by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
October 4, 2007
TWO ON THE AISLE, TWO FLIGHTS UP
NEW YORK, N. Y. -- No one has to guess where you mean when you refer to "the big Apple," or even just saying "Broadway." It's also called the city that never sleeps, or Gotham. If you live in any of the five boroughs of New York City, you refer to Manhattan simply as "the city," and the whole world knows it as "The Melting Pot." From now on, I'll call it by a new moniker: "The City of Stairs."
I never noticed before, but on a recent trip we climbed one staircase after another to get just about anyplace we wanted to go. Whether it was a restaurant, a hotel, a shop, or the subway, there were more stairs than I can ever recall climbing.
We walked over from our hotel to the theater and after waiting on the line snaking around the corner, we followed the usherette's directions to the staircase on the left. I found myself stopping at landings, moving to the right and hugging the wall to allow the horde of playgoers pass.
On the first landing, I'd flex one foot at a time and then start climbing again. At the next, I'd take time to catch my breath while switching my heavy tote bag from one shoulder to the other.
It wasn't the number of stairs as it was the steep flights. The steps themselves were not deep enough to stand flat-footed on each one before advancing; no, I had to press onward and upward on tiptoes. Before reaching the mezzanine level of the Hirschfeld Theater, I got a painful cramp in my right calf. I tried not to wince.
This trip to the theater was an example of "lucking out," or so I thought before the journey to our seats literally knocked the wind out of my sails. Additional "lucking out" were the two seats on the aisle, albeit in the second to last row. Since we were first to arrive at Row R our being seated meant I had to stand up, clutch my bag, hold my Playbill, and tighten my sweater around me every time one or two of the other 14 patrons in our row arrived.
Still, our seats were $61.00 and not $111.00 that orchestra seats would have been. We didn't buy ahead on this Wednesday, the day after September 11th, because of possible parades to gridlock traffic in from the airport, or delays during layovers, thereby missing curtain time and having "no refund" tickets. We arrived at the airport at noon and before lunch I zipped over to the Box Office where "Curtains" was on stage.
My choice was between two seats on the aisle in the orchestra or two seats on the aisle in the mezzanine. "Oh," I said. "Mezzanine is fine," assuming wrongly there would be a balcony above. My seats would probably hang over the orchestra and, after all, they were center section, so, no problem.
Assuming - there I go again. For some reason I forget New York is a vertical city. Nothing is spread out, everything is compact. You can walk anywhere and when you get somewhere you then have to go at least one flight up.
The delightful musical was spoiled only by my wondering if we'd go to the lobby during Intermission and whether I'd want to use the Ladies Room, another flight of stairs lower still. Going down to the lowest region of this theater, built in 1924, so still revealing that opulent era in theatrical décor, meant I had to climb one additional flight than before just to return to my seat. I knew I'd enjoy going down the steps, but knowing how exerting the rise back would be gave me pause.
I resisted taking time to see Al Hirschfeld's original caricatures on the way down so I could take advantage of resting on the way up. The landings and staircases were lavished with gold tassels on maroon velvet drapes; the brass hand rails were finger-print free and highly polished.
The lines to the ladies room were so efficiently handled that everyone was in and out and back to the show in no time. With time to spare, I lingered long over the art collection of Al Hirschfeld, famed caricaturist at The New York Times whose art accompanied most reviews of Broadway plays for a good part of his eight-decade career. He embedded the name "Nina" somewhere in each of his works, and if there were two or three, then he would put the number under his signature. We looked for those on Sunday mornings when our children were growing up. It was quite special to see the originals on that plush landing in the theater named for the artist.
Those ten minutes of reverie put a new wind in my sails as I climbed one more flight to the mezzanine, and then a few rows to my seat on the aisle. As I complain about how steep the flights are and how narrow the steps, in this case, I can't add my favorite line: "They don't make theaters like they used to."
No, it's not the theater. The theater went up before I was born. It's me. And also the griping tourist who paused on the landing as I did, thus giving a name to what I've been writing about: "Boy, oh boy. This is the city of stairs."
I'll remember that. I learned two important things that evening: reserve orchestra seats and always take time for reverie, the pause that refreshes.
Write Constance Daley at mailto:skylinetoshoreline.com.