The Best Way to Travel
It occurs to me that I have a whole page on this website dedicated to chronicling “my travels”. (As if a world exists where anyone gives a shit where I go or what I do while I’m there.) Yet I take so few pictures touring about, I never really have any content to add.
But hey, I’m a writer, ain’t I? Maybe I should write about it? Maybe? Okay, I’ll give it a shot. This entry will follow a recent trip I made to New York.
You know the best way to travel alone? I do. The best way is to pick a place—a place worth visiting—then you wait. Wait until something fantastic is happening there, an event tailored to your sensibilities and taste. A festival maybe, or concert—like your FAVORITE artist is coming to town. And there’s enough time between then and now to plan and save as needs be.
(Since the place is worth visiting, you might as well!)
Your trip gains some much needed focus this way. You’re not methodically hitting the must-sees, checking them off, one-by-one, as you move to the next. Nor are you avoiding these vortices of jostling tourists, all wide-eyed and staring through their cameras’ digital displays. You’re there for a reason. You’re there with purpose. And so yeah, take in the touristy stuff (it’s usually touristy because it’s worth checking out); yeah, explore parts typically known only to locals. Have fun; it’s all just side quests.
So it was with me. So it has been.
At some point last year, I was on the website of my favorite musical artist. Now this particular artist wasn’t touring at the time. But to my delight, I noted a one-off show in some big-deal New York concert hall, with one of those big-deal New York orchestras you’re always hearing about. It was a big deal.
I decided to go.
I bought my plane ticket. Accommodation. And last but not least, a ticket to the show.
‘Does that say…November, 2017?’ I asked myself, squinting into the light of my monitor. ‘But this is 2018. There’s nothing in 2017 that…that hasn’t already happened! I think this concert might even be in the past! (A place I don’t know how to get to.)
Upon further investigation, I found this was indeed the case; the show did only exist in the past.
‘Oh well,’ I thought. ‘I’ll just have to find something else to do in New York. People tell me they have things to do there.’
Some months later, I found this same favorite artist was once more playing a special show in New York. I double-checked the date. It hadn’t happened yet. Logically, if I was willing to go before, I had to go. Didn’t I?
So I booked.
I maintain this is the best way to travel alone.
DAY 1 (FINDING MY FEET)
It’s my third time in this city and I’d like to think I can get around without too much trouble. I still manage to take my sweet-ass time wandering JFK in search of the AirTrain … then figuring out how to pay for the AirTrain … then working out how the Long Island Rail Road works and how to pay for that. (They’re all basically the same, Wing. You dummy.)
Finally, I hit the subway system (I can work with this) and somehow manage to pay for a 7-day Metro Card that doesn’t have any credit on it. (THIS ONE ISN’T MY FAULT!) Oh, the machine takes my money—I checked my statement—it just opts out on the ‘in exchange for goods and services’ part of the transaction. So I end up having to pay twice.
This is not a great start to the trip.
A Short Night Out
Given my meager transit capabilities, it’s not shocking that I make it to my Chinatown AirBnB later than expected. My host, Thanh, is friendly though, and we chat for a few minutes before I collapse in a puddle in my room.
Allowing myself a moment to recuperate, I reassemble my tired skeleton and slide out the door to explore the neighborhood.
Some pretty fantastic dumplings. (Though the noodles aren’t so great.)
And I even catch a spell of live music, showing up at the Rockwood Music Hall just in time to enjoy the climactic end of Among Authors rather intense set.
I stay to watch this talented fellow for a while (Michael Daves).
My fatigue gets the better of me and I decide to call it. Goodnight New York. Let’s talk in the morning.
DAY 2 (WALKING, EATING, WATCHING)
What a beautiful New York morning. Time to get up, get going—let’s go. Much to do; much to see. Much to devour.
Drizzly weather. Not so bad I need an umbrella—or even a jacket—but I’m sure glad I have my strawberry-pink waterproof shoes. These things are awesome.
