Free Friday 2012

01 May

As most of you know, I take an annual weekend trip to New York City. Just me. Alone. It is one of the highlights of my year. Every year is slightly different, but follows the same basic framework. Typically I fly up early on a Friday morning. I see a friend or two who live in the area – maybe lunch on Friday with one friend, brunch on Sunday with another. But basically keep my Friday free of scheduled events. In fact, I often refer to it as Free Friday. Because it’s just me, doing what I want to do. No responsibilities, no one else’s needs/wants/desires to consider. Want to duck into Mikimoto on 5th Avenue and try on pearls you could never hope to afford in your life? Why not? It’s Free Friday, and you don’t have children clinging to your legs like kudzu. Want to spend 5 hours straight in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, perhaps going to a lecture, or perhaps just sitting down on a bench amongst the Greek & Roman sculpture to read a book for a bit, or perhaps spending long minutes staring lovingly/scrutinizing your favorite painting in the world, Pygmalion & Galatea, which just happens to hang in the Met? Why not? It’s Free Friday, and to quote Keith Nelson, Eric Stoltz’s character from Some Kind of Wonderful, “This is my church.”

I always visit the Met. Every Free Friday. I have to. It’s like a compulsion. The mothership calling me home. It is a stunning collection. And despite my many, many visits, I’m still just scratching the surface. Plus they keep renovating and opening new wings, hosting new exhibits. But more about that later. So, I know that at some point on Free Friday I’m going to end up on 5th at 82nd. But I also try to do something new each year. Some past adventures have included a visit to Eataly, a stroll along the High Line, visiting the Frick, the Whitney, seeking out the Peanut Butter & Co restaurant to order an authentic “Elvis” sandwich, scoping out the Natural History Museum & the Children’s Museum of Manhattan for possible inclusion in Crazy Momma’s Road Trip, wandering through Central Park with no destination in mind. The list goes on. It’s amazing how much experience you can pack into one day when you’re on your own. And I feel like I should go on record as saying that I love riding the subway. I do. The people-watching possibilities are endless. It’s like every time I step on the train I’ve become an observer and/or participant in a new play. I’ve seen anger, aggression, passion, joy, sadness, all played out before my very eyes. I’ve had meaningful interactions with strangers – a communal laugh, a shared eye-rolling look in response to someone else’s ridiculous antics. Plus I think I enjoy the satisfaction that comes from successfully navigating my way through a city that is not my own. It’s actually rather easy once you know how to read the subway map. And I do so very much love my map.

Anyway, this year, I mixed it up a bit. I usually fly up Friday because, well, who can possibly afford the cost of an additional night in a hotel in New York City? Not me, anyway. But this year, thanks to the re-connective power of that much-maligned social media, Facebook, I flew up Thursday night to stay with an old friend. Now, she’s not old, but our friendship is. We met during a summer scholars program during the summer between our Junior and Senior years in high school. We were fast friends. Then we maintained a close pen pal relationship throughout college. For those of you in a younger generation than me, you might not be familiar with the concept. We used to write letters. Literally. With a pen and paper, envelopes and stamps. We didn’t have the internet, there was no e-mail. We wrote to each other. Long letters. So, the point is that I knew Robyn for about a nanosecond a million years ago. But last year when she was rummaging about in her parents’ attic she came across a stack of letters from me. This prompted her to google me. And thus, another reconnection on Facebook, via this blog, came to be. And I could not be happier about it. So, she’s living in NYC, and since I want to see her, spend time with her, I screw up my moxie and ask if I can crash on her couch Thursday night. Being awesome, like she is, and disregarding the fact that I am now clearly a nutcase, she says, sure, come on!

