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There is a Light that Never Goes Out

26 Mar
Chicago Winter. Photo by MAG

Chicago Winter. Photo by MAG

The first time I’d seen him, he was bundled in a camel overcoat, fast asleep.

I thought I was extremely lucky when I hopped on the almost empty El car at the Chicago stop and grabbed a seat during rush hour, but once the doors closed, I quickly realized why the car was deserted.  The stench coming from the corner made my eyes water and I followed the lead of the man next to me and pulled my scarf up over my nose and mouth to filter the air enough to be able to make it to the Clark/Division stop where I quickly changed cars.

I didn’t really think much about it after that.  Over the past year, I’ve become acclimated to riding public transport and have learned to adjust to the inevitable clash of cultures, and this brutal Chicago winter has made me even more aware of the challenges faced by the city’s poor and homeless residents.   The CTA became a refuge from the subzero temperatures, and to their credit, the CTA employees who run the trains did their best to shepherd the all-day riders onto one car in order to keep an eye on people and make sure no one froze to death.

Last week, I saw him again.

I recognized the tattered camel overcoat, and the smell.  As he walked the platform the crowd of people parted and gave him a wide berth.  When he found a bench to settle down on, the man sitting there got up and moved ten feet away.  Everyone on the platform turned their backs and looked away as if not looking would make the man – and the smell – disappear.  I wanted to look away, too, but I’d just written my last blog entry about how I was going to smile at strangers and help when I could, so I looked.

The man sat on the bench fiddling with a pair of ripped gloves that barely covered his fingers, a tattered black plastic bag at his feet.  He stared at the ground as he tugged his coat, pulling it more tightly around his body, as I debated about what I should do.  And then in an instant, I knew.

I walked over and leaned down close enough to say, “Good morning, sir.”  Startled, the man looked up and then looked away quickly.

Taking a deep breath, I continued, “Have you had breakfast?”

He looked back up, confused for a moment, and asked, “What?”

I repeated, “Have you had breakfast yet?”

He ducked his head and gestured toward the black bag, “Not yet, but I’m going to have a bite soon.”

I reached into my messenger bag and pulled out the PBJ sandwich that I’d packed before I left the apartment that morning and offered it to him, saying, “It’s just PBJ, but you’re more than welcome to it.”

He smiled a little and replied, “Oh no, ma’am, I’m fine.  I’ve got breakfast in this here bag. But thank you.”

My first impulse was to press further and make him take the sandwich, but I quickly understood what he was saying and backed off, tucking the sandwich back into my bag.

Sometimes preserving one’s dignity trumps hunger.

I smiled at him, and asked a question that I would spend the next few days kicking myself for asking, “Do you need anything else, sir?”

What kind of idiot question was that?  Of course he needing something else.  He needed a lot of things, but since he’d refused the sandwich I didn’t know what else to offer and I didn’t want to insult him by assuming I did.

He smiled back at me, and replied, “Oh no, I’m fine, ma’am.  Thank you.”

As I looked at him and nodded, he lifted his head and looked right into my eyes as he smiled in a way that could only be described as serene and said, “And God bless you, ma’am.  God bless you.”

I returned his smile and his blessing, and then stepped on the train leaving him sitting on the bench.

As the car sped down the tracks I felt sad for a moment because I hadn’t been able to do anything for the man.  I hadn’t been able to give him anything or help in any measurable way.

And then I thought about the way he’d looked me in the eye, raising his head and smiling as he blessed me.

Maybe the greatest gift we can offer another person is the dignity of being seen.

A Heart in New York

2 Oct

Photo by DMT

I’m so homesick for New York.

A few weeks ago, while dog sitting for a friend, I watched “Hitch” – and cried.  It wasn’t the heartwarming message about being yourself and trusting that the right person will come along and love who you are that made me cry [although, that is a legitimate thing to get teary about].  I cried because when Eva Mendes left her loft to go to work, I caught a glimpse of the cobblestone streets of SoHo and a painfully deep longing to be back in New York City ripped through me, again.

Subway platform. Photo by DMT

I’m homesick for the sound of the subway train cars pulling into the station, the woosh of the doors opening and closing, and the feel of being tugged forward in space as it moves forward toward it’s next stop.  I miss the way New Yorkers are able to create a discreet bubble of space, even on the most crowded subway car, by simply shifting their gaze and looking away from those immediately surrounding them.  D. once said that in a city of eight million, he loves the fact that he can still be a solitary man [and then added, “No Neil Diamond jokes, please.”].

I’m homesick for the way it feels to walk down streets bathed in sunshine on one block and shrouded in shade, the next.  I ache to feel the shift in seasons as the city responds to the earth’s rotation and adjusts.  I’ve always said that fall in Michigan is, perhaps, the most wonderful part of living in this state because the brilliant foliage highlights all of the natural beauty this state has to offer, but I’d trade it all, right now, to be experiencing the smooth slide from September into October in New York City.

