AndyO Blog

Saturday, October 18, 2008

NYC - Day 3 (Sunday)

Note: This was a trip I took to New York in October 2008. I finally got around to posting it to my blog. You can read other entries about this trip here.

After the Buddy Rich Memorial concert the night before and intensity of New York, we slept in a little on Sunday. Little did I know this would be one of our busiest travel days. Looking back on it, I'm still surprised how much we did.

We started the day on a subway to Central Park West. After a short walk, our first stop was H & H Bagels for breakfast. Monica had read about how this was one of (if not the best) bagel stores in New York. We ordered our bagels, and then sat down on a bench and watched traffic pass by. I'm not the biggest bagel lover, but a warm blueberry bagel smothered in cream cheese is a pretty good way to start the morning.

H&H Bagles

Next was the American Museum of Natural History. I had a little knowledge of this place from movies, in particular one of my kids' favorites: Night at the Museum -- but nothing could prepare me for the scale of this place. Monica and I must have spent three hours taking it all in. Highlights for me:

  • The Hayden Planetarium -- especially the Scales of the Universe exhibit that winds around the Hayden Sphere. In this exhibit, you see the relative sizes of things in our universe -- from the very small (atoms) to the very big (galaxies). We watched Cosmic Collisions in the planetarium about how earth has been hit several times by asteroids. The part about the Moon was especially interesting. 

Hayden Planetarium

  • Dinosaur fossils -- I'd only seen one or two fossils in one place before, so it was amazing to see so many at one time and see firsthand how big Tyrannosaurus Rex really was.

Running from T-Rex

Next we took a short subway ride to the Dakota. I wanted to see this famous apartment building for two reasons: John Lennon was assassinated there, and it played a prominent role in an interesting book I read called Time and Again.

The Dakota

Strawberry Fields -- Monica and I walked across the street to Strawberry Fields, a memorial to John Lennon. There were a lot of people there, including many bicyclists. It was a little too crowded, so we left pretty quick.

Strawberry Fields - John Lennon Memorial in Central Park

Columbus Circle -- We just walked through this area on our way to our next destination. I did enjoy the different buildings surrounding the circle. Evidently, this is where the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters started his rampage.

Columbus Circle

Carnegie Hall -- The famed concert hall didn't stand out the way I thought it would. I knew to get a sense of the place, I needed to walk inside. On this particular day, the group Sweet Honey in the Rock was performing. They were selling books outside the auditorium, so I bought one called No Mirrors in My Nana's House, which included a CD. (This has since become a favorite around my house.)

Carnegie Hall

Burger Joint in the Le Parker Meridian

One thing Monica and I obsessed over before going to New York was eating a really good hamburger. Monica had discovered there was a "secret" burger restaurant in the Le Parker Meridian hotel. It was so secret, we had a little trouble finding it.

Le Parker Meridian

Like most experiences that you anticipate, the reality of the secret burger restaurant didn't live up to my expectations. First, the restaurant was really hot and cramped. The line to order was at least 10-15 minutes, and Monica and I had to fight our way to a table. We ordered our burgers medium, I think, and they came out pretty charred. If there's one thing I really dislike, it's a charred burger. Maybe next time, when I order less burning on my burger, I'll like it more. Or maybe I'll just find a new burger place to try. At any rate, it was an adventure.

As we ate, Monica and I decided we really needed to see Yankee Stadium. After all, this would probably be our only chance to see it, as we'd heard it was going to be demolished.

We walked back toward Columbus Circle, hitting a few more essential landmarks:

  • Carnegie Deli

Carnegie Deli

  • Ed Sullivan Theater (where David Letterman is filmed)

Ed Sullivan Theater

  • Studio 54 (a 1970's disco hotspot)

Studio 54

Yankee Stadium

The subway up to the Bronx to see Yankee Stadium was much faster than I expected. When we got to the Yankee Stadium stop, and ascended the stairs, it was as if we'd entered hallowed ground. Babe Ruth. Joe DiMaggio. Lou Gehrig. Mickey Mantle. Roger Marris. Jackie Robinson. Reggie Jackson. They'd all been here. 

