Rock Love New York City

14 Nov

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Back on October 5, Zack and I took a trip to my favorite city to see my favorite band perform* in a world-class venue. This was about as far as our planning took us — we had a couple more activities on our must-do list, but this was probably the least-planned trip we’d ever taken**. From my perspective, this was by design. I wanted us to be able to wander new corners of NYC I’d never seen before. I’d come up with this plan to have us spend a day closing our eyes and selecting random stops on the subway map so we could really get a sense of the giant, bustling city that never sleeps. This ended up being a better plan in theory than in practice, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning.

*I should explain that we were here to settle our LCD Soundsystem bet. Since LCD played a show less than five years after “retiring,” she had to pay for a concert of my choosing. When Sigur Ros announced their tour and had no Texas dates, I suggested the idea to Caitlin. She happily bought our tickets and I cashed in free miles and we were headed back to NY.

**It’s true. Typically we over-plan our trips and try to pack in three days worth of activities per day. We had nothing more than the concerts, a late night comedy show at the Cellar and an afternoon matinee of “Oh Hello” planned.

Zack found us an amazing AirBnB apartment in Brooklyn* that was basically across the street from a major subway stop, and surrounded by charming shops, lovely parks and a diverse neighborhood**. We had a kitchen with a fridge/freezer we took full advantage of, a large living room area, a bathroom and a spacious bedroom. We were able to spread out, hang items in the closet and practically move in for the long weekend, which made me feel more at home and settled.

*It was cute. This was our second choice after the one we’d booked months earlier was canceled by the host, but it worked out well.

**I picked the area because it was close to Kings Theater where we were seeing Sigur Ros and just around the corner from my friend Kappel’s apartment. Turned out to be a great area to spend some time.

img_2602After we unpacked on Wednesday, we had a quick turnaround time to grab dinner and go see the first of two Sigur Ros shows on our agenda. We stopped first at a ramen spot that Zack’s Brooklyn local friend suggested called Chuko, and SERIOUSLY HOW DOES NYC MAKE RAMEN SO MAGICAL?!? The broth is buttery, smooth and filling, the noodles melt in your mouth, the tofu pieces add some oomph — I wish we had comparable ramen* (and appropriate cold weather) in Texas, because I’d eat ramen at least once a week. On our way to Chuko, I spotted about 8 different shops I wanted to check out later, so we agreed a return trip to Vanderbilt street would be necessary. For the time being, it was off to Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan.

*It was amazing. This is a pic of mine and I like the smiley faces it’s making at me. I’m told we genuinely do have great ramen here at Ramen Tatsu-ya and Michi and Daruma. It’s still pushing 80 degrees in mid-November here, but when it does get cold, we’ll see how Austin compares.

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Step one for me was scoping out the merch and buying a ridiculous amount of it*. Then we grabbed some less-than-stellar wine, and found our way to our amazing seats. The first thing that struck me once we walked through the large doors out of the lobby and into the main concert hall was that the venue was smaller than I’d imagined. When I think of Radio City Music Hall, I think of the Rockettes kicking it for thousands of fans. While the place does seat 6,015**, it doesn’t feel that way at all when you’re in there. It’s like your own private cozy hermit crab shell.

*It’s rare that Caitlin goes to a concert and doesn’t get a t-shirt, so for an all time favorite like Sigur Ros, she had to get the t-shirt, sweatshirt and a pin or two.

**I definitely would have guessed half that many. It feels intimate for such a big theater. I’d always pictured Radio City as a boxy old place they used to hold the VMAs, but it’s a gorgeously designed theater.

img_2607I knew this particular Sigur Ros tour was touted as three of the four founding members (Jonsi, Georg and Orri) playing a range of the band’s songs, but I didn’t realize they really meant it was just those three guys. That said, this was hardly a stripped-down, acoustic tour. In fact, the production ranked near the top of any other Sigur Ros performance I’ve seen. It was comforting to feel that the band knows exactly what their music evokes — the backdrop they played in front of and, at times, behind spread into a vast galaxy of stars, or rolling Icelandic hills, or clouds, or electric lightning storms. Blue lights danced on divider-screen structures, and the band blended in and out of the scenes. Yep. The visuals and audio really combine beautifully.

