Less than 48 hours in the city that never sleeps.
Google Chat pops up on my screen.
“I have to work, but if you wanted to see New York City, you can use the hotel. When we arrive, I’m supposed to have a work dinner, will you be ok hanging out by yourself?”
“Where would we be staying?”
“The Jumeirah Essex, it’s supposed to be nice.”
NYC…Hmmm…I quickly google Marcel Garcia’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academy, check the location and schedule.
“Yes, I think I’ll be just fine”
I’ve never been to New York. I figure barring everything else there is to do in NYC, I can grab a class at one of, if not THE, best Jiu Jitsu fighter’s schools on earth.
I start pinging my friends at work for things to do. I know that New York has tons of things to do, but I’m going to be in the city for less than 48 hours, and mostly on my own.
Jon Roof becomes my go to guy for the inside NY scoop. He has family in Brooklyn and has given me the skinny on what’s worth checking out. I’ve got a list of things far far too long to do in two days. The list includes, going up the Empire State Building, Walking the Brooklyn Bridge back to Manhattan, Statue of Liberty, Hitting up a variety of Museums on Museum-mile(the MET, Guganheim, Moma, etc), visit the World Trade Center Memorial, catch a Broadway Show, check out Times Square.
In addition, I’ve been give several dozen Must-Eat restaurants, including Grimaldis pizza, Jacques Torres chocolate, Lombardi’s pizza, anywhere in Chinatown… and the list goes on.
“My people make pizza to die for. You have to get a slice.”
“Your people? Aren’t you Jewish?”
“Yes, it’s our city, didn’t you know it’s not NYC, it’s JYC.. for a reason”
Jon and I laugh.
Ok, I’ve got a list, a ticket and a free hotel with 2 days to spend in the city that never sleeps.
Our plane touches down 20 minutes late in LaGuardia. No small feat given we had to spend an hour on the tarmac in Denver waiting to be de-iced. The first big storm of the year rolled into Denver, right on schedule per-Murphy’s law. We slide out only an hour delayed. Good tail winds help us recover time.
On de-planing, my first impression of LaGuardia was that it was a whole lot like the OLD Detroit airport. Dim flickering lights on concourses which are too narrow.
We head to baggage. I look around and text Jon.
“This place is a shithole”
A few minutes later, he pings back with.
“Yes, it has rustic charm”
We are planning on grabbing a cab to our hotel, but then notice a small blond girl with a sign that reads “Pasko”
“Is that for us?”
“Yes, let’s grab your bags. We have a car waiting”
Wow, unexpected and quite nice.
As the towncar takes us to the Essex, we get stuck in traffic…lots and lots of it. The inner-id of my driving soul was apparently forged in New York. There is the constant wailing of horns everywhere. As people around us everyone seems to be saying the same thing. “FUCKING GO!”
When there is the opportunity to advance, just about all cars put the pedal flat out and race to the next stop light, usually 75 or so yards ahead. Green lights are instantly heralded by the honking of everyone within ten cars of the light.
We get to our hotel on the south side of central park in about an hour. It was about nine miles and a thousand honking horns. It’s good to not-drive in Manhattan.
We check into the Essex and head to our room. The place is old-school super plush. Marble bathrooms and such. I’m glad I’m not picking up the tab for the hotel.
Marcelo Garcia’s school
I check my watch and realize I have about 25 minutes to make it from 59th st down to 36th street. The good news is according to google, navigation is simple and the distance about 1.4 miles. I take 7th ave until it becomes Broadway and continue on Broadway until I get to 36th.
I duck out of my hotel at a fast clip. Blocks in New York are small, but you have to wait for lights at intersections as traffic is heavy. About 7 blocks south I notice the blinding LED’s and neon of Times Square.
Times Square, oh my. I wasn’t planning on this being between points A and B.
I’m now trying to race through a crowd of people who have by and large reached their destination and are in open-mouth-gape mode. Awesome. In fairness, the place is worth checking out, but I just don’t have the time.
I must have looked like a local trying to hustle through the throngs of tourists.
I find Marcelo’s academy in a nondescript building with a buzzer to get in. I push the 6th floor button and am buzzed in without a word.
The elevator opens with a desk directly on the right, and mats 3 feet ahead. I pay the daily drop-in charge to the very nice girl at the front-desk and head to the locker rooms.
