New York City – Day 1 (Saturday, October 10, 2015)

Thanks for the Lovely Ride…Sorry About the Fingernail Marks…

As I may have mentioned before yes you have get on with it already I’m not a morning person, so I won’t belabor that point. Needless to say, we awoke at an ungodly early hour for getting down to Rosslyn to meet our bus. Unfortunately, it was necessary to head out well before the Metro opened for service. One major difference I’ve noticed between the Washington, DC metropolitan area and overseas is the nature of public transportation. Other places (both overseas and throughout the U.S.) tend to have more readily-available public transportation (e.g., around-the-clock buses, trams and subways), but DC’s isn’t always as ready to serve (e.g., the Metro isn’t a uniformly 24-hour service – and that’s not even touching all of the problems and accidents over the past few years). The net result is things get a little awkward when you need to be somewhere at an unusual time and don’t have or want to bother with a car. Being without a car due to living in the city, Misha is accustomed to walking a lot, but me as a dyed-in-the-wool suburbanite considers walking best left for shopping malls, infrequent opportunities to wear stylish workout clothes gym visits, crossing over-commercialized town centers to meet friends for brunch, and the ever popular dating site hobby/interest – “hiking.” Living in suburbia basically means you tend to rely on your own readily-available transportation.(1) Given the lack of Metro service(2) and our unwillingness to inflict our friends to sharing the “way too early before sunrise” fun, we opted for a service that Misha utilizes, but I’ve long denied myself the pleasure of.

801927_300I was about to embark on my first, great experience with Uber.

To give it credit, I’ve been impressed with the ease of using Uber, both with the elegance of the app and alacrity of the drivers, especially since the DC area isn’t exactly known for its gracious or conscientious drivers. This is a good time to admit that while I don’t mind friends or family members doing the driving,(3) however, I maintain a healthy and ginormous deep-seated marginal distrust of strangers driving me anywhere. This is from an experience or two with cab drivers intentionally taking longer routes to pad their fares, and a few harrowing rides with lesser-known coworkers whose driving style made me wonder if they had a death wish that by default extended to their passengers. However, Misha and other Uber users I know had generally positive comments about the service, so I decided to see what I had been denying myself all of this time. A few taps on Misha’s cell phone provided a willing-and-able Uber driver within minutes.

Now, it’s fair to say that the first sign of trouble was the driver having difficulty figuring out where my condo is, my concern soon became as intense as it was immediate upon knowing we were entrusting our lives to a driver in a Jeep with a model year that was closer to when I graduated college rather than when Obama took his first oath of office. The driver was a polite, older gentleman who offered to help load our bags into the car and a cup of mints to partake of (which I didn’t because…yes, my trust issues are that bad). The driver meant well, but my concerns about the vehicle’s integrity skyrocketed by the alarming (pun intended) number of warning lights turning his dashboard into a Christmas tree. However, we were on the clock and the only other option was rolling the dice with another Uber driver, so we loaded up and put our lives in his hands. It being early Autumn, the morning air had a slight chill that was utterly trumped countered by a car heater cranked all the way to “roast.” Thankfully, the driver hadn’t used the safety locks, so I cracked open the back window. The driver admitted he was from over in Maryland, so he wasn’t familiar with Virginia roads (and us wondering why he was in Virginia…). Between the one or two wrong turns that were easily corrected for and/or taking roads at such high speeds…I felt a slight need to apologize for my sense of survival and well being that resulted in me gripping the front passenger seat so hard that I left fingernail marks in it.

(1) Sadly, I have only the four-wheeled variety since my motorcycle was burnt to a crisp by a short-sided neighbor a few years back. I still want to invest in another bike, but travel isn’t exactly a cheap hobby and I have higher priorities these days.
(2) It’s only fair to point out that Washington, DC’s Metro system is now over 40 years old, and as implied above, saying it isn’t aging well is putting it far too mildly. In the past few years, the Metro has suffered from a whole host of service problems and accidents (e.g., derailed trains, electrical failures, fires, muggers, mimes, amateur musicians, etc.) that are best compared to anyone who is on the verge of, currently “enjoys” and/or has survived middle age.
(3) There are a few exceptions…on a more serious note, this all happened months before the Uber Kalamazoo rampage. Had that terrible event occurred before this trip, there’s no way in Hell I would’ve gotten into an Uber car (and I still wonder how Misha can do it).

The Cosplayers are Coming! The Cosplayers are Coming!

