December 22, 2007

Baby I Got My Money!

I've been keeping a little quiet about my exploits in the New York small claims, civil, and county courthouses because I didn't want to jinx myself. And I didn't want my debtor to catch wind of what I was doing to get my money from them, in case randomly somebody were to forward my blog to them.

But now that I've got my money, I can tell the story. As briefly as possible.

I had done some freelance work for a couple of years for a record label, who always kind of seemed sketchy - but as long as they were paying me, I kept working with them. When my monthly payments started to come only three times a year, I didn't mind so much as long as they came. When they stopped coming, I would have to withold services and stop working until they sent a check. Eventually, they stopped caring and didn't need me to work for them anymore. The problem? I was still owed four months' worth of payment.

So after years of trying to be nice and get it directly from them - and even having a friend try on my behalf - I took them to small claims court, and won a judgment against them. The only problem? I still had to get my money.

There are a lot of spammy companies out there who will try to collect your judgment for you, for a hefty percentage, but I was determined to do it myself. Of course, the process is long and arduous, so I actually procrastinated several months before I even started.

There are a bunch of things you can do, but there's really no one resource of information, so you've really got to do your research. I suppose I could have approached it in a variety of ways, but first I sent an information subpoena to the debtor's representative in their Department of State listing. Unfortunately, their rep returned it to me blank saying that they didn't represent the debtor. I tried to hold them in contempt of court, which is totally within my legal rights, but I got caught in a tug-of-war between the small claims clerk and the civil court clerk, each of whom thought the other should handle it. Apparently people don't do this very often. I gave up, even though I wanted to hold every person involved in contempt.

I also sent an information subpoena to the company itself. If you get one of those things in the mail, you have to send it back within seven days under threat of contempt as above, so I could think of nothing better than actually holding my debtor in contempt. Unfortunately, the company had moved and left no forwarding address, so the letter got returned to me. If I didn't even know where they were, how was I going to find them to get my money?

More investigative work resulted in copious Googling of the company to try to find a current address. In a random yellow-pages-like listing online, I found one address on Fifth Avenue that I'd never seen before, and since it was on my way home, I decided to walk by there myself and take a look. They weren't listed on the outside directory, but when I went inside and tried speaking English to the night security guard, I noticed the building directory hanging behind him, the letters that spelled out my debtor's name reflecting dollar signs in my eyes. Gotcha!

But I still had to figure out how I was going to actually get the money from them. The best way to do it, of course, is to get a bank account number or a list of assets like real estate, cars, etc., but this was New York - they were likely to rent and not have a car. This might take a while.

In my research, I realized that I could file a transcript of judgment which would basically remain on the company's permanent record and make it really difficult for them if they were to try to purchase real estate or sell off anything really significant. I also realized that if two other people had filed transcripts of judgments that remained uncollected, I could sue for triple damages. Big money! No whammies!

So I asked the small claims clerk if they had any other uncollected judgments on record. They said no, and asked me if I was an attorney. I giddily said no, and  I didn't stop there. I ventured into to the basement of the county court, to the dusty records room with the broken copy machines and the Wargames-era DOS computers, and find every court case on file against a defendant. Edith and I were like Cagney & Lacey, digging through files and finally uncovering a hilarious $20 million lawsuit - as yet untried - that claims fraud, conspiracy, extortion, money laundering, and operating "sham enterprises" that apparently was a much bigger problem for them than my little four months' worth of pay.

The best part was that the supreme court brief - which had clearly been written by a New Yorker with strategic use of quotation marks around words like "expertise" - gave me some ideas of more people to subpoena. In fact, I went subpoena crazy.

Fortunately they don't limit how many subpoenas you can send out, so you might as well send out as many as you can. In my case, I sent one to their record distribution company, their digital distributor, the company that was suing them, and finally - in a stroke of Googling genius - the management company of their office building. Shortly thereafter I got the golden ticket from them, the information subpoena back with a bank account number.

But again, it doesn't just stop there. You can't just call the bank and say "Give me my money." Number one, there's no way of knowing if the bank account will even have enough funds, but your biggest fear is that the debtor will find out what you're doing and close or move the account. And then you've got to start over again.

So as quickly as I could, I went down to the Sheriff's office and filed a request for execution, which basically empowers a sheriff to go to the bank in person and get your money. But of course, with all this bureaucracy, nothing's immediate, so the bank has 90 days to even respond - but by that time, you've at least made things uncomfortable for the debtor, and there's nothing they can do.

Those sheriffs may be slow, but they get your money. Deputy Lopez promised that I would have it, and lo and behold the check arrived in the mail today. Even better, they had accounted for some of my legal fees AND interest, adding up to a total that was definitely more than I expected.

So was about $4K worth all the hours of running between courthouses, poring over legal documents, and searching terribly uninformative court websites? Maybe not in terms of the total hours spent on this project, but justice has been served. I do feel vindicated, and all it really took was a lot of diligence and patience.

It's too bad because most people who have cases in small claims don't seem like they're of the fortitude to be able to actually ever get their money. From what I observed, many don't speak English well or at all, most are in some kind of service industry or blue collar work, and I think nearly all of them just wouldn't have the time to dedicate to the endeavor. And yet they're the ones who probably need those small amounts of money the most.

For me it was more about ego. And I had enough interest in the legal system to not go crazy. And I did it all myself, without the help of an attorney (except maybe the budding one inside of me).

December 17, 2007

Safe Return

Back from Syracuse last night after a somewhat harrowing drive. I'd decided to rent a car because of the horrible holiday price gouging on airfares, but I also like driving back so I don't have to ship presents back and so I can stop and eat junk food at my leisure. Unfortunately, I'd gotten a nasty stomach bug on Christmas which sent me to bed all day (bah!), so Waffle House in Clarks Summit, PA was definitely out of the question. Although I really wanted to drive through the Poconos because of the scenery, I decided to take the Thruway instead so I could have the option of stopping on a regular basis if nature called.

National Car had also run out of actual cars so they gave me a gigantic SUV, which I was a little worried about navigating on mountain roads and smaller highways. I figured I was safer on a multi-lane interstate. Unfortunately, I encountered a TON of traffic. And lots of trucks.

