Friday, July 31, 2009

City Hall Park: An Oasis ... With Rats

When I'm looking for a relaxing place to eat outdoors during my lunch break, I head for the benches in the nearby Trinity Church cemetery.

But I had heard a few of my co-workers mention that they go in the opposite direction to City Hall Park, so I decided to check it out.

I've now made three brief visits, all after work or during the weekend. But I still can't bring myself to go during lunch. Just a few months after we moved to New York, I read an article in the New York Times specifically about the rat infestation at City Hall Park. I don't know if the anti-rat measures the article mentions worked, and I'm not about to test it with a peanut butter sandwich in my right hand.

Even so, the nine acre park is a downtown oasis, with a lovely fountain, views of City Hall and plenty of benches. Now if I could only get those photos of rats out of my head ...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Brooklyn's Lonely Skyscraper

Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower, Brooklyn

The words "New York City" immediately conjure up image after image of skylines and skyscrapers.

But it's easy to visit Brooklyn without seeing one building that even approaches the Chyrsler Building or the Empire State Building. In fact, there's only about one building that comes even close: The Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower.

It's in downtown Brooklyn, rising 37 stories above the busy Atlantic Avenue-Pacific Street subway station that I pass through every day on the way to work. That means I'm always below the bank tower, but rarely above it. I see it at street level only a few times a month, either when I go to the library branch a few blocks away or visit one of our favorite bars nearby.

Because it towers over all of the nearby buildings, I've often used it as a reference point to get my bearings when I'm walking in the area (or, occasionally, giving other people directions). It's a pretty building in its own right, but I find it even more fascinating because it used to be filled with tons of dentists' offices. Now, according to Wikipedia at least, it's being turned into condominiums.

Columbus has its fair share of skyscrapers -- enough to make for a lovely view when you're driving east on Interstate 670 into downtown. Defiance, by contrast, has nada. I'm struggling to come up with even one building that has four stories. One of the tallest buildings in the city is also one of its ugliest: the courthouse.

The building was actually very beautiful way back in the olden days. But then some (apparently blind) doofus decided to eliminate the tall middle spire and intricate designs on the roof and replace them with a third story constructed of bricks that don't even match the rest of the building. I don't think you had to be Frank Gehry to realize this wasn't going to turn out well.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bay Ridge in the Wee Morning Hours

2:22 a.m., 60th Street, Brooklyn: Flooding the streets on a humid day

It's 2:20 a.m. early Saturday morning and Paul and I are at the 59th Street subway station in Brooklyn, two stops from home.

The platform was nearly empty before our N train arrived. That's a bad sign. It means that more than likely an R train recently passed through. It could be 10, 20, 30 minutes before the next one train arrives.

Instead of waiting, we head for the stairs. Our apartment is 21 blocks -- a little more than a mile -- from the last station. If it's not rush hour, it's often quicker to walk this leg than wait for the local train.

In Defiance I certainly wouldn't take a mile stroll at 2 in the morning-- there's nowhere to go. And in Galloway, I not only probably would have been robbed, but I doubt the sidewalks even go that far.

In Bay Ridge, no problem. I counted 71 people on the sidewalks and crosswalks on our way home. Most were congregating outside a handful of bars (open until 4 a.m. in New York) or the hookah bar about eight blocks away. I never once felt unsafe.

Even so, this is still New York City. I walk with a purpose, always alert. But all in all, it's a pleasant walk whether it's 2 a.m. or 2 p.m.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Our 24-Hour Search for a New Apartment

On Sunday we viewed our first three apartments in our quest to find a new home.

Less than 24 hours later the search was over. We're staying put.

That's mostly because our landlord on Monday proposed reducing our rent $150 a month. It didn't take Paul and I long to realize it was an offer too good to refuse. I'm already deciding what plane tickets that extra $1,800 is going to buy next year.

But truth be told, our afternoon of apartment hunting was pretty discouraging.

The first apartment we looked at was in an excellent location, directly 80 blocks north of where we live now. Each of the two bedrooms, however, had room for only a bed. No dresser. No nightstand. Barely a pair of shoes.

