The purpose of this blog is to provide commentary on media, sports and entertainment (it says so in the upper right-hand corner in case you missed it) from the perspective of my own experiences. This week, however, I am bypassing the commentary portion and merely providing a summary of my own experiences.
Having lived in New Jersey for 12 years, which is now a measly 28.5% of my life, I’ve reached the point where it would take a death in the family to bring me back there. Sadly, that’s what happened last week when my 97.5 (Who counts half-years at that age? I do.) Grandmother passed away in California, rendering the services to be held in her home state of New Jersey.
Aside from two things: my Grandmother being gone and my being away from my wife and three kids, it was quite an amazing week. I might even suggest it was a perfect week – again, minus those two points that can’t be discounted.
I saw my two best friends from high school and their respective families and also saw many relatives I hadn’t seen since my previous visit in October 2004 (for my Grandmother’s 90th birthday party). Two relatives I saw were also in their 90s. I am amazed that so many in my family lived into their late 80s and 90s. Also I note that Italians seem to age very well. My Grandmother’s younger brother was looking spry at 89. He was a two-time New Jersey amateur state golf champion in his heyday. He still gets around on foot and by car. His hearing may be failing him but otherwise he’s the picture of perfect health.
I had wondered whether I’d ever set foot in new Yankee Stadium or the Prudential Center, aka “The Rock”. Mission accomplished on both.
Yankee Stadium was as spectacular as advertised. It preserved all the aesthetic architectural qualities of the original house that Ruth built while adding modern amenities and conveniences, like a wide concourse that allows you to order food while still being able to see the action on the field. Rightly so, the park opens two hours before game time – which gives you plenty of time to take in the experience; you can read the passages of every monument in Monument Park. You can do what I did and ascend to the very top row of the stadium, and hold on for dear life in the process.
We also lucked our way into a Disney Magic NY Cruise video ad – where we and other Yankee fans offered our recorded greeting to would-be cruise passengers with a “Disney Magic” chant to the tune of the familiar “Let’s Go Yankees (or other East Coast team)”. We were told the video would air on the Disney Parks blog site last Friday but I have yet to see it. Ah well, it was fun anyway.
Meanwhile, I couldn’t help but think of the timing of my Grandmother’s passing and how it coincided with the New Jersey Devils Eastern Conference Finals series against the cross-river rival New York Rangers. The week before, I couldn’t have imagined from California that I’d be a part of the decisive Game 6 – but that’s what happened.
What a scene it was. In the old days of Devils-Rangers matchups in New Jersey, you might get as many as half the attendees representing the Rangers. However, now that the Devils have been in Jersey for 30 years, you have an entire generation of Jersey hockey fans whose home team is the Devils. Thus, my estimate at Game 6 was about 10-1 Devils fans – although in my particular row, it was the opposite for whatever reason. That made the victory more sweet though. For the most part, the banter was good-natured between the Devil and Ranger fans, though one fight nearly broke out. It was befitting of New Jersey that in the prototypical “Hey!” song they play after a goal, the Devil fan version is to follow the “Hey!” with “You suck!” I can’t say I joined in on that tradition, but I did laugh every time I heard it (3 times that game, as it were).
I was as impressed with the modern arena and the somewhat-revitalized Newark area (also featuring the NJ Performing Arts Center) as I was the atmosphere outside the arena before the game. A band playing, food concessions, face painting, professional photo-taking, kids playing street hockey – all right across the street from the arena entrance. Good times.
For good measure, I also enjoyed the Cole Porter tribute on Broadway, “Anything Goes”. As in often the case with matinee performances, we saw the understudy in the lead role, but who cares? She (Kiira Schmidt) was great! Same thing happened in 1998 when my wife and I saw Phantom of the Opera with the understudy. However, in ’95, my Grandmother went to see “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying” and decided to trade in our tickets for the following week when we were told that Matthew Broderick’s understudy would be playing the lead role. For the record, of the plethora of Broadway shows I’ve been fortunate to see, I’ve seen Broderick twice (How To Succeed, Brighton Beach Memoirs) and his wife, Sarah Jessica Parker once (Annie).
As for “Anything Goes”, well, I have seen 42nd Street, A Chorus Line and Dancin’ – but I can’t recall seeing a better tap dance routine than the one performed to the title number of this show. Bravo. My mom was also amazed to discover that she had seen one of the show’s costars, John McMartin, nearly 50 years ago on Broadway in “Sweet Charity”. Impressive, both for McMartin and my mom.
Finally, my primary mission when visiting back East is to consume as often as humanly possible the many foods that I can’t get in California*. (*Some of the items below can be obtained in California but they aren’t nearly as good.)
Without further ado, here is the heralded food list; i.e., items I had while in New Jersey/New York. The only one I missed from my usual list was the Chinese food with crispy chow mien noodles. Once I ordered this in a Phoenix-area restaurant and the owner promptly came to my table and said, “You must be from back East.” Indeed.
New Jersey/New York Food Checklist:
- Dunkin Donuts (including coffee)
- Pizza (NY style – only had two slices all week)
- Pastrami sandwich from Jewish deli (across the street from a Medieval Times)
- Four kinds of kosher pickles
- Knishes (Jewish deli AND Yankee Stadium)
- Baked ziti
- Italian bread
NOTE: It’s reached the point where I can finally get some decent Italian bread in Northern California, but not with the sesame seeds like they have back East.
- Sausage and peppers
- Chicken oreganato
- Stuffed artichoke (yum!)
- Italian cheesecake
- Tailor ham, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich
- “Jersey Burger” (Hamburger topped with Tailor ham)
- Italian sub sandwich
- Italian ice (three flavors: lemon, cherry and chocolate)
- Corned beef on a poppy seed bagel
- Italian style hot dogs (with peppers, potatoes and onions on Italian roll)
- Carvel ice cream (including Pepsi float at Yankee Stadium and Devils souvenir cup)
- Tastycakes (my suitcase was 6 lbs. overweight coming home so I had to carry them on)
- Entenmann’s cakes
(I know, you can get them in California - it took them a hundred years to get here - but not nearly the selection back East. See below. Back home, my local Nugget grocery store had two measly rows. My favorite are the chocolate devil’s food crumb donuts.)
Well, it’s great to be back home after such a whirlwind week. I can’t say I miss the food yet, since I brought so much of it home with me. I also can’t say I miss the humidity. Even on a 75-degree day back East you are drenched with perspiration. A three-shower day is not uncommon in summer.
I’m glad to be back with my family, but it was great to see cousins, aunts, uncles and childhood friends, Yankees, Devils, Broadway stars and more.
Thank you, Grandma and RIP.