This is Saturday

I’m starting today’s tale whilst seated on a moderately comfortable display fixture in Old Navy on 34th Street. Kay is in her element and I doubt she’ll be sated for a while. And it’s snowing outside.

An un-hurried, and if I’m being truthful, very slightly hungover morning saw us out on Times Square at 09:30. Last night in the Heartland Brewery had been really enjoyable; great steak (not to mention the Caesar salad!) and even better beer – if really expensive. I’d had pints (US pints which are slightly smaller than the Imperial variety) of their stout and their porter – both really tasty and in the region of 6.5% strengthwise. Each had a price tag of, as I recall, $4.68 plus tax. Kay had started off with a raspberry cider (ordinary cider with flavoured liqueur) which she really enjoyed, follow by the Heartland sampler rack of six 5oz beers. Truth be told, I suspect that was ordered more with me in mind, and I ended up finishing most of them after Kay had had a good sample. With tax and obligatory tip, we came away about £75 lighter, but I’d count it as a good night.

Heartland Beer

This morning the original plan had been to get a hop-on-hop-off tour bus ticket, but frankly, the TripAdvisor reviews, among other factors put me off. Chief among the ‘other factors’ being the fact it is the annual NYC St Patrick’s Day parade today, north along Fifth Avenue from 44th Street. This would undoubtedly cause traffic chaos and I reasoned it would be bound to cause the tour to be curtailed somewhat. Turns out the parade was going to have an effect on our day, but in many ways, that was all part of the plan.

Still a bit ‘tight’ from yesterday’s walking, we set a more modest goal of aiming for the area of the parade start and taking it from there. We duly set off and were quickly in step with a modest trickle of emerald-green clad revellers, which later became a mass. We sought respite in a Starbucks on 46th Street and watched events in the street outside. A marching band from Staten Island primped and preened their uniforms in readiness for their spot in the parade, and ever more (most teenaged) attendees trooped past. The SBs was fairly quiet when we went in, allowing us to bag a window seat. It quickly got busy, with patrons including an NYPD beat cop taking his break, and a Long Beach (not sure which Long Beach) firefighter in his dress uniform prepared for the parade with a coffee with his family.

By the time we set off, via the adjacent NHL Store, even Sixth Ave was manic. All the cross streets toward Fifth Ave were blocked off and cops were limiting those who could even walk up to Fifth. Then a bolt of inspiration struck: All things considered, there was a good chance the parade would limit those wanting to go up to the “Top of the Rock” (the 68th floor observation deck of the Rockefeller Center). Turns out I was spot on, and having coughed up our $25 each, we were pretty much straight up. Even better, the cloud was high enough for occasional weak sun and a cracking view. Within half an hour up there, however, the cloud dropped and the snow started. It was quite remarkable that there was little wind, and while I wouldn’t say it was warm up there, it was completely bearable.

Though not as high as the Empire State Building, there are thee floors and quite a lot of open air space to view from. Plus, being that further north, the views of midtown and Central Park are much better. All-in-all a good decision and really enjoyable.

St Patrick's Day parade on Fifth Ave from Top of the Rock

We had the odd glimpse of the parade from up there, and could even hear the marching bands at some times. When we descended, after a brief pause in a sandwich shop to buy lunch, we were hit by Irishness in full force. A tide of green was pushing, shoving, shouting, singing, and cavorting – in no particular direction, and a full block from the parade. We found an oasis of calm in the form of a bank frontage with security guard keeping order, and a.lowing tourists respite to sit and eat their lunch on the wall of the ornamental reflecting pond. We watched the chaos from the other side of the street before pressing on once more.

We ventured into no man’s land between Sixth & Fifth Ave, being allowed through. Y a coupon the grounds we were visiting City Sports (best value T shirts in NYC or Boston). While we were in there one of the shop assistants exclaimed “oh my god there’s a fight right outside the store!” The assistant who served us was most concerned and even offered to let us out the back door! Turns out the “fight” was handbags-at-twenty-paces, almost literally as the antagonists were three girls.

At the end of the street we joined the periphery of the throng long enough to watch a few bands march past (this was two hours after it set off and still around the point it started – such is the volume (in both senses) of those who take part.

By now Kay was in need of a restroom, which, it seemed, were several hundred parade watchers. We found the toilets in the Rockefeller Center and Kay joined the queue, which was dutifully marshalled by a female security guard. The queue snaked past an entrance, so the guard enforced a gap so as not to block it. Two unsuspecting and evidently naieve ladies failed to notice the queue and promptly entered the toilet – to howls, snarls and shrieks from the ladies behind them! I think Kay was one of the loudest! They quickly realised their error and sheepishly went to the back.

That mission of mercy dealt with, we scoured the NBC Studio Store for bargains, but completely failed to find any.

