Yesterday was my monthly New York City day trip. Ever since April I have been going to New York City once a month this year. I’m going back next month too in September. The fact is that I’m still finding exciting and interesting things to see and do in New York City so there is always a good reason to keep coming back. Every trip is kind of amazing in its own way.
My first goal on this trip was to go on the tour of NBC Studios which is located in the Rockefeller Center. I often forget that New York City is still the home of television production in the United States. ABC has studios overlooking Times Square. Fox News is located in the News Corporation Building on the Avenue of the Americas (aka 6th Avenue). HBO is located near Bryant Park. I took notice of this on this trip because I walked past it. The only network I’m not sure about is CBS but I think they have a more low key presence in their own office building.
The bus left us off at West 42nd Street across from Bryant Park because there was a street fair on 8th Avenue where they usually like to drop us off. This required a change in my plans. I walked up 6th Avenue to the Rockefeller Center instead of taking the subway. It wasn’t that far to walk so this made a lot of sense. Since the tour did not start until 11:00 a.m. I had an hour to kill in the Rockefeller Center vicinity.
First I decided to use the restroom in the Rockefeller Center basement concourse of the GE Building. Unfortunately the usual bathrooms were closed for renovations but I did manage to find an alternative set of restrooms on the opposite side of the dining concourse. This may seem like a minor detail but finding a public restroom in New York City after a long bus ride is a pretty big deal. There is a lot to see around the Rockefeller Center but I’ve been in that area many times so all I did was try to take some better photos. For example, I took photos of the Rockefeller Center’s sunken plaza but it was taken up by the Rock Center Cafe and not the skating rink. I actually went inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, something I’ve neglected to do before. The interior is quite grand of course and reminded me of the Catholic cathedrals I saw in Rome. On Fifth Avenue across from the church I saw some large photos of supermodel and actress Cara Delevingne. These were glamour shots of Cara Delevingne for A|X Armani Exchange. I took a few photos of this advertising because it was such a striking example of the glamour of New York City. But unfortunately a cement mixer truck got stuck in the street waiting for a traffic light to change. I debated with myself on how long I was going wait for this damn truck to move out of the way, because I did not want an ugly cement mixer truck in my photo of this glamour advertising. Eventually I made the command decision to take the photo anyway because there is contrast between an ugly cement mixer truck and these photos of Cara Delevingne. It almost serves as unintentional social commentary. So even though I am not a professional photographer, I still have a good eye for a great photo opportunity. This is an expression of my creativity which I should not discount.
At a quarter to 11:00 a.m. I entered 30 Rockefeller Plaza (aka 30 Rock) for the The Tour at NBC Studio. I got the right entrance, off 6th Avenue where you see the marquee for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and not the marquee on West 5oth Street which reads; Rainbow Room / Observation Deck / NBC Studios. Maybe that was the old site for the Studio Tours. But even after using the right entrance it is still a little confusing to figure out where the tour is leaving from. It is actually straight ahead in The Shop at NBC Studios. Just go to the checkout counter towards the back and have them scan your ticket if you bought one online as I did. Then you have to wait around the store and check out the merchandise before your tour begins, leaving from the area left of the checkout counter. We were given metal badges which attach to your shirt using a magnet. I got to keep this badge. We had to fill out a form on a tablet. I’ve never seen tablets used this way but I suppose it saves time to collect some data electronically. We only had to provide our name and email address so we could be identified for the interactive part of the tour and sent the video of the show as I will describe in a bit. First we watched a short film starring Al Roker about the history of NBC Studios, like an orientation film for new hires. This took place in a very small home theater space with maybe seats for only 10 people. There must be a limit to the number of people in a tour group.
We then took the elevators to various floors to see various television studios. The decor of the public spaces was really impressive with a lot of Art Deco shiny chrome and gleaming marble. The security was pretty tight with turnstiles and elevators that required keycards. I noticed that one page always trailed the tour group to make sure there were no stragglers. I forgot to mention that you have to go through a metal detector at the start of the tour. No photos or video were allowed so I have no photos from this part of my trip. We saw three television studio; the news studio where Lester Holt does the nightly news, the studio were they film Saturday Night Live, and the studio for the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. It was thrilling to see the Saturday Night Live set. We actually got to be on the same floor as the stage set and get a good look at it. I recognized the small area of the set were bands play because it has not changed in years. It looked exactly as it did during a Deborah Harry performance of “Come Back Jonee” on SNL in 1981. This came to mind because I was to see the new Blondie mural later in the day. The studio for the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon was surprisingly small. It was only about a third of the size you might imagine from watching the show on TV. For example, you might imagine there are three wings for audience seating, a center set of seats directly before the stage and a left and right wing of seats like you see on some shows. But this studio actually only has a single tier of audience seating. It was almost as small as a storefront theater. The stage was also very small with the band playing on a cramped set only a few feet across from the host’s desk and the couch for the celebrities. In addition to the television studios we saw a few control rooms for post production and broadcasting which where filled with LCD flat screen monitors and complicated control consoles. The tour ended with everyone invited to play a role in a fake taping of a talk show. I selected to be in the control room and sat in front of a control console which was lit but entirely deactivated so nothing you did on it would have any effect. There was a couple of French tourists with me in the control room. It may have been their girlfriends who played the host and the celebrity because they spoke with thick accents. However they still managed to read the cues and gave a surprisingly good performance. Hosting a television talk show is clearly a job that anybody could do well.
