Sunday, September 07, 2003

Past the Comfort Zone

There is a guy out on City Island who hasn't been into Manhattan in 27 years.

City Island is an Italian enclave off of the Bronx where, like many of the cozy neighborhoods in New York, people don't feel any need to brave public transportation into the crowds and noise downtown. I hardly get downtown anymore. It takes a lot of effort to watch two kids on a subway platform. Besides, we can get everything we need up here. If I'm desperate for $5 t-shirts, I take the car across the bridge to Target. It's easier to stay put.

But since we do live in the greatest city in the world, I made the effort to get downtown this weekend. After working at the library on Saturday afternoon, I met my friends, Susan and Margie, at Union Square. We walked through ABC Carpets to check out the hippest home furnishings. Velvet cushions, Moroccan lamps, antique Chinese armoirs, and green glass cups are displayed like a collage. I spent $30 on a blue cheese burger and two pints of apricot ale at the Heartland Brewery. Then too full to drink any more, we did some window shopping. (The fall look is all about black tights and heels.)

This afternoon, feeling daring, the family drove down to Chinatown. Chinatown is one of the most congested areas of the city for people and cars. Tourists swarm around the stalls of cheap handbags and knockoff watches. Old Chinese ladies carry bags of dried fish and strange vegetables. I'm afraid to let go of Jonah's hand in case he gets swallowed up by the crowd. And traffic is always jammed up as cars try to get onto Holland Tunnel or onto the Williamsburg Bridge. Driving there is not for the weak of heart.

We lucked into a parking spot just south of Canal Street. Tribeca is a great area of the city that I haven't explored enough. This is Robert DeNiro country. Expensive lofts in 150 year old buildings. Some haven't been converted yet with long forgotten companies still advertised on the windows.

We headed over to our favorite Chinese restaurant, The Excellent Dumpling House. The name says it all. Why go all the way downtown for Chinese food? Because there is nothing like the real thing. I might have good Chinese food elsewhere, but it is only a distant cousin to the food in Chinatown.

We've been going to the Excellent Dumpling House for years, never trying out any of the other hundred places. When it comes to men and Chinese restaurants, I'm a serial monogamist.

Like all the other holes in Chinatown, the waitress first brings out the tea in a stainless steel kettle for the table. You pour the tea into water glasses and then order. We always get their steamed vegetable dumplings, scallion pancake, the fried noodles in a black bean sauce, and then one other dish. At the end of the meal, after you've eaten the cookies, they pour the leftover tea on the table and wash with it.

I tried to check out the handbag stalls, but the kids were too tired. Right before we got into the car, we wandered into a furniture store, John Kelly Furniture. The guy had beautiful handmade peices that were both modern and mission. He combined the use of glass and chrome pulls with the straight lines and love of wood of old style mission. When we make it big, I'm going back there.

So unlike the old man on City Island, I ventured past the comfort zone this weekend.

One good thing about living too long in the comfort zone is that when you do venture out, it's like taking a vacation. No passport needed. The A train takes you away from 6 floor residential apartments, bodegas, and strollers and let's you off in a world of pints of ale, velvet pillows, and modern furniture.

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