The second and third apartments were in another building, only a block from a good subway station. But the views were just as ugly as the apartments themselves, and the kitchen counters didn't even have room for a microwave.

And the bathroom of the bigger apartment was tiny. I'm talking minuscule. The bathroom was triangular, and if you sat on the toilet you certainly would have to tilt your legs to the left in order not to touch the wall. If you stood in the center of the bathroom with both arms straight out, I'm positive you would always be touching a wall no matter what direction you faced.

We didn't expect to find a better apartment, and Paul and I both love our Bay Ridge place. The floors and appliances were all new when we moved in, we have more windows than we did even in our house in Ohio, and three bedrooms for two people is pretty luxurious by New York standards.

But while we like Bay Ridge, we don't love it. The work commute isn't so bad (it's actually 10 minutes shorter than my former commute from Galloway to Springfield), but waiting for the trains at night and on the weekends, when they don't come as often, gets to be a bore. Really, we just want to move our apartment to Park Slope, a neighborhood about four miles north with a younger crowd, good bars, and nice restaurants.

And while we've decided to stay put, the bar two floors below us has evidently decided the same thing. As you may recall, it was supposed to be evicted in two weeks, and that was six weeks ago.

Since then, there's been only one night that we considered filing a noise complaint. Surprisingly, it wasn't the night in which I assume it hosted a bachelorette party. How could I tell? The next morning the sidewalk outside my front door glittered with sparkly, multi-colored confetti-- all in the shape of tiny penises.

Bay Ridge: Keepin' it classy.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Madison Square Park at Night

Empire State Building, from Madison Square Park

Madison Square Park is probably best known for the Shake Shack.

I first visited this spring, on an evening which shall henceforth be known as my May day of eating. The shack is famous not only for its shakes, but also for its burgers. Unfortunately I've had neither, unless you count a stolen bite or two from Paul's ice cream in May.

That didn't change last weekend, when we split a chocolate concrete filled with brownie bits, chocolate chunks and chocolate sprinkles. The ice cream's great, and so is sitting outdoors on a cool summer evening.

Even if you're not hungry, Madison Square Park is worth a visit for the views alone. The famous Flatiron Building is just steps away, and just look north for a glimpse of the Empire State Building.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Outdoor Movies on the Big Screen

Our spot was much closer!

Free outdoor movie screenings are an institution in New York City.

People arrive at Manhattan and Brooklyn parks hours before showtime to stake their claim with a comfy blanket and a picnic. Last Wednesday, we were among the herd.

1) "Vicky Christina Barcelona" was playing at Pier 54 at Hudson River Park.
2) I'm slowly making my way through Woody Allen films.
3) It was my birthday.

Perfect combination.

We arrived at 6:30 p.m., two hours before the scheduled start, so we got a seat nice and close to the screen. Others were relegated to spots so far away that seeing the English subtitles for the Spanish bits of the film was probably a near impossibility.

A pier isn't the most comfortable place to sit for several hours, but luckily we brought a thick blanket, and the weather was just as perfect as the sunset over the Hudson River and New Jersey.

It was an excellent experience, and one I'd like to repeat at a real park (i.e., with grass) a little closer to home. Unfortunately, infrequent night trains meant we didn't get home until close to midnight.

One of my co-workers recently said that one of the best kinds of films to see outdoors in New York City is a movie set in New York City. I haven't yet had that pleasure. But now I'm more than willing to give it a try.

We were this close- much better!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

New Phone, New Phone Number-- and Area Code

New cell phone: yay!

New phone number: boo.

But I'm not complaining too loudly. Paul got me an iPhone for my birthday last week, which is a huge step up from the brick-of-a-phone I've been carrying for the last several years. My old phone didn't even have a camera, let alone internet access.

The one thing my old phone did have, however, was a 614 area code. We vaguely meant to exchange our Columbus numbers for New York ones when we moved here, but we never did. But with our new phones, we had no choice. We switched providers, and AT&T wouldn't allow us to keep the old numbers without a billing address in the area code. So 917 it is.