My back massager didn't work in the cigarette lighter of the car so I was on my own with the leather bucket seat, but it was actually really comfortable and I made it all the way past the Tappan Zee Bridge without stopping, a good four hours into my trip. By the time I got past it, though, I was really dying for a break so I finally stopped at the mythic towering Stew Leonard's, which I've passed so many times and never explored.

Stew Leonard's is the family-run, down-home grocery store that's mecca to residents of Westchester. I really thought I was going to come out with armfuls of groceries to bring back, but instead I only got a little Italian take-out sandwich as a snack. Of the store-made Italian specialties, meats, cheeses, dips, chips and everything else, the portions are HUGE - definitely family-sized. Even the packaged goods are gigunda and extremely inappropriate for single little me in a studio apartment. I don't even have room for all those big multi-packs.

But it's cool to walk around there, and they have a whole liquor store inside with really good wine prices and a decent (though relatively mainstream) selection. Still, I was wishing it was Wegman's, with all the free samples and the smell of food cooking in the aisles. Although I did manage to get one of their famous peanut donuts while home, I didn't actually get to go there.

The rest of the drive home was ok, though it was hailing when I left Yonkers. I saved some time by skipping the traffic-ridden and tolled Triborough Bridge and taking the free and empty Third Avenue Bridge instead (genius shortcut taught to me by Eric), but the entire trip still took about six hours, a good hour and a half longer than it should with normal traffic and weather.

By the time I got to my apartment and unpacked my stuff, I was so sick of that huge car, I didn't even bother trying to park it on my block. I have a hard enough time parallel parking compact cars, so I returned it early and tried to immediately reclaim my normal life. I got a last minute pedicure at closing time, and had dinner and some frozen margaritas at Rodeo Bar. Ah...home.

I had a great time hanging out with Maria and her family while in Syracuse, but I desperately need a manicure, a massage, and a pilates class. Thank God I don't have to go into the office this week (though I do have to be reachable).

And as glad as I am to be back in NYC, I've already started planning my next trip: to one of the country's best cities, San Diego. Hopefully a nice weather vacation in March will help chase away those winter blues that always dog me.

December 13, 2007

Another Weird Cab Ride

I was hanging out in Jersey with Dan, who usually drives me all the way home, but tonight I offered to take the PATH back. Once I got to 23rd St, though, I didn't want to wait for a bus that was not in sight, so I took a cab the short ride home.

Immediately upon my entering the backseat, the driver started to call me Miss America and Miss Universe and acted like he knew me. I can't say I recognized him, though being called Miss America - and his protesting of not knowing what the f- is wrong with guys in this city - did seem familiar. When he said he was going to miss his job and I asked him where he was going, he said, "Take a good look at my face. Do you not recognize me? I am famous!"

He then pulled out all these laminated newspaper clippings and started namedropping every TV network and radio station he's been on. He is the Matchmaker Cabbie.

I don't know how he wasn't more on my radar. I mean, the whole thing sort of sounded familiar, but I had no idea the amount of attention that this guy has gotten for the marriages he's instigated and the long-term relationships that he's assembled.

Apparently he's leaving his post behind the wheel to star in a reality show, brokered for him by William Morris. But that didn't stop him from taking my email address down and promising to send me a match by Sunday.

Normally I wouldn't be so free with my contact info, but this guy seemed legit and a real character. Sometimes you've got to take those moments in life and say "what the hell."

So let's see what he sends me. He promised me something good.

Further reading:
Matchmaker Cabbie Connects New York's Lonely Passengers - The Seattle Times
Cabbie Becomes Matchmaker for Lonely New Yorkers - The Chicago Sun-Times

December 12, 2007

Let the Celebrations Begin!

Conveniently timed during Hanukkah, I went to my first bris last night. Catered by Katz's and replete with Manischewitz, it was a lovely event, for a tiny, cute, bedheaded baby boy. I tried to put aside my own convictions about circumcising innocent little ones (see "The Rights of Baby Boys" - The New York Times), turn a deaf ear to the crying, and knock a few bagels and lox back.

I actually had three parties to go to last night, the next one being the Adventure Society holiday party. I'm on their mailing list and even though I've never participated in one of their excursions, I really want to. I decided to go to the party and drink their bizarre cocktails (including one made with Italian herbal liqueur Fernet) and try to meet dudes that want to hang glide with me.

Unfortunately the party was in a cramped office space and wasn't very social. Everybody there was in their late 30s or 40s and ... well... not attractive. And not interested in me anyway. The best part of it was when I let the wine girl go to the bathroom and I manned her station. I think I only poured a couple of glasses of wine (besides for me and Edith) but I really enjoyed being "behind the bar." Helped fulfill that fantasy I have of opening my own place...

After that we made a late night stop at the Hog Pit for some fried chicken, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese and a goodbye kiss to Brad, who's moving to London. That's too many fantasies for one night - it feels like all my friends are getting jobs and moving to London, and I want to be next.

More parties to come this holiday season, including our office party next week...And boy could I use it. I've got some bells to jingle.

December 09, 2007

Christmastime in the City

Santa InvasionYesterday I finally kind of got in the Christmas spirit. We went to Grand Central for the annual light show and holiday fair, and even though the light show is sort of unimpressive, it was nice to hear Christmas music piped in so loudly. We were heading to the Transit Museum Store's train show when we stumbled upon SantaCon, and the entire concourse of Grand Central was overtaken by santa's. Pimp Santa, Darth Vader Santa, Scooby Santa, Sexy Santa, Robin Hood Santa, all singing carols, some giving out candy, and most looking kind of drunk at 1 in the afternoon.
We also managed to make it to the Bryant Park fair, the BUST Holiday Craftacular (averting the block-long line somehow), and a festively-decorated Bar Jamon where we met a hot waiter and drank Spanish wine.

Drunk on holiday spirit, I finally gave in and took a look at the Christmas trees across the street in front of Duane Reade. In past years, I've haggled pretty good prices for some nice trees, all a little too big for the size of my shoebox studio apartment. One year I even went all the way up to Food Emporium six blocks away to get a better price for a bigger tree, and had to roll it home in a shopping cart. This year, I had my eye on two trees: one short, round one and one tall, skinny one. The tall skinny one looked like the runt of the litter, but at $30 - half the price of the short one - it seemed like a great deal and I brought it into its new home.
Oh, it's not perfect. The branches are patchy and weak. But it's over six feet high, towering above me and fitting perfectly into my little nook by the window. Besides, I'd bought so many Christmas tree ornaments as souvenirs over the past year, I was dying to display them on something.
A little more wine, a little Christmas music, and some tinsel and I was suddenly READY for the holidays. Just have to get the Claritin ready for that allergic reaction to pine....

