August 8, 2008

Droppin' some NYC

It's my blog, so I put this out there.

As always, I fully understand if you choose to skip forward to tomorrow's post. Just a teaser'll be a tasty little seeqpod list with a whole lot of hand claps involved.

If you stick around today, however, you'll get to head the dramatic tale of a ChemGuy and The Girl heading to the greatest city in the world, getting a couple of tasty slices, checking out a bit of priceless artwork, seeing said city from one of the tallest buildings in the world, and heading northward to the land of the pilgrims.

Day 1...Friday...driving and dinner...

The drive to NYC isn't necessarily an easy one, but there are a lot harder and longer. Rolling through Pennsylvania is a long haul, and the fact that we have to pay toll (about $9 there, I've done worse across I-90) annoys me. Rolled into NYC - first time driving in The City. (For some reason, New York is more than just the's The connection to me, no The Girl, no The Homestead, but if any city in our nation has earned The City status, it's New York.)

Got to roll through the Lincoln Tunnel, something that was a little eerie to do having read enough of DMZ where the Lincoln Tunnel is the edge of the DMZ, last place anybody would want to go.

We rolled into The Pod Hotel - quick review: smallish rooms, decently appointed, good price, awesome location, solid if not perfect recommendation. Had enough time to walk a couple of blocks and pick up our only pizza of the NYC trip. Good stuff at Red Box Pizza.

Day 2...UN...Bryant Park...Empire State...Times Square...street fair...Shea...

We woke up and wandered the five or so blocks to the United Nations. I remember in seventh grade - or maybe tenth, I'd been to The City twice before - taking a tour right into the UN and seeing all the flags flying, drawing us in when we walked freely around the entire grounds. No longer, as we got our first real glimpse of the changes that have undertaken NYC since 9/11. The free access and flying flags were replaced by empty flagpoles, an eight-foot fence of black wrought iron, and long-handled mirrors looking under the few cars we saw heading into the compound.

Breakfast on the walk up 42nd Street as we came under the Grand Central bridge which brought another creepy moment thinking back to I am Legend. Then up to Bryant Park - which I had no idea was so gorgeous. They've got a semi-permanent screen set up for free flicks once a week, and the planted beds are beautiful, plus they have some of the nicest public bathrooms that I've ever seen in a park - an attendant, nice tile work, not quite spotless but close. Dig the awesome.

The NYPublic Library wasn't open just yet, so we walked the four or so blocks down to the Empire State Building. The lines only wrapped down one and a half of the four block sides, so we hopped into line and took about an hour or so to get to the elevators - passing by every possible upgrade in our admission fees - and taking in what's now the tallest building in The City. I felt awful for asking this, but I wondered whether attendance at the ESB since the Towers fell. And up top - in the required gift shop - we got to see a rockin' Lego ESB (which eventually lead me to the Lego Professionals of the recent post).

Then back through Times Square. Back because we'd driven through on our first night but not noticed just where we are, just wondered why there were a whole bunch of people for like a three block stretch. The Girl enjoyed the Hello Kitty store and picked up a few souvenir items. I wasn't too impressed with Times Square because it was nothing but commerce, something I ran into throughout the city here and there but that is dwarfed by the coolness of The City.

Nice, late lunch at Dos Caminos (freshly made guac and free drinks when you order it)...big enough to split an entree...

Especially when we stumble upon a street fair - with, as far as we could tell, no theme or reason or holiday at all - which offered things like Nutella-filled crepes (which we again split)...

Then down to the library which was open now - and where we got pretty much all our souvenirs from The City...and where The Girl's true librarian geekiness came to the fore. I will admit that I dig the lions and was amazed by the gorgeous interior reading room. Though I was surprised that the main branch - the one that everybody goes to - doesn't offer any check out services. Instead, you have to head diagonally across the block to the other branch. Kinda wacky...

Back to the hotel for a half hour break and onward to Shea Stadium to check out a game against the Redbirds before they plow the stadium.

Only, I'd forgotten the tickets.

