On an otherwise awesome trip to Asheville, somebody jacked my favorite hat.
I wouldn’t even consider myself a hat guy, but this one fit me right – and the brim was bent just how I wanted it….
And now it’s gone.
Am I really grieving the loss of a hat?
It was made well, a Legacy baseball cap, grayish dark brown with the words TINDER BOX (I work there) emblazoned on the front. It was my go-to whenever I reached for a cap on the way out…
…and it was almost like a signature or calling card.
I have many other caps – and some have emotional significance for me. I want to treasure a couple of them into my old age – like the Marine Dad cap my son gave me or the College of Charleston Dad cap from my daughter.
Why – oh why did I take it off when I was checking in at our hotel? Why didn’t I just leave the thing on instead of laying it on the front desk? Thing is, I wasn’t even gone ten minutes until I realized I had left it there and went down to check on it.
I asked – and the manager (I think) told me he hadn’t seen it and “maybe it’s in the car.” The guy who checked me in remained quiet.
My girlfriend thinks his answer was a little too quick.
But of course there’s no way to prove who took it – and it’s astonishing in this age of COVID-19 that anybody would be interested in somebody else’s hat.
Maybe somebody else took it while they were checking in.
This was one of my “overthinking” moments – creating a veritable game of Clue in my head, all the while knowing that I would never get it back.
The hat was old, but it was cool – but it was my hat. The sense of violation and loss about this was acute for a couple of days. Now, it just stings a little.
I first learned about The Hulk from Andre
Pope, an irreplaceable friend we lost recently.
I know what you’re thinking: “You are a man in your fifties
who didn’t know about The Hulk?”
Not so fast. The Incredible Hulk was my go-to comic book hero, and in fact prompted my Marvel mania and comic book collecting when I was eight years old. That collecting went on until the early 1990s until I sold the whole enchilada to a dealer for fast cash – and got screwed, of course. But to my eternal regret, I took the money anyway.
I hadn’t thought about The Hulk for a few years, but lately
my girlfriend has had the urge to head outside to an area that might at least
be construed as woods (she is a mountain girl, after all), and it occurred to
me that this spot might, well, hit the spot.
We had already had a nice outing to Vereen
Memorial Gardens – but it was time to get out again, and the Hulk was only
a few miles away.
Despite a bit of a warning from the SC Trails website about potentially being
mowed down by herds of bicyclists, we found the place refreshing – a different
world, but right in our own back yard – and we set off on the trail marked “run.”
Along the way – I think we must have walked more than three
miles – we encountered a few groups of cyclists, but Brenda heard them coming before
I did – and they whizzed right by us, giving us polite but businesslike nods as
we quickly stepped aside.
We spent a couple of hours there – and Brenda stopped frequently to admire the greenery and to educate me a little about the local vegetation. Ever since I have known her, she has always cautioned me about poison ivy – and with my lack of focus, that likely saved me a lot of grief.
It’s nice to know that pockets of tranquility like The Hulk
still exist in an area where the most recognized bird is the (construction)
A while back, my girlfriend was feeling a touch of cabin fever. Being a country girl from the mountains of Southwest Virginia, she really needed to get out into nature – if only for a day. And because she also fully understands cabin fever because of her penchant for horror movies, I thought it wise to get out of Dodge with her.
Call it self-preservation if you must.
I need to remember that getting away from my office could actually be a good thing. Because I am usually involved in various projects involving writing or music, I tend to stay “on the grind,” as they say. This is in addition to my “day job” at Tinder Box Myrtle Beach, where Brenda also works.
I’ll admit that it was tough to break away, but once
According to the American Rivers website, Carolina bays are “a type of elliptical or oval freshwater depressional wetland(s) that fill with rainwater and may be periodically dry. They are most commonly found in North and South Carolina, but can also be found from Florida to New Jersey. Carolina bays vary in size from a few hundred feet in length to nearly 5 miles long.”
This preserve is home to the Venus flytrap, black bears, bald eagles and more – but after driving down the pitted dirt road for about a mile with our Kia Soul bouncing around, we opted to bail. Recent controlled burns also took place, so the area didn’t seem like something to explore at the moment.
Wait a minute. What the hell are you supposed to do if confronted by a black bear? I mean, I saw “Faces of Death” in the 80s, under duress…
The South Carolina Trails website
describes the location like this:
“Vereen Memorial Gardens has been a bit of a “Hidden Jewel” for 30 years. The park features numerous hiking trails and wooden boardwalks that extend across several beautiful salt marshes and small islands, with a nice gazebo that overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway.”
