Monday, December 20, 2010

The Wandering Blues Travelogues: New York State of Mind

I'm sitting in a Gainesville hotel writing about New York. I'll be in Baltimore when I write about Gainesville. Then I'll be in Worcester, writing about Baltimore. And mispronouncing Worcester. 


I grew up in Pennsylvania farm country. While growing up dirty and barefoot may have certain advantages--being able to regale wide-eyed suburbanites with tales of horseriding, fishing, and John Deere Day (the holiest of holy days when my alma mater used to let the kids drive their tractors to school), it was also ideally located for day trips to Baltimore, Philly, Pittsburgh, DC, and NYC. So I'd been to the Big Apple about--15?--times before.

Of course, this still makes me about a Threat Level Red on the Obvious Tourist Scale. But every time I board that NJ transit train I know I've got about 40 minutes to transform myself from the chattery uncoordinated country girl to a lean, mean, jaywalking machine. Generally, the New Jersey commuters help a lot with this transformation by staring incredulously at me for the entire trip.

I mean, you can't really blame them for staring. I board trains with the grace of a spindly three-legged foal wearing tap shoes. A spindly three-legged foal wearing tap shoes with luggage.

But by the time we hit Penn Station, I'm a sunglassed and high-heeled warrior. The armor's up. I walk fast, I don't yield, I weave in and out of crowds like a guided missile. It's why I worry about ever living in New York. That armor? It's pretty hard for a girl to carry. Especially when she usually walks like a baby Labrador.


This trip was an odd blend of business and vacation. I'd write in the morning, explore, edit in the afternoon, and explore again at night. 

It was also an odd trip because I was operating on a shoestring budget. Not even a shoestring budget. A no-string budget. We're talking Stove Top made with the coffee maker-- like regular Stove Top, only crunchier. Given that I'd just spent 2+ hours in 18 degree weather, that crouton-like Stove Top tasted better than a steak at Sardi's. 

At one point I tried to make a grilled cheese sandwich with the iron, but realized I didn't have foil or wax paper. 

So I tried a washcloth.


 My cheap Koreatown hotel rented out its rooftop to one of the best-kept secrets in Manhattan, the Mé Bar. Cheap drinks, indoor and outdoor seating, hot spiced cider with rum or whiskey (get the whiskey). Best of all? It's right next to the Empire State Building. 

The bartender spent about a half-hour telling me about the time he got lost in Amish Country: Lancaster, PA (near where I'm from). 

He said the f word thirty-six times. I loved him.


"You can get beer anywhere in NYC," I was told. "Definitely don't bring it in."

You can get beer anywhere in NYC. If you want to drink Miller Lite, that is.

I tried three different drugstores, all with dismal results. But you can get beer anywhere in NYC, I insisted. One more stop before I gave up: a Korean supermarket.

The labels were all foreign, the prices all in Korean. But the beer selection? Compared to the rest of NYC, it was godly. I grabbed two cans of Guinness and tried to memorize the Korean characters for beer. I failed. But no language barriers existed for the age-old equation of cash=beer.

I'd definitely recommend the La Quinta Inn Manhattan if you want a cheap hotel within walking distance of Penn Station and you don't mind that your hotel room will be the size of a large closet.

It's a wildly popular hotel for European visitors, so I'd also recommend it if you want to be sitting on the lobby couch beside an elderly Cockney couple passionately arguing about tissues, as I was.


 I saw Chicago. Rush tickets scored me seventh-row seats.
The seats were awesome. The show was disappointing.


The Christmas department store displays were cheesy and crowded as usual, but I love them. You'd love them too. Don't believe me? Exhibit A:
I actually have a record called "Disco Noel."
Synthesized, disco-ized Christmas carols.
I didn't know how to describe it until I saw this.
It's this. Exactly this.

Check out those PANTS.

A Very Merry Disco Christmas.

You're welcome.


I can't go to New York City without visiting Bryant Park. I had a favorite hole-in-the-wall pizza joint on 42nd adjacent to Bryant, tucked in the back of a corner market. I'd take my two slices, both bigger than my head, and I'd grab a table at Bryant, eat my pizza, and people-watch. Let my armor down for a while.  This trip I found out they tore my pizza place down for some new skyscraper. I very nearly cried, right there in the middle of Bryant Park.

Screw Rockefeller. Bryant Park at Christmastime is my favorite thing in the city.

Christ, I love New York.

Next stop on the Wandering Blues Travelogues: Gainesville, Florida.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wandering Blues (The Littlest Birds Sing the Prettiest Songs)

You pass through places and places pass through you
But you carry them with you on the soles of your travelling shoes

Well, I love you so dearly
, I love you so clearly
I wake you up in the morning so early just to tell you
I got the wandering blues
I got the wandering blues
And I'm going to quit these rambling ways one of these days soon

 Hello, blogosphere.

Please now picture me standing on a NYC balcony, arms outstretched, singing, "Don't cry for me, fellow bloggers! The truth is, I never left you! All through my wild days, my mad existence, I kept my promise. Don't keep your distance."