December 08, 2007

Til the Cows Come Home

The naturopathic doctor suggested I eliminate dairy for a couple of weeks to see if that's what's been causing some of my physical problems. In hindsight I realize agreeing to it was a big mistake, with me more stressed than ever, working harder than ever, and just not mentally strong enough to support eliminating one of my favorite things out of my life.
I've done detoxes before, eliminating alcohol and sweets and even eating in restaurants altogether, but the results are immediate: you lose a boatload of weight quickly. Eliminating dairy made me hungry, depressed, deprived, and crave other salty things like chips and fries to replace the cheese that would normally satisfy that.
I fell off the wagon a couple times - eating a little onion dip at Michelle's party last week, eating shepard's pie (made with grits instead of mashed potatoes) which had butter in it at Jimmy's No. 43 - but nothing major til Thursday night, when I sat down at Rodeo Bar and demanded steak soft tacos (cheese) and a big pile of sour cream. It had been a rough day.
Then last night, after managing to resist lunch at Murray's and cookies from Julian, I more than willingly ate dinner at Arturo's, my favorite pizza/Italian restaurant in the city. And it was a veritable cheese binge.
We had garlic bread with cheese, which I topped with parmesan cheese.
We had baked clams which most certainly had some kind of buttery garlic sauce with it.
We had arugula salad with big strips of parmesan laid across the top.
And we had the cheesy Fiesta pizza which I also topped with more parmesan cheese.
Most dairy I can go without. I don't drink glasses of milk, I don't really eat yogurt, I don't have butter or sour cream in my home...But once you start checking, you realize everything is made with some kind of dairy product. Whether it's butterfat or some isotrope of lactose or was just made on a machine that also processes dairy products, nearly every box listed "CONTAINS MILK" under the ingredients, or had a D on the front. And God only knows what restaurants use to make your food. Forget about it.
So when I was off dairy, I tried to find some replacements. I can't eat soy so the whole soy cheese / soy milk route was out of the question, but I did try rice milk. It sounds disgusting but I don't know, it's pretty good. I like it better than cow's milk. It's really good on cereal. But it's actually not that good for you, because it's basically carbs instead of protein. Argh.
I also discovered baking chocolate that's sweetened slightly but as no milk or butterfat in it. Pretty good and a little better for you. Definitely good for times I'm dieting and I fall off the wagon. But note: 100% cacao baking chocolate does not taste good by itself.
My "dairy fast," as I've been calling it, was supposed to end altogether on Monday, but I don't know if I'm even going to bother eliminating it for the rest of the weekend. This is just the worst time of year. And because I didn't feel one bit better off the dairy, there's really nothing encouraging me to keep depriving myself besides just stubbornness of doing what I said I was going to do.
I think in general cutting down on the amount of cheese in my life is a good thing, but again that's more for weight loss. My cholesterol is great and it seems like anything in moderation is probably OK.
The naturopath will still suspect I have a food allergy but I don't think I'm willing to cut out other foods people are commonly allergic to (wheat, tomatoes, eggs....).
Back to the drawing board.

December 05, 2007

Another Irate Cabbie

I LOVE the credit card machines in cabs. They're so convenient! But boy, do the drivers hate them.

I took a cab home tonight from Naked Angels mostly because it was cold out but also because I'm just so tired lately. When we got to my corner, I swiped my credit card with glee, and asked for the receipt (which the screen TELLS you to do).

The cab driver got really defensive immediately and started saying, "Just wait, just wait" and holding up his hand, like I was harrassing him or something.

When I asked him if there was a problem, he started going off about how long the credit card takes and how it "wastes three minutes."

I said, "It's not my fault. It's not my fault for taking advantage of a service that's being offered to me."

He snapped, "Yes! It IS your fault! You do not have cash for $6 cab ride and you make me wait for credit card!"

"Blame the Taxi & Limousine Commission," I said, and he handed me my receipt.

I opened the door, making sure that I would be able to safely exit the backseat (remembering my Saturday night). I then jutted my head through the partition in the bulletproof glass and I snarled, "Oh, and by the way, I did have the cash."

He started yelling at me but I'd already slammed the door and started sauntering away, so I couldn't hear his tirade.

And it's true. I did have the cash. But I need to save that for tipping bartenders and paying for cabs that don't take credit cards.

December 02, 2007

What Are You Gonna Do To Me?!

That's what I kept screaming at the taxi driver last night. Michelle and I had hopped in a cab after 2 a.m. on the Upper West Side to get a drink or two in at George's bar before last call, and the guy drove like a maniac the whole way. I was already feeling nauseous (from ending my dairy fast? from eating steak tartare?) and the ride made me carsick on top of everything, and extremely agitated.

I'm really into the new credit card swipe in taxis since I'm often short on cash, so I was glad to see that this cab was equipped with the new technology. When I first swiped, the driver said, "It's not working." A likely story - taxi drivers are notorious for trying to encourage you not to use the credit card payment, since they have to pay a fee for it. I had just been reading an article in Time Out about what your passenger rights are, so I wasn't about to give up.

Once I swiped and it went through, the driver started to say I had to sign the receipt. He gave me a pen, I looked at the receipt, and I said, "I don't have to sign this, here" and gave the pen back to him. The guy lept out of the front seat, ran around to the back right passenger seat where I was about to depart, and became very threatening - waving his arms around, pointing his finger at me, shouting, all right in front of the swank Bowery Hotel.

Of course, I wasn't having it. I got up in his face and said I wasn't a tourist and he wasn't going to intimidate me, if he had just been nice then we could have worked something out but now I wasn't going to do anything for him. He became more violent and threatening and we started to collect a crowd, notably a shivering girl who'd been waiting for a cab for a long time. I started to pick on her, shouting "Do you want this guy to drive you home? Do you trust this guy to get you where you need to go?" And then I went back to the driver, channeling a very Phil-like "Is that how you're going to act?"