Yeah, we knew that about halfway to NYC when The Girl said "you did remember the tickets, right?"..."nope, totally forgot them...still pinned to the bulletin board at home"...

Luckily, we bought the tickets via credit card (probably one of the eleven million hacked) through the Mets website, so all we had to do was take the seven train out to Shea (same exit as the US Open site, so I've now physically seen the sites of three of the four major tourneys) and head to the Mets ticket office, give up the card and the ID, and wait about ten minutes or so. They reprinted the tickets and pointed us toward Loge, section 30 which looked like great seats...

Until you realize that we're sitting in the back row of the section which means we're under the next level up which blocks our view of anything more than about forty feet above the field level - no pop flies for us - and behind the wall which blocks our view of the left fielder.

Nice seats for $39 each...

Luckily, the seats do generally point toward home - or the infield, at least - which is an improvement over Yankee and Dolphin (three new stadia in a week, dig that)...

We didn't sit in our seats for long, however, as we quickly slid down four or so rows, far enough forward that we could see upward. Not quite as far as our neighboring fans slid down (all the way to the front of the boxes), but still a whole lot better than where we were supposed to be.

Once we'd slid down to a point where we could see the game - still no left fielder, but that's cool - we were treated to a pretty good game (check fangraphs for some proof). The place was packed, pretty well jammed, and The Girl even commented that if games in Cincy were like that - fun, full of energy, packed with people - she'd be way more willing to go. Even in the seventh or so when they put on the dorky sing along to "I'm a Believer", the whole crowd got into it.

Blast of a game - which we sadly left at the end of the eighth so we didn't get trampled on the subway. Needless concern, apparently, as the game went another six innings beyond that.

And a late-night dinner at a little restaurant next to our hotel. We split a coque monsieur and pomme frite. Their kitchen was - thankfully - open 'til 4am. Good times.

Day 3...Donut Pub...Wall St...Battery Park...Ground Zero...Chinatown...Central Park...Steak

We'd heard from friends that the Donut Pub down on 14th was the place for a morning sweet treat, and it didn't disappoint. I don't know that I'd rave about it the way that some do, but it's certainly solid for a bite. It's a New York place, Jewish accents on the stools, donuts that I don't know going under Yiddish names. The bites aren't bad, certainly, but the sounds are better.

Back on down to the Subway and further down the island into the Wall Street area. We'd heard that going to Wall Street now (post-9/11) was also an interesting thing with the streets totally blocked off and armed guards with M-16s patrolling the street. If that's the case, it wasn't when we were there on, admittedly, a rainy Sunday morning. Instead, we saw half-dead finishers from the morning's half marathon and Asian tourists in big groups.

Plus we got to see the bull, complete with his amazingly well polished pair of danglers. I guess the fact that half the tourists got their pictures taken while rubbing the bull's testicles has something to do with that.

Downward to Battery Park where we got to see the workers taking down the finish of the half marathon and our closest glimpse of the Statue of Liberty - we'd both been out to the island and up in the statue, something that's not allowed anymore, so we took a pass.

And up to Ground Zero...

Visiting Ground Zero was a very interesting thing. When The Girl had asked me in advance of our trip where I wanted to go in NYC, I'd said Ground Zero immediately. Nothing else really came to mind until I sat down with a map of Manhattan. There was some need within me to see Ground Zero, some need to pay tribute even though I certainly didn't know anyone who died in the Towers, and as we got to the site, it became apparent that a whole lot of other people felt that same need.

Ground Zero wasn't the most crowded place we came to in Manhattan (Time Square wins that easily), but it certainly had drawn its fair number of tourists, and each one was doing all there was to do at the site. They - and we - walked around a construction fence around a hole.

The memorial park has been designed but still looks to be years away. The Freedom Tower, long debated in design, doesn't yet rise above the level of the construction fence and won't be completed until sometime in 2012 (see construction progress here), and yet the site draws a huge number of visitors/gawkers - including me and The Girl.

And each visitor does just what we did - walks partway around the site. Some might make the full circle, but they don't see much more than we did as the viewing platform has been down for a few years now and the construction fences are eight feet high and block any possible view of the site.