After eating the grocery store lunch we brought with us, we
set about exploring. Vereen Memorial Gardens really is a hidden gem – and I
especially loved the “Make a Wish” area where you can hang oyster shells on
tree limbs along with your wishes…
That and the fact that Brenda got her wish to be in nature – and we both enjoyed the experience.
The last day of our New York trip in March began with a
couple of coffees from the Row NYC bar I
brought back up to our room – while getting plans together with my daughter,
When Tay arrived, we headed out toward Rockefeller Center. I had been
here on my last visit a couple of years ago, but it was fun to revisit with
Brenda – and watch the folks outside, still ice skating in March. We tried to
imagine what the Christmas tree might have looked like in its spot – up close
and personal. We also hung around The Shop at
NBC Studios, where those so inclined could grab a souvenir – perhaps a t-shirt
emblazoned with “SNL” or
a Rachel Maddow mug. How about a
book of “Seinfeld”
scripts from the first and second season, a deck of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy
Fallon” playing cards or an NBC
Peacock hoodie? It’s all there, and much more.
But really, why cram a carry-on with such bric-a-brac? It’s
all online, of course. Just looking at that stuff in that venue was enough.
We wandered around inside the mall there for a bit and then
ventured outside again to watch the ice skaters while we finished some
top-notch banana pudding we picked up at a spot called Magnolia
Bakery. Unbelievably good.
We then set our sights on Bryant
Park, where we were going to meet Ivanna Fortunato, another friend of
Taylor’s who wasn’t at the office on the day we visited because of a knee
Content on the Bryant Park website says that the location is
“known as Manhattan’s Town Square…famous for its lush seasonal gardens, free
activities, world class restrooms, and al fresco dining.” Believe me – any
public restroom in the area is a godsend, and my visit for a tinkle was a
pleasant one. At my age, they should have one on every other block.
We grabbed some coffee at a kiosk and Taylor kept an eye out for Ivanna, who arrived on her lunch break from SpotCo. She was wearing a brace, and seemed to be handling her knee issue like a trouper. It was a delight to meet her, and I felt as if we already knew each other because Tay told me so much about her and we are Facebook friends. It’s refreshing to actually meet somebody outside of the virtual world.
Ivanna is getting married in the Dominican Republic in July, and I am happy to report that Taylor is going to be there. I wish Ivanna and her fiancé the very best.
To see Taylor and Ivanna is to assume that the two young ladies have been friends for a long time. The four of us hung out and chatted for a good while – and of course snapped photos and selfies. I am like the drunk uncle who has to document every moment. Every family has one. I hope somebody finds all of those digital memories after I am gone. Perhaps I should send thumb drives to a couple of key loved ones. Unfortunately, they will only contain the photos. No account numbers for offshore accounts.
After saying our goodbyes – I needed an updated photo
outside of the New York Public Library,
which was right next door. We also got hot dogs from a street vendor – and I
took a photo of the Empire State Building,
which was looming over a tree line nearby.
As we made our way back to Eighth Avenue, I was content that
we had done so much in a few short days without going nuts and without breaking
the bank. I recall looking into Sardi’s and taking
in some of the celebrity caricatures on those famous walls – and passing by the
We wanted to ship some clothes and other belongings back to
Myrtle Beach in an attempt to avoid luggage fees on Spirit Airlines – the reverse of what we did
on the way – but we had more shit to pack now. We passed The UPS Store and
bought a decent-sized box and took it back with us to the hotel.
But we still had big plans, specifically “Phantom
of the Opera” at the Majestic
Theatre – a show that Brenda had long fantasized about seeing in New York
someday. It is one of her all-time favorites, and we had tickets for that night
– box seats – thanks to my son’s fiancée, Leigh Schwartz, who had given them to
us as a Christmas gift.
HOLD FAST TO YOUR DREAMS
We packed up that box with everything we could – and Taylor
and I took it to a Staples location
nearby. The layout was nothing like any Staples I had seen – especially the
whole multiple floors thing. But a very nice young guy helped us and dispensed
sightseeing advice, albeit a bit too late – and it only cost me eighteen bucks
to ship the box. Things like that please me. It was like a little surprise.
We didn’t yet eat properly, but we had an agenda.
Much like when she was in college, Taylor found a home bar
where the folks were down to earth and she felt comfortable. In Charleston it was Smoke BBQ. In Hell’s Kitchen
it is Hold Fast, tucked into a
laid-back space with a brick and hardwood interior on 46th Street.
One of the owners, Jason, grew up in the Charlotte area. We talked
briefly, and I told him that my sister used to live in Cornelius until she moved around Lake Norman to Denver. Turns out he used to go to the
dentist in Cornelius. Small world indeed.
