticed it before: The London Terrace Gardens, which takes up an entire city block between 9th and 10th avenues and 23rd and 24th streets. It's just massive. It was built in 1929-1930 with 1665 apartments. It was built on the site of one of the British-style streets of row houses that were popular in NYC in the early 1800s, which is where it took its name. I just couldn't take in the enormity of the building -- which, apparently, was not a big success at first, opening as it did just at the beginning of the depression. It went into foreclosure in 1934, a circumstance that caused its developer to jump off the building to his death. Cool, eh?
Here's a picture of a portion of the 23rd Street Frontage of London Terrace Gardens:
It was certainly a great time, going to the Eagle with Christopher, but as he himself noted to me at the end of the evening, for some reason it was not a night to meet and talk to strangers. It's hard to say why, although of course Christopher himself is enough of an attraction for anybody.
Around midnight Christopher had to head home to CT. I had no particular reason to get up early the next day so I took a taxi to my old favorite haunt, Marie's Crisis Cafe in Sheridan Square. The taxi driver had no idea where Sheridan Square was (if you can believe it) so we headed in the direction of Greenwich Village and when we got to the corner of Hudson and Christopher I asked him to let me out. It was a rainy dark night, and I was disoriented in terms of direction at first (which is pretty scary after midnight), but I found my way and walked into Marie's Crisis where the staff and regulars (the diehards still hanging on after midnight on a weeknight) all recognized me from previous visits. The spirit was wonderful, as the evening faded, and I stayed until the bar closed at 3am. What fun.
I took a taxi back to Alan's for the night. He went off to work in the morning before I got up, but his 14 year old son was quite the host in the morning. So I caught up with Gavin then headed back to Penn Station -- thence to NJ to spend Christmas Eve with the Murphy family.
It was a great 24 hours.
[Update: Lots of great info about the London Terrace Gardens can be found here: http://www.nyc-architecture.com/CHE/CHE023-LondonTerrace.htm]