Monday, June 23, 2014

NYC/CT Recap: Part 2

Part 2 begins now, here we go...

Landing in Newark, my first objective was to get coffee.  You wouldn't believe what a chore that was.   Previous trips to the area, I just got off the plane and a Dunkin Donuts was right there waiting for me.  I think, because I used Virgin America and not United, my terminal didn't have a Dunkin on board.   I've said before I prefer Starbucks and Peet's to Dunkin coffee, but out East you wind up finding more Dunkin donuts locations than the other two.  In fact, I don't think I've seen a Peet's in NYC.  Oddly, I didn't even see the Dunkin until I went down the escalator and went to the other end of the airport.  I got the Dunkin coffee and it was all right, albeit too much cream.

Then the *real* fun started.  It was about 8:30, and seemingly an easy train ride to Penn Station, oh how wrong I was!   I was exchanging texts with my Dad during my eventful, but tedious, *bus* to the train.   Usually Newark Liberty connects to its own train station via the Airtrain light rail tram, but the *Airtrain* was broken that month.  A complete disaster... instead Newark offered Port Authority buses to get to the next stop, Newark Penn, and that morning I was formally introduced to NJ traffic.  Pitiful to say the least.  The cars were not moving, fellas.   I was listening to like, 106.3 Lite FM or something on the bus... pretty good honestly!  They were pumping out some good tunes... kinda neat to hear local weather reports as they went into music.  With that said, the bus ride was hideous.   It tried this side street in the middle of Newark but it wasn't much help.  We all felt like a marble stuck in a vat of cookie dough trying to go down the sink.  The bus just to get to Newark Penn took roughly an hour.

It was about 9:30 when I finally got onto a train to New York's Penn Station at Madison Square Garden.  For whatever reason, probably because it was rush hour, that train was struggling.  It stopped numerous times on the way over to account for rail traffic ahead.   Finally we got to New York City.

Before going to Katz's, I tried to locate a place to store my luggage.   I wasn't sure if nearby hotels would do it without me being a guest, but I found a place called "Schwartz Luggage Storage" near Penn.   It's an old building, but the lady there was low key and nice and took in my luggage in exchange for a ticket.

Onward to Katz's.... the key to Katz's, as friends have told me, is to take the F train.  The first time I tried to go to Katz's, the F train was non-functional.   This time it was working well.   Once I got off, I found Katz's down the street.  Behold!  After 5 years the moment of greatness was upon me.   Business finally finished!   I couldn't wait to try it out.    Katz's has the traditional deli ordering system, with a series of  deli slicers lining up a counter.   It's basically like a series of cash registers with multiple lines spanning the length of the restaurant.  There's a separate line for grill orders, however.  So if you wanted a hot dog, for instance, you'd go to the grill line on the front end of the building.  Most tourists would be utterly clueless here, but I read about the "system" before hand so I went right up.

The slicer dude I ordered from was pretty cool.   He was very kind and helpful in setting up my order.  My order was simple -- pastrami on rye.  He asked if I wanted mustard and I said yes.   I asked how things were going and he said they were fine, etc.   Then I tried to tip him and realized I had just 20's, so I asked him "Hey, would you mind if I go get change so I can tip you?"  He was gracious and let me leave, so I went to the cash register lady near the front (a lot of this, including the little rickety booth for the cash register, reminds me of the Pantry back home in LA).   Then, with the change I threw in a couple bones into the tip jar.  For my effort, the slicer dude offered me an ENORMOUS sandwich with way more meat than I could remember from a similar Langer's pastrami sandwich.  Granted, the damn thing still cost $18.50 so yes, the sandwich got its money's worth.

Then I took a bite.... OH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  It was like all the pleasures of life locked into my brain at once.  My GOODNESS was that good pastrami!   Fan-tastic!  I gushed about it on twitter... phenomenal sandwich.  I added some extra deli mustard to the pastrami and enjoyed every bite.   As I was going into Katz's, I PM'd the Oat Man to tell him I was going to try Melt Shop later on his recommendation.   Flash forward to me enjoying the pastrami and I received a reply from Oats offering to meet me at melt shop.   Tremendous idea, I thought!  Then I noticed I still had half a pastrami sandwich to eat hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha... but I loved life so much that I finished off the pastrami.

