Sunday, August 30, 2009

Six Year Anniversary

Paul and I were married six years ago today. Sometimes it feels much, much longer.

Just kidding! But not really.

In any case, this means that six years ago tomorrow was the start of my first vacation to New York City.

In high school, I'd been to New York for just a few hours as a day trip from Philadelphia -- enough time to visit the Statue of Liberty and take a quick bus tour through Manhattan. But I'd never stepped foot on Broadway until our honeymoon.

The city didn't greet me with its best foot forward. It was pouring rain every day but the last. Our tiny hotel room was something like 20 stories up, but the traffic sounded like it was 20 feet away. At the end of the week I specifically remember thinking that New York was a nice place to visit, but I didn't think I'd ever want to live here.

That feeling obviously went away.

Whenever there's a big airplane crash, for a few days I always think that I'm never going to fly again. But then it gradually fades from memory and I start planning my next vacation.

That's New York to me. The highs are so high, it's not long before you forget about the few-and-far-between lows. It wasn't long before I forgot about the rain and traffic and remembered only the lights, the museums, the bustle. And besides, how many people can say they live in the city where they honeymooned?

(As an aside, there's still hope for my parents, who visited the brand-new Walt Disney World after their wedding 31 years ago. The family joke is that Dad's going to become a Disney bus driver after he retires. And they'd probably get at least a few more visits from me each year if he could score me free tickets to the Magic Kingdom.)

I hadn't returned to New York until Paul interviewed for his current job, and we found our apartment in a whirlwind 10 hours just about two years ago exactly.

There are times when New York City still seems romantic: in the summer, late at night, when you least expect it. But now it's mostly just a place to live. And I'm fine with that.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Fun with Chopsticks and Sichuan Food

Bay Ridge is known for its Italians. Its Greeks. Increasingly, even its Arabs.

So it's somewhat of a shock that one of New York City's few authentic Sichuan Chinese restaurants is only five or six blocks from our apartment.

I like Chinese food, but I don't love it. It's like ethnic comfort food to me-- you can't go too far wrong no matter what you try.

Sichuan is a totally different story. It's spicy, to say the least. No comfort there. But it is good. Maybe even great.

The mildest of our two entrees, the ma po tofu, was covered in red pepper flakes. Every time I eat tofu I wonder why I don't have it more, and this was no exception. The large chunks of bean curd were doused in a thick and spicy sauce and surrounded with minced pork. I'd only ever had tofu as a meat substitute, so it was interesting to try a dish in which meat played a minor role to the tofu.

My tofu was spicy, but Paul's beef with cumin flavor was so hot that even he was sweating. The beef was dried and cut into pieces about the size of small cheese curds. I'd never tried anything like it before. My tongue was burning after two bites, but I couldn't help going back for more.

I also liked Paul's dish because of the garnish -- beet (?) slices arranged with toothpicks and a rubber band to look like a flower. I don't know if you were supposed to eat it, but I gave it a try anyway. I had to cool down my mouth somehow.

This was not only the first time I'd tried Sichuan food, but also the first time I'd successfully used chopsticks for (nearly) a whole meal.

I could never quite get the hang of holding chopsticks correctly. Paul had long told me that I just need to hold one like a pencil and move the other around to grab things. We finally figured out that I evidently don't hold a pencil like a normal person. Now that I've corrected my technique, I can finally swing a chopstick like the best of them ... at least until my dumpling falls into the soy sauce. Then it's out with the fork.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Towed Car for the Second Straight August

As I walked to the subway Thursday morning, I noticed that 79th Street was eerily clear of vehicles. The street was being repaved.

My stomach immediately sank. Didn't Paul say he had parked on that part of the street earlier in the week? I punched his number into my cell phone.

Me: "Where did you say you parked?"
Paul: "Uhhhh ... 80-something ..."
Me: "Oh, good. I was worried ..."
Paul: "Oh, wait. I parked on 79th."


Our car also got towed last August during some last-minute, ill-marked street paving. The tow trucks moved it into an illegal spot a few streets away, and our subsequent parking ticket was thrown out.

So it took Paul only about 15 minutes to find the car this time, where a bright yellow sheet on our windshield noted that it had been towed by the Department of Transportation. "Do Not Ticket," it went on.

And on top of that note? A $115 parking ticket.

