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New York: Exit the King

Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco, new translation by Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush, at the Barrymore Theater

This is quite possibly the only time in your life that you will ever want to have sex with Geoffrey Rush. He didn’t get all Wolverine-buff or have work done or anything. He’s still scattered looking and a little creepy intense. But praise Jesus is competence sexy. And this is beyond competence. This is take-me-now excellence.

You have to go. You must. I don’t care what excuse you have to give your Aunt Delia who’s in town for a weekend show, but scalp your Wicked tickets and go see some absurdist theater instead. She might even accept “celebrities” as a category trade-in for “endless mic’d singing about my feelings.”

The celebrities in question are Rush as the King, Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) turning in a very good histrionic performance as the King’s younger wife, Susan Sarandon anteing up a with an unconvincing offering as the original wife, and William Sadler whose resume you won’t remember but whose face you will (Die Hard II, suit-wearing villains on small and large screens) as the doctor.

I was disappointed with Sarandon. I’ve generally thought that she was better than her on-screen material, that she had an authority that would play well on-stage. Her work here doesn’t support either of those assumptions. She is definitely the weak link and Rush would have done better to cast someone with a stronger, weirder hand to match the rest of the performances.

The play is not easy. It’s absurd and bleak and funny (think Godot but with more running around) and about death, which is not a straightforward sell. Ionesco said, “I told myself that one could learn to die, that I could learn to die, that one can also help other people to die. This seems to me the most important thing we can do, since we’re all of us dying men who refuse to die. The play is an attempt at an apprenticeship in dying.”

Entertaining stuff, right? In point of fact, yes. Really. Rush is very, very funny and very, very good at it. He’s had the original production in Sydney and a run in London to perfect his performance and it’s a tour de force. Suffice to say that there’s a lot of dancing about interspersed with the pathos. See video clips here.

Rush and the director, Neil Armfield, did a new translation for this revival and it’s impossible not to see the relevance of the play today after eight years of criminally bad leadership (in this country anyway) and the popular obsession with self-expression (blog, anyone?) and with leaving your mark on the world. Sarandon’s uncertainty with the material undermines the crucial final path to the King’s demise and the text itself becomes more if-y and out of reach, but I’m not sure I could do better and I can’t imagine a better production, so plan for an evening of drinking afterwards and go see this one.

New York: The Norman Conquests, Table Manners, and God of Carnage

There are two plays up right now that have a look at the collapse of civility and standards in stressful domestic settings, a revival of The Norman Conquests trilogy, imported from a successful run in London, and God of Carnage, the newest play from Yasmina Reza, translated from the French for its Broadway debut.

Interestingly, they’re both directed by the same person, Matthew Warchus, which gives him a better than average chance of winning that Tony, since he’s two fifths of the five man field rather than just one. Good plan, Matt. Get the math on your side. That’s what I always say.

The Norman Conquests, Table Manners</strong, by Alan Ayckbourn at Circle in the Square. The trilogy part is tricky. Each play takes place in a different room of the house over the course of the same day with the same cast but can be seen independently. Table Manners is the one in the dining room.

In brief, a weekend with three sibling couples at their invalid mother’s country home. Norman hits on everyone.

Even briefer: Go.

This is the British half of my domestic disaster double bill and it’s the one to see. The British start from a position of repression, so devolution into their lesser selves still keeps them entertaining, interesting to watch, and above that Jerry Springer bar. You will not feel the need to drink heavily or never get married/immediately seek a divorce when you leave the theater.

Overall, I agree with everything the Times reviewer said, most prominently that this is not a brilliant trilogy of plays that can survive an American cast or a poor staging well, so this is the time to see it. It’s a great production with an outstanding British cast and you’ll like it even if you don’t much like theater.

The weak link, unfortunately, is the titular Norman (Stephen Mangan, inexplicably nominated for a Tony last week), but he’s more than made up for by Ben Miles and Paul Ritter who make brilliant business of being, respectively, wincingly awkward and hale fellow well met. Amanda Root (remember Persuasion?) is excellent as the worried, pushy wife trying to keep things on track and off the inevitable, dysfunctional rails.