I want to open my eyes and see the brilliant kaleidoscope of buildings, traffic, and people.  I want to listen to the cacophonous symphony of sounds that honk and beep and shout out the rhythm to the soundtrack of the city.  I want to feel the solid pavement under my feet as I bounce down steps that sink into the connective tissue that is the subway.  I want to breathe deep smell the scent of the city from the Hudson Bay all the way to Harlem. I want to wrap my arms around the city and pull it close enough to feel the pulsing, throbbing force that embodies all of my hopes and dreams.

I’ve been walking the streets of the city again, thanks to Google Earth, and as a result, my night time dreams are filled with vivid images of vintage clothing stores, bookstores, coffee shops, and small corner bodegas.  In my dreams the streets come to life; living and breathing, as traffic rushes by frantically marking the minutes with the constant clicking pulse of the cab drivers’ rooftop signs.  In Service. Dark.  In Service. Dark.

The other night I dreamed I lived in a huge apartment inside a building that seemed to soar through the sky.  One entire wall of my home was made up of floor to ceiling windows that let in light that illuminated every corner and warmed my face while I stood sipping my early morning cup of coffee.  Standing next to the windows, I could see the entire city waking up as the sun began to rise, its rays bouncing off of the steel and glass as it stretched toward the sky. I woke up smiling.

TriBeCa. Photo by DMT

I dream of spending Saturdays walking the High Line, the elevated 1.5 mile park that runs from the West Village through to Hell’s Kitchen.  Or browsing one of the Brooklyn Flea Markets looking for that “one of a kind” purchase that will turn a dumpy studio apartment into an avant-garde showcase of original flea market discoveries.  Or browsing the collections at the New York Public Library, then sitting down in Bryant Park with a cup of hot coffee and losing myself in a newly discovered literary treasure.

It’s not that I don’t love where I am right now, it’s that I can feel New York pulling me closer and my will to resist is weakening.  I know what’s practical, what’s rational, and what’s reasonable, but when the city begins to weave its seductive magic, I become helplessly tangled in its spell.

It’s not that I think I can move any faster than I am or make things happen any quicker than they already are, it’s just that the intense ache that occasionally pushes its way into my daily life, reminds me that the city’s out there – impatiently waiting – and that I need to take action and get myself moving in its direction again.

I don’t want to cry because I miss New York City; I want to cry because I can’t believe I no longer do.

Let it Rain

27 Aug

City Hall Park - Photo by DMT

It looks like New York City is about to be hit by Hurricane Irene, and the prediction is that it’s going to be a huge hit on the costal areas.  So far, the subway system has been shut down, and authorities are urging people in low-lying areas to evacuate before the eye of the storm hits New York. Mayor Bloomberg has made it mandatory for those people living in Zone A to move into safer zones.

I’m a little concerned because D. and his family live in Zone A, but if I know my friend, I’m pretty sure that he’s stocked up on the essentials and is probably in a pub in a safe zone, having a beer – or two – while watching the progress on his computer, iPhone and a couple of televisions.  Hopefully he will check in after the worst of the storm has passed, and maybe he will even have some photos of Mother Nature’s Drama to share!

Meanwhile, for those who are interested, here is a link to the Livestream Video of mid-town Manhattan, and Amanda Marshall’s version of “Let it Rain.”

August 28, UPDATE:

It looks like Irene didn’t hit as hard as forecasters predicted she would, but she still managed to pack quite a punch!

Check out readers’ photos on the NY Times site – there are some amazing pictures of before and after the storm.

August 29, UPDATE:

D. checked in and said that although the storm was an inconvenience, he and his family are doing fine and their home and business – and the city – all survived the storm.

While I was concerned, I also had absolute faith in the fact that my friend – and my city – would weather the storm and bounce back with their indomitable spirit intact!

Now, if I just had some pictures…

Only in New York

20 Aug

Manhattan Skyline - photo by MAG

This blog celebrated its one-year anniversary last week, and I had hoped to mark the occasion by finishing up the entries about my trip, but that didn’t happen. So, today I am going to highlight some of the best moments of my trip.

I loved all of the unexpected adventures I had in New York – most were the result of getting lost because I didn’t follow directions, but then that’s the best way to experience things – organically.

St. Anthony of Padua - photo by MAG

Some of the best finds were the day I walked from SoHo to 27th & 5th and got lost not once, but twice!  That was the day I walked past The Shrine Church of St. Anthony of Padua on the corner of Houston and Sullivan and heard the most beautiful music floating out of the doors, into the street.  I wandered in and found the organist practicing for mass while the partitioners sat in the pews praying and chatting with one another.  There was something comforting about looking around and seeing generations of people gathered in a place that contains so much history; so many memories.

Not long after I left the church and ventured forth, I discovered the man cave of all man caves – Little Lebowski.  The funniest part of the whole adventure was that at the moment I was discovering it, D. texted me and asked where I was.  “I’m at 215 Thompson Street, do you know it?” I quickly replied.  “No, what is it?” he texted back. “Dude, it’s the Little Lebowski Shop!”  D. laughed and then asked if they give discounts for those of us who have been ordained as priests in the Church of Dudeism [both D. and I became Revs a couple of years ago, and we even have certificates to prove it].  I told him I’d go in and ask – so I did.

