For the Love of Traverse City

Scott’s and my weekend visits to Traverse City, Michigan are few and far between, but after this past trip, I’m thinking that needs to change. Before you’ve been to TC, it’s easy to dismiss it as a typical smallish town that hosts a cherry-themed festival once a year and doesn’t have much to its name beyond that. And that’s a shame, because it’s much more than that. There are wineries and beer bars and a one-screen theater that shows the kinds of movies you never knew you wanted to see, but for $3 (or 2 for $5!), how could you ever say no? It’s bursting with culture and personality and a thorough hipness that’s somehow untainted by pretension–thus making it unavoidably enjoyable.

This time around, we saw two movies, ate all kinds of food, glorious food, and stopped by something like four bars. My brother, our host, made us French toast, introduced us to another party-style Wii game, and took us to a cidery for a tasting. And we spent a solid hour or two walking around the lake as the Scotts (my brother’s name is Scott, too, because of course it is) talked about my brother’s future in law, state politics, and boat ownership while I studied the water and the multitude of dogs that made their way up and down the pier.

Now, let’s talk about these movies.

I’d be hard pressed to think of two movies more different than The Room and The Cabin in the WoodsThe Room is widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made; The Cabin in the Woods is a highly praised borderline brilliant horror comedy. It’s good to prepare for The Room, knowing what to yell at the screen, when to sing the Full House theme, and how many spoons you’ll need to throw at the too-large images of Tommy Wiseau awkwardly making love to the undeserving object of his affection. But with The Cabin in the Woods, it’s best to go in completely blind. Even a simple plot summary works as a spoiler, and knowing nothing leads to the best kind of surprises. No one should ever be quiet during a showing of The Room; everyone should be dead silent in a screening of The Cabin in the Woods. You get the idea.

And yet somehow I enjoyed one as much as the other, albeit in completely different ways. First, let’s talk about The Room. As I said, this is a movie worthy of examination simply because of its badness. The dialogue is stilted, the story is laughable, and the production value, well, it leaves more than a little bit to be desired. It begs to be mocked, and that’s what audiences have been doing for nearly a decade now. Sarcastic comments, spoon tossing, direct responses to the more absurd lines of dialogue–all is welcome, even encouraged. I can’t imagine experiencing The Room in any other way and am so grateful to have done so at 11 pm in a comfy theater seat with a bucket of popcorn on my lap and spoons in hand.

Now, the less said about The Cabin in the Woods, the better. I hesitate to recommend it to just anyone, as it really is unlike any other horror film I’ve seen. It’s frightening, sure, with its fair share of surprises and spurts of violence, but those moments are more than redeemed with the consistently witty dialogue and the impressively clever conceit of [REDACTED]. It’s not overwhelmingly Whedonesque, but it has his fingerprints sprinkled throughout it, tempered by the deft direction of Buffy, Angel, and Lost alum Drew Goddard. This is a well performed, well written, and extremely satisfying movie, a perfect cap on a weekend filled with homemade breakfast, gorgeous Michigan weather, locally made cider, candy factory floors turned lofts, artisan pizzas, recollections of near-miss bar fights, and the kind of fun you feel like you deserve every now and again.

Concerning The Isle Of Manhattan

I really didn’t want to love New York. It’s gigantic, it’s frantic, and it’s other words that don’t end with -antic. And that’s what I was telling myself even as we hopped off the plane and into the line outside LaGuardia leading to the cab that would whisk us away to midtown Manhattan. But as soon as I saw the sprawling city from a highway I’d be terrified to navigate, plus a skyline peppered with buildings that could easily house the Bat Signal, my stubborn attitude and, perhaps, those little town blues were melting away.

Staying with knowledgeable friends in an otherwise unfamiliar city is, as it turns out, very different from striking out on your own. Elizabeth and Rebecca, who were just about the best hosts possible, helped us make a list of what we’d like to do and see during our visit. Kyle, another longtime friend, added a couple more suggestions. We hit a lot of places on our list and then some, but left enough that there’s reason to go back (as if there weren’t already).

What We Did. Elizabeth and Rebecca live within walking distance of … well, I was going to make a list, but it seemed too long. So, with the occasional aid of the subway (and a ferry or two in there), we were able to make it to Times Square, Rockefeller Center (where we did the NBC studio tour, wee!), Liberty & Ellis Islands, Battery Park, Central Park, New York Public Library, the Museum of Modern Art, Union Square, and elsewhere. Whoops, that was a list. Also, Kyle introduced us to the Chelsea area, where we went to High Line Park and, later, UCB (see below).

Plus, we saw an animatronic T. rex and a Jurassic Park gate at the Toys R Us store in Times Square our first night, therefore convincing me that New York might actually be the greatest city in the world.

What We Saw. Elizabeth and Rebecca were gracious enough to stand in line for rush tickets for How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. We ended up in the fifth and sixth rows of the orchestra section, watching Daniel Radcliffe, John Larroquette, and a group of ridiculously talented singers and dancers do their thing. The next day, Kyle, Scott, and I headed to Chelsea for ASSSSCAT 3000, Upright Citizen Brigade’s weekly show. It was pretty amazing to see these comedians (Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, and Paul Scheer, among others) getting paid next to nothing to perform a free show for a group of 200 sweaty people who have never laughed so hard in their lives. On our last full day, Scott, Rebecca, and I went to a Daily Show taping. We nearly didn’t get in–they were counting out 12 more people, and we were numbers 6 through 8–so it was that much sweeter and funnier, and altogether more entertaining when we did.

Also, Scott’ll be sad if I don’t mention this: he spoke with both Amy Poehler and Jon Stewart, and in both instances, he made them smile and laugh, and as consequence, he is not allowed to complain about anything ever again.

What We Ate. We skipped out on the standard New York hot dog and instead opted for some of our friends’ local favorites, in addition to an experiment or two. John’s Pizzeria was our starting point. It’s across the street from where The Phantom of the Opera … plays? Exists? Thrives forever and ever? And it’s a prime example of why people love New York pizza. Since this is one extended love letter to NYC, I’ll still drop this in here: Chicago style is better. Anyway, we also had sushi and other deliciousness near Central Park, some of the best Italian I’ve ever had in Little Italy (I ate an artichoke! Who does that?!), remarkably satisfying burgers and fries at Shake Shack near (?) Broadway, some quality BBQ in Chelsea, tasty soup in 30 Rock, the best pie EVER in Murray Hill, great Thai near Union Square, and other assorted yumminess. That’s right. I said “yumminess.” And I’m not looking back.

So. There you have it. New York is amazing, and I should’ve known it would be irresistible.