On vacation this past week. It was my first extended stretch of time off since late last fall. I stayed put, not feeling the urge to skip town. I’ve been working extra hours regularly since landing the new apartment in January and finally hit a wall at about Memorial Day.

I’m finding I can make the math work and can handle the extra job hours as long as I don’t try to wedge in a late night of fun when the tank is empty.

Two Friday’s ago (May 31, 2019), Kevin Morby (pictured above) came to town to perform on the big stage at The Town Hall in Times Square. Touring in support of his great new two-LP release Oh My God, Morby is now playing bigger rooms in big cities. He did some 15 US dates on this stretch, almost all of them in big theatres and ballrooms – and without the super-punishing travel itinerary he usually tackles.

He started a five-week run in Europe yesterday. That itinerary appears grueling on paper. Venues with large capacities in Brussels, Amsterdam, London, Paris will begin the stretch. He’ll do the second half of the tour performing solo (accompanied only by Herman Mehari on trumpet) in smaller cities (including Toulouse).

While it’s fun seeing him pretty much in any form or place, the current band he’s put together matches expectations that coincide with bigger audiences and bigger, more majestic venues. The lush sounds from a stage with eight talented, well-rehearsed performers is bringing the fantastic record fully to life. He’s calling it the Oh My God band.

It’s this newly-assembled group of eight that was in midseason form for the New York show:

Lauren Balthrop – backing vocals/shakers/wide smiles
Cochema Gastelum – sax/flute
Alecia Chakour – backing vocals/shakers/artistic dancing
Jared Samuel – piano / organ
Sam Cohen – lead guitar
Cyrus Gengras – bass
Nick Kinsey – drums / congas
Kevin Morby – main man

They played the new record almost in its entirety. Katie Crutchfield, who Morby often introduces to the audience as his “better half,” made a special stage appearance to sing the second verse of Beautiful Strangers starting with “If you ever hear that gunshot.” Crutchfield and Morby sang the Paris part in unison which was special and put a charge into the night.

I really love the song Hail Mary from the new record. It’s such a big, image-inducing number. In it, Morby tells the story of many of the human stars in his constellation – mostly if not all real characters who come and go into a story that culminates with Morby’s declaration of victory for being alive.

The live rendition of Mary at Town Hall came in the first ten minutes of the gig and unfortunately the sound board hadn’t yet found sweet spots with levels. The brilliant Samuel organ part following “it’s all white noise – so play it boys” was lost underneath it all. Even Morby’s vocals were too low for the song’s duration which was only a bummer briefly because the mix found perfect alignment soon thereafter. The bottom line for me is that Hail Mary is an all-time great song. It’s a New York song. It references the emotion Morby has felt while watching the New York City marathon. Hearing that part really clicked for me. I’d always thought I had a peculiar sensitivity to the marathon. The way it makes me feel when I see runners pass at various points in Brooklyn and Queens has generated heavy duty internal thunder that I can’t replicate with any other stimuli except maybe certain high school athletic events. This song’s mention of the marathon – and the winding story Morby tells before getting to that point pulls me in hard every time I hear it.

Seven Devils (also on new record) was particularly powerful at this show. It’s sparely scored to start but lyrically intense. Morby sings with bigger than usual range and then gives way to a serious Sam Cohen guitar jam.

The Balthrop / Chakour backing vocals on Savannah were so cleanly projected – so perfect sounding – it almost didn’t sound real. And then Gastelum comes in with the sax pops while Morby is almost rapping his lines – and wow – what a crazy song this is. It’s an inventive stylistic twist but not completely out of left field given the progressively more ambitious creative output each of the five solo records has brought.

Tickets were $35 plus service charges. I sat in the sixth row – stage left. The audience remained seated throughout except for the very end when the energy of Harlem River prompted people to pop up. There were scattered empties among Town Hall’s 1500 seats. The crowd appeared less youthful, more WFUV-ish than previous iterations of Morby live show fandom. The set ran one hour and forty minutes with a 9 PM prompt start time. Walking out onto 43rd Street with the Broadway show-goers clogging the sidewalks and the lights pulsing was a surreal post-gig feeling.

