“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” *
Breakfast is OK again but there are no bananas today like there were yesterday. It’s gloomy outside. And gloomy inside as well when I get an email cancelling the East Village Rock n Punk Tour walking tour I’d booked for this afternoon. It’s due to the impending rain storm created as a knock-on from Hurricane Florence. I’m massively disappointed but the weather forecast really is not good. I now have a think about what I might do later.
Walking Greenwich Village
First, I venture outside for my own walking tour of Greenwich Village. I’d researched a route covering all the famous music venues and then created a Maps route to guide me. This worked very well as I passed by such landmarks as The Blue Note, The Village Vanguard and Electric Lady Studios. The latter was made specifically for Hendrix and opened in 1970. Sadly, it does not offer tours. Everywhere is closed of course at this time of the morning but it was fun to see the places where so much of NYC’s music history was made over decades past.
I thought it might take a couple of hours but I’m back at the hotel just over an hour later, despite walking at quite a slow pace. Which was done for another reason, namely that the humidity is really high and it’s exceptionally warm, if not hot, at 81º F. The consequence is I’m sweating buckets when I get back, and have to towel down in the hotel room! I decide to put some shorts on! My next scheduled visit is not until 4 pm now. So I decide to visit Times Square to see how it’s changed since I was last here in Manhattan.
A subway ride uptown and I find the Square has become a lot more garish and commercialised since 20+ years ago. Not a surprise I suppose. It’s also very busy with tourists, again no surprise. I thought I’d walk up 7th Avenue to Central Park but then I remembered that the NFL had opened some sort of tourist attraction last year in Times Square. So I pop into a coffee shop for a coffee whilst I scan my phone for some details. I find it but it turns out it’s closing at the end of this month for good! Obviously not a success for some reason.
An NFL Experience
Whatever, I have little else to do so I walk a couple of blocks north, find the entrance to the NFL Experience and go in. $40 seems a bit steep to get in, but what the hell…
There’s a small display area to start with mementos from every NFL team plus an interactive video display where you can select famous moments from any team’s history. I of course spend most time on all the 49ers stuff, but also peruse a few other items as I walk along. We’re then ushered into a cinema-like auditorium for a film. There are dire health warnings before the film starts, like the show is not suitable for pregnant women, heart conditions and such like. But no-one leaves (there’s only about a dozen people in the place).
The film starts and we all discover the seats are motion-active. There’s a montage of game clips and the seats move, shudder and jolt you to kind-of match the on-screen action. So when a player is tackled, the seat rocks you about to simulate you being the recipient of the hit. It kinda just about works.
The next two floors have various ‘experiences’ where you can push on a blocking machine, try a vertical jump, throw an actual football at a target receiver on screen and play being the quarterback in another simulation. All in all, it’s OK but I’m not that surprised it is closing. It was fun for a couple of hours but maybe not $40-worth of fun.
Still rainin’ still dreamin’ **
Venturing back outside and the heavens have opened, with heavy pouring rain cascading onto 7th Avenue. So no walk in Central Park in this weather. And the walking tour was definitely a no-go given the downpour. Donning my waterproof jacket, I seek out lunch. I find a Subway a block west, and order a turkey and cheese sub inside, eating it in the back of the store.
After lunch, on leaving the store at 2 pm I discover the rain to be as heavy as ever. I shelter for a few minutes under some scaffolding on a building but the rain just gets worse. I’ll get soaked if I try and walk any distance, so on spying a Starbucks down the street, I walk as quickly as possible to get refuge inside. There aren’t many seats available but I cram into a corner and nurse a cappuccino for the next hour or so, amusing myself on my phone and hoping the rain will subside soon.
To The Rockefeller Center
Around 3.15 pm the rain has eased to a light drizzle so I leave to walk the few blocks to the Rockefeller Center. I’m doing the guided tour first at 4 pm then going up to the Observation Deck, or the Top of the Rock as it’s called. Not that I’ll probably see anything with the sky as it currently is. Indeed, on arrival for the tour we’re told there is zero visibility up Top. Great. And there are no refunds on my pre-paid ticket…
The tour starts and turns out to be very good, with headphones to hear the guide’s narration very clearly as we walk about. The Rockefeller Center is a fascinating place with remarkable architecture, all smack in the middle of NYC. The guide does a good job in telling of the history and background as well. It’s a tour well worth doing, and good value for money.
Top of the Rock
When the tour is over, as I pre-booked the Top of the Rock, the guide takes me and another couple to the entrance point for the Top. He asks a colleague about the visibility and we’re now told – “It’s clear.” Amazing, if true, that the sky has cleared so quickly. We get an elevator to take us up to the 67th Floor, and when I get outside onto the Rockefeller’s Deck and look out over Manhattan… it is perfectly clear! Yee-hah!
