Sunday, October 9, 2016


“New York is made up of millions of different people, and they all come here looking for something.”
- Lindsey Kelk, I Heart New York

When I left Medina on Wednesday morning, September 28, to start my journey to the Luke Cage premiere that evening, I knew I would be facing two things I dislike: air travel and New York City. By the time I returned home, I only disliked one of those things. I’m not going to say I love New York, but, for the first time in too many years, I think I can coexist with it.

Air travel is, of course, a pathetic joke in this country. We have let airlines reduce service to a pittance of what it was once upon a time. We have let fear and xenophobia turn rational security into a mix of absurdity and authoritarianism. On my flight to New York, I was so thrilled to have been randomly selected to be pre-checked that I called my wife at work. I was so excited I never noticed the baggage clerk had handed me a receipt for the $25 baggage fee, but failed to give me the baggage claim ticket.

My flight was a Delta flight operated by Shuttle America. Tight as it was, we did make good time to JFK Airport. I even lucked into a ride from the gate to the baggage claim area, which was roughly two states away from said gate. I jest.

What wasn’t funny was when my luggage didn’t snow up on the baggage carousel. It had gotten stuck in the conveyor system and it took me over an hour and a half to convince someone to knock it loose from wherever it was stuck. This was not helped by my not having my claim ticket, though, to the credit of a helpful Delta agent, my number was found via computer.

While I was waiting, on two separate occasions, passengers on other flights were informed their bags were on a different carousel than shown on the overhead screens. Passengers arriving from Los Angeles were told their luggage had been split between two carousels...and I took no joy from watching them run back and forth between the two carousels searching for their bags.

Had I not been delayed at the baggage claim, I would have made my scheduled Air Link ride into Midtown Manhattan. As it was, I waited 45 minutes for the next van. Which took over two hours to deliver me to my hotel because I was the last passenger to be dropped off.

Here’s a “rolling my eyes” note. Once I got my land legs back and reconnected with the area - I used to live two blocks from where I stayed on this trip - I realized the driver passed within a block of where I was staying on three separate occasions. Had I known, I would have asked him to let me off earlier.

Before I can stop bitching about my pre-premiere day, I must tell you about the Econo Lodge Times Square. When I checked it, the desk informed me they could not make a room key for me. The key machine was broken. So, every time I returned to my hotel, a staff member would have to take me to my room and use the master key to let me into my room. In a pretty loud voice, I proclaimed how much I love New York. At least New Yorkers understand sarcasm.

The room? It was the smallest hotel room I have ever been in. The door was missing its chain. The instructions for the room safe did not match the actual room safe. A cloying sweet smell from whatever cleaner had been used on it permeated the room. As I learn later,  the television set only got half the channels listed in the hotel information book. Arrgh!

My niece Kara arrived at the hotel about fifteen minutes after me. I had time to brush my teeth, swig some mouthwash, change into my evening attire (casual though it was) before we were uber-ing our way to the Luke Cage premiere. Which, as you know from my past two bloggy things, was magical.

After the after-party, a pleasant cab ride got me back to the Econo Lodge and a surprisingly deep sleep. I say “surprising” because my room was on the second floor and the window didn’t do much to cut any outside noises. Basically, I was exhausted after a hard day and an amazing evening.

All I remember of my dreams was that I was at the back of a double-decker bus with Chris Claremont and a gaggle of elderly women. The ladies were fascinated as Chris and I discussed how something he’d once said influenced my most recent script for the better. Part of my dream was more or less true. My dreaming self acclimated to New York faster than my waking self.

I woke up after a solid four hours sleep. I am naturally an early riser, both by nature and because I have a cat who feels I should always be up before dawn. I skipped the hotel’s sparse breakfast set-up for a Subway breakfast sandwich. I wanted to hit the streets and regain my New York land legs.

