I suspect that at any moment we’ll be shooting over a bridge that’s over a river. Manhattan is an island. I don’t know the name of the bridge or if it’s the East River or the West River or what. Are they both the Hudson? I’m from SoCal. We don’t know much about rivers. Maybe it’s the one the traditional Mafioso dumped the bodies into. Holy Cow, another prep ending. For an English teacher this is getting to be a bad habit.
I should have watched more travelogues on New York instead of so many noir films. Humphrey Bogart in Dead End, James Cagney in the Roaring Twenties, and Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar, were my first cinematic impressions of the Big Apple before they called it The Big Apple. Then there was 42nd St. I make a note to find out where 42st is. I wonder if you can see it from the hotel and if my dancing feet will get me there. Later Goodfellas and Taxi Driver put color into the mean streets. And streets remind me of alleys, and that reminds me of Tin Pan Alley.
For some reasons tin pans remind me of ashtrays and ashtrays remind me of Winston Churchill. Now my imagination goes wild and makes a crazy mental note to examine every ashtray in every remote corner of what used to me the world’s largest hotel and find one of Churchill’s cigar butts, you know, preserved in the sand like a mummy. I know that Winnie and his cigars butts have been long gone these many years, but that’s how my mind works.
My head must be out of order.
Now that we’ve examined my out of order stream of consciousness, look up ahead! There’s a huge structure of iron and steel supported by enormous piles of grey stones. It’s the Queensborough Bridge, and when you get far enough along to see where it’s going, the view makes you gasp. It’s that twenty-four dollars’ worth of unmistakable island. It might as well be Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island; it’s so filled with legends.
Barb makes like she’s looking out my window but really she’s looking at me and can tell I’m getting nervous. It’s like she’s taking my temperature from a distance, gleaning I’m a little wound up. She’s seen all of this scenery before and even so, refuses to cop a ho-hum attitude and remain enthusiastic.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be getting there soon,” she tells me, in her finest therapeutic manner.
Barb is always telling me comforting things. You gotta love the woman. See? I just used gotta and you didn’t even flinch. You’re getting used to it! Nobody writes like me, you gotta admit. The writing is good, it’s bad, sometimes it’s ugly, but when it comes down to it, you know you’re reading the best. I take my lessons in Narcissism from Trump.
So I salute your taste in authors. Now let’s jump off this Ego Train and back to the story.
Once we’re on the other side of the bridge something weird happens. With each block closer to our destination, the glass and steel buildings get taller and taller. I’ve been looking out the cab windows, searching for a familiar icon, but the structures rising on either side are getting so tall it’s impossible to see the tops of any of them, much less a significant one in the distance. It’s a frustration I suffered years ago in Peru. After seven or eight switchbacks to get out of Cuzco valley, the steam locomotive ran parallel with the Urubamba, and with each mile closer to Machu Picchu, the mighty river, on its way to the even mightier Amazon, cut deeper and deeper into the gorge. After a while you couldn’t see the tops of the mountains in the distance. In order to see the tops of the mountains on either side you had to put your head down almost to the floor to get the proper perspective out the window.
It made you feel disoriented. Standing on your head always makes me feel like a kid. Then out of nowhere, Barb spots what I’m looking for, but it’s only there for a second, because we’re stopped at a red light.
“Honey, look there, down at the end of the street.”
“Oh My God, that’s it alright!”
It’s stately and poking the sky with its spire. I recognized it from movies. King Kong scaled it just before he was shot down and ate the death-to-disobedient-monkeys pie. In Affair to Remember, Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr were supposed to meet there but didn’t hook up. Lucy pretended she was a Martian on the top floor, let’s not forget that.
The light changed and it disappeared.
Somehow referencing movies is making me feel like a little boy again. I’m not as sophisticated as the people here on the streets of New York. It’s their home, not mine. I’m just a West-Coast California country rube. Even our hotel has a rep for sophistication. Not me. Makes me feel primitive, like Tarzan, in Tarzan’s New York Adventure. I wish the natives here were as primitive as me.
I’m going to think of it that way, like a new Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure. California Tarzan Meets a Tribe of East Coast Cavemen. Cavemen lived in caves because they were cool and comfortable, out of the sun, and even way back then, people loved a view. These concrete caves house businesses and restaurants and shops on the ground floor, and far above the trees, the New York Neanderthals hang out. I believe I know what’s going on here. I’m having a rare look into my own cranium. The underlying story is West-Coast Tarzan meets a Tribe of New York Neanderthals in order to steal their sophistication, in hopes it will rub off on him.
And right when I arrive at this thought, we pull up in front of what used to be the world’s largest hotel, so steeped in sophistication it should have been the queen’s tea, and the only hotel I can think of that has a salad named after it.
I already have a history with this hotel. I even wrote about it once, in a short story called Maui. Here’s what I said:
“Two hours later, we’re about to live it up Maui-style at the Fairmont. The villa is happening big time and I’m reading that the Fairmont is somehow related to the Waldorf Astoria. I should say Waldorf Historia on accounta plenty people in history stayed there. Wiki says Cole Porter hung out there and they named a suite after him. Others were The Royal Suite, named after the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the MacArthur Suite after our own American Caesar, and the Churchill Suite. The Presidential Suite was the home of Herbert Hoover, and Frank Sinatra hung there too.
OMG OMG I’m sooo impressed.
But even so, this movie-star-ex-presidential-ex-king-ex-military leader-ex-crooner-hotel was nowhere near Hawaii. I’m not going to sniff any of their bones like Keith Richards, so what it has to do with me, the quintessential laid-back California dude, is questionable. Because it’s so upper-crust, I feel even more out of place, the black bird baked in the pie.”
Well, it’s two years later and I’m finally face to face with the original hotel. This movie-star-presidential-military-leader-royalty-statesman-on accounta-Churchill-hotel, is right here in front of me. It’s sporting a doorman in a spiffy uniform standing at attention, and a shit-load of cache. Since I wrote that old piece, Barbara has helped me to fashion myself differently. I’m not the complete-out-of-place blackbird I used to be… but I’m still nervous.
Anxiety has been my middle name my entire life. If I didn’t have Barb to calm my ass down I’d be lost. She pads my jagged edges with her kindness. I have confidence in the woman. Even after she stole my heart, she made me feel secure.
Barb looks up, and then down at her I-pad. Like Sacagawea, she’s finding our way.
“Is this the side entrance? We’re staying at The Towers.”
He turns his head and peers through the tiny window with piercing eyes. “No.”
“Then we need to go to the side entrance on Park Avenue.”
Off we scoot and around the block we sail. It’s another door, a smaller door. And the doorman is talking to another man in another uniform. The doorman comes over to the cab and opens the door while the other guy wearing a purple uniform with little gold pins on it grabs our suitcases out of the trunk. It’s kinda like the purple uniform of the soldiers guarding the witches’ castle in Wizard of Oz, but not exactly. And he didn’t look scary; he looked Filipino.
I hesitate at the door of our cab, wondering what I should change into, being Mr. Chameleon Man and all.
Barb smiles calmly, straightens her Jimmy Choos, squeezes my hand, and says, “Let’s go.”
©Steven Hunley 2017