215 Thompson St. - photo by MAG

Roy, dressed in a bowling shirt and shoes, told me that he’d give me a 10% discount for being ordained as his eyes followed another customer out the door.  “But that guy,” he said disgustedly, “that guy doesn’t get shit!”  I gave him a puzzled look, and he explained, “He asked me for a discount, I told him no, and then he picked up a shirt and said he’d pay me $20.00 for it.  I told him the price was $25.00.  Damn tourists, they ruin the city this time of year, don’t you think?”  I bit my tongue and nodded slightly as I turned to survey the store.  Roy continued his hilarious running commentary by telling me about the history of the store, the movie and then offering suggestions about which t-shirt I should buy [I ended up with the one that has a picture of Walter, and the words “You are about to enter a world of pain”].  He gave me the discount and told me he’d give D. one, too, if he stopped by.

My next stop was the Museum of Sex on 5th Ave and 27th Street.  Talk about an interesting place!  The whole museum is full of..well…sex.  But it’s not just porn, there are floors dedicated to comics, magazines, sexual products, sexual history, and the entire top floor was dedicated to documenting the work of burlesque performers.  That was interesting because they don’t generally sit for still photos since their profession is about live performance, but this group of performers had collaborated with photographers to create still images that reflected the personalities of each individual performer.  Some of the photos were breathtakingly beautiful, and some were downright shocking, but all of them were uniquely informative.

Around the time I finished touring the museum, D. texted to say he might be able to break away from work and grab a cup of coffee.  When I told him I’d start heading back toward SoHo, he responded by telling me not to head back now since he wouldn’t be free for at least an hour – maybe two.  I texted back, “Well, I’ll be walking, and you know how I am about directions and focus!  Just text me and let me know if I need to hop the subway, okay?”  D’s next text earnestly asked, “Wow, are you afraid of the subway or do you just like walking that much?”  I laughed and replied, “A little of both, but mostly I love the freedom of being able to walk everywhere!”

I made it back to SoHo around 7:30, and at that point, D. was able to take time for a dinner break, so we headed over to Mexican Radio where we had some excellent fish tacos and I got to try D’s Negro Modelo – two thumbs up!  After dinner, D. headed back to work and I walked from SoHo back to Jane Street.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art - photo by MAG

I spent the next day wandering around the Upper East Side, and visiting the Metropolitan Museum.  I wasn’t up for the Alexander McQueen exhibit – mainly because I didn’t feel like waiting for hours in a line just to get rushed through the displays of his iconic designs.

One of my favorite exhibits at the museum was the exhibit of night photography.  My favorite was Alvin Langdon Coburn’s “Broadway at Night” [c. 1911].  Under the photo was a quote from Coburn that read, “It is only at twilight that the city reveals itself to me in the fulness of its beauty, when the arc lights on the Avenue click into being…”  Bernice Abbott’s photo “Nightview New York” [c. 1932] was also strikingly beautiful.

That evening I met D. for coffee and so we could say adieu since the next evening I had a ticket to tour the Manhattan bay by boat [thanks to D.’s eagle Groupon eye!] and wouldn’t be able to make it back to SoHo again.  When I ordered a decaf coffee, the baristo behind the counter told me they were out of decaf because they were about to close, but would I be willing to accept a decaf Cafe Americano? [or something like that, I think].  I asked him if it was the same, and he assured me that every cup of coffee was freshly made, then lowering his voice to a conspiratorial level, he confided, “Everything is made with love here. Well, except the green tea – that’s positively malevolent.”

D. and I laughed pretty hard as the baristo went to get our drinks.  It was kind of fitting that the coffee shop closed just as we were saying goodbye – no tears, no long drawn out promises to “see you soon,” just a quick hug and a smile, and then D. headed back to work and I headed off – in the wrong direction.   Fortunately, the wrong direction meant I came across Rice to Riches, and was able to pick up some mango rice pudding to take back to the hotel for a late-night snack.  And since J. loves the little portable plastic dishes the rice pudding comes in, I killed two birds with one stone!

My two favorite moments in New York came the next day when native New Yorkers proved their mettle.

The first moment occurred while I was walking up 7th Ave toward the fashion district.  As I approached a corner in Chelsea, I found myself walking behind a little old man wearing a grey windbreaker and a Yankees ball cap.  The old guy was kind of bent over, his eyes on the ground in front of him, and although he was shuffling, it was with purpose.  As we approached the other side of the street, I could see a Chelsea mom [you know the type, white polo shirt – collar up – jean skirt, Top Siders] and her two kids on the opposite corner.  The younger kid was blocking the old guy’s way, but the kid didn’t move and the old guy kept shuffling forward undeterred by the kid’s presence.  At the last moment, Chelsea mom grabbed the kid and pulled him out of the way, and the old guy shuffled by without even looking up.  Chelsea mom got huffy, turned toward the old guy and said rather loudly, “Well, you could have said excuse me!” And in true New Yorker form, the old guy turned his head slightly and shot back, “Fuck you!”

He didn’t miss a step.

