The Boys in the Bronx: An Ode to New York City
NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Tuesdays are the bane of the workingman's existence. Mondays are easy to slog through once you put your shoulder to the wheel and grind. Wednesday, of course, is hump day, a small man-made contrivance that serves a psychological purpose of boundless importance. Thursday means you can finally go to happy hour without too much regret, and Friday of course, is what we all truly live for in the end. But today is a lonely Tuesday with no real saving grace, and it was with this in mind that I readily accepted the offer of a close friend to join him in the luxury suites of Yankee Stadium one spring Tuesday a few years ago. I had been out fairly late the night before at UCB (The Upright Citizen’s Brigade, a rather well-known comedy venue on the East Side) to see John Mulaney, a former SNL writer, perform stand-up. But nothing cures a case of the Tuesdays like a free sushi spread, a few cold Bud Lights, and two buttons off at the top.
Eagerly awaiting the ringing of the proverbial 5:30 bell, at about a quarter past I began a ritual that all of us know too well. Excuse myself to the restroom, return to my desk a few minutes later, ensure all of my personal belongings are packed away and ready for a quick exit, prepare tomorrow’s to-do list, and try to hold out on being given any more significant projects that will make me late for the first pitch. Fortunately enough, the Gods looked down upon my afternoon with enough favor that I soon found myself on the Uptown Four Express Train rocketing north towards the Bronx at a speeds of up to 3-stops-passed/min. Taking the Four Train to the Stadium is a sacred ritual, one where the few fans adorned with pinstripes getting off the Staten Island Ferry have their pick of empty cars at Bowling Green and acknowledge their camaraderie with a small smirk of “How Ya Doin’?”, before returning to the sports page of the Post to brush up on their stats for the game. As a young man in work attire, I don’t have the pleasure of participating, but enjoy the opportunity to observe from the outside, amusing myself with the thought that none of these folks know that I am really one of them. As the train climbs north, more and more Yankee fans trickle onto the train until we reach 42nd Street, at which point everyone on the train not-in-uniform exits at the exact moment that everyone on the platform enters. We’ve now added quite a few more fans, and everyone not going to the game quickly realizes that they are on one of “those trains”. The next few stops pass by in such a manner that can politely be described as a cluster^&*%, but one must take in a moment to drink in the chaotic beauty of it all, since there’s nowhere else in the world like this.
The next thirty minutes are spent readjusting my position in a vain attempt to ensure that no one will be able to stealthily remove my cell phone from my pocket, and casually chatting with my neighbors to make it known that I too am going to the game and worthy of some good-natured banter and that yes, Ramiro Pena had to go, and…LET’S GO YAN-KEES…LET’S GO YAN-KEES…well, it looks at if Joey’s already had a few beers at the pizzeria in Grand Central, and if having to stand within his olfactory radius wasn’t enough to make this fact clear enough, he feels the need to start the chant as old as time, but…LET’S GO YAN-KEES, since what the hell, it’s Tuesday, and we’re all on the train to see the Bombers play, right? We’re on “that train” after all, right? The Boys in Blue, the great equalizers, bringing Con Ed Engineers, Foremen, Cops, Teachers, Social Workers, Legal Billing Coordinators, bringing us all together under the roof of one train, since we’re going to see the BOYS play tonight, and it matters not if some couldn’t tell #2 from #13 even if the BOYS had names on the back of their jerseys, since at this moment, we are one…LET’S GO YAN-KEES thunders through the car as people dressed in shirts like me become indistinguishable from everyone not going to the game since we are all chanting in unison, at which point…WHOOSH.
