I set my alarm for 6:30am to start the day. I wanted to make the absolute most of my time in New York City, and I knew that with how ridiculously long I take to get ready in the morning, I probably needed as much of a headstart as I could get. Once I’d showered, shaved and dressed, I headed downstairs for breakfast. And this is another great thing about the Comfort Inn Convention Center that I really appreciated: the complimentary breakfast. I knew from my time in San Diego that it can be a real pain having to go out and find someplace to eat for breakfast in the morning, when you’re tired and hungry, not to mention having to pay for it. So being able to just wander downstairs and choose from a range of foods was great. Not wanting to push my luck with my trippy tummy just yet, I settled for a bagel with cream cheese.
This is probably the best place to make a couple of breakfast-based observations. First, while the British are the masters of orderly queueing, with Americans it’s a free-for-all, everyone scrambling to get their toast or their cereal like it was going out of style. And if you left your table, even for a minute to go and get a cup of tea, you’d return to find your tray cast aside and someone in your seat. “But in the UK, the old tray placeholder trick is sacred!” I silently sobbed to myself. Also, there was a TV in the breakfast lounge broadcasting Good Morning America, which is fucking terrifying. Whether it’s the weather or a disturbing report of a mass killing, it is reported with the same relaxed, cheery morning chirp by the newscasters, smiling through the screens at us like airbrushed, soulless automatons. And the only thing more terrifying than American news is American commercials! In the UK, we’re almost apologetic about selling you stuff – we’ll make these artful little packages, with the actual product being shilled kinda tacked on at the end in an unobstrusive a manner as possible. With America, it’s “OUR PRODUCT IS THE BEST, THIS OTHER PRODUCT IS SHIT! LOOK HOW SHIT IT IS!!!! BUY, BUY, BUY! BUY OR YOUR FAMILY WILL DIE!!!!” And I had to laugh nihilistically at the commercials for various medications available to buy, where they actually had extensive silent montages showing how happy the featured individual was since taking their magic pills, juxtaposed against this exhaustive voiceover listing the multitude of potential side effects, which inevitably ended with, “May cause death.”
The coverage of the Republican Presidential Debates also got me intrigued. Particularly with the story of Herman Cain’s meteoric rise as a dark horse candidate. See, I’ve figured it out. The GOP should pay me a fee, I’ve figured out how to get this guy elected: give him a theme tune. The thing writes itself: “HERE I AM… DUH-DUH, DUH-DUH-DUH… ROCK YOU LIKE A HERMAN CAIN!” Who gives a fuck about his policies? I heard that, I’d be like, “Where do I vote? How do I become an American citizen so I can vote for the guy with that theme tune?”
But enough with the tangents, let’s get on with my actual day. After briefly passing through it on Monday, I decided that I really wanted to get myself immersed in Times Square.
I remember, after my first visit to NYC in 2004, I picked out Times Square as my single favorite place in the world. I have a large painting of Times Square hanging in my study. I’m not sure if I’d still go quite that far, but it’s still an amazing assault on the senses that everyone should experience first hand at least once. I’ve said to a few people recently that New York is the “citiest” city I’ve ever been to, if that makes sense. And Times Square is the central hub of that, with massive billboards and flashing signs making screaming bids for your attention and threatening to overwhelm you and eat you up at any moment.
Because I’m a man-child, the first place I visited was Toys R Us. I wish I had been able to go to this place when I was 8, my little head would have exploded. Every kind of toy a kid could want. And best of all, they have a giant animatronic T-Rex. This thing blinks, moves, periodically roars, it’s the closest thing to a New York toy store actually having its own pet dinosaur!
After embracing my inner child, I turned my eye towards more practical concerns, such as getting some new pairs of jeans. I am a victim of this strange phenomenom where, for reasons unbeknownst to me, mysterious holes keep on appearing in the crotch of my jeans, meaning I run through pairs annoyingly fast. But the short lifespan of my denims could be a case of “You buy cheap, you get cheap,” so I decided to shoot for some quality and visit the famous Levis Superstore in Times Square. I tried on a pair from each of their numerous cuts of jeans, and much to my surprise, the ones I liked the best were the skinny jeans. Now, I was of the opinion that I could never pull off skinny jeans, as I’d look like a pudgy guy in specs trying to be Russell Brand and/or Jedward (and indeed, I tried the SUPER skinny jeans, and this is what I looked like), but the skinny jeans looked pretty good, and for the first time since, well, ever, I actually felt pretty stylish in my choice of legwear. So I picked a pair up.
