What can’t you get in New York?

Wife number one (and also the current Mrs. Blog) is due to arrive in the Big Apple this week and her advance party (brother-in-law number two) is due in about four hours into JFK.  Today, therefore, was a last chance for me to eat something neither of them will be interested in. Since the current Mrs. Blog was stuffing her face with fish and chips last week after her half marathon in Glasgow I thought it would be appropriate to seek out a good old fashioned fish supper for my own pleasure knowing that this will not be on the menu for some time to come.

‘Fish and Chips! In New York!?’,  you cry.

You get everything in New York.

I also had a mind to look for this ‘cronut’ thingy that everyone is going on about and to grab some of my usual snaps of New York life on the way.

If you allow yourself to be distracted by flea markets at the weekend in New York you can easily find yourself well off your intended route. You head down town and come across a street market and before you know it you are four blocks away with nothing to show for it but an ‘antique’ number plate you paid ten dollars too much for. Or worse, a T-Shirt with a filthy slogan that’s only funny in really bad company.

I didn’t buy either but I couldn’t resist a T-Shirt with a transfer that will disappear after the first wash.

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Mrs. Blog will put a stop to such frivolity next week and replace it with far more useful items such as wooden bowls with native American designs and canvas bags to hide her other bags in.

Now chasing up and down markets is hard on the legs and I wondered if I should get one of the Citibikes which seem good value at $10 a day.

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Basically you pay your money at http://citibikenyc.com/ and pick up a bike at a place like the one above and drop it off somewhere else in the city. Possibly in a place like the one below

I have met someone who cycles in New York regularly and his level of anxiety and peripheral awareness reminded me of ‘Brundlefly’ so I decided to give it a miss

I walked on with the two legs God gave me and eventually came to a shining testament to New York’s colonial history situated right on Greenwich Avenue a few hundred yards from the bottom of 8th Avenue.

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I could instantly tell from the smoking chef outside that this was going to be authentic British fare.

And it was very good indeed.

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They even had Irn Bru (though not diet – a flaw in their understanding of British culture in that we prefer a healthier option drink with our greasy fast food).

It wasn’t all that cheap. Pollock was the cheapest fish but I had haddock and paid $15 with a can of diet coke. Ten quid – not too bad.

http://www.asaltandbattery.com/

Full to the gunnels with salt and batter, I went with renewed vigour to find that ‘cronut’ thing at http://dominiqueansel.com/cronut-101/

I didn’t get one.

I found the shop and it was singularly unimpressive. No doubt a ‘find’ for the Manhattan jet set who apparently queue from 8 a.m. every morning to sample this lump of deep fried dough for five dollars of their Wall Street earnings. For me I think I will wait for the Greggs substitute because I can think of much better ways of wasting that amount of money.

I could have had dessert at the chip shop for $4

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Didn’t see anyone queueing for one of these. They should try drumming up business like this guy

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I could have had five bargain books from this crazy book shop which has endless corridors of cheap books http://www.strandbooks.com/

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Or I could have parked a car for ten minutes on one of these

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Just so I could find out how they get them up there.

For my five dollars I might even have been enlightened as to why so many dogs found my old chum Fred so attractive

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I kept my money and headed Uptown through Grand Central Station to pick up some burgers for my visitors (see previous blog for details) and some nice American cheese.

Speaking of American cheese, guess who were ahead of me coming onto 8th Avenue.

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You really do get everything in New York.

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Conned Beef!

Scotland and New York could do with exchanging more things to each others benefit. I have to say, though, I’m not sure New York would come off best.

Take fire escapes. In New York they have the fire stairs ‘outside’ the building where the fresh air and rescuers are, not inside close to the hot flames, the choking fumes and certain death.

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The fire hydrants are also sticking up out of the pavement easily accessible, not flat and buried under a millimetre of tarmacadam spread by a team of shifty looking itinerants in a white van.

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This one is pictured next to the team who were assembling my lunch sandwich (more on that later)

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Speaking of holes in the ground, any reader of the Beano will know that uncovered drains make superb comic devices but also that our real drains are far too small and our health and safety rules far too strict to ever create such a superb moment of hilarity. Not in New York where the unsuspecting out-of-towner is a prime candidate for dropping into the abyss when passing a store getting a delivery.

