Saturday, 10 March 2012

Hello Brooklyn - Day Ten - Monday 13 February

"February thirteen, two thousand and twelve!", a deep, American voice said in my head as I woke up. "Eeeeeeeee!", I replied to it. Today would herald one of my most eagerly anticipated activities of our whole trip, and I was so excited!

But first there were some practicalities to take care of. This was to be our last full day in New York and we had some luggage difficulties to take care of first. With all stuff we'd already bought and the intention of buying a few more things, there just was not going to be enough room in our two suitcases and two backpacks.

I hooked our laptop up to the free WiFi and did some research. It would be fine to take three cases and two backpacks on Amtrak to Boston. We were flying from Boston to London with Virgin Atlantic's Premium Economy (thanks to a nifty seat sale deal), which meant we could actually even take four cases there. When we landed in Heathrow, for cost and timing issues I won't go into, we had to catch a National Express coach from Heathrow to Gatwick, but that seemed to be fine too. One last hiccup though: flying back from Gatwick to Belfast with no-frills airline Flybe. We agreed it would be worth the extra £30 to upgrade one of us to "Go Large" (yes, they are the McDonalds of airlines), so we paid online and made a mental note to go and buy another cheap case later that day.

In the meantime we had some exploring to do. We'd just missed the free breakfast at our hotel, so we took a walk to a deli nearby and bought some food and drinks there. Fed and caffeinated, we headed to the subway and caught the F train all the way from Jay St MetroTech to Roosevelt Island.

When we got out at Roosevelt Island a very lost Asian man asked us for directions. I have no idea how he'd ended up where he was but I think we gave him the right advice of the two different trains he'd need to take to get where he wanted to go. Bless him, I hope he found his way!

We, on the other hand, had a walk around some of Roosevelt Island. I watched some boats travel up the East River and unabashedly waved back at the tourists on one of them, and the Yorkshireman took some photos of ducks. So, pretty standard stuff for us both.

Then we headed into the Roosevelt Tram Station. Last time we were in New York, the existence of the Roosevelt Tramway had completely passed us by, but I'd since read that it was a pleasant ride with nice views and, awesomely, you can ride it for free if you had an unlimited Metrocard. Excellent.

View of Queensboro Bridge and Tramway from Roosevelt Island New York

As we waited for the tram to come back from the Manhattan side, we watched an older native New Yorker in a wheelchair try to explain to a tourist who sounded like he was from Texas how to swipe his Metrocard properly. Texas guy's wife was already through but Texas guy himself was swiping much too fast, then much too slowly, then only halfway... it was a disaster. Part of me wanted to just go over, take it out of his hands and do it for him, but he was looking more and more irate.

Eventually, just as Texas guy finally got through (I resisted the urge to cheer), the tram touched down in front of us and on we all got. The view was indeed good but for me the fun was in knowing I was suspended on a giant pulley system across the river and streets.

View of East River from Roosevelt Island Tramway New York

View of Upper East Side from Roosevelt Island Tramway New York

I also liked checking out the Queensboro Bridge up close and personal. It's not the prettiest of New York's bridges but it's certainly one of the most interesting.

We emerged from the tram and walked for a while through the Upper East Side/Lenox Hill/Turtle Bay neighbourhoods. I noticed again how there was a completely different feel to this area than in the other New York neighbourhoods we'd visited. It's strange how Williamsburg, Lower Manhattan, the Upper East Side and Downtown Brooklyn are all completely different and yet each of them is so intrinsically "New York". So cool. You don't really get that here in the UK, where a row of terraced houses or high street shops looks pretty much the same in Belfast, Bradford or Birmingham.

On our walk we stumbled across another cupcake shop, Buttercup Bake Shop. It wasn't one I'd heard of but my rule remains that all cupcakes are eligible for the title of 'World's Best Cupcake', so I bought a 'Buttercup Golden with Vanilla Icing' cupcake and tucked it away for later.

For lunch I'd scheduled a stop at Ess-a-Bagel. As you may have gathered I'm a big fan of bagels, so I was eager to try what some New Yorkers say is the best bagel in the city. I figured I might as well go for the whole stereotypical experience and ordered my bagel with cream cheese and lox. For a bagel it was pretty expensive (over $10) but I have to say it was delicious.

In fairness I've never met a New York bagel I didn't like, even if it came from Starbucks or a hotel's complimentary breakfast. Most of the bagels we get in the UK are pretty stale in comparison - the only ones that come close are from Asda's bakery (which are really good actually).

