Friday, August 06, 2004

NEW YORK BLOG - read if you are interested in my travel stuff.
9 July – the flights
Dreading the long hours but it wasn’t so bad. Melbourne/Auckland – by the time I got on the plane I had already read about half of my Evanovich book, and finished it on the plane or soon after. Movie was “Jersey Girl” with Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler. She didn’t do anything to make me believe she wasn’t taking a vacation from Lord of the Rings. Maybe she is not such a good actress? Mind you, the movie was pretty mindless.
Auckland/San Francisco. 11 hours + and it went faster than I thought. Watched “Hidalgo” (movie) and lost most of it because of poor sound and terrible screen quality. After that came “Miracle” which was bearable but only just. I went to the toilet (sorry – the bathroom – have to change my terminology) just before the climax… guess that says it all. Kurt Russell really suited being a 1970s nerd.
Arrived in SF and was searched pretty thoroughly at security – had to take my shoes off as well but all was OK. At least this time I remembered to put the wine bottle opener in the suitcase.
After a call to Kendra’s (my agent) cell phone we finally found each other and sat down for tea to talk. She seemed so delighted to see me which was lovely. Of course I should have taken notes but I did write down as much as I could remember later, which I hoped would be useful when I had my manuscript consultation at the conference.
She said I should contact any publishers/editors I knew in New York and ask to visit them – gulp! And she promised to set up a meeting with an editor at Simon & Schuster to discuss my series concept.

On the flight to NY I was sitting next to this Af/Amer guy and finally I asked him (about an hour out) where he thought we were because there were some interesting things below. He said we were over Utah and the “red paddocks” were actually the salt lakes which were fascinating to see – huge and very red. We got talking and it turned out that he was a high school principal. He’d been in the military, served in Vietnam and had taken up teaching eventually. Must have been really good at it because he became a principal pretty quickly from what I could tell. He was on his way to a conference for HS principals, then he was visiting various family members around the East. He was interesting and happy to talk to me about all sorts of things. I fell asleep trying to watch “The Whole Ten Yards” which was really bad.
In the airport, it was the same old story. Where the shuttle said it would be, there was no one and no sign outside to say where to wait. Apparently I should have rung on the phone but I didn’t get that far. This guy came along and asked me what I was waiting for and when I said, he told me the shuttles didn’t run after 12 and did I want to share a cab? This young Asian guy and me ended up in this guy’s car. It wasn’t a cab. He turned out to be a freelancer – charged me $30 which was a little more than the shuttle but a lot less than a cab. I was pretty nervous and thinking I’d done a really dumb thing but it turned out OK. The guy was genuine and he didn’t rip me off. Plus he was very talkative and a bit of a story teller. Got me to the hotel without any dramas.
The Allerton. Well… I guess you get what you pay for. And I have become very fond of my room. I have a large “balcony” outside a double locked door. The balcony is about 8 foot by 14 foot, asphalted with a 6 foot fence around it. But it’s all mine and when it’s so hot, it’s great to be able to open the door. The balcony is surrounded by other buildings, mostly about 10-12 storeys high so there are lots of windows but no one looking most of the time.
The room is basic and the bed is wonky but it’s hard to sleep in the heat anyway. I have a TV and a little sink (and stove but nothing to cook with). The bathroom is clean even though the drains back up a bit and I end up showering in 3 inches of water. It’s all mine and like a little haven. My credit card wouldn’t work so I had to give them $100 in lieu. The next morning it still wouldn’t work but the girl keyed it in OK. Just as well I brought the email reservations printouts to verify the rate. I was still awake about 2am but eventually slept a bit.