The Harbor Tour boat - photo by MAG

The second moment occurred on the boat tour later that evening.  I was texting D. photos of the scenery we were passing, when D. texted back, “I must tell you, these are some pretty boring pictures you’re sending me.  The NYPD impound lot?  Brooklyn? Where’s the Manhattan skyline?”  I texted back that this was the Hidden Harbor Tour sponsored by the Working Harbor Committee.

Just as D. was lamenting the fact that he’d sent me on a tour of harbors rather than Manhattan, the tour guide started answering questions from the tourists sitting up on top of the boat.  The first question was whether or not terrorists could enter the U.S. via shipping containers.  The tour guide responded very seriously, “Well, if they do, they’re dead before the containers are opened.  Next question?”  I bit my tongue in order to hold back the laughter as I texted D. back and told him that not only was I enjoying the boat ride, but also that the answer to that question was worth the price of the entire trip.  D. responded, “Well, as long as you’re having fun…”  to which I replied, “Seriously dude, I’m going to have fun no matter where I am!”

Il Porto on Fulton Street - photo by MAG

After the boat tour, I stopped at Il Porto on Fulton Street and had a delicious salmon dinner while simultaneously looking at lower Manhattan and watching a soccer match on the bar television.  Heaven, indeed.  After dinner, I walked up Fulton to Nassau Street and caught the subway back to 14th Street. I walked now familiar route to my hotel where I packed my bags and prepared to depart early the next morning.

As the airport shuttle drove through the streets the next morning, I got a little teary.  I didn’t want to leave New York.  What I really wanted to do was go back to Michigan, pack up my things and just move, but common sense told me that was not a rational or reasonable choice, so I dried my tears and toughened up for the trip home. As I was checking my suitcase, the airline porter, a very kind fatherly man, asked me, “Why do those beautiful eyes look so sad?”  I was startled that he’d noticed, and the tears began to well up before I could stop them.

What could I say to that?  I wanted to let it flow and tell him how much I loved New York and how badly I was already aching to return, but that’s not something you say to strangers, so I took a deep breath and said, “I’m heading back to Detroit.”  He nodded knowingly as he handed me my boarding pass, and told me not to put my scarf in my suitcase because it would be cold on the plane.

I love New Yorkers.

It’s taken me a long time to blog about my trip to New York.  I’ve been back in Michigan for two months now, and while life has been busy, I think I know why I’ve been reluctant to wrap this up.

It means things are going to change – again – but I don’t know how.

New York feels a long way away, and some days I am so homesick for it that it hurts, and other days I can set it aside and do things that I love so I don’t have to think about missing the city.

This weekend J. is in New York, and she’s been acting as my “supplier” as she wanders the city seeking out all of the restaurants she’s read about in Gourmet and/or Bon Appetite. When I saw the first photo she sent, I knew I was a goner.  It was a simple shot of a city corner, and my pulse quickened, my heart raced as I looked closely at the scene.

I love New York in a way that is not reasonable or rational, and no matter how long it takes or how many different avenues I have to take in order to get there – I am going to get there.

At the Strand Bookstore - photo by MAG

New York City will be my home.

New York City Rhythm

5 Aug

Corner Park - Photo by MAG

One Year to Move Soundtrack

One of the many things I loved about New York was that, contrary to popular belief, the city has a good deal of green space.  Neighborhoods have carved out small oasises where residents [and travelers] can sit and enjoy a little peace and quiet – relatively speaking.

When I awoke on Sunday morning, I realized that all of my best laid plans [see my pre-travel blog entries] were going to go astray since I’d overslept and missed out on my chance to attend mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  It was at that moment that I decided to chuck the itinerary, and just “follow my bliss,” as Joseph Campbell would say.

I am so incredibly thankful I did.

Once I got ready and packed what I’d need for the day in my messenger bag, I headed out on foot to explore the West Village.  I needed caffiene and food, in that order, but I had no idea what was available, so I consulted my handy Urbanspoon app and found that there were no fewer than eight Starbucks stores within walking distance.  Once I had a cup of hot dark coffee in hand, I began narrowing my options for brunch.

Breakfast at The PATH Cafe - Photo by MAG

I finally settled on The PATH Cafe on Christopher Street.  When I arrived, around 10:30 am, the place was nearly empty.  I ordered and read the paper while I waited for breakfast to be delivered.  There was something decadent about sitting at the counter enjoying a lesiurely Sunday morning, and I decided that whether in New York or not, this needed to be incorporated into my weekly routine.

While  eating, I took a closer look at the artwork on the walls of the cafe, and noticed that the photograph to my left was not, in fact, a painting, but rather a photo of a painting on a garage door.  I asked the server about it and she informed me that the artist was Chris Sullivan,  an architectural photographer, and invited me to return to the cafe for her talk on photography later that week.  I made a note of it, and told her that if I was in the area, I would definitely drop by.

After breakfast, I wandered aimlessly up Christopher Street observing the scenery and checking out various second hand stores.  In one, I found a long-sleeved sheer black Banana Republic shirt.  I ended up paying $7.00 [plus the 8% New York city/state tax] for a shirt that had probably been originally priced at more than $30.00.  This confirmed, once and for all, that, thanks to my mother, finding deals is in my DNA.

