Date: Mon, 2 Nov 1992 20:18:32 -0600
From: Anne Burton Harwell
Subject: WHTMINYC Part I
Texans should not leave Texas. I knew this when I settled into my airplane
seat. I was supposed to be making my yearly pilgrimage to EDUCOM, the high
holy festival of computers and higher education. But this year's trip had
a twist: I would combine my convention fun with a quick side trip to New
EDUCOM was okay, as it always is. The parties have gotten progressively
leaner and soberer and the trade show floor spiffs have become almost
nonexistent since the glory days of 1988, when junk bond money still
flowed like new wine through the veins of marketing experts. But I was
steeled for this, determined to attend the *conference,* and not to value
the relative worth of a company on how many great t-shirts I could squeeze
out of them.
The flight was uneventful, thanks be to God. Passengers always seem a bit
embarrassed by my expression of thanks to the pilot. What, haven't they
ever seen a grown woman kissing the feet of a man before? I The hotel was
clean, quiet, not particularly luxe, but as long as I don't see hairs on
the bath towels, I don't complain. The dining room was overpriced, the
The second night I was there I decided that I was going to have myself
some Baltimore crab or know the reason why. With a book in hand, I walked
down to the corner where a bunch of cabbies were standing and I followed
the first one who noticed me to his cab and asked him if he knew of a
place called O'Brycki's. "Yes, darlin', I sure do." His name was Robert.
"You ever been there, Robert?"
"Oh, 'bout a million times. You want a old man to join you at your table?"
"Well, I'd say yes, but you'd try to run a meter on me."
"That I'd do, yes, that I'd probably do."
He giggled, the way only southern men can giggle, where it comes up
unselfconsciously and freely, sort of girlish but not effeminate, if you
know what I mean. I looked out and saw that all the tourist trappings of
downtown had disappeared and the vague distracted-looking white people
along the harbor carrying paper sacks of fudge and other impedimentia had
been replaced by black kids tussling in a courtyard under a sodium vapor
lamp. "Got to keep your eyes open around here," Robert said. I agreed.
He let me off at the restaurant, saying he wouldn't be able to come back
and pick me up because the "folks inside have their own cab company, and
they'll want to call them. You take care, Texas," he said as he drove away.
Inside, the room was filled with the real people of Baltimore, and without
sounding like Studs Terkel, they were the first people I had seen in two
days who weren't trying to be something that they weren't. Loud, rowdy,
drunken, happy. It seemed they were all pounding crabs with wooden
mallets. I ordered a dish which featured a crab with his top pried off and
about three more crabs' worth of meat piled on top of him. The beer was
exactly the right temperature, the crab soup was gorgeous, and the main
course was quite simply the best crab I have ever eaten in my whole life.
I feel like all crab before this was counterfeit.
End of Part 1
Next: Anne takes a train ride to NYC and questions her place in the universe
Date: Mon, 2 Nov 1992 20:46:35 -0600
From: Anne Burton Harwell
Subject: WHTMINYC Part 2
The next day brought the blessed knowledge that I would depart this
benighted convention and its lame corporate sponsored parties and its
skanking trade show floor spiffs and head for New York, where I was
scheduled to meet Czarina and do the town. Another cab ride, this time
with a man who had no conversation and gentle southern giggle to offer,
and I was at the train station. In Texas, we don't use trains to get
around. You buy your first car as soon as you can afford it, and you spend
the rest of your life trading the last car in and thinking about the next
one you will buy. My brief experience on the Amtrak from Providence to
Boston this summer did nothing to prepare me for this. In fact, as I was
soon to see, nothing in my life heretofore could have prepared me for the
next 36 hours.
The landscape was mind-bendingly beautiful at first. Just north of
Baltimore the fall foliage was at its absolute peak, and for many miles,
the further north we went, the more intense and heart-rendingly gorgeous
things got. The train passed over water, through woodlands, in and out of
rustic communities. And then we came to Philly.
