Sunday, January 29, 2006

Fool for the City, Pt. 2

My eyes open. A glance at the clock reveals it’s about 10:30 in the morning. Bob is already bustling around the room. He asks if I want a coffee and bagel from around the block. I hoarsely decline. With that he bounds out the door in disgustingly good humor. How he managed to avoid a hangover is beyond me. Of course evenings on the city like we had the night before are old hat to him. I’m still batting in the minors when it comes to living it up Gotham-style.

I gingerly peel myself from the mattress and sit on the edge of the bed waiting. Oddly enough the pounding headache never comes. Maybe it’s just waiting for me to stand up to pounce. Through the gap in the drapes I can see into the offices of the building across 32nd. Young Korean men and women are busily being busy at some kind of business. Then it dawns on me that if I can see them, they can no doubt see the unshaven, disheveled figure wearing nothing but boxers in the hotel across from them. I imagine I look like a relatively hairless sasquatch. None of them appear to take notice. If they have, I imagine they’re busily e-mailing each other, “Don’t stare, but there’s a hungover white guy in the window across the street. Park, do you still have that web cam pointed at the hotel?”

I slowly stand up and close the drapes. The headache never comes. Instead I feel like I’ve been shot by a tranq gun, like I’m walking through the bottom of a swimming pool. The 10 step journey to the bathroom is a forced march. I shave and get in the shower. I just stand there letting the hot water run over me. Slowly I can feel my joints loosen and my head start to clear. For 20 minutes I let the water and steam continue this healing work then I reluctantly get out and get dressed. Bob bounds back into the room, bagel and coffee in hand. I both loathe and envy his vigor.

“So, what do you want to do today?”, he asks. I suggest brunch at the White Horse, maybe a trip to the Strand and dinner at Chumbley’s. Other than that I didn’t have any major agenda items. “Well then let’s hit it,” he commands. And with that we hit the streets.

As we head towards 5th Ave. Bob asks if I need batteries for the camera. I do. I could use a Gatorade too. We round the corner and duck into a CVS. There is one on just about every corner in Manhattan. They probably own more NYC real estate than Trump. I get some super duper Lithium batteries and a Vitamin Water. The clever copy writing on the water’s label is what sells me. Go figure. I need to send an e-mail to Glaceau corporate and tell them, “Great copy!!!”. I still harbor fantasies that someday a similar dealer feedback will appear about E-flite or ParkZone. Did I mention I still believe in Santa Claus, too?

As we trek up 5th Bob is in full insane-New-Yorker-stride. Still suffering from a few lingering hangover effects I try to keep up but eventually give up and fall back to sip my beverage at a more leisurely pace. Bob stops occasionally to let me catch up a little then takes off again. I’m fatigued just watching him. As we near the main entrance to the Empire State Building, he stops and turns around with this kind of serious look on his face.

“You know I love you cous’, right?” Yeah, I know. “More than my brothers.” Yeah, I guess I knew that. “And since you and I share a lot of the same values, I knew the stripper-thing wouldn’t work for you. I really didn’t want that for my bachelor party either.” As slow as I am, I begin to realize this is a build up to something. And with Bob, something could literally be anything. I agree, the strippers wouldn’t have been a good idea for a number of reasons. Then he puts his arm around my shoulder and says, “That said, I still feel it's my duty as your cousin as well as the man in charge of your bachelor party festivities this weekend to make sure that you have as close to an orgasmic experience as possible while you’re here.” Rrrrriiight. I have no idea where this is headed, but my extensive history with Bob suggests something really out-of-the-ordinary is about to occur. “I’m going to introduce you to a woman that will change your life.” By now I’m speechless and Bob is grinning deviously. I feel like I’ve wandered into a trap.

Suddenly Bob halts and says, Larry meet Arianna. I am so focused on what Bob is saying I don’t even notice the person standing in front of us. Arianna is about 5’ 2” with brown hair, brown eyes and a welcoming smile. But it is what she is wearing that really gets my attention. It’s a yellow overcoat that says “Liberty Helicopter Tours, New York.” I look at Bob, “Are you serious?” Sure enough, my predictably unpredictable cousin is taking me on a helicopter tour of Manhattan. He laughs, “I figured buying you a lap dance would cost about as much and I knew you’d enjoy this a whole lot more.” Go Bob.