802190_300The bus ride went without a hitch – a few hours with off-and-on wifi made for an uneventful trip along a stretch of I-95 (i.e., the Jersey Turnpike) that I hadn’t been on since going out to the Jersey Shore with a friend to pick up a motorcycle he bought via Craigslist.(1) The original plan was to travel by train, but time got away from us, and when we got around to looking at train options, the fares were too high for comfort. I equate taking a bus from my college years, where bus riders all but dared the uncomfortable bus seats to ruin their kidneys while riding to and from Northern Virginia, so I wasn’t crazy about the option. Between the better seats, wifi and lack of hygienically-questionable college students, I was more-or-less pleased with the experience.

We arrived at Penn Station on a sunny, bustling New York morning. There’s nothing quite like the international mixing bowl of New York, where representatives of every race, creed and lifestyle mingle in the blink of an eye. Added to this glorious, vibrant, haphazard brew of humanity, was a sidewalk full of every comic book, video game and sci fi TV show/movie/anime characters in existence. As luck would have it, our visit fell on the same weekend as the New York ComicCon at the neighboring Madison Square Garden, which was currently overrun by an army of costumed fans.

My geek nature is beyond hopelessly evident no secret, and I like to think it’s one of the qualities Misha was partially attracted to and definitely shares some measure of.(2) However, I can say without a doubt, though with the exception of a ramshackle-at-best convention my college held one year (and mistaking that for a “convention” is akin to claiming Olive Garden is fine dining”), I have never attended a “con.” Have I considered it? Sure, temptation has sometimes tickled my inner child who still faithfully idolizes Adam West and William Shatner on reruns of Batman and Star Trek. Though the adult, who’s a little tired of the condescending side-eye from others about my playing D&D as a socially-awkward, acne-faced teen, finds it easier to sidestep the whole “Yes, I went to a con…don’t judge me, you wankpuffin” discussion.(3) Needless to say, I was able to identify a more-than-I-should-admit-to number of characters walking around us. In a similar vein, we spent the rest of the weekend spotting (assumed to be) attendees adorned in varying degrees of ComicCon costumes or that might be ComicCon costumes (this is New York) all over lower Manhattan.

(1) Which is the worse – buying something from a total stranger via the Internet’s number one site for police posing as hookers, or voluntarily going to the Jersey Shore? I leave such weighty philosophical quandaries for better minds to fathom…
(2) Whether she admits it or not…and I won’t go into further detail about this because she is very smart, highly imaginative and has no qualms about utilizing either quality when causing me bodily harm.
(3) This is not, by any means to imply shame, loathing or otherwise negative judgment regarding my geek nature or convention attendees and cosplayers …except maybe furries, because – no…just no.

YAYYOUMADEITSORRYWEGOTTARUNBYE!

Compared to the aging DC Metro, the NYC Subway is one of the oldest in the world, and possibly one of the filthiest (based on my experiences with London’s Underground and Paris’ metro system…though both aren’t much cleaner by comparison). Fortunately, Misha remembered her way around the NYC subway system pretty well, even if she kept referring to it as the “Metro” – which I teased was due to her spending far too much time in DC (an argument can be made about that for both of us). Nevertheless, we managed to navigate our way along the crowded sidewalks and weave into and through the subway system, finally reaching the Greenpoint neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Misha’s friend and also former-dancer Laura and her husband Matt live in the beautifully-retro corner of Brooklyn, just a stone’s throw from one of the East River Ferry dock. Arriving on their street, Misha was disappointed to find that one of her favorite local eateries was closed (including one or two other former haunts from her dancing days, as we’d discover over the weekend). I understand and appreciate her feelings about now-defunct favorite (or at least noteworthy) restaurants and hangouts – several high school friends and I contributed to a Google-based Dead Restaurant Map of Northern Virginia guide. This website equivalent of an Irish wake and pouring-one-out is monument to the fondly-missed, amusingly remembered and/or thank-[INSERT YOUR DEITY OF CHOICE]-it’s-dead-and-gone culinary establishments and remenisive testament to our collective acknowledgement of time marching on.

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Streetside just outside of Matt and Laura’s apartment.

Much like any number of older edifices I’ve been in, Matt and Laura’s apartment building had seen better days, and probably existed at least as far back as when my mother’s grandparents had first arrived in America.(1) Walking up the narrow, steep stairwell where no two steps quite lined up with one another, the air was soaked in the unmistakeable, worn and musty scents of well-trodden carpet, overtcooked spices and dubious-quality pot. It was the signature ambiance of a structure that had seen much over the decades, and as alive and immune from others’ judgment as the people inhabting it. Akin to classic old cars, this building had a character and a soul – a history expressed in stains, holes and miscellaneous chattle piled in corners, leaving one only wishing that the walls could talk about a thousand stories that they would never divulge. A few knocks on the door and we were inside Matt and Laura’s apartment, a quaint abode whose layout involved passing from the living room through the bedroom and den/dining area/kitchen to the bathroom at the other end when Mother Nature called. Photos of family, friends and Laura dancing lined the walls in the den/dining area, eclectic gargoyle paintings hung in the living room,(2) shelves full of books and DVDs occupied every corner, and hidden amongst it all were two cats coolly surveying us from the security of their secretive hovels.