Mountains of demolished cars heaped in anal-retentive rows between rusted
out buildings and open lots paved with cinders dominated my view. The
spectrum compressed into shades of gray, punctuated by the occasional
bleared-over yellow guard rail wrapped around the leading edge of a
tunnel. I had never seen an uglier vista in my life, until I got to
Newark made any ugliness I'd ever seen in my life appear inconsequential.
This must be, I thought, the Platonic Form for "Ugly" that all other
ugliness proceeds from and strives toward. Stretching away from the window
all the way to the water was the shit of the world. Two enormopus piles of
black stuff loomed by the track. One pile was sheathed over with plastic.
The other was not, and its surface appeared to have congealed into some
brittle glasslike substance. No birds came to land on it. Off in the
distance, through the smoke and haze, appeared my first real-life view of
the World Trade Center's twin towers, barely visible as two darker
rectangles against the half light.
Penn Station and my blood pressure was way up. I could tell by the way my
heart was racing and I felt sick in my gut. Why in heaven's name wasn't
Rita down here on this platform waiting for me? I fought my luggage down
from the rack and threw myself into the press of humanity that was flowing
along the narrow concrete strip like salmon leaping upstream.
Up into Penn Station (where's the giant clock? where's the fabulous
statuary? this looks like a bus terminal!) and praise be the Lord, there's
the Czar, leaning nonchalantly on a rail reading a paperback. We exchange
castigations (Why weren't you waiting on the platform for me? Because they
wouldn't let me down there! Why were you so late getting in? I couldn't
help it, I'm sorry!) and decide that we'll have to brave the subway sooner
or later. It was 5:15 pm. Rush hour. I wondered if it would be crowded.
End of Part 2
Next: Anne and Rita discover that the only good subway directions are dead
Date: Mon, 2 Nov 1992 21:22:13 -0600
From: Anne Burton Harwell
Subject: WHTMINYC Part 3
We got on the subway. I was carrying my hanging bag and a cosmetics kit
and my purse. Czar held a Land's End satchel of nondescript shape. A woman
steps around me and my bags and glares at me.
"You sure are taking up a lot of room."
"Yeah, well, that's the way it is."
She shakes her head and frowns and continues pushing her way through the
sardines. It is hot. Signs on the walls read "Air conditioned car. Please
close windows." The windows, I note, are open. I begin to feel sweat
trickling down my back, my chest, my scalp, my face. I become obsessed
with wiping all sweat from my face because if they can see me sweating,
they'll know I'm nervous and they'll try to make a grab for me. Rita
announces that the next stop is the one she was told to get off on and so
At the stop, we re-examine the map, and note again the broad orange line
denoting the N train which takes one to Queens, which is where our hotel
room is. It's a Long Story (tm), but financial exigencies forced me to
make the decision that we were going to stay there. Once again, a friendly
information clerk is consulted. She basically tells Rita that you can't
get there from here, that we are going to have to get back on the same
train we just got off of and go to the 76th street stop and get on a bus.
We do not understand why we just can't get on the nice N train like the
map says, but the information giver is adamant, and the homeless man
begging beside her booth seems to be in agreement. A woman passes by and
puts a quarter in his cup. I look at him with alarm as if to say, "You're
not going to want me to put money in there now..." He smiles and says
"Have a nice trip" as we plunge back through the turnstyles.
We board the next E train that comes along, and as soon as the doors
close, a woman announces her presence in a loud voice. She's here to
collect donations for the homeless. "If you are homeless, or hungry, come
forward and I will give you a sandwich. There is no shame. If you can,
please give. Sometimes a dollar is the difference between making it and
not for a homeless person. A nickel, a quarter, whatever." Rita and I look
superiorly away. Just encourages 'em. One by one, hands are reaching out
to the woman. They all give coins. She thanks each person individually. I
wonder what kind of place we are in.
The 76th street station is here and we explode out the door. Up several
winding flights of stairs (how do the handicapped get around in this city,
anyway?). I'm winded and stop for a breather. A sign in front of me
announces: "Torn Ear Lobe?" I ask Rita if this is a common problem here.
She looks quizzical, but I see her hands unconsciously reaching up to
check her own gold loops.