The school is clean, with every square foot accounted for. The room appears about 50 feet wide, and 20 or so deep.
Class is great, and Marcelo is a wonderful instructor. Enthusiastic, informative and very into teaching. We drill for about an hour then start rolling. I have a great time rolling with some of his students, but the days travel, no food and no water are taking their toll. The room is hot and stuffy relative to the cool 60ish degrees outside. I’m betting it’s low 80’s in the room, and humid.
I’m out of energy, but spot one of Marcelo’s black belts without a partner at the end of a round. I ask him if he’d care to roll, and he agrees with that ‘super, I get the big brown belt’ type way. He is about 160 lbs, so I have a good 35 on him. Just as we’re about to get going, he points to behind me.
I turn around and Marcelo is waving me over to him.
In addition to being tired, I’m pretty starstruck. We start grappling and I find myself spectating, curious to see what he’s going to do. Marcelo starts sitting, and his guard is unusual as he doesn’t put his feet up much, but I can’t seem to pass his guard to save my life. The few times I think I’ve got the lead on the pass, I’m just walking into a sweep.
I believe Marcelo is setting up an arm drag. I amuse myself with the notion of dragging-the-drag in an arm-drag counter. Counter? Marcelo? What counter? Marcelo arm drags me, ignores my counter and starts out on my back and things go south quickly. I’m laughing at how my plan SO did not work.
We continue rolling with predictable results. The first time Marcelo takes mount on me, I’m actually a bit relieved. Marcelo appears to be about 175 pounds, give or take a few. Typically, I don’t really worry about guys smaller than me when they have mount.
I summon my resources block his hip and ESCAPE!…oh wait… that did ZERO.
Actually it did negative work. I didn’t so much as move Marcelo a millimeter, but I’m further gassing myself with the effort. I am in awe at how heavy this guy can make himself on top in mount.
The rest of my rolling with Marcelo reminded me of Neo and the ‘there is no spoon’ or in this case ‘Joe has no Jiu Jitsu’. Mostly Marcelo was doing subtle things, nullifying and ignoring my game while working with me at my pace. At the end of the roll, I talked to Marcelo for 10 or so minutes, congratulating him on another ADCC win, and picking his brain about several BJJ topics.
I took comfort watching Marcelo roll with his other students, as the results were identical to mine. Blue belt, black belt, they all just got handled by a guy who wasn’t working that hard.
At about the 90 minute mark, class has apparently unceremoniously ended. I wait a few minutes to get my gear and changed in the small packed locker room, and head back out into the street.
I call my lovely wife, who was just finishing a workout at the hotel, having bailed on the non-mandatory work event.
“I asked the concierge where to go, and he said there’s a GREAT Italian restaurant at 57th and 7th ave. He got us a reservation for 9:30pm”
“57th and 7th, ok, that’s close, I’ll head back and change clothes.”
“Cool, he said it’s casual, so jeans are ok”
I scoot back north to our hotel at a quick, but not fervent pace. I’m enjoying the cool weather as a nice contrast to the hot-box I was just working out in.
Changing clothes quickly, we have to hustle to get to Trattoria Dell’Arte by 9:30.
Before looking at the menu, I had an idea of what this place would be. Expensive.
The Trattoria staff is welcoming, and we are seated quickly. Before the chairs are pushed in to the table, we get a super friendly waiter.
“Hey, where you guys from?”
WhatThe?! I’m completely taken aback. I’ve lived in Colorado so long, that I expect no matter how much I’m paying for a meal, the waiter will languidly deign to show up 10-15 minutes after I’ve been sat at the table.
I look at the menu quickly and order a $13.50 beer, which is cheap for this menu.
Sherrie eyes the menu, and remarks:
“I didn’t think this would be quite this expensive”
“You asked the concierge at a $500 a night hotel where to eat. Relative to the hotel, he was accurate, this is cheap and casual. ”
I order the $30 lasagna, as I have to know what could make lasagna worth $30.
Service is impeccable, with our friendly charming waiter hitting the perfect pitch between always-there-when-you-want and not-bugging-you-too-much.
The lasagna shows up and OH MY GOD! Just wow. Can’t explain it, but it was far and away the best lasagna I’ve ever had…Ok it’s price point accurate.
