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Living in NYC

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Category Archives: Travel in NYC

From the draft archives:

More blogging beneath Lexington avenue. I’m on my way to the office the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Amazed at the power we presume the words “excuse me” to have on a practical level. It’s more like a tactic down here. Utter those words in sequence, and you can do whatever you want.

For example, a person just made me move so that she could occupy the space I was standing in. But how?, you might ask. Aren’t you bigger? How were you displaced? The words of the day slipped from her mouth, and she shifted her weight and handbag on to me, effectively standing on me, settling in, and pulling out her Kindle. I had to move, because she obviously wasn’t.

We discussed what she had done. She did not appear to care. My new interpretation of “excuse me” is one of total disregard for the person being asked to make accommodations. At least on the train.

On second thought, it may have been a Nook. Things make much more sense now.

I promise these won’t all be rants.

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Today was a Saturday like any other. We got up late, I made an egg sandwich, and we stepped outside to accomplish something a week day won’t afford us. Today it was a trip up to East Harlem to shop for (primarily) food. There is a Costco and a Target in a sort of outdoor stacked mall, and we like to visit them both in one trip to maximize our time. After what it took to get up there today, I’m afraid to go back.

First, for some context. We live between 1st and 2nd avenues. Both avenues send traffic in a single direction – 1st goes uptown, and 2nd goes downtown. On either avenue, the M15 bus runs every 10 minutes or so. We like this bus line because it is generally reliable, and it was one of the first in the city to feature their newest bus models (complete with backwards doors that confuse the elderly, of which there are many in our neighborhood). Within the last month or so, MTA, in its wisdom, created a new variety of bus service called “Select.” The concept is to be faster than a local bus by stopping less and having patrons pay their fare on the street, all without costing more. Since express buses cost $5.50 a ride, I’m glad to have an alternative. But today, the new service showed its ugly side, and it cost us about an hour of valuable daylight.

We got to the bus stop closest to our place, only to watch 3 of them pass us, without a nod from any of the drivers (not even the one we tried frantically to flag down). Since two of them were the elusive “Select” bus, a service neither of us had tried, we figured we should head up to where they were stopping a few blocks north and give it a shot. So we went up there and paid. While we waited, we read the sign posted at the bus stop that shows its schedule (buses, unlike subway trains, follow a specific schedule to the minute). Even though the city had made it clear that no buses on 1st avenue were following their schedule today, we wanted to give the Select buses the benefit of the doubt. They’re new, after all, and should not be jaded and bored like most of the services and people who have been around for a while. These buses also squandered our patience. After standing there for another 15 minutes, we realized we had left the apartment without our shopping bags or our shopping list, so we returned to our apartment, annoyed, but confident that a bus wouldn’t come in the time it would take us to get there and back anyway. When we returned, equipped to trek back home with way too much bulk food, there were still plenty of people there. Score? We did pass a local bus, which refused to let us get on with our Select fair receipts. This still doesn’t make sense to either of us, and Amber was quite annoyed.

Once I had talked Amber down and the bus we were allowed to ride finally came, it actually got us up there in record time. Only making four stops to 116th street meant a quick ride. All activities considered, including the 10 minute self-imposed trip back home, it took us an hour to travel 40 blocks. More than half of that time was spent watching empty buses pass us. So if you’re from around here, let me know how the Select bus works out for you. If you’re not, stick with the train unless you have a day to kill.

We love shopping at Costco because you can get a lot of shopping done at once while saving a lot of money. Our location sells Breitling watches and Burberry handbags, which is pretty funny. That’s off topic, but worth mentioning because I’m pretty sure they’re getting sued to stop. Anyway, that was our day, and now you know what it’s like to shop for food in New York. Enjoy your cars, suburbanites! We miss ours daily.

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There are a couple of trends I’m noticing that make me think about things that are more important than me. Thinking about the bullying problem making headlines and dealing with the following pet peeves remind me that I, along with everyone that I see, am human. That means I am imperfect and incapable of having pure motives. I want what I want when I want it. Don’t you? Well, these things are reminding me more and more of a systemic problem in my own life that I fear has infected this entire city, and probably the rest of the world.

