Disclaimer: This has almost nothing to do with anything. It's a stream of consciousness of my brief pilgrimage to B&H in New York City. I'm not really sure because I wrote this sentence before I wrote the thing, but it could very possibly become over the top.
Honking. Wind. Buzz. Orange camouf-what! Oh. I jump sideways to dodge a bike messenger.
camo? Doesn't that defeat the purpose?
I look up from my phone, realizing I probably shouldn't stand right in the middle of the sidewalk while I check my map. Maybe if I were an actual New Yorker. My pink (yes, pink) backpack and I are alone in New York, and we have an agenda. Technically, the agenda is AFI's Directing Workshop for Women. But that's tomorrow. Tonight? Twitter Taco Tweet-up. But today? Today it's me and the city. Checklist item number one? B&H
Yes, B&H. The largest non-chain photo and video equipment store in the US. It's mere blocks from me at this moment. I think, anyway.
The city and I are getting acquainted near 7th Avenue in the Flatiron District. I told the cab driver a random intersection in the neighborhood to make things a bit more interesting for me. I can't remember the exact cross-streets anymore because I ended up walking miles through Manhattan that weekend. I do know I could see the Empire State Building from where I stood, so I figure that's a good place to start. And let me say right now if my geography seems off, it probably is because I'm freezing cold. Just go with it.
I try to avoid looking too much like a tourist since I'm alone. I fail at this at the base of the Empire State Building. You see it in movies forever, but when you're at the base staring up and unable to see the top, you understand what humans are capable of, but in the good way.
I'm only walking for an hour before my face completely freezes. A nor'easter is brewing and it's not letting anyone forget.
As I pick a new direction, I end up passing by Penn Station and the Flatiron building, among a few other things where I say "OH HEY THAT'S THAT THING" and then quickly stick my hands back in my pockets and keep walking in the direction of B&H. I swear I'm downwind of that new electronics smell. It's like a siren call leading me forward in the blustery wind.
As I'm crossing a road I look aside to check for cars (because apparently no one waits for the walk sign in New York) and I see the Freedom Tower. Over the course of the weekend I realize you can see it from almost everywhere even though it's not yet complete. I remember what humans are capable of, but in a bad way.
Finally, like a mirage in the desert, a green awning appears in the distance. A green awning displaying that oh-so-familiar logo. The logo on the massive multitude of magazines that hit my mailbox on a quarterly basis.
B&H Photo Video at 9th Avenue between 33rd and 34th.
Like all the best places in New York, it's in sort of a nondescript looking brick building. I go inside and pass the bag check. A bearded man greets me. Then I'm suddenly inside the world's greatest candy store. I half expect Willy Wonka to somersault down the carpet at me.
The store seems to take advantage of every square inch of space available in the building -- all 70,000 square feet of it across two floors. That's like almost two football fields. (Non-America readers can do the conversion to soccer field for me.) Display cases with audio mixers shine brightly like jewels. An entire aisle of cables hang carefully and conspicuously not tangled. Cameras, lenses, every type of storage media conceivable by man. Anything you could ever want or need or want is in this store.
After I wander the perimeter, checking out some things I was ogling in the magazine recently and trying to remember that most of it won't fit in the single backpack I have, I stand near an employee talking to a curious shopper.
I suppose it's worth noting that B&H is owned and operated by observant Satmar Hasidic Jews with hundreds of Orthodox Jews on staff. To me, a staff of people in traditional Orthodox garb is both welcoming and intimidating and I can't really tell you why. It's like the authority of uniform to another level. But I can tell you that all the salesmen are so completely friendly and knowledgeable, there's no way you'd leave the store without talking to someone, if only to say hello.
Of course, in the few moments I eavesdrop on the sales guy talking to the customer, I realize the guys can talk circles around me because they actually know their s--t and I blank out on any questions I may have ever had. I don't think they want to talk to me about the meaning of life, they have things to sell.
I make my way upstairs and find the stuff that I really like to window shop -- lenses and hard drives. I love a good hard drive. The air in the store is perfectly balanced with equal parts fresh electronics and old New York building. They should bottle it. Eau de Camera.
As I'm walking around, I noticed bowls of also-nondescript candy placed at the end of aisles. It looks like the kind of candy I usually avoid, so I don't try it. Later I kick myself when I bring up the candy to post nerd New Yorkers and find it's phenomenal. If you're going, try the candy. Let me know what you think.
Skipping over the parts where I oooh and aaah over stuff I either can't afford or can't fit in my backpack, I make my way downstairs again and admire the engineering happening above my head. Either taking advantage of the space or simply working with the space they have, the building has been set up with an elaborate conveyer belt system in the ceiling. What seems to happen is that you decide to make a purchase after talking to one of the sales guys, then you go to the maze of cashiers near the exit and get in line. While you do this, your item is sent from storage, into the conveyer belt, and magically flies into the room of cashiers so they can give it to you as you pay and depart.
I'm pretty sure that's what happens. It's thrilling to me. I like conveyer belts. The store is like a living organism that feeds on curiosity and converts it to happy.
Realizing I should get out before I make any bad (good) decisions, I carefully navigate the cashier maze at the exit. With a friendly salutation from the door watching man, I'm back out on the street wondering what just happened.
For a moment I consider going back in for another ride. But instead, my main checklist item fulfilled, I wander back to Penn Station to see what other trouble I can find.
The new electronics smell fades into the heavy subway stank and the gentle whirr of B&H blends into back the cityscape.
Of course, I end up getting stuck in New York two extra days thanks to Nemo (and a day in DC, but in the airport) so I could have spent the whole EVENING people-watching and equipment-ogling at B&H. Next time maybe I won't be traveling so light and I can afford the space for a new lens cloth or twenty foot cable. What cable? I don't even care. I'll find a use for it.
(Saturday morning in Brooklyn after the storm, for good measure. It was kind of cold.)