Full, happy, and quite a bit lighter in the wallet, we walk back to the Essex and pass out.
Gloom and Uncertainty in NYC yields good things
Sherrie is off to meetings, and I’m sitting in our room being overwhelmed with options. My game plan was to navigate the subway to Brooklyn, and walk back to Manhattan over the Brooklyn bridge.
The current situation doesn’t seem to lend itself to my plan. It’s raining outside, and in the low 40’s…not ideal weather for a stroll. I have until 4:30pm to amuse myself, as that is the time we’re supposed to be meeting Sherrie’s aunt and her husband for drinks and dinner.
There are a ton of museums around, so that’s an option…actually so many options I am in museum overload before ever getting to one. My friend Jen had suggested a visit to the World Trade Center memorial(WTC). I had dismissed this previously, but thought if I’m doing something which is purely New York, this might just be it.
I head to the subway station and buy a metro card. Then head south to One World Trade Center.
Once on the street, I ping my NYC/JYC hookup Jon for further advice.
“The weather sucks, what do you think?”
“Do it anyway, take the wrench…it will cut down on the crowds anyway”
Stupidly, I had done zero reading on the WTC memorial previously, and didn’t realize I needed to purchase a ticket as the exhibit is currently limiting visitors. Here is where the cold drizzle is working in my favor. I wander back from the memorial a few blocks and get a ticket to the memorial for a cool $15. Post ticket purchase, there is a small indoor exhibit of WTC aftermath, and personal stories. It’s very well done, and moving beyond my expectations.
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My ticket is for 11:15am, so at the appropriate time, I wander the two blocks back to the memorial and go through airport-like security. My ticket is checked no less than six times, even though after initial check, it would appear impossible to get in without one.
I’m sure there is crime in New York, but I don’t see how it happens in lower Manhattan. There are police on top of police, backed by video surveillance everywhere.
I get to the memorial, and snap pictures at the rebuilding in progress. Three thousand workers are currently rebuilding the World Trade Center. Across the street was a one block group of Gortex clad Occupy Wall Street protesters huddling against the cold.
The scope of the World Trade Center terrorism was muted for me by seeing reports in print. Seeing the size of the bases of the twin towers really hammered the enormity of the event home. The names of those killed in the collapse are etched in the memorials, grouped by companies and friends. Pieces of the girders twisted, burned, and broken are in the sizeways building art. The towers collapsed from 100 stories into 10, it’s easy to read in print, but the emotional impact of seeing what is there was staggering.
The outside of this building was so reflective in the even gloomy light, it was hard to get a photo to show the girders inside.
I spend about 45 minutes walking around trying to digest the lunacy which caused this tragedy.
Since I’m in south Manhattan and already numb in hands, heart, and head, I decide a walk would help sort me out. Navigating back to the subway, I head to Brooklyn.
It’s raining in earnest now, and after a quick wrong-way detour, I make my way through DUMBO to Jacques Torres Chocolates. Jon has said this is a great place to get gifts and:
“you have to try the hot chocolate…it’s to die for”
Soaked and freezing, I walk into an empty Jacques Torres. I’m greeted by a friendly girl who asks:
“Would you like to try a sample of our hot chocolate?”
“I’m not a big hot chocolate guy, but I’ve been told by a friend I really should try some.”
“Your friend is right”
I’m promptly handed a shot glass of liquid wonder.
Seriously, this shot glass of heaven is worth more than all the Swiss Miss cocoa in the planet. Wow, I order a triple espresso and drip brown gold into it as I have one of the girls wrap up a gift box of chocolate for my always wonderful in-laws.
I confirm directions to walk to the Brooklyn Bridge with the friendly girl who plainly can’t believe I’d be out walking in this weather.
A few blocks in and I’m on the bridge. The bridge is a bit over a mile long, but some travel guides have suggested I book an hour plus to walk it due to crowds and congestion.
Doesn’t look like that is going to be a problem today. All the sane people are inside.
It’s raining in earnest as I pass a cop guiding pedestrians to their proper side of the walking lanes on the bridge.
Now the weather is working in my favor. There are scant people on the bridge and I enjoy the views and get into the spirit of the cold blowing rain.
I have a near pathological hatred of crowds, and could very much see hating this walk during good weather. I stop to help a few couples take pictures on the bridge and complete my trip into Chinatown in about 20 minutes.
