I did a Tourist Exchange earlier this week. New York City has emptied out its native population into Vermont, and they’re all swarming my ski hill, destroying the surface, cutting the lift lines, jostling for VIP Treatment with every waitress, concierge, bartender, and hotel desk clerk in a 20 mile radius of the ski mountain. I appreciate that these people are providing a much-needed cash infusion into the ski operation – especially since we still have not had any precipitation worth mentioning, and all skiing is taking place on an expensive man-made surface. As an economist, I do understand that the jostling, screaming, cursing, abrasive throngs from New York City and its environs (including New Jersey, Westchester County, and the southern portion of Connecticut) are functionally subsidizing my ski experience for the rest of the season. And I’m grateful to them.
Yet, in the immortal words of Sholem Aleichem, “May God bless and keep [the New York City hordes]…far away from us!”
So this weekend – other than the fact that the ski area absolutely soaks the once-a-year skiers on lift tickets during Xmas week – is not a good time for me to ski. Too crowded, for one. Too rude, for another. Too incompetent, for a third. I have gorgeous skis. They’re stop-in-your-tracks-and-say-WOO skis. The guy at the waxing shop told me that they were all fighting over who got to wax my skis last week. I think he was kidding. I don’t want a noob who should really be learning How To Use The Lift over on the bunny slope – or a boob who can’t be bothered to hang up the damned phone – skiing over my top sheets. Call me vain. You’d probably be right. I still don’t want my gear all banged up by people who can’t be bothered, or who just don’t know how.
On top of the myriad problems caused by people paying no attention at all in the lift lines, there’s the people who think it’s an awesome idea to get likkered up and hit the slopes. Fill up on Dutch Courage for that black run! Especially if you’re not already competent at skiing the blues!! What? Not a drinker? OK – we still got you covered – dare your buddy to sail down the big blue run even though it’s his first time on skis. Not enough? Double-dare him. Or Double-dog-dare him! One way or another, you’re going to get that guy in well over his head. You can tweet the exchange, from the lift. Not done? Ski patrol riding your ass to clear the lift unloading area? What the hell…just move on! You’re on a green slope – you can text all the way down the hill! Took a wrong turn? No problem! Just point your skis downhill, go as fast as you can, and get off the mountain. Everyone else will get out of your way!! Not comfortable skiing down the hill? No problem! Just find yourself a nice soft spot on the run, and sit down on it. So you’re in the middle of the run…everyone else will go around you! So you’re halfway down where you can’t be seen by anyone before they’re actually dropping down? That’s their problem! It’s your right to sit on the run if you want to!
Sounds like a cranky jeremiad, doesn’t it? What it is, instead, is an actual, factual recounting of three different lift rides and runs I took on Monday. Yes. All of that is 100% true, I saw it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears. And, as soon as I got down the hill after the last one, I checked my gear and got the hell out of dodge. And why I’ve stayed off the slopes since then, and won’t go back until after the New Year. It’s not just me, either – although I do have it somewhat “better” than skiers in other areas, because my Home Mountain is the closest large ski area to New York City. One of my favorite ski resources is the online women’s skiier’s group, The Ski Diva. One of the other Divas told a story about how an out-of-control little kid crashed into her as she sat on a bench in the ski rack zone doing up her boots and the kid’s mom barreled down and cussed out the woman on the bench for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This story was followed by a host of anecdotes about other appalling behavior taking place on the slopes during this week.
It’s a good week to be out of Vermont. I don’t say that about many weeks, mind you. Pretty much, just this one.
And – recall – all the New Yorkers are up there hassling each other in Vermont. Why are they not in New York?
Because New York is flooded with tourists. Doing exactly the same kind of crap – in a different setting – that the New Yorkers are doing up in Vermont. The tourists are jaywalking and holding up traffic. They’re breaking the subway turnstiles, and they’re attempting to hold the door on the train for their 5 small children and 6 assorted relatives – and holding up traffic. They’re trying to flag cabs in the wrong areas. They’re flooding into the bars, and taking 10 minutes to order one drink instead of making up their minds before they go to the bar. They’re demanding VIP treatment from every waitress, cab driver, hotel concierge, and desk clerk in the city. They’re attempting to buy their way up the list for seating by slipping the hostess a sawbuck and a big wink. They’re stopping in the middle of Grand Central to admire the ceiling frescos and windows, while paying no attention to the fact that people behind them were in a hurry. They’re going against the tide of foot traffic, and they’re caroming around in the crowds. They are looking at the other people on the train.
It’s a good week to be out of New York.
Happily, I am married to an actual New Yorker (transplanted to New England, but he’s from the Bronx – born and bred) with family there, and season tickets to the Yankees). So I know how to behave in New York. We also know better than to try to stay in Manhattan during Xmas week. This is a terrific week to be in, say, Queens. Preferably as far out as Flushing.
And so we were. He drove down to the city – what evil genius possessed him to bring his car in, I do not know, but there it was – on Tuesday. I followed, in the Megabus, on Wednesday. Just so those of you unfamiliar with the City will understand, I will share that it took the bus 45 minutes to drive 10 blocks. And these are small blocks, not large ones. I’m used to the traffic – this is why we always take the train in – but even so, I found the laggardly pace of travel to be astonishing. As did my spouse, who called me every 15 minutes to see if I was There Yet.
