October 19, 2011

Setting Priorities

There’s a ton to do in New York City - art, culture, history, architecture, theater - but somehow I have always spent most of my time there eating and drinking.

I had ambitious plans for this past weekend, a special weekend of activities and architectural tours throughout all five boroughs, but when it came down to it, I only had so much time. And a lot of food to eat. And a lot of people to see.

With all that New York has to offer a visitor like me, I had to set some priorities.

I went straight to my eye doctor’s office, whose optician I have loved since we first met in 1997.

I went blind to lunch with a married friend whose job and domestic New Jersey life as a dad would prevent him from sharing any nightlife with me.

I crammed 12 people at a table for 10 at Arturo’s, a restaurant that doesn’t take weekend reservations but delivered every bit of wine, garlic bread, clams, salad and pizza we asked for with a wink and a smile. I struggled to shout over the noise of the restaurant and our table, losing my voice with every sip of wine. I worried about neglecting those who didn’t know the rest of the table very well. I probably ordered too much food. But at some point, I stopped worrying about catching everybody up on everything that has happened in the last nine months, and just enjoyed the laughter and ebullience.

The next day, after paddling the Bronx River Estuary, I could’ve rushed to visit more Open House New York sites in Queens and Roosevelt Island, but instead I took the quick ride to Upper Manhattan to meet a friend at the new Dinosaur BBQ for lunch. For years, he’d invited me to meet him there (well, at the old one), his apartment conveniently nearby. I’d always declined. I wasn’t sure why - I loved him, and I loved the restaurant - but I knew I regretted it. I had some making up to do. And I finally got to see his apartment, a huge part of his life and a huge source of pride for him.

A couple hours later, I crammed another 10 people at a busy Williamsburg restaurant (a few repeats from the night before) and hoped I’d do a better job of catching up.

After we paid our bill and filtered out onto the sidewalk, I sheepishly told the group, “Michelle and I are going to Whiskey Brooklyn now. Anyone can join if they want, but don’t feel obligated to go…” I was being selfish. I wanted to recapture a sliver of my notorious New York nightlife, and I wasn’t sure anyone wanted to witness that, much less partake in the cocktail of 80s music, dancing, and pickleback shots.

To my surprise, a whole bunch of them did.

When we got there, I went straight for my favorite spot at the bar, even though there was no seat there and not enough room for our entire group. For a few minutes, Michelle and I stood there, hoping it would open up. It didn’t.

And so I looked around at the bar, at all the faces I didn’t recognize both behind it and on my side of it. I didn’t care about any of these people. I didn’t need to know any of these people. I would probably never see any of these people again.

I then looked over at my friends, standing against a brick wall in a little clearing in the crowd. They shifted their stances. They sipped their drinks. And they looked around.

“Come on, let’s go,” I said to Michelle, heading for the rest of the group.

And we spent the rest of the night dancing, screaming, singing, and sloshing pickle juice and whiskey, reminiscing about old times and making new memories.

Even at the sacrifice of more tourism and urban exploration, I still didn’t get to see everybody. Even with the addition of a Sunday night happy hour, I didn’t get to spend as much time with people as I wanted.

But how much can you really do in just three days?

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