Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Hot town, Summer in the City

Back from a week in New York, which in the hot humid summer is like being inside Fidel Castro’s mouth. I was there to teach a weeklong comedy writing workshop at NYU. All the money that usually goes towards football programs goes to teachers at NYU (which explains why you never see NYU at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl).

Landed late Sunday night so the taxi line was only six miles. Took close to an hour to get a cab. Then I find out I could have called Uber. If that’s true or Google Maps has a shortcut for walking into Manhattan, I’ve stood in my last JFK taxi line. And then there was gridlock traffic at 11:00 at night getting into the city. Was there a Sharknado attack in the Hamptons?

Stayed at the Club Quarters in Midtown, conveniently located near Times Square and the dressbarn. The rooms are somewhat smallish -- MRI tubes with hair dryers.

There was a whole group of Rhodes Scholars staying there so I didn’t feel too stupid not knowing where to insert my card key to activate the elevator.

At midnight Sunday Times Square was still packed. Everyone had their iPhones out taking snapshots. Huckleberries posing in front of Ruby Tuesday’s. I’m guessing none of the Rhodes Scholars were among them, taking selfies in front of the Sunglass Hut.

And the new thing they have at Times Square (well, new to me) are naked girls in body paint taking pictures with tourists (for a fee). They were not getting many takers. They're not exactly the "Statuesques" of Liberty. 

NYU has something like eighty-seven different campuses. It’s the Starbucks of city universities. The senior quad is the subway platform at 14th and Union. My classes were downtown in the Woolworth Building – an easy commute. I just headed to Times Square, past the body painted Courtney Love to the subway and stretched out in air-conditioned comfort. Returning at 5:00 it was the cattle car scene from DR. ZHIVAGO.
I don’t love the heat, but I don’t mind it either. The good news was that no rain was expected. So I get out of class on Monday and it was pouring. Out of nowhere, on every corner, there was a tosspot selling portable umbrellas for $4.00. For $5.00 you can get one that’ll go two blocks before breaking into nine pieces. These must be the same guys who sell printer cartridges. By the time I got to Times Square the rain had subsided. I was curious as to what the body paint girls looked like post downpour – probably what all heavily tattooed Millennials will look like in thirty years – but alas, they were nowhere to be found. I might’ve paid for a picture of that.

The newlyweds, my daughter Annie & Jon, were also in New York for a mini-honeymoon. I said, “Great! We can hang!” For some reason they weren’t keen on that idea, even after I promised to show them some radio stations.

Living in Manhattan has gotten so expensive that enough young people have flooded to Brooklyn to make Brooklyn almost too expensive. As kids keep moving out farther and farther the five boroughs might become six with the addition of Syracuse.

The weather Tuesday and Wednesday was magnificent! Temps in the low 80’s, no humidity or clouds. These are the glorious days when New York really IS the greatest city in the world!

A trip highlight was having dinner with Paul Rudnick. “Line by line, Mr. Rudnick may be the funniest writer for the stage in the United States today.” And that from Ben Brantley of the NEW YORK TIMES who hates everything including raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. It was a super-fun dinner. Paul is a one-man Algonquin Round Table.

You always see big celebrities in Gotham. In the past I’ve spotted Woody Allen, Gilda Radner, Al Pacino, Bernadette Peters, Peter Jennings, Stephen Sondheim, Phoebe Cates, and once stood on a street corner with Mikhail Gorbachev. This trip I saw Gary Thorne, the TV voice of the Orioles in the taxi line and Elizabeth Vargas scarfing down a pizza.

There’s a Hilton “Garden” Inn in Times Square. That’s a very liberal use of the word “garden.” It’s a high-rise hotel jammed in between two other skyscrapers. On the other hand, Madison Square Garden is hardly what you’d call “botanical.”

My wife, Debby arrived on Wednesday night and was not in town an hour before nineteen police cars swooped in and completely closed Sixth Avenue ten yards from our hotel. Some nut driver threw a suspicious package at a police van in Times Square (that turned out to be nothing thank God) and took off down Sixth. This resulted in a seven-hour standoff. DOG DAY AFTER-THEATER.

Saw two Broadway shows that weren’t HAMILTON. FULLY COMMITTED by Becky Mode starring Jesse Tyler Ferguson from MODERN FAMILY. If this were LA, instead of flowers, people would be throwing spec scripts onto the stage. Also saw FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. Danny Burstein was Tevye, although by now everyone in New York has played Tevye except Bartolo Colon.

I had forgotten how little legroom you get in Broadway theaters. It’s like flying Delta.

In Washington Heights a lot of barbershops these days are undercover bars. Easy to spot the residents. They’re the ones with short hair. If anyone wants to do a sitcom about that a good title might be SHEARS.