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This is one of the safer ones, mostly they don’t bother with the warning cone.

For those of you who have not read the beano…

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It doesn’t get old does it?

And the underground heating system in New York is surely something we could benefit from in the frozen North…

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Mind you most of the people on our streets are steaming every weekend so we may not need this feature.

New Yorkers also maintain a good balance of efficiency and politeness that we seem to lack back home. You don’t go up to a counter in a shop without knowing what you want for fear of being tongue lashed in three different languages but at the same time you will almost certainly be wished ‘a nice day’ once you have mastered the pace of retail transaction. In Scotland the end of a retail transaction is almost certainly ‘NEXT!’ or in Glasgow ‘WHOOZ FURRST!’

Okay – enough of the faff – on to the food…

We have been exchanging food ideas for decades with New York but I have to say we have definitely lost a lot in translation and I think I know why.

New York is awash with restaurants (every fifty yards) and, although they are all busy, it is hugely competitive. Good looking men and women walk the streets trying to kidnap tourists into their restaurants offering everything from a flirty suggestive look to 50% off for those who don’t fall for their more obvious charms. In Scotland you have to travel some distance and then go into the restaurant and hope one of the staff finds a sufficient time slot in their social networking tasks to notice that you are interested in eating. Once you finally find one you don’t feel much like changing your mind and going elsewhere (its more trouble than its worth). You end up eating whatever crap they choose to serve you.

Take the humble toastie…

In Scotland…

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Looks okay?

Here is a toastie shop in New York

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This one is situated on 51st Street between 5th and Madison Avenue close to Jimmy Choo for those of you who wish to keep your women out of the way while you nosh on massive wads of pastrami and corned beef awash with ranch dressing (not our version of corned beef – fat caked cow shavings).

http://www.toastiesnyc.com/

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Bought for $8 (about £5 – the cost of a toastie in local pub?)

Of course just as their health and safety practices leave a lot to be desired so does their attention to pricing (in some areas – such as the Broadway tourist trap – not Toasties to be clear).

I obtained two slices of fairly average pizza from http://rayspizza.com/ on Broadway for my dinner tonight.

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I couldn’t quite fathom the menu so I grabbed this expecting the usual three to four dollars a slice. My change from a twenty was eight dollars. Now either a slice of pizza at Ray’s costs $6 or I was short-changed. This article I read later may be enlightening

http://nypost.com/2013/09/22/secret-mob-history-of-rays-pizza/

It’s not the first time I have felt that my accent suggests a lack of awareness of currency. If the five I got in my change was a ten that would be about right. It’s frustrating when you get caught out like that, especially the embarrassment of feeling that some chancer has got one over on you. It’s down to experience now.

But at the time I had wished the ground would open up and swallow me.

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Finally – New York’s Best Burger

Making money in New York appears to be pretty high on everyone’s agenda and the variety of mechanisms for doing so is as wide as Manhattan is long. I’m not just talking about the shops and restaurants, or Wall Street trading or the Broadway shows. New Yorkers are much more creative than that.

How about taking all the crappy books you have on your shelves and laying them out on the street outside with a handwritten sign declaring them all to be 50% reduced? Ridiculous?

Not in New York, it’s as common as pigeons by a hot dog stand.

How about caging up all the cats in your neighbourhood and displaying them on Broadway declaring yourself to be a charity for protecting the stray feline?

Maybe that was legitimate….you just can’t tell half the time.

Selling bottles of water by the side of the road for a dollar? You can get 24 for $4 in a shop. With no overheads that’s a tidy profit margin.

Selling bike hire, horse drawn carriages, cheap tickets…

Wishes!?

My wish is for a really great burger for less than five dollars.  Can such a thing be truly achieved? Here it is finally…

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… and here is its story.

Yesterday I had the idea that I might explore the Upper East Side and chance upon a burger joint on the way. The Upper East Side is the proper ‘moneyed’ bit where the beauty and class of the apartments in no way reflect the beauty and class of the occupants. They must have money though. The place reeks of it.

It also has some history though and lots of museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Yes that’s the hot dog stands outside it. What else would I take a picture of?