Pretty great views from the Roosevelt Island Tram.
Then the Guggenheim. (Had meant to go on my last trip but it was closed for renos.)
I don’t know why but the art in there made me think of hot dogs (See the third picture. Heh.). Grabbing a quick bite, I march into Central Park. I’ve never been north of the Jackie O lake so that’s where I head.
Sitting down for an early lunch at Prune.
Damn but that’s a fine tasting shrimp-roll.
I’m going to a show tonight—not the one I came for, but when in New York, right? So I follow lunch (almost immediately) with an early dinner at the Grand Central Oyster Bar.
I am … so full. And … so … happy.
I’ve got some time before my show (Hadestown). I guess I’ll chill at Starbucks for a bit and start writing this blog…
The internet has been insisting I watch Hadestown for a few months now—as soon as I can, and if possible, as often. It has brooked no argument on this. I’m not entirely sure I had a choice in the matter.
Damn. What do I say about Hadestown?
I mean it’s a (kind of) 1930’s retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice. (If you’re on this website, you probably know I have a soft spot for Greek Mythology.)
The music’s pretty great. I’m not much of an authority on such things, but I like what I’m listening to. The set pieces are fun and elaborate, and the acting is spot on.
And the story…
How the holy fuck do you give the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice a satisfying ending?
That story! HOW???
What are they even going to do here?
Yet they manage it. Brilliantly, they manage it.
It’s touching and sad and hopeful and smart, and I can’t help but agree with the internet; you SHOULD watch this show as soon and as often as opportunity allows.
I could do more tonight, but I’m spent. Goodnight, friends.
DAY 3 (PIES AND THIGHS, RAIN, AND REGI)
I’m a bit worn down this morning. I walked 20km yesterday and ate a LOT. Had some wine at the show too…
Nonetheless, I make the hike to Williamsburg for a return trip to perhaps the best chicken and pie restaurant I’ve been to. Pies ‘n’ Thighs. How does one choose?
I think I’ll check out the Natural History Museum then back to the AirBnB for a short rest before—holy shit! THAT’S the line to get it?? It’ll take like THREE HOURS just to get through the door. Nope. No Natural History Museum. Just gunna take a nap.
Back to the AirBnB for a rest. A sound grows in my ears as I lie in bed. Not the noise of a million trucks and three billion honking horns; these I’ve grown used to. No, what I’m hearing is…rain.
RAIN! Real. Heavy. Pouring rain.
I fling the window open to an explosion shattered clouds. Oh, I’m DEFINITELY going out!
Snatching my umbrella—almost as an afterthought—I rush into the torrent just for the sake of it. Just to enjoy the rain. I grab a coffee and sip it, walking around in the puddles.
(Did I mention my waterproof shoes?)
The Concert, at Last
I don’t think I’ve mentioned the artist I came here to see. Regina Spektor. You may not be familiar with her work (though the loss is yours, I assure you), but she is … she’s something else.
Classically trained, she’s got the chops, musically; no question. Her melodies (when sweet) are sweetness itself. Her voice, a little breathy, a little throaty, often playful and always gripping, is something else altogether.
But none of those things are why you cross a continent (twice) to see Regina Spektor. No, the reason you do that is her poetry. Not just the poetry of words (though there’s more than enough of that); it’s the poetry in her music. Words, melodies, themes, structures. Her songs challenge you, a dare you to follow on a path that kicks and hacks its way sideways through every conceivable convention. Yet the sound doesn’t suffer; even when it isn’t sweet, somehow it is.
Regina is Werner Herzog meets Frank Capra. She’s Leonard Cohen meets Björk … with just a touch of Ella Fitzgerald in the mix.
