NEW YORK CITY: QUEEN OF ENCOUNTERS

Day dawned and with it dawned tragedy. It was my final day in New York City, and I would be catching the train home that afternoon. This wasn’t what had me in the pits, though. It was something that I saw whilst innocently scrolling through my Instagram feed. It was Martha Stewart. This is nothing tremendously abnormal, you know; I follow all of Martha’s accounts. The concern was the woman standing next to Martha. It was Glenn Close.

Leading ladies #MarthaStewart and Terre Blair Hamlisch greet #GlennClose backstage post-show. #SunsetBoulevard

A post shared by Sunset Boulevard (@sunsetblvdmusical) on

Did you scream an anguished scream? Did you cry? Did you let out a melancholy moan that emanated from the desolate depths of your soul? I did. How could something like this have happened? To me? Why didn’t anybody tell me? This had been the closest Martha and I have been to each other. At least to my knowledge. We had been but a handful of blocks apart. I fell back onto my bed in a legit swoon. I deserve happiness and joy and encounters with my heroes. Why hadn’t I gone last night to Sunset Boulevard? I could have been mingling with my IDOL.

Morosely, I packed my bags and made my way downstairs to leave the hotel. Everything was awful and my life had no purpose. I had missed Martha. And my hair looked like absolute shit.

Eric Kayser wasn’t far away, so I made my way to the bakery to gorge myself on pastries and think about how awful my life was and how pointless existence was. This is always a good place to stop by because the quality is reliable. I go to them in Paris and always enjoy the bread. They make a loaf that is studded with cheese that is remarkably good. I love cheese. And croissants. And tarts. And bread. And cakes. And everything in a bakery that doesn’t involve pistachio. I have no time for pistachios.

I made my way down the street, glaring hatefully at the snow that was beginning to melt and cursing the heavens for the warm sunshine. Couldn’t this have happened the entire time I was here? Couldn’t this stupid blizzard have never happened? Wasn’t global warming a blissful promise for December picnics and vine ripe tomatoes year round? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t like climate change and I believe in it…but I really hate winter. I hate it with such a passion that I get unreasonable and would willingly doom the future inhabitants of the Earth if I could lounge out in my vineyard and catch a tan for a few more months. Selfish, isn’t it?

Lost in thoughts of imminent disaster and not feeling at all concerned — for what was the point if I had just been sitting a block from Martha Stewart for HOURS?? — I made my way into the bakery and proceeded to order a croissant and a tart and a slice of cake.

“To go?” the cashier asked.

I stared him straight in the eyes. “No. Here. And a latte.”

I had time to kill, reader, and I was hungry, and I wanted to eat all the carbohydrates that I could possibly get. I sat down with a bit of expectant glee and devoured the calorie-dense nibbles. I scribbled in my journal, I read celebrity gossip, and slowly I started to feel like my old self. My old self who had never been around Martha Stewart or expected to meet her. I mean, what was the chance anyway? We hadn’t even been at the same theater. Just because we were near each other doesn’t mean that we would have bumped into each other in one of the densest spots in the city.

But then an intuition washed over me, a feeling of urgency, I needed to get to the Martha Stewart Café. This is a real thing, reader, this unfathomable psychic sense that comes to me. We’ve discussed it before.

As I made my journey back uptown, I decided that it was imperative to stop in at Jacques Torres to get a cookie for the train journey home. This seemed an unreasonably good idea in that moment, so I deviated from my determined route, and I swear to all the gods that I saw Jacques Torres working in the kitchen. This was never confirmed, but I’ve seen him often enough in television appearances to be fairly sure of his appearance. He was regularly on Martha’s various shows.

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With several cookies wrapped up and in my bag, I resumed my noble mission to the Martha Stewart Café, my intuitive senses tingling palpably. I found the building. I got in line. I decided to get some rosemary nuts in addition to my customary latte. I was stirring my sugar. And then IT happened.

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Now, I might have got your expectations amped up unnecessarily. I didn’t meet Martha Stewart. That’s a moment I’m still waiting for. I completely believe that it will happen one of these days. What happened was unlikely and deliriously delightful.

I saw what appeared, for all the world, a moving fur coat rustling along the floor out of the corner of my eye.

Turning to confront this apparition, I let out a gasp loud enough to startle the barista and I nearly dropped my beautiful latte. It was a dog. And not just any dog. There were three dogs. And not just any three dogs. These were Martha Stewart’s dogs.

I’ll let that sink in.

Martha Stewart’s dogs were in front of me. They were inches from my stained boots.

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They were going on a walk with their walker.

Martha Stewart was in the building.