Yankee Stadium

Fans had scrawled messages to the Yankees on walls around the perimeter. I even took a fleck of paint, which I was going to give to my brother but somehow lost it. When we got to main entrance of the stadium and looked up to see all the championships the Yankees had won, it was clear to me who was the best baseball team in history. Love 'em or hate 'em, the Yankees have proved this point again and again.

Note from a Yankee fan

Across the street, in the distance, was the almost-completed new Yankee Stadium. As with many modern baseball stadiums, this one (from a distance anyway) didn't have the character of the old one. Only time will tell if the upgrade was worth it. (Postscript: It appears now there are many problems with the new Yankee Stadium in its first season, the biggest being the empty seats. But the Yankees did win the World Series during this first season, too, adding to their legacy.)

Old Yankee Stadium (foreground)

Before we took the elevated train back to our hotel, we stopped at McDonald's so I could use the bathroom and buy a soda. When I paid for my Diet Coke, they asked if I had a nickel, which I didn't. A young local man wearing a sweatsuit put down one of his nickels for me.

"Thanks," I said. "I left all my change at the hotel."

"It is what it is," he said.

This kind of gesture goes to show how important one person can be as an ambassador to a city, neighborhood, or borough. I'd heard a lot of stuff about the Bronx, but I walked away with that friendly gesture as my experience.

Monica and I ascended the stairs to the elevated platform, which was right next to Yankee Stadium. I was able to steal a few glances inside from the platform. I especially liked the bat and ball at the top of the flagpole.

Flagpole of Yankee Stadium

As we boarded the train and headed back to our hotel, we were treated to a beautiful golden sunset, bouncing off the buildings and water towers of the Bronx.

The Bronx at sunset

Grand Central Station

We got off the train at the appropriately named Grand Central Station. No wonder so many film directors have used this cavernous building for movies. A partial list of films shot there include North by Northwest, Blade Runner, Midnight Run, The Fisher King, and Superman. In fact, it was this last movie that gave Monica and me another one of our catch phrases: "We'll make captain by midnight!"

This dialogue comes from the scene where the two police detectives are about to follow Otis (played by Ned Beatty) into the bowels of Grand Central into Lex Luther's lair. The two detectives contemplate how Otis will lead them "to the big man himself." As the detective named Artis gets in the car, he says, "We'll make captain by midnight!" (I know you're probably thinking this is a really obscure reference, but when you watch Superman 20 times as I have with my 4-year-old, you start to pick up stuff like this.)

Regarding Grand Central Station itself, nothing could prepare me for its vastness and space. The ceiling towered above us. I felt like I was standing in a modern-day architectural wonder.

Grand Central Station

We exited Grand Central into night and saw, what we thought, was the Empire State Building. We walked until we got to the building to find out it was the Chrysler Building. It was closed, so we decided to keep walking a few blocks to the United Nations buildings. I had never realized until I was standing there that the United Nations is right on the East River.

Grand Central with Chrysler Building

United Nations at Night

Monica and I walked back to the hotel for a breather, before we would set off on one final adventure.

Staten Island Ferry

My tour guide, Monica, had researched how the Staten Island Ferry was a great way to see the Manhattan skyline at night, as well as the Statue of Liberty. Incredibly, it was also free.

We took the subway down to the ferry terminal and waited with a large crowd of people who seemed to be tourists, like us. The security at the terminal reminded me of airports, and there were police walking around with bomb-sniffing dogs.

While the ferry boats in Washington State seem to be designed to move cars from point A to point B, the New York ferries are designed for walk-on passenger passengers.