Bagel experience complete, we walked down 3rd Avenue to 49th Street and caught the M50 bus along to 10th Avenue. We wandered up to 54th Street, turned a corner and there was our next photo stop of the day: the studio where they record The Colbert Report.

Colbert Report Studio 54th Street New York

Colbert Report Studio 54th Street New York No Graffiti On This Wall

No sign of Stephen himself but we snapped a few photos as we avoided being randomly dive-bombed by about a gazillion birds who were hanging out in the trees beside the studio. Perhaps they're fans too.

Then it was on to 11th Avenue and back down to 52nd Street to join the line for the New York experience that had been making me giddy for weeks: we had tickets to go and see The Daily Show!

The Daily Show Studio 11th Avenue New York

For months before our trip, I'd been regularly checking the ticket reservations section of the Daily Show's website to see if anything would pop up for the dates we would be in New York. A couple of weeks before, when nothing had appeared, I did a bit of research and it seemed that both The Daily Show and Colbert Report were going to be on hiatus on the main week we were there! Oh noes! Talk about bad timing. There was only one thing for it: keep checking back for the one date we'd be in the city where they might actually be recording the show (Monday 13 February) and hope for the best.

With only four days to go until our trip, I was half-heartedly checking for tickets at lunchtime at work. I'd switched to a different tab when I hadn't seen any available but when I came back about 10 minutes later, the page had refreshed itself and, oh!oh!oh!, there were two tickets available for our date! Quick! But it was too late, someone had already poached them. Doh!

I was disappointed but not about to give up completely - In my time of lurking on the tickets site I'd noticed some people seem to reserve the tickets but then don't confirm them, which means they go back on soon after. I sat for the next while hitting F5 pretty much repeatedly to refresh the page. And then suddenly, there they were again! I typed my details as fast as my fingers would let me, clicked submit and... yes! It had gone through! Quick! To the email to confirm!

I clicked the link in the email and there it was, with heavenly light streaming through a cloud on to my computer monitor and choirs of angels singing... "Congratulations! You have scheduled 2 tickets to the February 13, 2012 taping of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." Yeah I have! Woooo!

So, less than two weeks later, we joined the line outside the studio to get our place in the audience. They give out more tickets than there are places to ensure there are definitely enough people in the audience, so you have to arrive early to reserve your place. Then they release you back into the city for a couple of hours and when you come back you have to go into a pen which corresponds with the number on your ticket.

We joined the queue before 2pm and they didn't start giving out the tickets until around 2.40pm, so it was quite a wait (especially with sore feet and a sore hip). However there was a convenience store on the corner where I got a cup of coffee to enjoy with my Buttercup cupcake. I have to say, it was definitely the sweetest cupcake I had in New York. It reminded me of butter tablet, such was the sugar content in the frosting. It wasn't half bad though; not the best I'd tried but if I lived nearby I'd probably be a fairly regular visitor.

Eventually we got our little yellow tickets with The Daily Show logo, a number and the date stamped on them and left the line. Not sure what we could do in the two hours before we had to be back in line, we decided just to jump on an uptown bus and go explore a little of the Upper West Side.

We hopped off the bus somewhere in the mid-70s near the Jewish Community Center on Amsterdam Avenue and wandered back south. We walked past one of those on-street second-hand book stalls that I've only ever seen on TV or in the movies. That wouldn't work in Belfast - all the books would be soaked in a sudden rain shower or blow away in the wind!

By this point we needed a restroom and a WiFi connection, so we called into a Starbucks, but it was only small and very busy. McDonalds it was. We used the restrooms and bought a couple of drinks and a small snack each but the place was absolutely packed full of teenagers having various melodramas, so we decamped to some benches in the middle of the street where Broadway meets Amsterdam Avenue.

Another couple about our age (who had been ahead of us in McDonalds) were eating their food on the bench opposite us, discussing how they'd always wanted to sit outside in the middle of a city; I wondered where they come from that they've never done that before. A homeless lady sleeping on another bench ignored us all.

We decided it was time to head back down to the Daily Show studio and found a bus stop which took us down Broadway. We jumped off that one and on to another M50 and right back over to the Daily Show studio again. We were a little early so we grabbed some refreshments from the shop on the corner (where a lot of our fellow audience members seemed to have congregated) and went to find our pen.

