As a now-New Yorker and an Apple fanboy, I was a little worried about how Apple's new store smack in the middle of Grand Central Terminal was going to look. Placing a garish retail store in the middle of such an historic building would be like plopping big billboards atop the peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Fortunately, as this sneak peek tour from Fortune's website shows, Friday's grand opening will be grand, with Apple respecting and in many cases incorporating the classy architectural features of the century-old structure.
One of my key learnings over Christmas: No one in their right mind eats roasted chestnuts.
OK, OK. We've all sung "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." We all have these nostalgic Currier & Ives prints of people pulling pans of hot chestnuts out of the fireplace. Some of us have even used the metaphor about "someone's chestnuts are in the fire."
So add chestnuts to one of those somewhat Yankee foods that I've never eaten. Until now. More accurately, until right before Christmas.
The missus and I were Christmas shopping along Fifth Avenue. Well, more accurately were were Christmas looking -- there's no way we could afford anything being offered for sale along Fifth Avenue. With one exception: There was a vendor selling hot roasted chestnuts out of his cart.
They didn't smell great. In fact, they smelled burnt. And I quickly found out why: In most cases, they burn the outer shell of the chestnuts as they roast them. You're supposed to peal the burnt shell of and eat the nut inside. I've admitted in this space that I'm a total moron, but thankfully I wasn't stupid enough to try and eat the burnt outer shell.
I should have. It couldn't have tasted much worse than what was inside. The texture was like a soft walnut, but without the flavorfulness of a walnut. It seemed more like a cross between a peanut, a walnut and sidewalk chalk.
I gobbled down two to make sure I hadn't gotten a bad one, and then tossed the rest. It was Christmas, the window decorations were out, billions of tourists were jamming the street, the wind was blowing and I'd eaten roasted chestnuts.
I can now say I've "done" Christmas in New York -- for the first time.
I haven't had a need to go in and buy any antimatter, but the Sidekick Placement Service always looks intriguing.
In fact, the storefront and the website are just promotional fronts for 826NYC, a worthwhile nonprofit organization that provides programs to encourage creative and expository writing among young children in New York.
That said, if you need to pick up some bulletproof tights or capes, this is the place for you. Just be aware: No X-Ray vision use inside, and they request you initiate your interdimentional travel outside the store.
If you like window shopping, New York City is the place to go. Retailers here, especially in Herald Square and along Fifth Avenue, go all out. I had planned an evening of running around the city with my camera, but my good friends at Gothamist saved me the trouble.
I've seen Paris. I've seen France. I've seen Brooklyn law students cavorting in their underpants?
In one of those tawdry stories that make tabloid editors at the New York Daily News and New York Post believe there's a God, clothing maker Diesel has created a firestorm of controversy here.
Apparently, they conned the Brooklyn Law School into letting them use their digs for a fashion photo shoot, only they ended up shooting pics of models cavorting in their underwear -- in some rather suggestive poses. This led to a weekend of jokes about "legal briefs" and "rigid rulings," etc.
Had my first outburst of rudeness at the Fairway Market yesterday. I’m not apologizing for it, or making excuses, but I’m not proud of it either.
Markets here are crowded places. I detailed this somewhat in yesterday’s post. So when I had to navigate down a narrow, crowded aisle to grab a bottle of grapefruit juice (part of my medication that allows me to cope with New York), I left my cart parked along the side of a main aisle, allowing enough room for people to get through and then worked my way toward the Ocean Spray.
I should note that I had my iPod headphones in, although at the moment I wasn’t listening to music. When I returned to my cart, I found there were now 18,000 people in the main aisle, and the whole area was hopelessly logjammed.
As I put my juice in my cart, a 5-foot-2, relatively elderly and extremely emphatic woman glared at me and said “You can’t do that here. You have to push your cart over the side!”
I blinked. At first I didn’t understand what this woman was saying. My cart was to the side. Then I tried to figure out who died and made her the traffic cop at Fairway Market. My consternation must have been obvious, and she took that, plus the face I was wearing headphones, to add this rejoinder: “I know you can hear what I’m saying!” Then she glared at me more.
By now I was insulted, hurt and angry. And I abandoned my Southern gentility for the first time since arriving here. Raised to always respect my elders, and especially ladies, I broke – and uttered my first New Yorkerism:
“Lady, you’re confusing my hearing what you said with my caring about what you said.”
One of the things you take for granted outside of the big city is grocery shopping. You hop in the pickup, drive to the warehouse-sized Publix/Kroger/SaveOn/Wanker Foods/Ralph's, load up your cart, have the pimple-faced boy wheel it out to your truck and you're on your way.
In New York, it's a totally different monster. Your challenges:
Size - Real estate is expensive in New York. So groceries are small. Selections are limited. You can either run around to the corner to the bodega for a quart of milk or a "soda" (what they call co-colers up here), or when you need a more extensive list of items, you head to the grocery. But don't expect a great selection of items, because floor space is at a premium
Tightly-packed shelves and aisles - Because space is at a premium, you don't get aisles. You'd better love your fellow man, because when you go shopping you're going to be bumping into him a lot. And he's going to be blocking your path to the Frosted Flakes, just like you're blocking his path to the deli counter. And when it comes to checkout, as you can see in the picture above, you are literally lined up 3/4 of the way down a food aisle before you can even get to a register.
