Hoffman's Houston
Fast and Furious Vacation

Ken Hoffman's cost-cutting New York vacation lands him in hotel where Astros stay

Hoffman's cost-cutting New York vacation lands him in Astros' hotel

Houston news, New York City skyline, November 2017
In New York, Ken Hoffman learned some scoop on the Astros.  Courtesy of cntraveler.com

Back from my travelin' light, never unpackin' vacation to Washington D.C., New York, and Europe, with a few surprises along the way.

I reserved a hotel in New York through Priceline, its "Name Your Price" deal, where you don't know the name of your hotel until you've paid up front. I saved about $100 a night by bidding $240 for a 4-star hotel on the Upper East Side.

Got the Omni Berkshire Place, where "guests of Saturday Night Live stay." It's on 52nd Street (great album by Billy Joel) and Madison Avenue.

Odd, as I was checking in, several hotel staffers greeted me with "Congratulations!" and "Way to go!" and "We were pulling for you."

Huh? Obviously I've had a sensational year, but how would people in New York know? I asked the desk clerk, what are they talking about?

The desk clerk pointed to my Astros cap and said, "You know, the Astros stay here, right? We love them. They're the nicest, most polite players. When they played the Yankees to see who was going to the World Series, they brought their wives and kids and parents. They all were up here, really wonderful people."

One staffer said, "Don't tell nobody, but I was rooting for the Astros to beat the Yankees."

A thousand hotels in New York City, and I landed the one where the Astros stayed. I don't think the Astros went through "Name Your Own Price," though.

I asked staffers, "Who's your favorite Astros player?" It was unanimous: "Jose Altuve." A security guard told me, "He took photos and signed autographs for everybody here. He's a great guy - little guy, too."

I said, "Yeah, he's only 5 ft. 6."

The security guard said, "No way, I'm 5 ft. 6 and I'm taller than him."

A little dirt, and apparently it's most pro athletes, not just the Astros: a doorman said, "They don't tip. They're millionaires and they don't tip. It's like they don't carry money on them."

Oh, and one Astros wife asked to have security walk her to her room. Security said, in so many words, take a hike ... by yourself. "She was pretty stuck up, she could get to her room by herself."

The Beatles and the Knicks

In New York, I saw The Fab Faux, the best Beatles tribute band by far, at the historic Beacon Theatre on Broadway. The Fab Faux consists of Will Lee from the David Letterman band, Jimmy Vivino from the Conan O'Brien band, plus top studio musicians, a string section, and horns. 

Lee said, "we treat Beatles songs like classical music." At each concert, they play a Beatles album in its entirety. I got lucky in New York, they played "1," all 27 of the Beatles No. 1 smashes  - "just the hits tonight," Lee said. The Fab Faux doesn't wear moptop wigs or Sgt. Pepper's costumes. They just play the songs note for note perfect. For Beatles fans, this is what it would have been like ... if only.

Fun fact: when he was a kid, Will Lee had a Houston Chronicle paper route. 

The next night I went to see the Knicks play the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden. I bought a ticket in the upper deck off StubHub for $120. When I found my seat, six levels up, the safety glass in front of me was shattered, obstructing my view. Great, now I have to sit straight up the whole game or lean to the side. 

Until an usher tapped me on the shoulder. "I can move you. Would you rather sit a few rows over, or I can put you downstairs in the lower bowl near the court?"

Gee, let me think — I guess I'll take downstairs near the court. Waiter service, the whole thing. Typical NBA, the Knicks trailed by double digits until the final few minutes when Kristaps Porzingis went crazy, finished with 40 points, and the Knicks won. The Knicks are at Toyota Center on November 25. Porzingis is the real deal, 7 ft. 3 and shoots 3-pointers. The rest of the Knicks shouldn't be a problem for the Rockets, though.

Taking the Megabus to D.C.

I spent one night in Washington D.C. before heading up to New York. Went to see the popular podcasts, Pod Save America and Lovett or Leave It, back-to-back at the new Anthem theater in the Wharf district. That's a new one, $80 to watch a radio show that's only available on my laptop at home. I can listen to Charlie Pallilo for free on 94.1 FM in my car in Houston. 

Instead of taking Amtrak from Washington to New York, I hopped on the Megabus. The blue, double-decker Megabus takes about an hour longer than the train, but tickets are a ridiculous bargain. If you plan ahead, you can ride the Megabus for $5. The bus services 100 routes and cities. I climbed upstairs and had a good view of the leaves turning. There is free Wi-Fi onboard and each seat has an electrical outlet. Plus, we passed the Budweiser plant in Newark, where I used to work loading trucks during school breaks. Ah, memories.

Fly cheaper

And from a recent trip to France, here's a European travel tip:

If you fly from Houston to Europe, unless you want to overnight in Istanbul, it's going to cost you about $1,300. 

But if you fly from JFK Airport in New York, you can get to Europe for about $500 roundtrip, including a fast connecting flight to any number of cities.

So with a little planning, try this: fly Houston to New York for about $300 roundtrip. Then book a flight to Europe for $500. This way, you'll save enough on airfare to cover a bonus weekend in Manhattan. The pizza in Little Italy is worth it.