A Colbert Experience

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We were told to arrive by 4:15 p.m. for the Late Show with Stephen Colbert taping. We arrived early, scoped out the line we were meant to stand in and then went across the street to get a Starbucks drink. We returned to the VIP line with our tickets, which my son confirmed well in advance. Our names were checked off the list and we were given wristbands. Our group was one of the first to be let in.

We were asked to wait in the lobby and allowed to use the restrooms. Go even if you don’t feel the need because the restrooms are closed once the taping starts and not reopened afterward. (We were among a dozen or so people who rushed back across the street to use Starbuck’s bathroom.)

There are several admonitions: mainly no phones, or photographs. A comedian came out and warmed up the crowd. He was very funny and I’d tell you his name but I had no way to write it down or text it to remember! He also taught us how to laugh so it would make the biggest impact on television. Several times a stage manager or Mr. Colbert came out and thanked us and mentioned how much our participation helped to keep all of the performers pumped up.

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Waiting in the lobby before the show.

Stephen Colbert came out before the taping began and answered a few questions. Then the band came out and played for us. Then the show began. We laughed spontaneously but more heartily than normal. We were a little hoarse by the end.

After Colbert’s monologue when we had booed a couple of lines about Trump, he came out and explained that he’d have to retape a section of the monologue because our booing, while understandable, stepped on his next line. He reminded us, “You cannot laugh and be afraid at the same time, and the devil cannot stand mockery.” 

It is fascinating to watch a taping of a comedy show. The guests sometimes make a different impression than they do on television. Our evening we had Andrew Dice Clay and I believe we saw how ambivalent Colbert was about Clay’s “comeback” and he seemed more positive on the television show.

I loved the puppy adoption segment because those puppies were so darn adorable. It was also fascinating to see how the team with the puppies, the set, the lighting all worked without a hitch. I’d go to another taping but I’d get my tickets by stalking the website and getting them 2 months in advance. I believe those folks get to sit on the main floor. We were in the balcony. Either way, there are no bad seats.

IMG_2343Tickets to a taping of the Stephen Colbert Show was the impetus for our trip to New York City. My son “won” them in a charity auction after making a generous donation. The prize included two VIP tickets and a night at the Benjamin Hotel on 50th and Lexington. Both were gifted to me for Mother’s Day. I wanted more time in New York and the hotel management was very cooperative in extending our reservation and getting us into one room for the stay, even though I’d upgraded for the extension. This and many other great staff moments make it easy for me to give two thumbs up to the Benjamin Hotel.

Perfect Days

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View of Auckland from the ferry to Devonport

What does the perfect day look like to you? Of course it depends on where you are. In New York City it might start with coffee and a bagel, include a visit to the zoo in Central Park and end with a Broadway play and a nightcap. I remember one day in Belfast it included taking the bus into the central business district and fossicking around the shops, enjoying a coffee, then listening to Brian Keenan read from his latest novel at the literary festival.

Today is a perfect day at home. I am free of engagements and I can do what I like. I’ve walked to the bakery and farmers’ market. Then I went through my stack of travel magazines. I am watching Poldark (season 1) and Netflix. It is a pretty day and mild weather for July. It is a good day for a bike ride or a hike. My perfect today is full of rest instead and may include a nap.  Once the kids, my brother and I were in Dublin and our perfect day included a long afternoon of drinking coffee and enjoying our own company. Then we found the perfect stew for dinner.

Auckland is someplace I have spent many of perfect day. It often includes a visit to the Auckland Museum. I just received the Spring newsletter (remember, seasons are opposite the Northern hemisphere) and there is an interesting new exhibit opening in October called “Sound.” It spotlights the history of pop music in New Zealand. I will check it out when I visit in November. Days in Auckland also include shopping in Trelise Cooper and Unity Books or taking the ferry and mooching around Devonport.

Kicky Time at Kinky Boots

The plot is fairly predictable...spiced up with cross-dressing actors who can really do a high kick!

The plot is fairly predictable…spiced up with cross-dressing actors who can really do a high kick!

Our last full day in New York City and we had one more Broadway Show. We were tired and so we took the morning easy and and then had the bellman hail a cab to Amy’s Bread in Hells Kitchen on 9th Street. This is where Cousin Carrie works and also where you can get an amazing chicken salad sandwich and a pastry. We also had our first opportunity to do a bit of shopping in the neighborhood. It was the first time I had spent so much time in New York City without the challenge of lugging shopping bags home. I was packing lots of great memories though.

