Back from an Empire State of Mind

The view from my hotel room.

I just got back from a business trip to New York, and while I always enjoy going out there, lately I had begun to feel like I was in a rut. Packing the same carry-on for the same flight, staying at the same convenient place, adhering to the same sensible timetable, having the same single weeknight free to explore the city.

It’s called a “business trip” for a reason — I’m there for work. But I wanted to regain the same sense of excitement I had during my first visits, because I think it can reflect in the work you conceive and create while you’re there. This time I picked a hotel in a different part of town — not in Midtown Manhattan, but an easy commute via subway. It was called the Fashion 26 when I made my reservation, but by the time I arrived it had been rebranded as a Hilton. The rooms were smaller than what I was used to at the Flatotel — but still decent, about the size of my bedroom at home — plus I had a view of the Empire State Building from my bed. (The night I checked in, the lights were green/blue/green in honor of Corporate Philanthropy Day — the What Color Is the Empire State Building website lets you learn what colors the lights will be, and why — but I think I like the classic whites best.)

On a break between meeetings we ventured Dylan’s Candy Bar, the 15,000-square-foot candy shop that Ralph Lauren’s daughter opened. I had high hopes for confectionary heaven, but was quickly unhinged by songs like “Big Rock Candy Mountain” and “The Candy Man” playing at incredibly loud volume. (Note to Dylan: You know “Big Rock Candy Mountain” is about hobos … right?) The grim faces of the employees (a lot of dudes!) belied the FUN! COLORFUL! AT TOP VOLUME! atmosphere, although in their defense if I were subjected to that music all day, I would have long ago gone Candy Equus and gouged out someone’s eyeballs with a sharpened candy cane or lollipop stick, so they’re made of stronger stuff than I. I grabbed four chocolate bars as quickly as I could, paid and bolted.

Seeing its progress is only more frustrating.

I subwayed it to Uniqlo and CB I Hate Perfume; my purchases are making their way Phoenix-ward as we speak. I have the tracking order to prove it, although I’d like to know how sending my package to the West Coast so it can bounce around California for a day is the most efficient way to get it here. Then again, I don’t work for a company that handles millions of packages a day, so maybe I should stop second-guessing. I paid for 3-day shipping, so they’ve got 3 days. And I didn’t have to worry about getting anything through the security screeners or breaking in my checked luggage.

On my free night, I got to visit my former boss and his wife and son, who just moved to the Upper East Side. While walking around the city I’d been gazing at buildings and daydreaming about how different my existence would be if I lived in New York — busy career guy on the go! — but the prospect of expensive rent for a tiny apartment always put a damper on the daydreams. Their apartment was bigger than I had thought it would be, so I was like, “Hey, this is doable!”

This is practically life-size.

And then, as we were headed out to eat, I saw the kitchen. I had missed it on the way in, but this time it stopped me in my tracks and I did one of those choked sounds of horror. “This is your entire kitchen?” I said, incredulously. “Where do you keep your plates?” Then I gave up all sense of decorum and started opening cabinets until I found: four plates, stacked vertically. As you can see, the sink is atop the dishwasher, which makes for a super-shallow pan, and there’s absolutely no counter space. “When we need to do food prep, we just put this cutting board over the sink,” Carey said, as I stood agog. (The other side of the kitchen has the refrigerator and a tall, narrow cabinet, perfect for storing single boxes of cereal.) “Looking at this is making me really uncomfortable,” I said. “We need to go.”

Also uncomfortable: Cold wind. I had brought along knit caps but had hoped to avoid wearing them, because they tend to reshape curly hair into the least-flattering mass of cowlicks possible,. But when it dropped to 29 degrees at night, with blowing winds that made it closer to zero, I abdicated all vanity for the sake of warm ears. I pretended I looked thuggy, even though my cap was two-toned olive cashmere that matched my coat.

So I’m glad to report that the fun was back. But I was also delighted to get back to Phoenix to thaw out. When I hopped off the airport shuttle and walked to my car, I took a screen grab of the temperatures in New York and Phoenix to remember to appreciate what we’ve got here.

Phoenix may not be the media and financial center of the nation, but on Saturday we had prickly pear margaritas on the patio of El Encanto, and tonight we dined al fresco at Pita Jungle in downtown Phoenix. I suspect that I’m wired more for a resort-city lifestyle than a rat-race one.

The shirt: Ouija board T-shirt, from Urban Outfitters at Cherry Creek Mall, Denver.
The shorts: Soccer shorts by Adidas, from Sports Authority.
The shoes: Running shoes by Nike, from the Nike outlet store at Anthem.

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