Saturday
Up about 9.30. Showered and dressed, went down to sort out the credit card and stuff, then had a small bowl of cereal. Too hot already. After much consulting of maps and stuff, I decided to walk with a list of things to see and let things happen as they would.
Headed up 7th Avenue to the flea market which went for about 7 blocks. Lots of market stalls selling sunnies, Tshirts, jewellery etc. I tried to cash a travellers cheque in a bank and they wouldn’t do it because it wasn’t Amer Express! In the end a guy on a Tshirt stall said he’d cash it no worries so of course I bought my Tshirts there.
Also bought a bracelet (which broke when I tried it on in my room – spent 10 mins scrabbling on the floor for all the bits). Had a huge cup of lemonade (the real thing) but no food. Too hot to eat! Bought new sunnies as my other ones had broken in the suitcase. Found a 99cent shop and bought a clock, and plan to revisit when I have more time to wander.
Took a couple of photos of the market including one of a candy apple store. The food was everywhere. Not many clothes apart from said Tshirts.
Went to quite a few bookshops, including B&N and Books of Wonder. BoW was quite small and quiet and not very inviting. It was hard to find anything, I’m not sure why.
I loved the streets with all the different cafes and shops. All mixed in with apartment blocks and brownstones. At the delis you can get all sorts of stuff, kind of like a milk bar but with made up salads and beer too.
I also went into an internet café (found one at last – they are much more rare than I expected) and tried to do my emails but Yahoo seemed to be playing up. I spent ages fiddling with it and finally got to read and send emails. Then went into Strand Books – 2nd hand and cheap newies – and got sucked in. What a great shop. Like a rabbit warren. Amazing how many shops have no air conditioning and it was sweltering inside.
I had arranged to meet with Sydelle (friend of a friend – and she is an agent) at B&N on 6th Avenue and realised suddenly that I had about 10 minutes to walk about 14 blocks. Arrived about 8 minutes late, sweating profusely. She was lovely and didn’t mind at all – there were no tables in the café so we went across the street to a bar/restaurant. Had a wine and beer and sat and talked. She told me lots of good things to see in NY, then we got onto books and agents. She was very helpful and gave me lots of information and sensible advice. We talked about what different agents do (and was scornful of a certain Aust SF writer who had said some agents act like their clients’ “mummy”). She also had a lot of knowledge about how the children’s book industry works although her agency represents only adults and her specialty is nonfiction.

Monday 12th
Well, today was an up and down day. I got transferred to the new room to share with John – that was an Up as it has two bedrooms and overlooks the street (more interesting) and has a fridge! TV is crap, very fuzzy, but as there is nothing on worth watching… Hope I can get John out to some night action. There is a Cajun jazz bar not far away that sounds good.
The day started with a rain forecast and the rain itself started about 10.30. Yay for the umbrella I packed after reading the guide books!
So I ventured out again into the subway. Got to 42nd St no trouble – an Up – and it looks even better than the movies. Lots of neon everywhere, not just in one place. I was surprised at how many Broadway shows are actually at Times Square, including the Lion King and 42nd St. I found a big internet place, much cheaper than the cafes I have been using, and was about to tackle the payment machine when this guy came up to me and offered me his 5day internet usage for $3. I asked him what the story was and he said he paid for the whole week (24 hours a day unlimited) and he was offering me the computer for $3 for as long as I wanted. So I had a look and it seemed OK so I gave him the $3 and ended up staying on for about an hour with no pressure. Really good. I imagine that if he did that every day, or even 2 or 3 times a day, he’d make money out of it! Anyway I got to do emails (Yahoo is still playing up, damn it) and also go through all my Optusnet emails and sort them out which was great.
So that was an Up.
Then I went down to the NY Public Library and it was closed. That was a Down. I took a photo outside and had a flatbread sandwich thing for lunch and headed up 5th Avenue. Finally found Gotham Book Mart and it was closed for Inventory (Down). But I walked up and down 47th Street where all the diamond trading happens which was very interesting. Lots of Jews with the little curly bits and black hats. That has to be a NY thing!
Rain kept falling – umbrella kept me mostly dry. Headed on up 5th Avenue and found a B&N, couldn’t resist because I needed a restroom and to sit down for a while. Of course found some books I just had to buy, but this included Tracey’s request of Walter Farley’s “Little Black goes to the Circus”. The girl I asked led me straight to it, unlike the so-called specialist children’s bookshop where they had no idea. God, B&N wins again. I have to say that I have not seen ONE Borders since I have been here, but it seems like B&N is on every corner!
I have to, at this point, mention some NY things. The street smells – lots of food vans cooking things on the street corners, like hot dogs and souvlaki and pretzels, and also sugared nuts which smell so good. And then today when it rained the street smells around Chelsea became overwhelmingly of dog pee! By the afternoon it had all washed away again.
And the horns. Everyone toots as soon as anyone slows down or gets in their way or is a bit of a nuisance to traffic flow. Toot toot! Especially cabs. And the ambulances and fire engines… today, being wet, brought them out more and do they ever let you know if you are in the way. Siren goes whoop whoop and then they get on the horn. GET OUT OF THE WAY!!! Just like Third Watch.
Back to the day’s outing. I decided to move along to MOMA, thinking I had read in the book that it was being renovated but you could still see some stuff. Yeah, right. The stuff on show is out at Queens. (Down) So I went into the MOMA shop and marvelled at how much money they were charging for stuff just because it was to do with the museum.
From there I wandered down 6th Avenue, hoping to see the Simon & Schuster building but instead walked past Radio City and on to the subway. Maybe I am just timing it right but it seems to me that the subway runs all the time and you hardly have to wait at all for the next train. Melbourne is way way behind. And there is an expectation that you move your ass and get on and off that train without delaying everyone. Again, Melbourne people are way too slow in comparison! I took a photo at 23rd Street station – they have these amazing mosaics on the walls at every station.
Got back to 23rd St and staggered into my new room. Wet, knackered and not sure what I wanted to do next. Ended up hanging up some clothes, reading, relaxing and then going out for dinner and drinks. Read the NY Times while I ate – too bad if they thought I was rude! No one seemed to care.
Am now waiting on brother John to arrive. Don’t know if he will be tired or wide awake.