Arianna gets on her Nextel and pages our ride. About 10 minutes later a non-descript blue van appears to pick us up. It looks a little FBI and some of the people on the sidewalk stop to see who is getting in. Our driver is a 70-something year old Puerto Rican guy. He asks if this is my first time in New York. I explain I’ve been before and this is kind of a bachelor party of sorts. He admonishes us, “Whateva’ you do stay out of the subways. It’s not safe down there. Take a cab. It’s more expensive but at least you up here and not down there.” Having ridden the subways a lot, I wonder if my man has ridden them since 1980. That was the era of Bernie Goetz and movies like Escape from New York, The Warriors and Taxi Driver. They probably were dangerous then. But they aren’t now, unless you count panhandlers peddling $1 bootleg DVDs a menace.

The driver deposits us at the corner of 30th street and West Side Hwy. In front of us is the Hudson River and a heliport. We cross the highway and head for Liberty Helicopter’s terminal. As we cross the highway, one of Liberty’s EC120’s returns from a tour. It looks and sounds awesome. I can’t help but think of Blue Thunder. Inside the terminal we go through many of the same security procedures you would at an airport, including a few you don’t. For instance we have to leave our cell phones in a locker. We are also issued an inflatable life vest that goes around your waist like a fanny pack. In the unlikely event of a landing in the Hudson River, I will pull the top of the vest from the pouch, put it around my neck and inflate it. Drowning in the Hudson isn’t what worries me, though. Swallowing some of it does. I shudder at the thought of what a mouthful might taste like.

As I walk through the metal detector, the screener holds his palm up in anticipation of a high five, like Ive just completed astronaut training or something. I give him some skin and get in line with the rest of the passengers. The terminal waiting area is a metal building with an unusually low ceiling. Unusual that is until I see one of the helicopters land right outside the door. The low roof is clearly essential for rotor blade clearance should one of the helis stray to close on landing.

A crew member waits at the door and signals the six of us when it is time to head for the heli. As I step out onto the helipad the heli is still running, which is just a little intimidating. Visions of Vic Morrow pop into my head. The ground crew leads us to a painted line and signals for us to wait here while they unload the previous tour group. They have to signal because the whine of the turbine and sound of the rotors is deafening. Bob motions to one of our fellow tour group members to snap our pic in front of the heli. Little do we know a ground crew member will do the same thing right before we get on. We can buy a print after the flight if we want. I’m sure a free copy was sent to the FBI as well.

By now my senses are all at full alert. Between the smell of the jet fuel, the sound of the turbine and rotor blades, and the prospect of my first ever heli ride I am completely and totally amped. One of the ground crew points to the first two people in line and motions them forward. He guides them to a spot just in front of the heli. Another crew member takes their picture. This ritual is repeated until they finally get to Bob and I. My stomach is turning somersaults as the ground crew points at us and motions us toward the heli. The feeling is not unlike the one I had the first time my sophomore football coach motioned for me during a game. My instinct is to duck as we walk under the rotor blades, but there is still a good 6 feet or so between the top of my cranium and instant decapitation. Bob and I pose and smile. Our pic is taken and with expert efficiency we are loaded up and belted in.

Before closing us in they hand Bob and I headsets to wear, both to reduce the noise and allow us to hear the pilot. The pilot does a few last second systems checks and gives the ground crew a thumbs up. I turn on my video camera to record the takeoff. There is a slight increase in turbine RPM , the sound of the rotors taking a big bite of air and we leap off the helipad. As we clear the terminal roof, the pilot swings the nose around toward the Hudson and we depart the heli pad skimming low over the water.

