Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A March Saturday Wandering Manhattan

The full album of photos is on my Picasa page...

After Lenea and I got off the phone I used the washroom, took a shower and then got dressed and prepared to head out.  I figured I'd carry my most extreme opposite lenses for the camera and see what I'd see...  It didn't seem too cold, so I wore layers with my worn-out green sweatshirt and the "new" green sweater with the massive hole in the back (which would be covered by my backpack all day).

I only had two goals for the day.  First, get sushi in the East Village...  Second, get some photos of a synagogue on the Upper East Side.

Leaving the apartment I walked up to 59th Street so I could catch the N express train, instead of the R local at my local stop at 53rd Street.  The 59th Street platform was more crowded than usual.  Just as the R was pulling into the station there was an announcement about the N train, but then the R made so much noise it drowned out the loudspeakers.  After the R left, the announcer repeated it, saying that "due to a stalled train at Stillwell Avenue, N service is temporarily suspended.  All Manhattan bound passengers should take the R train."  Fortunately, a couple of minutes after that announcement an N train rolled in...

It also turned out to be about the most crowded I've seen the N train on a weekend afternoon.  It was packed.  I squeezed in, though.  My nose was slightly stuffed up from the migraine (a normal effect of the migraines) but several people complained about the smell in the train and walked through the doors to the next car to get away from it, though I didn't particularly smell anything.  I mean, it wasn't like fresh, outside air, it smelled like the subway...  After people moved out I saw there was a dirty, filthy homeless looking guy with his bags of "stuff" on one of the benches not far away, so maybe that's what they were complaining about.

Unfortunately this N train wasn't on the right track to see the light artwork in the tunnel in Brooklyn.  I still haven't figured out exactly which train to be on to see it consistently.  Mostly I think I've seen it when the N is running local in Brooklyn, but that's unusual during the day.  The R definitely doesn't go by it.  Maybe the Q?  I might have to try switching to a Manhattan bound Q in Atlantic Avenue and see.

In Manhattan I got off the train at 8th Street - NYU in the East Village and walked a bit of a zig-zag path up four blocks and over a few avenues to 2nd, where I stopped in at Shima for a sushi lunch.  It was good, as it always has been on my trips there.

Once I'd paid and left I went out and walked up to 15th Street, then turned to head over to Union Square, figuring I'd catch a subway train up towards Grand Central or somewhere, still unsure what I really wanted to do with the day.

On the way over to Union Square I was near a scruffy looking, somewhat older guy who was ranting and raving quite loud, to no one I could see.  "What the fuck was she thinking?" and "Fuck her, she wouldn't give me $5 to get home...  What the fuck was she thinking?" and variations on those two themes over and over...  I happened to glance at him, mostly curious because when I'd first seen him I didn't notice a phone headset wire, and he noticed, then patted me on the shoulder and said "hey, sorry about the language, man."  I never said anything to him but "yeah" and "hmm..." and "ahh" while I listened to him tell me parts of story.  Someone, I guess, was supposed to give him cash for subway fare to get home or something.  He went on, hoping he wouldn't have to beg in Union Square for it, but prepared in case he'd have to, and how he believes "what goes around comes around" and "it's not always about money, you know, I help someone move, but when I ask a favor they always seem unhappy I've turned up..."

Once we got to Union Square he dashed across the street while I waited for a light and went our separate ways.

It looks like the farmers market in Union Square has started up again.  It wasn't quite as packed as I've seen it before, but it was there from when I first arrived in NYC in September, all through the winter, until the weekend I took my parents to see it in February, then it wasn't there till this weekend...  Some good looking items, honey, breads and things, I'll have to try some stuff out when I get moved...

At Union Square I couldn't squeeze into a 6 train because it was so crowded, but then got the next 4 or 5 (I forgot which) and took that uptown to Grand Central Terminal.  Always a good place to stop and use the bathroom...  I also looked at the subway map for some inspiration on where to go, but couldn't decide.

So, I went out of the station and walked up along the west side of it.  It was bright and sunny, with sunshine gleaming off the skyscrapers all around, so I took out my camera and took a bunch of photos as I walked around.  I was using my 11-16mm wide angle lens, which often results in overly dark pictures in the daytime, but it was so sunny I couldn't see the display on the back of the camera to see what the photos looked like, or which direction to adjust the settings, so I hope they came out (haven't offloaded them from the camera yet...).