I snapped a dozen pictures. I loitered. I looked at them with love and admiration. I wanted to give them a message to affix to their collars to give to Martha. But then I thought that was going to be too creepy. I didn’t want to be a creep at all, I didn’t want to do anything that would ever be of concern to Martha, so I decided to revel in my secondary exposure to her.

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And to this day, people don’t believe me even though I have photographic evidence. People don’t believe anything anymore. It’s an unhealthy climate we live in, this era of fake news and alternative facts. I’m so ready for that to be over and learned people to be respected again. Those haters that doubt are, of course, more than allowed to doubt. But don’t doubt me! Do you know anybody more delighted or more in love with all things Martha Stewart? I have subscribed to Living since 2008, I have watched all her shows, I have read all her blogs, I follow all of her social media accounts. I even follow her employees on Instagram so that I can get a better understanding of her and the world she has built. So, I have seen her dogs. Plenty of times.

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I have rejoiced when her chow did very well in a dog show. I have wept over the passing of beloved members of her canine family. I have looked at Petco at the products her dogs have modeled. I don’t even own a dog, but I know her dogs. These were her dogs. I had seen that French bulldog more than I’ve seen any other animal. It was glorious.

It was a moment, reader, and believe me, it changed me as a person. Where I had only seen darkness and misery, now I saw that there was good in the world and that each new day was filled with opportunities to marvel at. And I remembered something that has become a bit of my personal philosophy: you have to put yourself into situations for them to come true. I wouldn’t have had this or any number of bizarre and wonderful opportunities without taking the initiative to do it. I wouldn’t have met Angela Lansbury, Prince Charles wouldn’t have winked at me, I wouldn’t have befriended ladies who live in chateaus or Villefranche apartments. I wouldn’t know British authors that I consider friends or professors in Kenya. I wouldn’t have lost Lady M in Giza and I wouldn’t have Hassan in Luxor. Life is about making it as grand and good as it can. In that moment, looking at the chow and the French bulldogs, I knew that I was exactly where I was meant to be.

Recharged and revitalized, I think I floated to Pennsylvania Station to board the train.  Everything was wonderful and the world was good even though it was awful, but in that moment on that snow covered street, I have rarely been in a better mood.

It took seconds to arrive at the station, so I took some of my free time to wander through the shops and restaurants. Every time I take the Amtrak, I think that I will have tons of spare moments to accomplish too many things. I never do. I tend to sit in the cafe car sipping gin, watching the scenery pass, nap, and avoid the demonic Amish. (Reader, I totally understand that they aren’t devils, and I’m sure that they’re actually lovely, I just find myself supremely wary of them. Something about their lifestyle concerns me. Who would willingly choose to abandon technology and all the myriad conveniences of the future? Then again, why do I judge? I have always had a peculiar longing to be a monk. Is that really any different? I’d spend the day gardening and praying and crafting caskets. Well, not necessarily caskets, but the monastery that I want to visit specializes in this.) Anyway, I don’t actually accomplish much on the train. Still, I had the best of intentions.

I wandered into a bookstore and chanced upon a book on the spread of Islam through the Middle East. Because of my profound interest in this region and its history, I determined that this was a smart purchase and would keep me enthralled for the journey to Chicago. As could be expected, I didn’t even crack the binding. It’s in my Egyptological library right now awaiting me to have some free time. I’m not entirely sure when that’ll be, as I have probably a hundred other books on the topic that are begging for my attention. And I never expected my life to be so busy. I’m not entirely sure how it became this way. I suppose I’ll crate them all up when I retire and maybe I’ll find a moment then. Doubtful.

The organization at Penn Station is a joke. It works, but it is so poorly done. Masses of impatient travelers crowd around and glare at a giant time table. The exact gate isn’t told to passengers before it’s time to board the train. It is the height of inefficiency. I was happy to hear that there are talks of turning the beautiful post office next door into the Amtrak terminal. I think that’s a great idea. It is a huge post office, and since hardly anybody sends letters these days, I imagine that’s a lot of wasted space of prime New York City real estate. It’ll be grand to arrive in New York in style someday. It’s really rather depressing currently. Enough of my train station dissertation.

After ages, and some more shopping for nibbles, the train was finally announced and people made a mad dash. I didn’t understand their urgency at all. We were all going to the same place and we all had seats that were already assigned. It didn’t make sense to me, but then again a lot of the quirks of travelers rarely make sense. For example, on a plane, when we land, why on earth does everybody leap to their feet and grab their bags and then glare around as if they are being held up by their fellow passengers? It is nonsense. Nobody’s moving, there’s no way to get out of that plane. Ugh. I’m ranting a lot today. I just think there needs to be a cultural discussion on traveling etiquette. I’d be happy to lead that debate. First off, no sweatpants on planes. Secondly, dismiss by rows like in church. Third, free wine. I think travel would be much better if we implemented these good ideas.