Yet we each made a pilgrimage to the void.

Each of us, that is, except for the dozens of vendors taking advantage of the high foot traffic. Many are selling typical street fare - bottles of water, hot dogs - but some are vendors of the more creative variety, popping open black briefcases of watches and wallets and closing the same briefcases whenever somebody comes by saying that the police are on their way. We even saw one close up his briefcase while still negotiating a sale, walking with the woman away from the approaching officers, never walking away from the sale.

We made our way around to a public information booth with images of the planned development - right in front of the new 7 World Trade Center - where there is posted a timeline for the 9/11 attacks and subsequent collapse of the towers and a timeline and representations of the Memorial Park.

And then we left. There wasn't anything to see; we'd made our pilgrimage; and it was time to go.

On up to Chinatown for an awesome lunch at NY Noodletown and a hunt for The Girl's lucky cat. She finally settled for a matte golden plastic one with a battery. She bargined the storeowner down a few bucks (from $25 to $20) and was happy with her purchase.

We crossed the street to Little Italy and left the main drag fairly soon, finding gelato a few blocks up. We then took the subway back to the hotel for another brief respite before heading into Central Park.

On my first couple of trips to NYC, we visited Central Park briefly, but this time we took three or four hours to wander the park, and I got to see a lot more of it. I was amazed at the variety of spaces providing everything that an urban park could possibly hope to have: zoo, forest, open green lawns, statuary, ball fields, contemplative spots, quite reposes, bustling lawns, restaurants, rollreblading paths, paddle baots, a museum, and tons more.

It's a gorgeous green area amid the city, and they're lucky to have it. We saw the obelisk, the Alice statue, the Great Lawn, the castle over Shakespeare in the Park, Strawberry Fields, Tavern on the Green, and an adult kickball league. It was wonderful.

And then came dinner. thankfully we'd walked up an appetite because we splurged for our one nice night out. Smith & Wollenky's was just a few blocks from our hotel, and the reviews said things like "pricey but worth it" and "a great place to put on your expense account". For one night, we could go high on the hog.

High apparently means steaks that come out weighing a pound but taste like heaven itself. We split a giant, bone-in NY strip, green beans, baked potato, and onion rings (the latter all mine) and couldn't possibly consider dessert. The sides were okay - the beans luckily blanched and still green as could be - but the steak was phenomenal. Good times.

Day 4...Ess-a-bagel...MoMA...Yanqui Stadium...

We couldn't go to the Big Apple and not have bagels, so we managed a bagel and a schmear at Ess-a-bagel, just around the corner from our hotel. (Seriously, if you ever consider going to NYC, talk to me about the area we stayed in. Loved it.) Great, fresh bagels with wonderfully rich cream cheeses. I went raisin bagel with apple-cinnamon cream cheese. The girl went everything bagel with strawberry schmear. The next morning I stayed the same, and she went for lox cream cheese.

And off to the MoMA where we got our fill of museuming in The City. Six floors of exhibits ranging from barely modern to thoroughly, pop-ish, Warholian modern with enough design mixed in to keep me interested.

We chose the MoMA over the Guggenheim and the Met, mostly because I tend to prefer new stuff to the old artworks (I think The Girl would've gone Met, but I won this one). I enjoyed a lot of the artwork - particularly the barbed wire sculptures dipped and dried in the Dead Sea until they were crusted with salt crystals - but could've done without a lot fo the other. I'm sorry, but a five-by-five canvas painted a uniform and matte black with an explanation that it was open to the viewer's interpretation, utterly neutral in every possible way does nothing at all for me and seems like a total copout.

And, acutally and disappointingly, the prefab housing exhibit wasn't a thrill.

I dug the museum, honestly, but it was a lot of museum for one day with six floors of exhibits. Ideally, we would've seen a couple of floors each day and gotten the entire museum in a week - or over a year's time if we'd been there longer - but such is the nature of trying to see the greatest city in our nation in four days. If you go, feel free to skip the fourth floor entirely. We should've...