Google maps lets me down
I’m drilling into the street level on my droid, when the street names disappear, and the names of local attractions are featured. I see one place called “Happy Endings” and must have a photo. I have no idea if the place is a restaurant, or massage parlor, but the picture would certainly be great.
Somewhere in my haphazard navigation toward the place, my rain soaked phone can’t seem to reacquire the location…thus I have to settle for “Gimmie Coffee” as I enter little Italy. I’m almost hypothermic, so I stop in for yet more coffee.
It’s comforting to know if I’m ever low on pride, I can simply purchase it in Manhattan.
Glancing at my watch, it’s about 2:30. I’m supposed to be showered and presentable at 4:30. A quick look at a map, and I realize it will most likely take me about 2 hours to walk it back to the Essex. I’m starving and really want to try Lombardi’s pizza(the first pizza joint in America), but don’t want to be late or ruin my dinner.
Given my limited knowledge of the subway schedules and general navigation around NYC, I deem it best to work my way to the hotel to allow for a few mis-steps.
The subway turns out to be straightforward and quick, and in no time, I’m back in my hotel.
The concierge has powerful Fu
I shower and Sherrie shows up. Her aunt Nancy is delayed. As we get ready, Sherrie gets a call. Her aunt was unable to get a reservation at Basso56, our dinner target. She suggests we ask the concierge, who wrangles us one of the Essex’s standing reservations for 7:30…SCORE!
Ok, we have reservations and time.We google map bars in the area and come up with McGee’s Pub. It’s the bar How I met your Mother was purportedly based on. A few free seats at the end of the bar, and we’re in business.
The bar is friendly and welcoming and Sherrie and I have a great time chatting with each other and the bartender. A few drinks in I’m forgetting that I’m hungry.
We’re coming from altitude which makes getting a buzz difficult and expensive at sea level. We take the challenge, raise our glasses and fight through.
My last drink is on the bartender as I guess I qualified for the baker’s dozen…or maybe she wanted to see if I could navigate to the front door sans injury.
Sherrie and I head out and walk the short way to Basso56 to meet her aunt and uncle. Food and service as excellent again as we laugh the night away with good stories.
I wake and the weather is clear and cold. Sherrie is off to more meetings. I decide to check out the hotel’s gym. It’s small, but incredibly well equipped. The have a Concept C2 rower. Crossfit drool worthy, and the Cadillac of rowers.
Nice, great workout in. I grab an apple as I leave the gym. Sherrie rings me as she’s done with her meetings. We have to be back at the hotel for the shuttle by 2:30pm. With only a few hours left We head out, and navigate to a Sherrie-lust-destination of Bloomingdales. I haven’t eaten and let her get a head start as I grab a Gyro from a cart vendor outside. The Gyro is excellent, and I head into Bloomingdales.
I’m wholly unprepared for the size of the store. It seems to be mall sized, and it’s ONE FREAKIN STORE. Oh shit. I get a text from Sherrie that she’s in cosmetics. I ask a nice girl on the 2nd floor “My wife is in cosmetics, where are cosmetics?”
She looks sympathetic: “Just cosmetics? She didn’t give specifics? You poor man.” Excellent.
I wade through the endless sea of counters, and get lucky to find Sherrie. We decide to wander to Time Square, as Sherrie hasn’t seen it in years. The square is brilliant even in the daylight, but as I look around, again I ask the question which baffles me:
Who the hell comes to New York and eats at Applebees, Fridays, Sbarros(there were 2 within a couple blocks) or Taco Bell?
This picture was taken on the previous night’s wander.
New York is legendary for great food of every flavor, who eats at these generic craphouses of over-processed-and-microwaved high fructose corn syrup?
We google indian food and get a vector on a restaurant with decent reviews: Baluchi’s. The food is great, despite the mediocre and lackluster service.
We wander about briefly in the cold, and take in the Conan Obrien exhibit in the shops at columbus circle.
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Post CoCo, we wander around Central Park for a few frigid minutes.
It’s time, we head to the hotel, take a gridlocked-but-mad shuttle ride to the ever-un-charming LaGuardia airport, and we’re off.
I simply can’t wait to return. I would prefer it if someone or something would pick up our tab at the Essex though….it’s quite nice.