Monday, May 16, 2005

NYC Trip

Thanks for being patient. I needed a day of rest after returning from NYC and then working the next 3 days. It was a fun trip - a tad too short, but fun.

Our trip began Friday night when we left Seatac at 11PM, local time. Our flight was slightly delayed when the person who took Shawn's ticket came on board to grab the customer copy of her ticket (in addition to the boarding copy - the guy didn't know what he was doing). This turned out to be a bit of good luck for a late passenger who hopped on board on her way to a cruise leaving the next morning. The late passenger ended up taking the seat next to us, so we didn't get to stretch out as we had hoped. She was frazzled about being late. She told us that she travels a lot and was assisting a friend who was scared of flying and that made her late to our flight. No harm done, but I did notice that she didn't sleep the entire night and that made me wonder if her friend existed or if she was the one with the phobia. Luckily, I sleep well enough on airplanes. Shawn hardly slept at all.

By Saturday morning we arrived in La Guardia. I didn't realize it at the time, but Shawn wasn't feeling well. The lack of sleep, etc. had given her a bad headache. We had a quick trip to baggage and then we were whisked away by taxi to the hotel. Our ride to the hotel was typical of the sort of tales one hears about NYC cabbies. Our driver didn't speak, but he cut off several other cars - cabs and privately owned - raced through the streets, honked his horn a lot, and occupied up to 3 lanes at one time, but we got to the hotel quickly and safely.

We checked in at the Hilton, midtown. The conference Shawn was attending was in the hotel and she got a special rate as a conference attendee. Unfortunately, our room was not going to be ready until 3PM and it was only 9AM. We checked our luggage (save for my backpack and Shawn's PC) then headed up to the 44th floor for the executive room complimentary breakfast. The hostess didn't seem to know what to do with us since we hadn't been assigned a room number yet, but she let us in when she saw my temper begin to rise and I insisted that since we had been sent up here, Shawn needed to sit down and eat. If we weren't supposed to receive the breakfast until after a night's stay, then that would have been OK if we had been told that down at reception. I was concerned for Shawn and didn't want her running all over the place ready the throw up on people's shoes at any moment. Also, not to sound arrogant, but we were staying in an executive mini-suite and, for the extra money paid for the room, I'd have thought we'd receive slightly better service. At any rate, we got in and had breakfast and Shawn began to recover a bit. Before leaving we checked one more time with the executive check in about possibly getting into our room before 3 and got turned away once more, albeit in a nicer fashion.

We headed out to Central Park and enjoyed a walk. It was a cloudy day with temperatures around 55 degrees. The Park is beautiful, though one never escapes the noise of the city (or the incessant car horns - a personal beef of mine is using the car horns for anything other than an emergency). We wandered over to a pavillion where some techno bangrha music was playing and sat down on a bench. After a brief rest, we wandered back to the hotel. It was only 12:30, but Shawn really needed some sleep. Once again we went to the Executive check in area. This time a different person was there and she accommodated us by providing us with a temporary room that we could use as long as we needed. That was the sort of service I expected and this pleased us. We were able to get into a room, nap, shower, and discuss where we'd like to head. I left a message with the hotel to expect a phone call for me. I also hopped online and sent an email to Tim regarding getting together for dinner that night. He and Ellen were going to see some concert that I was afraid would put us to sleep, but I've been wanting to meet this man for some time, now, and dinner sounded like a grand idea. Tim had told me that he would try to call the hotel at Noon and I was worried that the message wouldn't be delivered.

After our freshening up, we checked into our proper room. The receptionist acknowledged my phone message request and the change of room, but no messages were waiting for me. It was 3PM and we discussed either hanging out for Tim's message or hitting the town. We chose to hit the city. Our first stop was the Algonquin Hotel where we enjoyed drinks in the lobby (Manhattans, natch) while staring at the decor and the pre-theater crowd. We split a shrimp appetizer that was delish, then headed out for more site seeing. As chance would have it, we walked by the New York Public Library. Shawn, being the librarian, had to go inside. They were having an exhibit of portrayals of women in English literature from the 17th and 18th centuries. There were some lovely old books on display. It was while pausing for Shawn to catch up to me in that exhibit that I noticed the ceiling of the room we were in: it was a lovely carved wooden ceiling. I pointed it out to Shawn and she appreciated it as well. The hour was late and the library was closing, so we were ushered out, but not before we stopped at the gift shop for postcards.