God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza at the Bernard Jacobs Theater

Full disclosure: I saw this at a Wednesday matinee, which is often a recipe for disaster because the audience is packed with can’t-sit-still, I’ve-been-dragged-here, don’t-you-love-gum? classes of teenagers to supplement the usual weekend matinee crowd of out-for-the-day, in-from-the-suburbs, lunching-with-friends, don’t-really-“get”-the-play ladies. (To whom, for the record, I am – when not sitting next to them and their comments – grateful for supporting live theater with their full-price tickets.)

Even allowing for the matinee distraction factor, I didn’t think much of the play. It’s been a successful and well-received production, but I chalk that up to the presence of screen stars (James Gandolfini, Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden and Jeff Daniels) and Reza’s talk-show script, both of which make it highly accessible. Sadly, they don’t make it meaningful or even really very entertaining, unless, like my matinee crowd, a.) you have never before thought about the potential vacuousness of middle-class marriage and this play is therefore a revelation, or b.) you think profanity is hilarious.

Imagine Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? without the cleverness, the pathos or the dialogue. That’s God of Carnage. There’s nothing particularly tragic or even interesting about pretentious couples being mean to each other about nothing much. And by “mean”, I mean yelling and throwing tulips and saying nasty things about cell phones, which just isn’t that mean. Watching it was like overhearing a particularly vicious squabble in a restaurant: it’s uncomfortable, you’re embarrassed for the participants, but there doesn’t seem to be a point beyond a Seinfeld-ian, “What is the deal with people? Geesh!” No new ground, no hidden meaning, not even a buried skeleton.

I knew I’d like Hope Davis, and she did the best with the script of any of them, but I was disappointed with Gandolfini who I know has a range beyond Tony Soprano but has the diction of a drunk second grader, and Harden who seems to be having too much fun throwing herself around to be believably distraught. Maybe it all comes back to the script, but the production felt like everyone was waiting for the editor to fix all the sloppiness before the final print.

All of that said, there’s a silver lining to new plays of inferior quality being produced on Broadway: it makes success that much more realistic for the rest of us. Hooray mediocrity!

New York: The Theater Season of Spring 2009

It’s spring theater season in New York. I know, for most of you, this is a thrilling time. You break out your best dresses and can hardly sleep for the excitement. You planned for it six months ago, you have your seats booked for planes and in the orchestra (recession be damned!), and you can’t wait to get to Times Square to rub shoulders with all the sophisticates from around the world.

No? Really? You didn’t? You have no plans?? You don’t know what to see or who’s in it?? You’re not getting on a plane to New York just to catch a show? What?? You are not one of the eight people outside New York who watch the Tony Awards? Not possible! Are you being honest with me or are you putting me on??

Huh. Well, that hurts me a little. It pains me, I won’t deny it. But I’m here to help. Really. I saw everything. Nearly everything anyway. And I have things to say about even the things I didn’t see (naturally), so let me help.

Let’s get one thing clear right up front: I loathe musicals. I see them because R’s brother is an actor, a successful one and a good one, and he is sometimes in musicals and we love him, so I go. (See here, for Manoel’s latest.) Some of the voices are amazing. I can appreciate that. But all the stopping and dancing and singing about feelings gets in the way of the narrative and drives me batty. Which is to say that I didn’t see anything musical in New York, so if you’re looking for my thoughts on Shrek: The Musical or 9 to 5 (even though it does star Allison Janney), you’re out of luck.

Also, while we’re on the subject, let’s be clear about a couple of other things I can’t stand. Times Square and the tourists who crowd the sidewalks gawking at the things that are not cool about New York, the terrible restaurants up there, people who wear printed T-shirts to the theater, and the new trend of clapping at celebrities’ entrances and exits and speeches and so on as if they’re doing something above and beyond by just showing up.

There. I’m done. Now let’s move on.