Tuesday 13 July
John arrived OK and we talked for a while. On Tuesday morning we got up, did washing, went to the shop and finally got moving. It was raining – again – but we both had umbrellas which was a save. Went to Kinkos to check emails as John needed to print out an e-ticket to get to Aaron’s up near Boston but the link wasn’t in his emails and it wouldn’t open without a password so I emailed the travel site for him. Also emailed the stuff to Kendra. There was a reply from Robbie Mayes, an editor at Farrar Strauss & Giroux who I had emailed about meeting, big surprise, so emailed back a yes to quick meeting if possible.
We caught the subway downtown to Cortland St and walked around to Ground Zero. In one way it looks like a big construction hole in the ground but in another it looks awful. You can see the walls with stains and damage, and where they are drilling in ties to hold it more strongly. And behind GZ there was one building in particular – an older style one – that had a big chunk out of it and was showing lots of damage. I got a bit teary standing there. Couldn’t help but remember the TV footage and imagine what it must have been like. Incredibly terrible.
Went into the World Financial Centre, which is 3 big buildings joined by walkways, and had lunch on the marble steps along with hundreds of tourists and workers. There was a big display of the process of restoring the area and a model of what the final GZ memorial area and buildings will look like. Two “footsteps” as water features to show where the original towers were. We walked across the Vesey St walkway and took more photos from the other end, then into Century 21, this huge shop that was just like Forges, only more upmarket clothes at cheap prices. Versace, Hugo Boss etc, very cheap. Bought a couple of things but it was almost too crowded to shop easily.
Finally found a place for lunch – deli salads which was nice – and then visited a golf shop, and wandered down to Battery Point. The NY Unearthed exhibit/museum should have been open but wasn’t for some reason, which was disappointing. Instead we went into the oldest house in NY (actually into the chapel) and lit votive candles for Bev and Karen. John took a video with his camera.
Raining, raining. Along Battery Point, could hardly see the Statue of Liberty for the fog and rain. Just an outline in the distance. Went into Castle Clinton fort and walked around, watched a squirrel climb up a roof, found out that the boat trip we wanted only goes from Pier 83.
Decided to walk up Wall Street and gaze at the huge banks. Wall St is so narrow! Nothing like I imagined. In the movies it always looks about half a mile wide. And it’s not so long either. Saw more old buildings and taverns, went inside one to look around and it had two muskets on the wall.
Finally got back to the subway station, home to rest for a while. Had a drink at a bar around the corner while John showed me all the photos on his camera from Europe. Dinner at a Thai restaurant. Chelsea is a fabulous place to stay – so many bars and restaurants within walking distance, and a great atmosphere.

Wed July 14
Up late and so got a late start. Subway to 42nd Street and had a coffee (breakfast was disgusting muesli in our room – we are trying too hard to be healthy!). Went to the internet place and got 40 mins for $2. A bargain. John got his e-ticket printed off which was great – I got an email from Kendra with details to contact an editor at Simon & Schuster. Wonderful. And another from Robbie Mayes at FSG to meet Thurs at 3pm at the offices. Scary.
We wandered up 42nd St and along to the library. It had stopped raining at last so everyone was out in Bryant Park with the book trolleys (open air reading room) and chess games. The Library was amazing – marble floors and walls, gold ornate ceilings and paintings. Baroque? The reading room was huge with gold lamps instead of green like Melbourne.

