Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I "Heart" NY - One Year Later

It's been a long time since I've posted anything, but I thought the one year anniversary of my move to New York would be a good time. I apologize in advance for this being so text heavy.

First, an explanation for why my writing got disrupted in the first place:

I spent two of the four and a half weeks of October away from New York - one week of work in Atlanta and one week of vacation in Sonoma and San Francisco. My conclusion after spending half a month away from my new home? I freakin' love this city.

On both trips, I felt a strong urge to get on a plane and fly back on the fourth day. I'm talking a Lord of the Rings "my precious" type gravitational pull. I wasn't feeling a desire to leave where I was, I was feeling as if I were being called "home."

As we began our final descent into LaGuardia on my flight back from Atlanta, I looked out the window to try to see exactly where we were. I saw the statue of liberty and realized we were going to fly right over Brooklyn. I could see my neighborhood and the Brooklyn Bridge, then the new Barclay's Center. I immediately felt a sense of calm and peace flow into my body to replace the anxiousness and anxiety I'd been feeling during my last few days in Atlanta.

I brushed it off. Perhaps I'd just forgotten what it was like to work in the office with people coming at you all day from all directions after working from home for seven months. I'd forgotten how much I hated having to drive in all of the insane Atlanta traffic. Seeing all of my great friends and coworkers just made me sad because I miss them so much. Yeah, it must just be that combination of everything, right?

One week later, I was on a plane again, this time flying to San Francisco. We spent three days touring wineries and breweries around Sonoma County in warm, sunny weather and it was glorious. On Saturday morning, we woke up excited to explore San Francisco. As my husband said, we were "auditioning" it for a potential future move. The more we walked around, though, the more I realized I was feeling that pull again. New York was already calling to me - this new city just didn't feel right. I was annoyed at myself for feeling that way, especially since I'd loved San Francisco so much on my previous visits and I'd been so excited to share that with my husband, who'd never been there. Instead I just felt tired and cranky and uninterested.

Then, of course, we entered the holiday season and winter. Honestly we just haven't been out and about experiencing new things as much as we were when the weather was warmer. Therefore, my hiatus from writing this blog continued.

But now, some thoughts & observations on my first year here.
  • I still haven't gotten over that "holy crap I live in NYC" feeling - it still pops up every now and then. I have gotten over feeling like I'm just on vacation, though.
  • That whole thing about New Yorkers being rude/uncaring/unfeeling/unloving/cold/etc.? Also a total myth. As a work-from-homer, I'm not out and about as much as I'd like to be, but when I am, I see a lot of random acts of kindness among New Yorkers - someone grabbing one side of a baby stroller to help a woman carry it up the subway stairs, a man giving up his subway seat for a disabled/pregnant/older person, someone picking up a dropped glove and chasing the owner a little ways down the sidewalk to return it. Also, there was the amazing outpouring of help after Hurricane Sandy and several times a month (it seems) you hear about someone helping to rescue a person who has fallen onto the subway tracks. Of course there are rude, abrupt people here, but I've found that to be the case everywhere I've lived. Honestly, I've found New Yorkers to be warmer and friendlier than most of the people I encountered in Massachusetts (*ducking*).
  • I'm still getting used to the fact that it is totally acceptable - no, expected - to discuss how much you pay for rent here. It still makes me feel a bit uncomfortable - kind of like someone asking you how much money you make - but it seems to be totally normal for people who have lived here for a while.
  • I read somewhere (and apologies for not crediting this, as I cannot remember where I read it) that living in New York City is like being in a movie and it is absolutely true. There are so many times when I've felt this and I can't exactly explain it. It's like trying to explain déjà vu - you can't really, it's just something you feel.
  • I've mentioned to several of my friends that I feel like I'm dating NYC. Of course, that is borrowed from a "Sex and the City" episode, but I do feel like living here is like being in a relationship. Each time I venture out - especially into Manhattan - on a "date" with the city, I truly have that same feeling you have at the beginning of a relationship where you just fall in love a little more on each date.
  • I'm happy to report that all the people who told me NYC winters were nothing compared to Boston winters appear to have been right. Of course, I'll need at least 2 more NYC winters before I can make a fair confirmation.
  • I learned the hard way that pretty much all of Manhattan above 14th Street should be avoided during the months of November and December. Silly me thinking people would be spending time with their families on Christmas night. (If only I'd started watching "How I Met Your Mother" a couple of months before I did, I would've known this.)
Overall, I feel incredibly lucky for having the opportunity to live here. Everyone should do it, even if it's just for a year or two. It will truly change the way you view the world.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Pig Island