I know you haven't missed your weekly dose of Loaded Handbaggery because my posting is as random as a Rorschach blot. BUT I'm usually a much more faithfuller reader and commenter, and my Google Reader currently runs 250 deep. 250 unread posts, that is. I'm currently rambling about the country, staying in budget hotels and eating out of a cooler. Any and all free time/wifi access is locked into worktime. Naturally, every single one of my clients have picked exactly this time to bombard me with work. I know, I know, shut up and be grateful, Nicki.

But my darlings, your posts will be read and commented in the order they are received, and I may be playing catch-up for a while, so my apologies if you get comments on month-old entries. And expect a Wandering Blues Traveling Series soon. First stop: NYC!

Amour, Amor, Amore,

Monday, December 13, 2010

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (Spoiler Alert: It's Phil Collins)

Setting: I'm visiting home and writing an article entitled "10 Classic 80's Rock Love Songs."

Cast of Characters:
Nicki: Our heroine. Our neurotic, overexcitable, classic rock-loving heroine.
Mike: Nicki's stepfather. Hunter. Mechanic. Tinkerer. Strong-handed, guitar-picking country man with a mighty love for Clint Eastwood, Led Zeppelin, and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Mom: A woman of formidable strength and brilliance. Acclaimed engineer. Mother of two. Tough as nails, sharp-witted, paper-thin with a warm smile. Cannot sing to save her life.

Editor's note: all quotation marks indicate a character is singing. Poorly.

Mike: Sweet Child O' Mine.
Nicki: Got it. Oo, I'll do Patience too.
Mike: That ballad by Kiss.
Nicki: Beth. I think that was 70's, but I'll check.
Mike: Foreigner.
Nicki: I Want to Know What Love Is AND Waiting for a Girl Like You. Got 'em both.
Mike: Amanda by Toto.
Nicki: Toto doesn't sing Amanda.
Mom: Yes they do. A-maaaa-anda, a-maaaa-aaaaanda.
Nicki: No. That's Rosanna. "All I wanna do when I wake up in the morning is see your eyes, Ro-saaaa-na, Rosaaaaa-na."
Mike: That's not it. It's AMANDA.
Nicki: You're thinking of Amy. "Aaaameeeee, whatchoo wanna doooooo, I think I could stay with you..."
Mike: NO.
Mom: What's that song with Phil Collins about breath?
Nicki: I'm not putting Phil Collins anywhere near my list of ROCK SONGS. What, do you want me to add "Total Eclipse of the Heart" too?
Mike: It's by Boston.
Nicki: No, that's "More Than a Feelin'." Enough about Amanda.
Mom: No, Phil Collins, maybe when he was still with Genesis, and he sang about breath.
Mike: Nicki. Google Amanda.

Nicki Googles Amanda. 

Mike: That's it.
Mom: Oh, there's that ballad by Kiss, what's that called?
Mom: I know Phil Collins did that song for a movie with Madonna. It was a big hit.
Mike: Led Zeppelin had a song called Hot Dog.

Mom: Nicki. NICKI. That song by Kiss.
Nicki: Mom. MOM. It's Beth. That wasn't the eighties. Maybe I Was Made for Loving You was in the eighties.
Mike: What's that Whitesnake song where Tawny Kitaen crawls around on a Jaguar?
Nicki: Cherry Pie. OO, MY, CHERRY PIE. Not a love song.
Mike: NO. It is not Cherry Pie. It is a Whitesnake song.

Nicki googles "whitesnake song where girl crawls around on car." She's delighted to find a Yahoo Answers question phrased in the exact same way.

Nicki: Here I Go Again. Not gonna work.

Mike: Look up "When I'm With You." Play that one. It's by Sheriff.
Mom: I don't think Cher would be a good fit for this list.
Nicki: SherIFF, Mom, SherIFF.
Mike: It starts out cheesy but it gets good at the chorus.
Mom: How about Sister Sledge?

Nicki finds "When I'm With You." She quickly decides there's no way in hell she's putting it on her list, but keeps listening and nodding appreciatively to appease Mike.

Mike: Awww, yeah. This is it. This is IT.
Mom: What about Devo?
Mom: You know, this really doesn't sound like Cher.
Nicki and Mike: SHERIFF.
Mom: Oh. Sheriff. You don't have to yell.
Nicki: Okay. Guys, I have fourteen songs for this list of ten songs. Thanks for all your help. Really. I've gotta start writing it now.
Mom: Okay. But what's that Phil Collins song? You know, with the drum part that goes DO-do, DO-do, DO-do-da-do-dodo.

Mike and Nicki stare in amazement.

Nicki: Holy crap. She means In the Air Tonight.
Mike: That's not a love song.
Nicki: Definitely not a love song.
Mike: Nope.
Nicki: Isn't that about someone drowning?
Mom: IT IS NOT. It's that movie with Madonna and it was a big hit from the movie. HUGE hit.

Nicki begins dutifully listing all Phil Collins songs.

Mom:  AGAINST ALL ODDS! THAT'S IT! It's from that movie! Against All Odds!

A minute passes. Mom is smiling triumphantly.

Nicki: (softly) That wasn't Madonna.
Mom: Shut it.