Mind Your Bacchus – Episode 4
New York State of Mind – Derek and Daughter take on the Big Apple!
“The Only Living Boy in New York”
My daughter Annie turned eighteen this year and also left school, two major milestones in her life. A number of her friends have gone off to University however Annie, like many in her position, unsure of her next steps has decided on taking a year out to figure out the right career choice and work out whether Uni will feature in that. Whilst pondering and enjoying her first months free from the shackles of regular education, she is working as a Barista at a local coffee shop.
As usual, I left Mrs W with birthday present duties. I’d love to be able to say that I focussed on supporting Annie with the career bit, however I am very far from being a decent career path role model.
“Wrapped Up In Books”
Let me take you back to nineteen eighty something…
(cue wobbly screen and harp glissandos)
…The mist clears and we see a mobile classroom in a somewhat dilapidated East Midlands grammar school. A week previously I’d sat in the same room with the school’s career advisor and been told to fill out a form that would then be fed in to a computer. Wow! A computer! This, of course, was before the advent of the PC as we know it. Computers were still very much the realm of IBM and NASA so the thought of one being used to choose a job for me was highly exciting. Kind of like some pre Harry Potter, Hogwarts Sorting Hat. And it could calculate this in just a week! Awesome!
Now here I sat in nervous anticipation awaiting my destiny. Would I be a marine biologist? A fighter pilot? An astronaut?
“Librarian” announced the career guy. Librarian?! I was furious!
My rebellious reaction was of course to spend well over a decade doing everything I could to avoid a sensible career. Three years as a student (back in the days when it was a much easier choice to go to University as the government paid rather than charged for an education) gained me a degree which I put to absolutely no use whatsoever.
“Don’t Talk To Me About Work”
My CV from 1984 to 1993 reads as follows:
- Jaffa – term for fast food waiter at Butlins Holiday Camp; so called on account of the brown and orange Jaffa Cakeness of the uniform which incorporated flared trouser and Thunderbird style hat.
- Plymouth Civic Centre Roof Deck Attendant – involved green council overalls and old school bus conductor style ticket machine
- Hovercraft Steward – like an airline steward but on a kind of flying boat (kids, ask your parents!)
- Wine Captain – “Wine Captain” I hear you cry. “What the **** is a Wine Captain”
Great question! The Wine Captain was essentially a bartender on a cruise ship who managed the beverage service in the ships many restaurants. I loved the ridiculous pomposity of the title. As well as dispensing wine bottles and cocktails to multiple wine waiters, my duties included building a 600 glass, champagne waterfall once week. This was quite an undertaking, given that this spectacle was generally constructed whilst the ship was at sea and therefore not on the most stable of footings. If any of you have had the joy of seeing footage of one collapsing on an edition of ‘You’ve Been Framed’. That was mine, constructed by my own fair hand and destroyed whilst the ship was stationary in the Panama Canal. Couldn’t blame the swell for that one!
“14th Street Break”
Anyway, and in the interests of getting back to the point, whilst working as Wine Captain my ship docked twice in New York. Normally, at any port, crew members were granted a few hours of shore leave, however on both occasions my rota required me to stay on board. As such, whilst I was afforded terrific views of the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge I was left with the disappointment of having been to New York without really having been to New York. This was compounded years later (and whilst working at last in a ‘proper’ job) when I was required to make a business trip to Dallas. This involved a change at JFK airport. As I sat drinking free Pinot Noir in the business lounge I was gifted, once more, stunning views of the Manhattan skyline. So near but yet so far… This city was beginning to take the mickey!
I became slightly obsessed with visiting New York properly, but the opportunity never seemed to arise. In fact for years I had a recurring dream in which I’m wandering around the city but can’t locate any of the famous sites, luckily for everyone I’m not naked in the dream. Eventually I spot the Statue of Liberty whose head then swivels in my direction accompanied by full on Dr Evil style laughter. At this point I wake up with a huge sense of disappointment.
“Why don’t you go on a daddy/daughter trip for Annie’s eighteenth birthday” suggested Mrs W late last year. My daughter and I have a tradition of road trips together. Quite often this will involve heading to North Wales for the day.
“Could do” was my response, “but driving to out to Llandudno is hardly the most glamorous way to celebrate a significant birthday”
“I was thinking you could go to New York” replied Mrs W.
And so it was that in early September Annie and I headed for the Big Apple.
True to form, as with all my overseas adventures, Dean urged me to learn something new and exciting about wine whilst I was away.