I had bone marrow and a soft scrambled egg with soy glaze, tobiko and toasted artisanal bread. Most excellent, and thankfully on the light side. I didn’t want to fall asleep at the theater.
I feel like Taylor made a good call when she chose Hold Fast as a hangout. Both Jason and co-owner Chris seemed to be really nice guys – and I love the name of their bar. Taylor told me that another co-owner named Shane is equally awesome. I wish them continued success with their enterprise.
THE MUSIC OF THE NIGHT
We gave Taylor our hotel room key before leaving Hold Fast, just
in case she wanted to hang out there while we watched “Phantom.” She told us that
she would likely hang out at the bar. In any case, we wanted to see her again
to say our goodbyes because we were leaving in the morning.
The walk to the Majestic was short – basically just down the
block and over – and the line was already forming. We got behind a massive
school group, but we were inside the theater in no time. After stopping to grab
Brenda a t-shirt, we were ushered to our box seats at stage right.
I was hoping the box was just for the two of us, but there were
two other seats there. I vape, so I’m always looking for a strategic spot to sneak
in a rip – and I thought I was home free, but a young couple was seated beside
us just before curtain.
You can believe I thought about Abraham Lincoln many times. Sic semper tyrannis and all that rot.
Same seating situation. Poor bastard.
By now, we all know all about Phantom – but just because we were late to the party didn’t mean we didn’t enjoy it. Ben Crawford was terrific as The Phantom. I thought it was interesting that he shares the same last name with the original Phantom, Michael Crawford. They are not related. Kaley Ann Voorhees was excellent as Christine. One of the benefits of our seats was the fact that I could look directly down into the orchestra pit to see the musicians at work. I must admit that I was glancing down there quite a bit.
It was nice to see my girlfriend so happy. Glad she can cross
“Phantom” off her list at long last.
We strolled back to Hold Fast to grab Taylor, but hung out
for a little while longer. It was good to be with her – and she was in her
But it was getting late and Taylor had to catch a train to
Brooklyn. We all ducked back into the same pizza joint Brenda and I ate at a
couple of days before and enjoyed a slice
(there’s that expression again).
It takes me forever to say goodbye to my daughter – and no
matter how many hugs, there is always the chance for one more. This was true
when she was close at hand, so you can imagine how it is when she lives far
away. Finally, she disappeared down into the subway and we went across the
street to our hotel.
The next morning came quickly, and we took a cab to LaGuardia. No issues. No delays. No problem. We were back in Myrtle Beach like nothing had happened.
But it did happen.
And our UPS package was waiting at our front door when we got
The Sunday of our New York trip was a “free day,” a day to
knock around with no real agenda.
My daughter came up with a lunch plan, though – and it
involved Brenda and I taking the subway to Brooklyn this time. The idea was to
meet up at the DeKalb Market Hall
– a bustling spot boasting 27 thousand square feet and more than 40 diverse
food vendors, all under one roof. Our friend Rachel was coming along too.
Once again, we made it with no issues – and we were amazed. This was like a food truck festival sans trucks, offering culinary choices with names like Bunsmith, Forager’s Market, Hana Noodles, Paella Shack and so much more – the aromas and colorful signage and lighting from the little kitchens merging to create a mélange of sensory pleasures. The folks were friendly and ready to help or to explain the items on their varied menus. Some menus were pretty straightforward, though.
At that level of the mall, there was a Trader Joe’s. This is where Taylor
sometimes went shopping. I was happy to know this because now I had a visual
reference for when she calls me while out and about.
I opted for conventional pirogi. I am a sucker for those things, and I can’t say there are many eateries in Myrtle Beach that serve them. I shared with Taylor, who in return shared her excellent, hand-pulled ramen.
We all wound up at Target on the upper floor of
the shopping complex. Go figure.
We all hopped the “Q” [damn, what an urbanite expression] to
Park and then hoofed it to Rachel’s apartment nearby. It was nice of her to
invite us – and we had the chance to meet her roommate, filmmaker Bruce Wemple. I found out at
this moment that a couple of his shorts are on Amazon Prime. I will be
watching those soon.
Bruce also built a bar – and it was there in all its glory
in their living room. Impressive. I don’t drink anymore, but I kept eyeing his
bottle of Havana Club with
Rachel suggested we walk around Prospect Park and told us
that it was designed by the same pair that gave us Central Park, Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. For
whatever reason, we didn’t go. And we didn’t go to Central Park Either. Next
But we were on our way to Bed-Stuy
– walking along Flatbush Avenue with Taylor. It seems every neighborhood has
its own vibe. We ducked into a very nice independent shop called Greenlight Bookstore.