Statue of Liberty

Rather than get a seat inside, Monica and I stood in the frigid air on deck and watched the lights of the Manhattan skyline. We could see the Statue of Liberty in the distance, like an apparition floating above the water. And when she came into view, I was surprised how majestic and beautiful she was. Like many famous buildings or pieces of art, the Statue of Liberty had been an abstraction in my mind until that moment. When an abstraction of this magnitude meets with reality, I find there's always a few moments of disorientation. The same thing had happened to me when I saw first saw the Eiffel Tower (it was much larger than I imagined) or Big Ben (much more ornate).  

When we got to Staten Island, we got off the boat and then got right back on.

Staten Island Ferry entrance

After that, we headed back to the hotel and rested.


posted by AndyO @ 11:50 PM   0 comments

NYC - Day 2 (Saturday)

Monica and I somehow got up around 8:00 a.m. or so (local time). After getting ready, we joined the other 25 or so people in the hotel for the "Continental Breakfast." Most of the other people were from Europe, speaking their native languages. It was pretty crowded, but I ended up getting some cereal and really bad orange juice.

The Super 8 in the shining Queens sun

Subway hell

After we got all our packs together and checked out, we walked through the crisp morning air to the subway station, about five or so blocks away. As luck would have it, our subway station was closed due to construction. We tried to make sense of the signs at a bus stop about what to do (something about taking a bus to another subway station). Local people were confused. Every bus that pulled up was packed.

We followed some other people who seemed to know what to do in this situation. After a few minutes we realized these people didn't know what they were doing either -- basically a blind leading the blind situation. We did end up talking to a local guy who was trying to get to work and was as confused as we were. Then we spotted a bus that was miraculously heading to the detour subway station. The bus driver was nice enough to let us on when she was at a stoplight.

There were no seats on the bus, which was a little difficult with my full backpack. I somehow was able to wedge myself in the aisle and hold on for dear life -- because this driver was driving her bus like a Ferrari.

At another stoplight, she opened the door for a man.

"Where you goin'?" she asked.

I heard some muffled response.

"Hell no!" she said, and shut the door in his face.

I thought that was about as New York as you can get.

As we continued driving, I listened to the music of foreign languages all around me -- while I sweated in my full jacket.  

Once at our subway station, Monica and I bought our passes for the week and then walked down to the platform and waited. Our subway arrived, and we piled into the crowded car. Many people were dozing in the warm car. I felt like dozing myself, but I was standing. Eventually, enough people got off the car so Monica and I could sit down.

NYC - first thoughts

We got to our destination (42 street Port Authority Bus Terminal), and got off the subway car. Emerging from the underground into the cool morning air was refreshing after being in the stuffy car. Immediately I was struck by the buildings towering overhead that carved out long canyons in every direction. Even though we weren't in Times Square, the amount of visual information that assaulted me was astonishing. There's a density that you don't see in many other cities, with billboards and store signs and other advertisements. This is the reason filmmakers love New York so much: there's so much to look at!

We got to our hotel, the Milford Plaza, topped with a huge "M". (We found out later that the original reason for the M was that the hotel was called the Manhattan Hotel). We couldn't check in, so we left our bags and started walking through the city.

The Milford Hotel in Manhattan

Before we left, Monica and I had compiled our lists of things we wanted to see in New York in an Excel worksheet. On the plane, we prioritized that list in Excel on my Palm Treo, which we could then sort. We had something like 50 or 60 things to see. Most people who saw the initial list said, "There's no way you're going to see all that." I agreed with them, but there's something about setting up an impossible challenge like this that Monica and I both think is fun. We would soon be crossing off many items.

A walk in NYC

As Monica and I walked through Broadway, with its hundreds of theaters advertising plays, familiar and unfamiliar, we ended up almost immediately in Times Square. This is one of the most famous places in the world, and the assault on my senses was about what I expected. Here's a panorama of what it looked like.

