My agent, Nancy Ellis, a Californian, is in New York pitching my second novel. I learned also today that a friend had moved to New York to take over a public relations firm. The combination of these two migrations sent me reeling back through my New York memories.
A couple of decades ago I was in New York for a dinner meeting with the Food and Beverage Director of a potential airline client for my airline catering business. I finished dressing early and picked up a “what’s happening in NY” kind of magazine in the room. A piece on cozy little New York bars talked about Chumley’s 86 in Greenwich Village. The writer pointed out Chumley’s was called the “no name bar” because it didn’t have an exterior sign – a holdover from it’s speakeasy days. Still with time to spare, I went downstairs and out on the sidewalk to “New York up,” so to speak.
Note: There’s no time here to philosophize about the love/hate New York syndrome that bothers both New Yorkers and outlanders. I’ve just never bought into all that “if you can make it here, you can make anywhere” New York stuff.
I stepped into a cool, clear January, Manhattan evening. Standing toes-to-curb, I was captivated by a city sparkling as gloriously as its post cards. A man like myself, standing curbside in an out-of-style overcoat, looking up at the buildings is a beacon to any alert New Yorker. I barely noticed the approach of the battleship class limousine. Purring noiselessly, it docked curbside with the driver’s window squarely abeam.
“Need a lift, sir?” asked the driver in full dress chauffeur’s uniform.
Under normal circumstances I would answer in one word, but the enormity of this situation was too much for an outlander. “Well, I didn’t set out to get a limo.” I said with as much poise as I could muster.
“Be glad to take you anywhere.” The accent was Caribbean, the smile genuine.
“You’re kidding of course,” I replied, “limos don’t cruise for rides — do they?”
“Sure do,” the smile was infectious.
“Most cities require 24 hour notice for a limo to keep them from competing with cabs.”
“City likes us to cruise during rush hours – not enough cabs, ya know.” I doubted it was true, but that’s ok.
At that moment my guests walked up behind me, “Well, are you ready for a big night, Bill?”
“Sure thing, hop in.” I smiled and gestured toward the limo. They froze in there tracks. It was oneupmanship of prodigious proportions. The driver was already opening the door to a cavernous luxury seldom afforded the common taxi rider.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Not at all.” I smiled. “I’d like you to meet my driver . . .”
“Neville. Neville Comma, sir.” Flawless timing as the driver bowed slightly to my guests.
Ensconced in the luxury of the limo, I caught Neville’ s eye in the rearview mirror. “Neville, would you confirm our reservations with Tre Scalini.” He nodded, picked up the phone, and instead, quietly called to get directions to Tre Scalini.
“Tre Scalini! That’s one of my favorite restaurants,” exclaimed my guest’s wife. He had the questioning look of a man wondering when we had discussed favorite New York restaurants.
Exiting the limo, I hung back from my guests. “Neville, I’m a poor man, what is this costing me?”
“Tell you what. I’ll go cruise for some more rides and come back about 10:45 to pick you up.” He grinned that big Caribbean grin. “I’ll just charge you $125.00 for the whole evening.”
After a gastronomic extravaganza and an expense account debacle, we were once again enjoying the limo life. “It seems early. How about having a drink at Chumley’s 86 down in the village.” I nodded to Neville who instantly grabbed up the phone, asking for directions in hushed tones.
“Chumley’s 86?” My guest and his wife looked at each other and shrugged.
“Yeah. It’s a cozy little place with a fireplace. Kind of interesting, really. It’s called the No Name Bar because they have no street sign – a holdover from it’s speakeasy days.”
Now they looked at each other with that “how does he know so much about New York” look.
When we later closed Chumley’s, our table had grown to include my two guests, Neville, three ex-Bostonite young lion investment bankers who complained from the next table that there were no girls in New York, and the six lovely young ladies I had invited to join us, proving there actually are girls/women in New York.
Did I get the contract? Of course. So what’s so tough about New York?
Neville it turned out was a wonderful person and a down home philosopher of some note. I always looked him up on subsequent New York Trips. On one occasion I was seated with Neville and two Texas friends at the front window table of a small deli. The sidewalk was packed with people hurrying in both directions.
I pointed out at the crowded sidewalk. “Neville, look at all those people. Why don’t they get out of here, go somewhere, and get a life?”
He leaned back, looking at the ceiling. “New York is a pretty easy place to be. You can always make somethin’ off a somebody.” He paused for a moment. “Actually, New York is like a giant University. Folks come here and learn stuff, then they get on back to where they come from. But they gotta be careful, ’cause New York’ll getcha if ya don’t watch out.”
I guess that about sums it up.