And then because he wouldn't back down and because he was blocking me from leaving the backseat, I got up in his face and started growling, "What are you going to do to me?!"
When it comes down to it, you don't have to sign the receipt unless the trip is over $25 (which it wasn't). In the back of my mind at the time, I thought there was a chance I was wrong and that prior cab drivers had just never asked me to sign, because the whole thing is still new and we're all still getting used to it. And with the old credit card swipers (that weren't in many cabs at all), you did have to sign and you did have to tell the driver ahead of time that you were paying with credit card (you don't now). But I became so infuriated at the way he acted, the attack he engaged on me, thank God in a very public setting and not in the dark corners of, say, Greenpoint where I used to get chased down by cab drivers.

All that, for a dollar fee he thought he was not going to get reimbursed.

I think the shivering blonde girl took the cab after I walked away, but I departed so swiftly and determined that I didn't bother to look back and check. I even lost Michelle, who was so dumbfounded at what just happened that she didn't notice which way I walked and ended up wandering in the opposite direction.

It didn't occur to me at the time to take down the guy's medallion number. I could have reported him to 311. I could have sued him probably for harrassment and mental anguish (something I would love to do considering my recent escapades in the New York Small Claims Court system). But in the end, no harm done. Yelling at him totally dissipated my nausea and I was able to have a decent time for the rest of the night.

November 23, 2007

Black Friday

Instead of getting up for 4 a.m. doorbusters, I tried to sleep in today. But with my lower back hurting more and more every day, I can't get several hours of uninterrupted sleep anymore. Still, I was able to hang out in bed til 12:45 p.m., which is exactly what I was looking for.
Last year I went to the mall on Black Friday and marvelled at how empty it was, but this year there was no way I could haul myself out that far so I settled for some midtown shopping. On my way to Lord & Taylor, I stumbled upon a Bank of America-sponsored pop-up store on Fifth Avenue and 36th Street, where I got a free cup of coffee (with a splash of hot chocolate) and a free massage! They're also offering free gift wrap, free holiday greetings you can videotape in front of a green screen, and "concierge services" which they steered me away from since they could tell right away I was a local.

The massage was OK, in one of those massage chairs like they have at the nail salon, which sometimes actually make my back feel worse. But, you get what you pay for, and since it was free, I was trying to enjoy it as much as possible.

Bank of America is, of course, trying to get people to sign up for their new "Americard," but I think people are just drinking the free coffee and using the public bathrooms. I saw lots of people taking a load off and piling their shopping bags up on the couches, munching on the free chocolates, but nobody signing up for anything. Oh well, thanks Bank of America for a very expensive and enjoyable marketing promotion. 'Tis the season for giving.

Afterwards I was inspired to spend $75 at Ann Taylor LOFT to get a free sequined clutch purse, and to buy new jeans and a fancy dress at GAP.

Braving Herald Square on Black Friday stressed me out again so I stopped by HRC for a dip in the hot tub, and back home to eat a leftover turkey dinner.

I tried to go out last night, but nobody - not even Rodeo Bar - was accommodating a wayward soul such as myself on Thanksgiving night. I got a couple of drinks at The Magician, but it was nothing compared to Thanksgiving 1997 when I got drunk at Down the Hatch with Neal and was at the all-night McDonald's on W. 3rd St. til 5 a.m.

Oh well, at least I still have tonight and tomorrow before back to work on Monday.

November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm thinking a lot about my family today. I haven't spoken to my parents since January but I normally wouldn't see them on Thanksgiving anyway. But as I'm hanging out in my apartment baking pumpkin bread and making green bean casserole, I'm reminded of my father's side of the family, big dinners at Grammy's house and weird German desserts.

I grew up with a lot of German vernacular that was poorly pronounced and never spelled out or written down. I've actually been a motivated baker lately (like baking my own birthday cake) so I set my mind to trying to track down recipes of some of the things I grew up eating that I actually liked. There were the molasses Christmas cookies that used to be my favorite, Lebkuchen, and an anise and nutmug dessert called Gesundheitskuchen which is more like a cake but is baked in a loaf pan and sliced like bread. None of the recipes I found online were exactly what I remembered, but I think I've become a good enough baker to fiddle around with the ingredients to try to replicate my grandmother's version, which had been replicated by my mother after she became absorbed into my father's traditional German family.

Especially after my grandmother died when I was 10, Thanksgiving (or any other holiday for that matter) with my family was never really about home and hearth. I do have fond memories of waking up to the smell of the turkey already cooking, of my father carving it and doling out the crispy skin for us to snack on, of eating whatever we wanted and as much as we wanted, all washed down with grape juice to mimic a sophisticated dinner experience. But mom always acted like it was a huge bother and never enjoyed herself, and made us feel guilty for all the effort she put into it. And it was almost always just the four of us, four people who didn't get along with each other, eating in silence.

Besides, this time of year, I am missing my father's brother, my favorite uncle. He died about a year ago at Thanksgivingtime and I still feel guilty for not going to Syracuse for the wake or funeral. I couldn't deal with seeing my parents. I hope, wherever he is, that he understands and forgives me.

I chose to spend today alone, despite a genuine invitation from Maria's family, because I've been too stressed at work, travelling too much for work, and not sleeping enough. I wasn't sure if I was going to cook and didn't want to have any plans today, but so far it's turning out ok. I'm cooking about half a turkey dinner, with turkey roulade contributed by Murray's, stuffing contributed by Edith, and green bean casserole and mashed potatoes made by me.

November 14, 2007

Van Halen

Van Halen is now 3/4 Van Halen, with the replacement of Michael Anthony with Eddie's son Wolfgang. Wolfgang doesn't really rock, but he's only 16. Still, he looks like Valerie Bertinelli before Jenny Craig. With her hair from One Day at a Time.

I never thought this before, but at the MSG show last night, I thought all Van Halen songs sound alike. Correction: all David Lee Roth Van Halen songs sound alike, at least performed live. I thought I would know more of them, but sticking to the Diamond Dave repertoire and leaving out the Sammy Hagar stuff limited my knowledge, so only about half the songs sounded familiar to me. Still, with Eddie's guitar and pretty good harmonizing vocals, they all had that Van Halen something that made me really enjoy the whole show.

