The Midtown streets are the quietest I've heard yet as I make my way down 8th Avenue to the Gray Line bus. It's 8:30 in the morning -- not too early, not too late.
It's a sunny Easter Sunday in the 60's, perfect for some sightseeing on top of a double-decker bus. We roll out of Midtown to the talking of Dominic, our guide, and into the Garment District. We round Madison Square Garden and head for the Empire State Building. The lines outside are insane. It looks like at least a four-hour wait. Dominic recommends we go at night, and not just for the view.
We come to the Flatiron Building. You probably know it from the Spider-Man flicks as the triangular building housing the Daily Bugle. We go into Greenwich Village, the place Dominic says to get good food cheaper and away from the chain restaurants. He recommends John's Pizza.
On to SoHo -- "South of Houston." That's pronounced HOW-ston for you Texans. It's the it place where loft apartments in cast-iron buildings go for insane rents. Chinatown and Little Italy roll by. City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge pass. Lots of talking, lots of looking, and a few stops to hop off. But nearly everyone stays on. We come back up the lower East Side past the United Nations. The flags aren't flying in front.
"Cause they get lazy," Dominic says.
The tour ends off 5th Avenue because of the Easter Parade, which is already over. But now, it's more of a street party, and people are just milling about with the costumed characters, wearing their bonnets and bunny ears and wide-brimmed hats.
"Tucson says hello," I say to a couple in their Easter best who graciously pause for my video camera.
I spot a man in a fur-trimmed tricorn. Wonders never cease.
I don't have a lot of time to meet and greet. I have to get back to the Gershwin Theatre some four blocks away and try to score a ticket to Wicked. I'd heard one song on the "Martha" show. Michelle, my boss, also pitched it. I've seen The Producers at the movies and Phantom in London. It's time to go for something new, unusual and different.
I got into the crowd lined up for a shot at the $25 front-row seat lottery. But I didn't make the list of 13 winners. My only hope is the cancellation line. I waited an hour and a half, struck up a conversation with several nice people and finally got my hands on a $110 orchestra-level seat five minutes before showtime.
The show and the seat were worth every dollar.
Wicked tells the story of Oz before Dorothy dropped in. The Wicked Witch of the West wasn't truly wicked, you see -- she was just born a wicked color of green. Snubbed by society and her family, she finally finds a friend in Galinda, her unlikely college roommate, the popular girl who we'll later see as the Good Witch of the North. Wicked spins a colorful and rich tale of rejection and loneliness coupled with a desire to stand for what's right, even if your good deeds go bad. The score is memorable, hummable, and the "No Good Deed" number is the showstopper. The production moves briskly. Kids who like Harry Potter will dig it because it hits on the troubles of growing up with a little magic here and there. My grade: A+.
I grabbed a bite of dinner at a deli off 7th Avenue. I asked for a boiled ham sandwich and the guy stared me cold in the face.
"On?" he challenged in accented English.
"White," I answered, sheepish. Non-New Yorkers like me who deal with Subway aren't used to this level of specificity.
Time for another tour: the nighttime one. Times Square is getting so packed you'd think they were dropping the ball again. But this time we head into Brooklyn after hitting most of the Midtown high points. You cross into Brooklyn over the Manhattan Bridge and you instantly know why many New Yorkers don't live in Manhattan. It's a lot cleaner, a lot more affordable. And there's fewer tourists. Having a bad tough-guy rap doesn't hurt either.
Locals wave at the bus from the street. They take pictures of us taking pictures. They know we're lifting the economy.
"I love New York!" screams a homeless man from a corner. "I love it so much I'm getting the hell out! I've been mugged too many times!"