Only one place in the world could this discussion occur:

customer: "Waiter, I asked for pancakes browned on both sides. These are only brown on one side. Why didn't he brown them on both sides?"

Waiter (in crescendo): "You can't brown them both sides. It's impossible. They always come out yellow on one side. He tried. I'm telling you. I watched him."

Customer (incensed): "You're telling me you can't cook pancakes brown both sides? I'm eating these things all my life and you're telling me they can't cook them brown. What was 2, born yesterday?"

Welcome to New Yawk, land of slush and gray air and now a water shortage, where the trash that's picked up is only a tenth of the trash that isn't and where people are nasty out of habit, not malice.

"Is this from a new pot?" asked the lady next to the pancake man when the waiter heated up her coffee. "The reason I ask, the last cup was terrible."

"You know what I do lunchtime when somebody tells me the coffee is terrible?" the waiter asked back. "I won't give them another cup. They only say that to get a free cup. They come in here and order a bran muffin and they get three cups of coffee. They make a meal out of it."

Snippets from a day in Bigtown. Why, you might ask, would anyone, given a choice, elect to spend a day in a mean place like New York?"

Well, it might make you feel better about where you live. And sometimes it gets you high, a jolt from the land of energy, a blast from the incredible city that is an engine -- a trip to the explorers post for the criminally urbane.

Frankly, I would never think to go to New York for the fun of it, either, but family obligations took me there for one day last weekend and it turned into one of the more enduring pleasant voyages of a voyage-strewn lifetime.

A day in Manhattan: fee $65, total.

New York Air has weekend flights for $29 each way. That's $58 round-trip.

Pilots are men of great vision, at least the one on the northbound flight who took us first south 30 miles down the ice-locked Potomac, then west a few miles and north up the ageless Patuxent River. He crossed over to the Chesapeake Bay just south of Annapolis.

From there it was a straight shot past the mouth of the West River, South River, Severn and Magothy, then across the bay and over the ice-glittery Chester and Corsica Rivers. At the top of the bay he turned east again, crossed the mouth of the Delaware Bay and headed up the coast.

At Sandy Hook, New Jersey, the tip of Manhattan hove into view. The jetliner cruised over the sun-washed city, then swung east over Long Island Sound into a gentle landing at LaGuardia.

In the mudflats next to the airport a marsh hawk dove on some unsuspecting prey.

New York!

At LaGuardia you have a choice of a $12 cab ride into town or waiting 10 minutes for the Q33 bus to the 84th Street subway station on the Flushing Line in Queens. I took the bus, for 60 cents, which curled and banged over the humps and holes of city streets. A lady explained how to take the subway.

"Don't look for a map," she said. "The minute they put them up they're covered with graffiti."

The maps and everything else on the Flushing line. The train came rumbling down the old elevated line like some psychedelic sideshow. Words, somewhere, but mostly a riot of scralwed color; Rio in Carnival.

"I took three of them," the guy next to me told his buddy. "They didn't do a thing. I ate this huge meal first, then I couldn't get high. it was a total waste of money. I'm sick with myself."

At Grand Central you change to the Lexington Avenue line, the lady had said.

"Where's the Lexington Avenue train," I asked a man.

"Over there," he said, waving indiscriminately.

I went looking for a more specific source. The man followed me.

"Hey," he said, "I told you over there. You don't believe me? Right there. What's the matter with you?"

I walked down the steps and there was the Lexington Avenue local, doors open, waiting for me.

In 45 minutes I made it from LaGuardia to 77th and Lexington, my destination. I was so early I had two hours to kill. I went walking.

I saw pidgeons courting; teenagers playing hockey in Central Park; the Ninth Street Thumpers playing red-hot jazz in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a baby sleeping in the sunshine under a tartan quilt; a baby nursing at its mother's breast; a man teacing his daughter to climb a brick pyramid in a playground, swaying at the base of the pyramid as if he were listening to some sweet music from his soul.

New York on a springlike weekend in this land of the busiest people in the world at play.

That night I rode the subway and the bus in reverse and the 9 p.m. plane back home. Air fare, $58; subways and buses to and from LaGuardia, $2.40; lunch, $4.

A $65 adventure in the world's most exciting city, and back home in my own bed by 11.