And here she is. Live and on stage. Magnificent. Forgetting lyrics one moment, then laughingly following with a tune that begins, “It’s like forgetting the words to your favorite song.” The audience is rapt. I am rapt. What a concert. What an artist…
After the Concert
Again, if you’re on this site, you must already know I’m a writer. Chances are you know I have a published novel called ICARUS. What you may not know is that the inspiration for this book came from listening to a Regina Spektor song. Lacrimosa.
Since the first keystroke, I’ve dreamed of giving Regina a copy of this book. Tonight, I’ve decided, this dream will become reality.
The concert ends. Fantastically, beautifully. A single-song encore. Samson, of course. (I mean, not of-course of course, but yeah, kind of-course of course.) And I’m going to do something I’ve never done. Wait at the stage door for the artist to come out.
My seat is by the side-door exit. The lights come up and I make my way to the street, finding myself front and centre, at the stage-door cattle gates. And I wait.
And I wait.
More people arrive and we wait together. All goofy over-enthusiastic fans. We wait for quite some while. (I mean, I know it’s going to be a bit. This is night-one of a five-night Broadway residency. Her first time performing on Broadway. A really big deal. No doubt there’s some celebrating back stage.)
I begin to grow concerned because I’ve actually made plans for not long after the concert. (See the next section.) But it’s … exciting.
Finally, the door opens. Out steps Regina Spektor. (Not three feet from where I stand!) Holy shit.
She says ‘hi’ to her fans and stops to take pictures. I wonder if I’ll have a chance to give her the book. (I brought a copy with me. Even signed it ahead of time.) But she couldn’t be sweeter; it soon becomes clear she’s going to stick around, smiling and chatting with each and every person that came to see her. She must be exhausted, but she stays, ever friendly, ever kind.
She turns her eyes on me, and I give her the book. “Your music inspired my novel.” The words rush from my lungs. “Please, I’d like you to have a copy.”
Seriously, a dream come true.
(And it would appear…)
(…I’m not too cool for a picture.)
But Then Something Else Happened…
I mentioned I’d centred this trip around this concert. (That’s kind of where we came in.) Well that’s how it started. But between buying my plane ticket and catching my plane, something else happened. Something that really doesn’t happen to me that often.
I met someone.
Let’s call her L.
We’ve been chatting for a while. Getting along. Getting to know each other. L has family in New York, so we realized, if she were to fly out, she could just stay with them and we could have a (relatively) stress-free opportunity to meet. So we’re doing that.
(Do you recall I said I have plans for right after the concert?)
Well now the concert’s over, and this is it.
It’s good to centre your trip around a big event. Well, guess what…here’s another one. Meeting L is now ALSO what this trip is about! (Not travelling alone after all.)
As I’d waited to give my book to Regina—as you might a imagine—I had begun to fret something fierce over the time. L tells me not to worry. She says she understood how important this is to me, and kindly offers to change plans and meet me at the theatre. I feel kind of crappy, but I know she’s being earnest. She’s good like that.
L’s timing couldn’t be better. No sooner do I escape my own doofy excitement at the stage door, than she appears around the corner in a ride-share.
We stand face-to-face for the first time.
Okay. This is real now. Very exciting. A little scary. A lot of emotions.
To quell our nerves, we share some delicious lamb shawarma. We get along just fine.
DAY 4 (BONUS: IN THE CITY WITH L)
It’s my last full day before flying home. I spend it with L. It’s delightful. We have a great time together. She’s fun and funny and I like hanging out with her. We do some of the New York things. We eat some of the New York foods. We make it to the Museum of Natural History. (The line’s not so bad this time.) It’s great to be with her.
Mostly we just enjoy each other’s company.
DAY 5 (THE JOURNEY HOME)
Getting up early, I go for a bagel and coffee with L. Then we say goodbye on the subway. Sad, but that’s the way of it.
My flight’s delayed. No a big deal. I still make my connection in Toronto.
I arrive in Calgary and head straight to work. Night shift you know. I’m tired from the trip—not quite exhausted, but pretty damn tired. But man, was it a good one.