I have just flown across the country from my home in California to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. I lined up for a taxi to Queens Village to pick up a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Classic at EagleRider Rentals. Vinnie from EagleRider sped me through the signup process, and together we inspected the 2011 Touring motorcycle. A few bumps and scrapes and 20,000+ miles on the odometer, but the Electra Glide looked good and ready to go. I moved my gear from my suitcase to the saddlebags and TourPak, and paid attention as Vinnie ran through a checklist of operating instructions for the bike. I’ve put a lot of miles on Electra Glides in the past, but I still listened intently as Vinnie ticked off the items on the list. I used the time to focus on riding, as the most challenging part of the whole ride was probably these first few miles.
Vinnie put my suitcase away for storage, and I was off.
Now, I’m riding in New York City.
I ride onto the Long Island Expressway toward Manhattan, and follow the signs to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. Riding through the Northeast means that you’re going to have to pay a toll every once in a while. In a car, it’s no big deal. If you live in one of the 14 states that use E-ZPass and you’ve already invested in the electronic toll payer, you can cruise through the tollbooths without stopping. If you’re from a state without E-ZPass, you’re going to have to stop at every toll booth. I’m in this category.
I put the bike into neutral, take off my right glove, and exchange cash with the attendant. I then take the time to put away my wallet, secure my pocket, put my glove back on and snick the transmission back into gear. Surprisingly, nobody behind me has honked their horn, called me an idiot or flipped me the bird. Am I really in New York?
I flip down my visor and ride through the tunnel, emerging on the East Side of Manhattan. I’ll be staying at the BEST WESTERN PLUS President Hotel at Times Square, which is on the West Side at 48th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. Parking a motorcycle in Manhattan is always a challenge. I don’t want to park the Electra Glide on the street overnight, so I called ahead to find the nearest indoor parking garage that takes motorcycles. It turns out to be on 49th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, just a block away from the BEST WESTERN.
I fight my way across town, dodging pot holes and taxi cabs, avoiding pedestrians and pedicabs, until I reach the garage, where I gratefully park. My adrenaline is pumping, and I remember why I loved living in New York — and why I left twelve years ago.
I lug my gear to the BEST WESTERN PLUS President Hotel, and I’m welcomed into the stylish lobby. I guess you’d call the hotel a “boutique” hotel, because it has a very individual character and style. The artwork and decoration in the hotel is all U.S. President-themed, but in a very contemporary fashion. When I get into my room, I’m greeted by pop-art portraits of John F. Kennedy and Jackie O., and two big pillows on the bed feature cameo-style portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln. That’s a good omen — my two favorite presidents. I share a birthday (May 29) with JFK, so I’ve always been interested in him; and who doesn’t love Lincoln?
It’s dinner time now. There are a million choices within blocks of the hotel. We are in Times Square, after all. I have a real hunger for sushi, however, and there’s a very well-reviewed sushi restaurant attached to the BEST WESTERN PLUS. It’s called Aoki, and guests at the hotel get a 10% discount on all meals there. First rate sushi and a discount? I’m there. The food is delicious, and the atmosphere is laid back and friendly. I consider it a find in mid-town.
Since I lived in Manhattan for a long time, I still have many friends who live in town. I call my friend Kelly, and she meets me at The Carnegie Club at 156 West 56th Street, a short walk from the BEST WESTERN. An elegant cigar bar and performance space, The Carnegie Club is a real throwback to an earlier era. Deep leather couches, beautiful plush rugs, dark wood and polished brass create an ambiance that’s totally conducive to conversation and cigar smoking. They have a nice humidor and a great selection of scotches, and on the night that I visited, a friendly, unfussy clientele. In a city that is considering legislation against 32-ounce soft drinks, finding a friendly place to sit and smoke a cigar is no easy task. I’m glad that I found The Carnegie Club — it’s now on my list of places to go in NYC.
After a great catch up conversation with Kelly, I guide her back to the subway and stroll through Times Square on my way back to the hotel. I marvel that I’m staying so close to the Longacre Theater, a Broadway house that has been open since 1912. The Longacre was built by Harry Frazee, the one-time owner of the Boston Red Sox. He sold Babe Ruth’s contract to the Yankees in order to help pay for his theatrical ventures. I remember seeing Mark Medoff’s Children of a Lesser God there in 1980, Horton Foote’s The Young Man from Atlanta in 1997 and other plays in between. The stage is dark for the moment, Eric Simonson’s Magic/Bird having just closed. I wonder what will play there next.
I nod to Jack and Jackie before flipping off the lights in my room at the President. Tomorrow I leave the city behind and go off to explore the countryside on a motorcycle. Life is good.
Miles ridden: 18
NEXT: NEW ENGLAND BY MOTORCYCLE, DAY TWO: NEW YORK CITY TO LAKE GEORGE, NY