Friday, January 25, 2008

A trip to New York with the Brazilians

Early last week I received an urgent message from my Brazilian buddy Tony imploring me to come to New York for the weekend to hang out with him and his brother Beto who had been working there for the previous six months and wanted to spend his remaining weekend there partying. At first I protested but by Wednesday I'd gone ahead and purchased a ticket for myself on the very convenient Chinatown bus.

As 2 o'clock on Friday afternoon approached, I quickly gathered my belongings for the short one block trip to where the bus would pick me up. A quick scan of the printout with my reservation number by the bus driver and I was in a comfortable chair awaiting the four hour journey to The Big Apple. Traffic coming out of Washington, D.C. was light and within the hour we were through the Fort McHenry tunnel near Baltimore, M.D.

Drifting in and out of sleep while reading the latest issue of the New Scientist, I awoke with a start to see the Empire State Building far off in the distance. Yet my excitement was quickly tamped down by the reality awaiting us outside the Lincoln Tunnel: traffic the likes of which I hadn't seen in some time. After nearly an hour of crawling through a jungle of blaring horns and red taillights, we emerged onto Manhattan and made our way to 34th and 8th near Penn Station to be dropped off. A short subway ride later to the 50th St. stop and I was standing outside Beto's corporate apartment.

Relatively speaking, my first night in New York was calm. We started off the evening at a nearby street vendor to savor what Beto called the best gyro in the city. Indeed, to judge by the line which stretched half a city block, this particular vendor had good reviews. I myself was quite impressed with the mixed combination gyro and the accompanying yogurt sauce. Eventually we made our way to East Village and after wandering through several bars in the area, we settled on a honky tonk joint called the Mason Dixon. After an hour or so there, we caught a cab back to Midtown and stopped in for a night cap at a place called Vintage not too far from Beto's pad.

The next day started around 1pm at a place called Nero's in the Meatpacking District. Barbara, a neighbor of my friends from back in Brazil and who was now working in New York, met us there along with her boyfriend Adriano. The brunch advertised was two hours of all you can drink with a choice of meal included for $20. Not bad for Manhattan prices. Well over two hours later, heads buzzing from copious amounts of champagne, we wandered out of the restaurant and into the nearby multi-story Apple store in Chelsea before finally making our way back north to the apartment where I enjoyed a much deserved nap.

That evening Tony insisted that we head to Central Park so we could ice skate on Donald Trump's famous Wollman Rink. Admittedly I was a bit hesitant to engage in an activity which a decade previous had left me with a slight case of amnesia after taking a fall and hitting my head. But I nevertheless took those tentative first few steps back onto the ice and was surprised at both the natural sense of balance I enjoyed and the speed with which my long-dormant skills returned. Within ten minutes I was racing around the rink relishing the feel of the cold air on my face.

Alas, after only an hour or so Tony and I were both tired and so we journeyed back to Beto's apartment for some rest before getting ready to go out again, this time to a place called Katra on the Lower East Side. A Middle Eastern-themed 'lounge', it was extremely crowded which made getting to the bar difficult at best. But seeing as I'd been drinking for the better part of the day, I wasn't interested in getting drunk. So after a few hours of that, we made the journey once more to Midtown.

Sleep came just before dawn but I wasn't asleep for long as we had made plans to head to Connecticut that day. My hosts, Brazilian to the core, were family friends of another Brazilian nicknamed Toninho (Little Tony) who lived in Westport about an hour north of the city. Dragging ourselves out of bed and down to Grand Central, we rushed to buy our tickets and hopped on the 12:07pm heading to New Haven. The commuter train itself was quite nice and proved a smooth enough ride for me to nap for a spell.

Shortly after arriving in Westport, Toninho was there to pick us up and take us to his exquisite house just a few miles from the station. In many ways, it reminded me of visiting my Brazilian friends' family back in Sete Lagos what with the chattering in Portuguese, the Samba music in the background and of course the feijoada. Brazilian beer in the form of Skol was also there in addition to several types of cacha├ža. Despite how wonderful it all was we couldn't stay there forever so when evening rolled around we hopped back on the train for the hour-long ride back to New York.

Our last night in New York was a poignant one and we spent it at an Irish bar just a few blocks away. Guinness and old stories were what was imbibed and we enjoyed each to the last drop. I called it early so as to avoid missing my bus the next morning and as I walked back by myself I couldn't help but think how much I loved this city, despite the 2°F wind chill. And I know that someday, hopefully when it's warmer, I will come back.