I easily found the hotel whose “penthouse” I used to occupy. It was on 49th and Broadway, across from the Brill Building, so famous for housing music industry offices. The hotel itself is long gone and the much larger and nicer Crowne Plaza hotel is in its place. The Brill Building is undergoing extensive renovations, but I could see the bare bones of the vast Sam Goody’s music store that used to be on the structure’s ground level. When I lived there, I spent many an evening hour perusing what had to be tens of thousands of vinyl record albums featuring every kind of music you could imagine. Of course, back in the 1970s, I didn’t think of them as vinyl records. They were just records.

The Chinese laundry I used back then was also long gone, but Neil Simon’s Eugene O’Neil Theater was still there. There was a second theater across the street from it that I don’t remember being there in the 1970s. Then again, the Times Square area that used to be my home isn’t remotely like it used to be. Things change and, in New York, judging from all the renovations I saw while strolling around my old digs, they change constantly.

My relationship with New York was brief, intense and ended badly. There was chaos in the comics industry. I was robbed and mugged in my “penthouse” apartment. I had met the girl I would later marry at the wedding of some Cleveland friends. I missed her and I thought the relative calm of Ohio better suited me. With the bloom off my New York relationship, I was finding the city and the people in it rude and unpleasant. I didn’t so much move away from New York as escape from it.

The comics industry called me back to New York for a time. I was no longer writing for Marvel and a brief staff job at DC Comics turned out to be a disaster. I made a few business trips back to New York, but never felt comfortable in the city.

My most recent visit was in 2011 to attend the New York Comic Con and promote the Grim Ghost title I was writing for the unfortunate revival of Atlas Comics. I was proud of the work I did with artist Kelley Jones and delighted to see a great many old friends, but the badly-run convention was disrespectful to comics creators and held in the steaming dump that is the Javitz Center. The hotel I stayed in was only marginally better; a room service tray lay outside my room for two full days before I sent it down to the lobby via the elevator. I found New Yorkers to be even more rude and unpleasant than I remembered. I was not eager to return.

This visit was different. Maybe I was still on the emotional high from the Cage premiere. For whatever reason, I was rediscovering some of what I once loved about New York and especially this area in which I had lived.

I loved walking down a street and hearing six different languages within a single block. I loved the diversity of people, fashion and street vendors. I loved knowing that, at any time, day or night, I could find a good meal and an open shop. There was something to be said about being in a city that never sleeps. Even for a guy whose 20s are well behind him.

I love where I live in Medina. I love a lot of things about Medina. I don’t love that Medina is way too Republican white. I feel that the right-wing zombies could turn on me in an instant. I believe my fear is reasonable given their party’s choice for President is an a racist, misogynist, xenophobic con man and liar whose pick for his Vice President is an equally misogynist (and homophobic) evil Race Bannon cosplayer. I’m just saying.
I didn’t have a lot to do on my one day in New York. Because I do not travel with a laptop or any device more intelligent than a dumb phone, I missed invitations from people at Marvel to come by their offices. This is something I intend to correct before my next trip out of Medina.

I had hoped to get together with Larry Lieber, but the quick nature of my trip made that impossible. We spoke on the phone before and during this visit. We hope to get together soon.

I was taken to lunch by my dear friend Barry Pearl, who drove all the way into the city to take me to lunch at Gallagher’s, a great restaurant on 52nd just off Broadway and within walking distance of my hotel. What a swanky and yet unpretentious place!

Barry and I spent two hours enjoying Gallagher’s wonderful food and remarkable service while talking about comics and a whole bunch of other stuff. Barry is one of those A-plus gents you’re really lucky to know. He’s always there to help a friend. I love the guy. If you do a good turn for Barry, you’re doing a good turn for me.

When I got back to my hotel, I learned they still hadn’t received their new key machine. It was coming by mail. That’s right. In the city that never sleeps, the city where you can get anything at any time, they had to have the machine mailed to them. It was absurd. But I just laughed it off.