Well-stocked, well-lit and welcoming – it was one of two locations in Brooklyn.
It’s comforting to walk into a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Familiar. No matter
where you are.
Last visit, Taylor and I spent an hour or so checking out Strand Book Store. That place blew my
mind. Before that, the last one I visited was Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston when
Taylor was still in college.
Fun fact: My daughter told me recently that we got off the
train at the very station where Michael Jackson’s Martin Scorsese-directed
video for “Bad” was
The human memory is a damned unreliable source, and I’m
afraid too much time has gone by for me to remember whether or not we took the
train at all on the way back from Rachel’s – but my daughter confirmed that we
took the Franklin Avenue Shuttle to another train that took us to Bed-Stuy. At
any rate, we got to Taylor’s brownstone on Halsey Street, which was built in
1899. I was happy that Brenda had a chance to see it. As I mentioned in a
previous BLOG POST, Taylor’s roommates are also her friends – and one in
particular, Catherine, has been Taylor’s friend since middle school in Myrtle
We were all hungry – so after hanging out for a bit on
Halsey Street, we set out to dinner with two of her roommates, Kaja and Jacob.
After arriving too late at our first choice, Zaca
Café (American/French fusion), we wound up at a snug little Mexican eatery
called Tepache, also on Halsey Street.
Perfect. I ate a chimichanga the size of my head.
Taylor pointed us in the direction of the correct subway station with instructions, and we arrived back in Hell’s Kitchen in time to wander around the Theatre District. We felt emboldened in our new surroundings, and ended the evening by grabbing a couple of slices of cheesecake at Junior’s and bringing them back to our hotel, Row NYC. We will never be the same again.
We tried to pack as much as living as we could into our four days in New York City. Top of mind as we embarked on day two was the Elton John concert at Barclays Center later that night. Read all about that show HERE.
Before the trip, I happened to find a pair of low-top, old-school Adidas on the clearance rack at a shoe store and picked them up immediately. Divine providence, I figured, had sent me those shoes – just like the ones featured in the Run-D.M.C. video, “My Adidas.”
Now those fucking shoes were killing me, and I didn’t think
to bring another pair. The toe boxes were so narrow that my toenails were
digging into the sides of the adjacent toes. All I could do was stick Band-Aids
on some toes and keep stepping, as it were.
Some people gird their loins. I girded my toes, preparing
for the frenetic pace about to be set by the taskmaster, AKA my daughter.
We woke up a bit late, considering the fact that we were supposed to be exploring – and the first order of business was coffee. As I mentioned in the first installment, there was no coffee maker in our room. So we did what most Americans do in any city. We found a Starbucks down the street from our hotel. Really , we would have ducked into any coffee shop – but lo and behold, Starbucks was the first one we saw. Big surprise, right?
Don’t judge. It did the trick – fortifying us for our stroll to Macy’s, a place Brenda wanted to check out. Hell, we still watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – and since I have heard the expression, “Kiss my ass in Macy’s window at high noon and tell me it smells like roses” so many times, I didn’t mind checking it out either. Incidentally, that quote is attributed to Lyndon Johnson.
I let my daughter know that we were headed in the direction of Macy’s, and she was heading in from Bed-Stuy to meet us.
It felt interesting to be planted in New York – following my GPS toward the iconic department store. I think we headed down 6th Avenue toward 34th Street. Pretty sure memory serves that I saw Radio City Music Hall down 6th in the other direction. Nonetheless, the walk was awesome. So much to take in. I now wish I took notes.
We made it to Macy’s, but Taylor hadn’t arrived yet – so I
went back outside to vape and wait for her while Brenda struck up a
conversation with a lady in fragrances.
Side note – that brings to mind Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – when Mrs. Maisel, going through a divorce, had to work at a cosmetics counter at a huge department store in New York in the late 1950s. I highly recommend that show. Snappy dialogue (I actually appreciated the subtitles turned on in this case), fast-paced writing and a great ensemble.
I am sure somebody will take offense – but Macy’s was, well, a department store. Perhaps the multiple floors and the sheer amount of upscale branding coming at you was interesting. My favorite part about the visit was watching Brenda interact with the fragrance lady, who had been to Myrtle Beach on vacation. She planned on coming again. It’s funny, and as evidenced by Carolina Forest – so many New Yorkers want to make the Myrtle Beach area home. Brenda got herself a bottle of Versace Bright Crystal and we ducked out.
