Checking In

“It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Kevin,” he said with a thick Middle Eastern accent while shaking my head. I smiled back and turned to face the front of the hotel. Fashion 26 Hotel. My driver had told me it was located in midtown Manhattan, but that didn’t mean much to me. He had indulged me and given me a rough idea about the layout of the boroughs of New York and districts of Manhattan. He had also rattled off a list of the famous people he had driven, from Bill Gates to Chris Rock. That thought was probably a comfort to him while he drove a college kid in jeans and freshmen dorm hoodie who didn’t even work for Microsoft, but was just there to “cover a press conference.”

I nodded at the doormen as I dragged my suitcase through the automatic doors, then stood momentarily in the lobby. The wall was covered with mirrors, the lights were turned down, and all of the staff looked very sharp.

“Hello.” She paused for me to look as I awkwardly tried to orient myself. “Are you checking in? I can help you here.” I shuffled over to the counter. “Do you have a last name for your reservation?” “Leung. L-E-U-N-G. Maybe. I’m not sure.” I reached around for my backpack for some sort of paper in the itinerary I was given. “Kevin. I have you. No need for confirmation.” She tapped a few keys on the computer, situated slightly back and facing perpendicular to me on the other side of the L of the counter. “It appears we have a package here for you in the backroom. Let me get that for you. Feel free to have a cupcake from Crumbs.” She gestured to the little display in front of me. Oooh, Crumbs! My friend Stephanie, who I consider an expert in desserts, had mentioned it.

“Is Crumbs a thing around here?” I think I have this problem where I talk too much when I’m nervous or don’t know what to say. “Definitely.” She disappeared into the backroom, and by the time she had come back with a black notebook labeled “Kevin Leung” with a sticky note, I had overcome my fear to touch anything in the hotel and grabbed one of the two-bite cupcakes. My hands were occupied with the notebook and cupcake when she asked me for my credit card for incidentals. I nodded off her explanation for the credit card as I had no intention of using the mini-bar in the room or any other service.

“Oh, that’s cool. It’s like a cassette,” she said, looking at my card before swiping it. “Oh really?” “Yeah, you can see the 2 spools here,” gesturing and showing me my own credit card. “Huh. I guess I never noticed.” I half unwrapped the cupcake when she pushed some paperwork towards me.

“Initial here and here,” she said pointing with the pen. “And fill out your email and phone number here, just in case you forget something.” She looked at me expectingly for a second, probably just for confirmation that I knew what to do. I wanted to eat the cupcake, but I became self-conscious. I tried to imagine that situation: she’s behind the desk, talking to a clearly overwhelming kid, and is watching as he stares right back, lifting a cupcake to his mouth while he’s supposed to be filling out paperwork. Instead, I picked up the pen and began to write, using the side of my cupcake-holding hand to keep the paper still.

I initialized twice to unknown agreements and filled in my contact information. By then, she was back at her computer punching in more important information. I signed at the bottom while there were still a few blanks for the mailing address. She was still at her computer. Do I fill in the rest, or eat the cupcake? She didn’t mention the mailing address, but the blanks were there. I didn’t want her to turn back and wait for me to do something I had ostensibly already been told to do. She had more information about the room, asked me if I would have guests (“I don’t think so”), how many keys I needed (“Uh, one should be just fine”), whether I needed wifi (“Definitely”), and a few other simple questions. She went back to the computer for my key, and I sprung the cupcake to my face, takin gout a bite. Tasty red velvet. I tossed the other bite in and had to muster together some fast chewing and a tough swallow as she asked, “Will you need help getting your bags up?” “No, I think I can handle it.”

As she finished the last details, I noticed the Crumbs crumbs I left on the floor. It turns out those napkins weren’t just promotional material. A few pleasantries later, I was off and standing in the elevator, trying to figure out how to get me to my floor.

Some More Thoughts on NY

If you haven’t read the below post, do so before reading this; it’ll make more sense that way. Or not. That’s cool too.
So I must say, this is honestly the first true break I think I’ve ever had, in the sense that I’ve felt I’ve needed it and used it. True, every summer break I’ve had has had the “Thank goodness that school is over; what a pain in the butt”. That’s pretty natural. But I’ve realized that until now, I’ve never really been even vaguely stressed by ‘ne of the circumstances. Big things have happened, and I’ve had to do my work at times, but it was in no way overwhelming. And I guess, honestly, this time, I don’t think I’ve been stressed out either. It’s just that the workload is a lot greater than I’m used to, but even that is relative. This is really the first time I’ve felt like I’ve taken a break: when I left, I felt like I was getting away from the usual life, and when I came back, I felt like I had truly left my usual life. It wasn’t long at all, true, but I never thought of the stresses of school in an emotional sense. I may have mentioned APUSH offhand, and I did crack my psych prep book on the planes, but it didn’t even near feel urgent. It wasn’t long enough to develop a sense of complacency in the break, and it was long enough to feel like a gettaway. And I was active the entire time. Talk about a perfect break.

