New York and all of its concrete appendages have gone through numerous transformations over the years. When it was my turn to immerse myself within the sprawling tapestry of old meets new, the city was a healthy mix of creativity and affluence. The streets were safe and each borough held within it a tourist destination that stood on its own merit. When my cab finally slowed to a stop after picking me up at the airport, I opened the rear door and instantly felt a call to action. As a melodious man once said, “these vagabond shoes, they are longing to stray right through the heart of it… New York, New York!” I wanted to take off in a gallop of excitement. My eyes didn’t know where to rest, and thus bounced from building to building, skyscraper to skyscraper, ingesting every splendiferous inch of that magnificent city.
The reason behind my visit to the big apple was less splendid, but the trip itself would turn out to be nothing short of legen’… wait for it… keep waiting, and I hope you’re not narcoleptic so you don’t fall asleep before I say, ‘dary! The trip was legendary.
New York, truly a place like no other. From the moment my feet touched down on one of many bustling city sidewalks, I knew I was somewhere special. A cacophony of noise rang throughout at a pace I’d never heard before. Car horns squawking, arbitrary shouts in the distance, shoe shine guys calling for patrons, and hotdog vendors tempting you through smell and song. The heartbeat of the city that never sleeps.
It was 2013 when I first landed in America’s pinnacle city. Weeks before, over a greasy breakfast at a diner in downtown Toronto, my best friend in the world, Drew, had come for a visit. I was going through some relationship problems, and he was in town for a hockey game. We made sure to connect before he left to go back home to B.C. During our greasy spoon delight, we spoke ephemerally about going on a trip together. I remarked on how I wanted to go to New York city and get lost for a while in its labyrinth of offerings. He concurred that New York was on his bucket list of travels as well.
When he had left to go back home, no solidified plans had been made. I had assumed life was just going to go back to the traumatic and mundane that it had been. But on one crisp spring evening upon coming home from work, I would enter my home and be confronted by an image no man wants to see — his spouse in the arms of another man.
She tried to play it off as a simple “hug” and “misunderstanding,” a comedic bit I would have likely believed had experience with this same woman not shown me otherwise. Why I stayed with her for as long as I did, I’ll never truly know. But I can say that insecurity of self can be a powerful manipulator toward the concept of individual worth. Especially when you are told with great repetition that you are in fact, worthless. Regardless of all that, I dropped my paramedic gear at the front door and retreated back to my car. I drove for over an hour, mostly in serpentine pattern and circles before coming to rest outside a Moxie’s Bar and Grill. Still dressed in my work attire, I donned a generic fleece jacket that I found in my car to hide my uniform patches. Drinking in uniform was never an advisable idea, and drinking was exactly what I had planned to do.
I got out of the car and somberly approached the doors of the beckoning establishment. A muffled resonance of low-tempo jazz became clearer as I neared. I went inside and found a place to sit up at the bar. It was everything that I needed in that moment; dim, stylish lighting, subtle music serenading each guest and staff alike, and near flawlessly beautiful women. They meandered near in sync with the euphonous beat that danced throughout the place — distraction — that’s what I needed.
I knew my relationship was a sham, perhaps even more so in that exact moment. Part of me knew that I did not deserve to remain with a serial cheater and master manipulator, yet there was another side of me that felt comfortable among the rubble of dysfunction. Remnants of childhood and its lingering complexities, I suppose…
Either way, when I was asked what I wanted to drink, I asked for a sherry oak single malt scotch, aged 18 years, with one rock. The bartender graciously obliged. After about three, maybe four (I can’t quite be sure) of those delicious elixirs of liquid forget, I withdrew my phone and text Drew. I gave him a watered-down version of events and informed him that I needed to get away, and that the majesty of Lady Liberty was crooning to me. Right then and there, we booked our respective flights and accommodations. A wave of excitement befell me. I was now mere days away from waking up in the city that never sleeps. These small-town blues were melting away faster than the ice in my glass.