So, I flew into LaGuardia last Thursday night, was thwarted at the cab queue by the Rangers in the Garden, thus no cabs, but one bus, and a subway transfer, and four blocks later, I arrived at her apartment on the Upper West Side. And when she opened the door, it was beyond amazing. Instantly I was transported back to that undecorated college dorm room, where we used to sit on the bed and talk. Our hair is definitely better now, and we’ve acquired a great deal more life wisdom and experience, but personality wise, we are exactly the same people. And it is no surprise that the grown-up versions of us, are once again fast friends. What a delight to see in a woman the girl you were friends with 23 years ago. Unbelievable. The short story is that Robyn and I had an awesome time catching up and she was gracious beyond belief that I came in so late and commandeered her couch. I didn’t think it was possible to like her more than I did when I was 16, but I think I do. Of course now we can talk about all the amazing places we’ve traveled instead of just the places we want to go. And we still have about the same taste in literature. But just like our 16 year old selves, we’re still talking about boys (50 shades of Renner meets Efron’s Mrs. Robinson?) It’s good for the soul to catch up with an old friend. Watch out, Robyn, you just became one of my NYC traditions. Next year let’s go back to my new favorite diner: Big Daddy’s, ’cause next time I’m trying the Captain Crunch muffins.

So this year’s Free Friday started with a leisurely diner breakfast with an old friend and a fairly late (for me) start out into the city. But some quick planning, with the help of Robyn’s laptop, had me on my way with a vague logistical game plan. I headed down from the UWS to Midtown. I always stay in a hotel on Free Friday, despite having people who are willing to put me up, because this is one of the major points of the trip. To taste some autonomy. And as pathetic as this may make me, there is little I like more than staying in a hotel. Seriously. Doesn’t even have to be a particularly nice one. I just love hotels. And when it comes to NYC, I like to stay in midtown because I have some weird kind of obsession with Grand Central. I love it. I don’t really think I can even explain why. It’s just one of the places in the world that makes me happy. And it shouldn’t, right? It’s crowded. With people who are gawking tourists, and people who are locals who hate the gawking tourists. But for whatever reason, the people-watching inherent in the crush of humanity? The soaring 125ft ceilings? I love it. And I always stay near it if possible.

Striking out from my midtown hotel I first headed over to The Morgan Library and Museum on Madison. Wow. I am always staggered by the immense wealth of the previous centuries. I mean, this really was someone’s private library. Like when they wanted to refer back to a book they owned, it was there, on the shelf. In their private library. That has three story bookshelves. And an integrated vault to store rare manuscripts. Awesome. I especially loved that the library had three stories, but no visible means of accessing the upper stories. It seems that the staircases to access the second and third floors were hidden behind the bookcases. So I set about trying to see if I could locate them. Sure enough, after walking around the room, head down, scrutinizing the floor & moulding, I noticed curved scuff marks on the wood floor. Then I looked closer at the book cases directly in front of the scuff marks and found the hidden hinges. So. Freakin’. Cool. And their collection is, well, impressive seems like such an understatement. A Gutenberg bible? Check. Sheet music hand written by Mozart? Check. A Thoreau journal entry, dated Walden 1845? Check. And numerous other personal letters and original manuscripts by Keats, Dickens, Austen, Bronte, Lord Byron, Abraham Lincoln, Steinbeck, and Thomas Jefferson, to name a few. Oh, and there’s a few pieces of art worth looking at, too…

My next stop was the Museum of the City of New York. Another first for me. This is one cool little museum way up on the Upper East Side on 5th at 103rd. They have a movie there called “Timescapes: A Multimedia Portrait of New York.” It runs for about 20 minutes, is narrated by Stanley Tucci (whose voice I adore), and it is fascinating. It shows how Manhattan was settled, and even more engrossing, how it grew. It was the perfect companion piece to their current exhibition – The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011. Wow was that cool. Tons of old survey maps and archival images, including the original 1811 hand-drawn map of the proposed grid of streets and avenues through Manhattan. What a stunning piece of city planning, and it is amazing to see how it was put into action and how it has grown. I was a big fan of this museum, and I’ll definitely check their exhibit schedules on future visits.

