Friday, August 31, 2007

Making It Count

I've been reticent to go out at night lately - a little bit of antisocial behavior, a little bit of trying to save money, and a lot of trying not to succumb to the temptations of all the food and drink that NYC has to offer. So seeing that my nightlife has become nonexistent, I've been trying to make the days count as much as possible.


Not only that, but in my book, summer is basically over as of this weekend, so I've been trying to squeeze as much as I can into it. I haven't made it to Coney Island yet, but I did take the day off today so that I could get into a morning swim session at the Brooklyn Bridge Park Beach and its "Floating Pool Lady" swimming pool moored in the East River.



The pool's first swim session is at 11 a.m. (though there is an adult lap swim before that, but on a day off from work, I was not getting up that early), and I got there about 11:30 - enough for an hour's swim. I decided to take the Water Taxi again for $10 instead of dealing with the subway, and got dropped off at Fulton Landing. After a harrowing ten minute walk along the river, beneath the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, beneath the BQE, and past all the Port Authority piers and old abandoned warehouses, I was happy to shed the humidity and jump in and start doing some laps. Edith joined a few minutes later and we relished the cloudy day, its gray pallor, and the idea of floating on the East River in a pool while gazing at the New York skyline.


Walking back from the pool under the highway Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory


After a nice aquatic workout, we decided to retrace my steps back to Fulton Landing and cheat with some homemade coffee-flavored ice cream from Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, nestled in an old school or ferrymaster's house with the Brooklyn Bridge looming above. The whole area, with The River Cafe, its garden, and Empire Fulton Ferry State Park, feels like Cold Spring or somewhere in Connecticut or Maine or something, New Englandy in its quaintness, with still a little Gotham attitude.


View from Empire Fulton Ferry ParkEdith had never walked across the Brooklyn Bridge so we trekked across in what most would consider "the opposite way," Brooklyn to Manhattan. It was perfectly convenient for me, since I had to go to the Supreme Court building on Centre St. afterwards.


I dragged my wet bathing suit and towel throughout the court system, back and forth between small claims, general civil, and county clerks' offices, but considering the pool closes on Labor Day and we got in this morning when it wasn't very busy, it was worth it.


All that walking and swimming got me exhausted that when I got home just after 5, I fell into a deep nap, and haven't motivated myself much since waking up. Guess I'm staying in again tonight.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Summer's Back

And I have another sunburn. After all that cold, rainy weather, it feels kind of nice. But yesterday was hot and STICKY, even while careening down the East River on a boat.


Edith and I had been fascinated with Governor's Island for at least a year now, so yesterday we finally decided to go. During the week there's really limited ferry service and you can only take a park ranger-guided tour, but on weekends during the summer, they open the island up to the public and you can wander around on your own. Better yet, the LMCC and River to River have been sponsoring outdoor concerts - and with DJ Rekha spinning bhangra yesterday, we no longer had an excuse not to go.


For those of you who aren't familiar, Governor's Island is the island you see between the Statue of Liberty / Ellis Island and Brooklyn, off Lower Manhattan. It's basically an old Civil War fort and military base, formerly occupied by the Army and the Coast Guard, but way before that it was a Dutch settlement. Four years ago its ownership flipped back over to the state of New York and now they're trying to figure out what to do with it.


Governor's Island is also part of the National Parks Service, and the park rangers are helping to get people to come check it out and get excited about it once the new development actually starts.


In the meantime, it's essentially abandoned. Its only residents are the members of the FDNY responsible for keeping it safe.


passing a gravel barge down the East RiverFor our first trip to the island, Michelle and I took the Water Taxi from E. 34th St. and met up with Edith who'd boarded at LIC. We braved a very bouncy ride down to Fulton Landing, zig-zagging across the river over to South Street Seaport, and then down to Governor's Island. Taking Dramamine didn't help much, so I was holding on for dear life. By the time we got there, I was already sunburned and a little disoriented, but excited to explore what is essentially a ghost town within NYC.


It was so hot that at first we just lied on the grass listening to the bhangra/reggae mashup on the stage, with live percussion and people in the audience actually knowing some Indian dance moves. I managed to bounce my shoulders despite lying on the ground.


view of Lower Manhattan skylineWhen we got to exploring, we marvelled at this strange place, with such a lovely view of the Lower Manhattan skyline - and Civil War relics mixed with distinctly 1970s architecture. It seems to have all the amenities of modern living - bus stops, a church, theater, school, golf course...And then there's the big fort...cannons...and a castle.


New York City has so many weird places like this to check out. It'll take a lifetime for me to get through all of them.


Water Taxi in front of air vent


Even on weekends, the last water taxi leaves at 4:14 (which we missed) and the last free ferry leaves at 5. We kept remembering the feeling we had in SF when we visited Alcatraz, musing about what would happen if we were left behind. Fortunately we didn't have to find out, and after a much quicker 7 minute ferry ride to the Battery Maritime Building (basically South Ferry), we were back in a part of the city that was more familiar to us and most of its residents and tourists. But just behind us, still not too far away, was that island, with the big, weird, white building looming at its entrance (a building I later discovered is an air vent for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel).