On a completely different note, David came up with a new term when I was talking to him, and I want everyone to put it into jargonistic use. We were talking about something, and “safety blanket” came up. Everyone knows that a SB is a term for a backup, just in case something goes wrong. Well, I had been thinking, and when you combine that with the prevalence of someone “suing your ass” in this country, there deserves to be a new term that explains a special SB for legal action. And so we have “buttflap”, a term for a way to “cover your ass” against someone suing it. Use it.

What struck me as unusual about myself was how deep an interest I took into the spectacle of the famous in NY. I had always considered myself a relatively stereotypical nerd, uncaring for pop culture and the dynamics of “real life”, I guess you could say. But when I was in NY, I did enjoy looking at the apartment of Yoko Ono, knowing where Bruce Willis lives, and where the script of ET was written. I still wonder why the eff I care about it: trivia is just that, and it’s not even a distinct interest that I have. But on the otherhand, I’ve been getting (relative to myself) better at ‘membering moobies, particularly those I haven’t seen, and the actors/actresses who starred in. It’s a perfectly useful thing for smalltalk, but I still don’t see why I care.

My group rocked, if you didn’t catch that by now.

New York

So that was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done. I hate to recount events like what shall follow, but it seems to be the easiest, most inclusive way to do it.
Before I even get into the actual events, a humongous hugs and thanks to my group for being a lot of fun. Even though I wasn’t really really tight with ‘ne of them before the trip, we literally spent as much time together as possible, beyond just a walking group, which is quite a feat considering how much Englebutt managed to screw with the groups. Allison, Kelly, and Denise are probably the perfect example of 3 girls who are just too awesome to ever have to hang out with ‘neone else, but still are totally cool about everything. Chris, the least cliquish of us, still managed to inject a lot of life into the group, and Matt got to be our favorite idiot. Ms. Yunker, our chaperone, almost seemed to fit in as another student, and let us do a lot of what we wanted while still eating with us and hanging out with us. And I was me, wvr that means to you. It was a great group.
Thursday morning, waking at 330 in the morning, was definitely an interesting start. With slits for eyes, we kicked off our trip with a little less enthusiasm than I ‘member with disney, but it definitely didn’t determine the rest of the trip. The airport and plane stuff all happened okay, with a rocky landing and a bit behind schedule, but it was fine. That afternoon, we went to the Met, which was easily one of the most mind-blowing parts of the trip. We got rushed a bit, having to go through a museum in about 2 hrs when it could easily take several days, so we only hit a bit of the greek/roman and african art, then ran over to 19th century european art, over to the musical instruments, then down to the arms & armors, blowing through all of them. The stuff there was pretty incredible: true, one can find ancient artifacts from ancient civilizations at a lot of museums, but it definitely “hit” me this time, that the pieces came from over 2000 yrs ago, while I considered Star Wars from 1977 a pretty “old” moobie. 19th century european art was great, as they let you walk right up to the paintings, where you could see the signatures and individual brush strokes. I definitely had a mental cow as I stood in front of one of Monet’s most famous water lilies paintings, not to mention the van goghs and others that we rushed past. Instruments was very interesting, but honestly, I was a bit disappointed. Perhaps since the history of music is not necessarily inflated to the same lvl as art, as a painting can be drawn once, while a recording/replaying can recreate music, but regardless, it didn’t hit me quite the same. The progression was fun to look at, but it was still kind of blah. A&A was just darn awesome, with suits of armor and swords and guns and such to look at. I really wish we had had the rest of the day there. Outside, on the steps, there were 3 black entertainers, who did feats of acrobatics, along with the necessary jokes. Sadly, we got cut short on that as we had to go.
Dinner at the Hard Rock was honestly forgettable, so we’ll skip that part. We got into our rooms around 900, and rain and delays caused us to push back our time square picture, and instead, we (me, david, tom, and andy) watched “Fight Club”, which was definitely one of the craziest moobies I’ve seen. I’m still trying to figure out if it was brilliant or just weird, but wvr. Kudos to my room for being awesome as well. We had not a conflict past 2 “doorknob” calls, and the washroom situation was like silk. David and Tom I have known pretty well, but I got a better look at Andy, who went pretty crazy, at least for his public appearance. That was awesome.