As the helicopter gains forward airspeed the pilot starts a gentle climbing turn south down the Hudson. I’m sitting in a back seat right behind the pilot. The large fishbowl Plexiglas window allows me to look straight down at the brownish-green waters 1,400 feet below. I glance up through the bubble canopy at the blades whirring overhead. It’s right about now that it occurs to me the only thing keeping us aloft is thousands of moving parts, many of which were probably purchased from the lowest bidder, continuing to work together flawlessly. I glance over at Bob who has his camera in my face and records the somewhat pensive look this thought produces.

Off to my left the island of Manhattan slides by like a gigantic cruise ship. The view is simply incredible. As we fly along down the river (post 9/11 there are no more tours over the island) the pilot points out Ground Zero and Battery Park. As I look ahead out the front of the canopy I notice everything is vibrating. The canopy, the instrument panel, my fellow passengers—it’s all vibrating. “C’mon thousands of parts, don’t fail us now.” This anxiety is forgotten, however, when I see the Statue of Liberty getting larger in the front windscreen. Our pilot swings around the front the statue then reverses course and swings around the front again headed the other way so the folks on my side of the heli could get a clear shot of Lady Liberty and Ellis Island. All I can think is, “What a country. What an amazing country.”

As we cruise back up the Hudson it’s my turn to stare at New Jersey. This is actually cooler than it sounds because Bob used to live in Hoboken and we are busily searching out landmarks from previous adventures. We pass over the ferry terminal we used to take into the city and spot the block where he used to live. The pilot takes us as far as the top of Central Park then heads back for the heli pad. Once again I’ve got Manhattan on my side. As we approach the helipad it looks like a postage stamp. I fire up the video camera to record the landing . . . or provide exciting footage for the 6 o’clock news. I’m hoping for the former.

We touch down and seconds later the ground crew has the doors open and is unbuckling us from our seats. I spot the next six tourists anxiously waiting behind the painted line. I remove my inflatable fanny pack and hand it over, casting one last look over my shoulder at our ride. As it sits idling with heat shimmer coming from the turbine exhaust it looks awesome but I think I'll stick with the fixed wing crowd. If they ever make a helicopter that sprouts wings when the engine quits, instead of plummeting like a runaway elevator, I might give it a go.

Inside, the same screener that enthusiastically congratulated me for making it through the metal detector successfully is waiting to give me another high-five. Like every other first flight in my life the thrill of this one doesn’t fully hit me until I’m on the ground. When you’re in the middle of it, you’re mind is too engaged to fully step back and take it all in. You can’t wipe the grin off my face. Lap dance, shmapdance. Does my cousin know me or what? I go ahead and purchase the print even though we took a picture ourselves. I also pick up a couple of copies of the “Liberty Helicopters: An Aerial View of New York City” DVD.

As we walk back into the city I call Laurie and relate what just happened with all the restraint of a breathless 7-year old who has just seen his first shooting star. I can hear her giggling as I gush. She’s just as thrilled by my enthusiasm as I was by the flight. It’s so cool to be in love with a girl that gets you. While I’m talking to Laurie, Bob calls Vlad and tells him to meet us by the Shubert. We’re going to see if we can get tickets to Spamalot in the cancellation line.

One adventure down, who knows how many more to go.

To be continued . . .

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Fool for the City, Pt. 1

“Thirty second and fifth.” Shere turns his haggard face over his shoulder towards me and responds, “T’irty two and fife?” “Yeah.” He starts the meter, drops the cab in gear and blasts away from the terminal. So begins another adventure in The City. Trying to disguise my tourist status I decide to ask a question that I think only a local would ask, “So what looks good today? The bridge or tunnel?” Shere’s in his shirt sleeves with the window down. It’s 61 degrees in January. He glances in the rearview mirror. “Da’ bridge is nuts. Da’ tunnel’s shorta’. Besides, wit’ da’ tunnel it’s just ‘zip, bam’ you’re in midtown.” I nod knowingly, “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

I have my window down taking in the June-like breeze. We’re alternately hurtling and screeching to a halt down 495 toward the midtown tunnel. To my right, the Bronx. Off in the distance to my left Queens or Brooklyn. I’m not exactly sure. But straight ahead, straight ahead is the unmistakable skyline of midtown Manhattan. My mind drifts back to the last time I was here. It was just about as warm, only it really was June not January. I was meeting Bob and the boys for a weekend of Yankees vs. Red Sox, Terra Blues and whatever else Gotham threw our way. The purpose of this visit was twofold: satisfy the NYC jones that both of us have and to celebrate a new chapter in my life.

