Tuesday, October 28, 2008

October Marathon Surprise, Part 2

Who: VN Publisher/Editor in Cheif Joseph Connelly
What: Amtrak, The Daily Show, and Pure Food and Wine
Where: New York City
When: October 27, 2008
Why: There’s a first time for many things

The Scoop: With the marathon out of the way, the time had come to bid farewell to DC and head north to NYC. As I printed my Amtrak boarding pass in the Sheraton’s business center, I had the pleasant discovery that a previous user of the hotel’s computer had done an internet search for the “VegNews Veggie Awards 2008.” If the day starts with such an omen, you know it’s gonna be a good one. Was it ever.

If there is a patron saint of tightened calf muscles, she was certainly shining down on me. I needed to ship a box back to VegNews, and wouldn’t you know there was a post office diagonally across the street from my hotel. Gingerly crossing over, I arrived at the PO door at 8:30 to discover that the PO opens at
8:30. First in line, I dropped off the package and headed to the Metro, just one block away—nice when one is carrying approximately 75 pounds of gear. (Mostly raw energy bars.)

The Yellow Line pulled up at the exact moment I did, and with one quick transfer I was soon at the Union Square station. A few guys on the train had also run yesterday's marathon, so we traded war stories and they, Amtrak elitists, took me under their wing to navigate the labyrinth connecting one mode of mass transit to the other because, well, I can’t read signs. They’re kinda like instructions, you know.

Let me go on the record right here, right now, that train travel blows away plane travel any day. Big comfy seats, plenty of leg room, electrical outlets to plug in one’s laptop, and I didn’t even have to take off my shoes to board, which on this day my sore legs greatly appreciated. For those Californians reading this, I strongly endorse a yes vote on Proposition 1A, the high speed rail bonds initiative, next Tuesday. And of course, vote yes on Prop. 2, too.

I struck up a conversation with the woman seated next to me who was headed to Philadelphia to pick up her new company car. She saw my VegNews tote bag, which I shamelessly carry around for everyone to see. Cori is a “semi- and sometime vegetarian” and occasional VegNews reader who promised to subscribe if I blogged about her. Actually, I just made that up but you gotta admit, it sounded good.

With Cori guarding my stuff, I headed up to check out the Amtrak dining car. The menu included a $3.50 veggie burger and hummus and flat bread for just $2.50—bargain-basement prices. Next time I’ll plan to be hungry. My first Amtrak trip: success.

I arrived at New York’s Penn Station a little behind schedule—a minor inconvenience for which the conductor repeatedly apologized. Hey, it’s okay. At least I don’t need to cab or shuttle from JFK. I hopped the Eighth Avenue subway line, whose three trains have obviously been taken from the VegNews masthead. There’s the A(urelia), the C(olleen), and the E(lizabeth). In one stop I’m at my hotel, which, for my own protection from groupies, I fear I can’t divulge at this time.

Next, it’s off to a live taping of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” I met my friend (and former VegNews columnist) Rose Aguilar, author of the new book Red Highways, outside the West Side studio. Other than the marquee on the ground floor, the building is unassuming—you would never know this is the place from which the popular Comedy Central fake-news show originates. After waiting outside for nearly two hours, we get the last seat in the theater. So much for my reservation. Actually that’s not even true: There were no seats left at all in the audience, but for reasons unknown, three director-type chairs are set up in the sound/mixing board area, behind the headset-wearing techno-nerds playing with all those little nobs. Two of the chairs already have fannies in them, and being the consummate gentleman, I offer Rose the third. This means even though I had finished a marathon a smidgeon more than 24 hours ago, I had to stand the entire time. I hear your sympathy.

I was surprised that the show was filmed in “real time,” meaning no rehearsals, no double takes or re-shoots—what you see on television is exactly what happened “in front of the live studio audience.” The taping took just 25 minutes, though there was a “warm-up” act who performed a bit of stand-up while Jon put on his makeup. Tina Brown? No, Murphy Brown. Wait, that’s not it … Campbell Brown of CNN was the guest interview, hawking her new show "No Bias, No Bull." While I can’t say that the episode on this particular day was all that funny, and we missed Barack Obama by just two days, the experience was certainly worth the effort, even with the constant threats of having your cell phone taken away (no pictures allowed). Maybe Mr. Stewart is worried someone will snap a picture of him with a booger hanging out of his nose. My first Daily Show: Mostly a success.

Next up was dinner at Pure Food and Wine, New York’s preeminent organic raw vegan restaurant. Founder Sarma Melngailis joined Rose and me for dinner, and proceeded to instruct her staff to bring out nearly everything on the menu. I kid you not. We sampled five appetizers (Golden Chanterelle Mushroom and Yuzu Ceviche; Fennel and Oregano Scented Zucchini Manicotti; Pecan Mustard Stuffed Crimini Mushrooms with Pomegranate Reduction, to name a few), dined on five main courses (an Open Spanakopita Tart; White Corn Tamales; a dazzling Shaved White Alba Truffle—the main course off the “Pure Specials” menu; the classic Zucchini and Heirloom Tomato Lasagna; and a hearty Winter Vegetable Tagine), and stuffed ourselves silly with six desserts (a Trio of Dark-Chocolate-Coated Indian-Spiced Ice Cream Treats, which tastes even better than it sounds; the Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse; Carrot Cake; Lemon Cheesecake, and the completely over-the-top Classic Sundae, which, quite honestly, could be a meal in itself—for a small family).

Zucchini and Heirloom Tomato Lasagna

The Classic Sundae

After the indulgence Sarma presented us with personally inscribed copies of her book, Raw Food, Real World, along with a One Lucky Duck (her sideline business because, well, running a restaurant with 80 employees just isn’t enough) tote bag. Sarma is that kind of overachiever, a well-known character trait among those born on September 10. Rose then signed Sarma’s copy of Red Highways, as both are political junkies, and we all chatted around the bar with a few other guests and employees until it was time to roll back to our respective quarters. My first dinner at Pure Food and Wine: Resounding success (and highly delicious).

On this classic cool and crisp New York night, I wanted to walk a little of the dinner off on my cross-town trek, which I did. The perfect complement to one hell of a fun-filled day.

Tomorrow: Sal Anthony’s Vegan Raw Italian Food plus Captain Paul Watson and the kickoff party for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Animal Planet series, “Whale Wars.”

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