OK, it's nearly that time again, when New York City turns itself into a winter wonderland (minus the snow) ahead of Santa's Christmas visit.
Normally, I'd be drinking heavily in anticipation of all the tourists, both fat Americans from the heartland and svelte foreigners slinking about the streets near my office, getting in my way and making ignorant remarks about my city (most of which I ignore).
This year, I have too much on my plate to really be bothered much by these minor infectious agents of idiocracy ("Gee, that building's really tall! Make sure you use the flash to get the very top in the picture!").
So I'm making a deal: Tourists, I've got all you need to know about New York City right here!
OK, first things first: it's big. It's enormous. It's ginormous. Yes, it's the biggest frikkin' city you've ever seen (you can't count Los Angeles because most days you can't see the whole thing for the smog). How big is it?
Your entire family reunion would fit on one floor of your average office building and yes, I'm including the cousins from Bumfuck, Tennessee who breed like rabbits. And there'd still be space for your neighbors to hold their family reunions!
That's just in Manhattan. Manhattan is the place you usually think of when you think about New York City. Since I don't have time or energy to lead a guided tour, let me point out some spots to you: that's where I was shot and killed by Jerry Orbach on "Law And Order." That's where I arrested the pedophile on "L&O: SVU." I was the third corpse after the office bombing on "CSI:NY" at that building over there (nice elevators, by the way, it made for some interesting conversation with the Japanese bank on the 8th floor when we were in make-up). I'd show you more but we're pressed for time. What? Oh. Yes. Every New Yorker has been on "Law & Order" or "CSI:NY." It's in the contracts.
The Theatre District is loosely defined as Times Square, plus two blocks west of Broadway and anyplace that Nathan Lane is carousing, extending north to around 50th Street. Don't go there. There's a stagehands strike. And besides, the Disney DVDs capture the flavor of the movies more realistically.
No, wait. Go there. Friends of mine own bars and restaurants and I can't keep them in business singlehandedly, no matter how *hic* try I hard.
There's shopping about a half mile down, where you'll run into Macy's. Literally. It takes up an entire city block, and the crowds going into and out of it create a giant black-hole like vortex that will suck you in, even if you're across the street.
North of Times Square is Central Park. No much to know about that except if you ever need to spend ten minutes thinking, that's about the only place in New York where you can, except for some toilets in really quiet French restaurants. Oh. And John Lennon was shot just across the street on 72nd. You'll recognize the building, the Dakota, from its star turn in Rosemary's Baby.
What's that? No, I was a bit too old to play the baby.
Outside of Manhattan are Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx. Queens is pretty cool. You can visit two active movie studios practically by walking across the East River...no, really! Go on...it's safe! It's been specially polluted so that anything that comes in contact with it will bounce. Think of it as a giant rubber floor.
Brooklyn is Brooklyn and aside from Park Slope, and maybe Brooklyn Heights, you can avoid it like the plague. I mean that. People get infectious diseases there (not really, but Brooklynites don't cotton to strangers very nicely). If you're hungry, though, Atlantic Avenue is one of the most diverse food venues in the city, and hence, the world.
Staten Island, no one goes to except to take the Staten Island Ferry (you remember the opening of Working Girl with Melanie Griffith?) so that you can take pictures of the Statue of Liberty. The ferry's a nice ride, and free, so I'd take that, and you can just turn around and reboard, but it's hardly worth it. There isn't a picture you can take that hasn't been taken by a million people, no matter how professional a photographer you are. Buy a postcard and lie to your friends.
The Bronx...well, the more time you spend there, the better it is for you and the residents. I suggest going to Yankee Stadium and squatting on line now for 2008 tickets. They go fast and the scalpers are already setting up their shanty town.
I'm kidding about spending as much time as possible up in the Bronx! Did you ever watch the NYC Marathon on TV? There's a reason they barely set foot in the borough before turning back into Manhattan!!!!
OK, so that's the nickel tour of the city. Let's go over some ground rules that are guaranteed to make your stay more pleasant for everyone:
1) Please, stop right in the middle of the sidewalk to gawk at a map or a building! We encourage it. And nevermind the sharp elbows and toe-step-ons you suffer...that's just our way of welcoming you to the city, newbie.To add to your survival guide, here are some handy numbers and acronyms you should know:
2) Despite what you see on the TV, the MTV studio windows are not two-way glass, and so they can't see you inside. But be our guests to step out into rush hour traffic for your fifteen seconds of fame on TRL. Your friends will be thrilled for you, and will spend weeks asking you about your trip to St. Luke's Hospital (featured on "Law and Order" too!)
3) We don't allow smoking in our bars and restaurants, but here's a little insider's tip from me to you, because I like you: light up anyway. Riker's Island is a hidden gem and a must-see on your trip!