Panorama of Times Square

We continued walking and found Radio City Music Hall, 30 Rock (GE building), and then Rockefeller Center. People were skating down below in Rockefeller, and there was certainly a wintry chill in the air. In just a few steps, we saw:

    • The set of the Today show (dark, as it was Saturday)
    • Christie's auction house
    • A film crew outside 30 Rock
    • The NBC store

Radio City 

Skaters in Rockefeller Center

Christie's Auction House

St. Patrick's Church

On our way to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), we stopped by St. Patrick's, a Neo-Gothic style Catholic cathedral. Having visited several of the most famous churches in the world in Europe, I have to say that St. Patrick's was on the same scale. There were hundreds of people walking around. The organ blasted notes every now and then from its 9,838 pipes.

St. Patrick's Church

I persuaded Monica to go sit in the church pews near the alter -- where I always find you can get the feel of a church. While we were sitting there, Monica told me one of the best jokes of the trip (originally from the Office): "A man who farts in church sits in his own pew." One could certainly afford to do that in this church, as it seated over 2,000 people. (But I didn't, in case you were wondering.)


The Museum of Modern Art had a line nearly a block long to get in. While I waited in the line, Monica talked to one of the employees, who said we could avoid the line we wanted to buy a City Pass. Since we were doing that anyway (to save time and money), we got in almost right away.

Outside MoMA

Honestly, I hadn't even heard of MoMA before visiting New York. But I had heard of the many famous paintings it housed, including Van Gogh's The Starry Night and Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World (two of my favorites). But we were also treated to work by Cezanne, Seurat, Gauguin, Munch, Rousseau, Klimt, Picasso, Kandinsky, Matisse, Chagall, Duchamp, Mondrian, Brancusi, Hopper, Miro, Max Ernst, Dali, Warhol, and Pollack. Having visited the Louvre in Pars, the Uffizi in Florence, the Tate in London, and many other amazing museums in Europe, I have to say MoMA is a North American equal. I was certainly happy I'd taken that art history class in college, which introduced me to many of these paintings. Take a look at these masterpieces:


All that art and walking around had made us really hungry. We tried to find a restaurant on our list of places we wanted to eat -- but we didn't have the patience to try to locate something. We settled on Astro's, a typical New York deli, where Monica and I both had sandwiches (we both thought they were a little dry, but maybe that's the way they like their sandwiches in New York).

The Astro Restaurant

MoMA - Van Gogh

After lunch, it was back to the special exhibit Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night, where we were treated to an amazing collection of Van Gogh paintings, including The Starry Night. My favorite part of this exhibit were the sketches by Van Gogh in his notebook or in letters to his brother Theo. Here you could see the first drafts of some of the most famous paintings in the world. (To me, the creative process is almost as interesting as the final result.)

It's a great feeling to see that much great art, but it's pretty exhausting, too.

Buddy Rich Memorial 2009 concert

After we got back to the hotel and rested, we went out to see the Buddy Rich Memorial 2009 concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom, featuring many great drummers, including Neil Peart, the famous drummer and lyricist of Rush. To read my thoughts about this event, click here.

Gray's Papaya Dogs

After the Buddy Rich show, I was starving. As we walked back to our hotel, we spotted Gray's Papaya Dogs, which was on our list of places to eat. We both got a hot dog and ate it right there, standing at the counter. While I enjoyed the dogs, I can't say they lived up to their hype. I'm sure there was an awesome New York hotdog somewhere, but Papaya Dogs ended up being my first and only New York dog.

"Damn it all to hell!"

Later that night, Monica came up with the next best joke of the entire trip. Having just seen Neil Peart perform at the Hammerstein Ballroom, Monica and I both knew he probably hadn't played as well as he'd wanted to. We pictured Neil going backstage and being really upset at his performance.

Monica said, "I can just see Neil saying, 'Damn it all to hell!'"

We both started saying this over and over. "Damn it all to hell!" Monica finally said, "Where is that from? Oh, yeah, it was in The Simpsons."

I said, "No, it's from Planet of the Apes, when Charlton Heston finds the Statue of Liberty and realizes he hasn't landed on an alien planet filled with talking apes -- he's on Earth!"