Strollers.

I don’t need to quote the MTA guidelines telling you to pack up your stroller and hold your kid. I also shouldn’t have to apologize when you run me over with your double-wide stroller filled with children who are clearly old enough to walk on their own. From the sidewalks to subway cars, parents seem to think that having a child is license to be a complete jerk. God didn’t give you those kids to use their accessories as weapons. I like to break rules just as much as the next guy – but these are our lives.

Umbrellas.

It rains up here. And when it does, people don’t want to get wet. It’s fair – their clothes are expensive, their hair is expensive, their makeup is expensive – people don’t want to like a joke when they get wherever they’re going. I get it. But your umbrella is not a weapon, nor are the other people on the sidewalk, stairways and stoops your enemies. We want to be dry, too. If you’re one of the umbrella wielding predators I’m talking about, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. So next time it rains, put on a hooded jacket and try walking without one.

Purses.

I have no idea what you are carrying in that purse, and I don’t even want to imagine the back problems you’ll have later as a result of lugging it around the city. Admittedly jealous of the goodies that must be inside those gigantic bags, I also have to confess that I loathe them. The problem isn’t the purse – it’s the mentality of people who swing them around like they don’t take up space. It’s practically a suit case. When you get on the train, the bag doesn’t disappear. It’s still there, and it’s overtaking space that people need to stand in. Another apology I shouldn’t have to make is interrupting your game of Sudoku when you knock me over with it. To get practical, try swinging it around and carrying it like you would a baby.

This is a call for the humanity of New York City to start thinking of other people as individuals rather than objects. A human being is not an obstacle to surmount or an inferior object to dominate. People do not stand in the way of your agenda, they are our partners in it. I don’t doubt that everyone has something important to do, and I am equally guilty of this mentality. Every time you interact with someone, even if it is a strung out homeless person sleeping on your stoop, fighting the tendency to resent the person for getting in your way is more important than you think. They say that the bullying ends in school. We’re bullies for life if we don’t try to change.

If you have a 3-hour layover at JFK, I am sorry to say it’s not enough time to squeeze in much more than a piece of pizza. But if you find yourself in the city with a little time on your hands, you can pull off quite a bit in 24 hours. Next time you schedule a trip through one of our airports, opt for some extra layover time and try out my itinerary.

1. Visit Top of the Rock (twice)
There is nothing quite like seeing New York City’s urban sprawl from the 70th floor. You can buy one ticket for $30 that will let you go to the top of the GE Building twice in one day. Stop by in the morning, and head back after sundown. You can buy tickets at the building or online here. If you’re wondering if the view is better than the Empire State Building, it is.

2. Grab a Bagel and Eat it in Central Park
For the tastiest bagel I have had in Manhattan, head to H&H Bagels on the Upper West Side. Order your favorite flavor or something plain and bag it into the park. Don’t bother asking them to toast it, though. They don’t have toasters, and the bagels are perfect as they come. Note that there are other locations, and this is my favorite. Don’t eat at the one on the Upper East Side, unless you enjoy being disappointed. As you walk through the park, head east and make sure you check out the Central Park Zoo. You don’t need to go in, just look at the seals for free. If you happen upon the zoo at the turn of the hour, you can see the famous clock in action, too.

3. Experience Manhattan Shopping & Landmarks
Now that you’re done with your bagel and you have the park out of your system, you are in prime, classic NYC shopping territory. Stop by Bloomingdale’s first. It is at East 59th Street and 3rd Avenue. From there, you can head southwest and see an array of shops most people could never afford to buy anything from. You will catch Bergdorf Goodman’s famous window displays where 5th avenue meets the bottom of the park, as well as the beautiful Plaza Hotel. If you head further down 5th, you will also run in to the original Tiffany’s. It’s definitely worth a browse. All of this gazing should only take you about 2 hours.

