Tag Archives: Travel

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.

Show Me

23 Jul

The Gehry Building - Photo by MAG

One Year to Move Soundtrack

After my jaunt to Harlem, things calmed down a bit.  I think it might have been due to the fact that a real New Yorker took over the navigation duties and expertly guided me around the city.

After I checked into my hotel, D. and I walked up 14th Street to visit the Apple Store.  In my neck of the woods, the Apple Stores all reside in suburban malls and are roughly the size of a one-bedroom apartment -in New York that would be two studio apartments.

When we reached the corner opposite the 14th Street Apple Store, I stopped walking and stared at it for a moment before looking back at D. and exclaiming, “That’sthe store? All three stories? Holy moly!”  I then did what any Apple-loving tourist would do – pulled out my iPhone and started snapping pictures of the building.

14th Street Apple Store - Photo by MAG

Once I’d shot as many pictures as I wanted, D. and I headed inside the massive store and he laughed as I ran up the stairs like a little kid on Christmas morning exclaiming, “Look at this!  They have a whole floor for their iPads!”  In a flash, I quickfooted it up another flight, yelling, “D.!  Look!  Another whole floor for their Genius Bar! Oh my gosh!”

I doubt that even Steve Jobs was this excited when he first viewed the 14th Street store.

I’m used to the way things are run at stores in Michigan, so one of the first things I noticed was that the store had no Concierege [the friendly Apple Store greeter whose job it is to warmly welcome customers].  When it became obvious that there was no Concierge, I was confused and immediately consulted my tour guide [who I tend to view as my own personal version of Wikipedia when it comes to all things New York] and asked, “Hey D., why don’t they have anyone greeting customers?”  D. looked at me and deadpanned, “Mary, New Yorkers don’t mess around when they shop.  A greeter slows them down – and pisses them off.”  I whipped around ready to earnestly defend the role, but when I saw the grin on D.’s face we both burst into laughter.

We then headed for the subway and took it all the way down to the Financial District.  On the way downtown, D. explained the layout of the city streets in a way that made so much sense that I would later use it with other New York tourists.  The avenues are laid out east to west [with 1st Ave. the farthest east], and the streets are south to north [1st St. is just north of SoHo], and the subways are laid out in numbers and letters.  I got the hang of the A, C, and E trains while I was there, the rest will have to wait until my next trip.

As we exited the subway station, D. said he had a surprise for me. Knowing that all of the surprises thus far had been landmarks that I’d wanted to see, I was excited to see what he had in store.  The moment I cleared the stairwell and set foot on the sidewalk, I saw it.

Rising out of the ground in a column of torqued silver was the Gehry building. As I my eyes climbed skyward to take it all in, the sight of finished building took my breath away. For a moment, I was overcome with emotion, and I let out a quiet, involuntary, “Oh!”

I’d been following this building’s construction for as long as I’d been walking my own path toward freedom.  And now, here it was.  Soaring toward the sky in a tower of glass and steel was the architectural representation of my own process of reconstruction; the physical embodiment of all of the obstacles I’d faced and doubts I’d overcome in order to move forward and hang on to my faith in my dreams.

I raised my eyes to find the top of the building as I fought to hold back the tears.

Spruce Street - 2009. Photo by DMT

I couldn’t see the very top of the building because it was shrouded in fog, but I could hear Mr. Gehry’s voice saying, “Architecture is a small piece of this human equation, but for those of us who practice it, we believe in its potential to make a difference, to enlighten and enrich the human experience, to penetrate the barriers of misunderstanding and provide a beautiful context for life’s drama.”

And I let the tears flow.

Standing nearby, D. reached out and put a supportive hand on my shoulder.  He’d been an integral part of this moment since he’d been the one who had taken pictures of the building’s progress and sent them to me.  With tears streaming down my cheeks, I turned and gave him a small smile, then took the camera out of my bag and began taking my own pictures in reverent silence.

When I was done, I brushed the tears from my face, turned to D. and said, “Okay, what’s next?”  He smiled and replied, “You’ll see!”  To which I replied, “You’d better not make me cry again. Seriously, dude.”