Somehow I am over department stores, as I believe most
Taylor, trouper that she is, got us to the Staten Island Ferry. We decided to take a ride back and forth and catch a glimpse of the harbor and the Statue of Liberty from that vantage point. We thought about going on the actual tour of both Liberty Island and Ellis Island, but we figured this Ferry would work for our purposes.
I must admit that I thought of my father arriving by ocean
liner from London when he moved here in 1956. He was, like I am, prone to a
good cry – and he told me he sobbed when he first caught sight of Lady Liberty.
He loved America and everything he thought it stood for. Always called
presidents Mister – like Mr. Nixon or Mr. Reagan. Such a wonderful guy. There
was nobody else like him.
There were so many people gathering to take the ferry across
that I got worried that we would have to push for seats. This shows how little
I knew about the sheer size of those vessels. Unbelievable. Room to spare – and
I spend a lot of time walking around onboard as well.
When we got to Staten Island, I was kind of pissed that we had to get off. We wanted to go right back across. But we hung out for about 30 minutes inside the terminal. I bought Taylor a beer and went outside to vape, of course. When I was out there, I saw some dude get out of an Uber and drop a shopping bag. He was grateful when I told him about it.
I thought to myself, where were all of the rude people?
Time seemed to compress. I think it was because we were getting excited about Elton. By the time we made it back to Midtown, it was time to grab a quick bite and change. We decided to pop into Shake Shack in the Theater District and take some burgers and fried up to our room – with Taylor, of course.
We took a train together to the Barclays Center stop, and I
was amazed about how convenient that trip was. Tay ran off to have a drink with
her friend Rachel Feldman, who lived nearby and was at a local watering hole.
We hung around outside Barclays for a time, marveling at the huge digital sign
at the arena touting the sold out show. The crowds were arriving from
An employee directed a bunch of folks toward other entrances – and Brenda and I noticed an entrance for American Express Cardmembers. What the heck, I only have a Green Card, but that was enough – and we slipped into the arena. I guess we all didn’t have to be Tina Fey to enjoy a bit of a perk.
I bought myself a tour shirt and one for Taylor at 40 bucks a pop. At the end of the day, that didn’t seem nearly as outrageous as I anticipated. We found our seats, and Taylor met up with us in perfect time to make the beginning of the show. She was wearing an awesome red sequined blouse. Reg Dwight would approve.
For the next three hours, forget it. I cried from the downbeat, Hell, I cried when the place went black – that all-too-familiar anticipation. Hooted. Hollered. Cried again. Tried my best to be in the moment. This was the last time I would see Elton John play live. Read about it and see video HERE.
What a night!
Since Taylor lives in Brooklyn, there was no reason for her
to have to escort us back to Midtown. We said goodnight at the subway station,
and Tay went to the other side to wait for her train.
Brenda and I made it back with no problems. When we emerged from the subway, I swore I heard somebody calling me. Sure enough, it was Clyde Moser, who had come with us to Marie’s Crisis the night before. He and a friend had just gotten out of a show. In a city with more than eight million people, moments like this are priceless.
After a quick selfie, Brenda and I went to a corner pizza place and had a slice. We never say “slice” in Myrtle Beach.
We unwound in our room at Row NYC, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” still ringing in our ears.
Earlier this month, we spent four days in and around New York City. The trip was much anticipated, and it came about because of Elton John.
In February 2018, my daughter and I were having a back-and-forth on Facebook messenger – discussing Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. New dates were about to be added, including Brooklyn and Columbia, South Carolina.
Taylor lives in Brooklyn and I live in Myrtle Beach. We
discussed the possibility of her coming here for the Columbia show, but she
would have had to return to her work in New York quickly – which would
basically give her only a couple of days here. In short order, a new plan
gelled. How about we (with my girlfriend, Brenda) come up there…
That was it. The show would be more than a year later, and we figured it was doable. We could spend time together, see the City and catch Elton at Barclays Center. See my post about that show HERE.
When all was said and done, we packed a lot of living into
those four days.
We flew into LaGuardia via Spirit Airlines on March 8. My daughter gave us two tickets as a Christmas present. I had only been in New York once before over Memorial Day Weekend in 2017. At that time, I flew into JFK on American Airlines. Taylor met me there and we took a couple of trains into Brooklyn without any problems. I stayed with her at her place in Bedford–Stuyvesant.
Quite frankly, I heard a lot of negatives about LaGuardia –
from ongoing construction issues to delayed flights and transportation snarls. Add
to these the fact that we would have no clue about the lay of the land and you
would be right that I didn’t think I’d want to deal with any of that.
We must have gotten lucky, because flying in and navigating the airport was fine – and Taylor opted to greet us at the airport. Strangers in a strange land, as it were – it was good to see Taylor get off the bus at the terminal. We got immersed in the MTA system immediately; first with a bus and then a train into Manhattan.
