Monday, 11 August 2014

Rain, Rocky And Turd Tiramisu

More rain. Friday’s weather is rank. Drearier than a Vince Vaughan DVD box-set. We’ve been here almost a week and we still haven’t done any of New York’s three biggies. Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Centre. They’re all out in this weather. You don’t want to go up there on anything but a clear day unless you really have to. The views would be decidedly underwhelming under these dark skies.

On a day like this the most sensible way of getting around the city looks to be the hop-on, hop-off tour bus. Most major cities now have buses that take you around all of their major sightseeing landmarks with the freedom to get on and off whenever and wherever you like along a pre-determined route. Serving its role as the access police this column should point out that the versions in Stratford-Upon-Avon and Los Angeles are inaccessible. Happily there are no such problems here, so the plain is to ride down to Wall Street and the financial district, hoping that the weather improves enough to take a peek at the Brooklyn Bridge.

Tour bus tickets are sold aggressively in New York. There’s an agent seemingly on every corner and they seem a pretty determined bunch. They have the persistence of Scrat from Ice Age, chasing that stupid acorn all across the frozen lands. But it's a means to an end rather than a permanent demeanour. The one we encounter drops that act as soon as she gets our attention, opting instead for the air of someone who has done us a monumental favour. She was garbling on about
doing us a deal on the Brooklyn route and the uptown route but we don’t want either. We leave her to her self-satisfaction and trudge over to join the queue at the nearest stop, just across the street. Waterproof ponchos are the order of the day. There’s barely a single person in the queue without one. Well, there is. There’s us. But as
it turns out we have the least need for precipitation protection garments. Another aggressive agent tells me to jump straight to the front of the queue, assuring me that we’ll be on the next bus. I have no qualms about playing the disability card in this situation. I don’t throw my hands up and protest about how I want to be treated equally or
else I’m going to chain myself to a fence. Disability is a turd flavoured tiramisu, so take the perks.

The pendulum swings again when we get on the bus. I don’t know how old this bus is but it has not been designed to withstand this kind of soaking. The floor resembles that of your average gents toilet as great puddles of water decorate the surface. There’s only a very small area of accessible seating (see what I mean about the pendulum and taking the perks?) and Emma finds out just too late that the seat closest to where I am positioned is soaked right through. Her mood
matches the weather for the majority of the bus’s slow crawl through the heavy New York traffic, but it’s understandable.

It takes the best part of an hour but by the time we reach the financial district the weather has improved considerably. The sun is out and things are quickly drying up. The streets are unexpectedly and inconveniently cobbled. We wander (and in my case judder) through the financial district which is not as plush and polished as I had imagined but you get a real sense that something important goes on around here. We pass the New York stock exchange and I'm again surprised that there aren't that many people walking around on the street outside wearing sharp suits and carrying possibly empty brief cases. Maybe they are all inside shouting about money that doesn't exist. If you believe what you see on terrible Hollywood biopics then maybe they are all out engaging in various methods of crass and humourless debauchery. Or maybe there is more truth in the far superior Wall Street films and they are all out preaching that greed is good. Either way it is quieter than I had expected.

We pass on through the picturesque harbour area, stopping for the obligatory photo opportunities. We can see the Brooklyn Bridge from this vantage point so it is suprising that it takes around another 20 minutes or so to get to it. It's hot and uphill for most of the way. I'm starting to flag but I'm not going to stop here. I eventually make it around three quarters of the way across the bridge but it's a painful, mostly uphill slog. My shoulders are screaming at me. It's fair to say my fitness is not what it was when I was masquerading as an athlete all those years ago. I stop for a short rest at the first of the bridge's giant arches before carrying on to the second. One or two more and I'm probably in Brooklyn but the view is pretty good from here. I can see the Statue of Liberty in the distance. It's a tiny dot from this far away but I can clearly make out the green of the world's most famous torch and tablet carrier from across the Hudson. That clump of land underneath it must be Liberty Island, then. If we can manage a reliably clear day before we fly home then we will get to see it from much closer quarters. The weather forecast is much better for tomorrow. It's getting late and so taking the tour bus back is not really an option. We have another visit to the theatre tonight and the endless fight through the traffic will make us late. So, having learned the lessons of yesterday's fiasco, we take the subway. The closest station to our current location is inaccessible, naturally, so we amble up to the next one in the heat with my back and shoulders burning more from over-use than from the hot sunshine. I complain when it rains, I complain when the sun shines.

After tea it's off to Winter Gardens on Broadway for the main event of the evening. Rocky The Musical. Pardon the punnage. Is punnage a word? The beer is slightly more expensive than even in the Lunt Fontanne, but that is my only complaint about a splendid evening. Unfathomably, Rocky The Musical is closing shortly. If I remember rightly this is due to mixed reviews. I'm not sure anything should close down due to mixed reviews, particularly not anything this good. After all, reviews are only the opinion of writers and many writers, regular readers may have noticed, are noticably more entertaining when they are being negative. It's just easier to entertain that way. Nobody reads Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard because they want to know about how happy I am and what a fantastic day I have had and how good Rihanna
is. They read because they want anecdotes about the ignorance of the able bodied population, and comparisons between desserts and human waste. If they read, that is.

For me the only slight disappointment is the music. The famous Rocky theme is used liberally and there's a welcome outing of Eye Of The Tiger, but if you ever do get a chance to see it don't go in expecting Hearts On Fire and No Easy Way Out, and that spectacular training montage piece so beloved of television producers in the 1990's. That said, the music holds it's own but it is the performance of Andy Karl in the role made famous by Sylvester Stallone that really stands out. The actor playing Paulie, Rocky's loud-mouthed and obnoxious brother-in-law, is too tall and too hairy to evoke memories of Burt Young's epic turn, but his is a solid performance too. The climactic fight scene is astonishing as the boxing ring slowly juts out towards the audience as those in the first several rows leave their seats to take up new ones on the other side of the ring to create what looks like an authentic boxing arena. Specifially the Philadelphia Spectrum. Then there are the ring entrances. The actors playing Rocky and Apollo Creed enter from the back of the theatre, walking down the aisles right in amongst the audience at the front of the newly positioned ring. The fight itself is clearly coreographed but not lacking in excitement for all of that. The whole thing is just brilliantly done and indescribably enthralling. Or maybe you have to be a Rocky fan like me.

I can tell you it was Emma's favourite part of the whole holiday.

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