Spruce Street - 2011. Photo by MAG

We stopped at the Open Door, a gastropub on John St., where we recounted teenage adventures we’d had and D. tested my knowledge of 80s music by betting me a dollar that I couldn’t name the group that was singing a song that was playing [“C’mon Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners].  As D. handed over the buck he’d bet, I said, “C’mon man, I was in high school in the 80s!” He laughed and we proceeded to enjoy a wonderful lunch. I had a delicious Grilled Chicken sandwich with roasted red peppers, brie, and basil aioli on a ciabatta roll, and a fantastic beer that D. recommended [the name escapes me now].

After lunch, we walked down and explored Pier 17 for a bit before D. had to get home.  He walked me back to the subway station and pointed me in the direction of the 14th Street stop where I was planning to meet some former students for drinks.

Once I’d located Nikki, Brad, JD, we all walked over to a bar on 14th Street [again, the name escapes me] where we sat at a table on the sidewalk and enjoyed catching up on all of the adventures they’d had since graduating from school.  It was a wonderful evening, and as I headed back to my hotel I was ready for a good night’s sleep.

And that was just the first day!

Stay tuned for more adventures!

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!

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”?


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

Empire State of Mind

15 Mar

Photo by DMT

I’ve taken the first step!

This morning, I made travel reservations for my second trip to New York City.  I’ve been considering the possibility since I heard about Jeff Pulver’s 140# Conference that will be held at the 92nd Street YMCA in June, but I was scared to make the commitment to attend.

I’ve been nervous about the amount of time, effort and money it would take to travel to NYC for the conference, and my life has been hectic, so I kept putting off making a decision.

What I haven’t wanted to admit is that I’m scared of taking another step toward making my dreams come true.  It’s one thing to blog about wanting to live in a city I’ve visited only once, and it’s quite another thing to actually travel there.

This trip will change things, and I know that.  I’ll no longer be able to idealize the city from afar.  I’ll be moving toward my goal with new knowledge and experience.  I’ll have to step off of neutral [and relatively safe] ground, and start actually moving.

I think that while I’ve become comfortable talking about my dreams, I’ve grown too comfortable just talking.  The problem with taking action is that it disrupts what’s comfortable and familiar, and changes everything – for better or for worse.  Taking action leads to the unknown.

For months, while I’ve been contemplating attending this conference, my good friend, D. has watched as I’ve run up to the cliff countless times, looked over the edge, and then backed up to where I feel safe again.  The great thing about D. is that he doesn’t criticize or judge.  He knows I’ll get there in my own time – or not – but he also knows when to cut through the fear and give solid advice that will help me make a decision for myself.

The other day, I wrote him a long analysis about how I viewed this trip in terms of cost and time.  My main fear was that I shouldn’t spend the money because I should be building a bigger savings account.  I should be sensible.  I should play it safe, not take a risk.

D. wrote the simple response, “Mary, make the trip.  In ten years you’ll remember your trip to New York, but you’ll have no recollection of the couple hundred dollars you spent.”

And he’s right.

My plans aren’t foolish.  I’ve done the research, examined all of the angles, and evaluated many possible choices – the logistics and costs – and I know that this trip won’t entail over-extending myself in order to “live large in the big city.” If it did, that would be the sign of an unwise choice. I have no guarantee that this trip will result in anything other than a visit to New York City.  However, it could provide me with an experience that would help my personal and professional growth. I just have to be willing to set aside my fears and take the chance.

How will everything work out?  I have no idea – yet.

I have to trust that everything I do is for a reason – even when I don’t know what the ultimate outcome will be – and that, in the end, it all works out the way it’s supposed to work out.  I have to trust my instincts.  I have to trust myself.  Only then can I take a leap of faith and just go.

So, this morning I ran up to the cliff, hesitated for a moment, and then booked a ticket.

I don’t know where this will lead, and that’s okay because it’s not the destination that brings us joy, it’s the journey.


One Year to Move Soundtrack


2 Dec

Brooklyn Heights from Lower Manhattan. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

All signs point to Brooklyn.

I’ve been researching where I want to live when I move to New York, and while I’ve tried to envision myself in many of the different neighborhoods, I seem to be getting a signal from the universe that Brooklyn is where I belong.