We’d had enou of the madness surrounding the parade by then, so fought our way down to the subway and took the D Train two stops south to 34th Street. The snow was much heavier now, but as the forecasters had predicted this morning, showed no sign of settling. Nevertheless, the hundred yards or so we walked along 34th Street was into the teeth of a blizzard, and Old Navy formed a welcome respite from the weather.

The D Train

Right, I’ve typed all that and still no sign of Kay. Best go and see what the damage is!

 

Later…

I found Kay totally absorbed in her quest. Unfortunately, Old Navy failed to attract her custom, but it really wasn’t for the want to trying. I, on the other hand, did see fit to invest in a new pair of jeans and a T shirt – I know how to push the boat out!

We ventured further along 34th Street, and found Lenny’s – yet another chain of deli/fast food eateries, who sorted us out with coffee and root beer respectively (though Kay’s request for root beer blew the guy’s mind as he thought she was asking for rude beer!). 

As we exited Lenny’s – across the road from the now deserted Border’s at Madison Square Garden – one of the parade attendees was brazenly relieving himself in plain view on the corner of the shop. There’d been two cops having a coffee in their a few minutes earlier, but unfortunately they’d gone on their way. It’s a wonder the shop owners didn;t come out with a baseball bat – it was that blatant! 

Next stop K-Mart, and more shop-fixture sitting. It’s all in a good cause as, after all, this was part of why we came here. Back out of the street and the snow was still coming down hard – but still no sign of it settling. As we walked north on Seventh Avenue, back toward Time Square, the parade attendees were streaming south. Many were drunk and, frankly, obnoxious. One member of a group of youths walking towards us quite deliberately shoulder-barged a small Asian man walking in front of us with his wife. Of course, the “guys” all thought it hilarious, and the man simply looked round at them, totally bewildered. The behaviour we witnessed (and it’s still only 17:00) makes me feel sorry for the Irish in general and New York Irish in particular. These arseholes aren’t Irish, they’re arrogant drunk Americans who have a pack mentality – but give the Irish a bad name.

We’re back in the room for a refresh and to let some of the madness outside subside – hopefully – but it’s Saturday night in midtown Manhattan, so I’m not optimistic of too much sanity!

Midtown Madness

First Full Day

Despite being cream-crackered last night, this morning we both woke full of beans before the alarm – though given our bodies believed it to be gone 10am, that’s to be expected. We surveyed our domain in the daylight, noting that some office workers were at their desks across the road admirably early, and that the tourists cognate damn early in TImes Square. It was only much later that we realised that where most of the crowds were congregating was the studios of ABC’s Good Morning America – the ground floor studio deliberately using the crowds as a backdrop.

Despite our relatively early wakening, it was 09:00ish that we hit the streets. Plan for the morning was to follow Broadway and see where we end up. It was slow progress at first, with plenty of photo stops and, hush my mouth, diversions into clones shops. Not that I’ve any real cause for concern, this is New York and while Kay’s inside ‘window’ shopping, there’s an entire city’s worth of activity to keep me entertained.

We’d not even cleared Times Square when Kay was accosted by Elmo from Sesame Street. Well, it might be the other way round, but a photo was definitely posed for. Times Square is literally infested with cartoon characters, few of whom actually remotely resemble the character they are supposed to be and certainly don’t carry and form of licensing approval. To illustrate the point, I don’t recall either Buzz Lightyear nor Woody being drawn with large pouches marked “tips”. Elmo didn’t get a tip, and whilst the costume masked the exact words, the syllables used as we departed didn’t sound like the sort of dialogue that Jim Henderson would have written!

Elmo Accosted

Morning coffee was taken at Cafe Metro at Broadway and 36th St. It was just beyond there that we happened across the Manhattan Mall and the J.C.Penny store which occupied Kay for the best part of an hour. Still not complaining. Honestly. The Ron Johnson reference at the bottom of the last post refers to the former VP of Retail at Apple who is now head honcho at JCP. The word is he isn’t settling in well with the locals and the most visible innovation he has brought to the chain thus far is the aforementioned free WiFi – which it has to be said is not really part of the the chain’s way of working.

We continued along Broadway and into the greenery of Madison Square Park (quite distinct from the Garden of the same name!). A mutant squirrel, whose fur was a bizarre shade of ginger, sat and posed for us. Its contempt for the lack of reward for its ‘performance’ was as palpable as that of Elmo earlier!

Mutant squirrel

Lunch called and it was provided by Hill Country Chicken, a ‘homely’ diner/fast food place which was evidently popular with students/young locals in particular. We both had a ‘chickwich’ and I added the cheesy fried mashed potatoes to mine. A meal without chips, goodness me! What we had was extremely pleasant, if a little on the stingy, and maybe slightly over-priced, side. Still, I’d recommend the place – just order two!