It's a pain, but it's also kind of exciting too. I feel like I'm part of the New York cellular family.

Sure, we had a 718 area code on our home phone until we recently disconnected it, but that's not the same. That area code was exclusively for the outer boroughs of New York (i.e., everywhere but Manhattan), but 917 is for any cell phone, anywhere in the city. It's the code that binds us together.

At the same time, I'm sad to have shed the 614. Paul got some razzing from people at work for holding onto it, but no one I encountered ever mentioned it. I got my first cell phone in college, so I've never had a cell number in any other area code. It seemed as much a part of me as my hobbies or the color of my eyes.

RIP 614.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Photos Outside Madison Square Garden

I had a few minutes to spare as we waited for Allison and Phil's Bolt Bus to arrive near Madison Square Garden to take them back to Baltimore a couple of weekends ago. So I did what I always do now: I tried to take some fun photos. They're not much, but here's what I came up with.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Loathing & Loving My Summertime Birthday

Mom and I, 28 years ago today

I hated having a summer birthday.

In elementary school I never got to bring cupcakes to share with my class. In high school, I got my driver's license nearly a year after some of my classmates. And in college, I had to wait oh-so-long for that coveted ID verifying that I could legally order my very own beer.

But after the age of 21, birthdays don't come with benefits like driving, voting or drinking. After that, a summertime birthday becomes a perk.

My birthday lands smack dab in the middle of vacation season, and I've celebrated my birthday in at least nine states.

I turned 18 in Washington, D.C. Paul and I spent my 23rd birthday driving from Fargo, North Dakota, to Chicago. Two years later we flew from Seattle to Columbus. In fact, I began celebrating at 9 p.m. the night before to make up for the time difference.

But no doubt about it, I've had some memorable Ohio birthdays, too. I turned 16 at Cedar Point and begged my dad to drive me to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles as soon as we returned to Defiance the next day so I could get my learner's permit (he did). And I spent my 21st birthday at the now-defunct Larry's across the street from Ohio State. I can't remember exactly how many people were there, but I remember getting way too many free drinks.

And maybe because I was denied a day to share cupcakes, when I was younger I looked forward to my birthday party every summer even more. My cousins and I swam in the pond and spent the whole afternoon playing games-- wiffle ball, volleyball, basketball or even ping pong. (It's probably not a surprise to anyone who knows me that I was best at ping pong.) Sometimes an aunt and uncle from Indiana would even bring fireworks and we'd have a private, belated Independence Day display that night.

Today I'm celebrating my second birthday in New York. I'll be spending the day trying to forget that I'm growing older, that I'm now definitely in my late 20s and no longer in the nebulous mid-20s.

Paul and many of my friends have already hit 30. I'm two years short and I already know I won't be taking that well. Sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one ... those were fun ages to turn. Now the milestones all end in "zero," and none of them are good. I remember when I was told that there would come a day when I would be glad to be younger than my classmates. That day has arrived.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Buying Bananas in Bay Ridge

My favorite delivery truck in Bay Ridge: "We Go BANANAS ... for you."

I eat five bananas a week. Sometimes more.

It's not my favorite food. It's not even my favorite fruit. Bananas are just so convenient. They come in their own wrapper, and they don't need washed. And they pair extremely well with the only other thing I eat as often: peanut butter.

I've often complained about my neighborhood's grocery stores, but we rarely go there to buy fruit, vegetables, milk or eggs. They all come from the bodegas on our street. I like how convenient the bodegas are-- I'm usually in and out in just a couple of minutes if there's no line. There's at least a half-dozen within a few blocks, and Paul and I each have our favorite.

Mine is about two blocks away, and I stop there once or twice a week after work on my walk back from the subway. I sometimes buy a bag of couscous, some apricots or a butternut squash. But the vast majority of the time I walk out only with a bag of bananas-- the greener the better.

The man most often at the cash register and I have long exchanged a few friendly words when I check out. He gave up trying to convince me to exchange my bananas for another fruit once in awhile. Now he sometimes playfully calls out to the other workers to raise the price of bananas when he sees me walk in. I tell him that's ok. I'd still buy them-- they're the best in the neighborhood.