The next morning, I did my usual, eating reeses puffs and drinking hot chocolate, then going out for breakfast. We ended up in a “hole in the wall” place for breakfast, and while I didn’t eat ‘ne of it myself, all accounts complimented it. Our next adventure took us to Battery Park, where we would get a nice ride-by the Statue and a walkaround Ellis Island. The line was almost preposterously long, but a couple entertainers managed to keep us relatively entertained. Ellis Island was a bit of a letdown, but if nothing else, I got to spend time with my group, which was just as awesome as the rest of the time.
After that, we went back to our rooms, where I watched Anchorman (very funny moobie), ate authenic NY pizza for takeout in our room (nothing compares, I swear), then got ready for CARNEGIE!
It’s almost impossible to describe playing in Carnegie Hall. The unpack and warmup was just the usual, but the Hall itself was incredible. Sitting on the stage, you could literally just look up and around and totally pee in your pants over just that, without having played. With a bit of that, we played, and from the first little warmup run-thru and a concert F in the winds, it was absolutely insane. You could play, and then just listen to the sound stay for another 5 s, bouncing around. That Hall plays absolutely beautifully. I could rant on and on about it, but it really is a “have to be there” experience. Nick did his sh*t, and it was impressive. If you don’t know, I absolutely love his sound, and as I told him, the only thing more incredible than his sound is his sound + the 5 more s than you can listen to it ring. The performance was fine (it was New World, 4th movement, Carmen 9,10,11, and then the Cowboys Overture); I honestly don’t know how much of it was augmented by the Hall and our mindset by being in the Hall, but I was much to engrossed in it to discern. I played fairly well, I thought, and I know that I was doing my best to get the extra lift on every note just to hear it ring. I definitely cracked more notes on the Dvorak than I should have, but we’ll ignore that. That was definitely the climax of my music playing career, as I don’t intend to pursue it long term, but music is possibly worth quitting after that, because it really doesn’t get much better. That night, we had an extremely late dinner at Applebee’s, which was okay, except for Denise’s minor illness, but she was all fine by the next morning, thank goodness. We started watching “Kung Pow” in our room, but barely got ‘newhere on it.
The next morning was our opportunity to become famous, as we appeared on the CBS early show. We stood in on a lawnmower section and the weather, with “holy folks” stuffed dolls as a promotion, and that was vaguely amusing. Walking up and back was quite a bit more interesting. (I’ll sort of encapsulate this entire thought here) Around Houston, there’s nothing really special, per se. I get excited when I see the Chronicle building. In New York, you just stand there with your chin down, as you pass places like “Trump Tower”, “Late Show with David Letterman”, “MTV”, and “FOX brocasting”, just walking down the street. Everything is just so darn crazy famous, and it’s absolutely overwhelming how concentrated all of that is. There’s something else to pee in your pants about as well.
Next, we were supposed to go on a city tour, but somebody dropped the ball on our buses, so we were instead left several seats short, spending about 45 min resolving that. After that, we got our rushed tour. A lot of ppl trash-talked it, but I thought it was interesting. True, she could have cut a lot of the crap, but it was just cool to get to see all the places, along with the trivia that goes along with it. Pointing out the apartments of celebrities and such, I took a lot more interest in it than I thought I would, as a guy who really doesn’t care about that sort of crap, but wvr. We took a 1/2 hr lunch in central park, which was much too short to actually get to enjoy it, but then finished the tour and went back to our hotel, where we changed into our first nice attire and finished Kung Pow. Chinatown was fine, even if I didn’t purchase ‘nething myself, it was fun to walk around a bit and watch my group members (who, if you haven’t figured out by now, are AWESOME) go at haggling and shopping. It’s actually kind of funny, as you can imagine a bunch of high school students, who obviously are well off enough, in suits and dresses attempt to deal with and con the sellers to get better prices (kudos to the genius who sent us to chinatown in suits and dresses). I myself took the more global view, as while things were cheap, chinatown doesn’t beat china on the sucky economy, so I pinched my pennies, like most of the rest of the trip. I briefly saw Andy Deal going into the restaurant, which was cool, but not simultaneously. Dinner at the chinese restaurant was fun, but once again, doesn’t touch the authentic.
After that, we went to “The Lion King”, my first ever Broadway. It was quite spectacular, but I’m vaguely getting the impression that for a Broadway, it really wasn’t ‘nething special. I mean, you really can’t go wrong with “The Lion King”, and while everything was great, I, as a self-admitted amateur critic, would assume that all are great. The plot and a lot of the songs were extremely familiar, while the props and costumes and dancing had me pretty enthralled. Good stuff, for sure. After that, we took our time square picture, then went back to the room where we watched half of the “Godfather” (still need to watch the rest, someone), then conked out.
