July 22, 2007

Nostalgia Train Ride

I joined the Transit Museum a few months ago so I could take a tour of the abandoned City Hall station, and now that I'm a member, I might as well take advantage of other cool stuff they do. Today I took a "Nostalgia Train Ride" - on the vintage R1/9 car fleet that was manufactured in the 1930s and 40s and were finally put completely out of commission by the late 70s. Starting at 42nd Street / Port Authority, a huge group of us rode the train all the way down the A line to the Rockaways.

Ceiling FanThe train FLEW down the tracks, and being an older model (to put it nicely), it was a bit more rickety than we're used to. Even without stopping at any stations, it still took us over an hour to get to the end of the A, and we were going really fast. The speed helped cool us off, though, since those old trains aren't air conditioned and actually have ceiling fans, windows, and vents that you rely on for air.

No SpittingWe'd seen this train before, actually at the Transit Museum. The seats are kind of wicker and cushioned but still really uncomfortable. All of the signs discourage you from smoking, spitting and throwing your trash on the floor. All of the passengers I saw were so geeked out (like us) that they were very well-behaved. But there were a few crazies...Thank God they didn't spit.

Today's event was meant to highlight the 75th anniversary of the opening of the first section of the IND subway on September 10, 1932, and today's ride to Rockaway Park also celebrated the 70th birthday of the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge and the 75th Anniversary of Jacob Riis Park.

I'd been down to that area of Jamaica Bay and the Gateway National Recreation Area last October, when we visited Floyd Bennett Field, but we never actually crossed the bridge to the park. Today we decided to check out Rockaway Beach first, which in retrospect was probably a mistake. We literally saw trash bags floating in the water. The sand was also really sharp with shells, and big ones too. Our game of badminton was particularly feeble because of the danger lurking in the hot sand below.

So we decided to head over to Riis Park which is lovely and historic. There's actually a golf course down there, from which you have a great view of the bridge. And the water is so clean, with calmer waves. By the time I took my dip there, the sun had started to go down behind me so I could bob along the waves without my sunglasses (and this time without my contacts).

The train ride back was lovely too, with a view of the Manhattan skyline as the sun set - which is crazy because the Rockaways are really far away. When the train dipped underground and we sped down the tracks, bypassing all the stations I'd only seen for the first time on my way down, I fell asleep to the wonderful rumble that surrounded me. When I woke up, we were back in Manhattan, and I looked out the window at all the curious faces staring at us from every platform we bypassed. No, it wasn't a Ghost Train, but it was a nice step back in time...for one afternoon....

This makes my second trip to the beach this summer so far. I must be working on some kind of record. No weird sunburn this time, though.

July 17, 2007

Photo Essay: Johnny Utahs Opening

Johnny Utah's is a new roadhouse bar with a mechanical bull in Rockefeller Plaza (in the new Rockefeller Center Hotel). The food is kind of upscale southern: short rib taquitos, goat cheese enchiladas, etc. Delicious. I drank a Lynchburg Lemonade and two margaritas. Mike had a "44 Rock," made with 44 North huckleberry vodka. Yum.

wall of Woodford Reserve

vault wall

Naked Cowboy's tight butt

I didn't ride the mechanical bull (again, I chickened out), but soon...Very soon...

July 14, 2007

Not In Kansas (City) Anymore

First of all, Kansas City is really hard to get to/from. As far as I can tell, besides Continental out of EWR, Midwest Airlines is the only company to provide non-stop service between New York and KCI - which means if you're like me, with a slightly sensitive schedule and cost-conscious work ethic, you end up flying on American via Chicago O'Hare.

Big mistake.

Wednesday was supposed to be an easy travel day with an early dinner with Jesse (my former employee who brought me to KCI on business), but instead my 12:25 flight to ORD was cancelled, sending me from LGA to EWR (yes, an entire state away) and putting me on a variety of new flights, one point at which I was planning to fly into Wichita and then drive three hours to my final destination. Thankfully American Airlines was kind enough to rebook me on a Continental direct flight, which still left Newark almost three hours late because of the big storm that hit Wednesday afternoon. It's the least they could do, though, after cancelling my flight and being unable to get me to Kansas City any other way.