New York: Why Torture Is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them


Why Torture Is Wrong and The People Who Love Them by Christopher Durang at the Public Theater

My evening with Christopher Durang started on a happy note: I scored the last rush ticket after tearing up from Washington, ditching my bags at the apartment and sprinting across town to get there.

It turns out that that rush ticket saved me more than $50. It saved me the pain of regretting spending an extra $50 to see what is, let’s be honest, a wildly uneven offering. David Mamet got away with bringing November to Broadway last year just on the strength of his name, and Durang’s following suit.

I can’t blame him. If I were famous and could get anything I doodled on a napkin published and produced, who’s to say I wouldn’t take advantage too? This is why you have to make honest friends before you get famous, so they’re there to tell you you’re writing garbage but that they love you anyway and you should go back to your desk and work for another month or so to tune your jokes and get it right.

The characters are supposed to be absurd, over-the-top stereotypes (the earnest daughter, the possible terrorist, the out of touch suburban mother, the rabid Republican dad, etc.) in an absurd, over-the top plot about (what else) torture in the Bush years, but, what with the script being so weak, everyone founders. Only one of the cast – Kristine Nielsen, a Durang favorite as the mom – is able to raise her performance above the script’s faults and be truly bizarre and entertaining. She made it worth the price of admission, but barely, and I wouldn’t recommend the show to anyone but a die-hard theater go-er.

(If you are a die hard theater go-er, by the way, you will enjoy the mother’s dumptruck of insider references to recent plays by other playwrights. The audience I went with did, as did I, but I knew while I was giggling knowingly that those kinds of references, like the political ones elsewhere in the play, have a short shelf life and a limited audience.)

To top off my disappointment, I did not run into Oskar Eustis (profile here), the artistic director of the Public. I like his hair and I have a crush on his steamroller energy, but no such luck. Not that I’d have had anything to say to him if I had seen him. I should come up with some cocktail patter for those situations. Like, “I love your hair. My, you are energetic!” Do you think that would work? If someone said that to me, I’d probably let them into my Emerging Playwrights program. Wouldn’t you?

New York: 202 (brunch)


Go to 202. Go. Go on. If I were in New York, I’d be on my way over there right now. They’re famous for their French toast, or at least that’s how I found them, and if you like French toast at all, you should definitely have that. It has found the line between “soaked enough that I’m not eating just toasted bread” and “not so undercooked that it’s crossed over to soggy,” and it lies there happily beneath excellent strips of chewy bacon.

Also on the menu: a British breakfast not drowning in grease. Simple: poached eggs on toast, a sausage, bacon, perfect grilled cherry tomatoes, and a paddy of shredded potato. Their coffee is outstanding, which is a crucial exception to me. I usually don’t even order coffee in restaurants for brunch because it’s usually bad or cold. Main point? 202’s breakfast menu is standard stock done well and carefully.

Couple of other notes: they’re open at diner hours in the week (well, 8:30AM), even though they’re located inside a chic retail store that opens later, so that’ll give you a chance to score your French toast without a wait. Their tables are narrow antique rectangles which are surprisingly conducive to both conversation and light writing, but this is not a free-wireless place packed with hipsters typing on their laptops: breakfast will set you back $20. Lunchtime gets trendy – it is in Chelsea Market – but mornings in the week or brunch a little on the early side on the weekend (10:30) are ideal times to get some real food, a little time with your coffee and sort yourself out.

75 Ninth Ave. nr. 16th St., 646-638-1173
Hours: Mon-Fri, 8:30am-11pm; Sat-Sun, 10am-11pm

Guide to New York: The Neighborhoods of Manhattan (Uptown)

Disclaimer: These are brief descriptions that do not do the neighborhoods justice. They are rife with vast generalizations.


Clinton has replaced the Globetrotters as the most famous resident of Harlem and that says about all you need to know. I once went home with a guy who lived in Harlem just as it was starting to re-emerge. He had a pit bull and his roommate paid the guy at the parking garage Viagra to watch his car ‘specially. There’s just not that much up there yet but what was once considered a dangerous neighborhood has, with the rising wealth of the city, become just another front on the battle for quality real estate on the island of Manhattan. Harlem had a ton of beautiful and neglected brownstones and underdeveloped (read: abandoned) buildings that are now renovated brownstones and office buildings (one of which houses Clinton’s offices).