I worked my way up Lexington, Park and 3rd Avenues from 42nd Street to 58th Street.  I stopped to take some photos of the synagogue I had in mind at 55th Street, but from what I could tell on the camera I didn't get any good shots.  The sky was bright, but the face of the building was in shadow, so it was really dark, with the sky too bright, and trying to lighten the building ended up with way, way too bright sky...  Oh well...

At 58th Street I wasn't sure if I should continue up, or go somewhere else.  So, I stopped to look at Leena's Amazon wish list for that Bluetooth headset, figuring that with the Apple Store a few blocks away, between 58th and 59th Streets, I'd pop in and see if they had it.

On the way I passed the ING Direct bank branch.  It didn't look much like a bank, actually, except that it was all orange inside with ING signs, their lion logo and bank sorts of product ads on the walls.  It was two stories tall, all windows, with a cafe inside and people sitting on orange chairs at orange tables drinking coffee.  Unless those were actually the bankers' desks?

When I came up on the back of the Apple Store I got a look at the line going in...  There was a steady stream of people backed up about twenty feet from the entrance, with the line snaking inside and down the spiral stairs that go around the glass elevator.  I decided not to go in, too much of a line...  Then I remembered there's another Apple store a few blocks away on Broadway, at 67th Street (well, "a few blocks by my walking") so instead of waiting two minutes to get into this store, I walked about twenty-five or thirty to the other store...

Across from the Apple Store, at Grand Army Plaza (not to be confused with the one in Brooklyn, which is my Friday "crossroads" decision time, to go to the apartment or anywhere else) I joined a throng of spectators watching a dance troupe performing on the sidewalk for a few minutes.  Some of them were fun, but then one dorky guy took his solo and I couldn't understand what he was doing, but whatever it was, it wasn't interesting to watch, so I left.

It was crossing the street there that I got hit by the blast of cold, cold wind that pretty much continued all the rest of the afternoon and evening.  East of Central Park was merely chilly, but from the park on westward was downright cold.  I should've worn a warmer jacket...

The other Apple Store didn't have any of those Bluetooth headsets at all...  But I did take some notes on other products I'm thinking about, a couple of video devices for the Mac so I can probably view video from other things.  I was thinking about getting an XBox 360 or Wii, but didn't want to buy a TV just for that, so if I can hook it to the Mac, that'd work...  This store has lots of tables of Macs with store workers giving shoppers lessons at almost every one of them how to use some of the software on them.  I was listening to one guy teach some people how to do some image manipulation.

Back on the street again, I worked my way in another zig zag path over to Central Park.  I walked down Central Park West, along the outside of the park, taking some photos of the inside of the park and people on the sidewalk.  Around there I swapped lenses from the wide angle to the 100-300mm zoom, the longest, narrowest one...

At the bottom of the park I stopped and enjoyed the sunshine at Columbus Circles, which had a bit less wind than the rest of the west side of Manhattan.  I saw some of the first flowers of spring there.  I got startled by one guy who came up behind me while I was paying attention to the camera viewfinder, and asked "do you want a ride in the park?".  I think he was a cycle-rickshaw driver, since there didn't seem to be any horse carriages waiting around there...

I walked around Columbus Circle, taking photos of buildings and statues shining bright in the afternoon sunshine.  There's one that's all covered in gold that practically glowed in the sunshine.

From there I walked down 9th Avenue a few blocks, taking photos where I saw any interesting architectural things, mostly juxtapositions of old buildings and new buildings in the background, or details on old buildings that appealed to me.  Neither of the lenses I carried were well suited to that, though...  Lots of things were well lit up by the west-ward moving sun.

And then I wound up at Times Square again...  Naturally I made my way up to the red steps at the north end...  While standing up there a few different pairs of people gave me their cameras to take their photos, all wanting the hordes of people below in the square as the background.  This is the first time anyone's ever handed me a fancy digital SLR, though, to take their photo...  Maybe they were confident I wouldn't steal it because I had my own, with an impressive looking lens, around my own neck...

When my hands got cold and numb from holding cameras in the biting wind I took off.  I walked over to the Port Authority Bus Terminal to use the bathroom.  While deciding what to do next, I figured I might as well go try the Thai grilled chicken salad at the New York Burger Co. that I've been curious about for a couple of months.  So, I grabbed the E train at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and got off at 23rd Street, and walked to 10th Avenue.

The guy at the order counter of the restaurant greeted me just like he knew me, a little too familiar than appropriate, so I was confused as to whether I should know him or not, because I certainly didn't recognize him, and I'd only been to this one once before (there's another one of them at 21st Street and 6th Avenue, where I've been twice).  This meal was disappointing.  I've had better Thai chicken salads before.  I think maybe I'l stick to burgers when I go to these places...

