I was curled up in bed, enjoying a lazy vacation morning, when the door burst open and a cute boy and his dog jumped onto the bed in excitement. He continued (the boy, not the dog) jumping up and down exclaiming, “Get up! Get out of bed! We have stuff to do!”
It turns out he had taken the dog for a walk, and met a man who ran a helicopter sightseeing tour. They chatted for a minute and the man told him he would take us AND the dog for a tour. What would have normally been a day of diner breakfasts and window shopping turned into him showing me the world from above.
This did not happen on Valentines Day. And I suppose I should add that I am not, nor have I ever been, a fan of Valentines Day. How can this be a good day? If you are not in a relationship, you either have to spend the day hiding in bed, or witness the seemingly endless reminders that you are alone, whether it’s from a breakup, divorce, deployment, death… it’s never easy.
If you are in a relationship, there is pressure and guilt involved. The flower, card and chocolate companies make a killing. Nothing says “I love you” quite like a plastic-wrapped bunch of sad roses held together at the bottom by a rubber band and purchased (last-minute) from a street vendor who may or may not have bathed in cheap gin. Add an overpriced card and some chocolates from Walgreens and you have the makings of a Nora Ephron movie (not).
No, love happens outside of Valentines Day. Love happens when he gets all of your references (I can’t express how huge this is), remembers your birthday without the aid of Facebook, or listens to you cry over the phone for an hour without understanding a single word you are saying. Instead of cards and flowers and roses, he is patient with all of your craziness, he shows up, and he pays attention. If I could figure out how to wrap all of that in plastic, tie it up with a rubber band and sell it on the corner, I would make a fortune!
So on Valentines Day, I woke up next to that cute boy and I felt guilty. I had not gotten him a card. I had not planned anything special. I had (last-minute) booked a 7-course Italian dinner at some new (chic) restaurant under the Brooklyn Bridge. I regretted it the moment I booked it. It was a champagne dinner. He doesn’t like champagne. And it was seven courses. SEVEN! It was also at 5 pm, which effectively broke up the day into non-usable chunks. I was actually succumbing to that Valentines Day guilt and pressure I had always disliked.
We got up and headed outside into perfect weather. We walked to the “Love” sculpture because I wanted a picture of it. There was a line. Of COURSE there was. It was stupid Valentines Day. Couple after couple ran up and posed while friends and strangers snapped pictures. I was rolling my eyes. I became this cynical person thinking, “Well, there’s a bunch of couple-shots about to get posted on Facebook… and none of these dumb couples will last. One of them will break the other one’s heart, and then what will they have? A bunch of pictures they won’t want to keep because they’ve got some stupid person in them.” (Yes, I am THAT person on Valentines Day.) So I waited for the perfect moment and snapped a picture of the sculpture without a single person in the shot. It was perfect. “LOVE” against a clear blue sky with a New York City background.
It was lunchtime and we were getting hungry, so I hailed a taxi and gave the driver an address in the East Village. We stepped out of the cab onto a street that was not crowded with tourists, and into the Brindle Room… a place the cute boy had mentioned from some Food Network show. A hole in the wall with cheap beer, amazing food, and room for exactly 32 butts. We sat ours in the back corner and ordered drinks. After a few sips of beer, the waiter/bartender (owner?) placed an order of pork confit poutine in front of us. I took a couple bites, excused myself and stepped outside, into the sunny day, back onto the non-touristy sidewalk, and made the call. I canceled the 7-course Italian dinner. I came back in and helped share not one, but two Brindle Burgers. The waiter/bartender (owner… I’m pretty sure) walked by the table and set another beer down at my elbow. “This one’s on me,” he said. “Glad I could ruin your Italian dinner!” I looked up, surprised and grateful, and smiled. From across the table, my date grinned at me and asked, “So, when are you moving here?”
Then I knew exactly what I wanted to do! I wanted to show the cute boy MY New York!
After lunch, we wandered through the East Village. Then we made our way across the island to Greenwich Village. I took him into the Whitney. To the left was the Andy Warhol exhibit, but we took a right and grabbed dessert and drinks in the little café instead. The entire building was made of glass walls, and we watched as the sun began to set over the Hudson River.
To catch the last rays of light, I took him outside and up the stairs to the High Line – my favorite park in the city. There were still no crowds as we strolled from 12th to 23rd Street. The weather was pleasant, even with the remaining snow in the gardens. New construction was popping up on both sides, and I opened my mouth to complain… but then I became distracted by the way the light was hitting a stand of trees next to the train tracks, then by some new public art, and then again with an exhibit inside the Chelsea Market Passage. When we came out the other side, I saw her. My favorite building. The Rockstar of Buildings. I snapped a picture of her as she rose behind the High Line Hotel. Gold lights at the top flickered like flames. I was mesmerized.