Happily we were numbers 72 and 73 so we weren't that far back. My feet and hip were sore again by this point and I was struggling to stay upright leaning on my crutch for support, but without me even saying anything one of the security guys appeared from nowhere with a folding chair for me to sit on while I waited. Awesome, thank you!

About twenty minutes after we got there, they started letting in the VIP guests from their pen. In the meantime we mere plebs were advised that if we wanted the restroom in the next two hours, now was the time to go, and were briefed on what we should expect from the whole experience. Twenty more minutes later and we were finally in the doorway waiting to go through security.

After my bag was searched and I hobbled through the scanner, I joined the Yorkshireman in the queue to find out where the producers wanted us to sit. Everyone in front of us was being pointed towards somewhere around the third row down in the middle section. Not too shabby! However the nice lady clearly saw my crutch, took pity on me and pointed us straight towards the front row. Wow! I was so excited! And thank you again!

We had to wait for another twenty minutes or so for everyone else to be seated and in the meantime we watched clips from the show on TV monitors suspended from the ceiling and listened to pop music over the speakers.
Then the warm up guy came on and was great. We were told that the audience mics are set at a much lower volume than Jon's and so we would really have to scream and laugh much louder than we usually would. I'm a "woo girl" - no problem.

Then there he was: Jon Stewart, mere feet in front of us! Eeeeee! He's just as cute and dinky as he looks on TV. He had a short chat with the audience, which was very funny, then he took his place at the desk and launched straight into the recording. Over the speakers came the familiar opening voiceover: "February 13, 2012... from Comedy Central's World News Headquarters in New York, this is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."


You can (for now anyway) watch the episode we saw online here, although if you don't live in the USA you might not be able to watch it unless by semi-nefarious means. Suffice to say it was very entertaining, even though our guest was a little dry. It met all my expectations and then some. And for free! What a bargain! Jon also did the whole thing in one take, which was amazing. On the other hand it meant we were finished, out the door and waiting on 50th Street for the M50 bus again by 6pm.

So, last night in New York. Obviously it would have been nice to go and have some fun - truly immerse ourselves in the city - but alas we had things to do.

So we bused and subwayed it down to 23rd St station on 6th Avenue. I was pretty hungry by then and intended to grab something from one of the street carts but the guy serving was taking forever to serve the guy in front of me, so I cut my losses and went to Hale and Hearty Soup instead for a small and overpriced cup of soup to keep me going. I also decided the perfect New York goodbye would be one final Happy Birthday cupcake from the Crumbs store which had been twinkling at me in the darkness, so we bought a cupcake each to enjoy later.

Then we found our way to Sports Authority so the Yorkshireman could (finally!) buy the New York Rangers third jersey he had his heart set on. Very pleased with his purchase, we turned our attentions to looking for a cheap suitcase. TJ Maxx and Marshalls proved to be too expensive but we came across a wheelie bag in Bed Bath & Beyond for $19.99. However the Yorkshireman was concerned its dimensions might be too large for our airlines and we needed free WiFi to investigate. We couldn't find a Starbucks (in New York - is that possible?) so it was off to McDonalds again. A quick check later and it was confirmed: the size of the bag was ok.

By this time it was 8.50pm and Bed Bath and Beyond was due to close at 9pm. I hobbled as fast as my poorly hip could carry me and we raced into the store just on time to buy the bag. By then we were exhausted so there was nothing for it but to return to Brooklyn and get packing.

We were back in our hotel room by around 9.30pm so we ordered takeout via Seamless again and packed while we waited for it. Eventually, after everything had been distributed between the three bags and two backpacks, the food arrived.

We'd ordered from a diner-type place called the Park Plaza Restaurant but sadly it was mediocre at best. I had ordered matzoh ball soup to start (meh) and an "Angus Chopped Sirloin Steak", which actually turned out to be minced beef turned into the shape of a steak. Weird. My mashed potato tasted like Smash and the "steamed corn" was tinned sweetcorn. I felt somewhat misled. The Yorkshireman's fried chicken with vegetables was equally as underwhelming. Their sweet potato fries were ok though.

Full but with leftovers still on the table, we gave up on the food and instead turned our attention to the TV: our episode of The Daily Show was coming on! It was exactly as it had been live but it was nice to relive it when you've seen the sets and the people involved in person. I also thought I heard my high-pitched "wooo" near the start, which would make sense given that we'd been sitting directly under a mic and also that I'm pretty noisy.

After The Daily Show, we watched the Colbert Report and then went to sleep. Tomorrow we would be leaving New York (*sob*) and going to investigate another city: Boston.

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