Last Saturday, we decided to check out Pig Island - a big porkfest (heh) on Governor's Island. We had been meaning to go over to Governor's Island all summer, but hadn't made it yet, so an $85 all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink (beer, wine & cider) porkfest seemed like the perfect opportunity.

We walked the lovely 1 mile walk over to Pier 6 to catch the free ferry to Governor's Island, only to see it pulling away as we walked up. No worries, though, it was scheduled to run every 20 min. However, we baked in the sun for 45 minutes before it finally came back and we boarded and got underway. Eek! Luckily, it was only a 5 min ride.

My immediate impression was that Governor's Island is a beautiful, peaceful little oasis in the middle of this gigantic, crazy city. You can rent kayaks and bikes there and just spend a leisurely day enjoying some amazing scenery.
From L to R: New Jersey, Manhattan, Brooklyn
But we weren't there for that - we were there for the pig. So we followed the well-placed signs and the smell of smoked meats and found our spot. Now, I was a bit worried that this event was going to be a bit of a shitshow, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was mostly in the shade. It was not over-sold, as I'd feared. There were a lot of people, but it wasn't crowded and the lines weren't long (in general - more on that later). They didn't run out of beer, there was plenty of space for people to spread out and there were no lines for the port-o-potties. And there was delicious pork.

There were a couple of highlights of the day. First, I got to meet Dale Talde, who was a contestant on "Top Chef" season 4 and who has 2 restaurants here in Brooklyn. We went to his restaurant Talde for my birthday and had a great meal. He's recently opened a new place, Pork Slope, that I'm dying to go to. I've gotta say, too, that the 2 dishes his crew were serving up were absolutely my favorites of the day. I regret that I didn't take pictures of them. Chef Dale was friendly and gracious when I complimented his work, and he let me take this picture of him, even though he was obviously hot, exhausted, and probably tired of posing for pictures.
Chef Dale Talde
I should mention that Palo Santo was a close runner-up. Maybe so close that they were equally as delicious.

Another highlight was trying Beer, Bacon, Chocolate Fondue - even though we waited in line for about 30 minutes for it. This chef had combined various types of chocolate, some beer and copious amounts of bacon grease to make a fondue. He then dipped chunks of thick-cut fried bacon into the fondue. It sounds weird and gross, but it was amazing.
Beer Bacon Chocolate Fondue
The final highlight was when I walked up to one table that had a whole pig lying stretched out on the table. The woman serving, asked me, "Do you want to spank our pig on his butt? He's been a baaaad pig." How could I resist that?
Pig Butt
A couple of other items to note - I seriously contemplated how I could steal this & bring it home with me:

This girl clearly has no friends (even though she was with a boyfriend-type person and another couple) because they let her leave the house like this:
Strapless Body Suit + Lace Shorts
Is this supposed to be read as WHOLE PIG weiner or whole PIG WEINER? Either way, it was a delicious weiner.

All-in-all, it was a fabulous day and we will definitely attend this event next year. We would LOVE to have some of our friends come into town & join us!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Rock - Rock - Rockaway Beach

Last weekend, after our Saturday plans fell through, we took our friends up on their invitation to come spend the night with them at their rental in Rockaway Beach. We hopped on the A train - conveniently located near our apartment - and in about 45 minutes, we arrived.

