A few months ago I found out Robert McKee would be in New York City in November to host a week of his famous story seminars. It would kick off on Monday with the marketing workshop “Storynomics” and the genre days would follow: horror, action, romance and comedy. The genre fest immediately snared my full interest. I’ve been trying to do the whole “responsible adult thing”, keeping my expenditures in a moderate budget, holding myself back from another travel adventure. But as soon as I saw this opportunity, my miserly conscious ripped open the purse strings and said, “This is a business trip and an investment in your writing career!” Who was I to argue with that totally legitimate and tantalizing rationalization? I booked my travel, giving myself a day and a half of city exploration, and the rest of the time I would dutifully plant myself in a theater seat for the seminars.
There is something quite magical about New York in the fall. And it’s not just a sentiment drummed up from the multitude of romantic films set in the city. The trees are aflame in gold leaves; window displays and building exteriors emit the first twinkle of holiday lights; and the cooler weather tamps down the odors of mysterious biological evacuations that stripe and splotch the pavement. Ah yes, New York City. It’s kinda like a toddler: a noisy, smelly, temperamental stain-factory that still manages to capture your heart. I had three things I wanted to check off my must-do list: stroll the High Line, wander aimlessly through Central Park and make a pilgrimage to pay homage to The Stonewall Inn.
I’d visited NYC last summer on the heels of PRIDE week and one of the most memorable sights I’d ever seen was the night sky lit up by the rainbow glow of the Empire State Building. It seriously brought tears to my eyes. The tragedies and triumphs of the LGBTQ+ community occupy a big, special place in my heart and I have a great appreciation for their culture and bigger-than-life approach to love. I’d arrived at The Stonewall Inn during off-hours but enjoyed a few moments of quiet contemplation at the site. I spent part of the afternoon walking the streets of the neighborhood reflecting on the history made there; the heroes that were unwittingly born from the riots in ’69; the change that would unfold over the years; the representation of PRIDE in the world today. I would’ve loved to have attended a drag show while I was there but I normally work overnights and resetting my schedule back to daylight hours completely body-slammed me face first in my hotel pillow by sundown. Next time…
The High Line is truly a gem in the city and another shining example of a popular amenity that wouldn’t be around without the history and efforts of the gay community. Partially opened in 2009, it’s an abandoned elevated train line turned linear pedestrian park full of green spaces, art installations and unique, cinematic shots of west side Manhattan. Instead of its original destiny of demolition, Friends of the High Line and the surrounding neighborhoods rallied for its preservation and thus, the infrastructure was repurposed as a popular new park spanning nearly one and half miles from the Meatpacking District, through Chelsea, up to 34th Street. At the end of this lovely trek was one of those ubiquitous food stands and the smell of fresh French fries. It was like crossing a rainbow bridge to the fried pot of gold at the end.
The geniality I encounter in this city always amazes me. Living in Florida for almost twenty years has given me an unfair impression of New Yorkers. Here, I have only been witness to a rather rude and discontented variety which led me to believe all New Yorkers were like this. Yet in my explorations of the city streets, whenever someone needed assistance (myself included) there was always an eager expression on a nearby face and a helpful prompt.
At the Bus Depot: “Whatcha looking for, sweetie?”
On a street corner: “Need some help, buddy?”
At a construction site: “Careful, guys! Watch your arms, hands, legs, feets and bunions!”
Even getting an order of fries from the guy at the food stand was like chatting with a long lost friend of the family whose sole focus in that moment was genuinely enjoying his conversation with you while making sure you get the best damn fries in all of New York.
“This sauce is special. It’s my own recipe, from my grandmother; a secret marinade with garlic, some sherry and a little bit of mint. Promise you, these are the best fries in New York.”
And yes, they were the best damn fries I’d had in all of New York.
Central Park was just as fantastic as I imagined it would be. Get a few paces in to that walkway through the trees and the sounds of the city just disappear. The sky was clear, the temperature was mild. Herds of families enjoyed an afternoon stroll, musicians played to tourists for tips, friends laughed in rowboats on the lake. I could have spent hours on a bench people-watching but the daylight was short and my stomach demanded more sustenance.
I settled in for dinner at a newfound favorite: P.S. Kitchen. I’d had the privilege to enjoy a few of its vegan delicacies last year and knew I had to come back on this trip. The food is phenomenal and the service is excellent. The ambiance is like dining in one of those cozy Pinterest-meets-Etsy photos full of cream and eggshell tones, warm lighting and weathered, exposed brick walls. It’s the perfect oasis to escape the fall cold and city buzz.
Vegan Caesar salads and French fries are my crude measuring stick of a culinary experience when I explore a new U.S. destination. Not very exquisite, I know, but it brings my little plant-based heart joy. So far only one rivals the vegan Caesar served at Darbster’s in Lake Worth, Florida and that’s P.S. Kitchen’s. As I was enjoying it I was actually struck with a moment of horror, thinking, “Okay, this is way too rich to be vegan. Did I order the wrong salad?!” But no, it was just that good. Then came the creamy Colombian potato soup, poured into the bowl right at the table. (Ooh, la la.) Followed by a maple roasted honeynut squash sandwich with herbed almond ricotta and pecan pesto on a crispy-soft focaccia bread. (Hold me.) And the non-alcoholic specialty drink called “The Pumpkin Patch” was swoon-worthy. (No kidding. Nearly fell right out of my seat after the first sip.) It was like a farmer had just milked a fresh pumpkin pie, shook that up to get a nice frothy head and then poured it on ice…I…I really don’t know how else to describe it. The Dutch like to portray this experience as an angel peeing on your tongue and, oddly, it seems a fitting analogy because the whole meal left me throwing my hands up in praise. (Which the staff kindly asked me to stop because I was making other patrons uncomfortable.) Plus, when dining here the warm and fuzzies are doubled knowing that the restaurant’s profits are donated to charity.
I merged in to the stream of foot traffic, admiring the city’s colorful transition from day to night, and hoofed my way back to my hotel on 24th. After a hot shower, I lay curled up in bed exhausted and content. It was only day one but I was already grateful I’d seized this opportunity. There really is no place quite like New York City.
By: Erica Ruhe
Stay tuned for Part II next week!