Now, that should have been our clue about the time and Tim and Ellen, but we missed it. Instead, we headed over to Times Square where we wandered quite a bit. Times Square was a disappointment to me. I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't an area that looked like another fucking American tourist trap filled with brand name shops, crappy chain restaurants, and so on. Still, we were there and it was interesting to look around and now we can say "Been there, done that". We did stop into the Virgin Megastore (same as the one in Vancouver) as well as the Skeechers shop, but that was about it. By the time we got back to the hotel it was 7 in the evening. Tim had called twice and left messages for us to meet him and Ellen for dinner around 6PM. Yikes! Damn - I fucked up. I had a great day, but I did want to connect with them! Next day was Mother's Day, so they were busy, but Monday was a possibility last time I had checked. I sent Tim an apologetic email, then headed downstairs with Shawn for dinner at the hotel's restaurant (an over priced Italian place with good, but not better than good, food).

We got up early on Sunday, grabbed our breakfast, then caught a subway. We ended up not taking the subway line we wanted, but the one we got headed in the same direction just stopping a little short of Battery Park - our destination. Instead, we got out at the former site of the World Trade Center buildings. We walked over and viewed the big pit that was where so many people died. I'm not terribly sentimental about such things. Still, it was odd to see tour buses stopping, people getting out, and then waving and smiling for cameras as if they were standing outside of Disney...or Times Square.

We hoofed it down to Battery Park - a nice area. Instead of taking the ferry over to the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island, we chose to take pictures of them from the park. The park extends on one side of Manhattan and we walked along the waterfront up to the park's end. From there, we walked Greenwich Street through TriBeCa. Shawn was starting to get tired, so we headed towards Chinatown. Chinatown was crowded. The sidewalks were full of pedestrians and vendors hawking everything from watches to CDs to jewelry and more. We found an art shop that Shawn wanted to go into quite by chance and wandered through it a bit. At this point, Shawn was becoming overwhelmed by the crowds and was getting hungry. Plus, she was a tad upset at me because I refused to plan out the trip in minute detail and do things like get addresses. Instead, I was happy wandering around and finding my own spots. We asked for directions to a tea shop that Shawn wanted to find. When we got there, we realized that a restaurant I wanted to go to was just down the road. Shawn got her tea and I got to go to Big Wong's. Big Wong's is mentioned in several books by Kinky Friedman. It is as he described - nothing to look at, but they serve really good quality Chinese food at what are cheap prices for New York in huge portions. After chowing down at Big Wong's, we took our carry out and headed through more of Chinatown (where Shawn bought more lichee tea at a local grocery because it was the brand of tea we cannot find any longer in Seattle, but that she adores as her every day tea), then Little Italy. We made our way to Broadway and began hoofing it back towards the hotel. Along the way we stopped in several shops, including Dean and Delucca, where Shawn bought insulated lunch bags for her and her mom. Shawn wanted to catch the subway back to the hotel, but I relished the walk and so we walked all the way back to the hotel from lower Manhattan.

When we got in, there was an email from Tim: we couldn't meet on Monday or Tuesday, either. I knew he was going to be wiped out those days from work, but I was really hoping to get together with him. However, he was going to have to go to a meeting after work on Monday, so we were out of luck. Damn. I was pretty heartbroken by that. I don't regret our trip out on Saturday night, but I do regret not being able to meet Tim and his lovely wife.

The city that never sleeps makes an exception for Mother's Day. Many businesses, including restaurants, were either closed or shut down early. We weren't able to get into a couple of different places for dinner due to the apparent holiday, so we ended the evening in the hotel lounge where we enjoyed some appetizers and a pizza (very good, by the way).