We had terrible seats. Pretty awful, as in, the last row. The speakers blocked the big screen behind them so I couldn't even watch the show on that. But Roth, replete with a variety of brocade jackets and tophats, had an onstage demeanor that was more circus ringmaster than rock band lead singer, so I could definitely see him gesturing wildly and flipping around the mic stand like a baton.

Dave looks good. I know you won't believe me, but he does. He lost a lot of weight and looks pretty fit, and even his thinning hair was smartly cropped and neat. His wide smile and flamboyance makes him a great showman and draws the eyes to the face rather than to the laced-up crotch of his leather pants, but it was all a bit...Fosse.

And you know what? He can still do those jumping kicks. It was like 1984 all over again.

As a 9 year old I loved "Jump." I didn't understand it at all but I think I was kind of attracted to Dave's charisma, and at the time I couldn't resist a good synthesizer.

When I agreed to go to the show, I figured I would just get drunk and eat popcorn. I did have a couple Pork Slaps at Fat Annie's before the show, but I wasn't drunk. Instead, sitting in my seat, the fifth wheel to a married couple and a couple of dudes from work who are a little too friendly with each other, I just got depressed. I remembered myself as a 9 year old. And I felt old and sad.

Oh, I didn't feel pathetic for being at a Van Halen show (pretty cool actually). Everybody there was actually much older than me. It was more the comparison of my current self with my former third grader self, who loved Van Halen and Def Leppard and dreamed of dating a rock star one day. That hasn't happened yet.

The only Van Halen music I own is from the Sammy Hagar era, but I do own a David Lee Roth solo album on vinyl. I don't think I'll ever play any of that stuff at home, but I have been humming "Dance the Night Away" to myself today...

November 11, 2007

Detroit Rock Sandi

I had to work again this weekend, this time travelling to my second least favorite city in the U.S.: Detroit. (Houston is my least favorite.)

This is the second city where I've seen the KIDZ BOP WORLD TOUR so far, and fortunately I didn't have to do a lot. But still, I left my house at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday and didn't return til about an hour ago - and after working til 8 p.m. on Friday night and too tired to go out after, that's pretty much the whole weekend.

It's a surprisingly quick flight out there, on a cramped regional jet. I was lucky to be travelling with Sebouh and Kevin, and we all ventured out to Dearborn for an authentic Lebanese dinner. At Al-Ameer, I felt like I was back in the 70s at a family dining restaurant, with stained glass chandeliers in every booth. Except Seb was speaking Arabic to our waitress and half the food was on a stick.

It was great, actually. Seb is our resident Lebanese expert (despite my jaunt to Edgware Road with Claude Chalhoub in 2002) so I let him order for me, getting a nice selection of kabob and shwarma, hummous, salads, rices, falafel, and plenty of stuff to dip it in (like tahini and lebneh, sometimes called "yogurt cheese" and really good). Topped off with some baklava and I had a happy tummy ache.

I was going to go to bed early, but my hotel - the Atheneum, where I stayed the last time work brought me to Detroit about eight years ago - was recently part of a revitalization of Downtown Detroit to include a new casino as part of Greektown. Curiosity got the best of me and I braved the cigar smoke to walk through the entire thing and even play some slots. Competitiveness also got the best of me and I dropped some serious $20s in the PONG-themed slot machine just trying to get to the bonus round where you actually get to play PONG for cash. Silly me - I always forget you can't play slots like they're video games. They're WAY too expensive.

So after losing a wallet-full of money, and being disgusted at how NOT-nice the casino was (and didn't even pretend to be like the Atlantic City casinos do), I headed back to the hotel to do what I'd been dreaming about ever since I booked the room: take a bubble bath in the "deep soak tub." The rooms are sort of Greek-themed like the rest of the hotel (and the neighborhood), so there's a certain hedonism you feel when you walk in. It's not as bad as Caesar's, but I definitely wanted to take advantage while I was there, especially with the way I've been feeling lately.

Sipping some white wine while listening to Mariah Carey was all the relaxation I needed to get ready to work the next day...

This morning I woke up early on my own after hoping to sleep in, but that meant I could forage for breakfast in the very dead downtown area. I found the Detroit Breakfast House & Grill, the only hoppin' spot for miles, at about the moment I was going to give up and go to Au Bon Pain. It's definitely a hometown favorite, filled with post- and/or pre-church worshippers nattily dressed, surrounding themselves with stuffed French toast, chicken and waffles, and cheese grits. I went a little easy on myself and had the turkey sausage benedict, which still came out on a really buttery grilled English muffin with some slippery breakfast potatoes on the side. My first batch of poached eggs came out hard - and the waitress knew that was bad so she put them down and took them right back, apologizing all over the place. When the new wet eggs came out and burst all over my plate, I knew it was worth the wait.

It was a little unnerving because everybody there called me "young lady," but when they could see I was all by myself and I was nice about the hard eggs and the wait (and I think I was a little sniffly too with a cold weather scratchy throat), they started calling me "sweetheart." That was some hospitality I had never before experienced in Detroit.

I had a good full stomach in anticipation of drinking mimosas at the pre-show reception we threw for our colleagues at Dodge, who sponsored the show at the overly-ornate Fox Theatre. The Byzantine gaudiness of the place really overwhelmed my interest in its history - apparently built by the Fox movie studio in the '20s as a movie theater. The live acts that play there now are mostly of the "heritage artist" variety, like Neil Young last night and Kenny Rogers in December. KIDZ BOP really livened up the place. I was still hoping for more confetti.

Back home now to an undecorated apartment, with all Halloween decorations down (except the candy corn lights) and a little too early for the Christmas stuff to go up. I'm always looking for a little more sparkle. And the face painter at the party today told me I wasn't allowed because I'm an adult.


November 04, 2007

Duran Duran on Broadway

About 1000 middle-aged women, gay men and myself lived out a childhood fantasy last night and saw Duran Duran in the small Barrymore Theater on Broadway.

I'd seen them a year or two ago at The Garden, but at this show we were close, in the third row in the balcony. John Taylor actually raised his eyebrows at me and the screaming woman next to me.

It was a gamble to go see this show because the main focus is their new album, but I was intrigued by its production by Timbaland and collaborations with Justin Timberlake. Still, does anybody want to hear new music by Duran Duran?

The new stuff is pretty good. About half of it I actually really liked upon first listen. Some of it screams JT, and I kept hoping they'd break out into a cover of "Sexyback."