The Megabus driver was either supremely confident or supremely ignorant – no way to tell which – and on several occasions, he blocked the box. This is a big No-No in Manhattan. You can get a $115 fine for blocking the box, because this is how gridlocks are made. No box-blocking = no gridlocks. I’m using “gridlock” in its technical sense, of traffic using a grid pattern stopping in such a way that it becomes physically and literally impossible for anyone to advance (as opposed to using it in its metaphorical sense, where “gridlock” just means “heavy traffic”).
So the bus driver blocked the box, not once, but several times. And one of those times, as I was watching out my window, a guy leaped out of a vehicle positioned 2 or 3 cars behind the intersection. He erupted from the car, shot over to the front of the bus, started pounding on it, and then raced to the back of the bus, where I lost sight of him. He didn’t return to his vehicle. I presume he raced down the street on foot, like they do in the movies, in order to make his life-or-death assignation with the Love Of His Life from whom he had been separated for years under a wholly mistaken premise. Or, maybe, he just was late for a business meeting. Given the sheer insanity of mounting a physically violent attack against a bus I prefer to go with the first explanation.
Fortunately, the traffic cleared a bit and the last 30 blocks took 1/10 the time of the first ten, and I was united with my Happy Husband. We swanned off to a restaurant that had just been featured in some Top Ten of NYC listing. I was shocked to find we could get a table. I’m sure it had something to do with showing up for dinner at 5pm.
From there, we joined the madding crowd at that Icon of Holiday Cheer: The Rockefeller Tree. I’m used to there being significant crowds at this site, but the one we encountered on Wednesday night was beyond imagining. There must have been 15, maybe 20 thousand people crammed into that city block to Regard The Tree (and watch the ice-skating, or possibly, to get into line for the ice-skating). It was astonishing. The tree was splendid, as always, but my favorite (as always) was the Crowd Scene. Because all of the New Yorkers have gone to Vermont, everyone on site is a tourist. And, apparently, the Rockefeller Tree is an international draw. You stand there and twenty people pass you, and you hear ten languages spoken in that time. Now I know what the Eiffel Tower is for the French.
The amazing thing about this experience is that – despite being packed in like sardines – nearly everyone is in a good mood. Everyone is happy and festive, despite being jostled and trodden upon. A Great Miracle Happened There. Go hang out near the tree, and you’ll find yourself taking part as a bit-player in family reunions, rites of passage, and engagements. It’s one of the great fun parts of my holiday season to spend an hour down by the tree at night, offering to take pictures of the entire family grouping – there is always someone with a camera, telling a group of others (in whatever language) to Stand Closer So I Can Get The Tree In The Picture. I’m pretty good at taking pictures, so I always offer to help. Somehow “Would You Like A Picture Of All Of You Together?” is the same in every language on the planet. I got to help ten groups make a holiday memory on Wednesday night this way. I love doing this.
After the Tree, we found a Nut Cart, and I managed to get a bag of perfectly roasted chestnuts. Usually the chestnuts are not perfectly roasted – they’re burned, or they are not roasted long enough so that it is difficult to remove the shells and one winds up with a hundred tiny cuts on the fingers and palm. These, on the other hand, were perfect. We ate them on the way to the theatre…
…were we got to see Mandy Patinkin and Patti Lupone do a two-person show (plus one bass player and one pianist). They had amazing chemistry and are obviously great friends as well as supremely skilled musical actors. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house after Patti finished her reprise of “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”. Including Patti’s eyes, by the way. First time I’ve seen an experienced professional break up on stage. And Roy had bagged us some premium seats – we were in the 4th row of the orchestra.
After that, we trained out to Flushing – not kidding about that, we racked up at a Red Roof in Flushing’s vibrant, yet scuzzy Chinatown.
From there the next morning, to Bryant Park where there is a holiday market every year, as well as ice-skating. We didn’t skate, but did get some superb post-Xmas deals, as well as hot cider, a hot chocolate with a dark truffle in the bottom of the cup, 4 fried dumplings, and 4 small fresh pickles, one of them with a horseradish flavor. Excellent.
Then back up town to Radio City for the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular. I love this show. It’s so festive. And Radio City looks amazing at the holidays. But my favorite is definitely the Rockettes. They’re so cute! And wholesome, in that super long-legged way. Like puppies, only with Sex Appeal. I just want to take them all home with me, they’re that cute. Even my 92-year-old mother-in-law loves the Rockettes. And, as with the Tree, it’s crowded, but the crowd is in a good mood. It’s so…unnatural…for New York City to have this many people in a good mood.
After the show, back to Flushing for a trip to our favorite Chinese joint anywhere, Joe’s Shanghai. This was our first trip to the Joe’s Flushing outpost – usually we go to the one down in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Holy cow. When the waitress stops by your table and says “soup buns” take it from me – Just Say Yes. And we can also recommend the scallion pancakes, the turnip shortcake, the chicken pan fried noodles. And, well, just about everything else on the list. Just be sure to bring some of the ready with you – this place does not accept credit cards. Nor do they need to. We stuffed ourselves, including a bottlee of microbrewed ginger ale, and tax, and tip, for $33. I’m just as glad this place is not around the corner from me.
From there, back home. Now I just have to wait another two days for the rest of the New Yorkers to flood off of the ski hill and back into the City. I’m sure they, also, are waiting for the French, Italians, Portuguese, Nebraskans, Canadians, Mexicans, Japanese, Mongolians, Russians, Bulgarians, Irish, Argentinians, and Pacific Islandeers to do likewise. In the meantime, I’m living off the memory of Mandy “My Name Is Inigo Montoya” Patinkin and those Shanghai Soup Buns.