The Upper East Side.

Generally speaking, this neighborhood is the one east of Central Park up to about 86th St.. It’s home to two populations: old money and new graduates. The old money lives along the park itself (5th Avenue), and up and down Madison and Park Avenues. The homes are huge and beautiful and insanely pricey. It’s a pretty place to be and is home to some of New York’s best museums (The Met, The Guggenheim, The Frick, Cooper-Hewitt, The Whitney) but is not so excellent for street life or anything unique. There are, however, a lot of very expensive stores along Madison if you’d like to damage your credit score in a single transaction.

There is a figurative set of railroad tracks running up Lexington Avenue, on the other side of which live the ex-frat boys and ex-sorority girls. They have all congregated here because they hope to inch a few blocks closer to the park if they marry well or rake in some financial industry bonuses by working 173 hours/week, thereby becoming uninteresting enough to move into a brownstone on 64th and Park. As a result of this homogenous colonizing, there are a lot of binge drinking bars, baseball hat stores and nondescript housing. If you’re moving to New York without a trust fund, chances are about half of the places you and your nine roommates can even remotely afford are going to be up here. Avoid it if you can help it. It’s not the New York you’re moving there for.

(The far east side is not as bad as the Lex/3rd Avenue area because it’s not convenient to the subway. If you have a bike or a chauffeur, you could do worse than living on York Avenue. Also, if you live on York, you can hit my favorite pizza place on the corner of 85th and York. Don’t move there right away though because they’re digging the new subway line right now, so it’s going to be noisy for a couple of years. Of course, after it quiets down, the subway will be in and the rents will go up, so yeah, maybe you should move in now and just plan on getting a lot of exercise and no sleep.)

For those of you from San Francisco, The UES is the equivalent of the Marina + Pac Heights + Twin Peaks, only with older money.

The Upper West Side.

West side of the park. The accessible and interesting part of it runs further north than on the east side because of Columbia University’s presence on 115th St.. The neighborhood is also more accessible because it’s narrower, so the red line (1/2/3/9) can get you closer to where you’re going. Besides Columbia, the UWS is home to the Natural History Museum (fantastic) and the best selection of grocery stores in the city (Zabar’s, Citarella and Fairway).

All of the psychotherapists have congregated up here, so if you haven’t been feeling yourself lately and you can muster the inner strength to reach out, this is probably where you’ll end up. It’s nice to be able to get a decent eclair on your way to or from therapy (depending, I guess, on which end of your session you need custardy comfort). I like the UWS a lot. It’s close to the park and is also home to a lot of money but the university and Lincoln Center have brought in the academics and artists, so it’s not staid like the UES. There are flea markets on the weekends and it’s a little grittier and the shopping and dining are more interesting. If you’d like to stroll around and hit some shops, get off the 1/2/3/9 at 72nd St. and walk up Amsterdam or Columbus. It’s not edgy or boutiquey like the downtown neighborhoods but you will be able to get tea and scones at Alice’s (reserve or take out if you’re going at peak times) or pick up some half-pound, best-ever cookies at Levain.

Midtown / Times Square

Don’t ever, ever, ever let anyone tell you this is a nice place to live unless you are a.) going to school in the immediate vicinity, or b.)…. never mind. There is no second reason. Likewise, if you are visiting New York, do not stay here unless you think the Magic Kingdom is the best darn place on earth. In which case, I am not your best source for information about New York, so you should probably stop reading. You will visit Midtown during your stay/life, no doubt. Grand Central is here (train station). Port Authority is here (bus station). The Theater District is here. Columbus Circle. Flagship Macy’s. The Empire State Building. Madison Square Garden (train station below, events above). The Daily Show. Bryant Park and the NY Public Library. MoMa. Radio City Music Hall. The part of 5th Avenue that you think you want to shop on. St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Chances are your first job will be here. Yada yada yada.