4. Ride the Subway
Manhattan’s subway system is running on some sort of undisclosed schedule, so just go under ground and get on one. Don’t be afraid of how big the maps make the city look. If you’re lost, just get off and walk. It’s never that far, and you can always grab a cab.

5. Grab a Pizza for Lunch
You can not, in good conscience, come to this city without eating pizza. This not because of some cliche. It is because the pizza here is truly the best in the world. I have to warn you, though, that some of the worst pizza ever conceived by man can be found in Midtown. My recommendation is to just skip the neighborhood entirely (Yes, that means you won’t get to see the original Macy’s.) Picking a place to recommend here is really hard, because there are lots of good places. Since you are on a strict timeline, head down to the village to get the best slice in town. You can take the A/C/E to get there. Joe’s Pizza serves outstanding pizza by the slice for $2.50. Try it with an imported Mexican Coke, and don’t go overboard (this is just an appetizer). If you just can’t wait until stop #7, swing by Mamoun’s Falafel on MacDougal Street. Their falafel is good, and it’s only $2.50 as well.

6. Explore Greenwich Village
The creativity and energy sparked by this neighborhood makes it worth your while. I want you to walk through it and stop by Washingston Square Park to look at the fountain. You can also head down through SoHo to see one of the most beautiful shopping districts in the world. This takes us to our next stop – Chinatown.

7. Brave Chinatown
I normally wouldn’t recommend this, but anyone giving this city a shot needs to know what Chinatown is all about. Go there, try to buy a knock-off Omega for $10 and grab some dumplings for the road. They are cheap and delicious. Don’t bother trying to find the “best place.” Just duck in somewhere and order.

8. See the Financial District
The buildings in south Manhattan are beautiful and impressive. Make sure you stop by the September 11 Memorial and see the massive hole the buildings left. The New York Stock Exchange is also worth standing beneath.

9. See New York from the Water – There is something that happens when you see Manhattan from one of the rivers. Personally, I would choose the East River over the Hudson, partly because I don’t like the sight of Jersey. Brooklyn has a beautiful character, anyway. You can take a water taxi from Pier 11, just a short walk from the NYSE.

10. Take a Break for a Good Brew
It’s late afternoon at this point, and you must be tired. Whether you’re into coffee or beer, a brewed beverage is in order. For coffee, try Think Coffee in Manhattan. Or, if you want to jump the gun and head over to Brooklyn, go to Gorrilla Coffee in Park Slope. For beer, let your nose and your eyes be your guide. There is no shortage of places to drink in this city, but finding one that doesn’t stink is tough. There are several wonderul beer gardens that boast a wide selection of German ales. In Manhattan, it’s Zum Schneider in the East Village.

11. Take a Cab -They are dangerous and thrilling, sometimes smelly, and always fun. Jump into the street with a hand in the air, and several people will fight over you. It’s pretty fun, and they take credit cards, so your dwindling cash isn’t an issue here. Ride the cab across town to stop #12.

12. See Some Impressive Art
Skip the museums. There are two options here, both with the weary tourist in mind. If you love the theater, a trip to this city would not be complete without seeing a show on Broadway. Don’t bother with discount tickets – they’re a pain, and you’re on a timeline. Drop some serious cash on the show of your choice. When you come out, you will get to see Times Square at night, and you will be close to the Top of the Rock again. If you’re not into the theater, catch an IMAX movie at Times Square. You’ll get the same much-needed rest.

13. Visit Lincoln Center at Night
Lincoln Center is the cultural art megacenter of New York City. head up to 65th and Broadway and behold the complex at night. The light and the impressive fountain make it a breathtaking sight.

14. Eat a Nice Dinner
Ok. You’ve been to the Top of the Rock twice. You’ve run around Manhattan like a crazy person. Depending on your constitution, you may be hagard and road weary at this point. That’s nothing a steak won’t fix. Get on a train to Brooklyn and try out Peter Luger. I have never been there, but it’s supposed to be the best. Plus, you will be near Williamsburg. It’s the perfect place to spend your last few hours experiencing some New York nightlife. Eat too much meat and get a cab up to Willliamsburg. When you’re there, I want you to find a speakeasy and get a drink you can’t pronounce. You’ll need to do your own recon on that, but if you’re in the area give me a call and I’ll help you out.