Matt was up on the roof smoking, so we were initially greeted by Laura – an impossibly energetic and positive being who was more than overjoyed to see Misha and finally meet me after hearing about “her man” for more than a year. The laid back and charming Matt eventually joined us and we had a little time to get settled and talk. Unfortunately, Matt and Laura had to alter their plans with us. Matt is a huge Stevie Wonder fan and had tickets for a concert up in Connecticut, but the show’s timing fell on Sunday evening instead of Monday (as they originally thought). That being said, they were in the midst of working out travel arrangements for heading up north and coming back on Monday. A quick tour of where things were, a little chit chat about life, the universe and everything, and Matt and Laura were off, leaving Misha and I to our own capable devices.

(1) Unlike a certain Texan-by-way-of-emigrating-from-Canada politician who holds a ridiculously hypocritical anti-immigrant platform, you won’t get any arguments from this grandson of immigrants about their value and legacy to this country.
(2) Painted by Laura’s sister.

Hipster Hell Paradise

By the time Matt and Laura took off, it was mid-afternoon, and the combination of being more-or-less awake since 5:00 AM and very little food was catching up with us, and there might have been the air of traveled a bit too much lingering, so we got cleaned up and wandered out for a very late lunch/early dinner. We opted for a small Mexican place down the street since Misha’s favorite local eatery was no more, and enjoyed the beautiful outdoors at a sidewalk table on a sunny, warm afternoon. The best part of the meal were two women sitting at the next table, one of whom wearing a baseball cap embroidered with “Former Stripper” across it. Afterward, Misha observed that from a casual observation of both women and their conversation, the baseball cap was closer to an admitted fact rather than a fashion statement.

803067_300Hitting the street, we wandered in a general south-bound direction through west Brooklyn. As we wove our away toward Williamsburg, the environment I experienced was a bit different than I expected. Since Misha and I have been together, race has become a much bigger subject and a growing awareness for me given that she’s African American/Black. I understood well before we met that racism is alive and well in society, but the many realities that come with living in it day-in and day-out have been – admittedly – a slap to my “white priviledge” suburban-raised face (including a few uncomfortable revelations about myself). That being said, Misha pointed out the lack of diversity as we walked through the old neighborhood. In fact, it dawned on me as we passed one neighborhood bar after another that Brooklyn was chocked full of white, Millenial hipster and bohemian wannabees. Unlike the ethnic melting pot of Manhattan, this borough is now heavily populated with knit-hat-and-skinny-jeans-wearing, neckbeard-and-thick-frame-glasses-adorned urbanites drinking the ever-fashionable Pabst Blue Ribbon.(1) I marveled at the implications of what I saw – was the steady gentrification and rezoning of the 1990s and early 2000s transforming Brooklyn and its former ethnic-line-drawn neighborhoods into the milquetoast consistency of my native suburbia?(2) It seems that the frustrating resilience of hipsters is comparible to cockroaches surviving a nuclear war.

Adding to this, the evidence of disturbing architechtural trends popped up all around – the steady demolition and refurbishment of the old Domino Sugar Refinery, and The Edge and Northside Piers condo developments were sleek, grandiose, alien monoliths towering over the surrounding traditional brick-and-mortar Brooklyn landscape squatting around them like a deeply-entrenched resistance. As we made way toward the Williamsburg Bridge, I realized that this was the closest I’ve ever been to my mom’s first childhood stomping grounds. Part of me wanted to keep walking in that direction, but the bridge and the view from it beckoned as afternoon transitioned into early evening.

(1) Out of the can…because pint glasses are so mainstream, of course.
(2) This is a bit of an inside joke amongst my Northern Virginia friends given that, even with the DC area’s own mix of races and cultures, DC suburban areas don’t really cater to concepts such as “Little Italy” or “Chinatown.” Granted, some towns and neighborhoods have higher minority populations than others, but none are as defined quite like parts of New York was back in the day.

First Bridge Crossing and a Movie Landmark

The walk across the Williasmsburg Bridge wasn’t quite as a big a deal for me since walking across the Brooklyn Bridge was the big tradition I wanted to scratch off of my bucket list (see tomorrow’s entry). The evening was coming and it offered some pleasant views of Lower and Midtown Manhattan, with the walk plunking us on Delancy Street in the Lower East Side. Not having any particular destination for our evening walkabout, we wandered through Chinatown and into Tribeca.