As we emerge from the tunnel into the city my eyes immediately shoot up. I can’t help it. My tourist origins are betrayed. I check the rear view to see if Shere’s made me or not. He’s too busy honking at pedestrians and diving in front of MTA buses and other traffic to care. As we come up 33rd, we find our progress stymied by a barricade on 6th. Shere advises I hop out here and walk the rest of the way—about 2 to 3 blocks—as the detour will cost me. I pay him and hop out into the street.

It’s probably about 3 or 3:30 in the afternoon and the sun is low and lighting up the buildings to the east. I head south down 6th and hang a right at 32nd. With my shoulder bag, leather jacket and jeans I fit right in. I keep my head down fighting the urge to stare at the stunning glow reflecting off the buildings as the sun sets. I cross 5th realizing from the signs around me that I must be in Korea Town or something. I’m staying at the La Quinta. Eventually I spot the sign and am in the hotel.

Now, Bob had sent me pics of the hotel the week before. Among them was a rather enticing image of the rooftop bar. Considering the apocalyptically warm temperatures, I am sure the outdoor patio will be open. I skip the front desk and head straight for the elevator. The buttons only go up to 14. That must be the roof. I get to the 14th floor, the doors open and my intuition is rewarded by a sign that says “Rooftop Bar” and an arrow pointing right. Anticipating that first sip of a Ketel and tonic while enjoying a commanding view of the city I round the corner with the excitement of little Ralphie going for his BB gun, only to be greeted by a chalk board sign blocking my path with this disheartening news, “Rooftop bar closed. Do not open door. Alarm will sound.”

Choking back tears, I call Bob to see where he’s at. He said to meet at the bar. Turns out he’s downstairs in the lobby waiting for me. Has been the whole time. How we missed each other I have no idea. I get to the lobby and spot him in line at the check-in counter. We hug, giant grins on both our faces. We’re back baby!

As we check in Bob asks about the bar. The concierge assures us it will be open, but not till 5. We drop off our bags in the room, contact the rest of the NYC contingent that will be joining us and wait for the bar to open. At about 5 til, the owner spots us loitering in the hall and says come on in. We both head straight for the patio. As we head out the sliding door Bob’s ahead of me and turns around before I do. He’s eyes widen, “Don’t turn around yet! Keep coming, keep coming.” He directs me all the way to the other end of the patio. “OK, turn around.” Piercing the sky less than ½ a block in front of me is the Empire State Building. Even on the roof of this 14 story hotel I feel like I’m at ground level. The spotlights at the top are blazing, giving the top of the building a torch like effect. I look for a giant gorilla peering over the edge at me. No such luck.

Five minutes later Vlad joins us on the patio. We play catch up and then sit down to enjoy the view. Angel and Rob join us a short time later. After a couple of rounds we reluctantly leave our perch and head back to street level. We’ve got reservations at Da Andrea. A little ristorante in the Village that Angel and his wife Tracy discovered. Two bottles of Dolcetto and a pile of fantastic food later we waddle out to the street and start strategizing the evening’s battle plan.

It is decided we will head to the meat packing district and check out Hogs and Heifers. The four of us wedge into a cab and are off. We get dropped off a few blocks shy of our intended destination. Turns out it’s been a while since the boys have been in this part of town and things have changed. What was once a reassuringly scary part of NYC has become the equivalent of Rush Street in Chicago. Old landmarks no longer look like they once did to those of our party that frequented this area as yoots. A reorientation hike ensues. Eventually we find the place. This is the bar where they filmed Coyote Ugly. There really is a Coyote Ugly in Manhattan but for some reason the producers chose this bar to film it in. Maybe back then it was scary enough to keep the tourists away and they could film in peace. Who knows. Having been to Coyote Ugly myself (the place not the movie) I see few differences.

