Hello there. I’m presently camped out next to the fireplace in the restaurant of the Roosevelt Hotel in New York, watching as dozens of men and women in dark suits sit huddled in padded chairs at round tables, speaking business-ese in low voices. Even at 10 in the morning, many of them have their jackets off already, slung over the chair as they shuffle through papers with colleagues. I’m not certain exactly what they’re doing, but it makes for great people watching. It’s like a slightly bizarre Agatha Christie novel.
The snow that fell on Tuesday night was more a pretty snow than an inconvenient one — and even with six inches of the stuff on the ground, the roads were clear. Not that it mattered to me that much — taking Barb’s advice, I had stayed at the Microtel near the airport, meaning I only had to make the mile-long sprint to the train station. I headed for the station at 8:15 or so, lugging a full box of books that had been presold for the Thursday night event, and cramming the rest into my suitcase, so that it was more full of books than clothes.
The tracks at BWI station looked good.
The train tracks were clear — though a speeding southbound Acela still kicked up an enormous cloud of snow and ice as it hurled past on its way to Washington, DC — and the Northeast Regional trains were running just as casually on time as ever, which means they were running about five minutes late. As I always do, I headed for the quiet car, threw my suitcase and the box of books in an overhead bin, and slouched down into a window seat on the left side of the train. (I always sit on the left side, because I like the good view I get of the bridge in Trenton, NJ, with the sign declaring that TRENTON MAKES, THE WORLD TAKES). Naturally, it didn’t take long for the quiet car to be infiltrated by loudmouths who had no idea they were in the quiet car — one gentleman perched himself on the back of a seat to engage his two colleagues in a loud conversation, only to be kidney punched by a conductor who shooed them all into a rear car. Apart from that, things went smoothly.
I arrived at Penn Station only 20 minutes late, giving me a bit more than an hour to make it to the 1:30 lunch I’d set up to chat about Project Blue Harvest. It was meant to be a casual lunch — I had e-mailed My Friend last week, mentioning I would be in town and offering to take him to lunch. But he threw me a change up and very generously offered to take me out instead. His restaurant of choice? Morton’s. “I hope you like steak,” he said to me in an e-mail, and was therefore unable to see me wiping drool off the keyboard.
I took a cab to my hotel — the Roosevelt, as I mentioned above, one of New York’s grander of the old hotels, and still oozing with, appropriately enough, Roosevelt-era charm — only to learn that my room was not yet ready. The clerk checked me in anyway and steered me to the bellman’s stand, where I could have my suitcase and box stowed until I returned after lunch. My bags were taken by a stooped Italian bellhop, who winked that he would take special care of my bags and had me follow him downstairs to a storage room that he swore was some sort of secret chamber in the basement that held the bags of only the most special of guests. I swallowed hard as he moved my bags into a cold, garage-like area, uncertain whether I would ever see them again. Not wanting to appear ungrateful, I then tipped him way too well.
The Roosevelt's lobby.
I made my lunch meeting in plenty of time — it was a three-minute walk from my hotel — and actually arrived at the restaurant before My Friend did. I was waiting in the bar, watching New York through an enormous plate glass window, when I suddenly developed one of my Famous Spontaneous Nosebleeds. I ran sniffing to the restroom, where it took about twenty minutes to get the darn thing under control. When I finally emerged and walked back toward the bar, I spotted My Friend sitting at a side table. I slid into a chair across from him, we shook hands warmly, and spent the next two hours talking about politics, television, travel, and debating exactly why cable news sucks. Oh yeah, and we even talked about my project, too.
We also stuffed ourselves to near explosive levels. Steaks, baked potatoes, crab cakes, shrimp cocktails, green beans, carmelized onions (one of My Friend’s favorites), creamed spinach . . . it just seemed to keep coming. Turns out My Friend’s a semi-regular, and the waiters, waitresses and management checked on us regularly, very kindly keeping drinks filled and clearing plates away, sometimes even as we were still taking the last crumbs from them. All in all, it was a terrific time.
I walked back to the Roosevelt, where I claimed my bags (to my relief, they were just fine), picked up my room key, then dropped into an armchair to have a quick chat with Barb, and then with Agent J.
I had a couple of e-mails I needed to send, so I fired up the laptop only to discover that this upscale hotel doesn’t offer free wireless. Really, Roosevelt? Fourteen bucks a day? Yeah, I bit — but aren’t we getting to a point where wireless should be among the basic amenities in a hotel? Most of the cheaper hotels seem to have gotten there (the Microtel in Baltimore, for example, had free wireless, though it was a bit slow). As a pal of mine pointed out, there’s an inverse relationship between the cost of the hotel and the availability of free wireless, because the more upscale the place, the more likely it is that a visit is being expensed. Unfortunately, it’s ME expensing it.
Was that a rant? Sorry.
Anyway, around 5:40, I started the 30-block walk up the island toward the Lexington District, where I was meeting Mark Bartlett, the head librarian for the New York Society Library, for dinner and drinks at an Irish pub. I made it by 6:30, and found Mark already enjoying an adult beverage at a back table, away from the noise of the bar. We talked for 90 minutes about books, college basketball, Peanuts comics, and J.D. Salinger; Mark dined on fish and chips, while I tore into a delicious shepherd’s pie. We had two beers each, and there was much rejoicing.
Yeah, I was stuffed. Again.
Despite my protestations, Mark insisted on picking up the check (I owe you when you come to DC, my friend) and we walked back along 77th until Mark ducked into the subway. I walked the thirty blocks back to the hotel, strolling slowly down Park Avenue, sleepy from good food and beer, but determined to walk all the way back rather than hailing one of the many cabs that seemed to taunt me as they rolled past at each street corner. I finally made it back to the hotel around 9:15, struggled to keep my eyes open for at least another hour and finally failed at about 10:30. A good day.
As I sit here now the next morning — whoops, make that afternoon now! — in the hotel restaurant, I’m texting Barb and Madi, who are coming up for the event at the St. Nicholas Society tonight. I’ll let you know how it goes.