A week later, I attended the Belmont Stakes on a beautiful afternoon at the big plant in Elmont. I sat up with Carsoni in section 3T and enjoyed watching the pick four sequence open with 18.9-1 surprise winner Hog Creek Hustle. Two logical and legitimate winners followed with Mitlole’s brilliance in the Met Mile and Bricks and Mortar in the Manhattan.

As the Belmont field paraded before the race on the main straight, Tacitus looked physically imposing and starkly the best. He was bet that way (1.95 to 1). But Tacitus (a gorgeous grey) ran extra distance on the outer paths which set the table for Mark Casse’s B actor entrant Sir Winston to win his first graded stakes race at 10.2 to 1. Winston was undercovered in the pick four pool relative to other similarly priced longshots and so the bet paid a generous $2118 on a 50-cent play. The money fattened my front pocket for about a week before I returned to the track Friday afternoon and gave a chunk of it back.

The track announced attendance on Belmont Stakes day at 56,217. Because of the manageable crowd size, there were none of the typical amenity snafus associated with this event beyond a poorly staffed and disorganized entry gate. It took a good 45 minutes to get in the place. LIRR train service was on time and effective. I brought in a deli sandwich from the outside and limited my reliance on the awful, overcrowded concession options to two single-serving plastic bottles of red wine at $15 per.

I go back to work tomorrow. I’m working in the new terminal space at LaGuardia as of June 2. My Mom visits next weekend. Will return with observations about the new airport building and much more soon – now that I’ve finally started to settle in a bit with the new apartment, new routine.

Other than the aforementioned jump in rent, the new apartment’s only adverse impact on life is the additional commute time.

I’ve gone from a two-decade run on the easiest to-and-from work ride imaginable to one that requires some patience and dexterity.

At the Jackson Heights apartment, I’d make a ten-minute walk to the bus stop for a ten-minute ride on the Q70.

Now on the lower east side of Manhattan, it’s at least a 35-minute subway ride from the new place to the same Q70 stop. It’s 35 minutes if the train is clicking right and potentially much longer if there are disruptions.

I work a 215 PM to 1215 AM shift four days a week. To play it safe, I leave at 1230 PM and have been reaching the airport by about 130 PM. If there’s a hiccup on the train, I have some cushion.

My building sits atop the Delancey Street F train stop. I’m barely exposed to the elements as I go into the subway. I simply exit the building and cross either Delancey or Essex and go down the stairs. If the countdown clock reveals imminent arrival of an uptown M train, I’ll take it instead because it’s empty and I can sit down immediately and get lost in the newspaper.

The M runs local in Queens – which adds a few minutes – but I justify it by starting the trip quicker – and by enjoying a quieter, more comfortable ride. The F is my primary choice , however, and I generally get a seat after lots of people exit at West 4th.

I’ve found going into work at midday to be almost entirely pleasurable and painless because I’m feeling alive from the coffee and I have a fresh bundle of newsprint in my hands.

The return home is a much different story. If all goes well at work, I leave at 1215 AM and make a dash across the 94th St. overpass to make the 1230 AM Q33 run to Jackson Heights. I avoid the Q70 bus from the airport at that hour because LaGuardia’s construction often forces the bus into either a major delay or an unpredictable reroute that leaves those waiting for it at Terminal B high and dry.

The Q33 that picks up on the other side of the bridge is reliably on-time at the bottom and top of each hour. From there, it’s 15 to 20 minutes to the 74th and Roosevelt subway station. Off the bus, I hustle down to the Manhattan-bound platform and look for the F. At that hour, they run about every 20 minutes, so if you just miss one – you’re waiting a while. After about a month’s worth of sample-size, I’m averaging an hour and 45 minutes door-to-door total to get home. I think my record so far is 90 minutes but there have been some nights that have become a real time suck fiasco.

Sometimes you’ll get stuck behind a “work train,” which is a slow moving string of cars pulled by a diesel-powered engine to either remove garbage from the subway or is responsible for moving maintainance equipment throughout the system.

Some nights, there are outages or diversions that are announced and published in advance on the MTA’s web site so there’s no surprise. Other nights, the changes can come out of thin air.

I’ve tinkered with improvisation with mixed success. My favorite go-to move so far has been an all-out effort to reach West 4th by any means possible and then switch to a Brooklyn-bound D which seems to run at a good clip. I take it two stops to Grand Street and emerge in old, old New York for a short, invigorating walk home.