And then Yankee Stadium. We met up with two friends who had - thanfully - remembered to bring the tickets and took the 4 train up to the stadium, hoping to get there in time to see Monument Park but arrived too late, getting there about five minutes after the gates opened. By that point, they already had their couple thousand people in line for the Park and had closed the line. So we wandered in search of a new Yankees cap for one of the party and eventually made it to our seats - which I never left for the entirety of the game (again departing in the 8th se we didn't get missed by the trains).

The game itself wasn't a great one - an Oriole blowout with a grand slam leading them to an 11-0 lead before the Yaquis even threatened anything. But I've been to Yankee Stadium which is all that mattered.

Getting to Yankee - historical, legendary Yankee Stadium - wasn't the same as stepping into Wrigley for the first time. Wrigley was an almost religious experience, coming through the tunnel to open into the gorgeous green grass and the bleachers across the way. Coming into Yankee - admittedly with a lot of construction around and wal-to-wall people - was great but somehow lesser. It's a gorgeous old stadium that has been added to and rennovated until there is hardly anything original left. Everyone I spoke to seemed happy that the new stadium would open up next year. The concourses in Yankee Stadium are dark and crowded, clearly designed decades ago for a smaller crowd than the park now routinely packs.

But I can check off another park on my list...
  • Riverfront in Cincy
  • Wrigley in Chicago
  • Busch (the old) in St. Louis
  • Ted in Atlanta
  • Great American in Cincy
  • Jacobs in Cleveland
  • Comerica in Detroit
  • Miller in Milwaukee
  • PNC in Pittsburgh
  • Metrodome in Minneapolis
  • Dolphin in Miami
  • Shea in NYC
  • Yankee in NYC
The plan for next summer is to hit Baltimore, Philly, and Washington, DC in a single trip. Should be doable.

The trio of guys sitting next to us were in the middle of a three-day, whirlwind tour of the east coast hitting Camden Yards in Baltimore, Yankee Stadium, and then Fenway in three nights. Big fans of the Angels come east to have fun.

And we drove out of town the next morning, heading northeast to East Freetown, MA where we had a much more relaxing few days with a friend from high shcool. We didn't do nearly as much walking in Mass as we'd done in NYC, and there didn't appear to be a major league team in East Freetown so no luck adding in another stadium there, but we had a great time relaxing and catching up.

We did get to the beach for an afternoon even seeing a tiny jellyfish in the water and a larger one beached and dying. Plus we got to see Plimoth Plantation, a recreation of the pilgrim's first village circa 1627 as well as an Native American settlement from the same time. Fascinating stuff and neat to interact with people playing characters from the period.

And then we headed home, stopping briefly and noteworthily at Burgers, Shakes, & Fries for the titular meal of awesome food.

And let me add that the Tappan Zee bridge is particularly gorgeous at twilight. Wow...

We did manage a stop off at the Fiestaware outlet in extremly rural WV to pick up a few items ofr ourselves and friends.

And now I'm home and thinking that there's only a week or so until school starts...

Man the summer rolls along quickly...


achilles3 said...

Great post! I wanna go on vacations with you two...great plans, diverse, non stop. I love it!

Mr. Echt said...

Wow... I really wanted to go to NYC this summer, and was even offered a chance to go for free, but I needed to be 18. The lazy guy I share an office with went, and pretty much sat in his hotel for three days. Sounds pretty awesome, tho.

joey said...

NYC is fun. my most memorable experience there was walking with mom and sister northward from central park and then looking at the next block and seeing barbed wire fencing and less-than-desirable buildings. we were in harlem!

today the thought of walking around harlem and stuff is pretty exciting, but back then we just made a quick but graceful U-turn

PHSChemGuy said...

Lakes...thanks, man...we try to keep things even (city/country this summer)...relaxing vs moving constantly...

Mr's a great place to be...I love the energy, the always active, but I think it might drive me bonkers if I had to live there all the time - in Manhattan, anyway

Joey...yeah, just north of the park is Harlem, and I read something that said the only part of Central Park that isn't great to walk around in is called the Blockhouse which is the NW corner - right by Harlem...