The main point is that it is the most un-New York neighborhood of New York, populated as it is with a crazy number of tourists who would love nothing better than to eat (again) at TGI Friday‘s, be crowded by a bunch of people just like themselves and buy overpriced T-shirts. It’s the Midwest of Manhattan at New York prices. If you want to see people just like you – visitors, that is – you could have stayed home. Also, you will pay a premium to see them, so it’s a double whammy.

There’s a 50/50 chance that anyone who looks like s/he knows where s/he is going is not in fact a New Yorker but a bridge and tunnel-er, which is the New York phrase for someone who had to cross the water from somewhere to get there (New Jersey or Long Island usually). You can tell who they are by the size of their hair (her), their track shoes with a skirt (also her – Working Girl, anyone?) or their lack of interesting clothes (both him and her). These people are also like you only local. My advice? Don’t go to midtown unless you have a specific destination in mind, like your job or a show or a movie in Bryant Park in the summer. And H&M is not a destination.

Guide to New York: Part III – Orientation

So now that you’re on foot, how do you know which way to go? There is nothing more tiring than spending your precious time in the city standing on street corners wondering which direction to go or, worse, picking a direction and schlepping a whole avenue only to realize you went the wrong way. This error could be fatal in the summer when it is 1000 degrees outside and 200% humidity. Orient twice, walk once.

If you’re some kind of Daniel Boone and can navigate by the position of the sun, you can stop reading. Unless it’s nighttime and you can’t see the stars because you’ve come to the big city, in which case feel free to come crawling back. I’ll trade you my instructions for your deerskin pants. Hand ’em over.

Uptown/downtown orientation

I have no sense of direction at all. None. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada. So how do I move around with confidence in New York? Traffic, that’s how. Most of the avenues (north/south) are one-way, so you just come out of the subway (which all drop off on corners) and check which way traffic is moving. For instance, if I get off the Lexington Avenue green line (4/5/6) at 57th St. and I’m headed for 59th, I walk against the flow of the downtown traffic and know I’m headed uptown (north). Of course, this presumes that you know that Lexington Ave. is one-way downtown. Any self-respecting map will show the arrows for one-way on the avenues.

If you don’t want to do that, you can use buildings. When the World Trade towers still stood, they were the downtown landmark. Now I use the Chrysler Building or the Empire State Building (which, to my mind, is much less pretty than the Chrysler, but no one asked me). Since they’re both in midtown, for this to work, you have to know where you are in relation to where they are (43rd and 34th Streets, respectively). (If you think that’s self-evident, clearly you haven’t met my kind.) That is, if you are on the corner of 72nd, you know the Chrysler Building is downtown from you. Likewise, if you’re on 14th St., the Chrysler will be uptown.

East/west orientation

Once you know whether you’re facing uptown or downtown, you can sort out your east/west orientation. (As Manhattan is an island, it’s pointless to use the water as a determiner of where you are. Also, I have yet to identify a building that is on the eastern or western edge of the city and is visible from just about anywhere.) If you’re facing downtown (south), and you need to go west, turn to your right. Since I have a lifelong handicap of thinking that whichever direction I’m facing is north, this method does leave me hesitating on streetcorners fighting my instincts for five seconds, but it’s worth it to head confidently in the right direction.

Please do not stand in the middle of the sidewalk while you sort this out. There is nothing more annoying to New Yorkers who do know where they’re going to have their paths blocked by puzzled newcomers. It will (and should) make you feel like a a gauche intruder to break the rhythm of the city by standing perfectly still in the middle of a busy sidewalk staring at the direction of traffic. Step aside. Step into a doorway (NOT a store doorway where you will still be in the way) or around the corner to where you can breathe and orient yourself.


Knowing that a bar is on 9th Avenue is pointless. You will not know what to tell a cab driver or where to get off the subway. You must know where on 9th Avenue. First stop: most restaurant guides or store web sites will note the cross street when listing their address. If they don’t, call and ask. That’s what I do.