15. Wave Goodbye from Brooklyn Heights
The view of Manhattan from the promenade in Brooklyn Heights is breathtaking, especially at night. Go over there in a car service (I’ll tell you why in a minute) and put your eyes on that skyline. Snap a picture or two and head back to your car. If you trust a cab to get you there, I can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to catch another one to get to the airport. Don’t come crying to me if you miss your flight. Have your car service take you to the airport. It should cost about the same amount to JFK or LGA from Brooklyn Heights. If your flight is out of Newark, change it.

I hope you enjoy your full day in New York. Follow this itinerary and you’re bound to get some sleep on the plane. Any questions? I’d love to hear them.

Important Travel Notes:

Bring Cash – Lots of places just don’t accept the fact that we are a plastic society. Somehow New York missed the memo. With the taxes here, it doesn’t surprise me that half the places you will go are cash only. Make sure you have some.

Ask For Help – New Yorkers do not mind helping tourists out. If you’re lost, don’t stand in everyone’s way with a puzzled look on your face. Just ask the person closest to you.

The Bus Only Takes Quarters – If you plan on taking the bus back to La Guardia, or at any point in the trip, you will need exact change unless you have a metro card. That’s 10 quarters per ride. Bring a change purse, I guess.

When weathering New York City’s seasonably hot and humid summer becomes overwhelming, remember that there is respite within a couple of hours. I cannot understate the importance of getting out of this city every once in a while.

On Saturday, Amber and I got away. We traveled by train to Long Island. It was our first trip beyond Queens, and it did not disappoint.

Beyond the buildings’ gazes. Outside the city limits. Away from all the noise. Where trees are the tallest thing you see. Amber and I found our escape at a water park.

If you love water parks (and we do), you probably have a few criteria. I am willing to guarantee that, no matter what they are, Splish Splash wins. After searching online for ideas, we found this place on the Long Island Railroad website. For $60, you can ride the train to Ronkonkoma, endure a burnt-out school bus trip to the park and go inside. When you’re done, they will take you home in like fashion. Not a bad deal.

The park is beautiful. Nothing remarkable necessarily – which might explain why no one I know here has ever heard of it (or told me about it). But it is permeated by trees, so almost everything is partially covered in natural shade. The grounds are well kept and well attended. The rides are incredible. Where do I start? If anyone asks you what the best water slide in the world is, say “Alien Invasion.” Do not hesitate. There is a ride called the Shotgun – we witnessed at least four life guard rescues at this slide. Neither of us tried it.

The food was bearable. The bathrooms were clean somehow. If you ever need relief from this city in the summer, go to this water park with some friends. In this case, I can say going there with my best friend was all I could ask out of a late August Saturday.

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Any time you go to a new place, it is a good idea to make a note of municipal law. Things might be very different where you are going, and breaking the rules often has unexpected consequences. In New York City, there are a few that I have come across that would have been helpful to know before I got here. First, if you are driving here, don’t talk on your cell phone. It’s illegal, and they will pull you over for it. When you are driving, don’t honk your horn, either. It’s illegal, and you will be fined up to $350. Always yield to pedestrians when you are turning. I know it seems like a nobrainer, but they have right of way and will excercise said right to their deaths. So what do you do when you need to park in New York? That’s a question I can’t answer completely; we got a $125 ticket for parking our moving truck in a way I thought was legal. Street parking is supposedly free unless there is a meter, in which case you must strictly adhere to the signs posted in that zone. A quarter should get you 5 or 10 minutes (the meters only take quarters), and the machines often only last for 30 minutes. Look for the large machines that handle an entire block – here you can pay for an extended period of time. Something tricky to look out for is fire hydrants. They are all over the place and often difficult to spot, but parking in front of one is worth actively avoiding. Beware the City of New York. They were allegedly placing dummy hydrants along fifth avenue for a while to boost revenue. Check out these links if you need more information:

http://www.newyorkparkingticket.com/
http://www.nyc.gov/html/dof/html/parking/park_tickets_violations.shtml