Oh yes, my lunch.

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I know! It’s looks more like ‘behind of dog’ than hot dog. But it was great and I would rate it over the Gray’s Papaya efforts because the chilli is meatier, the sausage bigger and the woman serving it is the most efficient and pleasant street seller I have come across.

As to the history the Upper East Side has, in my humble opinion, one of the most significant historical residences in American cinema history.

The Marx brothers’ first New York pad.

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Look closely you can almost see them keeking out.

Anyway – I was the one who looked like a comedian wandering around the most expensive part of New York for a cheap burger so I had to abandon the search and leave it for the morning. Besides someone with a mate high up in the mayor’s office heard there was a ‘poor person’ in the neighborhood and asked them to send a patrol car to check it out.

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After a night in the precinct cells 😉  I woke up with a cunning plan. The street book sellers had got me to thinking about being more creative in my efforts and also, interestingly enough, to locating the ‘biggest book shop in the world’.

The interweb said this was to be found on 5th Avenue and I did indeed locate said store.

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Yeah right! This was on the way there but I took the picture to remind me how big I wanted my burger to be.

The ‘biggest book store’ has fewer books in it than the bloke on West 58th Street has on the bedside table he displays every morning on the sidewalk.

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In my disappointment I could think of only one consolation.

Food.

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This place http://www.potbelly.com is charming. It is like Subway with class. It is pleasant to sit in, the staff are friendly and welcoming. The soup and sandwiches are great.

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For $10.

But the burger for $5 was looking like a forlorn hope. There was only one thing for it.

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Two top quality beef patties and a lump of Yellow American Cheese purchased here for $7.

One giant sesame bun from http://www.gristedes.com at 89 cents and the rest from my fridge.

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Cooked medium rare I can truly declare that this was the best burger I have had in New York and it could only have cost me $5 because I still have one left and most of the cheese.

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Now do you reckon I should get a small BBQ and open up a stall on the street?

A Big Load of Bull

As New York says au revoir to sister number two and her now grizzled tough guy husband (both a Yankee supporter and a bull-riding pro) it is worth saying that the Big Apple will miss them.  If this picture didn’t have the pretty face it would basically be a picture of a bridge.

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And if this bull didn’t have a grizzled bull-rider on it, it would just be a bull.

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Oh I forgot – he fell off it didn’t he?

Anyway, while a fond farewell is wished upon these weary travellers it is time to review their legacy for those that have a care to follow their route to the New World.

I mean what they ate in the last few days of course.

We shall start with what they thought they were going to eat at http://www.johnnyutahs.com/ the hostelry with the mechanical bull that needs milking after every five riders.

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That’s worrying isn’t it?

http://www.timeout.com/ was sold to me by a previous traveller as a good way to save money as they send cheap deals to your email account every so often. They neglected to say that you save money because the deal usually turns out to be crap. In the case of Johnny ‘Uvebinhad’ that was certainly the case.

A pitcher of beer, a burger and a bull ride! For $20 down from £40! Get it while it lasts!!

On presenting my voucher at said Johnny UrAMug’s we were confronted with complete confusion (possibly as we were the only people in the last ten years to have been conned by this offer) and then served a ‘glass of beer’ and a burger that must have required the skills of a keyhole surgeon using an electron microscope to pull together

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That’s it. The side plate was cracking under the weight of the tomato ketchup while the burger presumably shrank in fear at the thought of being drowned in it. No chips, nothing else. Enough food for a gnat on a cabbage diet.

The bull ride was free to anyone who cared to sign away their human rights should the repair man make a serious lapse of judgement.

The message is hopefully clear to future explorers of this concrete jungle, fair enough go and ride the bull and have a drink. But don’t waste your money on the food.

Thankfully the food handed over at http://www.theatrerowdiner.com/ for $20 recovered New York’s reputation as the home of great chow.

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And the crispy duck dish and ginger chicken at Q2 Thai on 9th and 53rd was exceptional enough to soften my anger at Johnny UMustBeJokin and meant this review would be less insulting than originally intended.

