Can I tell you about the amazing service ethic in this city? This seemingly inexhaustible willingness to give you anything you need, just as soon as you have the idea that you might need it?
My first happy run in with this super-service mentality came after we discovered that the previous tenants were cat owners. I’m severely allergic to cats, and cat dander ( the definition of which, if you don’t already know it, is deeply unpleasant and something you really don’t want to hear) was apparently everywhere in the apartment, so I spent the first four days crying 😥 and sneezing and generally feeling rubbish. JV, the amazingly nice and efficient managing agent, sprang into action. Within a day of my reporting the symptoms, she had amassed the names of three professional firms who could help. A day after that they all showed up to see what they were up against. An hour later they delivered their quotes. When we chose one firm, they arranged to come and do the job on the Monday (this was a Friday), bending over backwards to rearrange other jobs because they could see I was desperate. They came – three no-nonsense women armed with with mops, buckets, vacuum cleaners and a huge extractor fan with a HEPA filter – spent eight hours tearing around the apartment like whirling dervishes, and left. Job done. And all in a third of the time it would take just to get someone to turn up for the initial site visit in the UK. When I marvelled at the speed at which they operated, the fellow in charge of the winning firm gave me a bemused look. “Well if we don’t do this, we know some other guy’s going to do it and then he’ll get the job.” It’s that simple. There’s this fierce desire to work, to get the job, and to stop someone else from getting it. And they all spur each other on.
Then there was Whole Foods. “Do you think they deliver?” I said to L1 early one morning. (All of our mornings were very early in the first week. A combination of jet lag and adrenalin). “Digger, I’m sure they deliver,” he said. And he was right. Not only do they deliver, they delivered that very afternoon, a mere five hours after I created an account and placed the order. (Are you taking note, Ocado?) The lovely Jennifer showed up at my door and hauled in the groceries (packed in those wonderful paper bags you see in films), told me to have a great day, and left.
And at the Container Store on day two? Similar sort of quick-as-a-flash service delivered with a smile. Here’s the scene: I roll up to the cash desk pushing a trolley that is stuffed to falling-over-point with everything we need for the apartment. Laundry hampers, rubbish bins, bathroom stands, non-slip, space-saving coat hangers (if you haven’t tried these, go onto Amazon immediately and buy some. They will change your life) and more. Admittedly, I’ve gotten a little carried away. 😳 Or whatever the correct term is for eyes bigger than belly when applied to the effortless transportation of Container Store products to one’s apartment six blocks away.
Neither the check out assistant (let’s call her K) nor I realise just how carried away I’ve gotten until about two thirds of the way through the ringing-up process, at which point I say, somewhat sheepishly: “I don’t think I can carry all this home, even if I manage to hail a cab right outside the door.” (In my defence, I’m nursing a month old back injury, sustained when falling out of a hammock in Tuscany. Bloody Hammock. I knew it was a rotter the minute I laid eyes on it). I fully expect K to frown and drum her nails on the counter and ask me in a disgruntled tone : “And what would you like me to do about that?”.
But she says nothing of the sort. Instead, she says:
“Alrighty. How about you take the items you really need, and we’ll have the rest redirected for home delivery.”
And I say, ” Lovely.”
What I don’t know at the time, but which becomes obvious very quickly, is just what a monumental task this is. It involves K repacking everything and rejigging the till information in order to reroute the items, and creating work-arounds for the system because I have none of the things that make the system work, (a US mobile number, a US bank card etc etc). It takes FOREVER. Meanwhile there’s a huge queue building up behind me and I’m sure I can feel the combined glares of twenty people searing into my back. No matter. K carries on, undaunted. Unpacks stuff, repacks it, reorganises it, makes a phone call to her supervisor, taps away on her screen, makes another call to her supervisor, never once heaving even the tiniest of sighs, never once making me feel like a demanding fool who should have known better.
Admittedly, there’s a price to pay for this relentlessly cheerful service. (As our concierge was overheard saying to a fellow resident: This is the trouble with New Yawk. You can get everything you want, but you’re gonna pay through the nose). The cat dander people did not come cheap. Nooooo, they did not. Neither did the Whole Foods order. An hour after it’s delivered, I receive an email. Would you like to tip Jennifer? How much? 10% 15% 20%.
Of course I’d like to tip Jennifer. Because Jennifer does the deliveries to my building, and I want her to me happy to deliver to me, not do the food-delivery equivalent of spitting into my drink. So I click on yes, and 20%. Boom. Grocery bill goes up by $45.
So, apart from my expensive but very pleasant dealings with the lovely K and Jennifer, and the fact that we’re now living in a dander-free home, what would be the highlights ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ of the past week? Watching the New York City Marathon while listening to this awesome band, Girls on Top, would be a big one. What a noisy, friendly, energising, inspiring event it was, a wonderful antidote to the tragic event in lower Manhattan earlier in the week.
Other highlights, in no particular order, are:
FaceTiming with the kids and the dogs. Thank God for FaceTime – and email and WhatsApp. I have no idea how families survived separations when they had to rely on those flimsy blue airmail letters arriving every few weeks. Very romantic, those letters, what with the tidy handwriting and the delicate blue paper, but no where near up to the level of communication we’ve all grown to love and need. (Of course, all of this is lost on anyone under the age of forty. Delicate blue paper? What the Hell is this woman banging on about?) It must be stated, however, that the dogs were a disappointment. Dogs are rubbish at FaceTime. They really don’t get it.
FaceTiming with my parents from within the same time zone, and with my sister, from just one time zone away. She’s pretty happy about that too, because it means we can chat at a civilised hour (for her) and she no longer has to appear in her fluffy pink bathrobe.