Governor's Island closes for the season on September 2, but there are lots of photos online, and NYC-TV has covered it in some good original local programming. You can also play Freedom Fighters on your Playstation to experience the island virtually. And there's always Open House New York in October as your last chance of the year...


Forgotten NY's report on Governor's Island


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Kicking Balls

Our view from the 2nd row


I went to my first MLS soccer game yesterday to celebrate the coming of David Beckham to the NYC area with the LA Galaxy playing the NY Red Bulls (unfortunately corporately-branded) at Giants Stadium. The Galaxy lost, but Becks brought it.


It's clear what a good player he is, especially compared to all the Americans around him. And because our seats were so amazing (2nd row in the corner), we got to see Beckham bend it, up close.


photo: psedie


It was a really high-scoring, exciting game - especially for a casual fan (not even) such as myself, who was just there for the event. Soccer is definitely in a league of its own: there was less music than baseball or basketball, less food barkers than baseball, and, at least in the U.S., less crazy fans than, say, the Jets fans. Even so, every time I heard people boo Beckham, I thought, "Are there Red Bulls fans?"


Despite the lack of hysteria that you sometimes find at other NYC area major league sports games, it still was really entertaining - and easy to follow. I've watched my share of soccer games, but all of the amateur sort. When I worked at Atlantic, every Friday I would go see our club team play at Chelsea Piers. I went less for the sport and more for the guys on the team I had a crush on, and always for the post-game party (with the inevitable tequila shots). I felt a sense of belonging and camaraderie as one of two cheerleaders for our team, the aptly-named "Ahmet's Comets," in tribute to our fearless leader and founder Ahmet Ertegun.


Last night wasn't so different than back then - we had a huge group that took up the entire second row, and with tailgating before and after the game, it was a great social event. Besides, I got to see Beckham rip his shirt off after the Galaxy lost. Even from afar, a sight worth waiting for.


The strangest part of the evening? Watching Tom Arnold walk down the sidelines and distract the audience from the game-in-progress. I was hoping he was Posh.


But the weather was fantastic, cool and comfortable, perfect for an outdoor stadium. So with such a good first experience, I'm totally spoiled. Too bad the Galaxy aren't playing when I'm going to be in LA in September...

Saturday, August 4, 2007

I'm Free

Maybe it's my sinus-induced deliriousness, but I decided to use up my savings and finally pay off my debt. As of this morning, I am debt-free.
I can't remember the last time I didn't owe somebody money. As a child, my father would let me borrow money to buy stuff I wanted, but I always had to pay him back. My parents also punished us sometimes by fining us - and in my case, often for stuff I didn't actually do. I think they figured we would understand monetary punishment and wouldn't become immune to it the way we got used to spanking or being locked up in a hot attic during the summer (not exaggerating).
So my allowance was always allocated somewhere before I even got it, and by the time my parents let me get a real job, I was already taking out student loans to pay for college by myself.
In 1994 I answered the call of free t-shirts in the student center and applied for three student credit cards in preparation for my semester abroad in London. I had been kicked out of my parents' house the summer before, and even though I took out an extra-big student loan that year to try to cover the flights, I knew I would need money for books and incidentals while in the UK.
I maxed out my credit card one night while using a payphone to call my mother on her birthday. With the time difference, it was impossible to anticipate when I'd be able to reach her, and the toll-saver setting on their phone got me every time, so I was charged an arm and a leg for every missed call. I remember standing in a phone booth late (it was probably dinner time in NY), getting rejected by my calling card, and then calling my credit card company, begging for more credit. All this for a mother that had kicked me out of the house a year before.
Since that time I've lived off credit cards to move to NYC and to survive being unemployed for a year. I don't regret it, but it's been really hard to dig myself out of that hole. And I've chosen to stay at my companies a long time (Atlantic, 4 yrs; R&T, almost 5) instead of job-hopping to get big salary increases. So this feels like a major accomplishment.
Vic had suggested I consolidate all my credit cards into one interest-free one and see if I could pay it off, and it was the best advice anyone has ever given me. I had almost $20K on one card, interest-free through June of this year. I stopped going out a lot, buying clothes and shoes and other nonsense I didn't really need. I paid for everything on my debit card so I wouldn't accrue more debt. I paid as much as I could off every month. When June came and went and I started to owe interest, I hustled even more to pay it off.
And now I'm done.
The irony?
I'm about to embark on the biggest debt of my life, if I decide to buy an apartment next year. I have no savings obviously so I'll have to borrow the down payment, and then I'll be stuck with a mortgage that lasts for 30 years. Not being the recipient of any Wall Street bonuses or inheritances, I don't expect any windfalls anytime soon, so once again, if I want to do it, I'll have to borrow.
But I don't regret London and I don't regret my move to the big city, nor do I regret waiting 10 months for "the right job," which turned out to be the one I'm still in five years later. And since I'm in the business of avoiding regret, I'm getting ready to bring on the debt again. I'm not leaving New York City anytime soon, so I might as well make a real investment in it.