Up Fifth Avenue to the Rockefeller Centre where they iceskate in winter – it was much smaller than I thought. Lunch and by then it was time to stand in the queue at the half price tickets booth. The line was so long that we thought there wouldn’t be anything left. Couldn’t decide whether to see ‘Frozen’ or ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ – in the end at the window John said Fiddler so got the tickets for $54 each, Dress Circle, 8pm. Into the Information Centre and got some money out and all day train tickets for the next day, then we went back to Chelsea. Walked over to the Piers and John found the golf driving range.
Pretty amazing – it’s on 4 levels. Rows of tee areas with tees that pop up the balls. It was expensive – about $26 to hire 2 clubs and 80 balls so he decided to just watch. We went up to Level 2 and were watching a couple of people. One guy was having a bad day and John started talking to him – the rain began to take off again and it turned into a thunderstorm. What the weather forecast said would be “clusters of potent thunderstorms”. Lightning (fork too) and enormous claps of thunder. The guy we were talking to decided to sit down for a while and told John to have a go. He had this $500 titanium driver John had been looking at in the shop so J had lots of goes with the guy’s various clubs. All the while the rain pelted down and at one point it was so heavy that all we could see was white – Jersey across the river disappeared!
J was having a wonderful time and I talked the guy and then the rain eased off again. So it was one of those things where you do something ordinary and it turns out to be quite memorable.
Got back to the room in the drizzle and I was checking the theatre location when I realised that the guy at the booth had given us the WRONG bloody tickets. Instead of Fiddler on the Roof, we had tickets for 42nd Street! Bugger. Nothing we could do about it so just got ready and went on the subway to Times Square, looked for a restaurant that didn’t have a queue and ended up in Chevy’s Mexican restaurant. Very busy and noisy but good atmosphere. I had a margarita in a huge glass – lovely – and John had the Mexican beer. Very hot shrimp cocktail with lime juice, which was a bit too strong, and a variety plate of all sorts – fajita, taco, burrito, etc, and a stuffed deepfried pepper with cheese that John really liked even though it was pretty hot.
My credit card wouldn’t work, even with keying in, which was a worry. I used a traveller’s cheque. Off to the show.
It was lovely, very much “old Broadway” with lots of tapdancing and singing and several thousand tons of sequins. Shirley Jones was in it and was having trouble reaching most of her notes. Most of the other singers were great and the dancing was amazing. Also wonderful staging with things like huge mirrors and a house with three floors with windows that lit up to show the singers inside. Hard to describe but the sets really made the show. Home on the subway (I was a bit nervous – had a death grip on my bag – but it was fine) and to bed.

