Last Friday was like three days in one, fitting I suppose for a day that saw us in Manhattan for twenty-one hours. We were meeting our old friend Barbara, whom Rhea and I worked with at Borders years ago, and her daughter Madison, whom was not nearly twelve years old the last time I saw her. They had come up to see a concert, and were to turn around back to Greenbelt, Maryland after the show on a 3 AM Amtrak train. So, come 9 AM, Rhea and I were city bound, looking for early bird parking somewhere around Penn Station. Moving through the City was slower than planned, but the parking gods were on our side: we pulled into a self-park and took our ticket, the stamped time on which was 9:59. A most excellent time to be stamped in at, given that the early bird flew the coop at 10.
Penn Station remains an interesting place. No matter how many times it gets made over, it still manages to look grungy, poorly lit and unkempt. I actually dig that about it; it’s one of the few things left in midtown that hasn’t been completely sanitized or Disney-tized. Barbara and Madison’s train was only about fifteen minutes late. By Amtrak standards, that’s practically early. Having done the greeting thing, we decided to head down to the St. Marks Place area of Greenwich Village, our chariot of choice being the subway. Uptown 1 to Times Square Shuttle to Downtown 4 to Union Square, watch both the gaps and the May 21st Rapture Cult representatives as you go. Down Broadway by foot from there, with stops at street vendors (Madison had a true rite of passage, haggling a scarf seller down two bucks just like a native), Forbidden Planet, and the Strand, before lunch at Silver Spurs. It’s funny: every time I eat there, I order heartily, thinking “it’s only a burger.” Halfway through, it becomes inarguably clear to me that, although I’m a fairly big dude, I’m no Adam Richman. I offered my unnecessary fries to our friends, and all was well.
While we were either in Forbidden Planet or the Strand, I forget which, I whispered into Rhea’s ear that it’s always cool to watch folks who don’t live here express a certain level of wonder at these amazing local stores that we take for granted. My words turned prophetic once we reached St. Marks Place. For the last few years I’ve been prone to bitching like a haggard old codger about how much better St. Marks was about a decade or so ago. You know, back before they cleaned it up, back before the sky literally fell down on lower Manhattan. Well, dear readers, I’m not a man who’s afraid to admit when he’s so wrong that there needs to be another, stronger word for it. Watching Madison’s eyes bug out with wonder at the sights and sounds of the Village’s most colorful block brought me back in time to my first time down that hallowed street. I was maybe a year or two older than Madison is now, and my obsession with the rock and roll the kids love so much was just really beginning to blossom. In those days, St. Marks literally had a used record store about every third storefront; literally, I was the proverbial kid in a candy store. As was Madison now, checking out every cool clothing and trinket shop along the way. This, folks, is how an aging semi-hipster like me ends up spending half an hour in a store called Hottie and actually enjoys it. Not quite as much as my nerdy retro-gaming side always enjoys a duck in to 8 Bit and Up (great staff, great stuff, great prices – by all means check it out if you have any interest at all in any era of video games), but we’re all kids in different ways, right?
Back down the other side of the street, then, for more of the wonderful same. I’m trying really hard to like frozen yogurt these days, as part of my attempt to be a bit less of a fairly big dude, and part of me needs to call shenanigans on YogurtStation’s cookie dough flavor, which tasted way too much like real ice cream to actually be good for you. At block’s end, the one sour note of the afternoon thus far was hit: for the first time in my nearly thirty-seven years, I was on the losing end of a bird poop drop. Even that, however, was easily rectified with a bottle of water and some napkins from the pizza joint on the corner; such was the true magic of the afternoon, I suppose. Amidst choruses of how lucky this incident is purported to be, I bought a lottery ticket immediately after fixing my hair. (Hey, back off – if there is one place an aging semi-hipster is allowed to care about his hair, it’s St. Marks.) Not a single number hit, but that’s okay: my luck was probably redeemed later in the evening, looking back on it.
As we headed back to the car, planning to head uptown for dinner before driving back to midtown for the concert and Barbara and Madison’s train home, I wondered what the rest of the evening could possibly hold as an encore: the Village had shown me more magic than it had in years (or maybe I was more receptive to it than I had been in years, argue amongst yourselves), so what could possibly be coming to top it?
Those are always famous last words.