Discovering that there’s a subway stop on the Lexington Avenue Line just two blocks north of our apartment. Total surprise to L1 and me, as we (foolishly) neglected to check out subway proximity when choosing our apartment. Woo hoo. Just shaved thirty minutes off the trip downtown.
Being invited to have a drink with my friend E at her swanky women’s club on 66th and Lexington. I imagine this is what old New York was like. Giant oil paintings, elegant velvet sofas, barmen in white jackets, women seated in small groups (with their ankles neatly crossed), speaking in hushed tones. Everyone dressed in the equivalent of a twin set and pearls, with the odd outlier flouting the unspoken rules. (One woman sported bright red flares, a red leather jacket lined with red fur, and brown, yellow and white striped ankle boots with three inch platforms.) And no cell phones allowed. Even checking a text behind a magazine will get you thrown out. The whole thing was so fabulously retro (the red flares and platforms excepted) that I’ll have to revisit it at length in another post. If E will allow me. She may not.
There were culinary delights too. My friend C emailed saying she hoped we were trying some fabulous restaurants, and we were.
But we really have to stop trying fabulous restaurants.
For one thing, we’re going to get fat. In a few years time, our friends are going to be looking back and saying, do you remember when L1 and L2 spent that year in NY? And came back obese alcoholics? So sad.
For another thing it’s eye wateringly expensive. Makes dining out in London look like popping to the fish and chip shop in a small Cornish town. Anything that’s on any sort of list – Best Places to eat on the Upper East Side, or Top Thirty Up and Coming Restaurants in Manhattan – will set you back $150 a head. At least.
(Perhaps that story will go like this instead: remember when L1 and L2 spent that year in NY? And came back obese, alcoholic, and bankrupt? So sad.)
These things aside, I must tell you that everywhere we went was damn good. Here’s what we tried (in case you’re in town and want to do the same)
Tavern 62, on 62nd near Lexington (for dinner). Great food in a buzzy atmosphere, and with the added attraction of a celeb chef (from the telly). Said chef came up to our table at the end of the meal, as Celeb chefs often do. I only knew who he was because I’d read up a bit and seen a photo. L1, who had not done his homework, barely gave him the time of day, said afterwards that he thought he was the water boy. Hopefully I gushed enough for both of us.
Marea, high end Italian on Central Park South (for lunch). Of course we didn’t know it was high-end until we were seated and perusing the menu. We were just popping in after a spot of shopping for lemon squeezers and the like in William Sonoma at Columbus Circle, thinking we could do with a hearty bowl of pasta to sustain us for the walk home. Alas, there was no such simplicity to be had, just lots of fancy doo-das with scallops, and shaved this-and-that atop grated fennel and heritage beets. L1 couldn’t seem to find anything he wanted eat (almost unheard of), but to leave would have been the height of crassness. So we struggled on, listening to everything the waiter proposed. L2 was eventually persuaded to go with a special pasta dish served with something or other and shaved truffle. I must admit, I momentarily took my eye off the ball on this one. Maybe I just couldn’t face another torturous dance through the menu. So I let it go. The waiter walked away with our order, circled back and said:
“Just to let you know. There’s a small supplement for that sir. Are you ok with that?”
“Sure,” said L1 in his usual affable manner. (L1 never gets his knickers in a twist about small supplementary charges. It’s one of the things I love about him).
The waiter tried to make his getaway. But I had a niggling feeling.
“Wait!” I called out. How much is the supplement?”
“$135,” said the waiter, without even a flicker of shame.
“He’s not having that,” I barked, in the manner of a practised battle axe. 😡 “He doesn’t even know if he likes truffle. He’ll have the mushroom risotto.”
“Do you have any idea how expensive truffle is?” I hissed, when we were alone.
“Well I do now,” L1 hissed back.
L1’s not a detail man. It goes with the territory of being charmingly blase about supplementary charges. Usually that’s a good thing. Other times, not so much.
Despite all L1’s torturous prevaricating over the menu, and a near ruinous purchase of three shavings of truffle, what we had was absolutely delicious. And beautifully presented. Really didn’t need it though, because four hours later we went to dinner at…
August, on Lexington, with our friends P and N and their son W, over from the UK. August has a lively, very unstuffy atmosphere, delicious food and waiters so friendly you think they might just sit down and join you. But, it’s on one of those lists. Say no more. Our friends took the bullet on that one because they had gotten it into their heads that they owed us some hospitality. They didn’t. But we really appreciated it anyway.
Rookie errors made this week? Just one (that I’m aware of). On Saturday, heading William Sonoma on the West Side, we decided to walk via Central Park. We strolled along 66th, turned left on Fifth Avenue, and entered the park opposite 65th. It was a road – with cars on it – rather than a path, but we were sure the road would quickly lead us to a footpath into the park. Wrong. Fifteen minutes later, we were still on the road, only it had metamorphosed into something wider and busier, with four lanes of traffic speeding by and giant walls rising up around us and a tunnel ahead, and there seemed to be no way into the park. L1 was not impressed. “Oh Great,” he said, “We thought we were going for a relaxing, uplifting walk amidst the green of Central Park, and we’ve ended up dodging traffic on the frigging M4.”
There. We made that mistake so you never have to. You’re welcome.
So that’s been our week. The more astute amongst you will have noticed the reference to “we” in connection with lemon squeezers and William Sonoma. That’s L1 and me. In a shop. TOGETHER. More on that in a later post. In the meantime, I’m keeping busy with my day job.
Until next Friday…
Footnote: I’ve discovered the very best thing about this blogging business. People write back. Sometimes short comments, other times long emails, telling me their own stories, recounting news or things I’ve not heard in all the years of knowing them. I’ve always known that writing – writing of any kind – has an amazing power to help us connect, but I really know it now. It’s glorious. Thank you.