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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Boys and girls together

Our recent trip to the Big Apple was a blast on so many levels -- work, tourism, family, even blogging.

We left Portland early the morning after New Year's Day. We caught the news of Erik Sten's resignation on the radio in the cab on the way to PDX. As we sucked down a coffee and surfed the 'net at the airport, we caught his misrepresentation of our one face-to-face meeting, dashed off a quick blog post responding to it, and logged off to board the long nonstop to Newark.

Being that our destination was a convention of law professors, it was not too big a surprise that a colleague of ours was on the same flight. Naturally, we split a cab fare from Newark to The City.

Man, was it cold when we hit the ground in Jersey. It was hovering around 20, and there was a stiff north wind blowing. We pulled out all the stops in the lightweight cold weather gear department. Our warmest Portland duds won the battle against the chill, but just barely, as we stood at the airport taxi stand.

On the way to Manhattan, as we sped across a northern stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike, our colleague was a captive audience for tales of our youth in the area. The Pulaski Skyway, the pig farms of Secaucus, the WMCA tower out in the middle of the swamps, steaming up the windows with our girlfriend as we gazed out at the Manhattan skyline -- our cabmate got quite an earful before we drove past the state line emblazoned on the walls of the Lincoln Tunnel. When we emerged in midtown and were dropped off at our hotel, the driver broke the news to us: $72.

New York still had its halls decked for the holidays, but it was that calm, post-holiday version of decorated. Everything was still twinkling, but the main merriment had clearly passed, and you could vaguely sense an army of New York workmen standing in the shadows, with giant cartons, getting ready to take it all down after another week or so.

The big news in midtown was the return of Letterman after the writers' strike. There was a fairly large crowd shivering in front of his theater hoping in vain for a standby ticket, and a local news crew was out on the sidewalk setting up for a live remote for the early evening news. Over at the stage door, there were a couple of barricades set up so that fans could see Robin Williams make his entrance and exit, but by the time we showed up, it looked as though he had already gone inside.

We were a little surprised to see Ruppert Jee's Hello Deli closed up and gated. It looked pretty forlorn. Two months without Letterman, and even a short time without the Broadway shows, doubtlessly hurt Ruppert's 2007 cash flow pretty badly. I hope he was on vacation, and not gone for good. Overall, in fact, the block around Letterman seemed pretty bleak, but the crowd on the sidewalk seemed excited enough.

The conference, which started bright and early the next day, was productive. We attended a half dozen or so talking-heads sessions in which distinguished members of our profession spoke about their areas of expertise, and our shared enterprise.

Even better was the social mixing that went on in between and after the official events each day. We saw friends from other parts of the country for the first time in years. One evening we made the rounds of four different receptions, thrown by, in chronological order, this guy, this guy, this guy, and this guy. They got progressively better as they went along, but by the time we sauntered out of the Cornell Club from that last one, we had had four drinks in two hours. And the New York bartenders aren't like Portland bartenders -- they know how to pour you a stiff one.

Realizing that the finger food we had consumed at the various functions wasn't going to cut it, we traversed Cousin Brucie Way and W.C. Handy Place (New York renames streets pretty freely, a block at a time) in a beeline for the Stage Deli, where we ordered a turkey sandwich and a side of green beans. With a glass of red wine thrown in to aid digestion, the tab came to $34.57. That's one heck of a turkey sandwich.

The next evening, all of our gustatory needs were satisfied by a giant reception in the Rainbow Room, high above Rockefeller Center (whose tree was still aglow). In all the years we spent frequenting the Big Apple, we had never earned a visit to that night spot. A phenomenal institution it is, with the legendary views, the magical history, and the breathtaking decor from a bygone era. You could almost see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers gliding across the dance floor, which for this night was a giant buffet and bar setup. The food and drink were surprisingly good for a function that served more than a thousand, many of them obviously practiced chow- and booze-hounds. (For that matter, so was the food at the conference itself. The New York Hilton knows how to serve a fine lunch to the masses.)

The next day was checkout for us. The weather had warmed up considerably -- now it was in the high 30's, and the wind had died down -- and we strolled, suitcase and laptop in tow, to a bus stop where the free shuttle would pick us up and carry us over to the Hudson River, where the New Jersey ferries leave. We stood at that stop for about 15 minutes, watching all the tourists pass by. Double-decker buses, the whole bit. The New York phase of our trip was ending, but the homecoming to New Jersey was just beginning.

Comments (7)

Coming on top of a $150 or so (Continental)bus ride from Portland to Newark, that $72 cab ride is a painful shock, especially after standing on line for 15 minutes or so just to get a cab. Someone can perhaps explain to me why it makes sense to require cabs to carry paying passengers only in one direction between Manhattan and EWR.

It's New York. Don't ask.

I KNEW you were in New Jersey......don't kid me with the NYC stuff....... hah!

FYI: Ruppert was back on the Late Show last week. It looks like the Hello Deli will live on.

As a kid I used to deliver telegrams for RCA out of Rockefeller Center. I met Bob Hope, Sarah Vaughn, Charlie Weaver, Ed McMahan, Melina Mecurie...As an adult I returned to visit the Rainbow Room. It is every thing you said it was and after two drinks ($34) I hit the mens room, which sets the standard for being well appointed, and took a leak at a urinal that had windows over it looking out over Manhattan. It was the proverbial "Pew with a View"

Jack, did you take the picture of the NY skyline? The soft, warm blues of morning light in the photo is striking. It almost looks like SoWhat from Ross Island in the morning light.

Alas, it's not mine. Click on it and it should take you to the photographer.

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