The subway in the middle of the night is not only slower and more unpredictable operationally – it also sometimes hosts a less civil and less businesslike ridership. The homeless population finds relative warmth in the subway and on some nights can form a majority on the E and F in the form of full horizontal occupation of the benches. Worse are some of the heavy end-of-the-night drinkers who can inject anger or volatility into the equation.

Dressed as a regular worker, I’m almost always left alone by the late-night guys making trouble but I’ve learned that no matter what – it’s best not to allow oneself to feel peril. Make eye contact when engaged and offer straight, confident and matter-of-fact answers to queries that run the gamut from requests for money to directions to the bizarre, unintelligible blathering of a junkie.

Many of the lower Manhattan platforms, station corridors and foyers without token booth clerks appear to have become magnets for the hang-out drug guys – and so I’m learning on the go with some of those patterns and paths of least resistance.

The bottom line is that it’s a 24-hour a day subway system in a 24-hour a day city that doesn’t sleep. There’s almost always a highly favorable ratio of regular joe workers and happy out-on-the-towners vs. troublemakers – so you can’t sweat what you don’t control beyond utilization of one’s instincts.
Soon, I hope to switch to an early morning shift at the airport which will make the tough end of the commute the inbound one.

The payoff for this more difficult commute of course is the apartment – and the neighborhood. In addition to the F/M – I have the J/Z on Essex (just below me) which gets me into south Williamsburg, Bushwick and beyond in no time. On the days off, I can go a bunch of different interesting directions with great ease. As I’ve boasted to my friend Marc a couple times, I’m just a four or five-minute walk from the Mercury Lounge which is a favorite place that used to be a bit of a hike going back to Queens after a gig.

-Billed in the program’s intro as “live on tape,” the Stephen Colbert show I attended on February 19 2019 was actually heavily edited. One blunder in particular kept Colbert’s estimated 3.67 million television viewers from seeing what I thought was an egregious and embarrassing quip by the top-rated late night talk show host. About two-thirds into the show, Colbert brought on Schitt’s Creek star/creator Dan Levy for a short interview segment. There was banter about Creek’s meteoric increase in popularity (now in its fifth season) and some fun with the fact CBS requires an explainer graphic every time the work “Schitt’s” is uttered on the network. Where it got awkward was when Levy told Colbert that his character David is pansexual. Colbert didn’t know the word’s meaning and said for him it conjured thoughts of a pan used while cooking. Levy seemed surprised but eased Colbert out of his startling miscue and lame attempt at bailout humor by thoughtfully describing what the word pansexual meant. To spare Colbert widespread humiliation, the program chopped the entire sequence when it aired just after midnight in the East. Also on the program was Andrew McCabe, the former acting FBI director who has written a book about his harrowing time in government under Trump. McCabe had already done the big spot on 60 Minutes with Pelley two nights earlier – so there wasn’t the same intrigue – but Colbert excelled at attempting to break new ground. The audience learned that McCabe’s book was subject to US government review prior to publishing. Also, McCabe believes the NY Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal are covering the executive branch with a veracity not ever seen which says a lot given the way the newspaper business had been going up until Trump’s election. McCabe backed away markedly from the 25th Amendment imbroglio that generated so much reaction after the 60 Minutes piece but left no doubt that respected career law enforcement officials are on high alert over this President’s maneuvering and lack of respect for the FBI as an institution. After wrapping up the segment with McCabe, Colbert told the audience that it went way longer than planned. He assured McCabe the interview would remain fully intact but with a commercial break in between. At that point, Colbert recorded fresh outros and intros with McCabe in his chair for later insertion to make the interview whole. Also cut from the show was a really clumsy exchange between Colbert and band leader Jon Batiste that played out at the outset. The Norwegian pop singer Sigrid concluded the show with a full band performance of her catchy tune “Don’t Feel Like Crying.” The comedian Paul Mecurio warmed up the audience at the ice-cold Ed Sullivan Theater (capacity 400) on Broadway and 54th just before the 530 PM taping. Mecurio was funny and helped charge up a crowd that had waited on foot for two hours to enter the theater. I sat in the third row on the aisle just in front of where Stephen did his opening monologue. Most interesting to me was the movement of both the technical and editorial people on stage as the show was about to start – and then as it rolled on. They all worked with the confidence that goes with winning such a coveted time slot.