I have seen many things in New York/New Jersey this week. All kinds of people. All kinds of marvels. All kinds of testaments to the human spirit. But here was my favorite thing.
Turning left onto 59th Street, leaving Central Park.
We had taken a carriage ride through the park. More on that later. But the ride was about over, and it was time to leave the serenity of the park for the bustle of the city. So the light turned green, and Billy Bob, our horse, mosied into the intersection.
Long about that time, I decided to ask our carriage driver a question. He was excellent at turning around and answering our questions.
And so he did this time. And he answered extensively. Without turning back around. And I realized that our fate, and the fate of several passenger cars trying to navigate 59th Street and 7th Avenue, and really the traffic flow of one of New York’s hottest corners, rested in the fate of a horse. Billy Bob was on his own.
You remember the old joke that if a car crashes into a telephone pole, it’s rarely the telephone pole’s fault? I wondered if it was the same with horses. Billy Bob was going, oh, about 1 mph in a city where the taxis drive 30 mph in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Where honking is the preferred mode of communication. Where cars zip in and out of lanes like roaches when the lights come on.
Yet here was Billy Bob, oblivious to it all, knowing where he was supposed to go. Make a left turn into the left lane of eastbound 59th Street. I just thought it was great.
Eventually, our driver turned back around, not out of necessity but out of comfort, I suppose. Billy Bob was in fine shape. A food-delivery truck drove by and hollered something that was not the least bit pleasant, but both driver and Billy Bob paid no heed.
It was a great counter to the rest of the city, where everybody is in a hurry, but Billy Bob was at his own pace. No horn or vehicle or crush of manhood could knock the prideful steed off his mission. Billy Bob, I’ll ride with you any day.
Of all the wonders of New York, Central Park is near the top. In the middle of perhaps America’s most prime real estate, sits a park that takes up 30 percent of the land mass of Manhattan Island.
Think about that. Central Park contains 840 acres of grass and trees and ponds and trails. All surrounded by a concrete jungle. A small patch of grass outside a New York apartment building is precious. New York is all sidewalks and streets and massive buildings with fire escapes. Except in the middle, where there’s an oasis untouched by urban excess.
It’s remarkable, that New York 150 years ago created the means to keep Central Park untouched by urban expansion.
The park is bordered by 59th Street on the south and 110th Street on the north, and by 5th Avenue on the east and 8th Avenue on the west. So that’s 51 short blocks long and three long blocks wide.
The park includes a zoo, ballfields, a carousel, rock climbing, rowboats and kayaking, an ice skating rink, a theater for stage productions, playgrounds and stages.
Two restaurants are in the park, though the historic Tavern on the Green is closed and undergoing renovations.
The park has hosted massive free concerts. Barbara Streisand in 1967, the Supremes in 1970, Carole King in 1973, Bob Marley in 1975, America in 1979, Elton John in 1980, the Simon & Garfunkel reunion in 1981, Diana Ross in 1983, Paul Simon in 1991, Garth Brooks in 1997, the Dave Matthews Band in 2003, Bon Jovi in 2008 and Andrea Bocelli in 2011. The Garth Brooks concerted drew 980,000, according to the New York fire department, which would be the most heavily-attended concert ever.
The park makes its surrounding neighborhoods lush real estate. I wrote about that a little yesterday; the apartments overlooking the park are about as high dollar as it gets, and there are many. A new massive skyscraper is going up on 59th Street. It will be another apartment building.
But Central Park’s real charm is its ability to whisk you away from the frenzy. You enter the park literally 17 blocks from Times Square, which by any reasonable analysis is among the most garish spots on Planet Earth, and within a minute or two you’re in a different place. You’re in a pastoral setting, totally calm. Joggers are the high-energy scenes in Central Park. No one’s in a hurry. No one’s trying to get ahead of anyone else. People stop and sit on a bench.
Here’s a scary thought. What would Manhattan be like without Central Park? If the whole island, three miles by 12 miles, was buildings and streets, sidewalks and stoplights, how would the city be different?
It would be a darker place.
I’ve heard about Hell’s Kitchen all my life. Never really bothered to figure out where it was.
Then I had lunch there.
Hell’s Kitchen was a rough-and-tumble neighborhood on Manhattan’s west side, basically west of Midtown, between 34th and 59th streets, west of 8th Avenue.
Its proximity to the Hudson River made it a warehouse district, to some degree, but in recent years, Hell’s Kitchen closeness to Midtown has made it a desirable location. Real estate prices have risen to above the Manhattan average. Sounds like the whole danged island has driven away people of modest means.
Anyway, we met Ryan McNeill for lunch. Ryan is a 2002 OSU graduate who was our OSU correspondent during his school days, then went to work on our newsside. He’s been with the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and the Dallas Morning News, working in computer-assisted reporting, and in 2012 he took a job with Reuters, the international news agency headquartered at Times Square.
Ryan is an example of this truth: everyone knows someone who lives in New York. Too many people here not to know someone.
