My trip to NYC via Air Monopoly

We have known English people who have lived their whole lives in England without ever popping across 20 miles of English Channel to have a look at Paris. This is usually because they don't like the French. They will die in...

We have known English people who have lived their whole lives in England without ever popping across 20 miles of English Channel to have a look at Paris. This is usually because they don’t like the French. They will die in England, in the rain, an hour and a half from Paris, without ever having laid an eyeball on it. All together now, these people are nuts.

And yet, and yet, each time we return from New York, babbling deliriously, we encounter Canadians, Torontonians even, who look at you oddly and say in a superior way New York? I’VE never BEEN to New York! This may be because they don’t like Americans. Or possibly they’ve heard that New York is in bad taste.

These people are nuts, too. Because if you love the things that make life interesting, like words and pictures and food and style and art and architecture and advertising and sheer seething entrepreneurial energy, these things are on display in New York as nowhere else.

I became a cartoonist because of Jules Feiffer, who wrote and drew his cartoon for The Village Voice down in Greenwich Village, and I became an advertising nut because of The Creative Revolution that exploded in New York in the late ’60s, nearly 10 years before it reached London. Every so often, I go back to New York and get knocked sideways all over again.

One warm, hazy Saturday afternoon in November, Cheryl and I flew Air Monopoly into La Guardia, gliding south beside the vast Hudson River. Weekdays, they charge twelve hundred Canadian, steerage, for a round-trip ticket on a one-hour flight. Lunch was a tiny little bun with a tiny little piece of cold meat inside, a tiny cello bag of baby carrots (no dip), a tiny foil bag of potato chips, and a tiny candy bar. We’d got our Aeroplan tickets by phone, after one hour and 28 minutes on hold, late afternoon on the previous Saturday. I would like to write the TV spots for the new Scotiabank gold card. Free. The music under will be Aretha Frankin’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Once in America, however, things went smoothly. Twenty-two minutes and twenty-two bucks by cab into the city. It was the weekend of the New York Marathon, and with 30,000 runners in attendance, watched by two million bystanders, every hotel in Manhattan was booked except ours, perhaps because The Doubletree in Times Square is an all-suites property.

On Sunday, we watched the leaders at Mile 22, in Central Park. Hours later, hundreds of disoriented runners, legs bare, still wrapped in their complimentary Continental Airlines Mylar ponchos, wandered Times Square in a cold wind in the dark, clutching cups of Starbucks coffee.

Times Square! Lit 24/7 by hallucinatory forty zillion-candlepower billboards, flashing, zooming, filling your field of vision! One just says Who do we work for? Look around! Another, for Planters reads Just what Times Square needs! Some new nuts! On the packed sidewalks, platoons of people in tuques, marshaled by squadron leaders speaking an unknown language, sell purses and videotapes from large black blankets which allow the emporium to be scooped up by its four corners and transported to a new location instantly upon the appearance of, I presume, trouble.

Plastered-up paper posters for Nader read Bush and Gore make me Ralph. All U.S. election spots on all TV channels are designed to make one’s opponent look like a recently escaped felon. We had dinner Saturday at the Rockefeller Center with a business friend who graduated from Harvard Business School with George ‘Dubya’ Bush. The stories he could tell. And did. Our friend had been a partner at a major consulting firm, when he was headhunted to turn-around a dot-com that had raised 12 million bucks from venture capitalists, then burned through 15 with nothing to show for it.

He inherited an office with 38 employees, average age 26. People came in when they liked, left when they liked, or not at all. Everyone on staff had cheque-signing privileges. He called a must-attend meeting for nine the first Monday morning. Fired everyone who didn’t show up. All 30 of ‘em. He told the rest There is no such thing as Internet Business. There is only Business Business.

A billboard in Soho consists of an entire furnished apartment, real furniture screwed horizontally to the surface of the board, with dummies dressed as Frankenstein and The Mummy sitting with drinks in the living room, a bottle of Absolut Vodka between them. The head reads Absolut Ikea. A nearby board for a just-failed dot-com city directory shows kids goofing around in a park. It reads It’s funny until someone gets hurt. Then it gets even funnier. Madison Avenue on Saturday is closed for a street fair. People from 50 countries are grilling spiced chicken and sausages and slabs of beef that smell fabulous and only cost two bucks if you are utterly fearless.

Cheryl is an expert on Gap Kids prices. She observes that if a pair of jeans is 44 bucks Canadian on Bloor Street, they’re 44 American on Madison, and 44 pounds on King’s Road in London. Explain, please.

Out of La Guardia Monday night. Fifteen planes ahead of us on the runway for take-off. Dinner is A Tiny Foil Bag of Chips, à la Air Monopoly.

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He creates this column for fun, and to test the unproven theory that clients who find the latter amusing may also find the former to their liking. Barry can be reached at (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.