The first sign was the Battle of Brooklyn. Fought in 1776 after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it was the longest and largest battle of the entire American Revolutionary War.  Brooklyn is stubborn, resistant and has a history of doing things its own way – I can relate.

The idea that I should live in Brooklyn started to germinate about a year and a half ago, when I begged D. to take pictures of “all those Brooklyn girls” mentioned in Rod Stewart’s song “Downtown Train.”  D. promised he’d try, but I think he’s been wary about invading other people’s privacy – even on a subway platform – either that or Brooklyn girls scare him [Don’t judge! I’ve heard those girls are kind of tough].  In any case, my imagination ran wild and “Brooklyn girls” became the mythical representation of all that is mysteriously exciting about New York City.  I want to be one.  I think.

The second sign occurred during a shopping trip with J. We visited Sephora in search of the perfect shade of pink-but-not-too-pink lipstick.  After an hour of trying on every brand and shade we could locate [and assuring the nice sales people who work that, yes, we we were finding everything okay] we finally found the perfect shade – Buxom’s “Brooklyn” [which we now both own!].

A few weeks later, J. sent me an email in which she had attached a link to a line of address change cards from Lucky Duck Letter Press.  The cards are called “Brooklyn Brownstone” and they’re perfect!

Last month, Daily Candy offered up creations from the Butter Queen of Brooklyn! Four flavors of homemade butter named after former US First Ladies: Martha Washington: Roasted Garlic, Chives, and Tarragon; Eleanor Roosevelt: Pecan Praline; Jackie O.: Bing Cherry, Bourbon Vanilla, and Pink Sea Salt; Lady Bird: Hibiscus Lime.  Yummy!

Photo by Butter Queen of Brooklyn.

I’ve also been digging through the real estate ads again.  I’ve fallen in love with curved nooks, large windows and the personality of each Brooklyn brownstone, but I’ve also realized that falling in love is probably going to cost me upwards of $2000.00 a month. This is probably the minimum I’ll need to rent an apartment that is in a safe neighborhood and has enough space to allow me to maintain a bedroom rather than mount a sleeping bunk over the stove in the kitchen.  I’m either going to need a bigger savings account or a better paying job – or both.

There is something very appealing about being able to live in a part of the city that feels like a community.  Brooklyn is the largest of the five bouroughs in New York with a population of more than 2.5 million.  Its residents are incredibly diverse in race, class, gender, sexuality, and country of origin making it an intersection of interesting experiences!  Brooklyn offers a lively residential experience, proximity to the city, and a chance to escape the urban jungle for a little greenery and the hope of being able to afford an apartment that is bigger than the size of the average high school gym locker.

Photo by the New York Observer

The ethnic makeup of Brooklyn lends itself to a wide variety of restaurants and shops – Italian in Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights, and Bay Ridge; West Indian in Crown Heights and Flatbush; Polish in Greenpoint; and Chinese in Sunset Park.  The city has also provided the backdrop for books such as William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brown Stones [three books I have loved!], and for the 1970s cult classic, Saturday Night Fever.  C’mon, who wouldn’t want to live in the city where John Travolta strutted down the street in white polyester bell bottoms as the Bee Gees blared from a boom box?

The sign that made me finally admit that Brooklyn is where I belong, appeared last weekend when a woman came into the store where I work and asked for a small  part.  While we were waiting to see if it was available, we got to talking about what she did for a living.  She told me that she was a grad student at NYU, and when I asked where she lived in the city her answer was – yep – Brooklyn.

Brooklyn seems like the right choice for me.  It’s close enough for me to be able to work and play in Manhattan, but far enough away to give the hope of being affordable and to provide a respite from the hustle and bustle.  The architecture is beautiful, and so far, the apartments I’ve perused on the New York Times Real Estate section seem cozy, but full of light.

I think I could feel very much at home in the city where all those Brooklyn girls live!

One Year to Move Soundtrack

Breakfast in Central Park

20 Nov

Photo by DMT

Central Park: A pastoral retreat in the center of the city that never sleeps; an oasis of calm greenery; a gathering place for art and cultural expression.