The heat and humidity returned in full force on Friday. It was Africa Hot, and not just at THE LION KING and BOOK OF MORMON. If I could only body paint shorts and a #NeverTrump wife-beater shirt on myself, that would have been my wardrobe for three days (although where would I put my Metro Card?).

On Saturday there was a big street fair on Broadway. Temps in the high 90’s and nimrods grilling up kielbasas. Smoke and grease to go along with the oppressive heat. The “Glazed and Confused” mini donuts melted into one giant sticky bust of Chris Christie.

Sunday morning we went to Central Park (to see real gardens) and encountered a Triathlon in progress. I thought to myself, “Some of these people have to die before me.” Then I went off to brunch.

That meant the Redeye Grill. Did you know Sunday Blue Laws are still in effect? They weren’t allowed to serve alcohol until noon. I wonder if any barbershops in Washington Heights serve Sunday brunch?

The best part of the week was teaching at New York University. Look for some very sharp and funny new pilots to hit the marketplace soon. Thanks to everyone who showed up Wednesday night for the NYU panel I participated in. Don’t know if I gave great advice but I was able to find the building. And happy to say I walked my 10,000 steps – 1430 a day.

A week is not enough time to do everything you want to do in Fun City. I look forward to my next trip to New York, or as my friend Michael McManus calls it: “Chuck E. Cheese for grown-ups.”

For many more fun travelogues, go here.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

You do know there's a perfectly good train/subway combination that will whisk you into Manhattan for under $10?


Paul S said...

I really enjoyed your travelogue, and I envy you because your writing captures a New York I’ve only ever witnessed on a movie theatre screen. Maybe one fine day, I'll make it there!

Anonymous said...

Ken Said:

"Living in Manhattan has gotten so expensive that enough young people have flooded to Brooklyn to make Brooklyn almost too expensive."

Dude, you're a little behind. There's white folks living in Harlem now. They recently refurbished and created luxury building on Amsterdam where I wouldn't have walked in the daytime 15 years ago. Yes, they have an indoor gym.

Deep in East Harlem now features a "Little Mexico."

Now, you can't be a "starving artist" in Manhattan unless you have rich parents.

The times, they are a-changin'.

Michael said...

Ken, Jim Murray would be proud of you.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken,

Glad you enjoyed New York. As someone who has lived, worked & commuted here everyday for the past 22 years it's changed a lot. Mostly good. It's gotten a little too glitzy & commercial; too mall like but that's everywhere. It's still the best. As you know the best time to visit is in the fall. As I tell everyone who visits: BRING YOUR MONEY.

PS- your "painted Courtney Love" line is an all-timer

Later --LL

Joseph Scarbrough said...

90s is what I have to deal with every summer, and this one has been no exception. The only problem is for the last two or three summers, we've gotten some relief from the heat, in that the heat would last a couple of weeks, then we'd maybe have relief for a couple of weeks, then the heat would return, then the relief would return, in a continuous pattern like that. Not the cast this year, the heat's been relentless, and any relief we've had has been exclusive to maybe a day or two here and there, and that's about it. I've literally been praying for summer to be over.

But, during conditions like this, I can't help but think how bad the casts of M*A*S*H and HOGAN'S HEROES had it when they actually had to work in conditions like this everyday.

Unknown said...

Since you blogged about it, can you now write off on taxes the fee you paid for the pictures with the naked girls in times square?

D. McEwan said...

Dinner with Paul Rudnick. Now that would be fine indeed. I've met him only once, but I love his work. 21 years ago I won an acting award out in Riverside for starring in his hilarious play, I Hate Hamlet. In my acceptance speech I said, "All you need to do to win this award for this play is speak Paul Rudnick's words as written clearly enough to be understood. He won the award."

VincentS said...

You're welcome, Ken. I really enjoyed your free seminar (I'm the over-dressed guy in the suit, second row, aisle seat in the photo). I think you and your colleagues gave great advice, especially along the lines of, "Don't let anything stand in your way." Thanks for answering my question.

cadavra said...

I fly into JFK an average of twice a year, and I've never waited more then 5-10 minutes for a cab. You just got a strange night.

And yes, the Redeye Grill is fabulous.

Pete Grossman said...

Yes! The Red Eye Grill. Used to live near it and had many a party there. Understand it's changed a bit and hope you enjoyed it. And speaking of celeb spottings, saw Brad Garrett one evening at table in the bar area, reading a script.

Bryan Thomas said...

I guess I either go to the wrong places or am not as observant as I thought. I never see celebrities in New York. In fact, I went to New York Comic Con two years ago and didn’t manage to see any the days I was there.