A midtown marathon

Disclaimer: This is going to be a long blog entry.  I always regret not keeping better track of trips I take.  Hence… 

I always follow the same pattern in trips to NYC: the thought of spending a week in midtown seems a bit soul-sucking: no time to head to funky, less-touristy places like either of the Villages or to old haunts in Brooklyn, or even to take a walk in Central Park.  But by the end, I’ve been charmed again by what I get to do there, the food I eat, the art I see, and the learning I do. 

Day 1: Thursday >  This day began with a harrowing, yet successful, drive through ice-encrusted Arkansas.  Travel karma was good.  Hotel karma, also good.  Beer karma, not so much.  A slightly skunky beer at Matthew Broderick’s restaurant made watching Blue Man Group a challenge, but by the end, I joined the small crowd in an exercise in group inebriation, caused by a profusion of toilet paper raining from the ceiling.  It was fantastically joyful.

Day 2: Friday > Conference session content is usually hit or miss.  Today (and most of the sessions, honestly), was miss.  The morning session was nothing special, and after that my roommate and I headed to visit Mikel Rouse (www.mikelrouse.com) in his studio, passing a wall-full of gold and platinum records along the way (I didn’t get a look at who/what they were).  Super cool musician, equally cool guy.  He spent more time giving us (and asking for) restaurant recommendations than telling us about his upcoming visit to our city.  But he did play us a never-heard-in-public new piece of music.  Sweet.  PS: If you’re wondering, we sent him to Hugo’s, among other places.

We came back to a slightly bizarre opening plenary speech, the highlight of which was an animated video of an elephant bouncing on a trampoline, and then we took one of Mikel’s recommendations and visited Prime Burger for a late lunch.  Awesome burgers and my first Egg Cream, a drink invented in New York that contains neither an egg nor cream.  Chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer swirled (not stirred) just so.  YUM.

I visited with some friends from my graduate degree program, then we went to the Famous Oyster Bar for dinner.  Not sure why it’s famous.  I had shrimp.  Then, to the Mikado.  Fun show, even though it was 3 hours long and the sound was lousy. Thumbs down, NYC sound techs.

Day 3: Saturday >  A morning of session-hopping was followed with a lunch at a booking agency, which I always find fascinating.  While my colleagues took more oh-so-important meetings, I headed down to the TKTS booth to see what I could score for 1/2 price Broadway tickets.  This is one of my favorite parts of coming to Midtown.  I love that I get all kinds of recommendations from all kinds of people, and then have to decide, based on what’s available, what to do.  I struck out with Next to Normal, Billy Elliott and Fela, so I “settled” for Ragtime, which was the best thing that could have happened.  I don’t need to write down why I loved the show so much.  I’ll always remember it.  Crowded, crappy seats and all.  I’m so lucky I saw it before it closed.  And disappointed in a world that doesn’t embrace a show like that.

A fabulous dinner at I Trulli (bacon apple risotto!) was followed by my favorite part of this particular booking conference: showcases, which are 15-30 minutes sets designed to give presenters like us a chance to see work before we book it.  We cabbed to a show that featured scantily clan teenagers gyrating (no thanks) then hoofed it to one of my favorite showcase venues, BB King’s, where we joined a standing-room only crowd watching Marty Stewart.  Our posts by the wall indicated that we served as traffic cops for the ladies room, and through this, we met Holly and her mom, who eventually joined us at a lucky table for some overpriced drinks.  Then we got to see Preservation Hall Jazz Band with the Del McCoury Band.  Awesome.  A Led Zeppelin tribute at the Nokia Theater was less so, and we wrapped up the day around 1am. 

Day 4: Sunday >  I served on a panel about “Future Leadership” in the morning, followed by Korean for lunch.  Some drama back in Arkansas made the afternoon interesting, and so did the craziest cabdriver I’ve experienced, who was convinced that our cell phone use was draining his brainpower and that swastikas were hidden in the CNN building.

Then began our evening of parties, including one with the famous choreographer and dancer Mark Morris.  But the best was our Broadway party at Brasserie 8.5, one of my favorite spots in NY.  John Lithgow was there.  Enough said. Dinner with our CEO (yummy sushi) was followed by three more showcases: three great, hard to classify acts: The Depue Brothers (classically trained guys playing rollicking bluegrass), Dala (two cute girls with angelic voices who remind me of the Indigo Girls, with less folksy anger) and Feet Don’t Fail Me Now; a group of Minnesotan musicians and tap dancers who brought down the house.  Another late, but great night.

Day 5: Monday  >  Monday began with another less than amazing session, followed by a neat panel featuring 7 or 8 jazz legends (none of whom I knew) sharing their stories and insights on the arts.  We had the inevitable chicken for the awards lunch, and the rest of the day was meetings and visits to the expo floor, another of my favorite parts of the conference, where artists and managers have booths and try to sell you their work.  It’s crass, tough work for both sides.  My roommate and I had Indian food for dinner (yummmy!) and then we all met up for a hilarious Off-Broadway show called Celebrity Autobiography, which featured current actors reading from, you guessed it, celebrity autobiographies.  Tommy Lee, Madonna, Tiger Woods, Elizabeth Taylor, The Jonas Brothers…it was genius.  Even if the theater was a dive and packed to the gills and the drinks were WAY too expensive and the waiter was rude.

Day 6: Tuesday >  Wynton Marsalis gave the final plenary speech for our conference.  It was incredible.  Inspiring, heartfelt and insightful.   We had a fun lunch with an agent at Milos (fish and greek food), and then I attempted to shop.  That was unsuccessful, but it was still nice to walk around the city.  It was just us girls by that point, our CEO having already departed, and we enjoyed some wine in the lounge before racing to Broadway.  Rock of Ages was my designated show, and even though I’d wanted to see a different show, I loved it.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the 80’s rock I knew.  And I’m not embarrassed to admit that I have a crush on Constantine, the former American Idol finalist.  He was really solid and endearing.  And he can sing.  We ended our evening at a rather lackluster Italian restaurant.

Day 7: Wednesday >  Nothing exciting today – just some work in the lounge in the morning, some quick shopping and then off to the airport, where we boarded our plane on time, only to have to disembark and switch planes.  Surprisingly, we actually got another plane and made it home only a couple of hours behind schedule. 

The bottom line – good food, great art and great colleagues/travel companions.  And some humbling examples of how little I actually do know about food, art and people.  And now comes the hard part – sorting through the offers and press materials and dates and ideas and building a season of entertainment and art for the good people of NWA.

Bring it on.  Thanks, NYC.

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