Fireflies & barflies



"What did you say your name was?"
"Good to meet you Paul, and thanks. Have a great day."

And with that, Alan Tudyk shook my hand again, turned off Bowery and power-strolled his pet down 5th Street. You'd recognise his face from the dozens of films and TV shows he's starred in, but you probably wouldn't know the name unless you're a fan of Firefly. I'm a stupidly big fan. That was the reason I'd sat in the audience of his theatre show That Beautiful Laugh just an hour before, a couple of blocks away in the East Village's La Mama theatre. That was the reason I'd caught up with him, introduced myself and complimented his performance.

It was very much a New York moment - a fleeting experience, a serendipitous occurrence that feels unique to New York City. The phrase may be a cliche, and only a fool would argue that rushes of wonder can't occur wherever we are in the world, but each to their own - I'm hopelessly in love with the city, I feel special every time it reaches out to me. Lying beneath the cherry blossom trees in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, gazing up at the might of the Unisphere. Sipping cocktails above the Hudson River as the sun sets over the Statue of Liberty. Stood alone on Coney Island beach in the piercing winter sunshine. The saxophonist under the bridge in Central Park. Stumbling upon a block party in Brooklyn. Spongebob Squarepants and Catwoman making out on Halloween. 

I realised I was head over heels for New York six years ago, when the barman in Rudy's recognised me. I'd only drank in the Hell's Kitchen dive once, some six months before. We shook hands and introduced ourselves to one another. The barman's name was Gary, Gary the Glaswegian, and he wore rounded spectacles, a white shirt, black tie and waistcoat and a devilishly long beard. And then bought Gary bought me a drink because, he told me, I was a regular. In that moment of generosity the city won me over.


Six years later and there hasn't been a trip back to New York where I haven't called by Rudy's. It's small, it's dark, the booths have been reupholstered in red duct tape. But it's still $2.50 for a pint of Rudy Red, the jukebox is still the best in town, the hot dogs are still free and the crowd is always local; the cab-driving philosophers, the comic book writers, the retired Navy marines. The doorman still makes a big deal of telling me I'm too young to drink there and I better have some ID or else. I take everyone I meet to Rudy's, it's my New York tradition.

"Hey, are you Paul?" 

I was stood by the window pouring a pitcher of Rudy's Red, my first time back this year. The voice was a thick New York drawl, its owner wore a flat cap and an exploding moustache that obscured his mouth.

"I'm Danny, I'm the manager here. And this is Jack, the owner." Danny gestured to his frail and elderly friend. "We wanted to come over and say hello, and say thank you - for all the great things you say about us, for being a regular."

They wanted to thank me for being a regular in a bar I drink in three, maybe four times a year.

"I'm 85 now, but I've been drinking in here since I was 16," said Jack between slow sips of his shot. "I knew I wanted to buy this place right then, just had to wait few more years til I could afford it."

"All the years working behind the bar," said Danny, "I must have seen hundreds, yeah hundreds of kids come in here with a new date. They'd say 'Danny, I'm bringing her to Rudy's for her first time, and if she doesn't like it then I know she's not the one for me'. I remember this girl who brought a guy here, and-"

The stories continued for another twenty minutes. Hearing Danny's tales and meeting Jack, it was everything to me and a quintessential New York moment; generous, personal, unique. New York has never turned a blind eye or given me the cold shoulder, only shared experiences and opportunities I've cherished and adored. If we're lucky, we all find a place we feel we belong. New York is mine, every moment I'm there.



"Twitchhiker – How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter" is Paul's book about his social media adventure around the world, published by Summersdale and available on Amazon.
Paul's next book, "Tales from the Edge of America" will be published in Spring 2012. You can subscribe to the book's mailing list to find out more.