11 January 2015
A night in New York is not that simple. Going to a concert or a play or a restaurant is always magnified by chance encounters along the way. A ticket to a play isn’t just two hours in a theater, but a bazaar of unexpected encounters, getting there and back. And sometimes the little things add up to more than the main event.
A friend and I went to a play last weekend. I parked uptown, where parking is possible and subways run. The setting for this opening act was a parking space next to Columbia and the Jewish Theological Seminary, with the spire of Riverside Cathedral a couple of blocks away. The elevated 125th Street subway platform overlooks an inspired new Columbia research, business and arts campus, Manhattanville, sprouting on once-scruffy acreage from Broadway to the Hudson on 125th Street. It was a raw New York late afternoon and we rode the subway to West 42nd Street and emerged from underground into a scrum of humanity.
Fading light at 125th Street became night by the time we got to 42nd and the earnestness of those New Yorkers with reservations and those just trying to find something to do, injected some drama and impatience into the scene. Saw horses funneled people into some venues: Madame Toussaud, Ripley’s, McDonalds as we walked west to pick up our tickets on Theater Row and then crossed the street to the West Bank Café for dinner. No tables were available, of course…you can’t be too casual in New York. But a few minutes wait at the bar and one man paid and left and another patron moved her stool for us, so we could fit in a second stool. And what is New York if not a cradle for casual conversations with strangers. She schooled us on the best offerings at the bar…she, a regular at West Bank, a house manager for Broadway shows and an Emmy voter. There had been a protest march nearby about the events in Ferguson, so grist for talk. On our way out after dinner, Lewis Black came in. I find it interesting, seeing someone up close, you’ve been entertained by. They’re ‘just folks’ for those who work around them, but I admire their courage to perform…so I’ll give a second look.
The play we saw was Wiesenthal about the Nazi hunter, a one-man show set in his office on the day he finally retired. It was written and performed by Tom Dugan, a 40-ish New Jersey Irishman, who played the 90-year-old Polish Jew, comfortably throwing around bits of Yiddish. In a conversation with the audience afterwards, he introduced his two sons (it was Christmas vacation). One was thirteen and just had his bar mitzvah. Go figure. The evening was still young enough, so we traced steps back to the West Bank for dessert and then re-entered a still-vibrant scrum on 42nd Street, getting back to the subway. But the New York night wasn’t yet finished.
A laughing, boisterous group of kids got on our car with their ice skates, buzzing like fresh batteries. They bounced up and down, traded seats, laughed, spoke English and Spanish easily. Seated next to them was a seemingly sedate, older couple in tweeds and camel’s hair…he with a tie and a vest and a watch pocket with chain, she in an opera dress. No surprise if the posh couple had leaned away. But, no, the fobbed gentleman asked one of the girls about skating and a lively conversation started. There was probably a 60-year and 60-street difference between their worlds, one brash and one staid, but they laughed together. It’s New York.