Berry Tramel

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New York Travelblog: Stuck in the Big Apple, Day 9

by Berry Tramel Modified: February 5, 2014 at 9:35 am •  Published: February 5, 2014
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OK, I’m officially ready to come home. Tuesday was Day 9 in New York, and again, our flight home was canceled, with no options out of Newark Liberty or LaGuardia or JFK or Heathrow in London, for all I know.

This bitter winter has continued along the Eastern Seaboard (I always loved that term). I know it has back home, too, but it’s hit the Big Apple hard.

Tuesday afternoon at the Newark airport, I asked United to fly me anywhere. Cleveland. Houston. Denver. Get me anywhere that might could get me home.

Nothing there. All canceled. The first scheduled flight that could get me home is 8:27 p.m. Wednesday.

The Super Bowl seems a month ago. Arrival in New York seems years ago.

I’ve been in New York so long, I’ve voted in two mayoral elections. When I arrived in New York, Alex Rodriguez was a hero, Carmelo Anthony was a Nugget and the Jets played at Shea Stadium.

I truly believe I’ve eaten at every Italian joint in the city.

I love my wife, we’ve had a great time (and I don’t feel bad about that, because I’ve worked hard, too) but we’re ready to go home.

Ready to see my daughter, son-in-law and their three little girls. Ready to get back to taking Riley to school every morning and having Sadie and Tinley serenade me with a “Sisters, Sisters” rendition.

I’m missing Bob Stoops’ recruiting press conference on Wednesday, and for all I know I’ll miss Mike Gundy’s on Thursday, and that chaps me off. Not because I care what they say about recruiting, but because I care what they say about virtually anything else.

The cancellation news hit us Tuesday when we were in a cab, en route to the Newark airport. Dang email.

So around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, we realized we were stuck for another day. And we did the only thing I could think of to put us in a better mood.

We went back to Broadway.

 

BROADWAY VETERANS

I don’t know that I’ve adequately described how sensational are these Broadway shows. They are spectacular.

The lighting, the staging, the acting, the singing, the dancing, the everything.

We got back to the city around 6:30 p.m., and while I went into the hotel to check in (our fourth hotel on this trip), the Dish scurried over from 7-8 blocks to the ticket exchange, which closes at 7 each night. I had to finish up my column, which I had planned to finish at the airport waiting for our flight.

She called about 6:50 with the news. Two seats were available at half price, fourth row from the stage, for Motown the Musical.

I finished up, headed out and met her at the Lunt-Fontaine Theater, which I would describe in better detail if all the theaters weren’t running together.

The shows, I can tell apart. The theaters, not so much anymore.

This one seemed bigger than the others, but just as ornate.

And sitting up close is like sitting up close at an NBA game. You see a different show. Facial expressions. You can hear the orchestra much better — the orchestra basically sits under the stage. If you’re sitting on the wings, which we were, you can see a little backstage.

The orchestra-section tickets regularly go for $150 or so. Couldn’t afford them without the ticket brokerage at 47th Street and 7th Avenue.

This was our fourth show in seven days. We’ve seen Jersey Boys, Chicago, Newsies and now Motown.

I loved Newsies. I mean, it was big-time good. I can still vividly recall the faces and actions of even the bit players.

And Newsies ranks third on the list. It’s like the Western Conference. Tough competition.

I’d still put Jersey Boys first, but only in a photo finish over Motown.

 

MOTOWN THE MUSICAL

I am not a music aficionado. Don’t know singers’ names. Don’t know who wrote what. Don’t know who sang what.

I just know songs I’ve heard all my life and I know what I like.

That’s what I liked about Jersey Boys. It was one song after another of, wow, did Franki Valli and the Four Seasons do that one, too?

Motown the Musical was a little of the same. The Temptations, for example. I didn’t know what they recorded. I knew their songs, but I didn’t automatically associate them with the Temptations. Same with Smokey Robinson.

Diana Ross and the Jackson 5, that’s a little different. When I hear their songs, I know who it is.

So Motown’s musical lesson was different. This is the story of how Berry Gordy went from start-up music producer in 1958 to really his own genre within a generation.

The breadth of Gordy’s discoveries and development is astounding.

Diana Ross. The Jackson 5. Marvin Gaye. Stevie Wonder. Mary Wells. The Four Tops. The Temptations. The Commodores. Gladys Knight and the Pips.

All from an independent recording studio in Detroit (that moved to LA in 1972).

I’ve always been a little partial to Berry Gordy, for the simple reason I’ve never heard of anyone else who spells their first name the way we do.

I’d like to ask him sometime when his parents did that. I know why mine did. I’m a twin. Berry and Terry. They liked Berry better than Tarry.

Anyway, I learned 10,000 things about Gordy and Motown.

The show mixes 60 songs with lots of drama about Gordy’s family business.

And the likenesses are incredible.

Think about the task at hand. Find performers who not only can sing in the neighborhood of Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and a young Michael Jackson, but also bear a reasonable facsimile to them in appearance.

Wow. It’s like telling Bob Stoops, go find a quarterback who produces like Sam Bradford but also has the same on-field mannerisms. Like telling Travis Ford, find another do-everything point guard like Marcus Smart who also carries himself like Smart.

But Motown the Musical pulls it off.

The performer who played Diana Ross didn’t remind me that much of a young Ross. But the ‘70s Ross? It was scary how much she passed for Ross.

Same with Michael Jackson. And Smokey Robinson. And Marvin Gaye.

If you passed them on the street, made up the way they were on stage, you’d say, that looked like Smokey Robinson. And sounded just like him, too.