First up was a tour of Taylor’s work, SPOTCO, an entertainment advertising, marketing and branding agency in Midtown. I was taken with how genuinely nice the people were – to me and in what they had to say about Taylor. The offices were smart, inviting and no doubt conducive to productivity. What a great vibe! I am by nature a hugger, and many of her coworkers were huggers as well. For those that weren’t, I was on a roll and hugged just about everyone anyway.
But we had places to go. Taylor and her friend, Erin, helped
us over to our hotel with a couple of boxes of clothes we shipped to avoid
having to check them on Spirit. That was too kind of them both – they wouldn’t
let us carry them. Thanks, Ladies!
Row NYC is on 8th Avenue just off Times Square in a neighborhood called Hell’s Kitchen. It boasts 27 stories and more than 1300 rooms and opened in 1928 as the Hotel Lincoln. In its long history in good times and bad, it was also called the Manhattan Hotel, the Royal Manhattan and the Milford Plaza.
During renovations in 2013, the building was briefly named
the Milford New York Hotel before it became Row NYC in 2014.
Whenever I book a hotel, I am a bit hyper-vigilant and sometimes afraid to hit the button to finalize the purchase. I looked at too many reviews of Row NYC and other properties around Times Square. To my satisfaction, the room was just what we thought it was going to be. Recently-renovated but tiny. Modern. No coffee maker. But decent city views and a comfortable bed. We were going for economy, of course – and we had no complaints.
We wanted to be in Times Square because Taylor’s work was
nearby. We considered staying in Brooklyn but preferred to be right in the
thick of things – ideally to have the freedom to mosey around from this
centralized location. All good.
But this was just the beginning. Taylor had it all worked
out: We would go eat pizza and then head to a place far from Kansas but close
to “Oklahoma,” as we shall see.
Prince Street Pizza is located in the Nolita neighborhood – or “North of Little Italy” – on, well, Prince Street. We waited quite a long time to get in – and the place was tiny – a counter up front and a small section to stand and eat if you could get a spot. We crammed in as best we could after receiving our pizza – their famous “Soho Squares” and chowed down. The pizza was gooey with scalding mozzarella, “old world” pepperoni and thick dough. Simple and delicious.
Whether or not this trumps any pizza slice I have ever eaten
is certainly up for debate. When I brought that up later, Taylor got annoyed –
but there it is. Photos of celebrities lined the wall where we ate, and even at
close proximity, other customers were friendly enough. Nobody was rude.
The spot in question was Marie’s Crisis. An online reviewer summed up the place like this: ”Marie’s Crisis is a basement piano bar with cheap drinks and the opportunity to sing unlimited show tunes.”
Marie’s Crisis is
just off Christopher Street on Grove Street. I went there once before with
Taylor on my previous trip. It’s tiny. With an upright piano surrounded by an
enclosure and a bar to its right – folks are squished together and it is
mandatory to check your coat.
But that place – that place might be the happiest place in New York – especially when the piano player starts in with the showtunes. Even the surliest, meanest looking motherfucker becomes angelic as he belts out “Corner of the Sky” or “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” Maybe it’s a tune from “Rent” or “Wicked” that does the trick.
For me, it’s almost
anything from “A Chorus Line.”
We met up with three
of Taylor’s friends – Rachel, Clyde and Mary. Thank God they let us get in line
with them, because the line was getting longer as we arrived.
Taylor went to the College
of Charleston with Rachel and Clyde, which is amazing in itself – I mean the
fact that the three of them now live and work in The City. I am happy to also call them friends. And it
was great to meet Mary, too.
We spent a couple
of hours at Marie’s – singing our hearts out. Rachel and I had spoken about our
affection for “A Chorus Line” many times – including when she visited us in
Myrtle Beach years ago. I am not sure if it was Clyde or Rachel that put in the
request for a series of songs from the show – but singing together brought me
so much joy.
I blogged about a production of “A Chorus Line” that Taylor and I went to see in Charleston in 2016 – with none other than Clyde in the part of Bobby Mills. Read that post HERE.
I am happy that Brenda got a taste of all of this too. Musicals are a part of my DNA – and now, thank God, they are part of Taylor’s.
We rode the train back to our neck of the woods with Taylor and friends. They went off to her favorite Bar, Hold Fast, which I will be blogging about later.
Brenda and I got some snacks at Duane Reade near Times Square and moseyed to our hotel.
We stole our dad’s ’67 Impala one night to check out the Kinks at the Universal Amphitheater a few months before the Elton show when they were out on their “Low Budget” tour. Dad is long gone now, and we never told him about that.