On Monday, Shawn went off to her conference. They were serving a continental breakfast there, so I went to our complimentary one by myself. Shawn had made me promise to get out and take pictures while she was away in the conference. Normally, I don't take a lot of photos. I'm not very visually oriented and I don't have a lot of practice working on composition of the image. Shawn does very well at that, so she gets the camera most of the time. In fact, she is so good at composing pictures that I have to remind myself to be patient as she takes her time to get just the shot she wants, including the adjustments of the camera settings and all. I'm more of a point and shoot kind of guy. I was that way with a BB gun as a kid, too. *smirk* Still, I did promise Shawn. I felt that this was some sort of positive exercise in working with something I'm not terribly comfortable with.

I caught the subway down to the TriBeCa area. My first stop was going to be Stern's Music (world music importers). Unfortunately, they had closed their doors. I walked up from there to Greenwich Village. Along the way, I saw Vandam street (another Kinky Friedman reference), some nice houses, and a few people who gave me suspicious glances. The Village was more of what I was expecting other parts of NYC to be. It was a real neighborhood with housing and businesses and corner shops, schools, and playgrounds, post offices, etc. Chinatown was like that, too, but not as nice when it comes to housing. TriBeCa didn't seem to have much housing except for super expensive condos and lofts. I felt comfortable in the Village. There was an amazing coffee shop there that had a most wondrous array of coffees to buy bulk. They also had a tremendous selection of tea. I didn't grab anything to go, because it was busy, but I did manage to squeeze in and get a couple of photos.

I also ran into a record store there. On the wall, above the used and new CDs, were LPs. Most of the LPs were 80s bands and many of them had prices of $25 - $30. I recognized several of them from my own collection. Funny how LPs were damn near worthless shortly after CDs came out and now the prices on them are rising.

I walked over to the East Village. There were several things I wanted to see there. I toyed with finding Sarge's Deli, but never did get to it. I did find Downtown Music Gallery. They have the most amazing collection of CDs from artists like John Zorn, Marc Ribot, Bill Laswell, Pharoah Sanders, John Coltrane, and more. It's not all jazz. They have experimental rock as well. I picked up a rare Marc Ribot album for Shawn since she's a big fan of his guitar work. The people there were super nice and I had a good conversation with the manager.

Walking up from the music shop I spied a domed building across the street. When I got to the front doors of the building, I realized it was a church - a Ukrainian Catholic Church. They had some beautiful mosaic tile work on the front of the structure. Later, I found St. Marks in the Bowery Church - it's a haven for poets and writers. They have a gorgeous garden there on one side of the old church. On the other side (marked as a park), the area is mostly bricked in. As I was walking there, I looked down at a large stone in the bricks and realized that it was the headstone to a tomb. Apparently, the "park" is a grave site containing bodies that are a couple of hundred year's old. More walking led me past a lot of buildings and sites: Madison Square Garden, Penn Station, the US Post Office (huge, beautiful building), the Empire State Building, Radio City Music Hall, and Grand Central Station (where the batteries in the camera died) to name a few.

When I got back to the hotel, Shawn was waiting for me. She was ready to go out for dinner. Her conference had gone well. She was both energized and tired from it. We went to a Greek restaurant named Molyvos. We were a lot under dressed for this place, but we didn't really care. It was wonderful food. From the saganaki, which had an herb combination in addition to the lemon juice and Ouzo traditional in the dish, to the Baby Lamb Chops (which Shawn had - cooked to perfection), to my white fish on a bed of greens in a light barley broth, to the baklava for dessert, it was all wonderful. The waiter offered good tips for the cocktails and wine selections. We also ordered brandies with our desserts. Top notch.

Tuesday, Shawn joined me for breakfast. Afterwards, I hit the pavement. My plan was to walk through Central Park over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, then off to the Guggenheim. I was trying to keep to a manageable schedule. It was a beautiful day - 70+ degrees and sunny outside. The walk through the park was perfect. I stopped to take several pictures. I made it to the Ramblin area (a bird watching section that has been pretty much left to go wild with the only landscaping being the paths) when I got disoriented. I came out of the park near some children playing. We were in front of the American Museum of Natural History - opposite side from the Met. I took advantage of my error and walked into the Museum. It was a quick run through and I didn't get my $13 worth, but I did enjoy what I saw. There were large dioramas featuring full size models of animals from each continent. After passing through the animals section, the visitor then walked into a gallery featuring displays about the humans that lived on the continents. Each area had different music that represented the continents as well. Plus, there were dinosaurs and that's always cool.