For those who would like to be more self-sufficient or are just weird about asking for help, using phones or whatever, here are some guidelines. First, get a hold of yourself and just call the place already. Geez. Second, if that’s out of reach, here’s what you have to go through instead:

  • If you’re looking for an address below Houston Street (pronounced “How-ston”, not like the city in Texas) or in the West Village, give up. Google maps is your only hope.
  • If you’re in the numbered streets, you have an advantage. If you’re online, go here for reference or to have them sort it for you. (Why you won’t just use Google Maps is beyond me.)
  • If you’re not online, check the actual street names again. “West 14th St.” or “East 51st St.” are distinctions that start at 5th Avenue and go up by 100 each block. That sounds confusing, but it’s not. If you need 52 East 57th St., it’s on the block between 5th Avenue and Madison (the first street east of 5th). 152 East 57th is on the next block, between Madison and Park. And so on.
  • If you’re heading to an address on an avenue, there’s a formula for that too. It’s here. I never learned this formula and I did fine.

I’m not recommending learning all this math, but if you’re a numbers nut, be my guest.

Guide to New York: Part II – Getting Around

Cabs are fine. I like cabs. But cabs are the #1 money sink in New York and, if you’re not used to the steep costs of the city, you will already be begging for mercy. Cutting out cabs should be your first stop when trying to cut costs. Save your duckets for tickets and drinks and wildly expensive clothing. Also, do not be fooled into thinking that a cab will be faster than the subway. This is a common non-native mistake.

Cabs 101:

    1. Cabs have lights on the top. Take a look. See? If the lights are off, the cab’s occupied. Don’t run after it swearing. It won’t stop, and you will look silly. If the center light is on, it’s up for grabs. (If all the lights on top are on – side lights + center light, the cab’s off-duty. Also no running and swearing.) Max capacity is four passengers in a regular cab, no arguing.
    2. Just getting in a cab will cost you $2.50, even if you change your mind and get out a block later. After 8PM, tack on a night surcharge of an additional $1.
    3. Bearing that in mind, always catch a cab going in the direction you’re headed. For instance, if you’re on 17th St. between 6th and 7th Avenues and you’re going downtown to meet your pals in SoHo, walk over to 7th and grab a cab there. (7th is one-way headed downtown – see Part III – Orientation). Otherwise, you’ll pay $5 to basically drive around the block.
    4. Cabs are definitely faster at night – say, after 8:00PM – when subways run less frequently and you might spend an extra 5-10 minutes on the subway platform.
    5. Late at night (after 11:00PM), I’d jump in a cab. This isn’t because the subways aren’t safe (they are), but mainly because I’ve usually had a drink (or many) and the long waits underground combined with the super-bright lights on the cars are a downer.
    6. Flip side is that during rush hours, cabs are to be avoided entirely. You will be paying to sit in the backseat of someone’s car while they take your money. It’s like being mugged very, very slowly.
    7. Cabs from the airports are brutally expensive. From Newark, expect $65 minimum. From JFK, there’s a fixed rate of $45 into Manhattan + toll + tips, so you’ll come in around $60. La Guardia’s the cheapest. You might get off with $40 total. That said, I still cab in from the airports because I don’t like flying, so I’m usually worn out and am willing to fork over the cash.If you have time and patience and not much luggage, there are definitely public transportation options to all the airports. The subway runs to JFK. See here for directions. There are efficient and cheap shuttle buses to/from Newark or you can hop New Jersey Transit (train), both of which will drop you in/near the subway system once you’re on Manhattan. (Your best bet to getting on the right bus with the right ticket in your hand is to go to the info booth in your terminal – they’ll hook you up and point you in the right direction.) The M60 bus to La Guardia is the preferred non-car route. See here for options.
    8. When I’m going to the airport, I don’t try to catch a cab, since that usually requires that I schlep my luggage to a corner. Call a car service: it’s the same price as long as you don’t opt for a luxury car. Call 212-777-7777 and tell the dispatcher where you’re staying and they’ll collect you at the right time to make your flight.
    9. Speaking of airports, if you can help it, don’t book your flights to New York to depart or arrive between 8-9:30 AM or between 4-7PM. That’s rush hour, kids, and your commute to/from the airport will suck.