Anybody who knows me is aware that Elton John has been a major part of my life since I was a child – and my number one influence as a piano player. I have seen him seven or eight times.
The 1979 show was one of two early October shows at the Hollywood Bowl – part of Elton’s Back in the USSA tour supported only by percussionist Ray Cooper. I remember tripping out that the man himself was up on that stage – living and breathing – not very far away from where I was sitting in that open-air environment. It was almost too wonderful for words.
If you ever told me that I’d be watching Elton perform on his farewell tour at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, I might not have believed it. But that’s what happened earlier this month. Call it full circle for me – forty years later. And I’ll be damned if Ray Cooper wasn’t there – this time with some of the other old guard, namely guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson.
Elton played for three hours. It was surreal. The sound was excellent, and from our perch we had a clear view of the stage. We were far away, but smack dab in the middle of the mezzanine. The fact that this was to be the last time I would see him live made me savor each moment as best as my undiagnosed ADHD would allow. But I tried to be in the moment as much as possible. What a night!
This is the first installment of a series of blog posts about my recent trip to New York. More to come.
I lived in Galax for a few years – right off the fabled Blue Ridge Parkway, offering unparalleled vistas of the region, looking out into North Carolina with the iconic Pilot Mountain off in the distance.
Galax is renowned for its annual Old Fiddlers’ Convention – the largest and oldest event if its kind, with the 83rd installment coming up in August and drawing folks from the world over.
As of the 2010 census, Galax boasted just over seven thousand residents.
Brenda was born in Sparta, NC [the home of Dr. Grabow pipes], but grew up in Independence – just down US 58 [aka the “four lane”] from Galax. The same census reported 947 residents for the town. The local newspaper there is called – as if there was any other choice – The Declaration.
We made a decent circuit around the area, including whistle stops in Atkins and Wytheville, visiting Brenda’s family. Seeing them together makes me happy.
After an awesome lunch at a Mennonite shop and bakery/deli called The Dutch Pantry in Rural Retreat, I rode with Brenda’s brother Troy and her niece Brittney to Independence for a visit with a lady Brenda and Troy consider their second mom – Dorothy Ward Heffinger.
Dorothy was gracious and kind – and treated me like family off the bat. It was great to be a fly on the wall for the reminiscing. Her husband, Charlie, was off fishing – and while that was sort of a bummer for Brenda and Troy – everyone enjoyed themselves.
Somehow the subject of music came up, and Dorothy said something about her grandfather’s clawhammer banjo being in the Smithsonian.
Yinz listen to this – we finally made it to Pittsburgh last month.
I first started getting a hankering to visit Pittsburgh because of my friend, Bob Coyne, who grew up in Irwin, Pa., which is roughly 20 minutes away from Pittsburgh. During the years we worked together here in Myrtle Beach, Bob taught me a lot about the city, the slang and his shenanigans in and around Pittsburgh when he was growing up.
Several other local friends and Myrtle Beach transplants have been sharing Pittsburgh lore with us for years.
About ten years ago, my girlfriend and I became friends with two of the coolest couples anywhere: The DiGiacomos and the Scangas. We met them originally when I was playing in a Myrtle Beach classic rock cover band called Sick Stooges, and over the years became closer on their semiannual visits to the Grand Strand – my bandmates and their wives and girlfriends included.
Every time Steve and Kathy [DiGiacomo] or John and Barb [Scanga] came to Myrtle Beach, we’d hang out – and we’d learn more and more from them about Pittsburgh – and Brenda and I would comment on how cool it would be to visit sometime.
We finally put our money where our mouths were after we were invited to John and Barb’s daughter’s wedding on August 5.
Because we are usually on a shoestring budget, Brenda and I decided to fly Spirit Airlines – and opted to ship our clothes, saving us a few bucks. We also booked a hotel not far from where the wedding party was to be staying in the Pittsburgh suburb of Harmarville [Harmar Township]. It was only after we arrived that we realized that we could practically throw a rock to the TownePlace Suites by Marriott from our decidedly more economical Days Inn.
When we pulled into the parking lot of TownePlace in our rental car – the rehearsal dinner festivities were well underway on a patio out front – and we were all reunited.
The next day, it was wedding time. Although everyone was busy, Steve surprised me with a loaf of Italian bread from Sanchioli Bros. Bakery – and some home-made Sopressata. I knew brother Steve was looking out for me when he handed me a serrated knife so we wouldn’t be left in the lurch. I will always remember that moment.
