Back in November 2013, I discovered that Sirs Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart were going to be co-starring on Broadway in Waiting for Godot, an absurdist play by Samuel Beckett that I love. The run of the show was supposed to end in January, and because Christmas and holiday travel was coming up, we knew we couldn't justify the expensive of a last-minute NYC adventure. So instead we lamented loudly every time we saw an adorable tweet of the two great actors touring the city:
Ricky and I hemmed and hawed over how many days to stay--should we come back the following night? Should we come back Sunday? How much were we willing to pay for lodging? Ricky rightly pointed out that we if we stayed for two nights, we would be over the very small budget we were allowing ourselves for the trip. I countered that if we flew back Saturday night, we would only be able to see No Man's Land, the second show McKellan/Stewart were doing, in the afternoon, and we would miss Waiting for Godot entirely. (And if we're going to fly all the way up there, I'm getting the most of out it, dang it!) Instead, I bargained with Ricky that we could stay a second night if I could find us a place to stay that would be under our budget, and he agreed.
If you know me, you know it's ridiculous to make these kinds of bargains with me. Of course I'm going to find a way to make this work. No question. I sent out a dozen couchsurfing requests in the three weeks leading up to our trip and made a list of all-night diners in Manhattan as a backup option. (If you're not familiar with couchsurfing, it's a great resource for low-budget, low-standards traveling. All hosts and travelers are rated, reviewed, and verified for safety.) Then I bought our return tickets for Sunday the 10th ($119 each--they were $99, but I waited too long) just to show how confident I was.
Our departure date approached with a lot of "Sorry, I can't" messages from couchsurfing hosts and no definite "Yes!" responses. I had basically given up hope and decided to go the 24-hour diner route when I got a message from James and Zak, two guys living in Jersey City who said they would love to have us stay with them for the weekend. They were well reviewed and only a short train ride from Manhattan, so I jumped at the offer!
When the 8th arrived, I was more annoyed than excited; I still had a lot of things to get through at work, and I was supposed to be leaving early, and I was tired from working backstage at our community theater, and I just wasn't that pumped. Just before I was supposed to leave my office, I got a text from the airline letting me know the flight was delayed two hours. I'm still convinced this happened because I complained about not having enough time that day to finish all the work I needed to get through--way to go, me.
We eventually made it to the Punta Gorda airport, which is the most pleasant airport experience I've ever had EVER. The TSA staff was jovial, there was no security line, and I got to walk outside to board the plane. I've always wanted to do that.
When we arrived, our taxi from the Long Island airport to the LIRR station was delayed. And then the train was delayed. (Ok, it wasn't delayed, per se. More like someone--definitely not me, for sure--forgot that March is off-peak and so trains wouldn't be running as frequently. Also the LIRR station was freezing cold and kind of creepy.) We took the LIRR into Penn Station, then walked a block over to catch the PATH train to Jersey City. I dropped my glove on the way and I had to backtrack about three times to find it. Boo. It was so cold!
We FINALLY made it to the Journal Square station in NJ just before midnight--four hours after I had scheduled us to arrive. (I was bummed, because I had made reservations for us to go to an Upright Citizen's Brigade show, the comedy troupe where Amy Poehler/Aziz Ansari/etc. used to perform regularly. Sigh. I also really wanted to see Mary before we left Long Island! Sorry, Mary. :( ) James gallantly offered to pick us up from the station and took us back to his row house, where there was a mattress ready for us in the living room floor. James was a blast, and we stayed up until 2:30 talking and laughing and having a good time.
After three hours of sleep, we got up at 5:30, put on four layers of clothes (going to winter in NYC from winter in FL is excruciating), and made our way back into Manhattan to get in line at the Cort Theater for Godot rush tickets. For background, rush tickets are basically what they sell the morning of the show at the box office. For No Man's Land and Waiting for Godot, they reserve the front row and the front mezzanine boxes specifically for rush tickets and sell seats for $30 each. $30! Cheaper than our way-in-the-back seats that we had already purchased, but rush tickets go quickly and we didn't want to risk going to NYC just to get turned away for both shows. The BroadwaySpotted Rush Report (essential for anyone wanting to buy Broadway rush tickets) said that the first people in line the weekend before had gotten there at 6:30 AM, so when we arrived at 7:00 we weren't too concerned. We we were about the 13th/14th people in line, and each person can only buy a max of 2 tickets, so I figured we were in pretty good shape. So we waited...and waited...and drank hot chocolate from the Dunkin' Donuts down the street...partially froze...and waited some more. ("You came to New York and ate breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts?!" James yelled at me that evening.)
