Brunch Bunch in NYC

Statue of Liberty

Taking a bite of the Big Apple
Or was it the other way around?

It all started when I said at Sunday brunch, "I'm going to New York for a weekend in June; who wants to go along?" And that's how the usual suspects — Réal, Ken, Bob, Phil, and I — all ended up in The City this past weekend.

We had a blast. The main event was Sunday's midnight performance of Broadway Bares, an annual charity event where Broadway's chorus boys and girls show off their best moves (and other things) to raise money for AIDS. This year's event took in way over a half-million dollars. We also saw Naked Boys Singing, a musical revue in which, well, naked boys sing — really well. In between we sandwiched in sightseeing, a champagne brunch with Réal's friend Owen, and a visit to Folsom Street East X, a street fair modeled after the (in)famous Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco. To our great surprise, and relief, Ken even wore "regular" clothes that kept his aft- and fore-portions fully covered.

Transportation-wise, the new AirTrain at JFK is terrific. It circles past all the terminals, with trains that go to each of the two nearby subway stations. We hopped on right outside the terminal and got off right above the subway station. Even at $5 to connect with the subway (it's free between terminals) it was a bargain. And it sure beats the old buses that it replaced.

We stayed at Park Central New York, a nice hotel three blocks from the south end of Central Park and kitty-corner from Carnegie Music Hall. That hadn't been the original plan, but it worked out really well. We got two roooms for just a little more than we had been going to pay for just one room at the Sheraton, who objected to our occupancy plan. I have to put in a big plug for Hotels.com, through which I booked the rooms at the last minute and at a very nice price.

But—

There's always a "but." In this case, there were two.

First but

The first but was the sightseeing bus tour we took. There are two companies that offer very similar tours for the same price, and they compete fiercely. As we found out, even the "agents" for the same company compete fiercely among each other. It's really bad form to curse out your work colleague in a foreign language in front of customers. But that wasn't the worst of it.

We were enticed to take City Sights NY link removed by request, purportedly against Google webmaster guidelines by a charming chap from Ghana who clinched the sale by mentioning the Circle Line cruise at no extra charge, a bonus not offered by the Gray Line tour. What he failed to mention was that although our tickets were good for 48 hours, the departure schedule was somewhat limited, and the "Circle Line cruise" was the 75-minute cruise up and down the Hudson River, not the 3-hour cruise around the entire island of Manhattan. Nor did he mention that there were only four sailings of the abbreviated tour. We were not happy campers when we discovered all the fine print after missing the last cruise of the day and standing at the bus stop waiting in vain after the last departure of the day.

Second but

The second but was much worse. We planned to arrive at the airport for our return flight about three hours before departure so we could have dinner and leave plenty of time "just in case." After all, JFK is a very busy airport.

• We were met at the America West check-in counter by Whitney the Wicked Witch of the East who demanded to know where we were going. (The name has been changed only because I didn't notice her name; otherwise it would be plastered all over williamsonpsp.com.)

"Las Vegas."

"Is that your final destination?"

"No, we're connecting there to Palm Springs."

"We're not taking any more connections."

"Say what?"

"The flight is delayed because of weather and you cannot make your connection in Las Vegas. We're not accepting any more people with connections. There are no hotels in New York; there are no hotels in Las Vegas. See the agent to rebook tomorrow."

It should go without saying that we were not happy campers. Only Ken was spared this ordeal because he had taken a morning flight.

• We were sent to Veyola (real name) who started out trying to be bitchy and claim that the airline had called me to say the flight was delayed.

"Sorry, but I have my phone right here, and it keeps track of every call I get, and I did not get any call from America West. And we are not going to spend another night in New York. I know you're caught in the middle, and I know you think everybody else is doing their job, but the fact is they are not. So let's see how you can get us home." Veyola pulled herself together and got a little warmer and helpful.

Knowing that there are far more flights to Ontario than to Palm Springs, we asked if they could get us to Ontario. We would have had to rent a car, but if that was the best we could do, so be it.

"No, you can't go to Ontario. You'll miss the connection to Ontario in Las Vegas."

"OK, suppose we stay in Las Vegas. What's the earliest we could get to Palm Springs tomorrow from Las Vegas?"

"The earliest would be arrival at 2:41pm. The earlier flights are full."

"What about some other routing? What about going through Phoenix?" America West has a hub in Phoenix.

Click, click, tap, tap, click, tap, click. (And what's all that keyboard activity anyway?) "Well, I can get you from Las Vegas to Phoenix at 7 o'clock in the morning, and back to Palm Springs at 11:18am"

commiserating in the bar
Happy campers — NOT!