Since I was close to the High Line, it seemed like a good idea to go there.  And it was, except it was really cold up there.  But I enjoyed some photography from there, even if it was too cold and windy to sit down and relax (then again, if it hadn't been, all the places to sit would've been taken).  There were lots of other photographers up there, too...  I think I got a couple of good shots of the sun setting behind New Jersey.

After it got dark I was walking up 14th Street towards Union Square to get a train home, when I got a whim to go see Prince Street after dark, so I hopped on an A train at a closer station and went down there.  It was fun walking around there for a bit, but cold...

Walking along I was listening to some young women very closely behind me talking.  They mentioned how the English language is changing, how they don't like some of the changes, and agree with some of their professors from when they were in college.

I was just about turn around and tell them how I've spent ten years overseas in a country where nearly all who speak English speak it as a second (or third) language, and while I've heard some speak it perfectly, mostly I've heard it butchered beyond belief…  But as I was about to turn, one of them abruptly changed the conversation, "hey, I need to buy a pair of black tights…"

I listened to them talk of that until I came upon the Oakley store, where I wanted to check out backpacks, so I popped in.  There was one I asked to see and the clerk took it down for me then went back to doing some work at the checkout counter.  I nearly bought it, but kept standing at the checkout counter and no one there even glanced at me to say "just a moment."  Once the impatience set in, I decided I really didn't need it, left it on the counter and walked out.  I really didn't need it, so fortunately their rudeness overrode my impulsiveness and saved me some money.

I caught an N train at Prince Street as soon as I got into the station and came home...  It was relatively late for me and I didn't get home till close to 8:30pm...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Universe is Listening

I just had a weird coincidence yesterday...  But not the first of its kind...

On New Year's Eve I walked most of the way home from Times Square to Sunset Park after midnight.  Partway through Brooklyn I passed a big sign advertising BAM and listing what appeared to me to be names of performances.  The name, BAM, intrigued me, of course.

Then that following Monday I got a pamphlet in the mail with a calendar of performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  BAM.  There it was.  Same logo...  BAM!

Is that weird or what?

Then this past Saturday on my wanderings about Manhattan (I'm still editing the travelogue, not posted yet...) I was near Columbus Circle and happened to see some interesting stuff at the entrance to the Museum of Arts & Design.  While not in the mood for being inside at the time, I made a mental note to check out that museum as it looked like the sort of place I'd enjoy.

Yesterday I got home from work and in the mailbox was an invitation to an open house at the Museum of Arts & Design.  A weird coincidence for sure!

I suppose both of them got my name and address from the mailing list at the Museum of Modern Art, which I joined last year.  Still, the first mail from each came on the first working day after I saw them...

As one of my friends commented about this, "the universe is listening."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

My Hair is Getting Longer!

Now that I've been in New York City on my own for over six months, my hair is starting to get a bit long...  If anyone asks, I'm not really growing it, it's just doing that on its own without much intervention from me (beyond eating regularly...).

Me in early October 2010,
a few weeks after
getting to New York City
Getting my hair cut and maintaining it just isn't something that's very interesting or important to me, and frankly, salons and barber shops stink of noxious chemicals that I find really unpleasant.  It never really has been and the only times I've ever gotten it cut regularly are when other people push me to bother...

It was kind of fun in Pune the first year or so, going to Sheela's Beauty Parlor in Sagar Arcade with my buddies to all get our hair cut, and sitting and talking while each of us had our turn.

But then Leena and I started dating and she wanted my hair kept short.  Fortunately she pretty much took care of all the arrangements.  She made the appointments with the barber, who's shop is on the same block as her family's house, so it was convenient when we went there for lunch every weekend.  She took care of getting a servant to run over to see when the barber was free and could take me.  She took care of telling him how she wanted my hair cut.

All I had to do was go and sit in the chair while he worked, then go back to Leena's family's house with him for her approval on the haircut (with occasional trips back to his shop for a quick fix...)  And pay him the cash I already counted out and had ready (including a 100% tip).

Me in late March 2011
with my hair getting
longer and quite windblown...
But now that I'm on my own for a while, I just can't be bothered with finding a respectable looking barber shop, that'll still probably smell of chemicals, trying to tell a barber what to do with my hair, when I don't know the terminology ("um, just like it was before?") and wondering what's the appropriate tip and all that.  And why?  So I can do it again in a month?