"Damn you! God damn you all to hell!"

Maybe you had to be there...

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posted by AndyO @ 11:33 PM   0 comments

NYC - Day 1 (Friday)

I traveled to New York with Monica Z to see my favorite drummer Neil Peart. He was playing at the Buddy Rich 2008 Memorial concert with a few other notable drummers, including Terry Bozzio, Chad Smith, Peter Erskine, and Tommy Igoe. As I'd told everyone before I left, it was a great excuse to see New York City for the first time.

Mid-morning flight

My friend Monica, with whom I'd shared many Rush-related journeys, flew out mid-day. This meant I could take the kids to school before driving to the airport. I parked in my favorite lot, went through security, and walked what seemed like a mile to the Delta Airlines gate at Sea-Tac.

The first thing I noticed out the window was a guy barbecuing chicken on the tarmac, and I wondered if this was a Friday tradition for the Delta employees. Monica arrived not long after I did, and we walked off to a sandwich shop to get something to eat on the plane (instead of just peanuts).

BBQ on the tarmac

We boarded the plane on time and took off for the 5-hour flight. Monica told me one of the reasons she'd booked us on Delta was because they had LCD touchscreens on the seatbacks, and you could play a trivia game against all the other passengers. We must have done this for hours, which made the flight go by pretty fast. I also watched some shows I'd downloaded to my Zune, including The Office and 30 Rock.

Sitting at JFK

Once we landed (early, I might add) we sat on the tarmac for what seemed like hours. Someone on the plane had told us JFK is famous for huge delays. In this case, our plane had nowhere to go; we were early, and our gate was occupied. This wouldn't have been so bad, but my back was killing me, and the plane was a balmy 80-degrees (we thought it might be all those video screens).

First NYC cab ride

Once we finally departed the plane, we went in the direction of "transportation" and walked up to a cab sitting at the curb. The driver pointed us to the cabstand, where they systematically dispatched waiting cabs. The cabstand dispatcher wrote down our destination and handed it to the cab driver, who I think was Russian. He didn't know where the Jamaica Super 8 motel was, but he pulled out a map and figured it out.

The interior of the cab surprised me, as I think my expectations came almost exclusively from the movie Taxi Driver. First, it was spotless. And there was an LCD TV showing advertisements and information on the divider between us and the driver. I was also surprised that you could pay by credit card from the back seat.

Our actual drive reminded me of another movie, Gotcha!, where two Americans are driven through the streets of Paris at Mach speeds. Our driver might not have been driving that fast, but let's just say the back of the cab felt like a rollercoaster when he drove around corners. I hung on to the straps for effect.

Jamaica Super 8 and Wendy's

Once we checked into the Super 8, we went out into the cool Queens night to Wendy's. While we both wanted to eat at a more "local" establishment (the guy at the hotel had suggested an Indian/Italian restaurant) we were too hungry to look around.

In Wendy's, I noticed a few things:

  • The people in the restaurant were more diverse than the types of people you see in Seattle. There were guys in sharp suits, guys wearing Hip Hop clothes, and NYPD officers on break. Monica and I must have looked like we had "out of town" stickers stuck to our foreheads, though people didn't treat us that way.
  • The menu displayed the calories of each item so that you could clearly see that, say, the fried chicken strips were way over a thousand calories. This made me feel so guilty that I ordered a salad (and a Jr. bacon burger).

I knew that New York had some interesting laws about banning transfats, but I hadn't heard about the calories being displayed so prominently on menus (we would find out later that this was on all menus).

While we were eating, I noticed that one of the police officers had a key chain attached to his belt with probably 200 keys. Monica and I tried to figure out why they would need all those keys. I didn't feel like asking.

After that, we went back to the motel and relaxed. I looked out the window. Across the street, all the houses had bars across the windows. Up the street, stores had bars or steel garage doors that closed over the entrance.

We weren't in Seattle anymore.

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posted by AndyO @ 12:54 AM   0 comments