Selection - You will have only one choice of brand for most items, but that doesn't mean you don't have selections. Because they only stock one of most things, they can care more things. Want poppy-seed cake? They have it in the bakery. Fresh olives? Whole bins of them. Cheese? They have one of everything, but they do have everything. The variety is truly staggering, but in as eclectic a city as New York, you should come to expect that.
Freshness - Quite candidly, this was an area where my expectations were exceeded. Prior to my arrival, I thought the produce would be rather poor, since the city was so far from the country. But apparently produce buyers bring in tons of fresh fruits and vegetables every day, and the quality is in many cases better than what I used to get in Atlanta. Even the sidewalk fruit carts have good apples, peaches, berries and pears.
Getting home - This is where you suddenly realize you're not in Kansas (or Georgia, Tennessee or Texas) anymore. You grab your four, six or eight grocery bags and start walking. In my case, Fairway (my current grocery of choice) is two long and one short block away from my apartment. So you're talking a five- to eight-minute walk. With heavy bags making your arms longer and longer. If you've got ice cream, it's melting. You don't want to waste time. We've even invested in one of those carts that you see old people pushing down the street.
Get a thick skin - The worst time to shop is on Friday afternoons (when everyone gets off work and is shopping for the weekend) and midday weekdays when the elderly are in the aisles. If you think teens are annoying, you haven't shared an aisleway with an 70-year-old 5-foot-2 woman who's out for blood ... and babkas. These women will slam into you, cut you off, shove their carts into your shins -- if they had a knife, they'd cut you if you got between you and whatever is on the shelf that they want right now. One of these ladies actually created a situation where I committed my first act of New York-style rudeness. More on that tomorrow ...
I didn't realize how important purses are. And I certainly didn't know the special rights and privileges they hold in the big city.
Was sitting with the Misses earlier in the week at a restaurant, and a third person helping us find an apartment came in to join us. We needed to add a chair to the table, and there were three vacant chairs at tables next to us.
All occupied by women's purses.
You can see where this is going. Yours truly had to ask each of the ladies at these three tables if we could borrow their what-I-thought-was-empty chair. And in each case, they gave me a look like I'd asked them to sacrifice their first child for an entree. Me forcing her to put her Coach handbag on the floor under her? To allow her bag to actually touch dust? What I rube I clearly was.
Then, not two hours later on a crowded subway, I watched this lady keep 25 people from sitting down on a busy subway because her handbag needed its own seat.
What was more sobering was when I learned that 90% of the Coach, Aignor and other designer handbags I was seeing weren't even real. Apparently, counterfeit handbags are more common than the real ones in New York City. And obtaining them is kind of a cat-and-mouse sting operation. A female friend of mine decided to go down to Chinatown last week with the expressed intent of scoring a faux ladies handbag.
First, we walked up and down the street, looking at the no-name handbags for sale in the various shops. "The people who sell the knock-offs will come up to you if they see you're in the market for purses," she explained. We walked 12 blocks. Nothing. We walked down the narrowest and seamiest of streets, the only non-Chinese within miles. No one said a word.
"You're the problem, she finally snarked.
"You look like a fed."
"They're obviously not talking to me because you look like a police officer." I took this as a compliment, but couldn't understand how someone like me with a stocky build, short cropped haircut and aviator sunglasses could be confused for a law enforcement officer. "Go up to the corner and wait for me there."
I waited. And waited. After 25 minutes, I began to think I needed to call real law enforcement officers. Finally, my special lady friend showed up. She had been accosted not two minutes after I'd left, supporting her argument that I was cramping her illicit shopping style. She had been ushered down dark alleys into back rooms, and different people kept coming and going with handbags. At no time did the same person discuss price, touch the merchandise or exchange anything. It was as if she was purchasing drugs or illegal arms, but everyone was much more paranoid.
For me, I just don't understand the whole handbag thing. I figure a good burlap bag can do the job as well as anything and is much more durable. You don't even need to save a seat on the subway for it.
Here's one of those little disconnects that make New York City as disconcerting as a chicken rendering plant:
Check out this lovely sign outside a local cleaners. Look familiar? If you live in New York, it does, because almost EVERY dry cleaner has the same type of art stuck to their windows. It's either a dowdy horned-rim glasses-toting elderly woman or a nebbish-looking man in a striped shirt. They are breathtakinging old-school and obsessively caucasian.
The disconnect? These people don't exist. In every dry cleaner, the proprietor is either Chinese or Korean. Nothing wrong with that. But how about a little truth in advertising in the windows, guys?
I'm just trying to get an apple to snack on. These dirty-water hot dogs and gyros (still not sure how to say that) are nice, but I wanted to eat healthy.
Went to a couple of very fancy apple stores today, but couldn't find a darn piece of fruit in them. My friends in Ellijay need to take some of this year's crop and rush them up to New York City perty fast. There's a big market for them, and these big glass apple stores are plumb out.