And besides, I think a bit longer some of the brown hair overlaps and covers up some of the gray, but when it's short, the gray has nowhere to hide...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Not Reading

For the last couple of decades I've read and read and read, with most of my free time being spent with books.  Typically I read 50-100 books a year.  I get up in the morning and read while I eat breakfast, read while I use the bathroom, read while I brush my teeth...  In the evenings I read while I eat dinner, read on the couch for a bit, read while I brush my teeth, and so on...

But since coming to New York City in September last year, I've hardly read any books at all.  It's very strange to me, but I've thought about it and I guess it's a couple of things.

I haven't bought any comfortable furniture to read in.  There's the less than comfortable, cheap Ikea dining chairs, or the floor.  From the floor, though, there's no good lighting that'll come from behind to read, only overhead.  The lighting can be solved by using the iPad for reading, instead of a dead tree book...

When I have free time on the weekends, I just want to get out of the apartment, walk around and explore the city.  After ten years in India where I found getting out and walking to be uncomfortable (traffic, lack of sidewalks, noise, pollution, heat, feral dogs, etc.) now that I'm in a city where I'm comfortable walking, I don't want to spend as much time inside.

In the evenings, I don't feel like I have much time, and what I do I spend writing to Leena and reading friends' things on Facebook, and maybe a bit of light stuff on the web, like Slashdot.  But it's very quickly bedtime.

About the only time I'm really reading any books is when I'm in the bathroom...  And that's the most comfortable furniture, too...

When will I read again?  Maybe when it gets too hot to be outside in the summer.  Or when the newness of New York City wears off a bit.  And when I get a nice comfy chair or couch...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Dilemma

Now that I'm moving to an apartment about an hour walk from the office, and plan to walk on a daily basis (unless I buy a bicycle, but that's a topic for another, future post), I'm not sure what to do...

So far I've been buying monthly, unlimited use subway passes, which recently went up to $104.  When I take the subway to and from work every day, except most Fridays when I walk home from work, and take the subway into and out of Manhattan almost every Saturday and Sunday, it's worth it.  I know I'm getting my money's worth out of each one.

MTA card, with my handwritten
activation date so I remember
when to buy a new one...
But I'm planning to walk to and from the office, which cuts out about 40 subway trips per month, that's is the bulk of the usage.  And in pure financial terms, the $104 will no longer be worth it.

However, there's the non-financial aspect...

Part of the ease of getting around is that I have an unlimited use card.  I don't have to think twice about heading into the subway to go anywhere, it's already paid for, and using it ten times won't cost me more than using it once.

I know that if I had one that wasn't unlimited I would weigh every decision to go somewhere.  For instance, if I was thinking of going to a restaurant for some meal I felt like, I'd calculate the extra $3 each way as part of the price and probably not go.  Or, if I was walking around somewhere and got the whim to go somewhere else, like in Manhattan but then wanted to see the Gantry Plaza Park across the river in Queens, I'd think that even a short, one station subway ride would suddenly cost me $6 and not go

I can imagine that if I didn't spend the extra money on an unlimited use card, I'd spend more time sitting in the apartment, wishing I could go out, but being too stingy to spend the lesser amount on subway fare.

For "quality of life" it's probably worth it, to me at least, for the more expensive, unlimited rides per month card, even if I don't use the full dollar value in rides.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March Weekend - Aimless Walking and Photography


After Leena and I got off the phone I had a tough time getting started on my way out... Trying to decide to carry a backpack, not carry one, etc...

It was later than usual by the time I got dressed and out the door...  In the subway station near the apartment I missed a photo op, when I was heading down to the platform on one set of steps were a huge crew of subway construction workers in their orange safety vests and hard hats standing watching a supervisor give them a speech about their workday.  I caught something about "and remember there will be trains passing..."

I walked to the far end of the platform where there was only one other person.  After she noticed the construction workers' lamps going down onto the tracks she asked me if there were trains today and I told her there were, they were probably working on the express track in the middle, where there are no trains this weekend.  But I told her the trains would probably be going slower near this station to reduce the risk of hitting any workers...

In Manhattan I got off the train at 8th Street - NYU, which has some nice tile mosaics in the walls that my father asked me to photograph.  I took a bunch of photos, trying to avoid getting hit by people walking around the platform and being sure to keep an eye on how far back I was from the wall so I wouldn't step off the edge of the platform.  Actually, I planned for that and carried my widest lens, the 11-16mm, that would get whole mosaics without having to step back too far from them.

I couldn't photograph the mosaics on the opposite platform without going up and out of the station, then running my card through on the other side as that station doesn't have a connection between the two directions, or at least, not one I know of.