I left the Natural History Museum and crossed the park in about 30 minutes, stopping along the way to continue to take pictures. Id have snagged a snap of the Met, but the front was covered in scaffolding as it was being cleaned. I raced through the Met. I could have taken a LOT longer there than I did. A full day would have been nice. There was so much to see there. I went through the American art section and was very impressed with the furniture and whole rooms from houses dating from the 18th century through the 20th century (a Frank Lloyd Wright living room saved from a house he built in Minnesota). I overheard one visitor comment on how he thought Museums wasted too much space on just everyday items rather than focusing on the truly artistic. While I understand his point, I really enjoyed seeing all of this stuff. From there, I went through the European art sections seeing a lot of the impressionists: Monet, Manet, Degas, Van Gogh, Gauguin, etc. and then into Modern art: Rothko, Warhol, Lichtenstein, etc. Shawn would have loved the Miro works there. Whew...maybe 2 days would have been better.

From the Met, it's only a few blocks down to the Guggenheim. This was a more manageable museum. I finished it in about an hour and didn't feel as if I raced through at all. Their collection of modern art is small, but impressive. They have a nice collection of Kandinsky.

After the Guggenheim, it was a leisurely walk back through the park. Along the way, I found the Alice in Wonderland Statue with kids playing on it. How fun! I stopped and took pictures of Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Plaza before heading back to the hotel. Shawn was waiting for me and she declared, "I need to get out and walk." Thirty minutes and one bottle of water later, I was ready to hit the pavement again. I took Shawn through Central Park and over to the Met. We couldn't go in as it was past closing, but she got to see the building and the location as well as a big portion of the park. Since we had gone that far, I took her up to the Guggenheim as well. Then we headed back through the park over to Rockefeller Plaza. From there, we headed towards Times Square and we found a Mexican restaurant to enjoy dinner at.

We didn't have much time on Wednesday. Check out was at Noon, so we grabbed breakfast, then went out and found a deli. Shawn's idea was to pack some food for the plane ride home. It was a good idea. I already had my left overs from Big Wong's. Airlines will sell riders sandwiches these days, but I never liked airline food when it was free. We picked up some bagels at a deli, then grabbed some more grub at a local market. After checking out, we grabbed another cab. This driver was more calm than the last one, but not by much. He also was a talker and we heard his views on everything from world peace to democracy to China to male/female relations. It was fun, if a bit disconcerting at times when I noticed he was looking at me rather than watching the road. On the flight home, a kind girl switched seats with Shawn so that we could sit together. We stopped by Shawn's office to drop off bagels for her co-workers, then got home around 11 that evening.

Shawn was smart and had the next 2 days off from work. I was back in the office by 4 the next morning. It was a lovely trip. I regret not meeting Tim and that Shawn didn't have more time to see the sites with me. I also regret that we didn't have more time there, but that only means we'll have to make another trip back at some point. It won't be right away. There are other places we want to visit, but we'll get back to NYC some time.

It's a great city. A wonderful mix of cultures happens there. Walking through Central Park, one can hear many languages being spoken. The stereotypical rude New Yorker does exist, but we also met many kind people. There's a stand offish attitude amongst many people. On the other hand, New Yorkers tend to pay attention to such customs as letting women off of the elevator first. They also tend to dress up when going out for business or dinner. They wear a lot of black and sunglasses (on cloudy days) and tend to wear layers of clothes as if they're freezing when it's 50 and windy. They also seem a little insecure in that they take time to remind you how great their city is and how international it is. Some see this as pride and there's certainly an element of that, but the fact that it's in your face so often seems to me to lack confidence as well. Hopefully when we get back there, we'll have time to see a show. Anyhow, it's good to be back home with the cats and the mountains and the more laid back culture that I love.

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