Well, I finally got to my coach and found my seat and it was fine. The train is really quite a comfortable way to travel if you aren’t too worried about keeping on a tight schedule. Amtrak inevitably starts running late. It’s infuriating, reader, but the price is certainly right. It’s so much more affordable than flying. Driving is cheaper, of course, but then you have to make stops for gas and hotels and meals and it’s so tedious to sit in one spot for so long. And sometimes you have nothing to look at but long stretches of road. And gas stations are truly far from elegant. I have doubt that I’ll ever go for a road trip someplace unless I’ll need my car upon arrival.

Instead of writing or reading, I instead spent the night eating pizza, drinking gin, munching on popcorn, and watching the entirety of season two of Schitt’s Creek. I cackled my way to midnight. It was such fun and I chortled merrily. One of the attendants stopped by to mention how much he loved the show, and I thought that was funny, especially since I had assumed he was coming by to tell me to stop raising a ruckus.

I ordered more pizza and then I fell asleep.

Chicago wasn’t far when I woke, so I lazily made the most of the morning until we finally chugged to a stop.

I was looking forward to depositing my bags and wandering around for a few hours until the next train took off. So I merrily made my way to the baggage storage lockers and I found myself flushed and incredibly angry. They were gone. Gone! I could have screamed every profanity in every language, reader. Storage lockers are something that I rely on when I travel. They were always busy and many were used, so I’m not sure why the station decided to remove them.

My back was anguished at the thought of its long walk through Chicago, but I was brave and shouldered the gorgeous faux leather satchel and made my way out into the cold Chicago afternoon. I was on a mission. I needed cologne. I only wear Chanel, obviously, and making a stop at the shop beneath the Drake Hotel is one of my haunts in this Windy City.

But before I hit the town, I needed Jamba Juice! I’m so thrilled whenever I can stop into this overpriced smoothie shop. There is really no need for them to cost so much or for me to adore them as much as I do. But whenever I order a green juice, I think about Los Angeles and all the fun I’ve had in that remarkable place. Each day that passes, I wonder why I’m not in the city of angels. I know that it’s probably just a matter of time. I have great doubt that I’ll spend the entirety of my life in Hollywood, but I have little doubt that I’ll spend some time there. I have to go to UCLA, after all, to study Egyptology and be a movie star and get an Academy Award and an Emmy for my scripts. So, matter of time.

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As I stomped down Michigan Avenue, memories of warmer days flooded back to me, and I remembered walking along the beautiful sandy beaches of Lake Michigan in the summers past. I really don’t connect strongly with Chicago. For a city I don’t love, I visit rather frequently. It’s such a nice escape that isn’t forever away. It’s too bad the MegaBus is no longer running. That is one of the great tragedies of our time. I would love to go back to the Oriental Institute and lovingly gaze up at the statue of Tutankhamen. I should do that again soon. It’s been absolute ages. I haven’t been back to that glorious museum since I’ve been to Egypt. I think I’d appreciate it even more now. I’ll do that soon, I hope. I’m going to Chicago in a few days, but that’s to see Harry Styles, which is equal in my heart to Egypt.

It was a nice walk to the Drake hotel, and even though I was carrying my heavy tote, I always love the thrill of a big city. It’s so vibrant being surrounded by millions of people doing millions of things. I love that. You can be completely anonymous in a big city in a way you can’t back home. I don’t crave anonymity, reader, don’t ever think that, I just enjoy the diversity of a crowd, so many people. Lovely. I entered Chanel and was treated with the usual grace and dignity and I was soon carrying a beautifully wrapped package out of the store.

Admittedly, the Chanel in Chicago is a bit melancholy after you’ve been to the original shop on Rue Cambon in Paris. (God, have I ever sounded more pretentious? Still, it’s the truth.) In Paris, you are treated exquisitely, like actual royalty, so the perfect customer service in Chicago feels lackluster in comparison. No champagne to be had! I sniffed haughtily and ordered a latte at the Lavazza next door.

Soon it was time to return to the station and hop on the train home so I grabbed an Uber and returned to Union Station. My driver, Robert, was absolutely fabulous. We talked about travel as we slowly drove up Michigan Avenue.

“I was on the shit cruise. You know the one?”

I cackled merrily. Robert and his wife had been on the cruise that had severe malfunctions and flooding and fecal matter was everywhere. How awful, but how lucky he was to have such a fantastic story! That will always be something to share at a party.

Once deposited at the station, I was soon aboard the comfortable California Zephyr and the Mississippi River was coming into view as the sun was sinking into the horizon. I sighed merrily as my trip came to a conclusion. It’s always so wondrous to get away, and it’s always so exciting to await the next trip. I couldn’t wait to be off again.

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