August 11, 2008

New York: Boy bands and late trains

Dana and I had a great time in Manhattan and did everything on our to-do list except run the Brooklyn Bridge.

RENT was terrific. We had fourth row orchestra seats, so Dana was able to see every detail of the actors' faces and the sparkle of their eyes, something I used to find a thrilling benefit to good theater seats. That was before I developed boomer eyesight. My particular strain makes everyone look like they're covered in a layer of Saran Wrap, so Dana got more out of our fourth row vantage point than I did.

We visited three colleges, NYU, Fordham and Columbia, and liked them all. I wish I were going to college. I'd pick NYU. Live in Greenwich Village for four years? Yeah, doable.

We, or rather Dana, shopped a lot. While she shopped, I girl-watched, and it was fascinating. Nearly as entertaining as RENT. Many girls, I concluded, use shopping as a stage. The clothes are interesting, but what's really important is to be seen by other girls. The most attractive of these soi-disant shoppers act as if they're ho-humming their bored, chicer-than-thou way through the racks when what they really came for is to parade their hotness in front of lesser babes. It's a grand, mean derby -- and a marvelous spectator sport. The truly hot can set all the eyeballs in a store on fire. No one says a word, but every girl and woman (and the smart boys who've finagled themselves part-time jobs there -- must mention that to my son), dart repeated, furtive glances in the babe's direction, sizing up everything from lip pout to butt tightness to pedicure in a nanosecond-long, tip-to-toe eye sweep. The oglers pretend they're not looking and the ogled pretends she doesn't know she's being looked at. Sociology students: spend an hour female-watching in a trendy, budget-priced midtown store like H&M, Strawberry or Forever 21, and you'll come away with ten ideas for your thesis.

We saw the outdoor art installation, New York City Waterfalls, and were unimpressed. You can see all four waterfalls from South Street Seaport, and I don't recommend standing in the hour-long Circle Line boat queue so you can pay $10 to be taken closer to the falls. Not worth it. Nor would I travel to New York specifically to see this installation. Nice, but Christo it ain't.

A boy band figured prominently in our stay. The Jonas Brothers, one of Disney's latest manufactured acts, gave a free concert in Bryant Park on Friday morning, and for three days before the boffo event, suburban moms and their teenage daughters camped on the sidewalks outside the park for a chance to get inside the park perimeter come concert morning. The city generously supplied porta-johns, but the campers supplied their own food and drink, blankets, pillows, portable DVD players, folding chairs, card games, board games and fan magazines full of pix of the three dreamy (OK, so Dana and her friends tell me one is considered not so dreamy) musical brothers. And the moms who were smart or omniscient came armed with tarps, umbrellas, dry clothes and pop-up tents, because it poured like heck on those thousands of people Thursday night. At 6:30 on Friday morning I watched from our 6th Avenue hotel window as the police began letting the campers into Bryant Park. The first in line had been living on the sidewalk since Tuesday. A few minutes before 8, when the concert was to kick off (the concert was hosted and broadcast live by Good Morning America, hence the weird start time), Dana grabbed a to-go coffee from our hotel breakfast room, walked across 6th to Bryant Park, and found a spot on the sidewalk at the park fence. She stood not more than a hundred yards from the stage and the gyrating Jonases, hearing every song clear as a bell, snapping photos and video, sipping hot coffee, and feeling slightly guilty at having as good a view and concert experience as the thousands who'd lived on the pavement for days.

Trip over, we made our reluctant way to Penn Station for the 7:30 PM Amtrak to Boston. It finally left at 10:30. Every train to Massachusetts, from 5 PM on, was delayed by two to three hours. Amtrak offered not one word of explanation, neither in the station nor once we were on the train. That frosts my bonnet. We passengers were very cool and took it in stride, but we deserved at least an acknowledgment of the delays that went beyond letters and numbers on the giant departures board that hangs from Penn's central hall. Amtrak said nothing. Not a word. Somebody needs a lesson in customer service. We got home at 3:30 in the morning.

But I couldn't sleep because of the Jonas Brothers songs that kept invading my head.