It sounds like heaven on earth.

It’s hard to believe that a city as large as New York is home to the most visited urban park in the United States, but each year over twenty-five million people make their way to Central Park.

Designed, in 1858, by landscape designer and writer Fredrick Law Olmsted and the English architect Calvert Vaulx, the park opened in 1870 and covers 770 square acres of city-owned land smack-dab in the center of Manhattan.  In 2005, the real estate value of Central Park was estimated by the property appraisal firm, Miller Samuel, to be $528,783,552,000!

The need, and desire, for a centrally located park in New York City was first voiced in 1844 by poet and editor of the Evening Post, William Cullen Bryant, and by American landscape artist, Andrew Jackson Downing, who felt that as New York grew more crowded, residents needed open air spaces in which to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. At the time, the only such places to escape were the cemeteries, like Green-Wood in Brooklyn.  New York residents also voiced a desire for spaces like London’s Hyde Park and Paris’ Bois de Boulugne where they could engage in open-air driving.

Photo by DMT

Inspired by English parks such as Birkenhead and Derby Arboretum, Olmsted argued that a park was “…a democratic development of the highest significance.”  [ironically, Olmsted clashed with the city’s Democratic machine during the construction of the park].  In 1858, Olmsted and Valux designed was was called the “Greensward Plan” and won a city-sponsored contest.  Construction on the park began that same year, and was fraught with complications related to everything from clearing the land [this required relocating the impoverished, mainly African American, population residing on the land] to clearing the actual land [more gunpowder was used to clear this area than was used during the battle of Gettysburg!] to importing soil from New Jersey because the New York soil was not fertile or substantial enough to sustain the four million trees, plants and shrubs [1,500 different species] that the plan called for.

Central Park was an instant hit with New Yorkers, but by 1900 the popularity of the park was on the decline.  The City Park Commission had been disbanded in 1870, and in 1895 Valux died, leaving the upkeep of the park in question.  A growing fascination with a new technological development – the automobile – meant that people were less interested in using the park for walks and picnics, and the lack of interest shown by the Tammany Hall political machine in keeping up the park left the park largely untended until the early 1930s.  [Fun park fact: Sheep’s Meadow got it’s name because until the early 1930s sheep actually grazed in the meadow.  They were relocated upstate during the Great Depression for fear that they would be used as food by impoverished New Yorkers].

In 1934, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia was elected to office and put Robert Moses in charge of revitalizing the park.  Moses would become one of the most powerful men in New York as he secured New Deal funds and overhauled the entire park system in a single year.  Moses not only ordered clean up and replanting, he also had workers construct 19 playgrounds, 12 ball fields and handball courts, turning Central Park into a recreational space as well as place to escape city life.

The 1960s defined another era, known as the “Events Era,” in Central Park as the city promoted the use of the park for cultural and political events.  During the 60s theater companies, like Public Theater, produced “Shakespeare in the Park,” and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera began staging productions in the park.  However, despite the interest in cultural events, by the mid-1970s, the park was in decline again.  Economic and social factors both played a role in the park’s reputation as neglected landscape during the day, and a menacing danger to public safety by night.

Central Park by Wikipedia Free Media Project

In 1979, citizen’s groups began forming as a means of countering the park’s reputation as a dangerous place to visit, and by 1980, under the leadership of the Central Park Conservancy revitalization projects were carried out.  The Conservancy sought to restore the once-pastoral feel of the park by eliminating things such as graffiti and instituting a system of “zone based management” that allows for more specialized care of the park.

I am just as excited about exploring this beautiful park within the city as I am about exploring the city itself.  Central Park has history – like Literary Walk, where some of the first sculptures in the park were installed to recognize and honor writers and poets – and culture – like Summerstage, a series of free performances including music, dance, spoken word, and film presentations.  It is a space that allows for private contemplation of nature, and community gatherings that feed the mind and spirit.

The thought of a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and a blanket spread out on the lawn while listening to the Philharmonic work some orchestral magic sounds like the perfect Saturday – or any other day- in the park!

Heaven on earth, indeed.