On the day of the trip, Drew would arrive in New York several hours before I would. We had arranged to meet outside of our hotel and then wander off to explore the wonderment that is, New York city!
As the cab drove away, and my excitement swelled internally, a smile crept its way onto my face. This was a rarity to me in those days, at least to say, a smile that wasn’t rehearsed. I was only out front of the hotel for several moments before catching sight of my buddy walking toward me. I had text him earlier to let him know that I had arrived at Newark airport and was waiting on a taxi to take me into the city.
“Mr. Matt, we’re in New York, buddy!” Drew said playfully as he leaned in for a quick hug.
“We sure are! Let’s check in and then go find a place for a pint.” It’s sad to look back on now, but even on that first journey to New York, my priority was to find the nearest bar and drink my sorrows away. Or, try to, but when you drink the way I used to, the only thing that ends up happening, is you drown while your demons float, and I had plenty of demons.
Drew handled it in good stride though, like a best friend does, and never castigated me for my lust for ale. In part, some of our trip was dedicated to finding bars, well, one in particular anyway — McGee’s Pub. Back then, Drew and I shared a fondness for the beloved television classic, How I met Your Mother. It was a show that resonated with me on multiple levels. The main character, Ted Mosby, a hopeless romantic whose quest for love in its truest form often places him in juxtaposing scenarios where he is left reeling in disbelief and heartache — I could relate. All my life I wanted to find someone who would love me and embrace me on my lonely days. Instead, I found a girl who lied like an angel and bit like the devil. Leaving me reeling… in disbelief, and heartache.
Drew enjoyed the show as well, it was easy to do considering its masterful balance of comedy and sincerity. A show that almost anyone could relate to on some level, I feel. And as fans of the show, we learned that the bar featured in the show was a bar inspired by several real-world establishments that reside within New York city. The most notable being, McGee’s.
Situated on two-forty West fifty-fifth Street, the building stands out of time among the modern expanse of glass and steel-toned buildings. It boasts a red brick exterior with vibrant red trim and a black canopy welcoming you to come inside. The second you step in through the door you are met with a warm hue that coats the place. Wood trim and tan ceilings with low-hanging lights that feel elegant but not overdone adorn the inside. A place that feels like home even before taking your seat. I was no longer the only one smiling, Drew was brandishing his million-dollar ear to ear now as well.
There were so many subtle ‘nods’ to show within the place. Booths with red backing and dark oak frames, a prodigious mural scrawled to an entire section of wall, a mural featured in the show. Being in that place was a surreal and jovial experience. It made that first sip all the more gratifying. Drew and I sat at the bar exchanging lines from recent episodes as we drank merrily in one another’s company.
At some point in the evening, to Drew’s right, he overheard two other patrons discussing the aforementioned, How I Met Your Mother. Both Drew and I were now well and truly fueled by social lubricant, and decided to inject ourselves into their colloquy.
“Hey… do you guys like the show, How I Met Your Mother?” I asked. The two men turned and observed Drew and I with inquisitive nature. One of the two shook their head and indicated that they did indeed enjoy the show.
Drew piped up, “this pub is what they based the bar in the show off of… they used to come here and drink a lot,” Drew informed them. Both he and I now raised our glasses in a toast toward our newly acquainted bar friends. They returned in kind, still weighted by an inquisitive expression.
“Yeah… we know they used to drink here… because ‘we,’ is ‘us’ — we created and write the show…” One of the men said after consuming a sip of his beer. A wave of inquisition now befell both Drew and I. I felt my brow bend in incredulous doubt, but this was New York city, anything was possible.
“You write for the show?” I said through whiskey breath. They confirmed. Still doubtful, both Drew and I enacted our detective sensibilities and used our phones to search for “the writers of How I Met Your Mother TV Show”. Mere seconds after hitting the “search” icon, information populated our respective screens, and along with that information were two photographed individuals… individuals that bore an uncanny resemblance to the two men sat right beside us.