Not surprising, Paul said, since our Saturn was moved directly in front of a fire hydrant. In any case, I'm hoping this ticket also will be thrown out. Deja vu all over again.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cupcake Wars: Eleni's Half-Price Cupcakes

Any place that gives me free cupcakes has a customer for life.

I found out about the half-price cupcakes at Eleni's in Chelsea Market shortly after we first moved to New York. Even without that incentive, I like visiting Chelsea Market, browsing the gourmet food stores and peaking through the windows of the tasty-looking restaurants.

And the building's pretty cool too. It's an old Nabisco factory, where the Oreo was invented (if Wikipedia can be trusted). Nowadays stores and restaurants are on the bottom floor, while the Food Network, Google, and other franchises have offices on the upper floors.

But back to the cupcakes. Eleni's offers half-price cupcakes the last hour before closing each day. Paul and I just happened to be walking by the market at 6:55 p.m. on a Saturday, so there was no way I was going to pass up a cupcake for $1.50, especially ones as good as Eleni's.

With only five minutes until the doors locked, there obviously wasn't much of a selection. It didn't take long for Paul -- who always chooses whatever sweet sports the most unnatural color -- to pick out a chocolate cupcake with about an inch of purple frosting, while I pointed at the blue. At the last moment, the cashier added two more brightly-colored cupcakes on the house.

The going rate for cupcakes in Manhattan and Brooklyn is $2 to $2.50, so getting four cupcakes for $3 is a delicious coup.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Photos from the Guggenheim

Paul and I ostensibly visited the Guggenheim Museum earlier this month for an exhibit on Frank Lloyd Wright.

And sure, we inspected the models and the architect's drawings. But the visit turned more into an inspection of the museum's building with my camera. That's not as unrelated as it sounds, since Wright actually did design the Guggenheim.

The Guggenheim isn't my favorite New York City museum (that honor probably belongs to the American Museum of Natural History), but it is my favorite museum building. The simple design means it's easy to navigate and difficult to miss a display. The continuous spiral ramps and large rotunda make for some sweeping views-- albeit a queasy stomach if you look down from the top.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why I Love New York's Elevated Trains

As you might expect, the subway trains I ride are almost exclusively underground.

The express trains I take into Midtown go over the Manhattan Bridge before burrowing deep into the soil again, and that's generally the only time I see the sky while sitting in the subway.

But New York City does have a surprising number of elevated stops. At least, it's surprising to me because I never see them. I don't know for sure, but they all seem to be in Upper Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens and eastern Brooklyn-- all places I generally don't frequent.

So when I do ride an elevated train, I'm a little like a kid in a candy store. I can't stop looking out the windows-- although the view is of graffiti far more often than of a sweeping view of the Manhattan skyline.

To me, the stations themselves look like works of art, with the tangled rails and intricate metalwork suspending the trains far about the bustle of the streets. That's especially true at night, when the streetlights aren't quite bright enough to illuminate the abundant and unforgiving rust.

And on steamy nights, it's much more pleasant to wait for a train on a breezy outdoor platform rather than descend the stairs into what truly feels like the ninth circle of hell. On spring days, you might even regret the approach of the train.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

BBQ and Other NYC Adventures in Food

My first acquaintance with New York City barbecue was not a good one. The pulled pork I ordered at Dallas BBQ about a year ago was evidently plopped on the bun with an ice cream scoop because the goopy meat still kept its round shape.

There has to be something better than this, I thought. So some friends and I recently went in search of prime pig in Harlem, at Dinosaur Barbecue.

The signs were promising. A long line often points the way to good food, and the number of people waiting on the sidewalk made me glad I had made a reservation. In addition, the dim lighting and wooden decor were a far superior cry from the neon overload at Dallas.

But then the food came out.

First of all, one friend ordered what is called the "Big Ass Pork Plate." Evidently Dinosaur's idea and my idea of a big ass are very different because that was one small derriere.

My own pulled pork sandwich was good but not great. I liked the sauce, but it was nothing to write home about. The french fries were limp, and the cornbread was below average. My favorite side, the baked beans, was the one thing Paul didn't like.

Even still, Dinosaur was 1,000 percent better than Dallas. But my quest for good barbecue in the city continues.

I'm not looking for anything classy. Just tasty. In fact, Paul and I have skipped places with linen napkins lately in favor of some good old comfort food.