When the box office opened at 10:00, we were officially excited. We finally made it to the ticket window and got the last two seats together! The people right after us had to sit in different places. It was an immensely satisfying payoff for how early we had woken up, and for how tired we were. Obviously I was retroactively wishing we had waited to buy No Man's Land tickets (and even MORE retroactively, I chide myself for not having the foresight to buy front-row rush tickets anyway and just sell our other tickets on craigslist...alas, a lack of sleep), but whatevs.
We had a morning to kill before the matinee, and since we've done all the big touristy NYC stuff already, we went down a ways to the Schwarzman library building. It's our favorite! Historical, huge, beautiful architecture, warm, free wifi, and BOOKS. Books and books and books. And they always have the best exhibits going on. This particular time it was an exhibit on the cultural influence of children's literature, so I'm pretty sure someone must've called ahead and told them I was coming.
A personal favorite--Sophia Hawthorne's copy of nursery rhymes that she and Nathaniel read to their children. #womancrush
An interactive mad lib! I was cracking up at myself, because I used a possessive pronoun when prompted for a pronoun. I think it makes it better.
Pooh and friends!
Original Madeline sketch! Totes presh.
Ricky admiring a copy of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. This was a mutual childhood favorite of ours which we didn't have...and I wound up finding it at Goodwill last week! Score!
Starving at this point, we ventured out in search of food and landed at Pret A Manger:
This was a place I saw in England, so I was excited that it was in NYC as well! They use local ingredients, no additives/preservatives, and make everything fresh. They also donate all unused food to partner charities at the end of the day! So cool. Plus, it was delicious. I miss it.
We traipsed back to the Cort Theater to find out seats for the matinee. The theater itself isn't too small, but the stairs were so creaky and narrow! It felt like an old hotel. The interior is decorated with a French/Versailles-esque influence--lots of pastels--and complete with a bust of Marie Antoinette. Very neat.
The staging for these shows was incredible. Same stage for two different shows, with only the center set pieces changing. They called it "Two Plays in Rep"--the director grouped No Man's Land and Waiting for Godot together and used the same cast for both.
No Man's Land is a 1974 Harold Pinter play that I was previously unfamiliar with, but I knew thematically it would be similar to Waiting for Godot, so I had my academic brain turned on. It. Was. So. Good. It's too bad we were so tired, because I feel like I missed quite a bit--I still need to go back and read it--but Ricky and I had an engaging discussion about the show all the way to the restaurant and through dinner. It was so worth seeing it, even though our audience made me uncomfortable. I think they were expecting a light-hearted show and/or comedy (which is more what Godot is, superficially, but No Man's Land is much more serious), and when they weren't getting it, they were laughing at parts that were entirely inappropriate for laughing. Like the kind of laughing where you feel like if they knew what was actually going on/being sad, they wouldn't be laughing at all. But that could just be my literature snobbery talking.
After the show, we waited by the stage door for autographs. I wasn't hoping for much, since they were doing another show in only a few hours--I assumed they would stay inside and do catering--but we were lucky! Ian McKellan walked out of the door and straight to the section of railing where we were standing. He signed my playbill, and Ricky got a few pictures. He looks so much more like a grandpa in person.
|Guh! Real life!|
We also got signatures from Billy Crudup (Ricky's favorite) and Shuler Hensley, the other two actors in the four-man team. They were both wonderful. (Obviously, right? You'd have to be, to play opposite the McKellan/Stewart dream team.)