Carter Bays, and Craig Thomas. Like a scene from the show itself, both Drew and myself gave birth to expressions of disbelief and embarrassment that when observed was nothing short of comedic hilarity. In unison, Drew and I raised our gaze and were now met with the two men, Carter and Craig, glasses raised awaiting our beers to rise in reciprocal toast.
Holy… shit… they really were the creators of our favorite show of all time, How I met Your Mother!
The rest of the night was spent with an abundance of booze, laughs and apologies on behalf of our once obvious disbelieving nature. They held no resentment, and upon finding out that we were Canadian, found a glee of their own. Many jokes are made at the expense of Canadians throughout the show, and so the night was filled with good conversation and well-intended ribbing of both Drew and I.
The more intoxicated we became, the more we discussed our lives and what had brought us to that very special bar in New York city. I explained my woes and they listened with kindness. They offered words of encouragement and support. I asked them about writing and how to get into that line of work. I found their stories to be fascinating and captivating. So much so, that I had completely neglected to notice Drew’s eventual absence.
It was during a return trip to the bar for a refill that I noticed my best buddy was nowhere to be seen, and it had been some time. I scanned the busy barroom in search of his features, but noticed nothing of familiarity. I was now a little concerned, I mean, this is New York after all.
I excused myself from the company of our gracious hosts and began manoeuvring around the standing sea of people. When I had reached the front doors, I decided to turn back and check the bathrooms. The restroom was located down a blackened set of stairs beneath the main floor of the bar. I opened the door with hopes of seeing Drew, but upon doing so, I was dismayed at seeing nothing and no one. A cold sweat of angst now made its way to the surface of my skin.
Oh no… did I lose Drew… is he… Alone, Lost in New York? (Another great movie by the way).
I was about to turn and head back upstairs when I heard a painful grovel coming from the end stall of the bathroom. I wandered over to it and knocked, “Drew?” I asked. No response. I knelt down and peered under the door; relief came to me immediately — Drew’s sneakers. I pushed on the door and it opened, revealing to me a very drunk and now sickened best friend.
I took this as our cue to leave. I picked Drew up and coached him to walk with me. With Drew’s arm over my shoulder, we nodded a cordial goodbye to both Carter and Craig and survived the journey from back of house to outside. I hailed a cab, and to my surprise, I did so with relative ease. The cab pulled over and I, along with a beleaguered Drew made our way toward it. This was halted abruptly when Drew projectile vomited a rancid combination of New York hot dog, whiskey shots and stout beer all over the sidewalk. The cab wasted no time in driving away without a fare.
Drew and I had to walk several blocks back to our hotel that night. Now, some may read this as a tragic end to an otherwise fairy-tale evening, and that’s a reasonable position to take, but to me, and likely to Drew as well, it was just the perfect culmination of an evening that could have been scripted from television.
And guess what? It gets better…
Carter and Craig took such a liking to both Drew and I, that they went out of their way to make reservations at one of their favorite New York restaurants — BLT Steakhouse. A place not accustomed to having the modest likes of Drew and I in their fine dining establishment, but due to who made the reservations, we were welcomed in. We were treated to a private table and near indescribable culinary excellence. When the meal and its several courses came to an end, Drew and I bashfully peered at one another, knowing this was going to cost a hefty amount, and drastically limit what we could do on the remainder of our trip.
We called the main waiter over and reluctantly asked for the bill, he smiled and said “it’s already been taken care of… Mr. Bays and Mr. Thomas hope that you enjoy the rest of your stay in New York.” They comped the hole thing!
We’ve stayed in touch over the years, we were even invited back to attend the series finale aired at McGee’s Pub. We sat at the writer’s table alongside Carter Bays and Craig Thomas. But that’s a story for another day.
And that, my friends, is how I met your mother… Kind of!