I walked around Times Square and my old neighborhood for the rest of the afternoon. I marveled at all the sidewalk food vendors and wished I had the time and appetite to try them all. Which is much more gastronomically daring than I usually am.

I smiled at all the character players on Times Square. There were seven Spider-Men at one corner. Frozen, Hamilton, Mickey, Minnie, Hulk and Elmo were all well represented. Come evening, there would be some sexier costumes, a distance remnant of the bawdy Broadway I remembered and even kind of sort of loved. I could tell you tales of those days, but I don’t want to embarrass my kids. I figure on saving that for my memoirs.

For my evening meal, I got a delicious rotisserie turkey sandwich  from Carve’s Unique Sandwiches & Pizza on the corner of 8th Avenue and 47th Street. I took it back to my hotel, planning to unwind and go to bed early. To ease my concern over making my return flight, I rescheduled my Air Link ride for 5:30 on Friday morning. I would rather get to the airport hours before my flight than wonder if I would get there on time.

Restless, I didn’t stay in my room for long. I walked down to the  lobby, chatted with two hotel workers. Their frustration with the lack of a key machine was much greater than mine and that was true for the entire staff. Despite that, the entire staff was efficient and courteous, even friendly. I was regretting my check-in sarcasm.

The Econo Lodge was on 47th between 8th and 9th. I walked down the street, noting the old-school residential buildings as well as the stores and services that marked it as a neighborhood. People lived here. They probably lived in ridiculously expensive apartments, but they lived here. I will never again be one of them, but that notion no longer strikes me as a Hell sentence. Progress.

I headed back to Times Square, walking past theaters where I used to see plays and failing to remember which plays I had seen where. On a whim, I stopped into a restaurant, bellied up to the bar and had a beer with some locals. I was wearing a Cleveland Cavaliers polo shirt and we talked some sports and politics. I won respect by preferring the Mets over the Yankees, and a baboon’s ass over the Donald. Stay strong, New York.

I didn’t sleep much that evening because New York never sleeps and it makes you fight for however many hours you get. If I had stayed a few more days, the street sounds would have roughly lulled me to sleep. Next time, I will stay longer.

The ride to the airport was uneventful. The TSA security line was insulting and tedious, the latter revealed only by the sad sight of an airport worker screaming at a young Arabic woman. Apparently, he didn’t like how she looked and demanded she leave the area outside the security checkpoints. She was wearing jeans and recording the aggressive man with her phone. Two other airport workers showed up to calm the situation. None of us watching the spectacle would ever know what happened after that.

I didn’t get selected for pre-check this time. Shows and belt and coat and briefcase all went into a container while I walked through an x-ray machine with my arms up and hoping my pants wouldn’t drop. The machine examining my briefcase triggered my Fitbit’s stopwatch function. It took me a bit to figure out how to set it to rights. For about a hundred bucks, I can get automatic pre-check status and never have to go through this again. Which makes so much sense on account no terrorist could afford that kind of money. I literally just shook my head and sighed as I wrote that sentence.

I wasn’t able to get a ride to my gate, but I had time for the long walk. I was amused at the sight of an attractive Spanish-speaking young lady, dressed in skirt and heeled boots as she might wear to a classy office, making her way to the gate via skateboard. She was graceful and lovely and, to me, so very New York.

I got a seat on the single-seat side of the Shuttle America plane, which made for a more comfortable flight back to Cleveland. I even dozed off for a few minutes.

When I got to Cleveland and the baggage claim, my suitcase was on the carousel waiting for me. I suspect it had come in on an earlier flight. I retrieved my van from the valet and drove back to Medina.  It was good to be home. It was also good to have so many pleasant memories of this trip to New York.

I don’t love New York, but I think we could be friends. The kind of friends who are glad to see one another once a year or so.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

1 comment:

  1. Sorry we missed you this time around, Tony! Hope ou do decide to visit again. Do let us know!