The next morning was literally the only time I didn’t spend with my walking group, as we had separate groups for church and such. As my one opportunity to hang out with Evan and Ian, we went out for a quick breakfast, then to the Easter Parade, which was probably the biggest letdown ever. Englebutt had inflated it, but it turns out that it is literally just a bunch of ppl walking down 5th with funny hats. And at the beginning of the parade, when we were there, by “a bunch of”, I mean “less than 10”. We quickly left, walking about for a bit. I wanted to walk around more and play tourist more, being absorbed by the city, but the group wanted to hang at the hotel for a bit, which was fine. We played a bit of magic, then went back out where we got more NY pizza, which was an absolutely humongous pizza, and easily the best I ahve ever had. I got back to my hotel a bit early, where I watched the “Bowling Skills Challenge” on ESPN, which basically entails a bunch of bowlers who screw around (throw between the legs of a chair for a strike, throw over a chair for a strike, throw a pin at a ball, throw 2 balls at once, push the ball down with a pool cue stick for pins, etc) in a competition. Amusing stuff.
Dressed up again for another Broadway, we watched “The Producers”, which was absolutely hilarious, even if it did go over the edge at times, even for me. Having not watched the moobie, I was in for quite a surprise. It was definitely classic Broadway, with the dancers and big flashy lights and such, but with a non-classic, anti-semitic (I’m pretty sure Mel Brooks is a Jew, but don’t quote me on that), neo-nazi, homosexual twist on it. It was darn crazy, but entertaining nonetheless. Once again, as an amateur critic, I would say that it just Broadway being Broadway incredible as expected, but I don’t know.
We went to Bubba Gump Shrimp Company (of the same theme as the one from “Forrest Gump”), which was a great dinner as well with my walking group again (did I mention that they’re the best?), and then to the Empire State Building. I thought it was going to be a bit of a tourist trap, and the line would definitely testify to that, as we must of easily waited 2 hrs to get in, but having to stick to the plan, we toughed out the line. At the top was an unbelievable look at NY and surrounding area. As far as the eye could see, there were lights right up to the horizon, and it just kind of hit me at once how ridiculously big NY was. There was definitely an epiphany moment as I looked as far over the edge as you could with the metal bars, thinking, “This is insane, that I could jump off, and I would still fall 10s of floors, still hit a 30 floor building, and still end up as just another stain. This building is tall.” At night, with all the lights, it is definitely a sight to behold, and even if I didn’t take pictures, I can still close my eyes and see the Chrysler Building to my left, the Hudson River to my right, the Statue as a little blip in the distance, and lights and lights and lights. I though seeing Hong Kong from Mount Victoria was incredible at night was great, but this was something else entirely. That night, we started watching “V for Vendetta”, but I dozed off in the middle.
On the final day (today), we went out for breakfast with our walking groups again, then to Madame Tussaud’s to hang with the wax sculptures. I’ve been to at least 2 before, so it really wasn’t ‘nething surprising, but still cool ‘neways. With a lot more familiar face than before, and set where one could touch and pose with the figures, instead of in the exhibits like before, it was a lot of fun. We went to Planet Hollywood for lunch, where I had lunch with my walking group (duh, right, since I did say that I spent all of my time with them, other than that one morning. I just like to emphasize how awesome they were) and got to see a few interesting items, including the original Death Star from RotJ, and Michael Dorn’s baseball uniform from DS9 (don’t ask). And then it was over.
Impressions? It was incredible. I have to agree with most other ppl: NY is a great place to vacation to and visit, but I couldn’t see myself living there for more than a month or 2. As exciting and upbeat and just crazy (with the famous landmarks and ppl on every street corner) as it was, it could easily be too much. It was a great experience, though, for the exposure.
Unfortunately, it was just a bit too little exposure. Everything seemed a bit shortened, as I mentioned that the Met could have used another week of looking around, and I could’ve spent another hr on top the Empire State Building, but it was good.
I know it might sound redundant and over the top by now, but I want to thank my walking group again. It could’ve easily have been less of a trip, as the shortened time and just bad luck in organization threw a lot of the awesomeness of the city off, but hanging out with them kiddies and getting to know them so well was just great. Thanks.
And everyone else, go to NY.