New York After The Crash
April 2009©Nigel Spiers

Crash, what crash? There are no bankers begging on the streets and we have yet to see a single financier throw himself out of a skyscraper. In fact the streets, shops, restaurants and theatres are full and everyone here seems to be as positive and perky as always.

It’s the Sunday before Easter and the Big Apple has turned on a sensational spring day as we stroll up 42nd street to the Harlem Gospel Choir brunch at BB King’s club. The choir (7 singers and 3 piece band) is even better than we remembered and the entrance fee including lunch is reasonable. If you are a Soul fan and love the music of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles,

Etta James and Beyoncé then this is where it all started – so git your sorry ass down here right now!
The Harlem Gospel Choir Sunday Brunch - A must do.

By the way - if you get a chance take a look at the "Cadillac Records" film – the story of the rise of Chess records in the 50’s and 60’s with Beyoncé as Etta James – yummmmmy!

In the afternoon we take a 10 minute taxi ride to the Guggenheim museum on 5th Avenue opposite Central Park (taxis are good value here especially for 2 – 4 people travelling together). The building, inside and out is even more spectacular than I imagined however the art was lackluster with too many “installations” and second rate examples of the modern masters.

To end the day we take a walk and do some people watching in Central Park. All the guide books rate this 843 acres of meandering paths, lakes, zoo, skating rink and beautiful gardens in their New York top ten things to do. I reckon it’s in the top five - there is simply so much to see and around every corner and over every rise is another surprise and another amazing vista.
Central Park - A Must Do (several times).

Monday morning and I ask Ronnie, the hotel concierge, which comedy club we should visit tonight.
"That’s real easy – go to Carolines on 50th and Broadway"
"Really – that’s the best comedy club?” I reply"
"I don’t get no respect around here" he says and when I look a bit confused he says
"Ya know Dangerfield don’tcha? – that’s a bit of New York schtick for ya"
"Oh right yes Rodney Dangerfield” I say “Does he still have a club here?"
"Rodney is still the boss in my book mac - hey I’ll give ya some Dangerfield listen;

Little boy says to his father – hey dad I want to go ice skating and his dad says son why don’t we wait for it to get a little warmer eh".

And then as an after thought Ronnie says;
"You know what - just the other day I said to my dear wife Mawtha - shows smows – who needs Broadway anyway? When her relatives come to stay I say to em hey you wanna spend a thousand bucks on a show, dinner and drinks? Do yourself a favour I tell em, go to a comedy club, have some larfs and you’ll be home under a hundred and fifty."

Just to be sure I also ask the bellhop and he says Carolines too so off we all go to the 7.00 pm early show.
Have you ever been drunk on laughter? We roll out after 2 hours paralytic, aching, exhausted and still laughing when we get back to the hotel. This is stand up comedy at its finest and this is how it works in NYC. The compere starts the show. He has a nose that Barbara Streisand would admire and his job is to warm up the audience for the canon fodder. These are the four youngsters that come on first and a couple of them are so nervous it’s a miracle the microphone doesn’t jump right out of their shaking hands. Meanwhile the compere sits at the back of the room with his head in his hands and if they are really floundering he rushes back onto the stage with a big cheesy grin and yells “Hey give it up for the fastest rising comedy act in New York” and ushers the poor sod into the wings. Around eight the pros come on and they tear the place apart. The best is a guy called Darrell Hammond who is the longest serving member of the "Saturday Night Live" cast. His impersonations of George Bush and how he has changed the English language are absolutely brilliant.

So what makes the pros so good? They have learned to love space and they are not scared of silence. They use it, work it, milk it and kneed it like a potter at the wheel.
Carolines – a must do.

Comedy is big in NYC – at least as big as music with hundreds of dedicated clubs playing 7 nights a week. So who is to blame for all this comedy? He didn’t start it but he is still the reigning champ – Jerry Seinfeld. His classic TV show "Seinfeld" which ran for only nine seasons in the 80’s and early 90’s is still rerun daily on many television networks around the world and even Oliver and Georgina have a favourite character from the series. Mine is Newman – remember "Noimin". Roz could never understand why I never missed an episode but you only have to walk round the streets of New York for a few hours to realize that the city is full of Elaine’s, George’s and Kramer’s and everybody here is a budding comedian or at least a wise guy with a PHD in mouth.

It’s 7.00 pm on Wednesday and before we go to see Billy Elliott on Broadway we pile into O’Grady’s on 8th Avenue for a quick snack and a few drinks. The place is jumping with dozens of bustling waiters doing the pre-show shuffle and New Yorkers doing what they love best:
1. Talking
2. Eating
3. Talking with their mouth full
Everyone we talk to seems to agree that Billy Elliott will scoop the Tony’s pool this year. The show has crossed the Atlantic in fine style and is the current darling of Broadway and has even stolen the hard hearts of the New York Times’ critics. Elton John has written the show’s score and the auther Lee Hall has written the lyrics. However don’t expect any magical Eltonesque melodies – in fact the singing and songs are turgid and the acting is a little ho hum. What sets this show apart are the dancing and choreography which are sensational. We were lucky enough to see the world tapping champ in the lead roll of Billy – strewth! We were on our feet cheering with the rest of the audience in the finale.
Billy Elliott - if you are into dance its a must.

Thursday is another gorgeous spring day here in NYC and so we head down to Greenwich Village for lunch and a stroll. We start at Washington Square, up 5th Avenue one block and turn left at 8th Street – still the hippest street in Manhatten and shoe heaven at 30-50% off the mid-town prices. We take a right at 6th Avenue and left again at Christopher Street – the birth place of the U.S. gay rights movement in the 60’s. Across 7th Avenue and here there are shops and boutiques to meet every erotic

taste. My favourite is “Boot & Saddle” where some of the staff appear to be wearing nothing at all. We turn left again on Bleecker Street, the home of independent record and CD stores and time for lunch at one of the many sidewalk cafes. Left again on MacDougal Street and we are back to Washington Square which is undergoing a Spring revamp that has forced all the musicians into one corner. This is not a place to be seen it’s a place to perform. There are jugglers, buskers, actors and bands and we stop to enjoy The Babysitters trad. jazz band playing up a storm for tips. For a $10 tip you can take a copy of their latest CD as well. The Village is a great nighttime scene but even better during the day.
The Village - A must do.

Friday – a last stroll in Central Park, dinner in Pershing Square and then back to our Hotel on 42nd Street right next to The Chrysler building. There’s a little softness in the air, as the Irish say, and the famous scalloped tower pierces the clouds.

New York – still magic.

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