We checked out and wandered around Union Square to see if we could find someplace to eat. There was the most lively farmers market going on, and I was sad that I didn't have a way of getting home everything I wanted to buy. So instead, we just settled for dinner at Vapiano.
It wasn't the best food I've ever had, but it was still really good! They cook the pasta in front of you and make it however you like. Everything you order goes on the little black card, and you pay it off at the end like a tab. Pretty novel for this suburban girl.
We got back to the Cort Theater in time to wait in the endless line outside the theater, and then we were ready for showtime!
I've got a weird hair thing going on here. Hats, man. Also, I'm wearing at least two sweaters in this picture.
|They came out dancing for curtain call. It was the most adorable thing I've ever seen.|
You guys. Godot was so worth the trip to NYC. I'd do it again in a second. Sitting so close for this show made me wish even more than we had been closer for No Man's Land. Getting to see their facial expressions and acting nuances was really thrilling--no exaggeration. McKellan and Stewart were obviously amazing, but Crudup's role as Lucky was phenomenal. I couldn't take my eyes off him.
We got lucky at the stage door again despite there being WAY more people than there had been that afternoon. I squeezed my way within arm's reach of the railing, determined to get a Stewart autograph on our copy of Godot. And I did!! The people around me were super nice and we were all laughing and joking around, even though we were squished up like sardines. One of the guys in front of me even offered to pass my book up if it didn't quite make the railing.
When Stewart got to my book, he asked where I wanted it signed; he couldn't quite see me (the guy in front of me was pretty tall), so I sort of squeaked out that he could just sign the cover, since I didn't want him to spend time opening it up when he had so many other people to get to. He replied, "Ok--but it looks like an important volume." And as he passed it back, I joked, "Yeah, and it's more important now!"
I was going to wait around to have McKellan sign it as well, but I felt bad that there were so many people behind me that hadn't gotten any signatures at all, so I ducked out and went back to Ricky (who had been hanging behind because he didn't think I was going to make it, o man of little faith) so that someone else could take my spot.
It was about 1:00 when we got back to James and Zak's place. Zak and his girlfriend were already asleep, and since we had to pass through their room to get the bathroom, we decided not to risk waking them up and just skipped the teeth brushing/face washing for the morning.
Sunday had a slow start--we woke up around 10, talked to James for an hour, and then I started making cookies when I realized that they didn't have any sugar or baking powder. (Rookie mistake: not checking for all ingredients before starting. Who doesn't have sugar??) So Ricky and I walked the 15 minutes to the grocery store (James offered his car, but it was icy outside and we totally were not going to risk that lawsuit) with James' dog, Chilly. Once I finished the cookies, we packed up, said goodbye, and headed for the Journal Square LDS chapel for sacrament meeting. (It started at 2! Perfect!)
Logan, one of my friends from Virginia, goes to school at NYU and offered to meet up with us for dinner. We trained back into Greenwich Village and wound up at this BBQ place that wasn't half bad. As a bonus, it was super cheap. So cheap we were mildly concerned that we were going to get food poisoning, but obviously that wasn't enough to deter us from eating there. I don't even think I got a picture with her! I'm a terrible friend.
Our flight was supposed to leave out of JFK around 8:00, so we were already cutting it really close. As we were putting money on our metrocards, I got a text from JetBlue letting me know the flight had been rescheduled for 6:00 the following morning. What?! We weren't really thrilled about going back to Jersey City, since we would have to get up at 3:00 anyway to make it to JFK on time, so we decided to just putting "The City That Never Sleeps" to the test and stay up all night. Just a typical travel day for the Randall-Jensens.
One of the best perks of the flight delay was that it meant I had time to see my cousin, Lynnette! She was visiting NYC on spring break with her friends from the University of Utah. We haven't seen each other for about 10 years, so it was awesome to see her. We met up with her and her friends at a pizza place just off Times Square, and when her friends decided to go back to their hotel, Lynnette came with us to find an astronomy lecture that was going on in Central Park.