There are perfect panoramic views all around, with some blue sky and the sun poking out in places. I can see for ‘miles and miles’, it’s that clear. And what views. The Top of the Rock saves the day. Make sure you visit the Rockefeller Center and definitely go up to the “Top” – it’s well worth it. A security guy says the sunset is great but that’s an hour away and it’s already gone 6 pm. Plus there’s only a certain amount of time you can spend gazing over NYC before you’ve seen every angle three times. So time to head back to the hotel.
Back Out Into The Village
As I leave the Rockefeller Center I thought the rush hour on the subway might be bad but it’s OK, although still sweltering on the platforms. I get back to the hotel by 6.30 pm. I’ve done a lot of walking these past two days but I seem to be bearing up. After a quick rest I’m out and heading to the Red Lion again for Skip the Pianoman, plus food. Tonight is 10c wings night, which is obviously a big draw because the place is packed out with no room at the bar. I get a table facing the stage.
The server says the wings “aren’t that big, but what can you expect for 10 cents?” So I order 10 of them, expecting typical UK size. When they arrive, they are HUGE. Not as big as in Texas last year, but big all the same. They are also very good but so large I only manage to eat 9 of them. The bar remains full whilst I’m there but the wings must be the attraction.
Skip has ‘DJ’ with him, singing alongside the former’s vocals and keyboards. DJ is quite good but Skip is a bit one-dimensional with no variation in his playing style or vocals. His voice is always in the same tone, whatever the song, and his voice is not that good actually. The piano is electric but again there’s no tonal variation, just a monotonous drone. They play covers – Proud Mary, Let It Be, Kiss, and Superstition – and it’s reasonably average bar music. It’s not terrible, just OK. As my music appetiser tonight, and for food, it fitted the bill.
“Play That Funky Music” ***
But no rest for the wicked and I’m soon on the move again. It’s a 10 minute walk through the Village to Arthur’s Tavern, a venue offering music to the public for the past 81 years and counting, and still going strong. Tonight is EJ Sharpe and his Off The Hook Funk Band. The venue is quite small and half full by the time I arrive. There’s a jazz band in the early 7-10 pm slot, then it’s R&B from 10 ‘til late. The bar just oozes atmosphere, I can tell it’s a “real” music club. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. But sadly, as of mid-2021, Arthur’s was no longer “going strong”. The good news I discovered in 2023 however is that Arthur’s Tavern re-opened in April 2022!!
The barman is quite friendly and EJ kicks off just after 10. It’s definitely R&B as opposed to pure blues. They play covers including What’s Goin’ On, Play That Funky Music (White Boy) – from four black musicians! – and Rock With You. The band are real pros, the music is tight, very professional, with a great groove and vibe. Good stuff.
A Good Chat
An hour or so in, two young ladies – mid 30s I guess – sit at the bar to my right. Dyna, to my immediate right, is visiting her friend who lives in NYC. They are both English, Dyna’s a lawyer living in south London. Over the next hour or so we talk about life and the universe, but mostly she’s interested in my road trips, my philosophy of life in doing them, where I’m going, and details of past trips. She was brought up in Yorkshire and still has a strong accent. Me going to Bradford University helped a lot of course.
She was really good to talk to, but the band have turned up the volume and we’re almost shouting at each other now. Our chat became very intense and animated – in a positive way – but the consequence was that the music became a background blur after a while. So after the first hour I can’t comment on EJ and the boys, either what they played or how ‘good’ or not they were. It only dawned on me afterwards that I went to Arthur’s for the music but then missed half of it!
But Dyna was good fun and great company – apart from her garlic breath and regular little spittles of spit coming from her mouth. 😉 And I don’t regret talking to her at all. I didn’t talk to her friend at all, she’d got talking to some bloke on her right. Nearing midnight, with the band on a break, I knew I needed to leave in order to get enough sleep for a busy day tomorrow.
And A Good Night
On announcing my departure, Dyna got all emotional on me, and starting hugging me like we’d known each other for decades. “I’m really impressed by what you’re doing” she said, “Best of luck and have a great time.” And then she said: “You’ve said things to me tonight that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Throughout my life from now on, at various points as I think about doing things, you’ll be an inspiration to me.”
Crikey, I thought, that’s a bit heavy… And on that note, I said a final goodnight. Jeez, I thought, walking back to the hotel, I’m not sure what to make of that. She seemed genuinely affected by what we talked about, and appeared to be genuine herself: Yorkshire folk don’t tend towards bullshit or suffer fools gladly. Metaphorically, I appear to have really “touched a nerve” in her. I hope she does gain some inspiration from my travels, but more importantly, that she does something about it.
I felt disappointed earlier about the walking tour being cancelled. Wasting an hour inside Starbucks was also no-one’s idea of fun, but the day didn’t turn out too bad in the end. Tomorrow I pick up the car, depart New York and the road trip officially begins.
* A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall by Bob Dylan – appropriate given I’m in Greenwich Village!
** Still Raining’ Still Dreamin’ by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
*** Play That Funky Music by Wild Cherry