After the tour was over I walked to the 49 Street Station on 7th Avenue and took a Downtown R train to the 34th Street – Herald Square station. I think I left one R train go by before catching the next one because I wanted a N or Q train. This reminds me to figure out what the difference is between these lines because you can often take either one to get where you are going. Once I reached Herald Square I took photos of the Macy’s department store and the statues in Greeley Square and Herald Square. There is a statue of Horace Greeley in Greeley Square. But my goal was to explore Koreatown which is nearby on West 32nd Street. I walked along West 32nd Street, aka Korea Way, and took photos of the various Korean establishments I learned about during my research. In particular I made sure to get photos of Wonjo, BCD Tofu House, and Koryo Books. Then I went to Seoul Garden for lunch because I’d heard this place was never crowded so there is seldom a wait for a table. This proved to be the case. It is located on the second floor and the elevator opens directly upon the restaurant. I ordered the Ganjang Gaejang, blue crab preserved in soy sauce. Ordering this was little awkward because I also had to select tofu soup to go with the meal. I had no idea what I was ordering except for the blue crab. Before that came out, I was given several small plates of vegetable-based dishes including kimchi. This is known as banchan. I was only given chopsticks and a spoon to eat with. The Ganjang Gaejang blue crab proved to be impossible to eat with chopsticks. There didn’t seem to be any meat to dig out of the crab shells and it was impossible to get it out with chopsticks. I spent several minutes digging into these crab shells with a chopstick trying to find some tiny morsel of food to eat. Fortunately the bowl of soft tofu soup was more substantial and quite tasty. It was served boiling hot in a cooking vessel. It was literally boiling away for several minutes so I did not dare eat it until that stopped. I think I was supposed to add a raw egg to the soup while it was boiling because there was a raw egg included in the banchan. Obviously I should have spent more time learning about Korean cuisine because the entire experience was baffling and very frustrating. But at least it wasn’t terribly expensive since I only spent $27.00 including a tip. After leaving Seoul Garden I went to the Korean bookstore Koryo Books but all their books are in Korean so I did not buy anything.
I had a ticket to see a play but that did not start until 3:00 p.m. so I had time to go downtown to see the new Blondie mural on the corner of Bleecker Street and the Bowery. I took the Downtown F train to the Second Avenue station. While on the train I discovered that my smartphone would not boot up. Every time I tried to get it to boot up it would just die before getting to the main screen. It turned out that the battery had drained. I really need to remember to turn on Airplane Mode on my smartphone while in New York City. Continuous sensing for WiFi connections or GPS location sensing appears to cause rapid battery draining in urban environments. This is something I will need to research. It was not a big deal on this trip because I had my route all planned out with written directions, but I usually rely totally on my smartphone for help in navigating the city. I don’t actually need a WiFi connection for my offline, custom travel guide. Anyway, the new Blondie mural replaces the Ramones mural which I had photographed on a previous trip.
I had planned on seeing the Blondie mural after the play I was going to see, but I had time to squeeze it in before 3:00 p.m. The only other things I photographed in the area where the Anthology Film Archives, the John Varvatos designer clothing retailer store which occupies the site of CBGB, and the Joey Ramone Place street sign. The Blondie mural was a cool reminder of the mystique that New York City had for me long before I ever actually went there.
I didn’t want to be late for the play so I went back to the Second Avenue station and took an Uptown F train to the 42nd Street – Bryant Park station. I think I exited this station at the HBO headquarters exit. There is a HBO Store in the HBO Building on 6th Avenue. I will have to put that in my notes because I did not realize there was a store. Anyway I walked over to West 40th Street and eventually reached the Drama Book Shop where I decided to do a little shopping before heading to the theater. I was a little rushed so I did not have time to browse much. I bought a copy of Jitney, the only August Wilson play that was remaining on my wish list, and a copy of The Dramatist magazine, the July / August 2017 issue. This magazine is published by the Dramatists Guild. I still have not rejoined the Dramatists Guild but I intend to after I have written enough decent plays. I need to have enough literary property to justify the expense. Several people were ahead of me in line and it crossed my mind to whip out my ticket and beg to cut in line so I could make it to the theater in time. But I didn’t and I had plenty of time to get to the theater.