In New York City, I don't have a problem staggering meals together or even eating extra meals during the day.   There are incredible foods to eat and it's a total priority.  I always feel, number one, you only live once, and number two, New York has some great treats that are hard to find elsewhere, so it's always good to take advantage.  Pizza is the most obvious example, but on Day One, I did not eat pizza.  That was saved for later on.

With the Newark delays, the extra hour I had to check out Wall Street was eliminated, so yes, I went straight from Katz's.... to another restaurant!!  Haha, I loved it though.  On my way to Melt Shop at Midtown East, I got a text from Unclever... he said he was in the area, so I said, "Hey, let's meet at Melt Shop and we can possibly see the Oat Man there too."

I rode up another train to 53rd street and met ole Unclever at Melt Shop... it was located within the architecture of an office building, reminding me of both LA and SF downtown shops.  The Melt Shop was indeed just a shop... a pickup window with good fast food.  There was an adjacent plaza with tables where Unclever and I settled down to eat.  I ate slowly... and Unclev pointed out that it was because I just came off a huge showdown w/ the Katz's pastrami.  He was right, that was an intense sequence.   No matter, the Melt Shop Fried Chicken Grilled Cheese sandwich was fantastic.  I *believe* I had that with Ginger Ale.   Quite good.   Unclever and I were talking, catching up, and then this Light Jazz Ensemble sets up right next to all of us at the plaza.  I was HOWLING at this group, and instantly we thought of the jazz player RD we used to know.   The music was loud enough to distract us but we could still carry on a conversation, pausing to clap after each song.  These guys definitely took each other seriously as RD would do with his jazz works.

About an hour later, the Oat Man delivered and we... ahem, "Said Hello to Ottis."  Oh ho!   Great to see Oat Man in person for the first time, and I dare say he was happy to see us too.   He shared some great stories, but not before he said "great to see RD made an appearance!  Can't make it up."   He said something else during the Jazz performance, and it was when one of the guys came out to sing some lounge tune, you know, Bobby Darin, rat-pack style.   I lost it... I was laughing so hard, pounding the table... all this with a light sprinkle in the air on a busy Friday afternoon in New York.  Me and my USC Trojans T Shirt on... and Unclever in a bright red polo, sticking out in a sea of Friday Business casual, along w/ the Ottis.

That was a really good time.  Informal meetup, and a great one.  Eventually, we said our goodbyes and Unclever and I stopped at a Mr. Softee truck on the way out.  It was... very creamy.   A texture unlike many soft serves... and this little 8 year old kid served us too.  I was a little thrown off by that....   can 8 year olds run an ice cream truck?  He did a marvelous job, I must say, so I offered him a tip.  I think I got the vanilla soft serve with sprinkles.  I saw there was a double cone, basically equivalent to when you get that "extra ship" attached to your ship in Galaga, and it *blew my mind* but I just went after the regular cone.  So good...

Up next, Unclever and I went our separate ways and I went back to Schwartz Luggage to pick up my bag.   The lady at the counter, same lady, said "Boy you are a happy guy!"  Haha, I got a kick out of that.  I gave her a tip too and got my bag back.

People love their tips in New York... I was tipping for nearly everything out there, including the hotel shuttle I got later, which I thought made sense because I called the hotel for it and it arrived on demand.  Previous to that I took the Metro North express train to Stamford, New Haven line, and it balled.   Great trip, and a comfortable train.  Then, the aforementioned hotel shuttle, with a driver who was also into the World Cup.  Almost everyone driving shuttles or taxis in Stamford were into the world cup... that was way fun to talk about on the way to or from the hotel.  Great fella, the shuttle driver, and I gave him the tip.  On to the room.. extremely comfortable.   I'm jumping ahead, but the king bed in the room was stellah bros.  I slept very very well on this trip.  The hotel was the Sheraton Stamford... fantastic spot, and decent location.

