Friday, November 11, 2011

on down the road...

i've been in nyc for 3.5 years and i've never gone. commute wise, it's further than Buffalo is from Rochester. but more than that, i've never had a reason to go. sure i'd read about great restaurants. but there are lots of terrific new restaurants an hour and half closer to my house.

on Wednesday, all that changed.

a month ago, i sighed up for NYCares a volunteer collective in the city that's pretty cool. every week they post tons of events that need volunteers. usually it's a one time deal, so the commitment level is minimal plus you get to participate in lots of diverse projects.

i chose to "over winter" a rose garden in Harlem, which means cutting back perennials, planting bulbs, and in this instance going wayyyy uptown.

stepping off the train, i ran into (no, not literally) a man selling sweet tea, lemonade, and fruit punch from three giant plastic vats that were sitting on top of a busted looking shopping cart. nice. even better? a woman was buying it.

that was it. signed sealed delivered. i was in love.

Harlem might be the best place on earth. first of all, every street i saw looked like this:

so basically, it looks like Park Slope but with a Manhattan vibe.

the day was sunny and warm. my volunteer site wasn't far from the train, but i saw a little of Harlem's restaurant row on Lenox Avenue (which further down in the city is known as 6th Avenue). in Harlem, the sidewalks are wide, the Avenues are tree-lined, the rents are supposedly still affordable.

volunteering was terrific. it reminded me of my Buffalo days. the woman who revived the Harlem Rose Garden, Caroline, did so for the same reasons i started community organizing -- self-interest. the building she owns is right across the street from the plot of land where the city planned to build a high rise.

but a little self-interest in your property and neighborhood leads to good things for everyone because what in 1992 was a vacant lot filled with building debris, is now this:

three hours later, the garden was winter ready. i'd spent time talking with a VERY chatty Korean chica who was visiting the states before finishing her degree and, you know, decided to volunteer while she was here. pretty awesome. i watched enviously as Caroline chatted with a revolving door of neighbors who came through to say hello. i remember having that connection with my old neighborhood. sometimes it was exhausting. more often, it felt great.

mostly though, i found ways to garden near Felix.

Mom, be prepared for Corrie's hard sell on why you should immediately adopt a pug. they might be the best dogs ever.

main thoughts? i could live in Harlem. sure, i'd need to take more trips up there first, and yes, it's really far from everyone i know and love here, but it felt good, right, being there.

but all good things... and a quick train trip, i was back to Union Square for a friend's birthday dinner at ABC Kitchen.

i arrived at the restaurant only to find that the entire place was closed. not strange, because my restaurant doesn't open until immediately before serving either. the burly men standing outside with ear pieces? also not strange. i figured they were doormen.

so yes, i was the first person in the restaurant when the doors opened because i am always unforgivably horrifically early. and yes, i said i'd take the table instead of waiting at the bar because i wanted to sit down.

which meant that for about ten minutes, i was alone in the restaurant, sitting immediately next to......

Jay Z.

i shite you not.

"oh dear," i laughed, picking up my menu, wishing i hadn't just come from gardening and worn something more spectacular than A FRICKIN' T-SHIRT. not like i wanted to pick up Jay Z, i know, hello Beyonce, life of jets, yachts, supermodels. meanwhile, i can't even spell yatch. but why the hell didn't i bring my cool Spain skirt to change into?Jay Z would be all: i'm gonna buy that nice girl in the nice skirt dinner. or a fancy cocktail. um. no. didn't happen. whatever.

so there i sat. casting tiny glances at Sir Z and the two enormous gold chains that hung from neck to belly that would probably sustain my current lifestyle for at least 5 years or so, until it finally occurred to me to wonder who he was dining with.

i laughed again.

hello Kanye West.

nice jacket. did you wear it while volunteering today? oh no, right. just to your fancy music awards thingy.

so yes. it was quite a day. throughout dinner, whenever i tried to look at my birthday celebrating friend, Jay Z's head was sitting on her shoulder. at one point our eyes met, and mine did the horrible crikey!-i-just-made-eye-contact-with-jay-z flick away thing. sigh. and she's wearing a t-shirt, he probably thought.

i left ABC Kitchen loving this city, top to bottom, wanting very much to expand my depth of what i was doing here, work in the city, or at the very least, be a baller. which is entirely possible for a YA author, right?

hells yes.

shite. shoulda busted this out:

(hey sistas)


  1. dude, what!!! i love NYC. so random. hahaha.
    also, kudos for recognizing him. i never know when i see celebrities, because i dont recognize any of them until someone else points it out......

  2. haha, no, there was no not recognizing jay z. plus he was literally like 5 feet away. sigh. i've waited on famosos so i don't usually feel star struck, but i still feel stoopidly giddy about this run in. sooo fun! and also, we need to go back to that restaurant. it was de-freekin-licious.

  3. Baller. LOL

    Fun fact - when I was in NYC in May '10 for Night of 1000 Stevies (google it - you'll totally want to go next year!) I was attempting to take the subway to JFK. Well, my friend neglected to tell me that sometimes trains just decide to change letters/routes. I couldn't hear the muffled announcement (which I now realize was telling me to GET OFF THE TRAIN & get on another one.) I finally ask the person next to me if I'm headed the right way - um, no. So I get off & am on a really empty & quiet street. I phone my friend who says "OK, relax. Don't panic but you're in Harlem." Alone. With a rolling suitcase. On a Sunday morning. With about 2 hours to catch my flight. Heeeeeeeeeeeee.

    I walked for a while (past the homeless shelter. interesting crowd but I did ok.) FInally saw a cab & p[aid $60 for his to rush me to the airport. Never.Again. Wish I would have seen that gorgeous garden at the time!


  4. OMG that's amazing! So jealous. I rarely see celebrities.

  5. That is an awesome story! The thing is- Jay Z doesn't know how lucky he was to be in YOUR presence.

  6. aww, amy, i <3 you. still smiling goofily over here after reading that. and paula, that's a hillarious story! ahh nyc:)