I followed Christopher Street east to 9th Street, and then followed that to Broadway where I walked up to 12th Street and found Strand Bookstore.  I could have spent a week in that place, but I paced myself and left after…two hours.  I wandered up Broadway to Union Square Park and found an empty table behind a tent where a Motown Tribute group filled the air with the smooth, smokey sounds of their “Imagination [Running Away with Me].”

Around 3:00 pm, after having finished his day’s tasks, D. joined me at Union Square where we watched mandala artist,  Joe Mangrum, use his bags of colored sand to create an intricate and elaborate free-hand design on the pavement.  Since it can take more than six hours to create a design, donations are what keeps Joe afloat. So, I dug out the buck I’d won from D. the day before and tossed it in the can.

Central Park Pond - Photo by DMT

D.’s plan for the day was a trip to Central Park, so we hopped the subway and rode it up to somewhere around 57th Street.  With his wealth of knowledge about the history of New York landmarks and buildings, D. made an excellent tour guide [although, I think he was a little surprised by how fast I walked given that Detroit is the Motor City].  He even took a few pictures of the skyline from Central Park for me so that the shots would be sharp and focused.

After hanging out in the park for a few hours, D. had to move on to an evening dinner engagement, so we walked down 9th Avenue [through Hell’s Kitchen and past the Lincoln Center] and parted ways at 50th Street.

D. had recommended numerous resturants, but I didn’t find anything that appealed to me until I reached 36th Street, where I stopped and ate an amazing meal at a little Thai place called Aura.

Scallops with vegetables in a spicy jalapeno sauce - Photo by MAG

After dinner, I walked down 36th Street to 8th Avenue and caught the subway back to 14th Street where I successfully navigated my way back to the Jane – and my bed – where, exhausted by the many, many miles of walking I fell soundly asleep and dreamed of the city.

Drop Me Off in Harlem

5 Jul

42nd Street & Madison Ave.- Photo by MAG

One Year to Move Soundtrack

What happens when you turn a woman, who marches to the beat of her own drummer, loose in New York City? You get a week full of surprise and adventure, of course!

The first few hours I was in the city, I attempted to navigate it on my own – and got lost. 

How, you ask? 

Well, it was a collision of various factors, the main one being my stubborn desire to do things “my own big self.”  However, as usual, the screw-ups led to some amazing discoveries that couldn’t possibly have happened had I colored inside the lines – or followed directions.

When I arrived at Port Authority [much earlier than anticipated],  D. was still in class, so he texted me and told me to hang out around 42nd St. for a bit, and when his class let out, he’d come meet me and help me find my hotel. 

42nd Street was bustling with activity at 1:00pm on a Saturday, and as I tried to navigate around all of the tourists [who were slowly walking the sidewalks] with my suitcase, I quickly adopted the New Yorker walk – fast and purposeful.

It was wonderful to be in a place that was so full of activity, so I explored for a few blocks, looking for a place to sit down and have a cup of coffee and wait, but every establishment seemed to be full of people enjoying a leisurely break from whatever they were doing, and who seemed to have no intention of vacating their tables [I wouldn’t have wanted to either!].  As I scanned a third Starbucks, I suddenly got the bright idea to find my hotel myself and drop off my bag at the desk.

I thought I could do this quickly and efficiently, and be back on 42nd by the time D. got out of class.

Brilliant idea, right?  Ah yes, the best laid plans…

I pulled up my NYC Subway map, located 113th Street, and saw that the C Train would take me right to 110th where I could walk three blocks to the hotel.  I patted myself on the back for being so resourceful, and headed down into the subway station to buy a Metro Card.  I did this without incident, and hopped right on the C Train at 42nd Street.

This was where the real adventure began.

Why I thought my hotel was on 113th St. is the first mystery.  The address for the hotel was 113 Jane Street, and somehow, in my mind, that translated to an address on 113th.  Thinking back, I still can’t figure out why I thought that.  It might have been because the streets in Michigan are “Mile” Streets [8 Mile, 9 Mile, etc.], but that still doesn’t account for the fact that the building number isn’t the street number.  In the end, all I can do is chalk it up to the excitement of finally being in New York.

Once on the C Train, the driver made an announcement that I couldn’t quite hear.  It turned out that on weekends, the C Train goes express between 59th St. and 125th St.  You got it – no stopping.  Once I understood, I shrugged and thought, “Oh well, so I have to walk thirteen blocks instead of three. No biggie.”  Plus, it was kind of nice to sit back and relax.

When I arrived at 125th, I got off the train, hauled my bag up the stairs, and headed out to find my hotel.  I must have looked like I knew what I was doing because a few people stopped me and asked for directions.  I laughed and said I had no idea where they needed to go because I’d just arrived in the city myself!