The play I saw on this trip was Dear Jane by Joan Beber at the Clurman Theatre. The Clurman Theatre is one of the five small theaters housed in the same brick building on West 42nd Street between 9th Avenue and 10th Avenue, aka Theatre Row. These theaters mostly do Off Broadway shows. This was a new play by a minor playwright and I only took a chance on it because it is about an artist looking back over her life. I was particularly intrigued by this line in the advertisements for the play, “She strives for something beyond our boundaries, reaching for art as the ultimate expression of meaning”. Unfortunately the play didn’t really fulfill that promise. The protagonist had very little to say about art or the meaning of life. I tried to find out as much as I could about the people behind this production but I was mystified by it all. Joan Beber is a grandmother who appears to have gotten into playwriting very late in life. Nevertheless she seems to have enjoyed remarkable success with at least two full productions of her plays on a New York stage, both on Theatre Row. This strikes me as odd because generally you can’t reinvent yourself that late in life and actually get anywhere. The play was directed by Katrin Hilbe, a Swiss director, writer, and producer who appears to be involved in many obscure theater projects in New York City like Theaterlab. She may be more involved with the European connected theater community. I was unable to discover any theater company responsible for this production.
I enjoyed Dear Jane even though it seemed like a self-indulgent celebration of an unremarkable life. The play was a series of vignettes which were announced by the year in which the events depicted took place. But it was very difficult to follow the course of the protagonist’s life as it was a non-linear memory play. The protagonist, Julie, did not appear to have ever done anything particularly remarkable so her life history would be unknown to the audience. Looking back over a life like this only served to depress me, but to be fair even the mundane life deserves to be celebrated and this play did a good job of that. The actors were very attractive and showed a lot of talent in performing the vignettes which included scenes of interpretative dance, singing, and the occasional emotional moment that occurred with little context. Overall this play struck me as an inexplicably professional production of a random elderly woman’s private ruminations over her life. I cannot figure out how this play came to be produced. It is as if the god’s had decided to smile on somebody who is not exceptional. Still, it does seem a little moving to make a Broadway production out of a life for no apparent reason. The actress playing Julie, Jenny Piersol, was really beautiful and her beauty made everything seem tragic and beautiful.
When the show was over around 5:00 p.m. I had no other plans for this trip so I decided to head down to Greenwich Village and take photos of Tea and Sympathy and Myer’s of Keswick, two British establishments which I found were poorly documented in my notes. However, since my smartphone was inoperative I was unable to locate anything in Greenwich Village. So what I actually did was wander around in all directions taking as many photos I could of interesting establishments or landmarks to use in my custom travel guide. I did stumble across some interesting things like a statue of Fiorello H. La Guardia and a bookstore on Carmine Street, Unoppressive Non-imperialist Bargain Books, which looked like an anarchist book store. I checked it out but the selection of books was too poor for me to find anything to buy. The stock did reflect peculiar tastes though. It was one of those rare used book stores that show a lot of character. I won’t be able to identify everything I took a photo of in Greenwich Village until I’m ready to tag my photos on Flickr. But I did eventually wander to Washington Square Park where the arch was well lit by the setting sun. Washington Square Park was extremely crowded with buskers and entertainers and tourists. From Washington Square Park I must have walked up Fifth Avenue to come across the new building for the New School. Even without my travel guide I knew the Strand Bookstore was not far from that.
At the Strand Bookstore I returned to the Drama shelves which I had located on previous trips and searched for some plays to buy. I did not have access to my shopping list so I had to rely on chance to find something worthwhile. For example, my Moyer Studio Season Tickets includes the play Proof so I looked for that play. This play was by David Auburn but for some reason I had him confused with Tom Stoppard so I bought The Hard Problem by Tom Stoppard instead. I also found Translations by the Irish playwright Brian Friel. And finally I bought Three Tall Women by Edward Albee because I’ve never actually read that play.
I was feeling a little hungry and very thirsty after that so I went across the street to a Pret a Manger and bought a Cup of Goodness and a Wonderful Watermelon according to my receipt. Say what? Obviously that is not what I bought. The Cup of Goodness must have been the parfait, smooth Greek yogurt layered with freshly sliced apples and topped with brown sugar, granola and warming cinnamon, and the Wonderful Watermelon must have been the pink lemonade. I like Pret a Manger because it is like a cafeteria where you just grab a few items and pay for them without the fuss of waiting to be served. However just these two items cost me $10.87 which is outrageous.
I walked up to the 14th Street – Union Square station where I used an entrance outside Whole Foods rather than walk across the street. I got off at the 42nd Street station near NyGard SLIMS and went into Times Square briefly to take some photos but didn’t really stay long enough to even feel the vibe. I walked west to Bryant Park where the bus was going to pick us up. I was a little early so I went to Kinokuniya Bookstore hoping to buy a Japanese movie DVD. I didn’t find any movies that looked promising so I left the store without buying anything.
On the long bus ride home I was unusually stoked by this trip. I’m not sure how to account for this but maybe everything added up create a more exciting impression of New York City.