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I’ve attempted to describe what it is to watch Sigur Ros perform in the past. It’s a tall order, because the magic is in the live show. It’s in Jonsi holding a single high note in “Festival” for almost a full 60 seconds, as bursts of applause break out in scattered euphoria. It’s in Orri ramping up the drums in “Popplagið” as the song erupts into rock ‘n’ roll chaos. It’s in Georg lightly striking a xylophone that sounds like faerie dust before the whole band summons the destruction of an old star through their music. For me, it grounds me in a connection with my fellow humans while simultaneously elevating me to some otherworldly place, where Jonsi must have been gifted to us from. I’ll be getting my first tattoo soon, and it will be a lyric from this beautiful band that reminds me to just enjoy, enjoy, enjoy the time I have and find the wonder in everything around me. It was an incredible show and it was impressive how full a sound they can get with just the three of them. Sigur Ros had already made the trip worth the journey and we were glad we had another night of them.

img_2917The next day, Zack suggested the Prospect Park Zoo. Zack never suggests the zoo, but there we were, and we had the most amazing time I think we’ve ever had at a zoo*. The sea lions were king here, and our timing was unintentionally perfect because we got to witness a feeding, which meant tricks like saluting, waving and talking. Sea lions are the dogs of the ocean and I love them so much.

*We’ve had a lot of zoo adventures, from Berlin to San Diego, Dallas and even our little Austin zoo. And while those are world class zoos, we had a special affinity for this one thanks to some especially cute animals and great design of the zoo letting you get close to them. I was able to capture the sea lions doing flips in slow motion here.

img_2634Another huge Prospect Park highlight was the groundhog pen. You see, the zookeepers were brilliant in their design of the pen, so they constructed some underground tunnels that visitors and climb into and then pop their head up in these protected plastic bubbles like you see above. This way, you can get up close and personal with the animals. In fact, I was about a five-finger distance away from one of the little pen inhabitants at one point — SO COOL! Can we do this with all animals at all zoos please? I mean, we better make that glass gorilla proof, but still. Would be sweet to be this close to the big animals.

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After our zoo visit, we wandered up to Vanderbilt so we could check out the cool shops we’d seen the day before. I found this sign on our journey, and I thoroughly appreciated it. I did not take a photo of the delicious pie that came next from Daly Pie, but I can tell you we had a cider and slice of Salty Lime and zoooooomg I could eat pie at that place EVERY. DAY. Oh I did take a pic. It happened and it was sensational.

img_2639Not only was the food heavenly, but the vibe of the joint itself was neighborly and comfortable. The guy working the cash register interacted sweetly with three little girls who ran in with backpacks swishing as their mom put money in the meter outside. He talked to them about what slices they’d want, and the girls picked out all kinds of delicious options:  Chocolate Bourbon Pecan, Lumberjack and Salty Lime. When they were sure that was their order, the guy said, “OK great. I’m going to wait for the person with money to come in before I cut these up for you.”

img_2638Not content with just one dessert, I insisted we stop at Ample Hills Creamery next. It was also filled with children who had presumably just gotten out of school, so we waited our turn as a mom scoffed when her daughter asked for the “Trump” ice cream, “No! We’re not giving our money to him in any way, shape or form.” I felt bad for the kid, who probably just wanted the marshmallow, but them’s the breaks sometimes. I went with the ooey gooey butter cake and salted crack caramel flavors, which were DIVINE. Then we were super full and decided to walk all that sugar off a little more by popping into a book shop. The ice cream was definitely “we’re coming back here” level good.

Unnameable Books is one of those classic New York independent book shops. There are books in stacks taller than you packed in around every corner, in a vague “order” but mostly just there for your slow and steady perusal. I LOVED this place, because I think the curation of selections in the shop is top-notch. I ended up getting 3 books there, and I really had to hold myself back to limit just to 3*. I could have spent hours in the shop, if my belly was not so full of heavy desserts to the point where we needed to rush hurriedly back to our apartment and take our pants off.

*I loved this cute little shop. I ended up getting a cheap used copy of the legendary Led Zeppelin bio “Hammer of the Gods” and a compilation of David Foster Wallace’s best tennis essays.

We ordered delivery from an amazing Japanese restaurant in the area before heading to visit Zack’s friends at their nearby apartment for a pre-Sigur Ros chill. The food was just fine, but it worked with our timing and let us have a nice visit with Kappel and a chance to meet his lovely wife. Their apartment was just around the corner from us and the venue was two miles down the road.

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Night 2 was in the gorgeous and ornate King’s Theatre, and we were on the opposite side and a little closer than the previous night at Radio City Music Hall. While the decor at King’s was a bit more breathtaking, I will say that Radio City Music Hall’s sound is as perfect as a church so it was hard to beat the acoustics from that perspective.

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Either way, another night of heavenly songs played by wonderful humans was everything I wanted it to be. I was tempted to bully Zack into seeing them a third night (they added a second King’s Theatre show after we’d bought our tickets to the first two NYC performances) but let it go, content to be left wanting more.

img_2927The next day is when it got a little grouchy in the Teibloom adventure party of two. We started our morning out by selecting a random stop on the subway map and heading up to the very upper-east side* of Manhattan. This was where I’d lived in New York when I interned there in the summer of 2009, and I liked being back in my old ‘hood. But, I’d forgotten that there wasn’t a whole lot going on at 103rd and 3rd — at least not from a tourist perspective**. There were schools and basic work buildings, but not much to see otherwise, and tempers drew thin as we tried to figure out what to do next. I directed us through Central Park, where we stopped to get this amazing shot of the city, and then on towards the Museum Mile.