Last weekend: IHOP. There's one in downtown Brooklyn, near the border between the shady and swanky parts of town. I quickly chose the chocolate chip pancakes, while Paul got a country fried steak that looked absolutely disgusting. But he was happy.

"Sometimes you just want a bunch of cheeseball Midwestern food," he said as we walked to the subway. "And free refills."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A 1,453-Foot Reminder That I Live in New York

Empire State Building

It was a warm and sunny day -- seemingly the first in weeks -- so a couple of weekends ago I skipped the subway and decided to walk from the Gramercy thrift shops I'd been scouring on 23rd Street to the new J.C. Penney on 33rd.

After 10+ blocks, I was hot and eager for air conditioning, but the site of the Empire State Building towering above made me stop in my tracks and reach for my camera. I've walked within a block or two of the Empire State Building dozens of times, but this time it hit me:

I live here.

It still amazes me that I can walk to a place as mundane as Penney's and strut right by one of the tallest buildings in the world. Or exit the subway at work and see the New York Stock Exchange. Or down a milkshake in the shadow of the Flatiron Building.

Nearly two years in New York, and I still feel lucky every single day.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The High Line: From Tracks to Park

On nice weekends Paul and I often will stroll through a park, and New York City has plenty to choose from.

There's Central Park and Prospect Park, of course, but last Saturday we looked about two stories up. We visited the High Line elevated park for the very first time.

The High Line opened to train traffic in the 1930s to eliminate the all-to-frequent accidents between street traffic and freight trains that earned 10th Avenue the nickname "Death Avenue," according to the High Line's website. The last train ran the line in 1980, and Section 1 of the park opened just this past June.

You still can see remnants of the High Line's past in the remaining tracks that line much of the park. As you might expect, the High Line is narrow and long (maybe 10 blocks), and many of the views are industrial. The High Line's location on the far west side of Manhattan means you also can catch glimpses of the Hudson River and New Jersey.

It is odd at first to see the flowers, grasses and trees growing so high above the street below, but that definitely adds to the charm, as do the unique and plentiful benches. It's no Central Park, but it's a creative use of space-- and a creative way to add green to a gray part of the city.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Moving to New York: How It All Began

Two years ago this week Paul was offered the job that brought us to New York.

Obviously I remember those few days well. I took some days off of work, telling everyone that I was taking advantage of the free hotel room while Paul was in New York on business. He was here business-- but for an interview too.

We flew to New York on separate flights, so I was on my own for the entire day. I navigated the city buses and subway system from LaGuardia to Times Square, to Herald Square, to Washington Square Park. It was one of the hottest, most humid days I've ever experienced in New York, but I still wanted to take it all in. Paul felt good about his chances, but if he didn't get the job it would be awhile before I'd be back.

He was offered the job before noon the next day.

Even still I have trouble describing my elation. I like Ohio. I love Columbus. But we were moving to New York City. It seemed unthinkable that it was actually happening after months -- years -- of discussing, negotiating, dreaming. New York was 500 miles and a world away.

The day of Paul's interview, a tornado hit the neighborhood where we now live. That was also the day that my stomach began to swirl and barely stopped until we made the move two months later.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Water Taxi Beach: Sand, But No Swimming

Sand. Skeeball. Drinks. Did I mention sand?

That's all it took to convince me and a group of coworkers to visit Water Taxi Beach at the South Street Seaport on Friday.

It's an easy walk from work, but I'd never been. But a beach on the banks of the East River was intriguing, although you can't actually swim there-- even if you'd want to. In fact, a fence separates all beach-goers from the river (leading one co-worker to speculate that kids visiting Water Taxi Beach would grow up without the slightest idea that -- gasp! -- beaches are actually for swimming!).

To paraphrase another co-worker, Water Taxi Beach is little more than a few truckloads of Home Depot sand spread thin. It couldn't have been more than a few inches before you'd hit concrete. But that didn't stop the kids from making sandcastles or me from flopping off my sandals and digging my feet in the sand.

The beach is practically in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, with good views of the Manhattan Bridge and, even further out, the Williamsburg Bridge. Manhattan lies on one side of the river, Brooklyn on the other. As an almost-full moon rose above the bridges, the night seemed almost magical-- if it weren't for the bright blue and orange neon palm trees lining the beach.

Despite the sights, the $5 cover and poor selection of adequate drinks means this isn't a destination I'd choose every weekend. But I'd willingly return and stake out another picnic table. And maybe next time I'll actually play skeeball.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Central Park's Conservatory Water

Central Park continues to surprise me.