The Four Train flies out from underground into the dusk sky as the sun casts its golden rays and shadows on everything in sight (that is, if you’re lucky enough to have a window view), and there it is, you can see it as you squat sideways in a twisted urban Warrior Two, left hand still patting your pants pocket to ensure your phone hasn’t been taken, there she is (the Stadium), in all four years of her glory, the brand-spanking new Yankee Stadium. It’s never ceased to amaze me, how majestic the journey of the 4 train is, as you spend almost an hour underground, clattering along, rushing along, jerking along, through the darkness to suddenly find yourself right in the thick of things, where everything that could ever matter to you at that moment is happening. Stepping off the train, the scrum is directed down the steps to the slew of bars on 161st street as you are greeted with the mouth-watering scent of dirty-water dogs. At the point, the only thing on my mind is not that I’m in the middle of a Slo-Carb diet and that cheat day isn’t until Saturday, but curiosity as to just how many ruffled one-dollar bills I can pull out of my pocket before I pass the hot-dog man. By this point, it’s 6:40, and the feverish desire to be IN THE STADIUM (though never, for that matter, in your seats) by the first pitch is setting in…but it is only 6:40 right? I mean, the Stadium is right across the street, and it’s 25 minutes until the first pitch, and surely that means there’s enough time to toss back a $3 PBR or two and scout for any familiar 20-something faces at The Dugout.
Lo and behold, my buddy has the same idea, and we incidentally find each other at the bar, each having bought the other an ice-cold PBR. Now when I say ice-cold, really, in all honesty, I have never had a beer that is as PAINFULLY ice-cold as the ones they serve at the Dugout. This place is an absolute machine for cranking out ice-cold beers to thirsty white yuppies eager to squeeze in a cold one after work but before the game. After a few minutes of good-natured ribbing and idly staring at the muted YES network on behind the bar in an attempt to pick up any useful bits of obscure baseball knowledge that may be of use during a lull in conversation with a new acquaintance later on, we realize that it’s ten minutes until the first pitch and that each of us has a full beer left to drink. Caught in that awkward dilemma where we each know good money was paid for this beer, and we don’t want to waste it, but in a circuitous sense it wasn’t exactly our money that paid for it, since the second beer was never intended for us but as a gift for the other, we raise cans, cheers, and try to drink as much as we can to avoid labeling of the purchasing of the second can as a waste.
Walking out of the bar with a slight buzz, a mind-numbingly painful brain freeze and a vague inkling of the onset of a furious urge to urinate, we make our way to the main gate and get in line with all the rest. Taking a moment to drink in the scene around me as we shuffle forward to have our bodies scanned by a local youth with a disinterested interest in maintaining the high security standards of the Stadium, I take in the moment. While there are 32 teams in the MLB, figuring two have the night off, maybe two have day games, that means that there are 28 teams playing tonight, and in one way or another the same scene I’m witnessing is occurring in a similar fashion in 13 other places across the country, I can’t shake the feeling that somehow, some way, it’s done bigger, better, grander, faster, more frantically, more majestically, more timeless here in the city of New York. That being here in this little section of the Bronx, cordoned off from the rest of the community but very much reflecting the local character as anyone who has ever bought a beer or bag of peanuts inside will tell you, is a special place, and that I’m having an experience which few elsewhere in the world can ever dream of.
We now find ourselves inside the New Stadium, which, which, while a valiant attempt to recreate the awe-inspiring dereliction of the Old Stadium, has a curious way of feeling more like a large, pristine shopping mall with a baseball stadium squeezed inside than the hallowed grounds through which Babe Ruth once walked. Surely this is due to the fact that it’s only a few years old, while the Old Stadium had been around since 1923 and thus had decades for New Yorkers to leave their impressionable charm upon the place in any number of manners from unseemly to obscene, but it’s a feeling one is unable to shake nonetheless. It’s only a few more steps before we present ourselves at the gate to the luxury suites, and I realize that while coming to see the Boys play is a great equalizer, there are tiers to the manner in which you can see the Boys play, and tonight, I’m lucky enough to be granted access into the upper-most tier. After presenting our large, gold-encrusted tickets, we’re ushered into an elevator that whisks us down one level to the ground floor, the lower level, the field level. Stepping off the elevator into what could pass for a 3-star Michelin restaurant adorned with a blue and white opulence, we take in the restaurant tables scattered about the floor and the buffet stations squeezed between. When I think buffet, I think Hometown Buffet, but the Steinbrenners think Del Frisco’s. Sitting before us is lobster, rump roast, breaded mac’n’cheese, antipasto platters up the wazoo, and sushi...sushi.