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It certainly prompted celebrations from some

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While others just wouldn’t let the ball drop

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Anyway – I fear we must accept that New York is one of those places where things are usually pretty great, but every now and again it is going to pick you up and then throw you down.

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She wasn’t going to show you the picture so I guess I had to!

West Side Sob Story

As a tough talking, Yankee supporting, kick-ass hardened New Yorker how do I approach the opening of this closet door?

Well here goes…..

I – like – romantic comedy!!!

In fact I think Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan should be married, I think Maid in Manhattan should be compulsory A-Level study and Sandra Bullock should be given an Oscar for her stunning portrayal of Gracie Hart in Miss Congeniality. For heaven’s sake she even pulled it off in the sequel!

There, it’s out, and we can get on with the blog.

Having pushed aside my guilty secret I can now declare that I think the film ‘You’ve Got Mail’ featuring the incomparable Tom Hanks and the enchanting Meg Ryan (that Parkinson guy is a bully – so there!) is one of the most underrated movies of the last fifteen years. So much so that, under pressure to do a movie tour of New York, it was my number one choice. It also happens to be set in a very pleasant part of New York not too far from my doorstep.

It’s ok food fans – there’s eating involved!

Now there are a number of locations in this silver screen gem that have gained iconic status including the very romantic Riverside Park where they finally get together in the end (against all odds and you’re never quite sure if it will happen even after the eighth viewing).

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That’s not them. This couple just stood in the way of my shot of the final kiss, and when their battered and bleeding bodies are found nearby the NYPD will now know why! 😉

Just up from this spot is Meg Ryan’s house where I imagine she must have been sitting inside still worrying about her little Shop Around the Corner.

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Alright! Alright! It’s a bit boring chasing round looking at these romantic locations. To the food bits!

This is where I obtained a delicious slice of New York Cheesecake (with a biscuit base) and is also the location of an uncomfortable and squishy moment in the film featuring Tom and Meg.

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Interesting because the purchase of two slices of cheesecake from http://cafelalo.com was both squishy (deliciously so) and uncomfortable ($18!!).  Best I have had so far though and I got to walk up the same steps as Tom 😀 .

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I didn’t eat this until later of course. I had to take it out as the place was packed.

Next on the movie trail was http://www.zabars.com/ and I cannot praise this gourmet supermarket enough.  Another uncomfortable moment for poor Meg in the film but I felt perfectly comfortable amongst the grub in here. Cheese of every kind, freshly baked bread, cooked meats and meals I was able to take away for my dinner (still no cooker in the flat – microwaved this!)

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Got myself a curry for tomorrow!

On the way back I passed a familiar shop also featured near the end of the film and already pictured in a previous blog entry from another angle. Taken this time from the exact spot Bruce Willis received a call from Simple Simon in ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’.

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No phone there! How do these movie guys do it?

Had lunch here

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With juice for $4.50. How do these Gray’s Papaya guys do it?!

I then headed homeward past Leonard Bernstein’s setting for West Side Story but didn’t take a picture because I was so distracted. I felt as light as air with my head full of romance.

Suddenly I had an epiphany!

I can’t be known only for my love of romantic comedy. I’m not a girl!

I stopped and haggled (like a man) with a street seller for these boyish items

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$10 for all five!

I saw a really great T-Shirt that any real bloke would be proud to wear…

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But then I spotted a bag I know daughter number two would just love!

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What is happening to me??!!

A Monthly Review

It is an empty feeling I have in my heart just now. It may be that both daughter number one and daughter number two have now flown this satellite nest in New York leaving me alone with days and days before sister number two arrives to fill the void (sister number one has chosen to avoid the food madness). That may be it (you know where this is going don’t you?) … but it may be more to do with the fact that I am not being treated to a complimentary seat at every dining table my visitors book.

That’s it, I am hungry of course.

I have undertaken to eat sensibly for a week and that kind of leaves this diary hanging. Perhaps a recap of the major eating achievements of the last month will keep you interested enough to bear with me while I detox.

Way back in the beginning daughter number one and I plotted a route to Shake Shack (they are not getting link – you will know why soon) and ended up at http://www.smithsbar.com/ where we treated well enough but kind of stung for not having walked enough streets to be handed a 40% off voucher. I would have sang its praises if I had gotten such a reduction. They are to be had I am told.