I'm not sure if you've ever wandered around Central Park in the dark, but it's REALLY DIFFICULT to figure out where you're going. Plus, it was really cloudy, so we weren't even sure if the lecture was still going to happen! By the time we found Belvedere Castle, where the lecture was supposed to be, the Park Rangers leading the session were packing up their equipment. Boo! But one of the Rangers was nice enough to yell down at us from the roof and point out some of the planets that were still visible.
We walked Lynnette back to Penn Station, making sure to take the most sketchy-looking roads possible on our way out of Central Park. At one point we walked through a tunnel, and Ricky told me afterward that he was preparing a speech for my family on how we got my 19-year-old cousin killed after being with her for an hour. "But we didn't get killed," was my retort. "So there."
Lynnette's bus from the station was supposed to leave from a certain gate at a certain time, but then they moved the gate and we had to do some sprinting around the bus terminal. It was exciting but also really horrible, because sprinting.
Ricky and I had our bags because we thought we were going to the airport. That was pretty annoying, but at least we only had personal bags! Suitcases would've been terrible.
After we saw Lynnette off, Ricky and I hunkered down for a little while to charge our phones...
...and then we may or may not have fallen asleep until around 1 AM, when a security guard woke us up to tell us they were closing that section of the terminal. I had picked out a cafe for us to hang out in until it was time to leave for JFK, but instead we slept in a bus terminal. Whatever works, I guess.
We made it to the terminal around 3:30, only to discover that the security gate didn't open until 4:00. We took the opportunity to sit on the floor.
Shout-out to Tash, who let me borrow her awesome fur-lined boots, and to the girl on eBay who sold me her fleece-lined leggings.
When security finally opened, we were first in line and the first people at our gate. When the closest food court opened, this happened:
This was about 5 minutes after I bought them. That's a lot of donuts for 5 minutes. No regrets.
And WE FINALLY MADE IT HOME! We slept the whole plane ride, which is kind of a waste of flying JetBlue, because it's the only airline where the time passes fairly quickly. (Yay TV!) It was so nice to be enveloped by the Florida warmth when we got out of the airport. Ricky took the day off work, but I had Important Things To Do and so I went into the office around noon and tried not to fall asleep at my desk.
Overall, it was a blast. It was also pretty affordable, as far as weekend trips to NYC go! Since we've gotten a lot of questions about how we were able to go so cheaply, here are some of my travel recommendations:
-Try couchsurfing.org for free lodging. If you're going in the off season, you can find a private hostel room for about $80/night. (That's what we did the last time we were staying in Manhattan.) But free is better! If you're not set on staying in Manhattan, hostels in Brooklyn or New Jersey are a lot cheaper and only about 30 minutes away.
-Fly a budget airline that charges extra for carry-on bags, checked bags, and picking seats. The tickets themselves are usually super cheap, since they get all their money from bag and seat charges. If you can fit everything in a free personal item like a briefcase or a big purse (we've gotten very good at this), and don't have a rigid schedule, you can save a ton of money. We took a direct Allegiant Airlines flight from Punta Gorda to Long Island.
-JetBlue has their hub in NYC, and most of their flights connect through JFK. That means you can usually fly into/out of NYC for a really reasonable price: normally it's under $100 for a one-way ticket out of/into Florida. It was more this time for us since we were booking only a few weeks in advance. (Special tip for those in VA: You can get a round-trip bus ticket from DC to NYC for around $30. Or at least you could in 2008.)
-If you're going to Broadway, be willing to get up early and wait at the box office for rush tickets. Not every show has a rush option, but if it does, it's so worth it! Check the Rush Report to see how early you need to get there.
-We saved a lot of money in transportation by walking instead of taking the subway. If it's only a few blocks away, walking really doesn't take much longer--and it's normally not worth the $2.50 to take the subway.
-Sign up for Groupon/Living Social in whatever borough you're going to be staying in. You can get discounted tickets to shows and cheaper food that way.
-And, obviously, find all the free or cheap activities to do. Even in the winter there are a million free things to do, but it's even better in the summer.
(Here's my obligatory apology for having too many words and not enough pictures. It's practically impossible for me to blog even the most simple thing without giving a minute-to-minute accounting, which is probably why I'm terrible at keeping a journal. It's overwhelming!)