As I walked south on St. Nicholas, I came across the Nine West Outlet store, and just as I stopped to take a photo, D. texted me and asked where I was.  I texted back, “125th St. and St. Nicholas.”  His response was, “WTF?”  I told him what my plan had been, and he asked why I hadn’t used the directions he’d sent me for getting to the hotel.  I texted back that I couldn’t remember where I’d saved them in my phone.

He told me to return to 125th and hop on the train towards downtown, so I did.  The only problem was that I still had it in my mind that my hotel was close by, so I got off the train at 110th St.

Don’t ask.  I do not know why.

By now, it was raining steadily and I was sweating like crazy from having walked up and down the subway stairs lugging my suitcase.  When D. texted and asked where I was, I told him “110th and Cathedral.” He replied, “Oh good! Keep coming downtown to 34th!”  But I had already flagged down a cab and decided that it would be okay to pay for a driver to take me the remaining few blocks to my hotel.

In the cab, I gave the driver the address of the hotel, and he said, “That’s over on the south west side of town, ma’am.”  To which I replied [as I consulted the map I’d picked up at the airport], “Oh no you don’t, according to my map it should be about three blocks from here!” The driver was a very kind and patient person who knew stubborn when he saw it, so he smiled and told me to direct him – and I tried.

Meanwhile, D. and I were texting back and forth about where to meet.  Finally, D. said, “Tell the driver to take you to 21st and 7th.”  So, I stopped being stubborn, gave the driver the streets and let him do his job.

While driving, he turned slightly and asked me if I was from Alaska.  I was confused, and replied, “No, why do you ask?”  He replied, “Well, you said you’re very hot, you’ve rolled down the window, and now you’ve got your head sticking out in the rain. I figured you must be from somewhere very cold.”  I laughed, and we began a conversation that lasted the entire 20-minute cab ride.  His name was Alpha, and he said he was from Guinea.  I asked what he did there before he came to New York, and he told me he’d been an economist, but that he’d given it up to find a better life in the U.S.  He asked me what I did for a living, and I told him I was a college instructor.  This began a very philosophical exchange about the American educational system, and how it might be improved.

By the time we reached 21st and 7th, Alpha was concerned about how I would get to my hotel.  I told him my friend would be waiting and he would help me find it.  Alpha asked if my friend knew New York better than I did, and I assured him he did.  When we got to the corner, Alpha asked where my friend was, and I replied, “Oh, I’m sure he’s here somewhere!”  My kindly cabbie then offered to wait and see if my friend had shown up, just in case I needed a ride to the hotel.  I’m sure he was mostly motivated by economic necessity [and the fact that I’d tipped him $5.00], but he was such a kind man that I think he was also concerned about my ability to navigate the city – and about turning me loose on another unsuspecting cab driver.

21st Street & 7th Ave. - Photo by DMT

D. was waiting on the opposite corner, and as he crossed the street I yelled “Hey you!” as I did a little dance of joy on the corner.  He laughed, and yelled back, “Welcome to New York!”  We hauled my bag a few blocks to the nearest Starbucks, had coffee and caught up while we waited for the rain to subside.

When the storm had passed, D. and I caught a cab to my hotel where I checked in and dropped off my bag.  The rest of the afternoon was spent walking, riding the subway, and seeing the parts of the city that D. knew I wanted to see [to be detailed in my next post].

My first few hours in New York City were filled with so much excitement that I began to wonder the rest of the trip would measure up.  I need not have worried, my entire trip was even more wonderful that I had anticipated, and it confirmed my belief that I do, indeed, belong in New York.

And in case you were curious about where I went – here’s a map of my travel to Harlem and back.

First Day on Subway

Stay tuned for more adventures!

New York, New York

18 Jun

One Year to Move Soundtrack

I’m back from my trip to New York City!  My time in the city was everything I hoped it would be – except long enough.

I’m currently sorting through over two hundred photos, trying to decide which ones best illustrate the things I experienced and the stories I have to tell.  In the coming weeks, I’ll write about everything from my first solo experience on the subway [which, I think, almost gave D. a heart attack] to the many, many miles I walked and unexpected adventures I had as I explored the city.

I now know for certain that I love New York City, and that, at some point, I want to live there.  I still don’t know how I’m going to make this happen, but I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that I will make it happen.

The “concrete jungle where dreams are made of” has inspired me to believe that in New York City, “there’s nothing you can’t do.”

There’s nothing I can’t do.

Let’s hear it for New York!

New York State of Mind

19 May

Photo by DMT

I’m 23 days away from landing in New York City, and the excitement is building!

Unanticipated obstacles nearly derailed my trip a few weeks ago, but with the help of kind and generous people in my life, things are back on track and travel is immanent.

I’ve been a bit nervous about this trip because, believe it or not, while I’ve traveled quite a bit in my life, I’ve never made a solo trip to a place that I’m unfamiliar with and not had someone who does know the location there to guide me. This isn’t a deal breaker, in fact, it’s rather exciting to plan an itinerary that is completely devoted to doing what I want to do!

There have been a few things that have felt a bit logistically overwhelming [probably because closely following directions has never been one of my strengths], but both J. and D. have stepped in and provided guidance and advice.