We reached ground level and stepped on the street. Oh boy, I am finally
going to see the Big Apple. This is it, the real thing, the most important
city in the world. We are at the corner of 76th and Roosevelt. Neon signs
in Korean blare down from all crazy angles. Two men are shouting at each
other in Greek. There's a distinct seediness about the place. It's loud,
it smells like auto fumes, and it's suddenly cold. Dirt is everywhere.
"Rita," I say, "we're in a bad fuckin' part of town."
End of Part 3
Next: Anne and Rita escape into Queens after a hellish bus ride
Date: Tue, 3 Nov 1992 17:00:00 -0600
From: Anne Burton Harwell
Subject: WHTMINYC Part 4
We got on the Q23 bus, run by the Triboro Transportation Company, to
LaGuardia. It hardly could move, so fierce was the traffic. We would chug
along about 5 feet, then pull over to retrieve yet another eager
bus-riding New Yorker. A woman got on, holding a baby wearing a snow suit.
The child looked up at her mother with that vague trust that all babies
display, happy, content, anticipating something nice. What kind of world
have you brought this beautiful baby into, I thought. The mother,
oblivious to the filth and chaos, pulled out a bottle of milk and popped
it into the child's mouth.
"You Brade Runner," I said to Czar, recalling the scene in _Blade Runner_
where Harrison Ford unsuccessfully tries to eat a bowl of soba in the LA
of the near future. It was dark, people were everywhere, the bus was
filled to over-capacity, and I was sweating again. I began to feel the
unmistakable electric current of claustrophobia coming on. Even the width
of the traffic lanes was narrower here. What a miserable place.
Right above my head was the Subway Map. There was that damnable N train
line again. And under it was printed a note that it would not operate
while modifications were being made to the Roosevelt Tunnel. I point this
out to Rita in a lame attempt to inject humor into a hideous circumstance,
but this seems only to depress her further. "I hate riding on the bus," is
all she can reply.
Finally we crossed under the East River by some form of magic and squirted
out into Queens. I shoved my hanging bag off me and trudged up to the
"Excuse me, does this bus go by the LaGuardia Marriott?"
I should have known better than to begin my sentence with "Excuse me." I
had just irreparably marked myself as a tourist, probably a desirable mark
for muggers as well. I glanced around the bus nervously. No switchblades
in sight yet.
The driver replied in a dialect I have never heard before, a weird
pastiche of English, gestures, some heavily accented and unintelligible
slang, and impatient glares. I *believe,* but am in no wise certain, that
he said that we were supposed to get off at the next corner and walk down
a half block to the hotel. He made quite clear (?) that he was not going
to pass by the Marriott. So we got off the bus, and looking around us, saw
we had plopped down into the middle of Archie Bunker's neighborhood.
This was the fracturing point. Alone, not a damn clue in the world where
we were and certainly seeing no sign of a Marriott or anything, I decided
it was time to employ Drastic Measures (tm). So I called the Marriott on my
cellular phone and told them to get out to the corner of 96th and 23rd
pronto. In about 5 minutes we were rescued by an angelic woman in a
lighted Marriott shuttle van, who, seeing our looks of obvious distress,
asked us how we had gotten there and applauded our perseverance when we
told her. Literally. She took her hands off the wheel while stopped at a
light and applauded us. It was surreal: the combination of the womblike
comfort of the shuttle van, the elevator music playing softly on the
speakers, the roiling humanity just inches outside the windows, and this
beautiful blonde woman is applauding us.
We got to the hotel and checked in, nothing unusual there. The room was
weensie by Texas standards, but it was clean and the television worked.
Dinner was the buffet in Yet Another Overpriced Hotel Dining Room. The
waitress had the quintessential Bronx accent, just like on TV or in the
movies. Amusing. I wondered what she thought of my twang.
End of Part 4
Next: The adventurers confront a day of art, food, a parade, a party and
getting lost again
Date: Tue, 3 Nov 1992 22:22:13 -0600
From: Anne Burton Harwell
Subject: WHTMINYC Part 5
Saturday morning we awoke and prepared to make our way to the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, where I would fulfill my destiny and drink in the deep cool
cultural waters that flowed from the fountainhead. We consulted the
bellmen for directions downtown.
