I OFTEN GRIPE about living in Maine. It’s dull, it’s boring, there’s no culture. But a recent weekend trip to New York City put it all in perspective.
It’s noisy, crowded. Piles of garbage bags line the sidewalks. Traffic clogs the streets. Restaurants are full, outfitted with TV sets blaring from all corners, and music videos playing on huge screens suspended from the ceiling, making conversation impossible. Still, they attract hordes of young people who desperately want to be “out” instead of home alone with their own thoughts.
The trendy cafe we squeezed into our first night there served unrecognizable foods. Many were too spicy to actually eat, but they sure looked sophisticated, the kind of things you want to say you have eaten.
On first inspection, only several hours in, it seemed to me that the city of my birth had gotten even fuller since my college days, quite a feat for such a tiny island. It fairly bulged with more tourists, taller buildings, brighter lights, bigger shops and countless restaurants, cafes, bistros and street vendors. (And noticeably more garbage, which is understandable given the previous sentence.)
We stayed in an outrageously expensive “4-star hotel,” which is the least number of stars my travel-weary husband finds acceptable, yet it still was what Bette Davis surely meant when she uttered the famous line, “What a dump!” I won’t name names, but let’s just say that the warm chocolate-chip cookie you are handed upon check-in is the high point.
The low point was the shower, its anemic, not-hot, weak water pressure droplets feeling more like getting spat upon by a giant.
I know: complain, complain. But as my husband likes to say, every stick has two ends. The reason for the trip was to meet old friends and see a smash Broadway show. I had low expectations, since the Great White Way of the old days is long gone, replaced by the likes of anyone who wants to end up in front of the footlights. Goodbye Laurence Olivier, hello Larry David. But we lucked out, and a matinee performance of “The Book of Mormon” turned out to be a fabulous, funny, lyrical, upbeat, irreverent take on the good old-fashioned musicals of my youth. The wildly appreciative audience stood up and cheered the outstanding cast at the finish, and the joyfulness of that moment made the hefty price tag worth it ($169 per orchestra seat).
As if anything could top it, dinner later on did. Searching online, we had found a little “farm to table” place tucked in the back of an organic grocery store. The food was perfect, the service congenial. And having to take the only available reservation at 5:30, we were back outside while it was still daylight, allowing us time to stroll the city streets and appreciate the brilliant crimson illumination of the top of the Empire State Building competing with the bright white glow of an almost-full moon.
The next day, following a pretty decent breakfast that cost an arm and a leg but hey– the grapefruit juice was fresh-squeezed, after all–a sponsored five-borough bike tour event closed many of the city streets to traffic as several thousand bikers suited up and came out to enjoy the perfect weather en masse. We did not participate but watched it from several venues, and by the way had a heck of a time crossing the street since the bikers owned the city for several hours.
A quick trip to the site of the former World Trade Center to ooh and ahh over the two hole-in-the-ground fountains, a drive-by of the new Whitney Museum, a final slice of pizza from the Original Ray’s in Chelsea and we left it all behind us. It was great fun, but it was just one of those things. Back in Maine, all was peaceful and serene. And best of all, it’s finally stopped snowing.
Andrea Rouda blogs at The Daily Droid.