The plan for this trip changed about 16 times. I was going to go to Ptown; and then I added a road trip up to Boston and Maine to do a little leaf peeping and visit with an old (emphasis on old) friend; and then I found out Rachel Bloom was doing a show in NYC for 4 weeks only so I added a couple of days in the city; and then everything just sort of fell apart for various reasons, mostly having to do with money, so I cancelled everything but the NYC part and only kept that because I had already bought show tickets.
Indecision, thy name is me.
I took a stupid o’clock flight out of Savannah, which apparently flew through some sort of time-space continuum wormhole, and we got in 40 minutes early – aka the height of rush hour, aka surge pricing, aka pay an eye-watering amount to sit in the back of an Uber for an hour and 25 minutes to get into the city.
I usually stay around Times Square because I just love wall-to-wall crowds of tourists with absolutely no sense of boundaries or situational awareness that there are other people in their vicinity, but this time I chose to stay further south because it was more convenient for the shows I was seeing.
The first night of the stay was at the Dream Hotel Downtown, which is kind of on the border of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District. I paid for the hotel with points and yet I feel like somehow I was punished for that hubris in a “you get what you pay for” kind of way.
If I were to make a list of all of things I hated about this place it would look like a CVS receipt, but here are just a few… the rooftop nightclub two floors above me that was open until 3am… on a Wednesday; the lack of power outlets by the bed; the light switches, which weren’t switches but push buttons that weren’t labeled so you kind of had to guess; the frosted glass walls of the bathroom; the towel rack, which was a ladder propped against the wall; the lack of facial tissues; the Karl Lagerfeld branded toiletries including a bar of soap that made my hands smell like wet cow; the platform bed that was so low to the ground that I could not stand up from it in the morning and had to roll out of it onto the floor like an arthritic ninja and then use furniture to help me get to my feet. There’s more, but you get the idea. Don’t stay there.
Great location though. Because I was so early, the room that I would wind up hating wasn’t ready yet (insert ominous foreshadowing music here) so I walked a block to Chelsea Market, which is this cool indoor mall of sorts with a stunning design that mixes the aesthetic of the old building (brick, wood, metal, and cement) with eye-popping art, visuals, live music, and more. It has a bunch of funky stores (an actual bookstore!) and lots of interesting food-hall style eateries and specialty gourmet vendors (a cheesemonger!) I was going to go to Los Tacos because I’ve heard such great things about it, but the line was about 50 people deep, so instead I tried Dickson Farmstand Meats.
It’s basically a butcher shop that also cooks stuff including BBQ, rotisserie chicken, pork chops, sandwiches, and what they bill as the “World’s Best Hot Dog.” I was tempted to try the latter, but instead went for their farmhouse burger and I’m happy I did. It was about as close as you can get to a perfect burger – thick, juicy, smoky flavor, with pickled onions, cheese, and bacon. Other burgers should bow to this as their meat god, which by the way, was my nickname in college. Their mac and cheese was mighty fine, too. Highly recommended.
From there I went and walked a little of the High Line, which is a defunct elevated train line that has been turned into a park with public art scattered here and there. I didn’t make it far because they called me to let me know that the room I would wind up hating was ready.
A quick costume change (it was raining and what I consider to be cold) and then it was another ridiculously expensive Uber ride up to the theater district to see “Gutenberg: The Musical!” at the James Earl Jones Theatre. I mention the venue because the pre-show announcement is recorded by JEJ himself and there are both Star Wars and CNN references in there that are worth the price of admission all by themselves.
The show stars Broadway royalty Andrew Rannels and Josh Gad, who last conquered the NYC stages together in “Book of Mormon.” They play Doug and Bud, a pair of wannabe Broadway writers who have used an inheritance and the proceeds of selling a car to rent a theater for one night to impress producers into making the musical they have written about Johannes Gutenberg. Because money is tight, they play all the roles but they help you distinguish between them by wearing baseball caps with the character names on them (“Monk,” “Young Monk,” “Drunk #2,” “Antisemite”). It’s a revisionist history of how Gutenberg invented the printing press interspersed with Doug and Bud’s personal stories and lots of songs backed by “New Jersey’s best wedding band,” which normally has six members but they could only afford three. The show is delightfully goofy, the music is funny-stupid (or stupid-funny perhaps), and the performances are Tony-worthy. It’s a limited engagement but if you want a good Broadway laugh, see it before it’s gone.