We agreed to stop over in Las Vegas and return to Palm Springs via Phoenix the next morning. We checked our bags to Las Vegas, got our boarding passes, and headed for the nearest bar.

• After a couple of cocktails we headed to Latitudes, the only real sit-down restaurant in the terminal. The hostess greeted us with a big smile and the news that she couldn't seat us for at least twenty minutes because the cooks were all on break. "Oh, wait, there's one. I'll seat you now."

We're seated, but now there's another problem. There's only one waitress, and she doesn't want to work. She rails at the hostess for having seated four more customers. Four! Eventually she brings us four napkins and four sets of plastic dinnerware and puts them in a pile in the middle of the table. Another cook comes back from break, so the waitress finally comes back to take our order, having taken time out for several more arguments about seating any more customers.

A threesome from Aberdeen, Scotland, brings their beer and sandwiches from another eatery and sits at a nearby table, causing more argy-bargy. They are highly amused by the whole fiasco and we chat with them for a while. Other potential diners come and go, discouraged by the whole sordid mess. Finally the hostess gives up arguing with the waitress and starts waitressing while the waitress glowers at her from her post near the kitchen.

Our food arrives. Surprisingly, it's quite good. We debate the tip, deciding on a small one which we give to Smiley-face, the hostess.

• We board the delayed America West flight 636 to Las Vegas. We get all buckled in, only to sit on the tarmac with the doors closed for well over an hour. It's now so late it looks like there won't even be time when we get to Las Vegas to take a cab to The Strip and lose some money — we'll have to lose it in the airport!

Five hours later, the crew makes the usual announcements about our tray tables and seat backs, and then says, "If you are continuing on flight 636 to Ontario, this will be your aircraft."

• "What?!?!" Now we're really pissed: no connection is needed to get to Ontario, but we're booked to get off the plane in Las Vegas and wait for another flight to Phoenix and Palm Springs! I ask the flight attendant if the leg to Ontario is full. Nope, the preliminary list she has only shows about a hundred passengers. We express dismay. She says, "I'll see if there's a seat in the front of the cabin (ie first class) and you can be the first off the plane to see the gate agent." There is a seat, and I move.

When we arrive in Las Vegas, the head flight attendant announces that a bunch of people are trying to make connections, and would those who are stopping in Las Vegas please stay in their seats and let those trying to make connections get off first. Maybe there is a god.

• I dash up the jetway and accost the gate agent who says we can definitely get on the flight to Ontario. Just talk to that guy over there.

He starts to rebook our already-rebooked tickets from Phoenix/Palm Springs to Ontario. "Why do you want to go to Ontario instead of Palm Springs? Where do you really want to go?" I give him the abbreviated version. "Well, if you want to go to Palm Springs, why don't you just get on the plane to Palm Springs? It hasn't left yet."

The agent calls over to the Palm Springs gate to confirm that space is available on the plane. There is. Ready, set, go!

• Just one problem: "Our bags are checked only as far as Las Vegas, since we expected to spend the night." He offers to go down and intercept our bags as they come off the plane, but then realizes he can't really do that, since he has no idea what they look like and, in the dark, won't be able to read the numbers on the claim checks.

Réal and I start off down to Baggage Claim to pick up our bags, only to realize that without boarding passes we won't be able to get back through Security. 9/11 changed everything, you know. Back to the podium to wait while the agent deals with standby passengers for another flight at that gate. Finally we get our boarding passes and dash downstairs for the bags.

That's easy. All the other bags from the flight have already been claimed, and the place is deserted. We grab the bags and head for Security. Since there are no flights scheduled at that hour of the night, the only people at Security are the ones designated to check airline personnel coming through. It takes them a while to decide that they can check real people.

On the way back to the gate, dragging our bags behind us, we run into the agent who had first tried to rebook us to Ontario. He says we'd better step lively because "the plane to Palm Springs is in range and will turn around very quickly." Another mad dash.

To make a long story short (of course that's really not possible at this point), we arrive at Palm Springs International Airport a bit before 3:00am, about two hours after our originally scheduled arrival. The airport is deserted. Even better, when we get to the exit from the parking lot, the booths are dark and the gate is up. Free parking!


I'm not making this up. No one could ever imagine a trip bolluxed up that badly. And once we left JFK, the America West people really did try to accommodate and help us. It was one person, Whitney the Witch, who so unnecessarily got up our nose. She could have said, "I'm really sorry, but weather has delayed your flight, and you'll miss your connection; we'll try our best to rebook you and get you home as soon as possible." It might have worked out the same way in the end anyway, but we would have at least felt the airline was trying. Being told you're not going and you're on your own is no way to win friends and repeat customers.

We really did have a blast, and there are pictures to prove it. Check the slideshow (sidebar).