One Year to Move Blog Music

Downtown Train

6 Nov


Photo by DMT

I love public transportation.

When J. and I visited New York City three and a half years ago, I fell in love with the subway system.  There is something so amazing about hopping on the subway with millions of other people and being transported from one part of the city to another with speed and ease.

Photo by DMT

I’ve fed my fascination with the NYC subway by listening to the Bowery Boys podcasts, which detail the history of mass transit in New York City, and this has made me love it even more.

The story of Alfred Ely Beach and his pneumatic transit system captured my attention.  In 1869, Beach came up with the idea of utilizing the pneumatic technology used to move letters and packages to transport people from one location to another and began construction on what was supposed to be a small tunnel for pneumatic tubes.  He built a larger tunnel that could accommodate human traffic, and opened his block long system in February of 1870.  Believing that an extended system of transit had potential,  Beach lobbied the New York legislature between 1870 and 1873 for permission to build a city-wide pneumatic “people mover,” but his idea was opposed by politically connected property owners on Broadway, Alexander Turney Stewart and John Jacob Astor II, who felt the construction process would damage buildings and interfere with surface traffic.

“Beach operated his demonstration railway from February 1870 to April 1873. It had one station in the basement of Devlin’s clothing store, a building at the southwest corner of Broadway and Warren St, and ran for a total of about 300 feet, first around a curve to the center of Broadway and then straight under the center of Broadway to the south side of Murray St” [Scientific American 2010].  [Interesting side note: Beach published the blueprints for the railway system in the 1870 issue of Scientific American, a magazine he and Orson Desaix Munn bought in 1850 for $800.00 – that’s $23,000 in today’s dollars according to the consumer price index].

Beach lost support for his system when William Tweed’s Tammany Hall political machine was disgraced in 1871.  The Panic of 1873 dried up any possibility of funding for the project, and by that time other investors had begun building the elevated rail system that would become the 19th century’s answer to transportation issue in New York City.

Photo by DMT

The history of the subway system adds to my fascination with the actual experience of riding it.  Every weekday over 5 million people ride the subway, and this excites me because this means that there are hundreds of opportunities every day to meet new and interesting people on trips up – or down – town!  I imagine the conversations, the connections, the adventures, and the new discoveries made possible simply by stepping on a subway car!

Ever the pragmatist, D. has reminded me that this also means the possibility of “meeting” the germs of those 5 million people.  He keeps me grounded in reality and cognizant of the fact that my pre-move to do list will need to include a flu shot and investment in lots of hand sanitizer.

Photo by DMT

Given that my experience with the subway system is extremely limited, I’m fairly sure that I’ve romanticized what it will be like.  I know Rod Stewart will not be down in the tunnels late at night pleading to know whether he’ll see me tonight.  I also know that it’s highly unlikely that eye contact with a stranger will lead to love at first sight like in a Savage Garden video.  However, if I have romanticized it, I’m okay with that.  I think the New York City subway system could use a little romance.

And with 5 million daily riders, the possibilities are seemingly endless.


One Year to Move Blog Music

Saturday in the Park

6 Sep



Downtown Chicago. Photo by MAG


If I can’t be in New York City, then Chicago is the next best place to be.

This past weekend I traveled to Chicago to visit J. and to get a little taste of a big city. As I’ve said before, J. is a serious foodie, so I know that when I visit her I can count on taking a break from my usual fare — protein drinks and frozen dinners — the food itinerary this Labor Day weekend was amazing, as usual!

On Saturday, we started the day with an amazing baked squash and onion tart that J. had made the day before, and then headed out to power-walk through an outdoor mall. J. and I don’t mess around when we shop because neither of us has the patience for browsing. We stop in stores that interest us, do a quick sweep of the entire place, and can be out in under 10 minutes – unless one of finds something to try on, then we’re out in 15.

After our trip to the mall, we headed to the Edgewater area and picked up lunch from Gaztro-Wagon. Owned by Matt Maroni [yes, he’s heard all of the requisite jokes], this little restaurant offers the most amazing naan-wiches. I had the Braised lamb with queso Panela, apricots, walnuts and padron peppers, and J. tried the Fingerling Potato with fennel, mushroom puree, and goat cheese. We also tried an order of the plantain chips and split a real Oatmeal Cream Pie [these are not at all like Little Debbie makes them!].