“Native New Yorker”
What I actually learned was this:
- New Yorkers are spectacularly rude – I say this absolutely without criticism. It’s what they are famed for and it made the trip highly entertaining. Let me give you an example; We arrived in Manhattan at about 9pm, threw our bags into the hotel room and headed off for something to eat. Within a few minutes we stumbled across Ellen’s Stardust Diner on Broadway, just up from Times Square. This place has to be seen to be believed. The food was terrific but what really made it special were the staff. All are wannabee Broadway stars and in turn, at the instruction of the Maître D’/MC (think an American version of Allan Carr) suspend their waiting on duties and break into song. I asked our waiter what beers were available. He fixed me with a cold stare and without a word took the menu from me, opened it on the drinks list page and handed it back before silently walking off. Moments later he was belting out “I am what I am” to the entire establishment.
- New Yorkers play up to their rude reputation – they know it’s what’s expected of them. In fact they celebrate it. I was hugely impressed by the availability of a T-Shirt emblazoned with the words “F*** You, You F***ing F*** at one store. I enjoyed even more summoning up my poshest English accent and asking the shop assistant “Is the “F*** you, You F***ing F*** T-Shirt available in different sizes”. He wordlessly pointed at a sign saying ‘available in all sizes’. (The silent treatment when addressing perceived idiots is pretty big in New York). I purchased two – one for Dean and one for Mrs W.
- Starbucks is still Starbucks but with added rudeness – The City has 361 branches of the famous coffee outlet across its five boroughs. Manhattan alone has a staggering 9 per square mile. All are pretty well identical to any Starbucks in any country. Their staff, however, have no truck with levity! “Watch this” I said to Annie before ordering a double Espresso at one on 8th. In traditional Starbucks manner, but with added gruffness, the order taker barked “name?” at me. I nudged Annie in the ribs and smugly announced “Bob”. It was the most American sounding name I could think of. The barista clearly clocked this. A minute or so later, having prepared my beverage, and with a look of utter disdain, she shouted “Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabuh” across the counter. The “buh” part sounded like a champagne cork popping. Fabulously rude!
- Rudeness can convey a political message – Manhattan is littered with towering edifices bearing the Trump moniker. There`s The Trump International Hotel, Trump Tower, Trump Palace, Trump Park Avenue, Trump Plaza etc. etc. However, whilst Mr President is synonymous with the City he appears to be derided by the majority of its inhabitants. It’s easy to spot a Trump building in New York. At any time of day there is at least one person standing outside taking a selfie to the backdrop of the building whilst raising a one fingered salute. In fact whilst walking down Wall Street towards the East River we saw people queuing up to take the required pic. Some New Yorkers are even more creative however. At Madame Tussauds on 7th Avenue the President’s wax effigy has been cordoned off. I asked the attending security guard why this was (every other model is openly accessible). His response… “Sir, members of the public have been posing with the President in a physically inappropriate manner and photographing it”. He elaborated, with a tinge of hurt in his voice, “ This is supposed to be a family experience Sir”
Annie managed to inadvertently join in with the whole spirit of political insult. A day or so later, we had just walked past the United Nations building and had identified, on the opposite side of the road, another Trump property. (You could tell from the man outside utilising the universal gesture for one who, shall we say, ‘self-pleasures`). As we made our way past this and along East 45th Street Annie excitedly pointed towards a flag flying proudly outside another building. “Look, they have Nandos here!” she exclaimed. Thankfully, none of the attendant Ugandan Embassy staff heard the unintended insult and I was able to tactfully explain to her that the black, yellow and red colours of the flag represent the Ugandan People, Sunlight and Brotherhood whilst the Chicken (or Great Crested Crane) is the country’s national symbol.
“Take The ‘A’ Train”
I loved everything about New York and we crammed as much as we possibly could into our week there. We walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, took in the incredible views from the Rockefeller Centre and the Empire State Building, stood outside the Dakota Building (particularly fitting for us as plastic scousers) and saw the legendary Studio 54 and the even more legendary Harlem Apollo. We visited Central Park, marvelled at the beautiful Grand Central Station, rode the subway, ate breakfast in fabulous diners offering corned beef hash, home fries and all you can drink mugs of coffee and spent hours simply wandering the streets taking it all in. The 9/11 memorial site at ground zero is one of the most impressive and moreover moving tributes I’ve ever seen. Times Square at Night is a place of unbridled neon beauty. The Chrysler building an Art Deco marvel. This has to be the most fantastic city on the planet!
Most of all, however, I loved the people. New York truly is the ultimate cultural melting pot, united by a common brashness which I’d take any day over the fake “have a nice dayness” of the West Coast.
As for the wine…I’m ashamed to say I completely forgot my mission. The realisation of this hit me on the flight home. I can confirm, however, that the wine on a Virgin Atlantic flight is free and ‘all you can drink’!
Travelled and written by Derek Wootton – No.4 in the ‘Mind Your Bacchus’ series
Next Time – Derek breaks bread!
If you have enjoyed this article please share it with your friends, we really do appreciate it.