And they really are. The neighborhood bodegas are all only a few feet from one another, but the quality varies widely. In fact, we don't buy produce at the nearest bodega, directly across the street.

I'm especially surprised that the bananas are so rotten at some bodegas since I suspect they all come from the same place. Seeing the banana truck unloading at one of the local bodegas always puts me in a good mood when I'm walking to the subway in the morning.

I just noticed the big image on the front of the truck this week.
I think I was late for my train because I had to take a photo.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Brooklyn Bridge: Daytime Photos

The Brooklyn Bridge: An iconic symbol of New York City, and one I hadn't visited in the daytime since we moved here almost two years ago.

I see the Brooklyn Bridge in the daytime at least once or twice a week, usually when I take a train that crosses the East River on the parallel Manhattan Bridge. And I've crossed the bridge by foot in the evening -- the bright lights of Manhattan beautiful but unable to be captured by my weak camera.

So camera in hand and sun in sky, Paul, Allison, Phil & I walked the Brooklyn Bridge on the 4th of July. The photos were fantastic, but the crowds less so. Walkers kept bleeding into the bike lane, much to the annoyance of bicyclists unafraid to ring their bells and make snide comments which we probably deserved as they pedaled by.

Nevertheless, I ducked between the crowds and bikes, pointed my camera up and finally got the photos I'd long been seeking.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fourth of July in New York City

Watching New York City's July 4th fireworks display would be a breeze, I thought to myself a few weeks ago.

We'll walk to the promenade in Bay Ridge along the bay, where there's a clear view of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. We'll not only have an excellent view, but also avoid the city crowds.

Then I learned the fireworks wouldn't be set off in the East River after all. Instead, for the first time in several years, they'd be over the Hudson River to commemorate Henry Hudson's arrival here 400 years ago.

The Hudson River separates Manhattan's west side from New Jersey. It's an area of the city I'm not extremely familiar with, but I figured we could follow the crowds.

And that we did. Paul and I, along with Allison and Phil (who were returning the visit we paid them in Baltimore last December), began walking west from 42nd Street about 45 minutes before the 9:20 p.m. start.

The crowds got thicker and thicker as we got closer and closer to the 12th Avenue viewing areas. In fact, there were so many people that police officers directed spectators further and further south. We ended up on 34th Street with a prime view of the fireworks in front of us and the Empire State Building behind.

The fireworks were set off from six barges in the river-- we could see four from our vantage point. Not bad. According to one of the free local newspapers, 40,000 fireworks were to be set off-- 1,500 per minute. I thought the finale had occurred about three times before it actually happened.

All in all, it was a great show-- not that I expected anything less. But if I had to be honest, I think Red, White & Boom in Columbus is a little better. There, it feels like the fireworks are hovering directly above you. In New York, I felt removed.

The big surprise: The crowds at Red, White & Boom are actually denser. Maybe that's because New Yorkers had 30+ blocks to spread out!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Why I Dislike Verizon -or- Life Without the Internet

I am typing this post at a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, and that makes me angry.

My mom taught me not to hate people, only their actions. Well, I hate the actions of Verizon and strongly dislike the customer service representative who has caused us to be without home internet service since Monday.

Yes, it could be worse. I know that right now I have more in common with a spoiled child whose favorite toy has been taken away than a starving child in Africa. But this issue could have been completely avoided had we spoken to an agent who knew anything whatsoever about Verizon's basic services.

Here's what happened:

Paul called Verizon on Thursday to disconnect our home phone line. Ever since we moved in, we have received only three types of calls:
  • political surveys
  • requests from Ohio State for money
  • robocalls from Fort Hamilton High School about a truant student who used to have our phone number
The one thing we never got was calls from anyone important.

Anyway, Paul specifically asked if cancelling the phone service would have any impact on the internet. The answer, time and again, was "no." Our bill would decrease $25 and the internet service would be uninterrupted.

But on Monday: No internet.