"Take the Q46 bus across the street to the 111st street station and take
the train downtown. Change trains at the Grand Central stop and get off at
86th street." Simple enough, we thought. Taking up our station at the bus
stop across the street, I noticed that I could see my own breath. There
was an excessively sharp and evil tinge in the wind.
We waited forever there in the cold, wondering if our bellmen were going
to prove themselves as adept at giving directions as the two previous
people we had called upon for help. A bus appeared down the street, but it
was moving towards the airport, not away from it. It pulled up to the stop
in front of the Marriott and disgorged passengers, then took off. The
number clearly displayed on this carriage from the Triboro Transportation
Company: Q23. I looked at Rita in amazement. Her expression was one of
dismay, resonating despair.
The bus finally came and deposited us without incident at the 111st street
station, which was to my great surprise an elevated train station. We
changed trains in the Grand Central subway station. As the bus began to
move, a woman announced herself:
"Trick or treat ladies and gentlemen. Actually I hope you'll have a treat
for me because I am a homeless person."
At this, a shambling form emerged from the far end of the car and pushed
past her, mumbling something as he shoved open the door into the next
"Oh, sorry, I didn't know you were working this one, sorry."
He mumbled something else and passed into the next car.
"I am a homeless person, and I need your help. I don't have any tricks,
but I hope you'll have a treat for me."
I averted my eyes. She passed through the car, accepting many donation,
thanking each person individually, smiling. There was a certain perverse
dignity and grace to it. Again, I was startled at how many people offered
coins. The it hit me: they had become *accustomed* to giving!
We got off at 86th street east of Central Park and began our final trek. A
door suddenly burst open in front of us and half a dozen first-graders
exploded out, all wearing matching yarmulkes. They looked so alert, so
interested. A tall man with similar headgear followed them out and they
flocked to him, the wheel-spoke pattern on their heads turning and
gyrating like black-eyed susans. A brief flash, that's all I saw, and then
onward to the Met. After all these years, I was going to see the Met.
End of Part 5
Next: Anne has her Perfect Moment while Czar looks on in disgust
Date: Tue, 3 Nov 1992 22:27:12 -0600
From: Anne Burton Harwell
Subject: WHTMINYC Part 6
There it was, impossibly huge, monumentally important, radiating pure art
waves. But stop: I was not worthy yet.
"Czar, we must eat. I am starving, and I don't want to faint when we see
the Magrittes." Rita was agreeable to that notion, so we purchased
wickedly fat and pasty pretzels from a vendor and fruit juices to drink.
He handed my change back, tentatively counting off the dollars in an
Italian accent which sounded like Mel Blanc doing an impersonation of an
immigrant. People really *really* talk that way, I noted yet again.
It was time. I'd been on this pilgrimage all my life. I'd prepared my
spirit, traveled a great distance, suffered on the way, chastised the body
and the mind, and even fasted. and now having fortified ourselves with
ascetic food, we ascended the stairs.
Wrong. Nothing could have prepared me for the entry hall. My God, this was
really it. So casually placed: a head of Augustine, a Pompeiian terrazzo
floor, a Kouros, a (gasp) Cycladic head. I was hyperventilating by t he
time we got to the Magrittes. They were exactly as I had expected, except
for the eternal delight and surprise which comes form finally seeing a
long-studied object of desire face-to-face. And they were *all* here. It
was an excellent show, carefully laid out so that each succeeding room
brought bigger and better bombasts of surreal painterly commentaries about
the relation of man to language, to himself, to the artist. We emerged
from the final room, and I looked over at the Czar, wild-eyed and
Spalding Gray talks in _Swimming to Cambodia_ about the need for every
vacation to have a "perfect moment." It's complicated, and it's not easy
to achieve, but it's absolutely essential. I hadn't had my perfect moment yet.