Back out on Broadway, the ‘vibe’ of the street changes discernibly almost block-by-block as it progresses south. Kay commented on the number of ‘dress’ jewellery shops and even more prevalent ‘wholesale’ perfume suppliers. Legit? maybe. Well protected? definitely.

Next stop was Union Square, where the regular fruit & fresh produce market was in full swing, along with various ‘art’ sellers, ongoing games of street chess, and a very small anti-capitialism demo which was attracting considerable numbers of New York’s Finest to supervise. Our target was Strand Books, just south of Union Square. This is a well renowned bookstore, mainly selling ‘second user’ books, but chock full of a mind-bogglingly large inventory of reading. It would take a full day to browse properly, but we were both starting to feel the effects of our walk – even if it had, nominally at least, been a mere two miles.

Back to Union Square and we went down to the Subway to get a brace of Metro Cards to service our transport needs for the week. The Friday rush was in full effect and working our way down to the platform for the 6 train (Lexington Ave local to Pelham Parkway – I hope it didn’t leave at 1.23pm!) involved a minor amount of superficial jostling. A recorded announcement on the train to the effect that ‘soliciting money’ was illegal and passengers were urged not to give to beggars, was the prelude to our in-journey entertainment. A middle-aged African American boarded at 23rd St and began ‘crooning’ loudly. To be fair, he wasn’t tuneless, but his performance was quickly curtailed by his manifesto that he wasn’t begging he was entertaining the public and payment for his ‘service’ was quite reasonable. Amazingly (well, I was amazed) a preppy-student looking youth handed over a handful of change.

We got off at Grand Central and on reaching the street, we were briefly disoriented insofar as deciding which way we needed to go on 42nd Street. Kay very sensibly suggested we find the nearest coffee establishment – regardless of direction – and work it out from there. As it happened, the direction we set off in was correct and we found ourselves in Grand Central Terminal itself. We went down to the food court in the naive belief that it would be there that we’d find a coffee type place. As it is, they’re all fast food concessions, but we eventually found an Italian place (with surly server) who provided us with what we sought. We sat and discussed our onward options, with a homeless guy fast asleep on one side, and two guys who looked like they were on someone’s clock, fast asleep at a table on the other side. Nice work.

I agreed that I wouldn’t drag Kay around the Grand Central Apple Store, so the compromise was that she stood and people-watched in the terminal while I had a quick wander around the sprawling but hugely impressive store. Like a good many others, I spent a little while taking photos from the balcony, trying to capture the frenetic activity of Friday evening commuters heading home.

Grand Central

Back to the room to catch our breath (exaggeration) and rest our weary feet (no exaggeration) before heading back out in the evening chaos of Times Square. Kay’s eyes boggled as we encountered the infamous Naked Cowboy busking outside the hotel (he keeps his y-fronts on – this is America!). He certainly attracts the crowds though.

Naked Cowboy

 

Our target for the evening was the Heartland Brewery. A good night was had in there with one particularly remarkable event I really must report – I had a Caesar Salad as my starter! And enjoyed it! Must have been the beer.

Heartland Brewery

Back to the room via Walgreens for vital supplies. Blog and bed. 

Getting Here

After Kay finished work on Wednesday and completed last minute packing, we were on the road. We stopped at the Green Man at Silverstone at Nick’s recommendation for dinner, which was perfect timing and worked out well. The round down to Heathrow at the tag-end of the evening rush was otherwise unremarkable. We eventually found our way into the Renaissance on Bath Road – I had in mind I’d booked the Marriott on the other side of the road where we stopped last time – but this is far better choice. After checking in and settling in to the room we went back out to see what our evening entertainment options were. Again at Nick’s recommendation, we ended up in the Three Magpies, a short walk away. This is a “John Barras” pub which does food and real ale. I had a pint of Adnam’s Broadside then a London Pride. At £4.05/pint, that was my fill!

IMG 2810

 

Thursday morning we were up and sorted and went down for coffee & breakfast in the small Starbucks in the hotel. Muffins all round. Seating is at premium in there, but we found a space. WiFi in the hotel is exorbitant and SBs has the same system and apparently offer a 30 min code if you spend £7. We did but no code seemed forthcoming so I made do with 3G for my data needs.

Back to room to get the bags, then the short walk across the car park to the bus stop. Hotel Hoppa would take us the half a mile to the terminal for £4.50, but all service buses in the Heathrow area are free – so we got the 111 to the central bus station, followed by the walk through the tunnels to Terminal 3. My faith in the system was restored to see some building work going on – international airports in general, and Terminal 3 in particular, has to have building work being undertaken for the world to spin correctly on its axis.

