Stardust Memories

Stardust Diner

Its been a wild two days in New York City.

Erin spent yesterday and today at BookExpo. Yesterday, she was talked up by Arthur A. Levine in front of representatives of the industry, and he said marvellous things about Plain Kate. The book is being compared to Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and there is a definite sense of buzz developing around the book. Erin’s agents were able to get my mother-in-law Rosemarie credentials to attend the event, and she was very proud of her daughter.

Today was the YA authors, whose books were promoted at the YA Buzz panel, turn to present themselves to an audience. Each author read a small portion of their book, and Jack Martin, the Assistant Director of the Public Programs and Lifelong Learning program at the New York Public Library, conducted an on stage panel discussion which included questions on how each author was inspired to write their book. I managed to get in to see that, and Erin performed fabulously. At 3:30, she went over to the autograph tables (Mick Foley was just finishing signing; I’d also missed Rick Riordan from the day before) to sign Advanced Reader Copies of Plain Kate. Her session was held at the same time as about a dozen other authors, and her line was among the longest, stretching out beyond the gates to the autograph tables, and curving. Erin tells me that she signed books for about an hour, and it got to the point where she was misspelling her own name.

New York Subway

As for me, I’ve been navigating the New York subway system. Yesterday, I took the kids to the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, with a bit of a false start because I picked up the wrong address from the Internet. Vivian was scared of the loud noises of the subway at first, but she took to it like a trooper, and it really got us where we needed to go quickly. The Children’s Museum was really a bit of an overpriced playground, it was indoors, and air conditioned, and it had a play firetruck complete with firecoats and the ability to fight simulated fires with lasers. Of course, Vivian took to that like a duck takes to water. I even saw her running across the room with a makeshift hose, looking very firefighty in her coat and firehat.

The trip also allowed me to see what the Upper West Side was like, and the neighbourhood was quite interesting. I’m amazed at the sense of density that’s to be found on what are essentially residential streets. The buildings are all at least four storeys tall, and packed shoulder to shoulder. And yet this is a comfortable place where people live and children play in the streets. Broadway also had stores and restaurants on offer with prices that were far more reasonable than around Times Square.

Later that day, after the buzz panel, Erin and Rosemarie came back to the hotel and we went down a couple of blocks to the corner of Broadway and 51st, to a restaurant called the Stardust Diner. Not knowing to expect, I looked inside and saw what appeared to be your typical fifties-themed restaurants, with bright red and baby blue colours, record albums on the walls, and a menu consisting of variants of hamburger and milkshakes. I was a little bit shocked at the prices, though, with the most popular burger going for $19.95, but there was more than met the eye.

You see, the Stardust Diner isn’t just a restaurant; it seems to be an unofficial school/scholarship program for aspiring actors and singers looking to make it big on Broadway. In between serving our food and drinks, every single member of the wait staff is expected to take up the microphone and sing for the restaurant’s customers. Songs include classic rock and roll tunes, Broadway showtunes, and Sinatra classics. And you know what? They’re quite good.

For someone who was just going for dinner, you might find it hard to hear yourself think, but I quickly got into the spirit of things, and the girls were most impressed at having dinner and a show. The wait staff have clearly been chosen for their talents, and occasionally a bucket is passed around to contribute to a scholarship program to send one of them to voice and/or acting lessons each week. The restaurants are proud of their alumni. So, really, for that entertainment, a $20 hamburger and no cover charge isn’t such a bad deal.

Later, after a quick visit to Times Square (pictured at the bottom of this post) and before the girls went to bed, I went out for a walk, and took the subway to the southeast corner of Central Park to visit Apple’s iconic 5th Avenue store. Apple fans know this place well, with its distinctive glass cube in the middle of some of a lot of open space on some of the priciest real estate in America. With the place receiving so much press, I had to check it out.

The Apple Store

I was impressed. Apple appears to have created an intriguing public square, where people sat at tables and watched other pedestrians, and also checked out the glass cube and the surrounding architecture. But, really, the store amounts to little more than a hole in the ground. It’s a typical Apple Store located under the ground. Other than the glass cube and the glass spiral stairs leading down, not much differentiates the place from, say, the Apple Store at the Eaton Centre. Still, I was glad to have checked it off my list of things to see, and I also spent the time checking out the new iPad, and changing its standard wallpaper to that of the cover of Plain Kate. A little bit of guerrilla marketing never hurt.

Tomorrow, with BookExpo over, we’ll be transferring to a less expensive hotel out in Queens, and we hope to check out the Statue of Liberty — or possibly the Museum of Natural History (Dinosaurs!) if the weather’s rainy.

Times Square

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