804546_300     804834_300
And that’s where I accomplished the first of one of my bucket list items for this trip.

I love movies, even watching favorite ones over and over. I love reading about them, even to the point of poring over IMDB trivia pages. As a detail-oriented person, the stories behind and tidbits of funny info about movies and the people involved with them always grabbed me. Naturally, I have my list of all-time favorite movies, and among them is the classic, never-gets-old Ghostbusters. Besides being one of the funniest movies ever made, I remember seeing it with friends and all of us wondering if you could really become a “Ghostbuster.”(1) Needless to say, whenever I get a chance to watch that movie, I do, and it will always have a softspot in my heart. When Misha first suggested a trip to New York, I told her that I didn’t care where we went or stay, as long as I could visit the Hook & Ladder Company 8 Firehouse, which was the exterior shooting location for the Ghostbusters’ headquarters.

 

Walking down Hudson Street as blue sky faded into hues of sunset orange and purple twilight, we rounded North Moore Street…and there it was…the firehouse in all of its gritty glory.

Misha tells me that I bolted down toward the building as soon as I spotted it. I was like a little kid pouncing on a mound of presents on Christmas morning (while nearly being hit by a truck in the process). I was beyond thrilled to literally touch this piece of cinematic history, and just as excited about it as the day I first saw the movie. It was smaller than expected, and except for some of the old signs used during filming and their official ghost-adorned seal, not much differentiated itself from any other hard-working firehouse. The on-duty fireman, already heroes in their own right, demonstrated an amazing amount of patience with little kids and gawking, geeky man-boys hording around the entrance. I was grinning like an idiot and Misha was relishing my near orgasmic joy about seeing this classic movie landmark.

803442_300     803688_300
(1) The closest you can get to that kind of work is hosting night-vision-camera-format reality shows for conclusively documenting to the world your total incompetence in actually finding ghosts.

To Pee on or Not to Pee (on Trump Tower), That is the Question

Still happily bouncing along the sidewalk, we walked to Battery Park and caught the sun passing under the horizon, people watch and try to take pictures of the Statue of Liberty as boats bobbed past it. Still feeling like seeing other parts of the city, we hopped on the subway and went uptown to the Metropolitan Opera (“the Met”), Misha’s old stomping grounds.(1) After a little reminiscing about her dancing days and where she used to live, we were heading back downtown as our late-afternoon lunch was wearing off. This included a second pass by Trump Tower, which I was sorely tempted to pee on its sign the first time we walked by it, and Misha dared me to do just that on our way back (in a case of hindsight being 20/20, I wish I had knowing what a ginormous cluster fuck he’d be in the 2016 presidential race).

803924_300     804319_300
Views from Battery Park.

 

The nice thing about metropolitan areas is you’re never at a loss for places to eat, but by the same token, sometimes you have to read more than a few menus before you find something you want…or at least sounds good. After passing on a few eateries due to “not feeling their vibe” as we read their menus, we settled on the loud, but satisfying The Smith Sitting next to a family who were getting progressively louder thanks to their increasing intake of alcohol, we gnoshed on sliders and gormet mac n’ cheese. The place was thick with couples on date night, tourists, pre-theater diners and families enjoying a night out. It wasn’t a bad place to eat, just a lot more trouble than we wanted to get some food in us at the end of a long day.

After eating and stepping back outside into what was a beautiful night, we hopped on the subway back to Brooklyn. We were both exhausted and my feet were killing me.

Speaking of which, I need to pause for a moment here – over the years, I’ve used a trusty pair of Timberland light hiking shoes on the majority of my travels. They’re comfy, are light enough to sit through long plane rides in and heavy enough to handle just about any terrain you come across in regular travel (though Iceland was a bit of a test). They’ve become like a pair of favorite slippers – broken in and hard tested over the years and miles as my ever-ready and able travel partners. Sadly, a few times before this trip, and especially after today, it was dawning on me that they may be nearing the end of their usefulness. In fact, I knew right then and there that these durable shoes were already on their swan song adventure. The soles felt flat and the treads were worn, and I also realized that I was stuck with these hikers for what would be a lot more walking tomorrow.

I braced myself for that challenge as we got back to Matt and Laura’s apartment and subsequently passed out (I don’t even remember falling asleep).

(1) And coincidentally, another shooting location for Ghostbusters (where Peter Venkman meets Dana as she’s leaving her orchestra rehearsal). Don’t roll your eyes – I warned you that I’m kind of movie geek nerd fan.

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