New York City Detour

I love this anti-smoking law in New York. I’m amazed that it’s being respected. We’ve had the same law in Quebec for about 10 years, but you wouldn’t know it.

So, after I left the restaurant where I had met family, I didn’t end up going down to the coffee shops my cousins suggested. I turned around and went back to see that cute bartender at Detour. That place was the jackpot. It was almost exactly like the bars I would normally go to here in Montreal, only everyone spoke English and the live music was cerebral and impulsive. I knew I was on to something when the first three songs I heard from the sound system were from the Beatles.

When I walked in, there were a couple of guys my age at one end of the bar nursing martinis and a table off to the side with a handful of thirty-something women. The bartender was outside on the step having a cigarette and warned me that she’d be in shortly. Nobody from the band had shown up yet.

The two men to my left were artists from a paper-back novel. One is a filmmaker who does most of his studio editing in Montreal in what he considers the most affordable quality-city in North America. It happens, Montreal has developed some very fertile ground for film talent. Concordia University has a reputable film program. One of this year’s big winners at the Cannes festival was from Montreal. It was a big deal around here.

The second artist is an aspiring actor. I get the impression he’s not originally from New York. He’s one of the many actors who’ve left home for a chance to shine in NYC. For one, he’s a baseball fan, but he was talking about Kansas City. Also, I could detect a hint of an accent on his tongue, by the effort he put in to covering up whatever was there in the first place with a distinguished Frasier Crane pseudo-Brit-in-America kind of deal. He is working more with the administration of a theatre company than he seems to enjoy, probably because he can’t get acting work. A really nice guy, though, he very interesting.

I never spoke to the older women, but I overheard them arguing over which group it is that forbids sex and alcohol, Scientology or Christian Science. The bartender seems like the typical college student away from home on Daddy’s dollar paying her apartment without much serious responsibility. She’s having fun and enjoying life which is good, because working in a bar, if approached with the wrong attitude, can become terribly depressing and she doesn’t seem capable of dealing with anything too heavy. I had a long chat with her and noticed that there was really nothing much to her beyond her blue-eyed smile.

Then the first member of the band showed up with only a black, box-shaped case, soon after the group of women finished their round and left. I wouldn’t have known he’s a musician had the bartender not asked him if he was playing that night. The band turned out to be a three-piece arrangement of drum, bass, and xylophone. The young musicians were relatively skilled considering their lack of experience and their homeliness was vintage in its authenticity. They began their set to an audience of two men, myself included, after the two artists had decided to call it an early evening. It was, after all, a Sunday.

I chatted with the xylophone player before and after the set. He had toured Canada once. It was with a songwriter/musician who’s name meant something to me, but I could not place it until he linked him to Ani DiFranco. He had some great stories about being on the road and about his experience with Canadians. I was amused when he commented that Canadians don’t have guns. My reply wiped the confusion off his face and replaced it with disbelief: “Canadians don’t have pistols. They have shotguns and rifles meant to fill caribou and bears, not people. There’s no reason to bring a gun to the city, in Canada.” He smiled and joked, “I guess there’s something wrong with us.”

Shortly after the live improvisation began, a half-dozen underage-clubbers stumbled in to the wrong bar and got carded for their fancy-named drinks. They were somehow successful, most likely at selecting the right people to order. Sill, they didn’t last long and were gone before the end of the first set of four formatted pieces consisting of xylophone solo, bass and drum accompaniment, bass solo, drum solo, and then all the musicians together. Overall, a fairly unoriginal performance, but perfectly respectable.

It was exactly the night I would have scripted if I had attempted to form any expectations. Instead I let myself go limp to be blown by the wind in whatever Robby Robertsonnesque direction that may be. I left the bar after the band had sat down at their instruments to prepare their second set of the night. I waved to my temporary friend behind the massive metal mallotted melody-maker, thanked my kind hostess, and walked as far as Union Square before deciding I was too tired to spend an hour walking in the cool damp air. That’s where I hailed a cab that brought me right to the lobby of the hotel.

When I woke up the next morning, I was hungrier than I would have expected to be after a meal as filling as the non-Chinese Chat and Chu, but satisfied that I had enjoyed my vacation as much as possible. The only problem is: I want to do it again.

we all shine on…
let’s begin