Notes from The Road

Northern Musings Part II: "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."

 

Northern Musings: Part II

I'm a weird tourist.

No Statue of Liberty, no Empire State Building for me. Somehow, waiting in line for an hour and a half to shell out $60 and hitch a ride up the second tallest building in New York City just doesn't sit right.

I'd rather spend my time swilling 40 oz. malt liquor on a rooftop in Chinatown while playing "Cornhole." Fantastic way to spend the downtime during a Northeastern tour. The rest of the time I'd simply hoof it around town, wearing down my unconditioned legs to the point of exhaustion and copious amounts of Ibuprofen.

Maybe stop in an Irish Pub for a break and a pint of something heavy. A stroll through Central Park. Then a breeze through Grand Central Station. Blow my money elsewhere on highfalutin drinks and dishes in Manhattan. Don't appease the tour hawkers. 


I remember clawing my way up from the depths of the New York City Subway for the first time, onto the corner of 7th and Fashion according to friend Randy (right near the legendary Big Time landmarks of Red Lobster and Ruby Tuesdays), when he queried: "So, you're in the City now. What do you wanna do?"


 "Only one thing I've really come up with," I replied. "Maybe go to Little Italy?"

"Have a lasagna?" he said.

"Have a lasagna."

He found my obsession with Little Italy novel. Maybe I was somewhat fixated on that concept -- jabbering about it incessantly for the first few days -- but what's wrong with havin' a meal in Little Italy? Maybe a Pinot Noir.

Isn't that what tourists do? Maybe's it's because the district's essentially been engulfed by Chinatown; reduced to a block or two of Italian flag-peppered restaurants and shops. I don't know. But fantastic veal.

You're just limited in your options.


 

I dug Little Italy. Authentic. By authentic, I of course mean an old Italian gent romancing customers into his restaurant with bellowing song, while taking breaks to work out on the tourist dime pieces.

"Ey'ah bella! Come ova' he'ah. We got da' best sauce! Oh, bebe." I hear that's what Italy's all about. Then again, before I moved to the Caribbean, I was pretty sure Weekend at Bernie's II was an accurate representation of the U.S. Virgin Islands...

Ah, Chinatown. I truly loved it. I kept finding myself there throughout the trip, repeatedly muttering to myself: "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."

It took me a few days before I remembered that one of my favorite Jack Nicholson vehicle's actually took place in Los Angeles and not New York, but still... there's something about being in the continental U.S. and getting an entirely different cultural experience than you expected.

A taste of the old country. Keeping that Chinese heritage in their little corner of the City. The music, the foods, the market hustlers, and sweet God, the smells -- both aromatic and tantalizing, some horrid and putrid. Simply Chinatown.

When I was rustling through my transit options to get to my shows in Boston, Randy mentioned that the Fung Wah bus ran every thirty minutes out of Chinatown. My eyes popped open as I lunged for my duffel bag and the guitar Edwin McCain let me borrow. I nearly crushed Saul the cat barreling out of Rand'oh's apartment in Brooklyn to get downtown for some greasy noodles and Shrimp Won Ton before my trek.

But is it possible to escape any destination without doing something overtly touristy? It's hard. By the time I'd returned to New York for one last romp after Boston, I'd managed to haplessly obstruct bald, futuristic hostesses and servers from their duties while snapping iPhone pictures in a Japanese concept hotel, photo oped with some sort of demented ox and demanded Randy take the dreaded Times Square shot.

Among plenty of other things. But there are nooks and cracks in the system, places where you feel like you've beaten the tourists and The Hustle, and gotten on top of The City for once...

Mine was my last night there, sipping a fine Brooklyn Lager on a rooftop bar in Koreatown with an old friend, staring up at the Empire State Building next door.

A fine view of the ol' girl jetting upward into the October sky. A fine way to wind down a trip to New York.


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