We arrived at the theater in plenty of time to get our tickets from Today’s Tix and get in the lengthening line. Mom really wanted to see Kinky Boots because the music was by Cyndi Lauper and she had seen “numbers” done on television and like it. Apparently lots of groups of women who were in the City for a girls weekend or day had the same idea. The line moved quickly and we had great seats. Today Tix was able to buy them for less than originally quoted so we received a voucher towards our next purchase. It is only good for 60 days, so I passed it on to Carrie.

We were excited to see Kinky Boots at the Sunday matinee.

We were excited to see Kinky Boots at the Sunday matinee.

Mom’s review:  Of all the shows we saw (all fantastic), this one was what I would expect from a Broadway show: singing, dancing and big production numbers. All extremely well done. Lola was a delight–funny and sympathetically played.

We really enjoyed the enthusiastic performance and I am once again impressed with how open-minded my 80 year old mom is. She did not bat an eye at the unconventional plot details.

Even though our next stop at Ray and Jim’s was about three quarters of a mile, we caught a cab and went to my friends’ for a great conversation and Thai delivery.

We ended the evening with a Lyft to the hotel. Both Mom and I were completely satisfied with our theater experience and our time together in New York. We were also tired and the bed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Chelsea felt marvelous.

The next day we just had to get up, walk a half block to get an egg McMuffin and be back to meet Lincoln Limousine for our ride to Newark airport. God willing we will do it again in a few years only we will stay in the Theater District and save money on cabs.

Curious Dogs in New York

This drink is named after one of their most famous literary customers Dorothy Parker.

This drink is named after one of their most famous literary customers Dorothy Parker.

Our Beautiful matinee was over about 5 p.m. and our next play did not start until 8:00 p.m. I got out my trusty Google maps and looked at what was close by. The Algonquin Hotel! I stayed here a number of years ago and remembered that they lovingly maintained the historic bar and lounge in the lobby. We sat down and ordered a couple of very expensive cocktails.

The Dorothy Parker is tasty gin concoction.  Mom had a peach flavored mojito. We both sipped and soaked in the atmosphere. We also used the ladies’ room (this becomes very important in NYC when you are away from your hotel for long stretches of time!)

Soon it was time to go to for a quick bite to eat and then to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It was our only non-musical and highly recommended by Cousin Carrie. I found it fascinating. Mom enjoyed it too, but she much prefers musicals.

I saw a stagehand go in with a "Curious Dogs" polo shirt. Makes sense to shorten the title for staff.

I saw a stagehand go in with a “Curious Dogs” polo shirt. Makes sense to shorten the title for staff.

We were in our seats in plenty of time to have fun with the card in the seat’s pocket that challenged us to figure out if our name added up to a prime number. Mine does (163) and I got a button for my effort.

It is difficult to believe this is the lead actor Alex Sharp’s first big break. He recently graduated from Julliard and this is his Broadway debut. He crushes it. Also, stay until you catch his “encore” explanation of how he solved one of the math problems on his A level exam.

“Beautiful” Afternoon in New York

Seeing 4 plays in 3 days requires that you see a matinee and an evening performance on Saturday. Beautiful was always in the top 3 shows Mom wanted to see. It is the Carole King life story. We both had great memories of her music. The reviews were also very positive. First we ate at L’Amico, a new restaurant just a few blocks from our hotel that we found through Open Table. Then we cabbed it to the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.

Chilina Kennedy wows audience as Carole King.

Chilina Kennedy wows audience as Carole King. (official photo)

minutes before the show from a Today Tix representative. The app has many great features. Check it out.

Pick up your tickets 30 minutes before the show from a Today Tix representative. The app has many great features. Check it out.

We bought our tickets through Today Tix. We were not sure how it worked. My email said to look for the person in the Today Tix red shirt to the left of the box office 30 minutes before the performance. It all worked just as the emails said it would. Our person was there with our tickets. We signed for them and voila! We had terrific seats every time at a reduced price. The concept is similar to the Bargain Ticket hut on Times Square, except that you purchase through an app on your phone or iPad and you can shop up to a week ahead. We got all of our tickets, except Hamilton, through Today Tix. Not all shows are available because they are helping the theaters sell unsold tickets and ensure theaters are full.