Like any Broadway show, there was an intermission, and the show was actually split into three acts. Act One was the new stuff, and Act Two was a special Devo-like "Electroset" where they lined up downstage with keyboards and did robotic versions of "All She Wants Is," "I Don't Want Your Love" (!!!!), and a weird electro remix of "Skin Trade."

Act Three was what they called "Essential Duran Duran," though I don't consider their relatively recent single "Reach Up for the Sunrise" essential despite the fact it was in a commercial or two. Still, I was happy to jump to my feet for "Notorious" and "The Reflex," and bounce around to "Planet Earth" and "Girls on Film." I'm betting the audience was disappointed they didn't hear "Rio" (I personally was hoping for Arcadia's "Election Day") but instead they got "A View to a Kill" (the James Bond theme) and "Ordinary World."

The band looks good and they had nice matching outfits, though Simon was the only one with a huge bulge in his pants. The addition of a horn section (saxophone solos!) and a soulful backup singer really filled out the sound, and in that intimate setting, it sounded great.

I kind of want to go again.

Thru 11/13.

Duran Duran Continues Its Revival With a Debut on a Broadway Stage - The New York Times

October 21, 2007

Halloweentime Jaunt to the Midwest

Sunrise view from the Hilton

Spent the weekend in Minneapolis - again - this weekend. I actually don't mind it so much. I tell everybody it's a surprisingly cosmopolitan place.

This time I stayed at the Hilton, which was a mistake because it was a prime convention spot crawling with badge-toting midwesterners and gigantic football players (North Dakota State U, to be exact). I was pressed up against the back of the elevator during each trip to and from the 21st floor, praying for oxygen.

The stress of the throngs needed desperately to be relieved, so I ordered an in-room massage from the former LiteSpa (now an Aveda salon called Sanctuary). Spa services outside of a beach cabana or New York City can be a bit dodgy, but this ended up being really good - in fact, I think, better than the massages I get from Deborah at Crunch. This one included a great head/scalp massage, and also uncovered some real pain I'm having...drum roll...behind my knees. In the lymph area. Apparently I'm clogged.

So the massage was a great release in more ways than one, and for the first time in weeks (maybe months), I woke up the next morning and could walk without hobbling. Score!

Besides the access to in-room massages, the one good thing about the hotel was its proximity to a great restaurant called Hell's Kitchen, a new discovery. Aptly named, the wait there is hellish, as is the attitude of the people taking reservations and names for the waitlist. Saturday I tried to go there three times, and finally ordered a ham and pear toasted sandwich to go and ate it on the stairwell in the building. But this morning I planned ahead and didn't have to wait too long to brunch with Sebouh, who shared the delicious sausage bread (made with bison meat!), topped with butter, homemade peanut butter and preserves. It's practically a meal on its own but I managed to make some room for the catfish breakfast special, with poached eggs and a sauce with a real kick to it.

Minneapolis always brings the good food and drink, if you know where to go. (DON'T go to the NewsRoom.) We tried the bar in the new swank Graves 601 hotel, where I had the deliciously unsweet Mojito "8" cocktail and some sweet grilled cheese sandwiches topped with truffle honey. The scene was weirdly New York, and we were surrounded by Emmy winners of the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Television Academy. Bizarre.

Even more bizarre was our trip to the sticks for the Trail of Terror, supposedly the Midwest's best Halloween attraction. It paled in comparison to some of the New York area ones I've visited over the last couple of years, but the haunted house-slash-maze had some neat tricks of its own that kept me on my toes (and grabbing for Vic). They kept it really dark, and with my night vision pretty bad as it is, I was blind the whole time. Then we hit the hallway with the big horn sound and a bright light that bleached our retinas and really blinded us.

I can't say it was worth the long drive, the muddy school bus ride from the parking lot, and the long wait in line, but I was spooked and startled and we laughed a lot. Mission accomplished.

It also gave us the excuse to have dinner at Bennigan's, which we spotted from the highway. We were hungry for fun, and thanks to Vic, now I can say I've tasted the deep fat fried and battered Monte Cristo sandwich with raspberry jam. It's so wrong. And so good.

Thankfully, considering everything I ate while away, I got the chance to swim a little at my hotel. I also spent a fair amount of time on my feet walking back and forth between hotel and Target Center, where I was wrangling some children for the KIDZ BOP WORLD TOUR. Rock!

If I have to go back to Minneapolis again, I hope it's during better weather, so I can visit De Smet, SD and complete my Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway journey.

October 13, 2007

Photo Essay: Great Jack o’ Lantern Blaze

I guess it's a family event, but since I didn't have any kids to bring, I dragged Edith, Eric, Michelle and Joe an hour upstate to Croton-on-Hudson for the annual Great Jack o' Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor (follow the brown signs).

Photo: PSEdie Photo: PSEdie
The manor itself - which you can tour throughout the year during the day - was pretty spooky, with illuminated pumpkins lining its railings and the colored spotlight changing periodically.

Photo: PSEdie

Skeletor made sure we didn't get lost through the winding paths...

Some really elaborate designs...

It takes about an hour to go through the whole thing depending on how stuck you get behind the kids in the "Dead Sea" section, but you can grab a hot cider and a cider doughnut on your way in, and it's a pleasantly spooky way to spend a crisp fall evening.

Through October 31.

October 07, 2007

Photo Essay: Open House NY

This weekend is Open House New York, always a highlight of the year for the last five years. You get to explore places that are normally closed to the public (and sometimes kind of condemned).

Highlights from my weekend:

ferry to Ellis Island, stopping first by Liberty Island

Checking out Ellis Island's restored Ferry Building, where the old ferry "Ellis" sank in the 1960s (and you can still see some of it sticking up through the water surface)

Rubble outside the abandoned psychiatric hospital

broken glass windows in the stabilized walkways between the various sections of the abandoned hospital

hanging light socket in the old staff's quarters

toilet in the old Contagious Diseases Hospital

Washed rind cave in the basement of Murray's Cheese

More moldy cheese in Murray's Cheese cheese cave - stinky but well-worth standing in line for the wait list

There were tons of other things I wanted to do - canoe the Gowanus, explore an MTA Substation - but they were all on Saturday and I couldn't fit everything in. Sunday I decided to go to the mall and do a very different kind of urban exploring (resulting in shoes and lots of Halloween crap from Target).