Ryan grew up in Tulsa, he’s a big fan of OSU and journalism, and now he’s a local, so we had tons to talk about. He and his wife live in Jersey City; she works in Brooklyn, so they commute. Get on the train every morning with the armies and go into New York.
He told me a lot about New York life and admitted there is much he doesn’t know. For instance, he has yet to go to Harlem, on the north end of Manhattan. The city is only 36 square miles, and 30 percent of that is Central Park, but still it’s hard to get everywhere.
We had lunch at 5 Napkin Burger, which is sort of a cool name for a place. Basically offered up a variety of cheeseburgers.
The name was a little misleading; I got by with one cloth napkin. But the burgers were very good and only a little overprice: $12, $13 each. Something like that, with fries. For New York, that’s acceptable.
For the Saturday Oklahoman, I wrote about autograph seekers:
Celebrities galore, football and non-football, grace the New York Sheraton this week. At the Super Bowl media headquarters, all kinds of people are walking through the hotel just north of Times Square.
Just in a short span, I saw Tiki Barber, Jennifer Garner and Tony Siragusa. Let’s see. C List, A List and N List celebrities.
But no matter. You know what celebrities attract. That’s right. Autograph seekers.
A mob of mostly 20something-year-olds are lined up outside the Sheraton most of the day, waiting to grab the John Hancocks of stars or something similar to them.
I assume most of them are brokers or runners for brokers, though I never have understood that business.
Three New York police officers stand sentry at the revolving door, to keep the autograph hounds out on the sidewalk.
But sometimes, interlopers make it through. Like the two 13-year-old kids, one in a Jets cap and the other in a Jewish kipa.
That’s where the Sheraton was prepared. A hotel employee, a woman in her 40s with a strong voice and an air of authority, accosted the duo. She asked the kid with the Jets cap, “are you a registered guest?”
“Uh,” the kid said.
“Too long. You’re out of here,” the woman said. “If you can’t answer quicker than that, you’re gone.”
The kids scooted along but stopped about halfway back to the door. Alas, the Sheraton employee was hot on the case.
“OK, handsome, keep moving,” she said.
And away they went.
The Sheraton lobby is madhouse enough without autograph seekers. It’s a huge lobby, with a concierge desk about 10 times as long as the typical hotel. Yet it’s jam-packed with people throughout the day. Such is life at Super Bowl Central.
The Oklahoman in 2011 was purchased by Philip Anschutz, a Denver entrepreneur. You’re always a little uncertain about such changes in ownership, but it’s been great for us. Anschutz has given us great support and, as far as I can tell, very little interference. Hard to ask for a better owner.
In 2012, Anschutz bought the Colorado Springs Gazette.
The Gazette, as you might expect, covers the Broncos extensively and thus has a team here to cover the Super Bowl. The leaders at our papers thought it would be a good idea if I hooked up with Gazette writers Paul Klee and David Ramsey and shot a video.
Seemed like a great idea for the Oklahoman. We would get some great insight from people who know the Broncos well. I have no idea what I could bring to Bronco fans in Colorado Springs. The unabridged history of Wes Welker?
But heck, maybe my boyish charm would warrant the video. So we hooked up Friday afternoon, a couple of nice fellows, and found a quiet spot in the corner of the Sheraton Hotel, looking out onto 7th Avenue. We didn’t have high-tech equipment and the lighting was abysmal, but my wife used my iPhone to shoot our roundtable discussion.
Then I spent about two hours trying to figure out how to transmit the video. But we got it done, and two sister newspapers had a little convergence. Nothing wrong with that.
We had planned to get over to Brooklyn to watch the Thunder and the Nets on Friday night. A friend of mine with the Thunder arranged for us to get tickets; $150 for upper bowl, $250 for lower bowl. Each.
But we decided to instead save our money for another Broadway Show. The Thunder, we always have with us. Can’t always see them in Brooklyn, but the lure of Broadway was a little too much.
So if I can finish work in time Saturday evening, we’re planning to try to hit another show. Find some half-price tickets at the Broadway exchange.
It made me wonder. Should sports adopt the Broadway plan? Set up a booth where they sell half-price tickets the day of the game, to get as many people in the seats as possible? It might be counter-productive. It might scare off early purchases, I don’t know. But I can tell you this. The half-price plan with Broadway has me awfully interested.
So instead of going to Brooklyn, we watched the Thunder-Nets on ESPN.
I worked right until tipoff, and then worked some during the game. But some people might ask why we sat in a hotel room watching basketball when we were in New York City.
Here’s why. You can’t go all day every day. New York will wear you out. It’s a walking town. Ryan McNeill told me he’s lost a ton of weight, just from all the walking he does compared to living in Dallas.
When you’re here for several days, you’ve got to rest at times. What better way to rest than watching the Thunder take apart the Nets?
At halftime, I went across the street, got us a couple of sandwiches from a deli and was back before the second half.
Got rested up for what promises to be a full Saturday.