Sheraton did a remarkable job equipping many of its business grade hotels with HDTV.  Not just the flat screens, but the high definition content to match.  Nowadays you can program the screens with HD cable channels without the need for a box.  Very well situated.  Service was great too... I'll share the story of how we arranged the wake up call for the return to LA later on.  They were incredibly helpful on that front, and even offered to call in the cab ahead of time.  Now that's service!

When I entered the room for the first time, it was like 50 degrees in there!  The A/C was running all day, and I loved it.  For some reason, it feels kinda good to be in a hotel room that feels like an icebox.  Weather in the Tri-State Area was the best I've ever seen.   Only light sprinkling in the mid day that day, and temperatures in the low 70s with sunshine the rest of the weekend.  Unbelievable, really!  Usually you're good for some humidity and heat this time of year.

With all that said, I showered and prepared for my next meeting with YOTS, Parcells, Panther, and Rollins at Bobby V's.  YOTS called me to say he arrived and I went down to meet him.  He had hair!!  Haha, I was not used to my buddy with hair... when I first met him years ago he rocked the bald Howie Mandel look.  It was good stuff though.  He gave me a ride to Bobby V's nearby and inside we chatted a bit before the others arrived.  I believe Parcells was first, then, a personal thrill for me, Rollins arrived.  Rollins was big for all of us because he was one of the founding fathers, so to speak, of the message boards we go to.   Tremendously funny, great dude.   Everyone was, really.   We chatted for a good while, got to know each other and such, and as we got into snacks and food.  I was so full by then all I could eat was buffalo wings, but everyone else had sandwiches and fries.   Later, Panther joined all of us, making the unenviable commute from New Jersey to Connecticut.  Mad Props to Panther for making the trek.  I was pumped to meet him too.   We all were joking around, having just a tremendous time, eating snacks and downing beers.  I think my beer choice was Sam Adams IPA, and I forgot what beers others had.  The big running joke that night was "Is Bobby V there?"  That would be Bobby Valentine of MLB fame.   He owns the restaurant as the name suggests, but he's a bigger presence than that.  I think Parcells and Rollins both said he is the unofficial mayor of Stamford.   He DOES actually go to his restaurant frequently and kibitzes with the patrons.  I think that's pretty cool.

After a few hours we went our separate ways save for a couple of us.  YOTS and I and Panther had a night cap at a couple bars and I believe I got a call from the Captain as we were between bars.   He called in his well wishes and said he was looking forward to the Yankee meetup the next night.  Good times.   Panther, YOTS and I talked some more, getting into stuff about hockey and so on, and we talked some golf too, given Panther's expertise with the sport.  Talking to Panther for the first time was pretty awesome... I really enjoyed his anecdotes and picking his brain with sports.  Dude is hilarious, as you've heard on the Dave podcast!

We finished the evening at a locals bar called Brickhouse which also served small pizzas.  There we met YOTS room mate aka cousin.  She was fun to talk to and she had a Cubs shirt on... so I asked her "Why do you have a Cubs shirt."  She said it was one of her three favorite teams.  How about that?   She was asking around for people to play darts but I think she got that dart game in fairly quickly because she moved on to her group of co workers she was with before I could go over to play.  I thought the darts were free, but you have to pay per play so I said "nah, I'll move on."

Panther went his merry way and I thanked him for coming.  I decided to leave a little early too because I anticipated (correctly) that the next night would go very very late and I wanted to send some time in the morning to explore Brooklyn.  Even so, I was outa there at roughly 10:30 or 11 that night, so a pretty full night.

Back at the hotel, I retired to bed and got the first of several fantastic sleeps on that giant King sized mattress.  Nothing like that feeling of being the meat on the pita... it felt that good.   A wonderful start to a great trip, but the fun was just beginning.

Part 3, coming up next! 

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