4) The odds of you seeing a celebrity walking down the street decrease dramatically inversely to the density of the population on said street, so your best bet is on Staten Island, where no one goes anyway. Our celebrities only come out late at night, when they know the hicks are asleep (or overpaying for the encore of a Disney Broadway show). However, some good places to sit a while and stargaze are Sarabeth's on Central Park South (which New Yorkers call 59th Street, so there's a tip for how to blend in a little), Balthazar's on Prince Street, and the fountain in Washington Square Park. Look for anyone wearing dark sunglasses and a hat pulled tightly over their eyes. Be prepared to purchase a souvenir, usually in the form of some of our fine lawns, pulled up and rolled in paper for your convenience, and say hello to Britney for me.
5) You probably wonder where all the people you see scuttling around during the day disappear to after 6. Well, the city itself holds close to 9 million people, and all 9 million descend on Manhattan, plus another million or so from New Jersey and Connecticut (don't ask!). We've had to work it out so the weight is spread out enough that the island itself doesn't tilt up when everyone works on Wall Street. Yes, we all make millions, at least those of us who are native-born. People who move here get robbed. A lot. Don't even think about it.
Unless you have a nice body and are willing to share. Frequently.
6) Be sure to interrupt New Yorkers who look the most determined not to be late for work or for dinner or, God forbid, the Rangers' game at the Garden. They'll be happy to point out that the building you're standing in front of, scratching your head, is the address you're waving in their faces, and will do it most courteously...for an angry drunk SOB who's just had a fight with the wife and gotten a traffic ticket. You may want to wear a face shield for all the spittle.
7) Please buy as many souvenirs from the furtively-browed men who sell them off card tables on the sidewalk as you can. The more money they make ripping you off with cheap knockoffs, the less time they're out robbing our apartments or handing out flyers for Goldfingers.
911 - It's not just a word Rudy Giuliani tosses about like a stevedore cursing, it's a phone number for emergency services. Our police and fire departments are first rate and your experience with them, should the opportunity arise, will be excellent. The trouble might arise as they fight their way through all the traffic you and the other ten million tourists visiting us create. Please understand that they're only doing their job the best they can and that you shouldn't have gotten yourself shot in the first place. No one's ever sold a real Rolex on the streetcorner at 47th and Broadway, and you should have seen before you handed over the grand that it said "Roley".
311 - This is an amazing telephone number, and you can find out practically anything you want to know about the city and what it offers by dialing it. Expect to wait about the length of your vacation to get the information you could have gotten by reading ahead on-line before you left.
611 - This used to be the phone number for telephone repairs, but since that's now been privatized (see next item), you must hangup and dial some bizarre phone number that maintains a near non-relationship to this simple little three digit code, where you will be connected to Verizon telephone company. Pray your hotel or apartment uses them. Actually, pray not. You'll sit on hold for an hour until a tech support representative answers and determines that, yes indeed, it's your fault your phone doesn't work, despite the fact the wiring outside your room is dangling, electrocuting pigeons.
IND, BMT, IRT - These initials stand for the three private subway companies that eventually were bought out by the city when the city realized that three private companies running the subways was ruinous to the city's economy. See, this is why we believe in big government: private owners never give a rat's ass about you, where at least in government, a rat's ass is tossed your way every so often.
GOP - also know as Grumpy Old Pedophilies, if you've found one of these in New York City, step away from him as quickly as possible. They are usually found sitting on a park bench, eyeing little girls with bad intent. Even the mayor, Michael Bloomberg (whom you will be personally introduced to at a private reception at Gracie Mansion, and then promptly arrested for crashing a party), has disavowed them.
NYC - You will see these initials everywhere. New York City is a diverse melting pot of various peoples, languages and religions. "NYC" is just Russian mafia graffiti.
212 - As in Actor212, is the area code for Manhattan Island. Along with 646. And 917. We're not fucking Wyoming. One size does not fit all.
That's a potential 3 billion phone lines, all of them wrong numbers.
One After 909 - An old Beatles tune. Sorry. I was checking to see if you were paying attention.
GWM, SMF, BBF - If you see these initials, among others, you must be reading the personals in the Village Voice. I encourage you to call any phone numbers listed. We call it our "enhanced tourism program," where either a gay white male, straight married female, or bi black female will arrive at your hotel room to discuss in depth what you'd like to do or see. Tipping is encouraged and the billing to your credit card will read "Library Fees".
Oh, and nevermind that sign at the airport that read "Welcome To New York. Leave Your Money And Get Out Now, If You Know What's Good For You". We didn't really mean it.
Well, yea. We did, actually. See...that's your half of the deal.