Just when I think I've seen all there is to see, I come across something new. Last weekend, it was Conservatory Water, near the southeastern edge of the park.

In addition to the views, three things in particular struck me about the space:

1. The statues. Hans Christian Andersen overlooks the western edge of the water, while the well-known Alice in Wonderland statue is at the northern end.

2. The model boat. Central Park touts the water as an excellent place for models, and we saw one remote-controlled boat gliding by as we rested on one of the many benches that line the water.

3. The telescopes. There were a couple of telescopes at the edge of the water, and it looked as if people were using them to look into the apartments of the skyscrapers that line the park's eastern edge. Creepy. I've since learned, however, that the telescopes are pointed at a building that hosts the nest of a couple of red-tailed hawks. Even New Yorkers aren't that callous, I guess.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

J.C. Penney Takes Manhattan

Even a red carpet for J.C. Penney and (possibly) Miss Universe

J.C. Penney.

In Ohio, it's just a run-of-the-mill department store you find in almost every mall.

In Manhattan? It's a big deal.

That's the conclusion I came to Saturday when I visited Penney's first Manhattan store, which opened on July 31. I'm not a huge fan of the store, but I got a $10 coupon on a $10 or more purchase, and who am I to pass up a deal like that?

So I made my way to the Manhattan Mall (yes, Manhattan has one honest-to-goodness mall), just a stone's throw from Macy's in Herald Square. I don't know about you, but I've never had to wait in line to enter a Penney's. Yes, I waited in a 5- to 10-minute line just for the privilege of boarding the escalator that took me to the store.

Granted, I think most of the people just wanted to catch a glimpse of whatever model was outside the store entrance (Miss Universe, I believe), because the store itself was crowded but not overwhelmingly so. Even still, I couldn't help but mentally wag a finger at myself for waiting in line for a Penney's when New York is saturated with so many more interesting stores.

The store was about like every other Penney's you've ever visited, except with lower ceilings and better dressing rooms. There was actually a comfy chair and three-way mirror in every dressing room, making me long for such a space at home.

In any case, I walked out with some pj's, fulfilling my stated goal of using the discount. I'm not sure I'll visit again -- surely not when it's so crowded -- but it is kinda nice to know there's a down-homey store at my disposal.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New York's Rainy Day Market Economy

It has rained in New York nearly non-stop for the last month. And unfortunately I have been carrying around a broken umbrella that entire time.

Cheap umbrellas are easy to come by in both Manhattan and Brooklyn. Stop by any 99-cent store or knick-knack bodega and there's usually a pile of them somewhere near the door.

But while they're always cheap, at some times they're cheaper than others. Specifically, when it's not raining.

Umbrellas are $2 or $3 on sunny days when no one needs them. Those are the days to whip out a tenner and stock up.

But when it's pouring and the garbage cans outside are stuffed with inside-out umbrellas, that's when prices double or triple. Still not expensive, true, but enough more to make me think my own rapidly deteriorating umbrella can last just a little bit longer.

With so few sunny days breaking up the clouds, however, neither Paul nor I have gotten replacements. Paul's went past the point of no return last week and is now lining a trash bin somewhere in Brooklyn.

Mine's fading quickly. And the way this summer's going, I might just pull out a $20 bill the next time I replenish my stock of umbrellas.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

To the Man Who Just Moved In

Dear Man Who Moved Into the Apartment Opposite the Kitchen at Work,

Congrats on your new place! And sorry for accidentally making eye contact with you when I was in the hallway at work. I'm pretty sure there's an unspoken rule against that. Anyway, it probably won't happen again. I noticed your blinds were installed by the end of the day.

I hope you're used to keeping the blinds shut in your bedroom. Otherwise your bed's in a really bad spot.

See, your windows face our office's busiest corridor-- the one that links the entrance to the kitchen to about half of the office. I walk down the hallway at least eight times a day, and I peek into your new place each and every time.

In the last few weeks my co-workers and I have watched as real estate agents gave tours of your apartment. And we all noticed when the floors got waxed; they're as shiny as a bald man's head. Looks like a nice place. Two, maybe three bedrooms? Hope you got a deal.

We'll probably be seeing more of each other, although hopefully not too much. Remember about those blinds.

Your neighbor,


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