Motown eventually got squashed in the ‘80s by all the big recording companies, which is part of the story. But thanks, Motown, for all those great songs. And thanks for lifting our spirits on Day 9 in New York.

 

A NEW YORK DUD

We had an afternoon to kill, so we took a taxi down to the South Street Seaport, which the Dish had seen on a New York television promo.

And it was a dud. Don’t go. No reason to go. Nothing there except a great view of the BrooklynBridge. So we at least got a photo.

All the seaport is good for is putting you down on the tip of Lower Manhattan where it’s hard to get anywhere.

We started walking back into the financial district and went within a couple of blocks of the 9/11 Memorial.

Then we turned up Broadway maybe a mile, past majestic City Hall, went over to Church Street and stopped for lunch at Da Mikele, a little Italian joint. Didn’t know anything about it, it just looked cool.

And it was. Quaint. Charming. Good. The Dish had a pizza/salad lunch special. I had shrimp fettuccine (with tomatoes, never had that before) and it was excellent.

 

TAXICAB CONFESSIONS

I learned something about New York cabbies Tuesday. They have a set schedule. You don’t want to try to get a taxi for a long trip between 3:30-5 p.m.

Most cabbies switch off around 4-4:30 p.m. In other words, they take their car to the hub, often in Brooklyn, and another driver takes over.

So no one wants to pick up a fare at 3:30 headed to Newark. They can’t get back in time.

Cabbies have it rough. They are regulated heavily and the deck is stacked against them.

For instance, New York cabs that take a customer to New Jersey can’t pick up a customer in New Jersey and take them back to New York. Same with Jersey cabbies who pick up a customer at the Newark airport.

Both sides have to turn around and drive home with empty cabs. That doesn’t seem right.

Worse yet, they can’t deny a customer. You get in at Newark wanting to go to New York, they have to take you. Same the other way. How fair is that?

Anyway, we found a guy at 3:30 willing to take us to Newark, and he almost immediately regretted it, because of traffic. He called his partner, told him he would be late and the partner was not pleased. I felt bad.

Not as bad as I felt halfway through the trip when I got the email that the flight was canceled, but bad.

At least the New York cabbie took the Lincoln Tunnel.

Two tunnels connect New York and New Jersey. The Lincoln Tunnel empties into New York around 39th Street on the west side. So it’s not far from Midtown Manhattan.

The Holland Tunnel empties into Lower Manhattan, near Canal Street. Which means you have to navigate much more New York City traffic.

Our cabbie in Newark, taking us back to the island, said the Lincoln Tunnel backs up terribly at that time of night, so he went with the Holland Tunnel.

But that means getting off the freeway in Jersey and driving through Jersey City (Al Eschbach’s hometown; in a bit of irony, I went on the air with Al while driving through Jersey City), then driving north up the island through 40something stoplights. I don’t care how backed up was the Lincoln Tunnel was, it had to be better than that.

While standing in line for the cab at Newark, I got on my phone and found us a room at a Fairfield Inn in Midtown, near Times Square, for $139 a night.

New York hotel prices are overrated. You can find some decent rates.

The hotels, like the theaters, are starting to run together. But this one was fine, too. It’s got 34 floors — almost as tall as the First National Center in Oklahoma City and it doesn’t even stand out. We were on the 22nd floor and had a decent view of the Hudson River and some Manhattan skyline.

We even had room to put our luggage out of the way, which was not the case in the other Fairfield, though I liked that hotel, too.

At this rate, it’s probably good that we’re checking in and out of new hotels every day, because I’m so mixed up, I might go to the wrong one.

 

UNITED WE FALL

I rarely fly United. Southwest is my airline of choice, as you know. Never have liked United. Had a bad experience in 1995, not with getting places but with service. Left a bad taste in my mouth.

And nothing’s really changed. Had a really nice lady Monday morning on the phone who tried to help us (and did, if the weather hadn’t worsened).

But the service at Newark’s airport was absurdly awful, and it all comes down to management. A total lack of quality management.

We stood in a surprisingly short line to see what the heck to do, then were told that anyone with a canceled flight needed to go to another check-in port down the terminal.

We got down there, to a slightly longer line, and then a woman who seemed to be in charge came over and told us, you didn’t need to come down here, that first place was perfectly fine. So she walked us back there and told the agents to help us.

Trouble was, they didn’t really listen to her. And United’s total lack of supervision was apparent with the layout. United had two lines going and no system for which line went where. And no one wanting to take responsibility.

We met a charming fellow from Rutherford, N.J. (not East Rutherford, Rutherford) who was trying to get to Cincinnati but offered us some tips and even let us go in line in front of him. Gave Jersey a good name.

When our line was bypassed twice even though it was our turn, I took matters into my own hands. When a slot opened up, I immediately walked over and stood in front of the agent.

The guy looked up and said, “Oh, I didn’t call anybody up.”

I just looked at him.

A woman at the next counter asked if she could help, and she tried, although there was no solution.

So I don’t blame United for me being stuck. I do blame United for a total lack of customer service. The confusion never would happen with Southwest.

Never.

 

NO SHAKE SHACK

Remember the bus tour guide from Monday? He told us the best burger in town was at Shake Shack.

And there was one on the way back from the theater to our hotel. Inexpensive, too. Single cheeseburger, $5. Double, $7. We were fired up.

Alas, at 10:15, its grill had closed. They were selling only shakes and ice cream. Bummer.

So we stopped in at a Chinese takeout, got some kung pao and ate in the hotel room.

Ready to go home.

 

 


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The...
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