At first, we were a little nervous about the looks of the place. It was a bit sketchy and we were getting some funny looks from the locals. However, the closer we got to the beach, the less sketchy things seemed. We dropped our bags and met up with our friends at Connolly's Bar, which had a lovely front patio area and some amazingly strong and delicious frozen pina coladas.

Next we headed over to the Rockaway Beach Boardwalk, where we sampled the new Rockaway Brewing Company ESB. I'm not usually an ESB fan, but I've gotta say, this was pretty tasty. Plus this cup was just fantastic!

We watched the surfers enjoy the last of the daylight, listened to a reggae band, enjoyed some great people watching and then saw an amazing sunset.

After dark, we went to Thai Rock for a delicious meal. While dining on their deck, we could hear the band at the bar next door playing some old southern/country/rockabilly favorites. Since three of the four of us grew up on that music, we knew we had to go check it out. The bar was called The Bungalow - a big deck on Jamaica Bay with a little tent for the band and a bar - and it was packed. It was a surreal experience. I've danced to similar music at a similar venue with similar crowds before in the south, but this was just a short train ride from NYC. It was perfect!

On Sunday, we enjoyed the beach. We chose to set up on the section of the beach designated for surfers because there was more open space - we just had to take a short walk to the non-surfing area to go into the water. The water was pretty brown & murky & seaweed-y, not to mention rough (which explains the surfers). As a rule, I do not go into water where I can't see my feet, but it was a hot day so I had to go dip in a few times to cool off. Again, there was great people watching from the mid 30s woman who put her bathing suit on ON the beach right in front of us (although amazingly discreetly) to the tiny Asian woman who kept trying and failing to take her stand-up paddle board out. I swear, at one point, the board went airborne and yanked her out of the water, back onto the beach. There were several women who appeared to be in competition with the "tan mom" from NJ who was all over the news a few weeks ago. At any rate, it was a nice, relaxing day at the beach.

We finished the day off with tacos, fried plantains, corn on the cob and pineapple mint juice at Rockaway Taco before boarding the VERY crowded train back to Brooklyn.

As The Ramones said "It's not far, not hard to reach . . ." Rockaway Beach is an eclectic little community that seems to have something for everyone. We had a great time and are grateful to Thom and Joanna for inviting us out.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

NYC is for Music Lovers

Last week was a great week for us music lovers. On Tuesday, we saw Wilco and on Saturday we took a LES walking tour led by John "Bloodclot" Joseph of the Cro-Mags.

The Wilco show was part of Celebrate Brooklyn - a series of arts events taking place throughout the summer season. The Prospect Park Bandshell was an interesting venue - standing room on asphalt only unless you're VIP. We took our blanket and a picnic dinner, including wine illegally smuggled in in a water bottle, which, I guess, was kinda cheap of us. Oh well. If/when we go again, we probably won't take all of that stuff because as soon as the opening band started, everyone stood up & blankets were promptly trampled. It was a good lesson in what to do/not do next time.

While we were a little disappointed in Wilco's set list, (I realize I must be "old" because I don't love some of their new stuff) the show was still amazing. I'm happy to say that I didn't see any sorority girls bending each other over, slapping each other's asses to "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" like I did the last time we saw Wilco in Atlanta. The knotted rags hanging over the stage were strange, at first, but I loved how they ended up serving as the backdrop for various projected videos and images.

On Saturday, we snagged tickets to one of only two 2012 Lower East Side walking tours led by John Joseph of the Cro-Mags. We had heard about these tours and had been checking the website regularly in hopes of being able to book one, but in the end, it was the Cro-Mags' Facebook page that alerted us to this year's dates.

We met at the Cube at Astor Place to start the tour with heavy rain and storms in the forecast. John's buddy and well-known photographer Clayton Patterson was nice enough to join us and add his behind-the-lens view. We started with a bit of history of Astor Place, heavy on the drug culture that flourished in the area in the late 70s and early 80s, a theme that would persist throughout the three-hour tour. Then we headed down The Bowery. For some perspective, my dad, who was stationed in NJ in the mid 60s and spent many free weekends in NYC, was shocked to hear that we would even consider walking around anywhere near The Bowery, due to its reputation back in those days.