Back to the hotel that I hated for yet another quick costume change (did I mention cold and rainy?) and then it was off to grab a bite to eat before the next show.
I walked down to West Village without a specific restaurant in mind and stumbled upon this microscopic Italian joint called Fiaschetteria Pistoia. It has seven or eight tightly packed tables inside, a few outside, and a staff that all spoke Italian to each other, so you know it had to be good. I started with the crostini Toscani, which involves chicken liver and sauce, which I know sounds ew, but it was phenomenal. Perfectly toasted slices of crusty bread, minced meat that was expertly spiced and not at all earthy, and an almost buttery sauce. Next time I go, I’m getting the prosciutto and burrata that people at a nearby table were having because not only did it look amazing, but the looks of rapture on the faces of the people eating it made me jealous.
Then it was on to the pappardelle with a slow-cooked ragu Bolognese and let me tell you, I’ve never been to Italy but this was an advertisement for the tourist board all by itself. Tangy, a bit spicy, the most tender, handmade fresh noodles I have ever tasted… It was phenomenal.
Afterward, I waddled across the street to the Lucille Lortel Theatre to see Rachel Bloom’s one-woman show entitled “Death, Let Me Do My Show.”
I’m an obsessive “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” fan. I know a bunch of the songs by heart, I have watched the entire series several times, and when I found out that Vincent Rodriguez III (Josh!) was going to be in one of my Hallmark movies I had a little bit of a urination accident.
I didn’t know anything about the show – I saw Rachel Bloom, four weeks only, one-woman show, and I was like, “yep, getting a ticket.” I expected it would be an offbeat mix of stories, original songs, and the weird meta-humor that she is know for and it was… for about the first ten minutes. Then it became something I absolutely was not prepared for.
A heckler interrupted the show, and everyone believed it was real for a few minutes until the heckler revealed himself to be actor David Hull (White Josh!) who was playing Death. Yes, Death. I mean, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s right there in the title.
Death was there to force Rachel to talk about him and she did, going through her experiences of almost losing her newborn baby, which she had just as Covid started, the death of her friend and writing partner Adam Schlesinger to Covid, and more. It was still very, very funny with several CXG style songs, but it was also incredibly profound and more than a little sad. As most of you know, I lost someone I cared about to Covid and hearing her talk about losing her friend was not easy, to say the least. The journey she takes the audience on is kind of cathartic if you’re willing to go along with the absurdist humor of it and I’ve been thinking about it almost non-stop since. I won’t say that it resolved anything for me, but it affected me in ways I was not expecting.
I was going to go out for drinks and a night of NYC debauchery, but I wasn’t in the right headspace after that, so I just went back to the hotel that I hated and wound up going to bed early. Or rather, lying in bed listening to the “thump-thump-thump” of the bass from the nightclub above me.
Up and out the door by 9 to have breakfast with an exec friend of mine from Hallmark, mostly just to catch up and chat about everything and nothing. But I walked out with some really incredible news that I can’t tell you about yet but am absolutely dying to. As soon as I am allowed, I will be shouting it from the rooftops.
Afterward, I left the hotel that I hated and went to another one that I expected to be better, the Hyatt at Union Square. Walking in, it immediately felt more “grown up,” and despite the fact that I often act like a petulant toddler, “grown up” is more my speed.
I was there early and once again the room was not ready, but I was told it would be in “about an hour.” Insert more ominous foreshadowing music here.
So, off I went to grab lunch, which was the latest leg of my quest for the perfect French Dip (so far unrealized) at a place that has a famous one, Minetta Tavern. It’s a small French bistro about a block off of Washington Square Park with cozy booths and tables and a very attentive staff. They start you out with a loaf of warm sourdough bread, butter, and sea salt and give you a complimentary glass of champagne. Ooo la la.
