Empire State Of Mind

“Concrete jungle where dreams are made of…”

Ok, it’s been a few weeks since I went to New York and I still haven’t really written about it so I thought I would try to write about it now. It is a bit of a daunting task in a way as we did so much and I don’t really know where to start…

Everyone knows New York. Everyone has seen it in films, TV shows, read books about it and heard about it in music and song. It is everything you expect it to be. I listened to the Alicia Keys song ‘Empire State of Mind (Part II)’ as part of the in-flight entertainment on the plane. I am not really a fan of hers but it seemed like the right song to listen to as we were flying to New York. I hadn’t properly listened to it before and was wondering when Jay-Z was going to start rapping all over it but it turned out that this was not that song. I’m glad it wasn’t.

When we landed at JFK airport and caught the familiar yellow taxi cab to our hotel in Times Square I felt like I had been here before, and in my mind I had. I am a big fan of film and the place is like a giant film set. Our hotel was perfect. The staff asked if we had stayed at the hotel before, Sally had so they upgraded our room to a queen size room for free *thumbs up* and the view from our window was amazing.

Sally had arranged for us to meet a ‘Big Apple Greeter’ the next day who was a nice man called Richard. He met us at our hotel in the morning and showed us around the city for most of the morning. We took the subway to Brooklyn and then walked back to Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge visiting very many interesting sights on the way. If you do go to NYC I highly recommend this service, as you get to see parts of the city that other tour guides would miss out.

This is the part of the blog were I have been getting stuck. I didn’t want to write something that went along the lines of “we went here and we did this” over and over again, and so I am just going to write a list of the places we went and the things we did;

“Went to Red Bank, New Jersey”, this part of our trip needs to be told…

As most of you will probably know, I am a huge fan of the works of Kevin Smith. Kevin Smith for those who don’t know is an American screenwriter, film producer, and director for films including Clerks, Dogma, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, as well as a popular comic book writer, author, comedian, and actor. He is also the co-founder, with Scott Mosier, of View Askew Productions and owner of Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash comic and novelty store in Red Bank, New Jersey. “The Stash” has been a notable place for Kevin Smith to shoot some of his films. It appeared in a deleted scene from Chasing Amy as Steve-Dave and Walt’s comic book store and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back as Brodie’s Secret Stash, a comic store owned by Mallrats character Brodie Bruce (Jason Lee). Additionally, it has many props from Smith’s movies most notably the “Buddy Christ” statue from Dogma and the “Bluntman and Chronic” props from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. The store is run by Walter Flanagan who in is a comic book artist, actor and long-time friend of Kevin Smith. Walt is also co-host of the “Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave!” Podcast with Bryan Johnson who is also a writer, actor, and director who is best-known by his appearances in Smith’s New Jersey films as comic book fan Steve-Dave Pulasti. Also part of the podcast is Staten Island fireman and Tech Guy, Brian Quinn. This weekly podcast is also recorded at Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash.

As you can imagine, we me being a huge fan and with Red Bank only being a 1 hour 15 minute train ride away. How could we not go and visit “The Stash”?

I emailed the store before we left for America just to ask if there was anything of interest happening during the dates that we were in New York. Maybe there would be book signings, recordings, filming, etc, and the response I got back was… “Business as usual”.

Business as usual? what does that mean? 5 book signings and a podcast? No book signings? nothing? What is the usual?

When we first arrived in America I phoned the store from our hotel room. At the time we had no real plan of what we were going to do in New York so speaking to someone in person might give us more of an idea of the best time to visit. A man just answered the phone with “Comics”. I was a bit thrown. Comics? “Hello, is that Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash?” The man replied with “Yes it is, my english friend”. I asked if there anything was happening at the store this week, and if they were recording a “Tell ’em Steve-Dave” Podcast? If so, was ok to come along and watch a recording? He replied with, “Let me ask Walt… Hey Walt…” The guy on the phone then had a conversation with Walter Flanagan. I recognised his voice instantly from the films and podcast. I turned into a “Fan Boy” as I listened in on their conversation. I was then told that if I wanted to see a podcast recording to come to the store at about 1ish on Tuesday. I thanked the man and hung up. I told Sally the news. “They are recording Tuesday and I heard Walt on the phone!!!” I tweeted the news too. Sally however replied with “We are flying home on Tuesday. I don’t think we can go.” I panicked. I was told that they were going to be recording the podcast from 1-6pm. Our flight was at 10pm. 10pm, we could make that easy. I looked at my phone to and saw reply to my tweet from @BryandwaltQ. Bryan Johnson and Walt Flanagan had replied to my tweet about being excited by hearing Walt on the phone and visiting the store!! How could we not go? It would be our last day in America and would be the perfect way to end our holiday. Sally was happy with that and so on Tuesday morning we took the train to Red Bank.

