NEW YORK — There are times when things work out.
We flew Delta’s basic budget fare here, which means we didn’t have seat assignments and were throwing ourselves on the mercy of the airline. We figured we’d be placed in the way back, and probably separated. But the leg to Detroit was a little more than 90 minutes, and then we’d have an hour or so to LaGuardia. Short hops. Put your head down and save the budget.
At least there were no middle seats on the Little Rock to Detroit segment; the coach arrangement was two and two.
But when we presented ourselves in Little Rock, we were granted an exit row—maybe because Delta’s computer system retained some ancestral memory of the Platinum status we’d briefly enjoyed in the 1990s, but more likely because those seats are generally held back until a gate agent can eyeball the customer and make a judgment as to whether they’re able-bodied enough to handle (writing “manhandle” would be sexist, I’ve decided) the 40- or whatever pound door in the event of an emergency. Anyway, we were lucky and grateful.
Then in Detroit (nice airport, by the way) on a capacity flight we were put in seats 13 B and C, a middle and an aisle near enough the front of the plane that we scored the minor amenities that accrue to the “comfort plus” passenger. (Which surely to God doesn’t include slightly more legroom, does it? Please say it doesn’t.)
Although we were required to board in the absolute last group—after all the preboarders (they actually say “anyone” who’d like a “little extra time” might “board at this time” but though I certainly would, I never do, and that’s probably prudent), the SkyMiles Priority members, main cabins one, two, three and four—in the shameful “basic economy” caste, and assumed there would be no overhead bin room in which to stash our soft-sided under-seat-stashable bags. Yet miraculously, there was a completely empty bin directly across from us.
It was very exciting. So much so that I actually tossed my backpack, which I intended to put under the seat in it. Which meant when I pulled out the inflight magazine to do the crossword puzzle and the charm held and it had not been defaced by the clueless goon who always seems to have been the immediate previous occupier of my seat and who thinks the answer for the question “wine: prefix” is “vino” rather than “oeno,” I didn’t have access to a pen and I had to ask Karen if I could borrow one of hers, which gave her the opportunity to ask me: “What kind of journalist are you that you don’t have a pen?”
Anyway, there was absolutely no reason to complain about the flights, even though I am sensitive to the way the airlines try to maximize their revenue by setting us against each other by dividing us into classes. I would almost pay the extra $25 for the right to board early, just to avoid standing there while the main cabin ones, twos and threes flounce past. I would so like to be sitting smugly in my personally selected aisle seat as they struggle past with their unholy rolling bags. I don’t begrudge first class to anyone willing to pay for it (though I know most times I’ve flown first class I surely wasn’t paying for it) but in the end we’re getting off at the same destination.
Which for us leads to the M60 bus and on to the subway, which we learned to negotiate years ago and now use with the same sort of pride and glee our new puppies displayed after learning to flap through their dog door. But this time we were disrupted by the news that Astoria station, where we normally pick up the train to downtown, was closed, and so we had to ride the bus all the way into Manhattan and take a train from Harlem. Which we managed to do, even though I insisted on getting off the bus a stop early simply because the bus was crowded and I wanted to be out in the bright air.
But we reached the station soon enough, and Karen got directions (turns out we could have gone the wrong direction, but we couldn’t have taken the wrong line) and emerged on Canal
Street amid the fake Rolex and Louis Vuitton hawkers and our hotel just about the time we’d planned on.
From there it was a few blocks to the Tribeca Film Festival central command, where for some reason the main entrance was closed. A helpful staffer was stationed to direct us through an alley to the back door where we waited in a long but briskly moving line for an elevator up to the fifth floor to a sleepy press room where they not only had our credentials ready but lanyards from which we could suspend them. (One year they ran out and we improvised with shoelaces.)
So we grabbed coffee and bottles of expensive flavored water and headed to the theater where the press screenings are being held this year on Second Avenue between 11th and 12th streets and managed to catch most of a extraordinary Scottish documentary called Scheme Birds about young people living in suburban housing projects (“schemes”) outside Glasgow. And we sank into the festival.
After that, we made it over to a surprisingly exclusive party hosted by a studio we’d never heard of, for a project we still don’t understand, held in a 19th-century five-story Chelsea brownstone that’s now a private club for the city’s arty set. They had fish and chips and burgers but we found out a little too late that it was not an open bar, though the Cabernet was quite nice. (Expense chit to follow.)
Then through Greenwich Village, over to the Bowery, back to the Tribeca complex for a nightcap (they’re pushing Johnny Walker Black and Bulleit bourbon this year) then back to the hotel where, despite some laggy Wi-Fi, we watched a screener of another documentary, this one set in south Memphis, that touched on some of the same issues as Scheme Birds. (We are the pattern-seeking animal. We don’t have to look, we just find them naturally.)
Then, lights out with the city banging and beeping seven floors below us, the window opened the jumper-proofed four inches it will yield. And a brisk and eerie New York Sunday morning, Broadway empty as the heart of an absentee landlord.
Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at email@example.com and read his blog at blooddirtandangels.com.
Print Headline: PHILIP MARTIN: Live from New York