I also stopped at Champs shoestore in Times Square, and picked up some new black Timberland boots (the last pair of boots I picked up in New York, I threw out just last month because they’d finally began letting in water – considering I was last in New York in 2004, I’d say a 7 year lifespan is nothing to sniff at) and my first pair of Converse sneakers. Always wanted to try these shoes, and they are super-comfy. But enough about me talking about the stuff I bought. I feel like a character from Sex & the City or something, and I doubt it makes for interesting reading.
After lunch at a place on Broadway and West 36th Street called Pronto Pizza (who do a great deal on a giant slice of pizza and a drink for just $6!), I dropped off my shopping at my hotel, and then made the long walk out to Forbidden Planet NYC. Of course, the Forbidden Planet here in Glasgow is quite possibly my favorite shop in the world, so I wanted to visit its US sister store once again while I was in the city. It is a really cool shop, with a friendly, knowledgable staff, but I actually like the Glasgow one better. This is something I noticed about US comic stores: is it really hard to just have a clear-cut A-to-Z system with all your graphic novels? Why do you have to have this setup where it’s mostly A-to-Z, but we have all our Vertigo comics seperated over in this section, and all the books by this certain writer displayed over on that section, and then we’ve put certain graphic novels out next to the single issues over in the single issues section. It’s just confusing.
The day had flown by, and before I knew it, I’d spent the best part of seven hours in and around Times Square. I figured it was time to call it a day. I had a minor triumph at dinner, where I was able to hunt down the elusive Island Burgers & Shakes, a place famous for its great burgers and milkshakes that I’d tried and failed to find in 2004. I love trying strawberry milkshakes in various places in my quest to find one I can call THE BEST (right now, the frontrunner is in a restaurant in Puerto Pollensa, Majorca), and of course I love a good burger, so I really wanted to check this place out. So, this time round, I staked out in the early morning, walking down 9th Avenue until I found it, so I’d know where it was for later. And I enjoyed my dinner. The milkshake was good, but a bit too chunky to break the upper echelon of great strawberry milkshakes. The burger, however, was divine: at least the best of the numerous burgers I stuffed down my face while in NYC.
Now, those who know me know I’m not exactly heavy into nightlife. But I wasn’t going to come to New York then retreat to my hotel as soon as the sun went down. So, for this night, I planned a visit to Smalls Jazz Club in the East Village. I know very little about jazz, but watching Treme made me really keen to visit an authentic jazz club. The club was on West 10th Street, a good 26 blocks away from my hotel, so I decided to take the subway. Even for someone who has been on the London underground, this was a rather terrifying experience. Trains flying back and forth in all directions, and a labyrinthine, inpenetrable route map with various additions and alterations sprinkled around it. However, I eventually figured out where I was going, and got a train as far as West 14th Street. But then things got weird. Remember that trusty grid system I talked about? Well, I’m happily walking down West 14th Street, West 13th Street, Jane Street…. what, Jane Street!? And I look up, and it’s on a junction with West 4th Street. 4th!? What happened to 5-12!? Nervously I kept on walking ahead, through some unfamiliar street names, until eventually I passed West 12th Street. Then a couple more unusual names, and West 11th Street, then a few more…. until I was at West 10th. Panic over.
The East Village is a nice, quiet, artsy area of the city, and it struck me as being not too different from Glasgow’s West End. I wouldn’t mind living in one of the apartment blocks I passed walking down West 10th Street. Correction: I wouldn’t mind being insanely wealthy so I could afford to live in one of the apartment blocks I passed walking down West 10th Street. The jazz club was a really cool experience. I entered to the silky tones of a jazz pianist, who was great in his own right, but was actually just the house warm-up act before the proper night’s entertainment arrived. Shamefully, I’ve forgotten the names of the featured guests, but they were a great troupe. In particular, the drummer and the guy on the saxophone were both top class. The writer/lead musician was also good, but he spoiled things a bit by playing on a dinky electric keyboard. You could see with the complexity of his compositions he was a really gifted musician, but he wasn’t doing justice to his music playing on the keyboard, where I kept on getting distracted by the clunk of his fingers hitting the plastic keys as the whiny electro-rattle hissed up in response. Get him on a classic piano like the warm-up guy was using, and he’d have been really rocking. The whole place had a great vibe. To complete the aesthetic, there was even a stray cat wandering around in the club, occasionally nestling under chairs or even jumping up on top of the piano during the set.
After a great night of music, I got the subway back to my hotel. I’d had a fantastic first full day in New York City, but to end on a bit of a grim note, I was kinda sad to have experienced it alone. This may sound a bit emo, but even crowded amidst such a huge mass of people in a big city, I’ve perhaps never felt so lonely, or depressed about being single. I think New York would be an amazing city to experience with someone. But as it stands, I still had a great day, and was looking forward to what lay ahead.
NEXT: My first ever signing in a comic book store!