I’ve been to New York several times but never flew into New York. Flew into Long Island a couple of times, into Newark a couple of times. But that changed Monday, when I flew into LaGuardia Airport for Super Bowl week. And I’ve got to say, it’s spectacular.
The flying in. Not LaGuardia, though I found LaGuardia old-school cool.
LaGuardia looks like a big Love Field or Houston Hobby. It’s got that old feel to it. Maybe there are newer terminals, but I didn’t see them. Which is fine. I like Hobby and I love Love. And LaGuardia grew on me quickly. From my gate to baggage claim was maybe a four-minute walk, max. From baggage claim to the taxi stand was a 20-second walk. Not even Lubbock is that convenient.
Not that you’d mind a long walk in the airport terminal. You just flew in past the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan and the kaleidoscope that is the New York skyline. You’re in a pretty good mood.
And riding out of LaGuardia, you pass a couple of huge hangars with vintage American Airlines signs. I’m telling you, great airport, experience, made better by how close it is to Manhattan.
I always get a charge when I ride from Queens onto the island, though entering from the Queensboro Bridge is much better than the Triboro Bridge. The Queensboro Bridge, which drops you off on 59th Street right in the middle of the city, is breathtaking. “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge,” Nick Carraway says in The Great Gatsby, “is always the city seen for the first time, in its wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.”
That sort of describes Super Bowl 48. Wild promise. Mystery. Beauty. New York is a city built for Super Bowl hype. A city big enough to handle the hype, although even New York seems awed by hosting America’s biggest sporting event.
Waiting at LaGuardia’s baggage claim, at the bottom of the stairs, were several official greeters with a simple message. “Welcome to New York City, home of the 48th Super Bowl,” they said, motioning toward the floor, where indeed the Super Bowl logo was imposed.
Completely charming. New York busting its buttons in pride over hosting a sporting event. No different than Shreveport getting giddy over the Independence Bowl.
That’s how big is the Super Bowl. It impresses even New York. The city has shut down Broadway in places. FOX has a broadcast stage set up just north of Times Square; ESPN has a stage set up at Herald Square, on 34th and Broadway, in front of Macy’s department store, which knows a thing or two itself about big events.
Of course, this isn’t so much a New York Super Bowl as it is a New Jersey Super Bowl. Both squads are staying and practicing in Jersey. The game itself is in the Jersey Meadowlands. But New York is claiming it. All over town.
I’m staying the first few nights on the Upper East Side, at a Courtyard by Marriott in Yorkville, 92nd Street and First Avenue, if you know your Manhattan geography. Plastered above the entrance is “Welcome Fans, Super Bowl XLVIII.” Banners hang in the subway tunnel, mixing with street musicians and workers just trying to get home.
But Super Bowl 48 has a mystery element, too. Will the weather ruin the experience. The latest forecasts say the game might be OK. Temperatures in the 30s, with wind not too bad. If there’s no rain or snow, that would be bearable.
Of course, the Super Bowl is much more than the game. It’s a week-long festival, and it’s about to get cold. Temps were in the 40s Monday afternoon, but they fell fast Monday night. Expected high Tuesday is 20 degrees. When I walked about a mile to the subway at 7 a.m., it was about 10 degrees.
That scene over the QueensboroBridge had better be spectacular.
Super Bowl headquarters for any hosting city is the media center, in this case the New York Sheraton, which is set up as a virtual command post. The Sheraton is on 7th Avenue, about halfway between Central Park and Times Square. In other words, premium real estate.
Security is posted at the Sheraton entrances into the media areas, complete with bag checks. Though I must say, not great security. My wife is with me; Trish the Dish’s tiny purse, which couldn’t even hold her wallet, was searched. But me and my overcoat, in which I could have hidden two ornery 12-year-olds and a trained monkey, was allowed to pass right through.
I love the New York subways. What I like best about them is the speed. They come often and they whiz by all those city blocks that you otherwise have to walk.
But you never know what you’ll see on the subway. Coming home from dinner Monday night, we caught the S train at Times Square over to Grand Central Station, where we caught the 6 train up Lexington Avenue. On the train at Times Square, a guy with dreadlocks sat in front of a couple of bongo drums. I figured he was prepping to play. I didn’t know he would announce his performance.
When the doors closed, he introduced himself and told us he was the entertainment and warned us that his content was not for all ears. Sure enough, he started banging the bongos to some skill while half singing/half chanting to very little skill, with more than a few uncouth lyrics. The Dish was ready to give him his desired tip until she heard some of the language.