After 90 minutes and 7 transfers, Paul learned that in fact we need a whole new type of internet service. And it couldn't be set up for a week. And it would cost only about $5 less than our joint phone/internet service.

Needless to say, we were furious. We wouldn't have even cancelled the home phone had we known this would be the result.

On Tuesday, Paul spent another three hours on the phone with Verizon. He succeeded in getting us a lower price for the lone internet service but was told it would be 10 days until we had it.


My turn to get on the phone. I finally was transferred to a guy in the order resolution department who was actually nice and knowledgeable. He said the order could be expedited once it had made it's way further into the system. He promised to call back with an update.

And he did. He left me a message today that our service would be reconnected by 9 p.m. tomorrow.

I hope so, because I feel like I'm in the dark ages of the early 1990s. I do have a laptop, but it's too heavy, slow and temperamental to take somewhere with wi-fi. And so any blog posts with photos (such as Saturday's fireworks) must wait.

I'm so used to coming home and immediately connecting online that I hardly knew what to do with myself yesterday. I actually baked a peanut butter cheesecake last night with all of my extra time. Paul might not mind if the internet was down a few more days if it meant I spent more time in the kitchen.

Maybe not having the internet for a few days is good for me. But right now, sitting in a run-down branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, it sure doesn't feel like it.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Road Tripping from New York City

When explaining the location of my hometown to people who have never heard of Defiance (or, for that matter, Toledo or Fort Wayne), I generally list the major cities within a four hour drive.

Draw a circle connecting the dots of Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Chicago, and Defiance is pretty much in the middle.

OK, so it's more of an oval than a circle, but you get the idea. Defiance might not be an ideal location for day-trippers, but it's in a pretty good location for long weekends.

Living in New York City, I now have a whole new batch of cities within an 8-hour drive. Before moving here, I'd never explored the Northeast further than New York state. And really, does Buffalo count as the Northeast?

Now I've seen all of the Northeast states except Rhode Island. (A last-minute plan to visit Providence last fall was squashed when we couldn't get a hotel room.)

We started our road-tripping a year ago this weekend:

Portland, Maine, Independence Day 2008

Montreal, Quebec, Labor Day 2008

Baltimore, Maryland, December 2008

Burlington, Vermont
, President's Day 2009

We've visited the cities that are the furthest drives, and the remainder on our to-see list can be done on a regular two-day weekend. That includes Boston and Providence, and two cities I visited years and years ago: Philadelphia and Washington, DC.

If anyone has any other suggestions of places to visit in the Northeast, please leave a comment!

So I have slowly but surely upped the number of states I have visited to 35. I know I still have a long way to go. I'll check Hawaii, Utah and a few others off of my list sooner or later. But I'm struggling with Idaho ... and Oklahoma ... and Mississippi ...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Should We Stay or Should We Go?

We have exactly one month to decide if we're moving.

The answer, more than likely, is no. But who knows what can happen in four weeks?

We came to New York with the understanding that we would stay two years and then re-evaluate. This is the end of the second year, and I'm not yet quite ready to leave. Every weekend feels like a vacation. There's always something new to see, some place new to try. Why leave until that feeling disappears?

And yet I couldn't help but check out some Columbus real estate sites a couple of weekends ago. We could have a Short North condo, steps from High Street, with a deck -- a deck! -- and probably spend less on housing than we are right now.

It's no secret that housing is expensive in New York. Our mortgage in Galloway was half our current rent, and we had twice the space, plus a two-car garage.

As for buying, anything remotely within our price range in New York is too far from the city to even consider. A one-bedroom in a nice part of Manhattan (and even the better Brooklyn neighborhoods) easily can run to $400,000+.

The other option, of course, is moving to another area of Brooklyn. I would like to be a little further north, closer to more subway lines and Manhattan. Apartment prices have dropped in New York as they have in much of the rest of the country, so it's possible that we could find a deal.

But overall I like Bay Ridge, our apartment, and my six-minute walk to the subway, so I'll be only halfheartedly searching for a new place. But a girl can dream ... and search Craigslist in the meantime.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...