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

2 thoughts on “New York City Detour”

  1. I enjoyed what you wrote about NY. There are definitely a lot of funny characters in NY, and you met quite a few of them. I think that it’s great that you approach people that way, so many people lead lives that you could never imagine, and some that you would never want to. At the same time, meeting these people could also lead you to new projects, new ideas, etc… my only complaint is this, and I have to comment because it drives me crazy when people do this, though I’m sure that I’ve done it before as well.

    I guess it’s when you mention the bartender, and her living off of her parents, and how there’s nothing to her. Do you think that in all fairness you can know what she’s all about when you’ve spend such a short amount of time talking to her? I don’t think it’s fair to make a decision like that. Are you assuming that is as in depth as she gets? I mean, the girl just met you, why should she open up to you, a stranger? Not everyone is going to respond to your questions the way you like, nor is everyone going to be interested in what you’re interested in, it doesn’t mean that they have “nothing to them”. Don’t mean to rant and rave, but I know how shy I can be when talking to people that I don’t know very well, and you probably would have known much less about me if we hadn’t been e-mailing each other (Obviously, writing does not present the same dilemma when I’m writing to you). Anyways, I think we’re all guilty of prejudging, I’m not trying to attack you , but I get a little resentful ( ok, A LOT) because I feel that people do that to me often enough, and I feel like you passed unfair judgement on this girl, who would probably be upset that you thought that of her.

    Just something to think about . . .

  2. Thanks for taking an interest in my night in NYC and for taking the time to share your opinions. I will not excuse my judgement since I believe it is justified and accurate. I will, however, elaborate my justification for you, since it was not clearly done in the original text. (I hesitate to report that most people who know me would agree that I have an instinctive character-judging ability, because you may misunderstand this to mean that I rely solely on this talent and that I believe myself infallible. This is not the case.)

    My comfort at Detour was due to the manner in which I was received. I belonged there as much as anyone else who was there that night, with the exception of the children in their fancy clothes. The bar was far from full and the only patrons (aside from me) on the premises were regulars. Nonetheless, I too had to prove that I deserved to infiltrate the clique. I couldn’t just walk up to the actor and the filmmaker and say, “Hey, I’m from Montreal. Our film work is world-renowned. Tell me what you think.” Instead I joined their conversation when it veered toward a topic in which I’m interested and affluent: musical impact throughout the rock era. We eventually began exchanging questions, satisfying our individual curiosities.

    The bartender was even easier to penetrate, since she was almost unaware of my presence. Sure, at first, she treated me like any stranger who comes in to the bar alone. She tried to ask me a few vague questions and size up my story. She tried to figure out how I’d wound up at Detour and what kind of mood I was in. The purpose for this, as a good bartender should know, is threefold. First, you want to make your customer feel comfortable enough to stay past their first pint and hopefully even return on anoth4er occasion. Second, many strange and dangerous things can happen in a bar, and with any properly run business, the staff should be cautious of everyone who enters their establishment. Third, and I’m sure you’ve anticipated, curiosity is the blood that allows us all to learn, grow, and develop. If we weren’t curious, we’d be boring and we’d never amount to anything. It was a slow night and Jackie was relatively bored by the circumstances. She had nobody to serve and she couldn’t smoke a cigarette without l4eaving the bar vacant. It was a natural response that she should make small chat. She respectfully hovered back and forth between the more familiar characters in the conversation of the two artists to my left and my discussion of my trip and my inquiry into New York’s anti-smoking law. Still, this was only to break the ice.

    It wasn’t until the band showed up, her regular group of friends, that I faded into the background and Jackie opened up. I had already told me before he showed up that the drummer is also a bartender at Detour. As the bassist walked in, she told me that he’s a great bass player and that he has great hands. (Read what you want into that. I didn’t touch it.) When the whole group had arrived and were just sitting alone at tables near the bar, speaking loudly to each other, it was as if they were the only ones4 left in the bar. In fact, this seemed to be everyone else’s cue to leave. I therefore had two options. I could extricate myself from the group and possibly even leave, or integrate myself. I chose the latter. While I sat there, Jackie revealed that she had been embarrassingly drunk the night before. That her boyfriend had left early and she had stuck around until well after closing. The drummer, Pat, filled her in on a couple of details from the night that were blank in her mind, such as her karaoke on th4e bar PA or her announcement and audition to the bar that she wanted to become a dancer. It was a close group and an unrestrained conversation. I didn’t mind being ignored at first, but I found my niche after a while and I fit right in.

    You’re right. Most people are shy and not forthcoming with information when they meet a total stranger in thirty minutes or less. Especially a bartender, whose job it is to socialise with so many Gap-clad generics, cannot be expected to reveal herself to inquisitive tourists. She didn’t. Jackie had a perfectly common-place conversation with her friends, while I sat amongst them over a period of three and a half hours. This wasn’t a typical situation and I payed close attention to the finer points of the ni4ght. I learned acutely and I’m not afraid to say that I’m fairly confident in my observations.

    we all shine on
    let’s begin

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