Today I wasn't quite as lucky. I knew the hell I'd been through on my way out, so instead of driving 2.5 hours both ways to visit another Laura Ingalls Wilder site, I stayed kind of local and just poked around the greater metro area a bit, visiting nearby "Historic Downtown Liberty" (and its Jesse James Bank Museum) and choosing to try to catch the 2 p.m. instead of the 6:55 I was booked on.

The 2:00 flight was delayed til 2:40. I couldn't get on the flight from the standby list. The 5:35 flight was delayed til 7:45. I was second on the standby list but it wasn't even clear if that flight would ever take off. So instead of frolicking through the Kansas frontier as planned, I sat in the Kansas City airport for five and a half hours.

I tried other things. I went to the Continental counter to see how much a one-way ticket was ($500, and I had no Onepass miles to redeem). I even called Continental to see if there was some deal I could get, or if for some reason a round-trip would be cheaper. No luck. They thought I was crazy. I called American and begged them to book me on a Continental flight like they had on my way out, but because my flight wasn't showing a delay (YET, I insisted in my head), they couldn't do anything about it.

By the time I left (ontime, contrary to my paranoia), I couldn't wait to get out of Kansas City. And I never wanted to fly American again.

I did have a good trip, though, once I finally got there. It was 9 p.m. when I arrived, but the sun was just setting...As I drove to downtown, I started to smell something smoky, and as I asked myself if my car was on fire, I realized I'd hit my first waft of BBQ. Starving, I scrambled to get to my hotel and check in, knowing full well that local restaurants would probably stop serving dinner around then. I dashed into The Aladdin (a cute, newly restored Art Deco hotel Marriott's light showby the convention center), pleaded with the front desk to send me somewhere for food once I checked in. At first, she suggested the restaurant at the big lit-up Marriott (which is really remarkable, very Times Square) across the street, but when I made a face (remembering Marriott catering in college), she said, "Well, there is this place called The Mango Room around the block that I really like..."

Let me tell you, she did not steer me wrong. This place - which was empty by the time I squeezed in there, twenty minutes before closing - is incredible, with Caribbean-meets-Southern cuisine with a twist. I had the pleasure of chatting up the bartender, who seemed almost too knowledgeable until he revealed that he was just filling in, and he was actually the chef. I oohed and ahhed over the sweet potato muffins and herbed biscuits that he started me with, but they were nothing compared to the night's dinner special I ordered: jerk pork shoulder with basmati rice, and taro and plantain chips with mango salsa. Even the house salad (which came with the unusual choice of feta and a lime/pepper vinaigrette) ROCKED. I washed it all down with their homebrew mango- and pineapple-infused vodka, which I really needed after all that travelling.

They sent me off on a snifter of Pyrat rum which tasted like burnt orange zest (that's a good thing), and I slept like a baby that night.

I was in Kansas City for work so I had to get up really early the next day to take Kelly Sweet to the local soft rock station KUDL, which I didn't realize til later is referred to as "Cuddle." Cute. We managed to get there in one piece despite all the road closings and construction in KCI (and some wacky GPS directions), and we even had time to go our separate ways for a bit before our next meeting together in the afternoon.

Union StationKelly took a nap, but I decided to check out Union Station, the recently restored historic depot in downtown Kansas City, that Amtrak still runs through. It's a marvel of beaux arts architecture and feels like a combination between Grand Central (both have central clocks) and Philly's 30th St Station. You've got a great view of Liberty Memorial from there, and of course some fountains.

I had just enough time for a quick trip to Waffle House for an early lunch before picking Kelly up again and taking her to Hallmark's corporate office, which was also pretty cool to visit. They own all the real estate around Crown Center and have a visitor's center and a department store in addition to their corporate tower.

Because I couldn't leave KCI without having some saucy ribs, Jesse and I hopped back over to Union Station for dinner at Jack Stack Barbecue at The Freight House. The building is an old eyesore that's also been recently restored, and the historic location definitely added to the ambiance. I had a sampler platter and we shared some cheesy cornbake, which is basically mac n cheese except with corn instead of macaroni. I have to try to make that. Topped off with a Boulevard Brewing Co. wheat beer (small consolation for not having time to take a brewery tour), and once again, I was ready for bed.

