Savannah Morning News
April 30, 2017
Reality bites dnd questions abound in the big apple. All those people in the subway – the ones hanging upside down on the grab handles and grab rails swinging up and around, all for a few bucks. I know I gave; it was great entertainment during the ride on the E train to the Sutphin Boulevard Station, then a 15-minute ride on the Air Train, which brings you to John F. Kennedy Airport. “Take the E,” someone counselled when I was stalling. “It’s got wings.”
But where do all these people live? How can they afford the rent? And what the heck is the language of the newspaper they’re reading or speaking? It reminds me of trips to the Dekalb Farmers Market in Atlanta where I saw roots and shoots I never knew existed.
The sheer diversity. Someone told me this (then I checked it through many sources, not just Wikipedia): there are over 800 languages spoken in New York City. Can you even name 800 countries or ethnic groups or 800 anything? I can’t come close. What do they do there?
This city is different from other big cities. It starts with the instruction at the metro card station, which you have to navigate if you’re going to take the train or the bus. “Dip your card,” it says when you go to buy a metro card. Dipping, explained the Metro man with the Jamaican accent and dreadlocks, has nothing to do with chips or tobacco or bread. Now we dip (kind of like the Passover Seder but not); we don’t swipe. Thank you, I said. Then, maybe because I looked confused or he was feeling generous, he slipped me through the turnstile with a wink. I winked back.
You can spend a lot of money in New York. No question. An average price of a Broadway ticket is upwards of $150. Not that it’s not worth it. Not that I wouldn’t shell out the bucks every time I visit. Of the two plays I saw – “Kinky Boots,” with the heavy hand of the scintillating Cyndi Lauper and a feel good story no matter how you swing (even my conservative dentist liked it), and “Present Laughter,” a Noel Coward production with Kate Burton (Richard Burton’s daughter) and the brilliant Kevin Kline – I said to a friend I could go back the next day and see both of them again. Oh and by the way, there are no bad seats in these beautiful circa early 1920s theaters. There is nothing shabby on Broadway. With hundreds of wannabees waiting in the wings for a chance – and waiting on your table for a tip – producers have their pick of the litter. Everyone in the production is good. They have to be.
And then there’s Sardi’s next door to “Present Laughter.” Yes, it’s still there, still iconic, starting with the professional maître d’ dressed in a suit, a crisp pocket square and an expression of total control. He owns what goes on in that restaurant. The room was brightly lit, adorned with hundreds of caricatures of stars and staffed with professionals who had probably worked there decades.
But not everything has to be expensive. At Horman’s Best Pickles, a third generation stand outside the West 4th Subway Station, a few blocks from Murray’s cheese shop on Bleeker street and the almost-next door bookbook bookstore (yes, that’s the name, bookbook) and a few blocks down from the Independent Film Center that shows nine films a day starting at 10 a.m., a pickle on a stick costs $2. But first you have to choose your pickle. Will it be horseradish, jalapeno or brown mustard spicy? Or one of the classics: new dill, kosher or full sour? Plenty of time to ponder the sign on the table. It read, “Think. Question. Pickle.” I’m not sure I understand the sequence of those three commands – except maybe having to choose puts you in a pickle – but I do understand the pickle. One day I took my pickle on a stick and sat in a nearby pocket park. The tulips are at their peak.
Another visit I sneaked my pickle into the IPC. But not this time. It was too nice outside. This time I walked across the street to the West 4th Street Courts. Leaning against the fence I watched some intense handball matches, sweat flying every which way. Thwack. Thwock. Bare hands for paddles. Whipping here, dipping there. And these guys weren’t young. Next door was the basketball court, equally intense, especially the two lithe and quick women. They fit right in – aggressive, fast, nasty-tongued. A guy I was standing next to told me sometimes players from the NBA show up to shoot hoops in this non-descript, urban corner known as “the cage.” I didn’t need to see any herculean dudes; I was watching the real thing with no time-outs, no substitutions. For nothing. PS You can see some pretty good tennis at Savannah’s Forsyth Park Courts, too, without spending a dime.
It Savannah had some more buses or subways or a fraction of the ethnic groups I might be just as easily entertained here in the low country (minus the large wall advertising in the airport for Daniel Defense firearms, just as you walk up the ramp. When did that slip in? Will our airport do anything for a few advertising dollars? Shameful.) As it is you leave for three days and return to jasmine, honeysuckle, two baby sorrel plants, breezy days with no gnats and our returning cardinals cavorting in the birdbath. Not bad. Not bad at all.