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Killing Time

Sometimes New York surprises. Just when you think it’s going to behave according to form — turn out to be exactly the way outsiders see it — it lets you in.

Last Friday I had just this kind of experience.

I was supposed to meet two friends at the Tribeca Film Festival. We were going to see a Martin Scorcese talk, not, at least in my case, because I particularly wanted to hear from Scorcese, but because I had never been to the film festival and it seemed like a good way to get together with other New Yorkers. Afterwards we were going to get a drink.

I bought my ticket well in advance and put it aside. A day or two before, I looked at it for an address. It named a theater, but did not say where it was. On Friday morning, I looked at the web site. The only address I could find was one in Tribeca, where I dutifully turned up about ten minutes before the event was supposed to begin.

Unfortunately, it was actually supposed to take place uptown, at 23rd Street, where several theaters were making space available. I got on the C train and made it to 23rd Street with about a minute to spare. I walked to the first theater I saw. It had a large Tribeca Film Festival sign on its marquee, but it was not the one. I ran across and down the street to another theater, which turned out to be the one I was looking for.

Right away it was clear there was trouble. A heavy set man with a radio was ushering ticketholders into a line while around us people with credentials hanging from their necks on green lanyards milled about. We were told we would have to wait while the heavyset man spoke with other, even more credentialed people about whether or not we would be let in.  When we became restive, the heavyset man called over an even more heavy set man. Meanwhile lanyard wearers streamed in and out.

Our fate was decided quickly. The word from the inside was no seats were available. Actual ticket holders (apparently not everyone in our line had been telling the truth) were to put ourselves in another line, where, after a lecture on the injunction on our tickets that seating could not be guaranteed if we did not arrive 30 minutes in advance, we were given refunds. There were three of us.

While we were being lectured, a man in dreadlocks and a gray suit appeared and started trying to convince one of the lanyard wearers that he should be let in because there was someone holding a place for him. He kept consulting his Iphone as if he were receiving an urgent message from Scorsese himself. I pulled out my own Iphone and said there was likely someone inside waiting for me. This was of course true, but my goal at this point, I confess, was to make sure neither one of us got in. I believe I succeeded.

Anyone who has been to New York has probably had some version of this experience. The people with lanyards; the inexplicable suspension of rules which apply in the rest of the world (If I have a ticket, I should still have a chance of getting in even if I’m late); being told by a bouncer to wait in line to be told you’re not going to be allowed in.

But when you live here, and you keep, as my wife likes to call it, celebrity hours (meaning you’re not tied to a desk job) sometimes things go differently. And that’s what happened next.

It was four o’clock. I called my wife (at her desk job) and she suggested I go walk on the High Line, the elevated park created out of the former raised railway that runs from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street. It’s an architectural gem — a thin strip of park raised 30 feet in the air that is perfect for anyone who wants to spend time looking. It has all kinds of artistic ways of looking at the city, art, flowers, comfortable chairs and just enormous opportunities for people watching.

I sent my friends a Facebook message and set off.

On any normal day, the High Line is packed, but on this particular Friday, perhaps aided — haha — by the numbers of lanyard wearers at the Festival, it seemed to be just people like me, coming from somewhere else and wandering through. I was able to grab a coveted teak recliner looking out over the Hudson and lie there writing and listening to music.

Across from the line of recliners a kind of stream has been installed: a thin frosting of water flowing over a few panels of the walkway. A teenage girl decided to stomp in the water in what looked like new boots and several of her friends laughed and took her picture. A girl sat down nearby with a friend and began playing guitar and talking about her ambivalence about becoming a professional musician. Two Italian couples giggled as they took pictures of each other in various groupings. Two men in suits and bright ties came by, apparently intent on having a particular High Line experience. But almost everyone else seemed to have arrived there on a whim and to be enjoying it all the more as a result. I listened to music and wrote and the time I would have spent listening to Scorcese passed into the time I would have spent having that drink with my friends. I finished writing and since I hadn’t heard from my friends, I stood up and went further down the High Line, down the stairs and into the Meatpacking district.

It was early evening on the day of the Royal Wedding. And later I would begin seeing someone in a white gown every few minutes, as if there had been a mass Kate Middleton sympathy wedding in Greenwich Village. There would also be mummers and a woman who was the spitting image of the queen outside Tea and Sympathy.

But before that, I passed a restaurant on my left, with a hostess and lots of outdoor tables. In the distance was a little square with a section that was walled off with police tape. It was hard to tell whether this was the site of an accident, or the site of a film of an accident. I never found out, but I have my suspicions, because, as I walked along the edge of the restaurant, my attention was drawn to a happy looking bulldog sitting under one of the tables. The man holding his leash looked very familiar (at least from television). It was Ice T. He politely shot me a nod. I nodded back. So much for Scorsese. My day was made.




  1. Sarah Buttenwieser

    It’s fair to say that at the tip-top of my list of wishes for a New York life (or during a visit would do) is seeing Law & Order being taped. I am more envious than you can actually imagine.

    What a great description of home (New Yorker version) you render here.

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