The abrasive-but-cute barmaids wear boots, tight jeans, cowboy hats and halter tops. The juke box is blaring Hank Williams Jr., Johnny Cash, Johnny Paycheck and any other honkytonk Johnny you can think of. Soon we’re moving on to see what else the city has to offer. One establishment leads to another and eventually we wind up at the Bleecker St. Bar. It’s got dart boards, pool tables and a tap with plenty to choose from. Angel, a deadly dart player, announces we will set up camp here.

We play darts till about 2:30 or 3 in the morning then head back to the hotel after seeing Angel off to his midtown apartment and indulgent wife. Vlad parts ways with us at his Queens bound subway stop. Rob was lost to us earlier in the evening, but he came all the way from Jersey and needed to stay on the train schedule. Bob and I aren’t quite ready to turn in yet, though. We both crave pizza. Not far from the hotel we find it at a stainless steel, all night pizzeria. We each get a couple of slices and sit down to recap the evening.

Since I’m facing the window I can see people walking by outside. It looks like some kind of party up the street is breaking up. What look to be 19 or 20 year old couples walk by the window and glance in at the two 30-somethings wolfing down pizza at almost 4 in the morning. A couple of girls walk by the window giggling. One of them blows me a kiss, giggles and keeps on walking. I’m feeling both flattered and p’wned at the same time.

Finally we get back to the room. Bob suggests we cap off the evening with a sojourn on the ledge outside our 3rd floor window. Actually it was more like a small balcony with a big flagpole attached to it, but the signs on the window made it clear that the La Quinta management took a dim view of anyone using it as a balcony. Duly warned, Bob and I elect to take our chances anyway and crawl out onto our new private terrace. I notice Old Glory is still wound up on the flag pole like it was when we got in the room. Filled with purpose, pilsner and patriotism I set to untangling the colors so they could fly freely.

After about 30 minutes of sitting in relative silence absorbing the sights and sounds of New York before dawn, Bob and I wedge ourselves back into the room and hit the sack. Sure, I’m not as wild and crazy as I was when I first came to The City but it still brings out a part of me that only it can. My head hits the pillow and I close my eyes with a vision of the Empire State Building blazing into the night sky.

To be continued . . .

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Walked It

Saw Walk the Line last night. Going in I had some serious reservations as to whether Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Whiterspoon could pull off their roles. I’ll confess most of this has to do with the fact both seemed too pretty to play the people they portray. I blame this preconception on the other musician biopic Ray. Jaime Foxx simply disappeared into Ray. But my fears proved unfounded. If anything their performances were even more of a feat, because they don’t look much like their characters, yet I had little trouble believing for a couple of hours that they really were Johnny and June.

As a Johnny Cash fan I was delighted at how much music was in the movie. Forgive the comparison again, but where Ray seemed to spend more time on tour buses and in bedrooms, Walk the Line seems to remember why you bought the movie ticket in the first place—the man’s music. And this is where Phoenix gets more kudos. From what I’ve read he did all the singing. He nailed just about every nuance right down to that little tremolo Cash had.

Like most good biopics, the filmmaker chose a recurring thread in Johnny’s life and stuck to it. In this case the thread is June. The way their lives were woven together was not pretty or perfect, but I think because of that it is one of the best love stories I’ve ever seen. Beyond the love story there are other themes. I think any guy will empathize with the struggles Cash apparently had with his father—any male that says he doesn’t have at least one or two “daddy issues” is a liar or a clone. There is also a strong message of redemption. Call me a sap, but dark stories without at least a hint of redemption are worthless to me. Nothing more than emotional or psychological snuff films.

If you haven’t seen it, do so, especially if you’re a fan of the Man’s music. Oh, and all you single guys (essentially Chicken), this is a great first date movie. You have the Uncle Lar guarantee.