Thursday 15th July
Tried to phone Visa when I got home last night and after a lot of mucking around, the voice told me to contact original card supplier. What a great help that was. I ended up ringing Australia the next morning (thank god I brought my phone banking numbers) and the amount in the account seemed about right, so I don’t know what has happened to the stupid card.
Bought John and I coffee and tea from Starbucks for breakfast. I like the old crunchy Granola but my teeth are really playing up. Have several sore gum spots now as well as the tooth ache. Have to keep taking the Nurofen I brought for my back.
We got off to an early start and caught the subway up to 49th St, then walked down to Pier 83. There was a huge queue but they sent two boats out so plenty of room in the end. We were told the boat couldn’t go all the way around as the Tillborough Bridge was jammed closed. It was lovely on the boat, quite slow but fast enough I guess. We went down past Chelsea Piers and took photos of the golf range from the river side. Saw the Winter Garden from the water too – it’s huge, much more than it seems inside the World Financial Centre. The tour guide on the boat was an older man, pretty cynical but interesting. He loved to talk but was really bossy sometimes! Told us lots of odd facts about places we passed. We went out past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The Statue looked kind of small until you noticed the ant-sized people at the bottom.
Round the bottom of Manhattan, past Staten Island and Wall Street and up under the bridges – Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. Past Roosevelt Island where the small pox place and the asylum used to be. Got a photo of the ruins of the small pox place – very creepy looking. Past the NY mayor’s mansion, the only house in Manhattan that sits alone – every other dwelling is either attached (row houses, brownstones) or is an apartment. Turned around and back the other way, up the Hudson river as far as 83rd St and back to the pier. By about the end of the second hour, we’d had enough but of course with a boat you can’t get off.
Raced down to the subway at 42nd St, caught it to Union Square, bought lunch but I couldn’t eat half of mine. Tidied up and found my way up to Farrar, Strauss and Giroux to meet Robbie Mayes. Very tight security. I had to sign in at the bottom and when I got to his floor, I had to phone him on an internal phone to come and unlock the door.
He was very nice – quiet, mid 30s maybe, and his office was quite small and very tidy (unlike mine). I asked lots of questions about how he decides to publish stuff. He showed me his slush piles, talked about how many ms he gets, who sends them, what he reads (all from pb to YA). Found out he especially likes humour which was a bonus. I asked him about picture books, explained I teach them and what does he look for, is there something in particular? He couldn’t really answer it (I didn’t expect him to) but he did say he likes a plot, and of course humour again. I also asked about the length of middle grade and he showed me several examples which were quite varying in length. I told him a bit about my middle grade novel – didn’t want to push it too much – and he said I should tell Kendra to send him my stuff, which was a good sign. After half an hour I left, which was probably a relief to him!
Then I had to wait for John who had walked up to the Flatiron building. He took a while to get back which made me anxious but we made it up to 49th St by about 4.10pm which was good. I went straight across to the Simon & Schuster building and the security guard phoned up, then gave me an entry card with a bar code on it so I could get past the barrier. A souvenir!
Jennifer Klonsky was waiting at the door for me. She was young, early 30s at most, and very friendly. We went to her office and she printed off my series outline and 4 chapters, then we talked a lot about the series and what my ideas were for it. She asked good questions and I think I answered them pretty well. I also talked about other things I was doing, the differences in publishing – S&S published Margaret Wild’s “Jinx” a few months ago which was a good sign I think. Hard to suss out whether they are being really nice because they are always nice or whether they mean these things. She is away this next week but promised that she would read it and let me know by the first week in August what she thought, and whether she wanted to see the rest. Fingers crossed!
John and I walked down to Houlihans bar and I had a martini to celebrate (I had promised Lisa at Penguin that I would have one). It wasn’t as strong as I thought it would be, and not as nice as the margarita I had the night before. We went back and got tidied up and I had booked us into the Cajun restaurant a few blocks away. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was great. The band was a jazz/swing band that played 40s stuff on Thursday nights. Lots of music I kind of knew – very toe-tapping and uplifting.
I had gumbo, which I wanted to try but wasn’t sure about. It turned out to be lovely. A mix of shrimps, crab, sausage, okra, onions and spices in a stew. The cornbread was great too. John had blackened salmon which was delicious (I tried a bit) and we had some champagne too.
Stayed for two sets of songs, the band was very enjoyable and they played my request – Pennsylvannia 5-6000 – which was fun. We pigged out and had dessert too. Pecan pie and some deepfried sweet pastry things. Staggered home.

Friday 16th July
We were starting to flag by now. Went to the Empire State building and the queue was huge, rows and rows of people winding back and forth around barriers so we decided we had better things to do with our time. Went into Macys and looked at bargains as the sales were on. I dithered over shirts for Brian while John tried on a trendy black silk Tshirt. We had coffee downstairs in the café and it reminded me of the old Coles café in Footscray. Same wooden escalators too.
Caught the subway up to 79th St and found our way eventually to the Museum of Natural History. I was rapt to see they had a frog exhibition on so I went to that. We had lunch first, salads and coffee, and then I saw lots of frogs from all over the world (live ones in glass display units) and took lots of photos. In the shop I found a Navajo ghost necklace so just had to buy that.
We saw a few things in the museum – dinosaurs, Indians, stuff on what pollution and environmental damage is doing to animals and people, and various bits we walked past – but in the end our feet got the better of us. We were exhausted.
Made it back to the emails at 42nd St but mine were playing up and I don’t think anything actually went properly. Yahoo is being hopeless.
Went home and had a drink in a café/bar, then crawled up to our room. Couldn’t decide what we wanted to eat so I suggested The Half King pub which is owned by Sebastian Junger (the guy who wrote The Perfect Storm – he bought it with his advance). It was crowded and noisy but the food turned out to be good. We both had seafood chowder and I had salad and John had crabcakes.
Staggered home and started repacking our bags. I was getting very worried about mine as by the time I finished I could hardly lift it. The carry-on bag wasn’t much better. We went to bed and crashed.

Saturday 17th July
I got up early and went to the supermarket to get some Motrin, also bought yoghurt and some hot tea. We ate most of the leftover cereal and took a beer each to pack in our bags as we never got to drink it. John’s shuttle came first and I had an hour or more to kill before mine came. Very boring and I nearly went to sleep. Vacated the room and fixed up the phone account.
I was panicking a bit about my shuttle but he turned up eventually and we had a very fast trip to Newark. Went through the Holland tunnel under the Hudson River, which I had been over in the boat. Very narrow and all tiled with white tiles like the subways. The trip to Newark airport was not as far as I thought.
On my way to Chatauqua!

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