*So far upper that we were in Harlem. The last few stops on the subway were seriously unpleasant as a fight broke out between a blind guy asking for change and one guy harassing him and another guy defending him. It didn’t come to blows, but a lot of threatening and yelling wasn’t the ideal way to start the day.

**So we find ourselves in an area with nothing going on and spent a couple of hours* walking up and down streets with nothing to do except walk by vendors selling pirated DVDs.

*Hardly. We spent MAYBE half an hour walking around the empty streets before heading into the park.

By the time we got there, though, Zack was off the idea of going into a museum, so we tried to find some other activities to do instead. We went to Strand bookstore*, which just NEVER disappoints, and I got hot chocolate from Jacques Torres (which I accidentally spilled a little on Zack on the subway). We never tried our “pick a random stop” subway game again on the trip**, and instead wandered in circles until it started to rain. We hit up a cool record shop with lots of Caribbean soul and African jazz, so that was cool, and then we had pizza at a random by-the-slice place. Honestly the whole day is a bit of a blur — I’ll speak for myself and say that I still really enjoyed everything we did, because in NYC there’s always something to see no matter where you are.

*We got to meet my old college roommate Benny for a hot minute at Strand before he saw Sigur Ros that night and hung backstage with Scar-Jo. Well, near her.

**I think the idea itself was good and I was admittedly very cranky about it, but I think we needed to have some kind of goal or destination at some point. If it was wander for a couple hours and then go to a museum or restaurant or if we picked an area we knew potentially had stuff that would be one thing. I just found myself frustrated that we spent a pretty long time with nothing to do and used up a lot of the day.

img_2658We were pretty frustrated by the day, but rallied to head back to Manhattan for a late night show at the Comedy Cellar. We got there a bit early and the Cubs were playing the Giants in a playoff game, so we found a bar to watch a couple innings. Actually, we went to three bars. One was so packed the bouncer said “I had a feeling that would happen” when we walked in, turned around and walked right back out. One was over-run with an aggressively douche-y birthday party and then we found a great spot that played LCD and White Stripes in the 15 minutes we were there. We saw Javy hit a game winning home run and ducked down to the legendary comedy cellar. We didn’t catch any celebrity comics or have any great drop-ins, but we saw a great group of pro comedians that had us in stitches. We took a 2:30 a.m. Uber home with a driver who had a ton of Starbursts and went home happy to have saved the day.

img_2672The next day was slightly more Zack-centric, because we got to go to the NBA store where we picked up some sweet Bulls gear, and then went to see “Oh, Hello” on Broadway. It was ridiculous, silly, and featured guest star Rebel Wilson being VERY confused as to what was going on, so it was enjoyable. You forgot Brett! We met our friend at Zabar’s for a jewy brunch of lox and bagels and matzah ball soup and a k’nish. I convinced Caitlin to go there by reminding her that Tom and Meg go there in “You’ve Got Mail.” After the nosh, we made a to0-quick stop at the NBA store. I don’t love shopping, but there was at least one entire floor I didn’t get to explore. As for “Oh Hello,” I don’t know where to start. It could not have been more made for me. It’s absurd, full of silliness and deep cut references to Steely Dan and weird old Jews and just hit my funny bone so hard. I can’t recommend it more.

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Then we tracked down a German restaurant called Heidelberg that claimed it had a Berlinerweisse Rot, and it *kind* of did but they were light on the syrup so it wasn’t quite the magical German throwback drink I was hoping for. Still, their potato pancakes were AMAZING and it was a good hideout spot from the rain. This is the kind of adventure I’m more down for. We went out of our way to get here once Caitlin discovered this place and it was totally worth it. A perfect late afternoon snack.

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Though we’d considered trying to go out to “da club*” at some point on our trip, we instead grabbed some groceries and called it an early night in our amazing apartment so we’d be well-rested before heading back home. I will always love trekking out to New York City and finding a new hub of activity to fall in love with, and I hope Zack is still willing to give it a go** even though I know this wasn’t his favorite trip we’ve taken. I’ll always be a New York girl at heart.

*I have zero recollection of “da club” being discussed, but it was nice to have a relaxing last night. We also took one more trip back to Ample Hills Creamery for a couple more scoops.

**I’m happy to go back to NYC for a long weekend every couple years the rest of my life. I had a great time, I just think we need to find a middle ground between over-planning every bit of our trip like we used to and leaving so much time unplanned that we don’t take advantage of what the city has to offer.

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