I started with the French onion soup, which the cold, rainy day seemed to demand, and was not at all disappointed. Loads of gruyere, tangy broth, melt in your mouth onions. I loved it but didn’t finish it because I wanted to save precious stomach room for the French dip. The waitress was very concerned about this and didn’t believe that I liked it despite my reassurances that I did. She called a manager over to double check.
The French dip itself was only okay – the beef was a little too rare for my tastes, the bread a little too crusty, and the jus was too sweet. The side of gratin potatoes, on the other hand, was consumed fully.
More than an hour had passed, so I walked back to the hotel only to be told that it would be another hour. By this point it was raining steadily and so I figured I’d just plop myself down in the lobby and work, which is what I was going to do when I got into the room anyway. This was about 1:30pm.
2:30pm: We need another 30 minutes. Check in time is not until 3pm anyway (they said in a snotty way that made me want to throw something at them).
3:00pm: Ten more minutes, I promise.
3:30pm: Two minutes. I just need my supervisor to clear the room in the system.
4:00pm: Shift change with entirely new staff who hadn’t seen me and the dozen or so other people in the lobby also waiting for their rooms growing increasingly more and more frustrated. Had to start all over.
4:30pm: Finally get the keys to the room, go upstairs, and there are still people in there cleaning it. Wait another 15 minutes in the hall for them to finish.
I paid a bit extra for a terrace room, only to find out that they were doing work on the exterior of the building and what would have been a fairly decent view was blocked by a ten-foot high scaffolding wrapped in black mesh. If it hadn’t been raining and I had been able to use the terrace, I would’ve been pissed instead of just merely annoyed.
So, yeah, bad hotel luck. But I was going to shake it off and move on with my life, when I started hearing alarm bells. It wasn’t the fire alarm, but an intermittent clanging ringing bell from somewhere down the hall. I went to investigate and found it coming from the elevators. Short version, people were trapped, the fire department was called, and both elevators were out of order for the rest of the night.
Now, my room was only on the second floor, so not a huge deal until I actually went to take the stairwell down to the first floor. I go down a flight and there is no door. I go down another flight. No door. I go down another flight, no door, but a person coming up the stairs who tells me that it goes down another two flights and dumps you into a dimly lit basement. I had a hard time believe this, so I decide to go see for myself. He wasn’t lying. It was dank and creepy and weird and I said, “Nope, this is how horror movies start,” and went back up.
As I am coming up, I encounter more refugees going down and suddenly it’s “The Poseidon Adventure” and I’m Shelly Winters.
By the time I get back to my floor, there are now seven our eight of us trying to find a way out. We go to the other set of emergency stairs on the far side of the building and it goes down one flight of stairs, then a long hallway that twists and turns several times, then down another half flight of stairs, then a few more twists and turns, and then finally a door to the outside at the back of the hotel that locks immediately when it closes and there is no way to get back in except to walk around the block in the pouring rain.
Not only was all of this frustrating it seems incredibly unsafe to me. Why would emergency exit stairs take you down to the basement? I immediately transitioned from “The Poseidon Adventure” to “The Towering Inferno,” which was only better because I could be Faye Dunaway.
Dinner was at a little Greek pita shop and it was terrible and we shall speak no more of it or the havoc it wreaked on my digestive system.
I had time before the last show of the quick trip, so I went back to the hotel where they were taking people up the service elevator, which was literally filled with trash bags.
The third of the three productions I saw was off-Broadway production of “Titanique,” a shamelessly silly parody of the “Titanic” (the movie, not the Broadway musical or the actual event) in which the story of the doomed romance between Jack and Rose is recounted by Celine Dion, who insists that she was on the ship when it sank. That’s how it starts, and it gets goofier after that using Dion’s songs to tell the tale.
The woman playing Celine has her mannerisms and her voice down pat and her and the rest of the cast have phenomenal voices – seriously, better than what I’ve heard in many of the Broadway shows I’ve seen as they cover songs like “I’m Alive,” “The Power of Love,” and of course “My Heart Will Go On.” There are some showstopping numbers as the Unsinkable Molly Brown does “All By Myself” and the part where Tina Turner shows up (yes, it’s that kind of show) and does “River Deep, Mountain High.”
