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Archive for December 5th, 2007

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Passing the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, where streets had been narrowed with barricades to accommodate increased pedestrian traffic, 8th Avenue was much easier to navigate. The walk to 25th Street was delightful on this crisp cool evening. Thirty-some-odd blocks in New York goes by quickly.

Eighth Avenue has been cleaned up considerably. The Port Authority was bustling, as usual, and a bit further down, crowds of commuters dodged in and out of Penn Station and lines formed for whatever was happening at Madison Square Garden. I tried to imagine how the post office must have looked when it was sitting amidst the large, empty tracts of land that would eventually be built upon.

I stayed with a friend in Chelsea. He’d made plans for us to spend the evening at Havana Central, a fantastic Cuban nightclub in Times Square, which was under the management of his brother. After warming up with a couple of glasses of exquisitely aged rum, we headed north, on foot, where the pedestrian traffic around Madison Square Garden had grown tremendously.

No lines and no waiting as his brother escorted us into the bar. Completely packed, we had to turn sideways to move through the crowd. Delmar’s favorite bartender mixed up martinis for us as our table was prepared. The band played a set, then the disc-jockey played a set, for the private party being hosted upstairs. The sound level required speaking directly into one’s ear. Cuban music got the crowd feeling the groove.

The chef sent out a small platter of appetizers. Cuban sandwiches with ham, roasted pork, swiss cheese with pickles and mustard. Chicharrones de Pollo, wonderfully tender pieces of chicken which fell from the bone, along with Camarones con Coco (coconut dusted shrimp with pineapple fufu).

Everything here allowed one to be transported, at least for an evening, directly into a 1950’s Havana nightclub. Even the manager resembled Ricky Ricardo, with a fine dark suit and crisp white shirt. He worked every inch of the club, chatting with guests, and directing the staff.

Following dinner, more martinis at the bar, while listening to various spanish accents, as well as the accents of the couple seated next to us that was visiting from Belgium. The band continued.

On Saturday I moved to East 43rd Street (the E to the S, then a couple blocks on foot from Grand Central Station) to visit with my friend Roch, who’d arrived that afternoon from Rome. The pre-war building was part of Tudor City, where eleven residential buildings and an over-street park create a peaceful urban oasis. The roof-top garden presented a view of the Chrysler Building, as well as the glass curtain-wall of the U.N.

Pam Ann, the Australian comedian, was performing that night in the East Village, so we cabbed down 2nd Avenue, as Roch informed me that the city was extending the original subway line down 2nd. It came as a surprise that New York would continue building it’s subway system. A heavy-rail line is in the works from Grand Central out to JFK. Imagine that investment!

I’d reserved a table for the show at Joe’s Pub, part of the theater complex where Pam Ann was performing. Still, we had to wait in line outside, with everyone else. The long-johns I’d purchased at a dollar store in Chelsea took away only some of the chill. The temperatures had dropped dramatically, and the hour wait caused the crowd to huddle close together.

Following the show, we hopped on the 6 back to Grand Central.

Snow had fallen overnight. I made my trek to the Dunkin Donuts on the corner while Rock checked the JFK traffic. Everything seemed to be running on schedule. At 3:30, we were back at Grand Central. The 6 to 51st Street, then a transfer to the E, out to Sutphin Boulevard, where we transfered to the AirTrain for an additional $5. Built over the expressway, the modern carpeted and upholstered train towers over the traffic below.

Once on JFK property, the madness of the “international push” sets in. Inbound flights from Europe have arrived and the outbound passengers have begun to fill the terminals. Its always pure hell here at 5pm. Two and a half hours before departure, I wandered Terminal 2 and 3, watching people and catching bits of conversations. Terminal 3 is the former Pan Am terminal, and it simply cannot handle todays crowds. Terminal 2 is newer, and I’ve been passing through here since 1983, on every trip to (and through) JFK. Renovated once again, probably the fourth renovation I’ve witnessed, it’s still sub-standard and chaotic.

My flight home departed an hour late, but arrived in Columbus just 30 minutes past schedule. A great weekend, but always a drag getting home from New York.

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