All I knew about Beautiful was that it was the story of Carole King’s life accompanied by the music she wrote or co-wrote. It was delightful. The performances were superb. As Mom says: Music I can relate to…beautifully sung and a lovely plot well told.

During the closing song I started crying and could not stop. Suddenly I had a vivid memory of all the happy hours I spent with my best friend Harriet in her living room listening to Carole King’s Tapestry album over and over again. Good times then and now.

Exciting Rickshaw Ride Through Streets of New York

Mom and American Julie in bicycle rickshaw.We got out of the theater at about 11:00 p.m. and Mom’s knees were about to give way. There were crowds from several other shows already on the street trying to hail a cab. We saw the bike rickshaw and it seemed like a no-brainer.

I was excited because I love bicycle transportation of all shapes and sizes.

Mom and I climbed in and waved goodbye to cousin Carrie who was headed in the opposite direction and taking the subway.

Rickshaw driverOur pedaler had a few false starts to find a way through the jam of cars in the parking lots and street and soon we were racing through the streets of New York from the theater district west 47th Street to Chelsea on west 28th Street.

It was thrilling. New York City looked beautiful.New York at night

Our driver was originally from the Ukraine and very fit. He was charging by the minute and he did not dawdle. He took every advantage to keep moving.

It was $120 for 20 minutes. This makes it as expensive per minute as the helicopter ride we took in New Zealand, and almost as exhilarating.

Here is Mom’s impression:

A bus on one side and a cab on the other. Then were careened in front of the cab and my adrenaline was on high!! 20 min of heart stopping zigging and jagging in traffic was all this old heart could stand but I’m so glad for the experience ONCE.

New York at night

Jewel of a Tenement Museum and other NYC Delights

My mom Karen with Tenement Museum guide Laura.

My mom Karen with Tenement Museum guide Laura.

My mom turned 80 in August and to celebrate we planned a long weekend in New York City to enjoy as much theater as possible. We arrived very early the morning of September 11. The television was dominated by coverage of the reading of the names of the victims in New York City on that fateful day. It made for a somber start. The National September 11 Museum was having a grand opening, but we decided to visit on a less crowded day and instead hopped in a cab to visit the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side.

My friends Harriet and Brian raved about the Tenement Museum and on their recommendation we purchased tickets to the “Hard Times” one hour tour. We arrived a few minutes late, so one of the docents escorted us to 97 Orchard Street. Laura, our tour guide and storyteller, was still explaining the history of the building when we joined.

The museum has carefully preserved the building and its apartments. They have reconstructed families’ stories to share with visitors. In this particular tour Laura told us about a German Jewish family who lived in the building during the recession of 1873 and then an Italian family who lived in the front apartment during the Great Depression. We learned about the various waves of immigration arriving on New York City’s shores and the laws that shaped opportunities. Immigrants are generally the most vulnerable in a economic downturn. And for these families there was no safety net from the government or from charity.

The small space and basic accommodation was a reminder of how much the dream of a better life in America sustains people. Afterward we talked to our tour guide Laura about her family experience coming to America from Cuba and mom shared how our ancestors immigrated to the Minnesota prairie and lived in sod houses. Immigration became something of a theme for this trip.

Mom’s impressions: 

The first family we visited were Jewish. At that time they had only water and out houses in the courtyard. No heat except the kitchen stove. The apartments were three rooms: a kitchen, a living space and a bedroom. 

The second family had about the same space but by then they had cold water in the kitchen and a john in the hall. They were Italian. By then the Jewish families were doing better an had moved uptown.

Feast of San Gennaro

Feast of San Gennaro

Afterward we walked toward SoHo and stumbled upon the Feast of San Gennaro (September 10-20). It was a combination street fair and carnival with a distinctly Italian flare.

We walked on to Houston Avenue and caught a cab to the hotel. My mom has the spirit of a 40 year old and the knees of someone her age. I was going to realize later that there is only so much we can walk.

The Hard Times tour tickets were $25 each and available in advance from the website. Tickets may also be purchased at the corner museum shop at Orchard and Delancey in the Lower East Side.