In Joseph's heyday in the late 70s/early 80s, it wasn't much better. Today, however, former "flop houses" have been replaced with multi-million dollar lofts. And one of The Bowery's most famous residences, CBGB, has literally been replaced by designer John Varvatos' store.
Former "Flop Houses" on The Bowery

Former CBGB - Now John Varvatos Store
We actually sought out and went into the John Varvatos store last year. We heard they preserved/maintained some of the old posters, fixtures and whatnot. I can attest, though, that it is sad. Unfortunately, I was never able to experience CBGB, but after seeing this store, I think I would prefer this memorabilia in a museum, rather than incorporated into an overpriced, designer boutique.

Sidenote: when we were standing in front of this store, two of the three Jonas Brothers walked by us. I only recognized them because they were together. I think if it had been either one on his own, I wouldn't have had a clue.

We continued on, seeing the CBGB alley and hearing stories about how the musicians used it to score drugs and shoot up. Also, people used the alley to try to sneak in the back door, which Hilly Kristal's wife had rigged so she'd be alerted. Today, the alley is spotlessly clean with art galleries, restaurants and an Avalon apartment complex. As we continued along, we heard stories of Puerto Rican gangs, Catholic priests who had John Joseph and other kids running drugs for them, shootouts, stabbings, squatting and more.

We learned about the Mosaic Man who tries to commemorate relevant landmarks, like the former Fillmore East where so many famous artists played in the late 60s and early 70s.
John Joseph Discussing the History of the Fillmore East
We saw the former recording studio (now burger joint) where Bad Brains recorded their first album and the Cro-Mags practiced in their early days.

When we walked by Webster Hall, John mentioned, "We were supposed to play a show there a couple weeks ago," and laughed off their now notorious almost-show where former band member Harley Flanagan sneaked in and stabbed a couple of current band members. Um, allegedly, of course.

We ended the tour at the location of the former Max's Kansas City, which is now a restaurant and condo development. According to John, they have some great pictures of the original venue on display and sometimes the super will let people in to see them. Unfortunately, we didn't get to go inside.
Former Max's Kansas City Location
Luckily, we only got a little rain and, all-in-all, it was a great way to spend a summer afternoon. John Joseph was an entertaining storyteller. I did wonder, though, how much he truly missed the old days. It is easy to see that progress has wiped out the community once so revered as the birthplace of American punk music - the birthplace of The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie and even the Beastie Boys. It's sad that, in the case of the LES, progress seems to have meant completely wiping the slate clean of the amazing musical history that put it on the map. But at the same time, I had to wonder how much one can truly mourn the loss of drug dealers on every corner, junkies ODing in alleys, gang shootings, dirty cops and riots in Tompkins Square Park. 

Upon completion of the tour, John Joseph made a point to talk with and shake each participant's hand. He autographed copies of his book, "Evolution of a Cro-Magnon" and took photos with anyone who asked. He even stopped along the tour route to pose for photos with fans.

Judging by the number of people who shouted a "Hey John" along the tour route, his stories about all the work he has done trying to help the homeless and the street kids in the neighborhood are true. He seems to be a known and loved fixture of the LES. His is the kind of story you love to hear - a former junkie, ex-con who has turned toward helping others, but who still has some great tales to tell. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Summer So Far

I'm borrowing a bit from my friend Digital Cornflake here as I, too, have been neglecting my blog. It all started with my 10-day trip to Georgia for work and family time and was made worse by the fact that I've just been focusing on enjoying the summer, which means I haven't had a lot of free time to post.

That being said, I thought I'd give a quick recap of my first summer as a NY resident, now that we're just past the halfway point. In spite of record heat, I've been having a great time. I am a southern girl, after all, what's a little heat? Thankfully, here, there's always the promise of a pleasant, low-humidity day just around the corner, so that makes the heat a little easier to bear.