Since I love to walk the city I decided that the 20 blocks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art would be a piece of cake. It was a bit chilly, a bit blustery, but come on, I was walking down 5th Avenue. Along the edge of Central Park. On my way to the Met. Yeah, you could say I didn’t really feel the cold. Once I arrived, I was disappointed that my favorite painting, Pygmalion and Galatea by Gerome, is still languishing in the basement since being returned to the Met last summer after an outing to the Getty & the Musee d’Orsay. I would think they’d rush to put the lovely Galatea back on the walls. But alas, I went up the stairs, turned left, down the long hall, turned right, looked right, and no Pygmalion clutching his marble-turning-into-flesh love. Boo. I want my painting back. This makes three visits without it. And I’m missing her. But there was still much to be seen and little time to see it. I stuck mostly to the special exhibits: The Steins Collect, Durer and Beyond, Spies in the House of Art, and the rather titillating, Naked Before the Camera.  Goodness, it’s getting hot in here…

The reason I was in a bit of a hurry on Friday night was my desire to hear some live music. When I was preparing for my trip I was messing around online last Wednesday and just googled “live music NYC Friday”.  That is one thing that I have typically not taken advantage of during my visits to New York. Live music. And why not? I don’t have the answer to that. But it was something I intended to change. I couldn’t believe it when the first thing that popped up was Colin Hay, and according to Ticketmaster, there were tickets still available. But, it being Free Friday, I didn’t want to pull the trigger on tickets and then be stuck with a place I had to be at a certain time. I decided to roll the dice, to gamble. Despite desperately wanting to go see Colin Hay live, I left it up to fate. Okay, so maybe my rather hasty exit from the Met was a little bit of an encouragement for fate. But I made my way quickly to my hotel, changed clothes, and headed straight back out to a little venue called The Town Hall, just a few blocks from my oh-so-conveniently located midtown hotel. Sure enough, single tickets still available, and I even got an orchestra seat for a balcony price. It’s so funny to me, if I had heard that Colin Hay was coming to Jacksonville I would have purchased tickets months in advance, made specific plans, it would have been, to me, a very big deal. But here I am in New York City, roll up to the box office when the opening act is already on stage, and secure a seat on the floor. Now that’s the way to take advantage of a Free Friday. And Colin Hay? Amazing. He’s still got that Men at Work lilt to his voice, and it was fun for him to play some of the band’s old songs. And he had some cool new stuff, too. But let’s face it, I was mostly there to hear him sing “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” and “Overkill.” He did not disappoint. But what I did not expect was the fact that Colin Hay is as much a storyteller live, as he is a musician. Highly entertaining. Overall, a wonderful experience.

But then it’s 10pm, and you’re alone in the city, so what do you do? Text a friend and see if they want to meet for drinks, of course. And that’s how I found myself taking the subway back up to Dorrian’s at 84th and 2nd. Love me the uptown 6. Now I’m not going to rehash the rest of my Friday night, but suffice it to say that I was reacquainted with one of my favorite New York City-dwelling partners in crime, none other than the original Crazy Yankee Chick. Kris is a fellow W&L alum, though of a decidedly younger class. We met while I was in law school and she was an undergrad. She was a theatre major fulfilling college credit while playing an Indian with an Irish brogue. I was a law student shirking my reading while playing a Mexican. Yeah, that seems about right. Exactly the stuff a lifelong friendship is built on. Anyway, she’s become one of my favorite people in the world. Mostly because she’s one of the coolest I know, and yet, for some strange reason, she thinks I’m cool. Clearly we’re both messed in the head. But she is 1/4 of the crew that takes in a Yankees game each spring, the centerpiece of my annual trip to NYC. And for a little pre-game entertainment, we met Friday night at Dorrian’s. There may or may not have been drinking, ridiculing of scantily-clothed drunk girls, her shutting down flirty, but clearly unimpressive boys, a side trip down the street to another establishment that had a beer pong table, meeting some of her closest guy friends (every tomboy has them!), and some unintentionally illegal behavior. Is ignorance of the law a good defense? Perhaps I should have paid more attention in law school instead of doing so many plays.

Anyway, Bonus Thursday and Free Friday 2012 were a great success. I reconnected with an old friend, visited new places, visited favorite places, heard an amazing musician sing to my soul, and cavorted as if I were a much younger person in the presence of one of my favorite much younger people. Overall, not a bad 36 hours. But of course, it was only the beginning…


Next installment… How I spent my Saturday. Alternate title? Bananas in the Bronx: Episode IV


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© 2010 Krista Lindsey Willim