In addition to numerous other things, my foodie focused friend, J., has compiled lists of NYC eateries that she thinks I’ll enjoy, and she’s grouped them by general location so that in any given part of the city, I’ll have numerous places to choose from. She’s also made suggestions about which menu selections each place is famous for serving, so that I’ll get to sample the best each has to offer.  Now my only challenge will be making decisions according to what I’m in the mood to eat in any given part of the city!

That and making sure I walk enough to burn off the calories.

Navigating the city has been another of my concerns because, although I’m excited about being able to utilize the NYC public transportation system, I’ve been worried about learning the ins and outs quickly enough to keep myself from getting completely lost.  This is where my nearly-native-New-Yorker friend, D., has stepped in and alleviated many of my fears.

A few weeks ago, he provided me with very detailed instructions on how to get from La Guardia to my hotel via the express bus service to Port Authority.  In my usual fashion, I quickly read his directions, checked out the bus route, and asked “So, should I get off at Grand Central Station or Port Authority?”  In his usual patient manner, D. responded, “You want to be dropped off at Port Authority, which is why I said to take it to Port Authority.'” Later, after I expressed my concern about getting lost and winding up in Long Island,  he wrote and said that if the timing works out, he’ll meet me along the route that first day and help me find my hotel.

In the meantime, I’ll return to Google Earth and follow the route D. has constructed so I feel more confident about where I’m going.

I realize that doing a close and careful reading of D.’s directions would probably be the most logical solution to my problem.  I’ll do that, too.

The final challenge is going to be packing for this trip.  A few weeks ago, I received an email from Daily Candy that offered a detailed packing list for what sounded [to me] like a two-week excursion, and I was duly impressed with what they suggested.  Later, when I re-read the article, I saw that this packing list had been compiled for a three day trip!

There is no way on earth that I am going to double the amount of clothing suggested in order to be “well prepared” for five days in NYC.  First, I refuse to travel with more than one wheeled suitcase because that’s all I can manage on my own on public transportation. Second, this is supposed to be a vacation, not trunk show of a fashion designer’s collection.

Fortunately, most of my wardrobe is black and/or grey, so I feel confident that I’ll be able to choose a few mix and match pieces that will take me from daytime trips to NYC nightlife.

My only real concern is the shoe issue, but then I guess the first step toward solving a problem is to admit that there is one.  However, unlike my last trip to New York, I am not traveling with any shoes in which I can’t walk from one end of the city to the other without getting blisters.

Well, maybe one pair.

Isn’t that why they invented taxi cabs?

Right now, I feel like I’m standing on the precipice of a whole new world.  In less than one month – four and a half years after my first visit, and ten months after beginning to actively dream and write about being back in New York City – I’m going to be returning to the city I’ve loved so deeply, for so long.

Openly dreaming about this trip was scary, at first, but even when I was most afraid, I’ve kept the wise words of Mark Twain in mind [thanks to D., who has reminded me of them when I’ve forgetten].  Twain wrote, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

In 23 days, I’ll do just that.

One Year to Move Soundtrack

Rhinestone Cowboy

21 Apr

Photo by DMT

51 days and counting!

I can’t believe that I’ll be in New York City in less than two months! I can’t wait to learn “every crack in these dirty sidewalks of Broadway,” though I think that Google earth has given me a pretty good preview of them.

I’ve been “walking” the city streets and mapping out all of the places I’d like to visit during my stay, and I’ve been forced to acknowledge the fact that what I’d like to do and what I can actually do in five days are two radically different things.  My list of “things I’d like to do” would require me to sublet an apartment for a few months – and pick the winning Mega Millions lottery ticket.

The good thing about continuing to dream and plan is that it means the possibilities are actually endless!

So far, my list includes visiting MoMA to see the Boris Mikhailov photography exhibit “Case History”, the Museum of New York City to see “Movable Feast: Fresh Produce and the NYC Green Cart System”, the Whitney Museum of American Art to see Cory Archangel’s exhibit “Pro Tools”, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum to see Color Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral just because I’d like to hear the choir sing in such a beautiful environment.

My dining plans currently include a visit to 4Food for one of their “burgers with a hole,” Momofuku Noodle Bar  whose offerings change on a daily basis [today’s lunch prix fixe menu includes oyster buns, prawn ramen and coconut tangerine cake truffles!], Katz’s Deli for a good old pastrami sandwich, Pommes Frites [because who wouldn’t like to eat authentic Belgian french fries for a late night snack?], Penelope for an egg sandwich or pumpkin waffles [and because their website is so darn cute!], and…about a hundred other places!

I’m dreaming of all the things I’ll do “with a subway token and a dollar tucked in my shoe,” however, this “Rhinestone Cowgirl” should probably tuck her cash [substantially more than one dollar] somewhere other than inside her platform sandals.

One Year to Move Soundtrack

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

21 Mar

East Village. Photo by DMT

82 days and counting!

Last week I booked my flight to New York City, and wrote about conquering fears through researching my options.  This week I think it a good idea to share the resources I used [and will be using] to make my decisions.

