Savannah Morning News column
April 10, 2015
Distance. It’s a wonderful thing to have when you visit another city, when you don’t know the players in city hall, when you don’t have to choose up sides and you don’t have a dog in a fight, any fight, pick a fight. You just walk and laugh and take what comes.
At least that’s the way it is in New York City, the ultimate walking city where there’s no such thing as getting lost, where no one will even give you a chance to get lost. Anyone who sees you studying a subway map, holding the folded and wrinkled outline of the city every which way, will stop and ask where you’re trying to go, and that’s before someone else stops by to offer an opinion and give you a better way.
It pays to travel light (and not just because of hauling your luggage up and down the multitude of knee-challenging, concrete subway steps) because nothing you could want is too far away. Colder than you thought it would be? Stop along the way, pop into a shop and buy a hat in the shape of a mohawk. Five dollars. Forget your sunglasses? (And it can be bright in New York.) Stop, look around, pick out a new pair of shades. Six dollars, the vendor says. But will you take five, you ask. Sure. Fi’ dolla, no holla.
Hungry along the way but you don’t want to stop because it’s a beautiful (bright) day with the bluest sky possible? Aha. There’s a food cart on the corner selling pickles and olives stored in barrels. Garlic-stuffed pickles, new pickles, old pickles, sour pickles, horseradish pickles, black olives, green olives, blue-cheese olives, brine olives. Five dollars. What a concept: food vendors with posted licenses, permits and photo ID badges. You can eat while you walk or you wait to find a pocket park with benches.
And when you exit the Met Breuer building (the old Whitney Museum of Art) at Madison and 75th and you think, “I’m in the mood for a knish,” bingo, there it is, right in front of you, a stand selling knishes. With mustard, of course.
Then, when you’re about to go to a showing of “City of Gold,” a sumptuous movie at the IFC Center about a prolific and daring food critic in Los Angeles, Jonathan Gold, well, you know you’re going to need a wee bit of a snack because dinner at the Pearl Oyster Bar on Cornelia Street is hours away. That’s when you stumble into Faicco’s on Bleeker Street, where one dollar buys you a fried risotto ball, maybe the best (okay, the only) one you’ve ever had in your life. In fact, you wake up the next morning thinking of this risotto ball because it’s got that “morish” taste, as in “I need more.” And that’s when you have your first NYC dilemma: to cross 6th Avenue to the Waverly Restaurant, the quintessential 24-hour diner that has the same trio of venerable indoor potted plants in its window (avocado, Easter lily and spathiphyllum) that it had last year and the year before and the same reliable service – or return to Faicco’s on Bleeker Street for that risotto ball.
Except then you remember you are meeting friends at Tom’s in Brooklyn. Tom’s is another old-timey corner restaurant from 1936. It sits a few blocks from the Brooklyn Museum, which houses Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” (an epic piece of feminist art) and the Brooklyn Botanical Museum, boasting bonsai plants that are hundreds of years old.
Tom’s is the kind of restaurant that calls you back. Maybe it’s the freshly cut sections of orange the waiter was passing around. It never hurts to be nice to your customers (why don’t other restaurants know this?) or the hand-cut crispy hash browns or the leisurely way they let you stay at your table to talk, café-style.
But NYC is like that. It lets you talk. It encourages you to talk. People sit up and take notice. Even the d.j. at Henrietta Hudson, a cool West Village dance bar where a friend of mine bartends. When the d.j. saw us dancing she left her post to join in. Age be damned.
It’s noisy (the whining warning those trucks make when backing up: oy; enough already). Housing is expensive (more than I could wrap my arms – or my wallet – around). It’s competitive (there’s a writer and an actor every five feet). But it’s alive (even the plastic bags caught and flying in the trees have a certain beauty) and it’s unpredictable (like that facial I got at the JFK airport; perfect timing). New York is a hoot.