There is no shortage of parking garages, especially in our neighborhood, so if your vehicle will clear the height of the garage entrance, consider that. When it’s time to move in, though, just find a good spot in the middle of traffic, right in front of your building. It may be illegal, too, but law enforcement will turn a blind eye as long as people can get around you. In  my experience, they will allow this to go on for at least 5 hours. Just remember to keep someone with the truck at all times. My advice is to hire movers.

Oh, and don’t chew gum in Thailand.

Dave commented on my last post about travel, and I want to clarify something. Traveling from the Bronx to Coney on the subway would take as long as a flight from Manhattan to Jacksonville. My advice is to skip it altogether. Not much going on there but Tottono’s Pizza and Nathan’s Hotdogs, and you can get both in Manhattan. Share a cab with friends if you want to ride the Cyclone. No rush though – it’s a landmark now so they can not tear it down.

Traveling around New York City is so much more than reaching a destination. It is entertainment. Every time you get on the train, something new happens. Beyond the classic change mongering and the occasionally believable cry for help, the subway offers some pretty decent performances. At the going rate for comedy, dance and live music in this city, I often find myself wishing I had more change in my pocket. Some of them are legitimately talented, and many times it is no coincidence.

For travel in Manhattan, the subway is king. You can get almost anywhere quickly and at least take the edge off a cab ride. Broadway at 125th to E. Houston is around $40. Yikes. The busses, often over looked or under appreciated, can be a real treat, too. The tradeoff is that people can talk on their phones up there, so watch out for people screaming on their commute home about whatever tragedy befell them that day.

In Brooklyn, it is almost always quicker to find a good bus route than getting on the subway, and they run more frequently at high traffic times just like the metro. Plus, you get to see more than the abundant (and tasteful) graffiti lining the railways, and you learn more about New York. The first time I took a bus over to Park Slope from our apartment in Prospect Heights I was delighted to learn how close we were to the Target where I do most of my shopping. When the weekend hits and MTA starts changing scheduled service on every line, it is nice to have some consistency in the busses. Just do not plan on relying on them to be on time, especially if it is cold out. Amber and I learned that the hard way last weekend.

Get a real map. Are you moving here or visiting for an extended period of time? Get something other than a rail map. It is easy to operate as a tourist with MTA maps because they layout the city so that you can see it logically. However, what the maps manage in making the subways “user-friendly” is at the sacrifice of scale. The first time you go off your familiar route and end up outside, you will have no idea where you are or how easy it might be to get back on track. For example, walking east to west on 42nd street between lines is no problem, but on the map it looks like miles. Conversely, if you find yourself in Chelsea on the A-C, you have a long way to walk no matter where you are going and you will find yourself wanting to walk to the Hudson and jump in, only to find that the river is also too far to walk to.

When do you get a cab? If you can afford it, take them whenever it seems easier. They are quick and fun (who needs the roller coaster at Coney?), and you can get a good deal if you travel in groups. Traveling east to west is tough in the city (unless you are at 14th street), so consider a cab if you need to get across town. If it is just you, try busses before you flag a cab down. Make sure you have a metrocard or exact change, though. $2.25 in quarters is no joke. Car services are a great option for airport travel, but cabs also have flat rates between Brooklyn and Manhattan. You can rarely count on finding a cab randomly in the outer borroughs (aka anything by Manhattan), so plan on calling one if you need it. At that point, it is probably more worth getting a car service and negotiating the price ahead of time. You will save money and it is definitely a smoother ride.

No matter my destination, I always do my best to enjoy the ride. New Yorkers spend so much time commuting, mostly underground, and we have to find a way to make that time meaningful.

Friends who live here already, correct me where I am wrong and share your favorite subway story. I want to hear them.