NPR: Capturing the 'Dark Side' of Ellis Island

September 21, 2007

Back on East Coast Time

My internal clock has been so messed up, ever since we set our watches back an hour in Nashville, only to find out that directly north of there in Kentucky, we had to set our watches forward again. At Maker's Mark (NOT our first stop of the day), we realized we had no clue what time it was.

So back to Nashville and back on Central time, then back to NYC on Sunday for a little (r)EST, and then out to LA on Monday to mess me up even further.

All week I've pretty much still been on New York time, going to bed at 9:45 p.m. and waking up on my own at like 6:45 a.m. I needed my rest anyway: the all-day conference was exhausting.

Wednesday night I made the stupid decision to go to a conference-related after-party at the Mondrian's SeaBar. The highlight of the party - besides the host who invited me and who looks like Sawyer from LOST - was spotting Simon Rex (who I love because of his association with Felicity) in the lobby, not being able to get into the party that I was in.

The only other celebrity sighting was actually conference-related: Carson Kressley at the Lifetime-sponsored cocktail party just prior to Seabar.

I've been under an allergy attack since last week, but my antics on Wednesday night - which included a late-night stop at In-N-Out Burger where I lost my bag and then quickly retrieved it - set me over the edge. Now it's a full-blown sickness.

It's a bummer because I really did try to lay low this whole trip. I even skipped dinner after taking a Cardioke class at the Hollywood Pop Academy, though I did think twice after walking by Hooters...

Cineramadome CeilingFrom a business perspective, the trip was really good, but I didn't get much out of it personally. Knowing the Hollywood Roosevelt's rich history (and renowned hauntings), I was really excited to stay there, but it was definitely not worth the hype. And I didn't spot any glitterati there despite it currently being a hotspot for celebutantes.

The conference was at the historic Cinerama which was really cool to sit in - and make a presentation in. Its domed roof looks like a honeycomb both outside and in. And the attached Arclight Cafe is a nice spot to grab lunch.

synchronized swimmingMost bizarre moment of my trip?
A tie:
- Approaching a guy in In-N-Out Burger and saying, "You're cute, but you look like you're on drugs" and having him respond, "Well, I am on drugs. You need to work on your tact."
- Synchronized swimming exhibition at the conference wrap party

Now back in NY and I hope I sleep normally. I won't be changing time zones for another month, when I have to spend the weekend in Minneapolis.

September 17, 2007

What I Remember from the Kentucky Bourbon Festival

Actually I remember a lot. We thought we would get a lot drunker than we did, but considering each tour was like an hour and each tasting was only like five minutes, we had plenty of time to recover between each of the distilleries.

We flew into Nashville first and then drove three hours to KY on Thursday. The state of Kentucky is basically built on caves and caverns, but we didn't have time to explore any of them. Also, given its rich history in war and military battle, it's really haunted. In fact, the Bourbon Festival's home base, Bardstown, is known as one of the most haunted places in the country.

Thursday night we actually got to take a ghost tour of the town, which took us to the old Jailer's Inn, a local cemetery, and our own hotel - The Old Talbott Tavern. During our tour we saw some supposedly ghost-induced chandelier flickering, but that was our only encounter with the supernatural there. Thank God, too - we were a little afraid to wake up with somebody standing over us.

The Tavern is the place to be during the festival, which actually isn't saying much. We thought the whole event would be a lot more exciting, with a lot more people. Nevertheless, we had fun in the bar that night, hanging out with the locals, drinking cheap bourbon and dancing to the live band and DJ.

All told, we managed to hit five distilleries and eat a lot of bourbon balls. We got so hyperglycemic that we succumbed to chain restaurants for food (like Pizza Hut and Longhorn Steakhouse) when we got too crazy to drive any more.

Best Tasting: Heaven Hill, where we missed the tour but got to sit in a larger-than-life barrel and try some great high-end bourbons like the Elijah Craig 18-year

Best Tour: Maker's Mark, where our tour guide Betty let us stick our fingers in the tubs of corn mash in various stages of yeasting and taste the bourbon-making process in the works.

yeasty partially cooked sour mash

Best Distillery: Woodford Reserve, which has a beautiful plot with really old buildings, and a barrel track for barrel-rolling (which essentially replaces trucks)

Hardest-to-Find Distillery: Woodford Reserve. It's hidden in the middle of a bunch of horse farms, and there aren't really any signs. Google Maps and GPS think it's somewhere else and sent us off the beaten path. We got lost on the way there and on the way out.

Most Bizarre Tourism Moment: In the Jim Beam tasting room, which we shared with a huge group of Japanese tourists who didn't speak any English. Those poor Kentucky women pouring the bourbon didn't know what to do with them.

We also visited Buffalo Trace which was pretty unremarkable for me, but cool for Edith I think, who liked watching them bottle the Blanton's. We missed Four Roses and Wild Turkey because we ran out of time, with most tours ending around 3 in the afternoon. We were kind of sick of hearing about virgin white oak, white dog and angel's share anyway, and had gotten to the point where we just wanted to taste the bourbon.

I think some people must come and have a life-changing experience during the festival like in the movie Sideways, but for us, it was just a cool thing to do, that we could probably only do with each other.

By the time we left, I was glad to go, but maybe it was just to get back to some normal drinking water. The running water in our hotel was so gross that I didn't want to wash my hair with it.

Fare of the Country; Where Kentucky Makes Its Bourbon - The New York Times 1993
On Kentucky's Bourbon Trail - The New York Times 2007
Riding the Bourbon Trail - The Philadelphia Inquirer 2007


The Kentucky Bourbon Festival was a nice excuse to fly in and out of Nashville and finally visit "Music City." There was a lot less to do there than I expected, but the food was good and the hotel was awesome.

Union StationWe stayed at the old Union Station train station, which has been converted into a Wyndham hotel. It's one of a few kind of gothic, stone structures looming in the skyline - alongside the Customs House and the local high school. In fact, everything seems to be a historical landmark, not only on Broadway through downtown, but everywhere we went. Union Station's clock tower (which inspired us to hunt around the hotel, looking for its entrance) is visible from afar, and was definitely a beacon in the night when we were walking home from drinking $6 pitchers and eating bacon-stuffed hot dogs at Paradise Park Trailer Resort on our last night there.