For the entirety of my adult life, I can’t recall a single time that I’ve ever turned down any opportunity to eat sushi, especially if said sushi is free of charge. I used to think it was such a prissy thing to like sushi, and talk about going out for sushi, and plan that sushi date that we’ve been talking about for oh-so-long, but that was back when all I had the balls to order was a Philadelphia Roll, which, while good, still FEATURES CREAM CHEESE. I get what everyone is saying now, and make a beeline for the sushi platter. Filling my plate to the brim, we grab drinks and find seats in the back corner of the dining area. I may feel like a big dawg on the Four Train with one of these golden tickets in my pocket, but I feel decidedly out of place once behind these doors. Everyone seems so important, like they really belong there, and here’s little old me, just trying to squeeze in another round of raw fish. Yet it soon dawns on us that we came here to see a baseball game, and that it’s already the second inning…
We get up from the table and start walking across the dining room, my friend darting across to use the restroom. I pause and hang out in the corridor that takes us around to our seats, and immediately spy a familiar face walking towards me. I don’t know where I recognize this face from, but I know I know it from somewhere…it’s that weird feeling you get when you see someone out of context, that for some reason or another you should know who they are, but you don’t since the last time you saw them they weren’t casually dressed in a pair of jeans, walking about like a normal person at a Yankee game, just like you, but that the last time you saw them…HOLY S&^*, IT’S JOHN MULANEY. John Mulaney, who I spent an hour and a half laughing at his jokes last night John Mulaney. I’m walking right towards him, I mean, right, towards, him and he sees me, and he just looks like such a normal guy, and I have the irresistible impulse, which I can absolutely pull off at this moment, to stretch out my hand, say “John Mulaney? Matt Koller.” And tell him about how I was at his show last night, love his comedy, and WOW, LOOK AT ME, NOW I’M FRIENDS WITH JOHN MULANEY. But the voice of reason on my other shoulder takes over and says leave the guy alone. If that was me, would I want someone bothering me, “on the street”, out in public? No, of course not. Leave him alone. Let him be. It’s only for your own ego that you’d stop to talk with him. And with that, I let John Mulaney pass by, unnoticed by anyone else that I could see.
Suddenly, my friend comes rushing up to me. DUDE, COME HERE. What’s up man? DUDE, COME HERE, YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS, LOOK WHO IT IS. Following him over to the other side of the seating area, he points to a guy sitting in the back, dining with a friend. Who is it, I ask? Again, there’s no noticeable signs that this is anyone of importance…there’s no group of people crowding around him, no bodyguards keeping folks away. Just a guy, facing me, and his friend, eating sushi. DUDE, THAT’S JAY-Z, my partner says.
So it is…so it is. Jay-Z, right there. Ten feet away. Chillin’. Eating sushi, with a friend, no worries in the world, probably texting Robbie Cano. Right. There. There’s no fanfare about him; there’s nothing more we do than simply acknowledge that Jay-Z is casually drinking a Bud Light at the other end of the restaurant.
I walk away with that crazy feeling that you get when you feel as if you were just privy to something special, which you’ll be unable to ever really convey to anyone else (that is, unless you decide to write a short story about it years later) and think to myself how cool it was that I just saw Jay-Z, in person, in such a casual atmosphere. While repeatedly obsessing to each over how awesome it was to see Jay-Z, I suddenly remember my brief non-encounter with John Mulaney.
“Hey dude, guess who I saw right before that? I almost introduced myself to him, and then I didn’t, I figured I’d just want to give him his privacy. John Mulaney, the guy I saw perform last night.”
“WHO’S JOHN MULANEY?”, my friend replies.
At which point I reflect that in NYC, no matter how important you are or how accomplished you believe yourself to be, there will always, always, always be someone or something way bigger and way more important with a story that will always trump yours. This was five years ago, and John Mulaney likely would have appreciated the small bit of attention he received—especially when Jay-Z was in the same room. And I smile to myself because I know that no matter how big you are, in New York everyone comes together to watch the boys play, and that's what makes this a truly special city. Play ball.