We’d done on line check-in last night, and bag drop was extremely quick and painless. We were allocated 19F&G which I took no great notice of, as I thought I’d picked out seats when I booked. Security was its usual slow crawl, but we were airside with half an hour. We had ‘brunch’ at Rhubarbs as Kay had been relishing their Eggs Benedict almost since the last mouthful she had of the last time we were here. I had The Mile High Club to keep me going. The time in the terminal passed very quickly and at 11:45 we walked down to the gate, boarding about 12:10.

Turns out the seats are second row back in the middle block of three, whereas I’d been expecting window seats (mental note: book 20 H&J for return!). The welcome drink of ‘sparking wine’ (no longer champagne!) or orange juice was presented as the rest of the passengers were boarding passed us. That’s my exude for my clumsiness in tipping my OJ all over the (thankfully) vacant seat next to me. I cleaned up as best I could before its occupant arrived, but both he and the attendant who came and wiped the residue off his seat could barely contain their irritation (to be fair, I know I’d feel the same in their position).

Pushback was spot in time at 13:00 and we were wheels up at 13:15 with 307 pax & 15 crew, Capt. Pete Dunlop and F/O Mark Robinson flying. Not sure which aircraft it was, but it was an Airbus 340-600. Sitting in the middle, I can’t say much about the flight, not least as the window blinds came down straight away all round. I watched Skyfall, the pilot of Elementary then Hitchcock. Kay watched Hitchcock, a but of Wreck-it Ralph before giving it upas a bad job, and Sapphires. The meal was a choice of lasagne, chicken or curry (bet you can’t guess which I had!).

The occupant of the seat next to me was evidently a musician – “I’ve worked with Leo Sayer – he’s a great bloke – and Gilbert O’Sullivan”. He attempted to engage in conversation while trying to get pissed by asking for as much alcohol as the cabin service could accommodate. I reciprocated as much as was polite, and assisted him to work the IFE system which evidently baffled him totally (no, it’s not a touch screen, bashing the screen will only hurt your finger!). He reckoned he’d got an Upper Class ticket but had been bumped down to PE because the aircraft had been swapped at the last minute and there was no room. What made my mind up that he was talking bollocks was that he said he’d been accepted only £100 compensation for agreeing to downgrade because he had to be on this flight.

The approach to JFK is a series of twists and turns for ‘noise abatement’ reasons and we touched down at 16:27 local, pretty much spot-on for the 7:30 that was predicted before we took off. Then it wall went tits up. Here is the chronology:

  • 16:27 touchdown
  • 16:40 awaiting stand (to be fair, the Captain pointed out we were early and we had to wait for a JetBlue service to depart)
  • 17:00 on stand
  • 17:10 joined queue in immigration (which completely filled the half of the huge hall reserved for visitors (or “tourists this way” as one shepherding member of staff rather patronisingly directed)
  • 18:45 front of queue. (jobsworth agent who managed to be arsey while barely speaking directly to either of us (he made us go through separately) while chatting up the female agent in the next booth, totally oblivious to the public).
  • 18:50 bags found dumped on floor of bagage hall. Into totally uncontrolled scrum of several dozen people trying to get past the two Customs agents.
  • 19:05 landside
  • 19:15 checked in with the Ground Transportation desk for the van (a very good system, once you work out where to go – I was looking for the branding of the company we’d booked with, but it is all handled by the airport)
  • 19:30 van arrived
  • 19:45 van left airport after a pick up at the domestic terminal
  • 19:50 back at international arrivals for two more pax to fill van
  • 20:00 left airport. Crazy drive along very busy interstate and into Manhattan over the Queeensboro Bridge.
  • 20:35 drop off at Grand Central
  • 20:45 drop off at The Hotel on Times Square
  • 20:50 drop off at the Central Park Hilton
  • 20:56 saw our hotel
  • 20:59 found somewhere to park
  • 21:05 found reception on the eighth floor and checked in smoothly
  • 21:07 in room on 20th floor. PHEW!

The hotel is phenomenal! It is built around a huge central atrium which extends for the full height of the hotel. The room is sizeable by any measure and huge by Manhattan standards. We’ve a partial view of Time Square. Everything we could possibly want for the next six nights.

We dumped bags and went out in urgent search of food. We agreed we weren’t in the mood for a ‘real’ dinner (table for two, wait, this way, your server will be with you soon, can I get you drinks, have you decided yet, …. then the traditional dance involving getting the bill, ‘checking it’, I’ll just go and get the card machine….) We just want food! Well, that’s more-or-less what we got as we went to McDonalds! I know, I know! McDonalds’ burgers have never tasted so god though, or at least been devoured so appreciatively!

Times Square in the evening was the zoo you’d expect. Our bodies, of course, said it was two in the morning, so we weren’t best placed to appreciate it, especially knowing it’d still be there tomorrow. So, a quick stop in a convenience store for room supplies and back to the room.

 

Uploaded courtesy JCPenny free WiFi (thanks Ron Johnson!) at the Manhattan Mall

20130315-105313.jpg