The subway rules in New York. It goes pretty much everywhere except the far east side and they’re digging up 2nd Avenue to solve that one right now. Get a subway map, buy a MetroCard from any station, and you’re good to go. Fares are $2 each time you go into the subway + free transfer to/from a bus within 2 hours. You can swipe four consecutive people – your kids, strangers, bandmates – through on the same Metrocard. If you load your MetroCard with $20 or more, you’ll get a free ride for every $20 you spend. (But don’t go too wild: MetroCards have expiration dates, so if you thought you’d buy $800 of rides for your weekend and be good to go for the rest of your life, you would be wrong. $760 wrong. Which is a lot of wrong.)

Cab vs. Subway Showdown: when in doubt, just get on the subway.


I don’t take buses much, but they’re a great idea when trying to get across town when Central Park’s in your way – say, from the Met over to the west side for dinner. Buses are also great if you have a lot of time (they stop every couple blocks) and want to see the city as you’re getting to where you’re going.

Note to self/you: getting across town (east/west) is tough both on subways and in cabs but I think cabs are worse. This is because most cross-town streets are one-way and one-lane so you sit in traffic a lot. The cross-town artery streets that aren’t one-way and have four lanes (14th, 23rd, 28th, 34th, 42nd, 57th – don’t try to find a pattern ’cause there isn’t one) are wildly busy.

Rather than cab it to get crosstown, I’d take a subway to one of the few crosstown subway lines: the L runs across 14th, the S across 42nd St., or the N/R runs up/down Broadway diagonally. The “N/R” stands for “Never/Rarely”, so be warned on that one. It’s an annoying line. I know. I used to live on one of its local stops. Don’t ask. It hurts to talk about it.


The standard wisdom is that it should take about 1 minute to walk one block, which is about 1/5 mile. This presumes you are walking and not looking around. It also presumes that you are not wearing high heels, so don’t count on making that kind of time on your way out to dinner or the theater. An avenue is about a ¼ mile so it’s gonna take 2-3 minutes to walk.

I walk all the time in Manhattan. It’s the best way to see the city and there are very few dead spots in central Manhattan where a brisk walk won’t be interesting. (Once you’re on the far east or west side of the city, things get farther apart and duller.) If you have evening plans, think ahead though: walking around for eight hours will take it out of you, so if you’re tourist-ing it up, pace yourself.

Guide to New York: Part I – Overview of the City

My first several trips to New York, I was five years old, so that wasn’t a great time to orient myself to the finer points of the city that never sleeps. There are a couple of things you should know right away.

  1. With the possible exception of going to Sweden, you will spend more money than you think humanly possibly within your first 24 hours in New York. Plan accordingly. And by “accordingly” I don’t mean what your dad would tell you, like, “Watch where you spend your pennies because they add up to real dollars.” I mean, you may well have spent all your pennies and their associated dollars before you even make it out of your hotel, so brace yourself and multiply what you think you can afford by x4 before you even get there and plan for that as your budget.And don’t try and lower costs by joining up with some insane package deal run by a bunch of yahoos in Duluth. It will just mean that your trip to New York will be exactly like the trip you took to Branson, Missouri with your grandparents when you were eight (i.e. featuring people who can’t hold their liquor and shows that you can catch on tour in just about any medium-sized city a year from now).
  2. Nowhere you stay will be larger than your average closet. I don’t care if it’s an Ian Shrager hotel off Times Square or on the floor of your college buddy’s walk-up in the Village, the shower will be within reaching distance of all major room landmarks. Remember that it is a privilege to be in New York and 8.2 million other people think so too (1.6 million if you stick with Manhattan, not counting you and all the other visitors) so y’all are competing for some seriously limited space (23 square miles, to be exact).
  3. If you are not from San Francisco or the Third World, New York will seem dirty to you. It’s not. It is, but it’s so much better than it used to be + you need to keep those 1.6 million people in mind, so pull yourself together and, as my high school physics teacher used to say, “Quit’cher bitchin’.