Today didn't end up being the vacation day I hoped for, but I did have a leisurely breakfast at City Market, where I ate Dutch-style pear and pecan pancakes at Succotash and found Missouri- and Wizard of Oz-themed Christmas tree ornaments to bring home with me. It wasn't the bustling environment that I've come to expect from, say, Greenmarket or Chelsea Market, but there is lots of fresh produce and some Middle Eastern and Indian specialty items...

I got to see a decent amount of Kansas City - though I have to say there was less to see than I expected, my initial impression upon researching leading me to believe there would be a ton to do and see. I crossed many bridges over the Missouri River, drove along the row where all the casinos are, waved hello to plenty of road work construction guys, and stayed in an eclectic, boutique-style hotel that was a bit off the beaten path. At least if I had to travel for work, I could do it in my unique style.

July 01, 2007

I'm getting older too...

I can't live the lifestyle I used to live. My body just rejects it. I get drunk after two drinks. If I drink too much, I'm hung over for two days. I'm desperate for sleep all of the time.

Friday I got out of work early because of summer hours and dragged Edith out to see Live Free or Die Hard, which tapped into my lust for the rough Brooklyn cop archetype and also my love for dazzling car chases and explosions. (Bonus: Justin Long) Afterwards we went for a couple of drinks at Under the Volcano (where I got to try Frida Kahlo anejo tequila and a mezcal that tasted like Band-Aids) = drunk. Dinner at Giorgio's of Gramercy where not only did I not drink, but I also did not hit on the cute waiter who seemed to be throwing himself at us.

I said to Edith, "You know who that guy is? He'll ask for your number and actually call you, take you out on a date and be really nice to you, and then explain how he doesn't want to be your boyfriend." She nodded empathetically.

Tired after dinner, I went home and to bed by 11:30.

Saturday I had the ambitious plans to get drunk in the afternoon with Tim at Sixpoint Craft Ales in Red Hook, where we got to see the last brewery tour before their expansion (necessary to up their production in order to meet the increasing demand for their delicious beer). Not only did I get the free beer that comes with the tour, and another free beer for answering the trivia question right (their "Sweet Action" beer is named after a locally published, not-safe-for-work magazine), but I also got to drink a beer straight out of the conditioning tank, which tasted cold and fresh and smooth - almost soapy. YUM.

Tim had to leave early but I stayed to eat pizza at the connected Liberty Heights Taproom and finish my beer. Nothing like being drunk and alone when the only way to get home is to take a bus/train/bus combo home.

Being a lightweight and old, I took a nap when I got home, which turned out to be a bad idea since I had my contacts in and I woke up with the worst case of bloodshot eyes I've ever had. I managed to keep the contacts in and drag myself out to dinner with Michelle, who was hoping for an exciting "night out," but instead she got goopy-eyed, yawning Sandi who couldn't finish her Sugar Hill Golden Ale at dinner and could barely drag herself to Flatiron Lounge for a drink.

That being said, we still had a great dinner at the new Borough Food & Drink, a NYC-themed restaurant from my favorite chef, Zak Pelaccio. We ate a mac 'n cheese pancake, which I cannot recommend more. Still, I felt like I let Michelle down. I used to be such a party girl, dragging her all around the city til 5 o'clock in the morning. Now I want to start early and go home and watch TV. I'm too exhausted to chase cute bartenders or throw myself at random guys. I'm too much older than the rest of the guys out there, and even though I don't look it, I'm embarassed to tell them my age. And if I'm drunk after two drinks, I don't really see the point of continuing to drink all night.

My time has passed. There are lots of other adventures out there for me, but I don't think they involve tawdry affairs or drunken blackouts. Sure, I have my relapses (see: Long Beach), but at some point I have to accept the path that I'm on. I'm responsible, organized, smart, and independent (read: alone). I'm successful at all matters academic and professional. My personal life is basically a failure but I've got at least another 30 years to try to turn that around. Stevie Nicks says that time makes you bolder. Maybe getting older is a good thing.