A couple of guys were more forgiving. Either that or they weren’t listening.
When we departed and walked toward the 6 train, another bongo player waited a couple of cars down. But nothing like that on the 6 train. I guess it’s a Times Square fad.
AIR TRAN DEBUT
I flew Air Tran for the first time ever. Air Tran has partnered with Southwest, and I had my doubts.
Air Tran has assigned seating. But to get an assigned seat before you arrive at the airport, you have to purchase a seat assignment. Yes, you read that correctly. Your ticket guarantees you a seat. But more cash is required to guarantee you a seat assignment.
Prices range from $10 (any old seat) to $30 (exit row and precious leg room). If you don’t buy a seat assignment, one is randomly assigned to you, but Air Tran says it will try to accommodate a switch if you ask at the airport.
I rolled the dice and was pleasantly surprised. First, Southwest agents handle Air Tran flights, so I felt much better. One thing you generally can always count on is Southwest’s service. Southwest has rankled me in recent years because it gutted its rewards program and it cut out a bunch of convenient flights (no more OKC to Kansas City direct flights; you’ve absurdly got to go through Dallas or Denver). But Southwest still trumps the field in quality of service and generally has the best prices, though that’s not as pronounced as it once was.
Anyway, the Southwest agent got the Dish and I straightened out and the flight was excellent. Slightly smaller plane than Southwest, but not by much. Two seats on one side of the aisle, three on the other. Flew to Atlanta, had a 1:45 layover, then right into LaGuardia with nary a hitch. Reasonably quick at baggage claim. All in all, a quality experience. Of course, I wouldn’t suspect Southwest of doing business with incompetents. I will fly Air Tran again.
SHARING A SALAD
One of my favorite New York experiences happened Monday night.
The Dish and I took the train down to the Sheraton to get my press credential, then we walked down to 44th Street to eat at Carmine’s, an Italian joint my brother-in-law recommended.
It was a unique place. The prices seemed rather high — entrees for $26-$36, with salads priced at $23 — until the waitress explained that each entree feeds at least two. And she didn’t mention that each salad could feed five or six.
So we ordered a Carmine’s salad, which had a bunch of good stuff on it (olives, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, ham) and a chicken farfalle dish, which is pasta with a bunch of mushrooms and peppers in a brown cause. It was excellent and abundant. We ate maybe half the salad and probably two thirds of the chicken dish.
Our hotel room has a little fridge, so we had the chicken dash boxed up to take back with us. But there sat the gorgeous salad, half eaten.
Right next to us was a group of four young guys, in their 20s. They had just sat down and we could easily hear them discuss their order. They didn’t know what to get but were considering a salad with an entree. Are you thinking what I’m thinking, the Dish asked. Absotively, I said. So I leaned over, told the guys we were out-of-towners and would not be taking the salad with us, and they were more than happy to it.
Their apparent leader said something like, “Thanks.” Seemed an excellent response. He didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no. Our waitress boxed up the chicken, then reached for the salad to take it away. I stopped her but didn’t say a word. When she was gone, the guy next to me said, “Hey, I appreciate you saving that sald.”
So I handed it over. We got to chatting with the guys. One of them is from Blackwell. I told him I’d stopped at the Sonic in Blackwell. He told me they didn’t have Sonics in New York, which of course brings into question the entire cultural relevance of the place. By the time we had paid our bill, the salad was all gone. Told you it would feed five or six.
I said I loved New York subways. But that’s not really true. I like New York subways. I love New York cabs.
We bought a seven-day pass on the subway for $31, so that’s what we’ll be using all week. But to get from the airport with a load of luggage, a cab is the way to go.
And we had a great taxi driver. He seemed to be of Eastern European descent but obviously had lived in a New York for decades. Very engaging fellow. Apologized for the weather but reminded us that we, too, are products of nature, so no reason to be at war with the weather. Better to just accept it.
The guy gave us some solid information — the Triboro Bridge has been named the RFK, though he seemed unenthusiastic about the change — and was completely thrilled at my New York geography knowledge.
LaGuardia is hard by the Mets’ Citi Field, which is right next to Arthur Ashe Stadium and the U.S. Tennis, home of the U.S. Open. I asked about Forest Hills, former home of the U.S. Open, and the guy was ecstatic that I knew about Forest Hills. Said he was a member at Forest Hills — $1,400 a year — and had even chatted with John McEnroe. Which makes us kindred spirits, since I’ve interviewed Patrick McEnroe.