We got to hear some decent cover bands sing Elvis, Garth Brooks, and Nickelback songs. Bands play all day long all along the strip, and the bars are packed, even early in the afternoon. We resisted an afternoon beer buzz and went out to Tootsie's at night (where FarCry was entertaining a bunch of bachelorette parties). It was claustrophobic and rowdy and full of Colts fans, but we got some cheap beers and got to try Miller's new lime-and-salt chelada-style beer "Chill."

The hot dog was probably the best thing we ate in Nashville, but we also had a lovely elegant dinner of new southern cuisine at Watermark in a new trendy neighborhood called The Gulch. Other highlights included the steam pot at South Street and trout dip at Broadway Brewhouse and Mojo. Although the food didn't totally knock me over, I loved the experience of visiting the Loveless Cafe, a former motel that's on the outskirts of town.

In fact, we got to see quite a bit of Nashville, and not just the touristy stuff. Saturday night we went to the Tennessee State Fair, which is pretty small and entirely local. Supposedly nobody really goes to the state fair because they all visit other counties' fairs, but we had a good time watching the pig race and riding the rides.

We did the tourist thing too, visiting Ryman Auditorium (the former church / home of Grand Ole Opry), the new Opryland, the Dukes of Hazzard museum, Purity Dairies factory, Lane Motor Museum...

Driving a SmartCar!Seeing all those crazy European cars at the museum, test-driving a SmartCar (the Swatch-designed Mercedes-manufactured minicar), and driving so much around KY and TN made me totally want to get a car. It's idiotic for me to think I could have one in Manhattan, but a tiny little fuel-efficient car with a sticker price of $11,000 somehow seems totally do-able.

In the meantime, I'm only here for one night and I've got to fly out to LA for work tonight. Stay tuned for more dispatches from the West Coast....

September 08, 2007

Photo Essay: Coney Island’s Last Friday of the Summer

I'm cramming in as much as I can. It's like the world is ending soon.

Since it was the last Friday with fireworks at Coney Island, I had to go, even if that meant going by myself.

The evening's highlights? Riding the El Dorado bumper cars 3x. Nathan's cheese dog with sauteed onions.

A nice leisurely stationary cage ride on the Wonder Wheel...

View One of the swinging cages, viewed from my stationary cage

And, of course...

Click for more photos

I was standing on the boardwalk, while the fireworks were being launched right off the beach. The smoke choked me and blew burnt remnants of the encasements over my head and into my hair, but I loved it. Fireworks have never been so loud.

I only wish I could have shared it with someone.

September 03, 2007

Flying Solo

When I first came to the city, despite having a roommate, I spent an inordinate amount of time by myself. None of my friends liked to party as much as I did, so I hung out in bars alone, but I also ventured out into the nether regions of the city solo. I always figured nobody was interested in doing the things I was interested in doing, and I hate being turned down / stood up / bailed on, so eventually I just stopped inviting people.

When I became friends with Dan in 2003 and Edith in 2004, suddenly I had partners-in-crime. I've gotten spoiled by that. So today, when I had a day off but Edith out of town and Dan working (and generally distracted and unavailable lately anyway), I had a really hard time figuring out what I wanted to do...alone. There are plenty of places I want to go and see, but now I know it's just not the same unless you have someone with whom to share them.

I didn't want to waste the nice weather though, so I ventured back down to Lower Manhattan. I was there briefly after my Governor's Island adventure, and I could see it pretty well from the Floating Pool Lady, so it's been on my mind lately. To think there was an actual castle in Manhattan that I hadn't visited - I was aghast!

So I took the 5 train down to Bowling Green, with my headphones and book in tow. To be honest, I actually wanted to get a leg up on the new food stand that opened today, Picnick. There'd been such a buzz about it, raising it to near Shake Shack level, and considering I've never been able to handle the line at Shake Shack, I figured I'd get in on this place early.

Despite the hype - Sullivan St. Bakery bread, fresh ingredients, wrapped in paper with edible ink - it was pretty fricking disappointing. I guess I expected something freshly prepared, even in their little booth space, but I got basically a prepackaged, refrigerated sandwich called the Pork 'n Roll, whose thinly sliced pork loin and coleslaw were good, but not worth a subway trip. Would have been a lot better even room temperature. Myself, I'll take 'wichcraft in Bryant Park any day.

Still, it was pleasant enough to have a bite while listening to the sea birds and waves, watching all the sailboats and ferries criss-cross past each other in the water. The Statue of Liberty loomed dark in the distance, and Governor's Island winked knowingly at me.

The last time I was at Battery Park was in 2003 I think, on the 4th of July when Freddy stood me up for a Ryan Adams concert. I went anyway, I think somehow thinking Freddy would eventually show up, but in retrospect I now know what a fool I was for going and waiting for him. I remember sitting on a park bench by the subway station the whole time, not committing to go into the bandshell area. After the concert was over, I headed uptown, tail between my legs, to watch some fireworks at a coworker's roof. I pressed my purse to my side the rest of the night, hoping to feel the phone vibrate. It never did.

Today at least I planned to be alone, and really had no expectations. Castle Clinton itself is pretty boring to look at - most people go there to buy tix for the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island. But its history is fascinating. It originally jutted out into the water, on its own little plot of land, protecting the lower entry to the island (which was a battery of cannons, hence its name). Landfill was brought in around it, making the castle a proper part of Manhattan. It's easy to forget that Manhattan's lower tip used to be shaped differently, but when construction workers recently discovered the old wall that marked the original pre-landfill border of the island, it served as a good reminder of our changing geography.

When "Fort" Clinton's military function was no longer necessary, it became a popular location of public recreation - concerts, fireworks and the like. It then was used as an emigrant landing depot, and eventually housed a public aquarium (destroyed by Robert Moses in his plans to build the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel).

I thought about going to the Statue of Liberty since I've never been, but I got there too late and the line was long anyway. So I hung out once again on a park bench, this time reading my book and soaking in the atmosphere - which consisted mostly of pigeons pecking the sidewalk in front of me. And as the Lower Manhattan skyline gleamed in the bright sunlight, I was struck by the juxtaposition of modern skyscraper and military relic. What a strange city I've made as my home...

Video: Revolutionary Wall in Battery Park - The New York Times

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.

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

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...