The marines started chanting “USA USA USA” and cheered. Someone chimed in “That was AWESOME”. ‘Murica.

Does anyone on a holiday have licence to grumble? You’re in the privileged position of having the means to temporarily leave your everyday millings and escape to a place of leisure and adventure. By the very nature of this, everything automatically needs to be rosy, right? Well I’m taking my chance to look for the thorns in this rose, because I can. Because while it’s absolutely a privilege to get away from everything back home, not everything’s rosy.

Accommodation. We were sorted, were. We had a place in East Harlem, closer to the meat of the city. Last time I came to New York I was in the heart of Bedford-Stuyvesant. It was a neat location to be crammed together with a bunch of friends. Bedford is slowly becoming gentrified and different areas hold their own appeal. In East Harlem we were to stay at the place of a friend of a friend. It fell through on Sunday, so instead we ended up with a last minute AirBnB place right around the corner from the last AirBnB place I stayed at. It would’ve been nice to have fresh new surroundings around us, but I guess The Rolling Stones knew what they were talking about. I can’t grumble too much. We’ve got somewhere to put our bags, which is all we really needed. It feels a bit further away from everything than I wanted, taking about 40 minutes to get into the city. We’re also lodging with a trio of older Québécois, who get up a few hours earlier then fuss about in the kitchen (directly adjacent to the closet we’re staying in) talking loudly. I’m averaging maybe 4-5 hours of sleep a night at this stage and I’m waking up exhausted. It’s definitely colouring the trip. A little bit of sunshine though, is that I managed to find good coffee under than 10 minutes walk away.

Food. I had high hopes for the food, which I knew would be hard to match. We’ve been failing to reach them spectacularly. The first time was my bad, no doubt. I’d been told to sink my teeth into some ribs at a place called Dinosaur Barbecue. Being about 20 minutes away, it wasn’t close, but not inconceivably far. It wasn’t cheap either. I thought to myself do I go for it and say fuck it because we’re on holiday, or find somewhere more reasonable? I did. Turns out Dallas Barbecue was cheaper and closer, but if quality was on the menu, I had a hard time seeing it. It became apparent that it was part of a chain franchise. The portions were fine, but the food was relatively tasteless. No authentic smokiness or rich flavours to enjoy. No succulent meat that dropped off the bone. Food that tasted like it was vat grown. The corn was juicy, but watery. The salad looked and tasted like it should’ve been served on an airline. How can you get eliminate the natural sweetness of corn? It wasn’t just my stomach grumbling. The whole restaurant was absurd. Tables as far as the eye could see. Big flatscreen TVs wall to wall playing rap/R&B videos. Frozen alcoholic slushies the size of your head in all colours of the rainbow. I crossed BBQ off our bucket list o’ food, but I didn’t feel good about it.

Before we left I’d said “no chains”. If we were to be in NYC and enjoy the multitudinous cuisine on offer, we could do better than a bunch of chain restaurants. Apparently not, because we kept ending up at them. Meeting up with friends from New Zealand who we’re coming through at the same time, we went with them to meet up with some of their friends (at some chain called Lucy). Some commodified approximation of a Hawaiian dream. Large glasses with beer slushies, frozen margaritas and nachos? We picked up a bowl of guacamole, which was fine. Fine. Did I expect too much of New York? I was expecting flavours to gush out of my every orifice, but apparently not. Apparently we get fine. I needed to get out of there and actually explore the city, so we made our leave and walked around central park, which was actually really neat. There was a large art exhibit going on with a variety of environment focused works and performances. The best of which was a solar powered ice cream truck giving out free ice cream, the colour of which would match the current temperature. The hotter it was, the reddder the ice cream would be. Ours was a strong yellow, perfect complement to a warm day.

I finally managed to get along to Rudy’s Bar and Grill, holy grail of dive bars. Serving a beer and a shot for $5 and a free hotdog with every drink you ordered, this was my kind of low class establishment. You know what? Those free hot dogs are probably the best thing we’ve eaten since we arrived. Simple, but I’m not used to hot dogs being so packed full of meaty flavour. Usually they’re fun to eat, but bland meat. I expected something insubstantial to line the stomach. These were very surprisingly delicious. Go Rudy’s. We left Rudy’s still hungry and wandered around for somewhere good. It’s hard to find anywhere stellar, because apparently people are shitty at rating restaurants on Google. We found a diner, looked at the menu and got out of there. We wanted a good meal and felt no obligation to stay just because they’d bought us water. Rudy’s had given me more hope. We could find this great food I’d been craving. Spoilers, we didn’t. After walking for about 20 minutes to find this place my friends had seen earlier, I took one look at it and knew exactly what we were getting. It looked and felt like a burger variant of Dallas BarbecueBills Burgers was another chain, but after all this wandering I didn’t feel like raising my concerns to the others. Everyone just wanted to eat. So we did. The burgers were mediocre. The alcoholic milkshakes were actually pretty damn tasty and by the end we were just so exhausted that it didn’t really matter. Despite wishes to head out and see more of the city, it was almost midnight by this point and we knew that our French buddies at home would punish us severely for eschewing any chance of sleep we had.

So here’s to today. Staying out of the city centre and everything awful that epitomises the downtown core. No more grumbles, we’re on holiday.

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