After a beautiful wedding downtown – or dahntahn – Steve, Kathy and their daughter Kristin took us through their neighborhood in Bloomfield – home of Little Italy Days (Steve had to retrieve some Limoncello at his house), it was on to Veltre’s Wedding & Event Centre – a sumptuous venue at the top of a hill with a beautiful view of the Plum and New Kensington areas through floor-to-ceiling windows on the overlook.
The bride and groom, Jessica and Jon, are amazing young people, and it was an honor to be there as friends of the bride’s parents. Italian food like you wouldn’t believe – and a breathtaking cookie table with something like 900 dozen of them. Excellent DJ, an open bar with top-shelf libations that almost made me wish I wasn’t an alcoholic – but not quite – and awesome people.
Excellent job indeed, John and Barb. What a day!
The next day – Brenda and I decided to get lost. Hell – we had a rental car, a full tank of gas and GPS.
First on our on-the-fly itinerary was the Duquesne Incline, which came highly recommended by almost everyone we talked to. The Incline scaled the iconic Mount Washington – and once at the top, we poked around a museum containing awesome memorabilia, photos and bric-a-brac from various eras in Pittsburgh history – and took in stunning eagles-nest views of the city from the observation deck.
From there it was on to Station Square, a sprawling retail and entertainment complex on the Monongahela River – or “The Mon” – directly across from downtown Pittsburgh.
After a stroll in Station Square, we decided to leave the car and head across the Smithfield Street Bridge and wander around dahntahn.
It’s always good to freestyle, and we did just that – taking in the architecture and the lay of the land – until we arrived at Point State Park, where a massive festival was underway to commemorate the 2017 Three Rivers Regatta, which Steve, Kathy and Kristin told us about.
We stuck around for some live music, and idiotically, I didn’t take note of the band we enjoyed – but it featured a bearded guy playing an upright piano, which made me think about Coldplay. I also ate a very good gyro from one of the local vendors.
We enjoyed the experience of traipsing around – and I loved seeing a historical plaque commemorating the first commercial radio station – KDKA – which is still in operation as an AM news radio outfit. KDKA went on the air in 1920. Interesting that the call letters feature a “K” – usually the domain of stations west of the Mississippi River – but this was long before a 1923 boundary shift.
Back across the bridge, we retrieved our car and went into downtown Pittsburgh – and after a while found ourselves in the fabled Strip District. It struck me then that this city’s inhabitants arguably wear more sports-team apparel than anywhere else. The Strip District was so full of logoed merchandise featuring the Steelers, Penguins (Pens) and Pirates that it was almost overwhelming. Pittsburgh is nothing if not supportive to its sports teams.
I regretted eating that gyro when we came across the original Primanti Bros restaurant.
Eating a Primanti Bros. sandwich was part of the plan, but unfortunately, now wasn’t the time. I still wanted to set foot inside the location that put them on the map. You should have seen a server’s reaction when I said I was full but wanted to look around. One of my friends here in Myrtle Beach couldn’t believe I didn’t muscle through a sandwich in spite of the gyro that was still halfway through my digestive tract.
Our last bit of freestyling was to make a point of heading out the Fort Pitt Tunnel so that we could turn around, head back in and see the city open up in all its glory – just like Kathy told us.
We weren’t disappointed.
Cutting our drive short in Squirrel Hill – right before that tunnel entrance, we stopped at a Starbucks to recharge before heading back to Harmarville and the Days Inn.
Now it was time for Primanti Bros., and as luck would have it, there was a location in Harmarville. Brother Steve met up with us there.
A Primanti Bros. sandwich features “grilled meat, melted provolone cheese, sweet-and-sour coleslaw, fresh-cut fries, ripe tomatoes and our house recipe Italian bread.” Everybody had suggestions for the type of sandwich I should order. I heard “cap ‘n egg,” “Italian Sausage,” and what not, but I opted for the New Yorker – a strange name for a Pittsburgh sandwich – but it was loaded with corned beef and pastrami. I couldn’t lose.
The sandwich was massive and delicious. It’s kind of like smoking a Cuban cigar. You have to have been there and done that. I was glad to finally partake, wannabe yinzer that I am.
After heading to the local Sheetz for water and various sweets, Brenda and I called it a night.
The capping moment for our trip came the next morning before we headed off to the airport – a wonderful breakfast with Kathy and Steve at a family-owned spot in Lawrenceville called Barb’s Corner Kitchen – close to their house. It was wonderful to report our adventures from the day before with these two – and to watch Steve in action when he saw a longtime friend from the neighborhood. Everybody knows Steve DiGiacomo.
This trip cemented my fascination with Pittsburgh – and my love for these dear friends.