I’m going to interrupt myself yet again. I am in love with the Empire State Building. From her architecture, to her placement and her history. She remains steadfast. Standing over a city which has gone through so many changes. Watching as the city continues to evolve. Almost 90 years old, she was the tallest building in the world (scraping the sky at 1,454 feet) until 1970, when the World Trade Center surpassed her. In 2001, she watched as that same building and its twin came crashing down.
I have personal memories of her from my childhood, my teen years, and more recently as she peeks at me while I stroll through my part-time neighborhood (To be clear, the neighborhood is full-time. I come and go.) She is so iconic that even the font for the signage of such basic businesses as Starbucks and Chipotle at street level reflect her fabulous art deco style.
Everyone knows who she is, no matter where they live. Sure, there may be some confusion from tourists now and then. While standing at the base of the ESB last fall, a group of girls stared down 6th Avenue and spied One World Trade. One excitedly exclaimed, “Look! It’s the Empire State Building!” I was a little sad for her. In December, while on TOP of the ESB, I overheard a boy ask his friends, “Is that the Empire State Building?” while pointing toward the Chrysler Building. It took him a hot minute, but he figured it out.
She is also an extra in every movie ever filmed in New York City. And she plays the lead character in a few. Specifically, love stories in which couples separated by time and space plan to meet at the top on Valentines Day. Only, they never make it. Some of the best love stories happened because of those foiled dates.
So anyway… we took the elevator down from the High Line at 23rd Street. Seeing my favorite watering hole, the now-closed Half-King Pub, made my heart hurt for a moment, until the cute boy leaned over and whispered “Brindle Room”. Okay, maybe I can deal with change.
We walked along 23rd Street, toward the clock tower at Madison Square Park. We turned left at the Flat Iron Building and strolled up 5th Avenue. Standing at the edge of the park, we turned back to marvel at the Flat Iron Building in one direction, and then looked north toward the Empire State Building. We watched as the flashing gold-flame lights changed and began pulsing a heartbeat rhythm of bright red. Taking a seat on a park bench, I commented how it was probably crazy busy with couples at the top. How the red lights made it look like the house from “The Amityville Horror”. How there was no way I wanted to be on the top with all of that Valentines Day mess. Little did I know that he knew better…
Continuing up 5th Avenue he obliged me every time I stopped to snap a picture of a mural, or steam coming up from underground. At one point, when we were between 33rd and 34th Streets, he commented how everyone on the street was aiming their phones and cameras to the sky, yet I was taking pictures of steam and traffic. I was fighting that touristy urge. I excitedly pointed across to the Walgreens located at the base of the ESB. “THAT is where I set off the alarms!” I giggled, reminding him of the story about when I last visited the top of the building.
We walked instinctively across 5th Avenue and along 34th Street until we found ourselves at the entrance to the Empire State Building Observation Deck. I paused just long enough to ask the doorman how busy it was upstairs. As he opened the door and welcomed me in, I felt a gentle push from behind. Within the first 60 seconds, we were standing in front of a ticket kiosk and the cute boy was swiping his card for two trips to the top. 8:00 at night on Valentines Day in perfect weather, and there was NO line. We stepped into the elevator by ourselves and rode to the 79th floor. The trip to the 86th floor was shared with two other couples.
The door to the outside observation deck opened with a WHOOSH and the cold night air hit us. It was clear and breezy and dark, and with the exception of the mostly-hushed voices from the other visitors on the deck, the only sounds were muffled horns and sirens from the streets below.
We walked around once, twice, three times, looking down at the grid and gazing at lights from cars, buildings, bridges and planes. We pointed to places where we had been, and to places we wanted to visit. I realized in that moment that I was (with zero planning) showing him the world from above.
I would normally end my blog here. But the night didn’t end there. Between the night air and walking 8 long blocks and 45 short blocks, we were starving. He took me to an Irish Pub for a late-night dinner and drinks. McGee’s it was called. When we walked in the door, I realized where we were. This was no ordinary pub. This was the pub that inspired McGee’s from “How I Met Your Mother.” A show I binge-watched on my belly years ago, while eating Frito’s and drinking questionable wine, and getting over a broken heart.
As I looked through the pictures of the day, I came to one of the Empire State Building that I had taken from the street. After the shots of steam, and before taking the unexpected trip to the top. The red lights that I had made fun of earlier now looked like a cherry on top of the perfect day.
I am still not a fan of Valentines Day.
I am, however, a fan of love.