Christmas in New York

Last month Sarah got me a really cool birthday present: tickets to see Jim Gaffigan perform at the Best Buy Theater in New York City. Since Sarah’s birthday is only a couple of days before mine, we decided to make it a month-late joint birthday celebration and go up for the entire weekend. Sarah had never seen the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza, she had never seen Jim Gaffigan live, I was itching to get back to the National Comedy Theatre and watch a show, and neither of us had seen our pal Adi perform her stand-up live. What a great way to kill 4 birds with one stone. Or at least a couple of turtle doves.

We booked our train and hotel tickets and made yet another trek to our favorite city within a reasonable train-riding distance. We arrived without incident at our hotel and walked down to the comedy theater on 36th street where I knew our reservations were waiting for us. I had contacted my pal Kevin at NCT and let him know we were coming. There was a bit of a mix-up in our pre-NYC conversation. I thought I was letting him know we would be there to watch the show; Kevin thought I was letting him know I would be there to be in the show. As we got to the NCT doors, which hadn’t opened yet to the public, we had this entertaining text message exchange:

Fri Dec 17 6:45pm. Me to Kevin:
Hey dude. What time are you at the theater tonight? Sarah and I have tix for the early

Fri Dec 17 6:45pm. Kevin to Me:
You are playing the early show dude

Fri Dec 17 6:46pm. Me to Kevin:
Dude you are so mistaken

Fri Dec 17 6:48pm. Kevin to Me:
We saved a spot for you to play and you have to play

Fri Dec 17 6:51pm. Me to Kevin:
Dude I already paid for my ticket

Fri Dec 17 6:51pm. Kevin to Me:
Refund and you are playing

Fri Dec 17 6:53pm. Me to Kevin:
Dude who else is playing? I think most of the gang I knew is gone. Improv + strangers = awkward improv.

Fri Dec 17 6:54pm. Kevin to Me:
Dave and me and Andrew is all you need to know. You are playing.

Shortly after, Kevin came to the front entrance and let us in. As we made our way down to the green room Kevin continued to insist I was playing while I continued to give him reasons why I shouldn’t. Not only had I not played for nearly a year and a half, I also wasn’t wearing the proper NCT-approved improv attire, which included black track pants and gym shoes.

It wasn’t long before I realized my arguments were falling on deaf ears and I knew I would be playing. I was introduced to Stephanie and Zoe who were also in the show that night and Kevin found me a pair of pants and gym shoes I could borrow. Why they had so many spare pairs of pants and shoes – and whose they were – I tried not to think about.

The show went on and I had a blast. Although it had been so long since I did improv in front of a crowd, it felt like no time had passed at all. It was like putting on my favorite sweatshirt. Just right. In fact, if I hadn’t mis-identified a Justin Bieber song as Ke$ha, it would have been darn near flawless.

After the show – and lots of hugs and promises that it wouldn’t be so long until my next trek to The City – Sarah and I headed down to the West Village to see a night of comedy at the Humor Haus as hosted by another NCT alum, Adi Blotman. My good pal Paul – yet another NCT pal – was our tour guide and we grabbed a bite to eat at Joe’s Pizza on the way there. Paulie promised us it was “the best slice in the city” and I’ll be darned if Paulie wasn’t dead on. He shot some video of us experiencing our first slice of Joe’s and I’ll post a link to the footage as soon as we get it.

We headed down to Bleecker Street in plenty of time for the 11pm start. Adi did a great job hosting and introducing the other comics she’d hand-picked and we enjoyed ourselves and shared a lot of laughs. Although the room was a small one they all took to the stage like pros and it was a great time.

After the show was over, Paulie led our little group – which now included Adi – to what he promised to be “the best place to get pastries” and again Paulie was right on. Where else but New York City can you experience the world’s best cream puffs at 1 in the morning?

Sarah and I were standing on the subway platform waiting to take the A train back up to Penn Station and couldn’t believe it was 1:30am. It felt like 8:00pm and it was a refreshing reminder of why we love that city so much.

We got to our hotel room and immediately crashed. It’d been a few years since I was in the city during the winter and had forgotten some of the city’s nuances. How could I forget the sound of clanging radiator pipes that heated so many buildings and how, because many buildings are heated by radiator pipes with no individual thermostats for each room, you can sleep in the city in the midst of winter with a window open. Little details I forgot I loved.

We didn’t leave the hotel room again until noon the following day. We took to the streets and walked up to 51st to grab a bite at Mars 2112, a space-themed restaurant Sarah had been to when she visited New York with her family a few years ago.

From there we headed to FAO Schwarz, the world-famous toy store neither of us had ever been to. Unfortunately, we decided to make our first visit on the Saturday before Christmas and there was a line to get into the store that wrapped around the entire block. It was quite a daunting line upon first glance, but it moved quickly and we got in some great people watching.

A Santa made entirely of Legos inside FAO Schwarz. Why WOULDN’T we get our picture with it?

We walked back down to our hotel on 32nd Street to rest for about an hour, and then headed back up to Times Square to see Jim Gaffigan at the Best Buy Theater. Todd Glass was the opener and he was just as good as he’s ever been. Poor Jim was suffering from the flu and his voice was nearly gone, but he powered through and put on an amazing show. I’d never seen a show in that venue before, and I liked it a lot.

We headed down to Rockefeller Plaza after the show and somehow managed to make our way through the throng of spectators. We saw the tree, took about 3 photos, and Sarah declared, “OK, I’m over it.”

After that, we decided to brave the middle of Times Square to take some more pictures and grab a couple of quick video shots.

On the way back to the hotel, we happened to walk by a comedy club that was advertising dueling pianos. With a what-the-heck shrug we decided to catch the show. The two pianists – and one drummer – served as human jukeboxes as they took requests from the audience and managed to play each one of them masterfully, much to the mostly-drunk crowd’s delight. We especially enjoyed the show that wasn’t on the marquee: a big guy who looked like Biff from Back to the Future who was getting totally trashed. We watched him throw back bottle after bottle after bottle, wondering why the bartender wasn’t cutting off someone who was obviously as drunk as he was. If his forward-leaning barely-balanced walk to the bar wasn’t a dead giveaway, I didn’t know what was.

Oh wait, I know what the giveaway was. It was when he left the room to go out and throw up not once, but twice, all over the stairs that were the only exit.

I love this city.

We made it back to the hotel, caught a bit of the back end of Saturday Night Live, and then zonked out. We checked out of our room at noon the next day and headed back to Penn Station for the return trip home.

It was a nice weekend; a great weekend. It reminded us both of how much we love the city and also how much we love traveling with each other. We laughed a lot and traded a lot of goofy looks and by the end of our weekend, Sarah was zipping around others on the sidewalk like she’d lived in New York all her life. She made me proud. :)

As our train sped us back home to Lancaster County, I held Sarah’s hand while she slept, a goofy smile on my face. This weekend was my best birthday present ever.

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