A couple of months ago, while surfing the web at work and becoming quite frustrated, a travel-savvy co-worker literally leaned over my computer and pointed my web browser to the Kayak site. Kayak is a site that consolidates information from hundreds of other travel sites, and allows users to find flights, hotel rooms, cars and the best deals on all things travel-related. That small act of kindness led me to download the Kayak app for my iPhone and allowed me to search for flights at my convenience, bookmark the options I found, and program settings to notify me when ticket prices changed.  As a result, I was able to find the exact flight times and dates I needed, and paid less than $300.00 for my ticket.

During our 2007 trip, J. and I stayed at the cozy SoHotel, and enjoyed everything about it. Well, almost everything. J. does not enjoy sharing a room with me because apparently I snore – rather loudly.  We promised that the next time we traveled together, we’d find a hotel where we could book separate rooms at a reasonable rate.  Reasonable rates for separate rooms in New York City?  Right.

Never doubt the [research] power or perseverance of a woman who requires a good night’s sleep.

J. found the perfect place at The Jane.  Located at 113 Jane Street in the West Village, the hotel was designed by William A. Boring [most well-known for the Ellis Island immigrant station] and originally built as a hotel for sailors. As a result, The Jane offers rooms with a single twin bed – much like a ship’s cabin – and shared bathrooms on each floor.  The rooms are surprisingly well outfitted for such a small space, and offer flat screen televisions, iPod docking stations, and Wifi access – all for the reasonable price of $99.00 a night [plus a 14.75% city/state tax and a $3.50 hotel occupancy fee – quite a switch from the hotel’s original fee of “.25 per night for sailors, and .50 per night for all others.” I wish].

The hotel was renovated in 2008, and is absolutely beautiful – both inside and out! If you want to learn more, read Christopher Gray’s wonderful article in the NY Times, entitled “Popeye Slept Here, and Now Olive Oyl Can, Too!”, about The Jane’s history.

One thing that has made me simultaneously excited and nervous about traveling to New York is the public transportation system [and not just because I hold out hope that Rod Stewart will, in fact, be there singing to me. C’mon, this blog is all about dreaming big!!].  I loved the bus and subway system during the last trip, but that was because I was with an experienced traveler who knew how to efficiently navigate the system.  This time, I’m on my own, and although I have an incredibly good sense of direction [late night holiday season excursions in downtown Detroit notwithstanding], I tend to get flustered when I feel like I don’t know where I’m going or how to get there.

One would think that the teacher in me would be able to negate this fear.  After all, how many times have students heard me say, “The only stupid question is one that is not asked”?

Right.

The truth is that I get nervous because I’m afraid of looking out of place.  That make me nervous because I’m worried that what they say about New York will be true – visitors are easily targeted because they don’t look like they know where they’re going.  I don’t want to become a statistic, but then who does?

My biggest fear was how to get from La Guardia Airport to the hotel because I knew I’d have to take both a bus and the subway, but I had no idea how to determine that itinerary.  I got fairly worked up about the problem, until I realized I had a big gun [of information] at my disposal  – a native New Yorker.

I immediately wrote D. who gave me several options – the bus/subway combo, which would take an hour or so, at a cost of $2.50 or the cab option, which would cut travel to 30 minutes or less, but cost me $30-40.00.  D. kindly advised me that the bus option would be “a pain in the ass if you have big luggage,” to which I replied, “I travel pretty light -one bag [on wheels] and one purse – now, the number of pairs of heels in the bag…”

I also located David Pogue’s succinct NY Times review of the most helpful navigation apps for New York City.  I downloaded HopStop, an app that gives travelers both walking and transit directions to and from any location in NYC, and found it useful as I started planning my time in the city. I have also been using my iPhone map app to get acclimated to where things are, and that makes me feel a little more secure.

What I can actually do while in New York is yet another concern because while I want to have a great time, I do not have the budget [this time!] to live large in the Big Apple.  Though, I must admit, that there is something incredibly fun and challenging about figuring out how I can have the best experience for the least amount of money.  I think this is a throw back to the fact that I derive the greatest satisfaction from that which meets my needs at the lowest cost – those who know me will recognize this as the “cost-per-use-benefit analysis” that I use for buying shoes.

As I plan my meals in New York, I’ve found Urbanspoon New York to be incredibly useful.  This app allows users to search by location, type of food and price, and provides links to reviews, both by restaurant critics and the average customer.  The mobile app has a feature that I’ve grown to love as I’ve used it – you can lock one of the three categories [I lock price in the $ zone] and then “spin” the wheel to get a location and type of cuisine!  I’ve started compiling a list of places that sound deliciously interesting!

Finally, for anyone planning any kind of trip, Slide Share posted the “Fifty Mobile Travel Apps You Should Know.” I’ve found many of them interesting for my urban trip, but there are lots of apps aimed at helping those who are driving to their destinations, as well.  It’s a great presentation with a lot of useful information!

I’m excited about the planning because it will provide me with so many options that once I’m actually in New York City I won’t waste a moment being nervous or worried about what to do or where to go.

This girl is going to have fun!

One Year to Move Soundtrack

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