While I didn’t love it – I felt like it was trying too hard in spots – I did enjoy myself and it’s a lot of silly fun.
By the time the show let out it was raining even harder, leading to flash flood warnings, so I took the trash-filled service elevator back to my room and called it a night.
The next morning, the elevators were working, so there’s that. But it turns out that the rain that the city had gotten up to that point was a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to what was going on when I was ready to head to the airport. Flash flood warnings, streets and subways flooded, traffic at a virtual standstill everywhere.
The Ubers I thought were expensive before were not, at least not in comparison to what I had to pay to get to JFK. There were no cabs available (they were all making bank taking people cross town instead of the flat fee to trudge to JFK), most of the trains were out of commission, and every rideshare service was charging 3 times what they normally do.
The trip to the airport was perilous and arduous, with streets at an almost complete standstill and water coming up to the doorsills of cars. We were trying to get to the Williamsburg Bridge, and it took almost 30 minutes to go five blocks. Streets near the bridge were completely swamped in water 3 or 4 feet deep in spots.
The trip to the airport took almost two hours. I got there, checked in, went through security (where everyone was dodging rain dripping through the roof into buckets, trash cans, and puddles), stood in line to get a McDesperate burger, and walked the approximately 47 miles to the gate. As I sat down, my phone buzzed with news that the flight had been cancelled.
There were no other flights out that day and so they rebooked me on a flight the next day at 10am.
Attempting to find the silver lining in all this, I decided to spend the night at the TWA Hotel, which I’ve stayed at before and loved. It’s seriously the coolest hotel in the world, made out of the bones of the 1960s-era TWA terminal. It’s all retro-mod and cool and I’ve been looking for an excuse to stay there again. Torrential flooding rain was it, apparently.
I found out later that the airport was in the process of getting almost 9 inches of rain, an all-time record, and basically every flight was either cancelled or seriously delayed. This drove a herd of people to try to find other options so the line to get to the air train took almost 30 minutes to get through.
From there, I followed the signs to the hotel, which involved going down an elevator and outside into the aforementioned torrential rain. Down a walkway through a construction zone, across a parking lot, and then finally, there’s the hotel! All I have to do is cross a couple of driveways. I was so distracted by everything that I didn’t notice that the entire front of the hotel was flooded in over a foot of water. I walked right into it and by the time I realized what was going on, the only choice was to go forward.
Completely soaked and quite miserable, I went to the front desk and begged for mercy. They offered it to me in the form of a $700 room. I briefly considered going back to Manhattan, but I was drenched and I just wanted to lay down and the cost of the Ubers there and back would’ve been almost as much at that point, so I handed over my credit card and said “come fly with me.”
Parenthetically, there was a sign by the front desk advertising a manhole scavenger hunt and I don’t think that means what I wanted it to mean.
I took all of my wet clothes and ruined shoes off, emptied my wet suitcase (it rolled through a foot of water, remember), and then attempted to dry things off with a hair dryer. It didn’t work.
So the wet clothes and shoes went back on and I sloshed my way back downstairs to buy a ridiculous amount of clothes, including kicky TWA branded shoes, at the gift shop. I didn’t need half of it, but it improved my mood.
As did the many, many drinks I consumed, both at The Connie, the restored 1958 Constellation aircraft they have turned into a bar, and at the main lounge where I also got dinner – three sliders and fries. It was all surprisingly good. That could’ve been the vodka talking.
I explored the hotel a bit. There’s a Twister room, covered in colored dots and with giant spinners on the wall; a retro beauty salon complete with 1960s magazines you can use as props for your selfies; a replica of Howard Hughes office; 1960s era pay phones; 1960s and 1970s era cars parked out front (and inside); a reading room/library; and all sorts of cool nooks and crannies hidden in unexpected places. You could explore for hours and still be surprised by all the perfect period details. There are bunch of additional pictures down below.
A restless night, an early morning, and a much less dramatic journey back to the terminal where I sat watching anxiously as the skies darkened and it started to rain again an hour before my flight.
But we made it out, I made it home, and unlike Shelly Winters character in “The Poseidon Adventure” I lived to tell the tale.