I lead the Czar out of the Magritte Gift Shop, which seemed an
unnecessarily crass bow to commercialism. We entered a plain wood-paneled
hall which led left into the center of the building. To the right was a
stairway. I glanced at the framed reproduction hanging on the wall in
front of the stair.
Wait a minute: that wasn't a reproduction--that was Picasso's portrait of
Gertrude Stein! Holy cats, I couldn't believe it. One of my favorite
paintings, one of the most important portraits, hell, one of the most
important paintings of the 20th century! Just tossed up on the wall here,
in a side hall. I was flabbergasted, started drooling on my shoes and
jabbering incoherently. Rita looked perplexed but indulgent, the way
people treat a child who has managed to color inside the lines. Time
froze; I don't know how long I stood there. It was the perfect moment.
Dumbfounded, I realized for the first time the enormity of the Met's
collection, how foolish I had been to think I could see it in any
meaningful way that day. We left shortly thereafter.
Lunch came and went, and the afternoon started to cool of, so we sought
refuge in a movie house on 3rd Ave. We caught a cab afterwards to Rita's
friend Stacey's apartment in the Village. For some reason, he wanted to
take us to the street she lived on, but on the east side, not the west side.
"I'll take you where you can catch a bus to the west side."
"Wait a minute, you're saying you won't take us where we're asking to go?"
We made like we were getting out. The driver replied in some weird
unintelligible dialect with sounds and gestures that made us believe he
would accede to our request. He did.
The Halloween parade in the Village is a story unto itself. Cops were
everywhere, many carrying video cameras. A man behind me said to his
companion, "Yeah, fightin' fire with fire...no more Rodney Kings." Dinner
afterwards, then a party uptown, then time to hail yet another cabby for
the ride back out to Queens.
End of Part 6
Next: Another strange cab ride leads to the conclusion of our adventure
Date: Tue, 3 Nov 1992 22:32:05 -0600
From: Anne Burton Harwell
Subject: WHTMINYC Part 7, The Conclusion
The driver asked where we were going. I said the LaGuardia Marriott.
"At LaGuardia airport, in Queens. Use the Midtown tunnel."
"I don't know if I can go that far."
"Wait...you're telling us you won't take us there?"
"Well, I can take you part of the way."
"You won't take us to the hotel then?" We made to get out of the cab.
"No, no, I'll take you there." And with great screeching of wheels, he
lurched away from the curb.
This man's driving style was to floor the accelerator until he achieved
the desired speed, then completely let off the gas, coasting back down to
about 40, then lean hard on the gas, over and over and over. As he
approached the airport, he said, "Which airline you want?"
"No, no, no! Not the airport, the Marriott!"
"Zat a hotel?"
"Yes, of course it's a hotel."
"What street it on?"
"It's on Ditmars." I read the address to him.
"I don't know where that is."
I looked at Rita. She had that expression of despair again. "You know,"
she said, "crack kills." I was beginning to feel guilty. Ahead, the
Marriott's logo was glimmering through the trees.
"Look, there it is! that's the Marriott just ahead on the left!"
"Oh, okay." He dutifully pulled to the right and parked at the curb two
blocks from the hotel and began running totals on the fare.
"Aren't you going to take us to the hotel?" Rita is beginning to look
worried. I see her hand creeping to the switchblade she carries in her pocket.
"It's $22.00. See? $19.00 for the fare, and $3.00 for the tunnel."
"Take us to the hotel and we'll pay you. Otherwise, no deal."
"It's up there, across the street. On the left. See the sign? Marriott."
He couldn't read! "The sign is red, see it?"
"Oh, yeah." With that, he pulled across the street and deposited us in the
driveway of the hotel. We stiffed him for the tip.
The morning brought yet more travel, as Czar took her train back to the
creosote-soaked Boston subway system and I boarded my Mad Dog Super 80,
maintained to an excruciating level of mechanical perfection by
Continental's most obsessive experts. That evening I logged on got the
first time in three days, and on a whim, I fingered the Czar's account.
She had already been on herself two hours earlier. It was good to be back.
End of Part 7 and of the adventure
Respectfully submitted, and dedicated to -ggs, my role model and advocate,