*Uncle Lar guarantee good only in ANWR and the Marshall Islands. For guarantee details go to

Post P.S.: I almost forgot—Robert “Have You Seen This Boy?” Patrick plays Johnny’s dad and gives probably the best supporting performance in the film.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Deep Hurting

Last night I saw Rollerblade--quite possibly the most painful movie I've ever seen. Granted it was a crappy movie night, but even by crappy movie standards it was horrid. The effect it had on me was akin to a dull hangover headache or a bout of nausea. In fact, when I would get the stomach flu as a child, while in the grips of the fever and nausea I would often have nightmares and dreams that were just like Rollerblade. I can't even begin to describe it's crapitude. I'm sure Marty would do a better job anyway, so I direct you to Marty's Marquee. I'm going to need to watch Big Lebowski tonight to cleanse my cinematic palette.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A Litte Story About Frank and Al

Belated happy new year to you all. Laurie and I had a good time out west despite the rain. We rang in 2006 in style aboard the Queen Mary. My mom's cousin, who currently is the world's foremost collector of rare Marilyn Monroe images and artifacts, was having a show onboard and managed to wrangle us some tickets for the New Year's Eve party. That's the Marilyn impersonator that was hired for the show posing with Laurie and I. She was good. She stayed in character the entire time we talked with her. Kinda strange, but cool none the less.

The real reason we trekked to California, however, was to introduce Laurie to my Grandpa Al and Grandma Joyce. Grandpa's not in terrific health and will be unable to travel out here for the wedding, so we took the opportunity of Laurie's Christmas break to visit. While we were there, I asked Grandpa to tell Laurie one of his Sinatra stories. That's right, my grandad knew the Chairman. Back in the early to mid '60's Al had an upholstery business that catered to private aircraft owners. And since he lived in southern California, many of his customers happened to be celebrities. I guess he worked on Walt Disney's plane once as well, but I can't recall if he met the man or not.

Frank was his favorite though. Grandpa told us a story of when he and his brother Bud had traveled to Vegas to work on Frank's Lear. One day, right about lunch, Grandpa said this chauffer-driven black Lincoln rolled up to the plane and out hopped Frank. He asked how everything was going and wanted to know what Al and Bud were doing after work. Grandpa told him they were just going to head back to the motel, shower, eat some fudge and hit the road back to L.A. Apparently Grandpa was good friends with the motel proprietor and his wife had just made some fudge that he wanted to share with Al and Bud before they left.

As Grandpa tells it, Frank got this kind of quizzical look on his face and asked if the fudge had been made with German chocolate. Grandpa said yes. Frank told them not to leave without him, he'd be back at 5. He hopped back in the Lincoln and off he went. Grandpa said, "Bud and I continued working, assuming there was no way Frank would really come back just for fudge. But sure enough, right at quitting time, in rolled the Lincoln and there was Frank." Grandpa said Frank dismissed his driver and hopped in the '51 Ford pickup that served as my grandfather's work truck.

Since there were three of them in the cab and only two seats, Grandpa said Frank sat on a tool box in between he and Bud as they rode to the motel. When they got to the motel they walked into the office which was also attached to owner's living quarters. After the owner recovered from the shock, he invited them all back to his living room, which incidentally, could be seen from the front desk. As they were sitting there eating fudge a guy walked in looking for a room. When he looked up and saw Frank sitting on the couch munching on fudge and chatting with the owner's wife, Grandpa said he yelled, "Honey get the camera! You're not gonna' believe this."Apparently Frank was extremely gracious and even invited the starstruck guest's little girl behind the counter to have some fudge with them.

When it was time to go, Frank asked Grandpa if he could drive the pickup back. So, Grandpa rode the tool box and Frank drove them all back to the Sands where he was staying. As they pulled into the Sands, Grandpa said you could tell the valets were less than impressed by the looks of the truck. "But when they saw who was behind the wheel," he said, "their eyes got big as saucers. It totally messed with their heads to see Sinatra pulling up in a beat up pickup." As Frank got out Grandpa said he tossed a tip to the valet and said, "Take care. I don't want a scratch on it."

I guess this is but one of several Frank encounters my grandfather had over the course of their business relationship. If I ever get him to recount any more, you can bet I'll post them.