Otom dining area. Photo by MAG


Many hours later, we dressed up and headed out to Otom, Joseph DeVito’s restaurant down in the Chicago meatpacking district. Otom is a quiet spot that focuses on New American cuisine with a Southern flair, and its interior might just make even the most hardcore graphic designer smile as it combines Paul Smith’s iconic stripes with exposed brick and sleek modern furniture.

What really shines at Otom are both the food and the impeccable service. The staff was friendly, attentive and incredibly knowledgeable about the food, and it seemed as if DeVito had addressed all of the biggest pet peeves that diners have! The courses were served efficiently without being rushed, and when the server boxed up our leftovers she didn’t bring them back to the table. Instead, the bag was kept in a side area until we paid our check. This solved the problem of having leftovers sitting on the table during coffee – or under the table and being forgotten.

We started the meal with green tea smoked octopus served with grilled cherry tomatoes, fennel, and pie pan squash. For the main course, I ordered the Chef’s Fish Special, which was a combination of mussels, crayfish, and marlin on a bed of wilted spinach and fingerling potatoes, and J. had the Duck Breast with somen noodles, miso dashi, baby bok choy, green onion and duck egg. And we had to split an order of the “Mac & Cheese” made with trofie, sweet corn, white cheddar and accompanied by a corn fritter that could actually have been called dessert. We agreed that next time we’re going to hijack the server and demand a plate of the fritters to start.


Photo by MAG


Otom is pricey, but we had a Groupon that deducted $60.00 off of our meal, so the entire dinner ended up costing $50.00 with tip.

On Sunday, we put on our walking shoes and took the El from Lincoln Park to North Avenue and had lunch at Epic Burger. The burgers here are outstanding – fresh, perfectly cooked and on the best buns ever! The menu is limited, and as a result, they do burgers right!

After lunch, we walked from North Avenue down to Michigan Avenue, and strolled the Magnificent Mile in search of Garrett’s Popcorn. Garrett’s is an iconic Chicago snack shop which specializes in – you guessed it – popcorn. Year round, the line in front of Garrett’s Michigan Avenue store stretches down the block, and Labor Day weekend was no exception. We waited patiently in line with fifty other folks, only to find out that they were out of cheese popcorn just as we reached the front of the line. Since I was bringing it back for a Garrett’s junkie in Michigan, I made an executive decision and settled for a large bag of caramel corn.


Nine West. Photo by MAG


We also had to do the obligatory stop at what those who know me would call “The Mothership” – Nine West – to browse the shoe sales and see what they were carrying for fall. I didn’t buy anything because I couldn’t justify the cost/use value [the cost of the shoes divided by the number of times they will be worn], but just being in the store was enough — this time.

In the Michigan Avenue Gap store, I passed another milestone in my preparation for New York City. I bought a skirt – size large. For many folks [who are not women fighting with their weight], this will have no significance whatsoever, but for me it was a glorious moment as I stood in the dressing room modeling the first skirt I’d put on in fifteen years that wasn’t marked “1, 2 or 3X.” You’d better believe I bought it! I did not push my luck and try on pants, though. I’ll save that for the next trip.


Gap skirt. Photo by MAG


By the time we caught the El back to Lincoln Park, we’d been walking [and/or waiting in line] for about five hours, and were hungry – again! We made a quick stop at Nhu Lan Bakery on Lawrence Street, and picked up the best banh mi sandwiches in the city. If you go there, I highly recommend the #11. It’s a mixture of tofu that has the texture of cooked meat, sweet and sour pickled slaw and hot peppers on a freshly baked baguette. It’s a delicious and inexpensive meal, and tastes wonderful with a nice cold Brooklyn Lager.

We capped off the meal with a slice of J.’s freshly made Pistachio Cake with Fig Jam and Cream Cheese Frosting as we watched Inspector Lewis and Detective Hathaway solve yet another murder mystery.

I might still be a year away from my New York City experience, but in the meantime, Chicago will stand in quite nicely.

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