Entry for June 28, 2007: NYC Part 1 — friends and "Spamalot"

On Sunday, June 17, Janice and I took an Amtrak train from the Route 128 station near Boston to New York's Penn Station. I caught up on newspapers on the way. We then walked uptown through bustling Time Square to the Belvedere Hotel, where our room was small but comfortable.

After settling in and starting to explore the neighborhood between the theater district and Central Park South, we met Brian D.H., Steve A.L., and Carlo R. I've known Carlo for 25 years, since our time at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, New York, and I've been friends with Steve and Brian since freshman year of college at the State University of New York at Binghamton. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see Steve's wife Michele and son Nathaniel, but we hope to get together when they come to New England in July.

We went to dinner at Daisy Mae's Barbeque on the West Side. While crowded and pressed for time, the food was good, and it was nice to catch up with old friends. At Brian's suggestion, we tried dessert at "Kyotofu," a Japanese restaurant. We also walked down to the Hudson River, although the U.S.S. "Intrepid" aircraft carrier/museum was away for renovations.

On Monday, June 18, Janice and I walked downtown. We ate lunch at Two Boots Pizza in the architecturally impressive Grand Central Station and visited the Compleat Strategist, a gaming shop. Janice had expressed interest in going up the Empire State Building, but the potential expense and time in line changed our minds. Although we hiked as far south as Union Square, next time we're in Manhattan, we hope to get to the Village and/or South Street Seaport.

That evening, we met Carlo, Dexter V.H., and Erik B.L. & Wei T.L. at our hotel. College chum Dex had visited us a few weeks ago, and Carlo was a good sport in spending more time on the train from Westchester County to see us.

Wei and Erik, a friend from grad school who was recovering from a chest cold similar to what Janice and I have been suffering from, called my cell phone so that we could rendezvous a bit early. Erik & Wei's adorable daughter Emma stayed home with a babysitter. Thus, Erik & Wei, Dexter, Janice, and I walked down to Carmine's, a "family style" Italian restaurant. (See group photograph above.) Dex and I ran back toward the Belvedere to pick up Carlo, and there was more than enough food for everyone.

Carlo pondered philosophy, Dexter discussed various role-playing games, and Erik & Wei chatted about family and genre television. The restaurant was a bit loud for conversation, and since everyone else had to go to work the next day, we called it an early night. I did watch some of HBO's lineup at our hotel.

On Tuesday, June 19, Janice and I walked uptown to the Museum of Natural History, which had a special exhibit on cryptozoology. The full-scale mockups of dragons, a unicorn and a gryphon, and other legendary creatures were well-done, although we were already familiar with most of the books in the gift shop thanks to our interest in comparative mythology and religion. I had originally hoped to meet former Boston-area gamer Ted A.H. at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but his wife Sarah D.S. had just given birth to their second child.

Janice and I ate a nice New York dinner at the Olympic Diner, changed clothes, then walked to Broadway for "Monty Python's Spamalot." I've been a fan of the British comedy troupe since watching reruns of the 1960s and 1970s episodes on PBS in high school. Friends who attended our wedding in rural Pennsylvania in 1995 even watched "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" on video!

The amusing stage show also incorporates elements of other Python skits and makes fun of melodramatic musicals in the style of Andrew Lloyd Webber. While we missed "Spamalot's" first run in Manhattan and Boston, we did run into former cast member and "Frasier" co-star David Hyde Pierce, who's now in another show, while browsing in the Borders Books at Columbus Circle before dinner!

The actors gave fine performances, reminding us of both the original "Holy Grail" spoof and of the more recent initial cast, which included Tim Curry ("Rocky Horror Picture Show"), Hank Azaria ("Birdcage"), and Alan Tudyk ("Serenity"). Attractive showgirls, prancing knights, insolent Frenchmen, and flying cows — what more can one ask for?

I did notice that theatergoers ranged in the formality of their attire, from shorts, T-shirts, and sneakers to suits and gowns. However, by the time Janice and I walked around Time Square to find dessert, most of the tourists and pedestrians were dressed less casually by evening. On the one hand, the crowds and bright lights energized me, and I felt safe as a tourist in the family-friendly atmosphere. On the other hand, I miss the seedy and slightly more artistic than commercial tone of the theater district prior to Rudy Giuliani's administration.

Next time, Part 2 of our New York trip!

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