Anyway, right after I returned from my trip to Georgia, we spent a Saturday in Central Park to celebrate my friend Julie's birthday by watching the Central Park Dance Skaters. It sounds a bit odd, but it was a perfect way to spend a Saturday - blankets spread out under the trees, snacks, contraband booze and a group of people of all ages dancing on roller skates to mostly 70s disco and rap music. Of course, I forgot to make sure my camera battery was charged, so I was only able to get a few photos & one video. This was also my first introduction to "Miss Columbia."

For my birthday, my husband bought tickets to the Brooklyn Academy of Music's "Eat, Drink and Be Literary" event with author Denis Johnson. Reading his collection of short stories Jesus' Son in college is what made me want to be a writer. Interestingly, I found out at the event that he wrote that collection when he was 35 (my age now). I left feeling inspired to write again, but of course I haven't. Sigh.
Denis Johnson Autographing My Book - Woo!
We also went to the Pride Parade, which, I have to say was the most fun parade I've ever been to. Usually I find parades fairly boring, but this one was nonstop fun and I took a lot of pictures.

Finally, this past weekend, we took the LIRR out to the Babylon station and then took a bus out to Robert Moses State Park for a day at the beach. Perhaps it was because it was a cloudy day, but I was surprised how un-crowded it was. I mean, don't get me wrong, there were a lot of people there, but we didn't feel like we were right on top of everyone else, which was nice. The beach and water were clean, there was a reasonably priced snack bar, decent bathroom and lifeguards on duty. Plus, it's just amazing to be able to hop on a train and be at the beach in an hour.
Robert Moses State Park
Observations/Random Thoughts:

  • I used to think the drips from window air conditioners was gross, but now I'm much more worried about having an air conditioner fall on me!
  • My apartment ceiling is WAY too thin. Not only do I hear our upstairs neighbor stomping back and forth, back and forth, back and forth (what the hell are they doing?) at all hours of day and night, they're now insisting on torturing me by blasting that terrible Gotye song over and over during the day. 
  • We're still looking for our Brooklyn replacement for The Shed at Glenwood - our "Cheers" - because sometimes you really DO just want to go where everybody knows your name. I'm starting to think it is irreplaceable.
  • I saw a woman get onto the subway barefoot . . . in Coney Island of all places. I nearly threw up. Someone is just begging for flesh-eating bacteria.
  • Our neighbors in the building behind us have been out of town (windows dark, shades down) for over 2 weeks. What kind of job do I need to get to be able to vacation for 2+ weeks?
  • I mentioned this the other day on Facebook, but I've learned that NYC is about as stabby as Atlanta is shooty. I prefer the stabby. I don't have to worry about getting randomly stabbed while sitting on my couch watching TV.
  • There are a lot of French Bulldogs in my neighborhood. I notice they always seem to be really pulling on their leash, which makes them even more grunty & snorty. And adorable.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Strongman Spectacular Clusterf---

Last Sunday we decided to go check out the Coney Island Strongman Spectacular. Daring escapes, dudes bending/lifting/towing ridiculous things with insane feats of strength - where else can you see that on a Sunday afternoon?

The Amazing Cardone
Well, apparently you cannot see these things at Coney Island unless you are one of a few lucky people because the event is so disorganized. The first event, Cardone's milk can escape (previously made famous by Houdini) took place on a 5' x 5' stage (if it was that big) in front of the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, which meant that all the people were trying to crowd around 3 sides of this small platform.
Getting Shackled by a Boy Scout
A Curtain is Key to Cardone's Illusion
By standing far back, I was able to hold my camera over my head and grab a few decent pictures out of about 100 attempts (lots of sky, backs of random bald heads, wall shots, etc.)  

Spoiler alert: he escaped.

