To say that New York City is amazing is very much an understatement; it is mind-boggling. The engineering, the infrastructure, that keeps this hive going is incredible; I’m always fascinated by the things that go on behind the scenes, the things people take for granted that keep any community going, and New York has this stuff in droves.
It's the giant pumps that are keeping me from drowning that are most on my mind as we drive through the Midtown Tunnel from Queens into Manhattan. Opened to traffic in 1940 and over 6000 feet in length, it carries nearly 18,000 cars into Manhattan on an average weekday morning, and even at one in the morning there’s quite a bit of traffic.
We emerge from the tunnel into a different world, and I am suddenly driving in Manhattan traffic, four cars wide we crush south, horns blaring, my rental a splash of blue in a sea of yellow and black and the occasional suicidal cyclist. The only way to survive this with your sanity intact is to join in. Don’t use your peripheral vision at all, imagine that you’re wearing blinders, ignore anything behind you, and if can see the tail lights of the car in front of you, you’re too far back, a Town Car will soon wedge his way in that spot. Oh, it helps to honk and yell out the window. All part of the show, folks, all part of the show.
We survive with no paint transfer and the adrenaline rush has me ready for food and drinks. We luck out and find a good parking spot in Greenwich Village, exit, and Keith leads the way toward…a fuckin’ Mexican restaurant. I just came from New Mexico where almost every restaurant is a Mexican restaurant, many of them very good, from the high-end gourmet southwestern cuisine of Mark Miller’s Coyote Café in Santa Fe to El Localito, the little burrito shack a block up the street from my place.
“Why are we going to a Mexican restaurant in New York?” I want to know. “They have great drinks,” Keith answers. Well, that sells me on the place, and pretty soon we’re sitting at Panchito’s and I’m enjoying a really good margarita and chips with pretty damned good salsa. The waitress is nice too. Keith’s a little disappointed though as Panchito’s no longer has the extensive drink selection he remembered and we soon move on.
Next is Mamoun’s for falafel and spinach pie, the former is excellent and latter…not so much, I love spanakopita (in fact, I’m tossing one in the oven right now), but this is just tepid boiled spinach with little seasoning wrapped in greasy, soggy phyllo. On the upside, unlike someone else eating his way through New York City’s street food this night, I will not be constipated later. We walk around Greenwich Village for a while then stop for pizza at a tiny place that I’ve lost the name of (the pizza was ok, just ok) and talk to some young Navy guys and some long-stemmed young ladies who have apparently just walked off of a catwalk as we all stand on the street corner eating our slices, momentarily occupying the same few square feet, brought together from every corner of the country by bread slathered with tomato sauce and melted cheese. So, maybe the pizza was better than ok.
I’m pretty sure there was another bar in there somewhere, but I don’t remember it, then I popped into a tiny shop to get my souvenir buying out of the way. I pay way, way too much for a few t-shirts, but I am happy to have this chore out of the way early in the trip instead of right before leaving for the flight home.
At Seventh Avenue and Bleeker Street we pass Bleeker Street Pizza. It’s covered in signs proclaiming it the best pizza in New York City, according to the New York Post and the Food Network, so I’ve got to try it, and yeah, it’s flippin’ awesome. I’ll try the pies at Tony Mangieri’s place, Una Pizza Napoletana (along a lot of other places) before I claim that this is the best pizza in the City, but it shouldn’t be missed.
By now we’re wandering back toward the car and by the time we get to it I’ve got to piss like a…why the hell does a Russian racehorse have to piss any worse than any other horse…but the bars and restaurants are behind us and now I just want to get the 45 minute drive to our beds over with. It’s almost four in the morning and we’re parked along a little sliver of a park, so I just go right there behind the car. Yes, I did.