Shake Shack was later visited by Princess Madison and her Fatman and their disappointment undermined any thoughts I had for a visit. Big queues here to get half the burger and half the milkshake you can get at http://www.steaknshake.com which is much closer to me.

http://www.angelospizzany.com in 57th Street was just fantastic and a repeat visit with daughter number two reinforced that this is great pizza at very good prices. Service was again top notch.

Other pizzas have been had since of course but this is easily the best. A slice of pizza…yeah…yeah…so its New Yorky. I want the lot!

Mexican and Chinese efforts so far have not been worth it, but Thai was excellent at  http://www.topazthai.com although bear in mind that the cocktails were thrown in for nothing. This Thai has been the subject of much more discussion

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You have to make sure they know you are from Scotland, in case the accent is missed.

http://www.ellensstardustdiner.com has now also had two visits and it doesn’t grow old. It’s still great to be serenaded by your waiter while you wait for dinner and have them clean up after you. It’s just like being married.

Go on … ask my wife … she is treated like this all the time!

This will strike fear into her.

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She thought she was coming to New York for a break but I got this for sixty dollars delivered to my door!

http://www.tfyogurt.com/  is also worth reminding you of. This is the magical frozen yoghurt dispenser that whisks you to a frenzy. Been here twice now and the flavours had changed. No more sausage, Shepherd’s Pie added 😉

But the final word here has to go to the poorest serving I have come across. That of the New York Yankees.

I have in these last few days been treated to evening drinks and local conversation at two Queens bars that do not have websites (not that type of bars) and shall remain nameless (I want them for myself!). The inside track is… I should have ignored the hat design and gone for the Mets. Their stadium is better and they are playing a damn sight better.

It’s okay, I did not betray my loyalties. I had to remind them I am Scottish and that we are the proudest losing nation in the world! if the Yankees want to be cr*p that’s fine by me. I will be back for more. Not because I bought the tickets before I realised they were hopeless or because sister number two paid for them. I will go because I committed myself and I am confident they will fill the emptiness I will feel by the end of this detox week. I will go because I have faith, I have strength and I have a desire to see it through to the end.

I also have the hat.

Die Hard Yankees!

I have been having sleepless nights worrying about the state of the Yankees ever since that defeat on Sunday. Sure they have won since but I still feel that the shortstop was failing to exploit the pinch hitter and without a decent relief pitcher their chances of getting through the play-offs is looking grim 😀

Anyway it occurred to me that I may be an untapped wealth of talent given I have never tried baseball. You just never know!

To find out if I have ‘Babe Ruth’ blood running through my veins I scoured the city for a good, proper catcher’s mitt and a baseball for less than fifty dollars (my limit for verifying sporting talent). The professional shops failed to impress me with their three hundred dollar offerings (for a big glove?) and ten dollars for a ball is just daft.

I adjusted my expectations and found that softball was the way forward. A good way to check for talent without the same danger of broken bones and Kmart had the kit for the right price. Splendid!

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But it turns out I’m not any good.

In fact Matthew is better!

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….but he wouldn’t get a game either.

Anyway we both know that we are excellent at eating hot dogs and tracking down the best ones. We had it on good authority that the best ones are to be found at http://grayspapayanyc.com/ on 72nd and Broadway. Handy for us because after discovering with sweat, tears and just a little dirt under our nails that we would skip the trials for the next Yankees squad, this was but a few blocks walk away.

Matthew was concerned it might rain on the way though….

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…and there were others who appeared concerned about the possibility of a downfall…

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….but just as Columbus discovered this fair land, we discovered that rain was not going to happen today (tenuous link I know).

We set off and ‘discovered’ the hotdoggery of real New Yorkers.

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Now I don’t know about you but as soon as I saw this place there were alarm bells going off in my head. Something about the Nakatomi Tower? Or was it that incident as Dulles Airport the year after?

Nope it was the Federal Reserve Bank raid! Remember?

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…and when I got my food…

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…with a drink for $4.50, I could only express both my disappointment about the whole Yankees trial and my joy at discovering the best hotdog in New York in one way.

Yippee Kay Ay, Mutha f***a!