Next up, a guy was going to tow a full-size pickup truck with his teeth. Now, after being a huge fan of those old ESPN World's Strongest Man competitions that aired late nights back in my college days (Magnus ver Magnusson 4-ever!!!), I was incredibly excited about this one. Plus, this event was being held on a long stretch of roadway, so there would be plenty of room for spectators to spread out along the sidewalks on either side so everyone would be able to see.

Wrong! The entire throng of people were crowded in a tiny clump right in front of the truck. We waited around for 15-20 minutes, in which time, numerous pleas were made for spectators to step back onto the sidewalks. Several guys were walking with arms fully spread to try to nudge people backwards, but every time their backs were turned, the crowds filled back in. Even despite people being told there was a safety issue (hello, giant pickup truck being towed in neutral) and that they may be run over if they did not get back onto the sidewalks, people STILL crowded around the front of the truck.

Finally, I gave up. It was clear that we would not be able to actually see anything and I was so incredibly annoyed that the organizers of the event didn't bother setting up any police barriers or ropes or anything to try to control and protect the crowds. Incredibly disappointed, we just decided to leave. If anyone knows where I can buy or learn some patience, please let me know.

We did wander around and take some pictures of the famous Coney Island landmarks, though. This was only my second time there (the first was in 1998) and I had the same impression I had before - Coney Island is sad. The first impression is how incredibly filthy it is compared to many other areas of New York. The second impression is, where are all the people? It was a gorgeous spring Sunday, but there were no lines for the rides and almost no one playing the midway games in spite of, or maybe because of the aggressive carnies (small hands, smell of cabbage).

It just makes me wonder what's going on there. Coney Island could be such a great place, but for some reason, it's just . . . sad. I don't know how else to describe it. As I type this blog post, the local news is reporting about how Mayor Bloomberg was at Coney Island today to announce several new attractions.

Sadly, I'm not sure those are going to help whatever the underlying problem may be with this historic area that's so full of potential.

Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs
Wonder Wheel
Coney Island Circus Sideshow Attraction

Monday, May 14, 2012

Spring Friday at the High Line

Finally - a beautiful spring weekend in NYC! The weather was in the upper 70s, it was sunny and best of all, my good friend Amber came to visit me.

I played hooky from work Friday afternoon and took Amber to the High Line. For my friends in Atlanta, you may or may not have heard that the people who are building/designing the Beltline have been consulting with the guys who did the High Line here in New York. It really is just an amazingly unique type of park. An old, elevated rail line that was no longer in use was turned into a park for city dwellers to enjoy some much-needed outdoor time. It features some amazing views of the city, the Hudson River, the Statue of Liberty and New Jersey.

Empire State Building & Chelsea Rooftops
It also features some lovely grassy areas, which at least 3 young couples were using to put on a fascinating display of dry humpery for the tourists. What's really cool is that they retained a good bit of the old railroad tracks and incorporated them into the design. The spaces between the ties act as planter boxes for some beautiful flowers and plants.

Red Admiral Butterfly

Incorporation of the old Railroad Tracks
I had been to the High Line twice before - once in January when it was 30 degrees and once in July when it was 102 degrees. There was almost no one there for either of those previous visits. This time, however, you could barely move due to the throngs of tourists. So the High Line is probably not the place to go to get your cardio, but I can't think of many more perfect spots to enjoy your lunch and some sunshine during the work day.

We finished the afternoon off with a little shopping in the Meatpacking District, a late lunch of a delicious, shared Croque Monsieur at Pastis and beers over at the Blind Tiger Alehouse in the Village. I've been wanting to try Blind Tiger for a while, as I've heard it's one of the best beer bars in the city, but I was a little disappointed in their draft selection. I will definitely try it again, though. 

After meeting up with Bill when he finished work, we headed back uptown to Izakaya Ten, which has to be one of my favorite places in NYC so far. We had all 3 pork belly dishes and some asparagus and sea bass and some sort of weird octopus nonsense. Then we had a 2nd round of all 3 pork belly dishes. It was an amazing meal, as always and we managed to avoid having a heart attack in spite of all the pork belly.