Basic geography.

Location, location, location. Learn your geography. You will be nowhere without it, pun somewhat intended. When I went back to New York as a college student, I was with friends who knew their way around, so I paid no attention, which left me looking uncool when people chatted about uptown, downtown, crosstown and pretty much any neighborhood.

For starters, New York City has five boroughs: Manhattan (an island), Brooklyn (an island), Queens (same island as Brooklyn, namely Long Island), the Bronx (not an island) and Staten Island (predicatably, an island). These are not neighborhoods and they do not share the address of “New York, NY,” or the area code 212, as I discovered when I moved into my studio in Brooklyn as a novice New Yorker. The island of Manhattan is the only New York, NY. The boroughs are all governed by the same mayor (currently Michael Bloomberg) but each has a borough president, plus representation at the neighborhood level. It’s complicated. All you really need to know is that if go to New York, you probably mean Manhattan with a possible hipster sojourn to Williamsburg (a neighborhood in Brooklyn) or a trip to the Bronx Zoo (in, um, the Bronx).

I recommend this map. It’s the Filofax-sized version of the Streetwise map series and it kicks ass. I got my first one when I moved there in 1994 and still carry one with me all the time (when I’m in New York, that is. Don’t be a smart aleck.) It’s small, it’s laminated and it has all the subway stops, a bus map, an index and everything you need (except a view of the other boroughs which you can also get from Streetwise but which aren’t in the handy small size).

The whole island of Manhattan is only thirteen and a half miles, north to south, and about two and a half miles wide, less in most places. The Hudson River bounds Manhattan on the west and separates it from New Jersey or “Jersey” as you should now call it. The East River bounds it to the, er, east.

Central Park. Find it on your map. It runs from 59th St. up to 110 St. and is the boundary for the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side.

With the confusing exceptions of the financial district all the way downtown and the West Village, the city is pretty much a numbered grid of avenues that run north/south (or uptown/downtown) and streets that run east/west (or crosstown). Naturally, there are exceptions to this, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Basically, it’s a grid.

The avenue numbers start on the east side and increase as you move west: First Avenue is on the far east side and 11th Avenue is on the far west side. The exceptions you should learn right away are Madison Avenue, Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue which disrupt the avenue numbering system on the east side of the city. Memorizing their order is a minor task: from the east, it goes 1st Ave., 2nd Ave, 3rd Ave, Lexington, Park, Madison, 5th Ave., 6th Ave. and so on.

Broadway is the only diagonal artery in the city. South of Central Park, it runs west-east diagonally across Manhattan. Once it hits Central Park it straightens itself out on the Upper West Side.

Guide to New York: Intro

When I was in college, I knew New Yorkers. They were divided into two groups: natives and familiars. The familiars would have gladly passed themselves off as natives but were distinguishable because they were trying a tiny bit too hard to seem nonchalant. The natives had an entitlement that seemed both tasty and repellent. But that might’ve been because the only natives I knew were either a.) actors or b.) insanely wealthy, not two sets known for their humility or tact. I myself became a New Yorker not long afterwards and still consider myself one since I haven’t found anything better (yet).

New York was a mystery to me when I started looking for a place there and I could have used a hand. I know there are already roughly 1 million guides to New York on the bookshelves, but I didn’t need one of those. I needed a.) someone to tell me the non-touristy basics that I wouldn’t even have known to ask about, and b.) someone who was roughly like me to tell me what was worth doing once I sorted myself out. That’s why I wrote this.

Who Will Benefit

    1. If you have never been to New York and desperately want to go but are just a leetle beet afraid of the city or are overwhelmed with all the options.
    2. If you have only been to New York for that bus trip/dog show/bachelor party that one time but have been meaning to go back.
    3. If you have been a bunch of times but still don’t feel comfortable or want to look more like a native.
    4. If you are up and moving there (hooray!) and have no idea where to start.