I had no idea what to expect before we got there. Every movie and film location we had visited in New York had been a lot smaller than what I they appear to look like on film. We walked the short distance from the train station to Board Street and I instantly recognised the store front as being that of Jack’s Music Shoppe which was featured in Smith’s Chasing Amy. The left hand door of the Building serves as the entrance to comic book creator’s Banky (Jason Lee) and Holden’s  (Ben Affleck) apartment while the third floor apartment served as the location for the pair’s combination studio and apartment. The interior of Jack’s Music was used for a scene between Holden and fellow comic artist Hooper X (Dwight Ewell).

Directly opposite was Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash. We had made it. Most of the shots of the store in the films are from inside and you can’t really see how big the place is. I imagined it to be a bit like ‘Forbidden Planet’ in London. I imagined a little viewing window to recording booth where customers could watch podcasts being recorded. Huge glass cabinets filled with Kevin Smith movie memorabilia. A massive comic megastore, with many floors. In reality however the store isn’t that big at all so I felt very self-aware when I walked in. The original plan was to wander in the store, get lost within the mingle of other customers and if I had the courage I would ask Walt for a photograph before watching the podcast with the 20 or 30 other customers in the store. However, there was no one else in the store, apart from Walter, Mike (who I assume was the guy I originally spoke to on the phone), Sally & Myself. I guess no one wants to buy comics at 1pm on a Tuesday, so my plan to get lost in the crowds was ruined. The store has only one floor which is filled with comics, t-shirts, figures, collectables as well as glass cabinets with Kevin Smith memorabilia scattered around the store. At the back of the store is a poker table and a few chairs. I couldn’t remember any poker games in any of the films but there it was. I looked around the store to see what things were worth buying (this was also a shopping trip after all) and I found a few t-shirts, comics and figures I wanted. I picked up a Steve-Dave figure (Bryan Johnson) but couldn’t find a Fanboy (Walt Flanagan) figure anywhere. You can’t really buy one without the other so I had no other choice but to ask Walt if there was any figures of… Himself?!?! This was a bit of an ice breaker, and after having a small chat I relaxed and became comfortable talking to someone who I had originally seen in a film a watched back in 1995. Walt was very friendly and Mike soon appeared with a large stack of ‘Walter’ figures. I asked about the podcast recording and Walter said that they would be recording in the next hour or so. Sally and I couldn’t really hang about the store for an hour as we had already spent about 30 mins browsing before I had the courage to talk to Walt, so Walt said I could keep my purchases behind the counter and pointed out a near by Starbucks we could go to. Sally and I then disappeared for an hour and had a look around the shops on Broad Street. When we returned Brian Quinn had arrived. I recognised Brian by his picture from the “Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave” website, and we got chatting. Brian started to unpack microphones, and set them up on the poker table. So this is where they record “Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave”? It was a great feeling. I could now picture in my head them sitting around this poker table chatting away. Before I knew it Bryan Johnson, showed up. Brian Quinn, introduced me to Bryan as “English Russ” the guy from twitter who wanted to see a recording. Bryan remembered our twitter conversation and we all got chatting. Things seemed to be happening so quickly, I started I get the feeling that I was getting in the way and distracting them from setting up.

“I had best get out of your way and let you do your podcast” I said. “Where do you think you are going?” Said Bryan “You’re going to be on it”. I was a bit stunned. I had joked to Sally on the train there how ‘wouldn’t it be great if they mention us on the show’ and now we were going to be on it. “Take a seat” said Bryan and then the next thing I know we were recording…

“Hello, and welcome to this weeks edition of Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave…” Said Bryan as he introduced the podcast. For the next 20 mins or so we chatted away about our trip to New York and if and when Sally and I would get married. I was nervous, but also having the time of my life. It was like talking to old friends you have known for years. However, we couldn’t stay for long as we had a train and a plane to catch and so we said our goodbyes and left before Dave Wyndorf from Monster Magnet turned up.

We got back to our hotel in Times Square in plenty of time. Enough time for us to do a last bit of shopping and to relax and watch the world go by.

I even had enough time to sit and play the piano before having to head off to the airport to catch our flight home.

There was something magical about playing the piano. I wasn’t very good. I haven’t really played for years but I still kinda know my way around the keys. I played some random tune and a few chords. A few wrong notes here and there, but if I knew how to play Alicia Keys ‘Empire State of Mind’ I would have. I had the most amazing time in New York. It really is a “concrete jungle where dreams are made of…”

TELL ‘EM STEVE-DAVE!!

I will write a proper blog about my trip to New York later, but for the time being I will leave you with the highlight of my trip…

TELL ‘EM STEVE-DAVE #19:   “For Those About To Rock”

UPDATE:  If you would like to read more about my trip to America and my time on Tell ’em Steve-Dave,  I wrote about this in the blog entry called ‘Empire State Of Mind’.