Up on the street, I got turned around, never having used that station before, I didn't know exactly where I'd exited it.  I walked a little in the wrong direction before I recognized some stores and realized I was on Broadway, not 8th Street like I thought.  So, I turned and went over the direction I wanted, to work my way to the corner of 2nd Avenue and 12th Street...

That's where Shima Japanese Restaurant is, and I was in the mood for sushi for lunch, if you can imagine that...  Lunch was good, sushi...  This time I got the regular salmon roll instead of the spicy salmon roll and it was a lot better.  I think the spicy one they use a specially spiced mayonnaise, which adds a texture I don't like

As I was finishing and paying the bill a couple of slightly older women came in and couldn't decide where to sit.  As soon as I put on my jacket and hadn't even grabbed my backpack from the chair by the window (I'd sat at the one facing the window) and before the busser cleared the table they sat down at it, saying "ah, this one has nice sunshine."

Out on the street I walked up towards Union Square, intending to catch the subway up to Times Square. There was a fancy looking Food Emporium next to it and I stopped in, planning to see what sort of chocolate bars they had.  I wandered around but couldn't find the chocolate section, though I did wander into the tea aisle, where I picked up a few packs of various green teas I hadn't tried before.  It was the first time I've ever used a self checkout at a store, too...  You put all your things on a scale on one side of the scanner, then as you scan each item you put them on a scale on the other side and it tracks the weight to make sure you ring everything up...  Interesting, and convenient for not having a whole lot of items...

I took ended up taking a different train than usual, a 5, from Union Square, up to Grand Central Terminal, which was good for a bathroom break.  From there I walked over to Times Square, stopping in Bryant Park to look at the empty, sand covered space where the wintertime ice skating rink was until a couple of weeks ago...

At Times Square I wandered around a little.  The red stairs where I like to go at the north end were blocked off for some kind of maintenance or something.  I tinkered with the IncrediBooth app on the iPhone 4, which simulates an old style photo booth...

Then I went down into the subway.  The Times Square station has some interesting artwork in the walls in the tunnel connecting it under the street to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, so I wanted to photograph some of that.  Closer to Times Square are big, chunky glass cubes with lots of cermaic stuff inside them and some are interesting.  Under the bus terminal are mosaics with themes related to marbles, the little glass balls for playing games with.  In between are mosaics of people who appear to be celebrating...

Finished up some photography there I used the bathroom in the bus terminal, then went back out to the street.  I walked towards Times Square and checked out a few souvenir shops for fridge magnets.  I got a few, but didn't really like most of the selections.  There were lots of them, but mostly they looked very cheaply made.

Doing that I worked my way down Broadway to Herald Square, by the big Macy's.  Then I noticed the Empire State Building in the sunlight and wandered around it, taking photos with my wide angle lens, until I'd circled back to Broadway.  I followed that down to Madison Square Park, and then walked up 5th Avenue a few blocks until I was getting too close to the Empire State Building for new photos.

I cut across 28th Street, intending to take the subway up to Central Park, but passed a shop selling cheap miscellaneous stuff, that had a sign about watch batteries in the window.  I stopped in there to see about getting the battery replaced in my Seiko, since it's getting warmer and I don't want to wear my Rolex around much of New York City with short sleeves (no need to make myself a conspicuous target...)

An older, Indian fellow in the store said he'd replace my watch battery.  I almost walked out because after I handed it to him, he set it on the counter and then got distracted by another customer coming in and saying "I'll take one of the fake G-Shock watches" and the Indian guy said "no, no, is real" but took one out of a cheap looking cardboard box with a bunch of them in it, and only charged the customer $10 and no sales tax (looking online, Macy's has the same one for $99).

Then he got to my watch...  He popped it open and immediately asked me if anyone else had ever replaced the battery in it, because it looked like someone had done it wrong before.  I told him lots of times, I've had the watch since the mid-1980's.  I mentioned the last time it was replaced was in India and he asked me where, so I told him Pune.  He asked if I was there for a business trip, and I said I lived there for about ten years, got married there and all.  He said "ah, you must speak our language very well?" and I disappointed him by saying "thora, thora..."

I noticed that whoever replaced the batter in India scratched the date and what may be initials or a name I can't read clearly into the inside of the cover.  I know it was from someone in India because the date was 18-6-2009.

While he was working on it another Indian customer came in to pick up a watch that must've been repaired or something and had a conversation in Hindi with him.  I understood a bit of it, and when the other customer left, the guy asked me if I knew what they talked about.

Getting the battery replaced was just $8, and he gave me his card for any other watch repairs I ever need.

Then I took the N train from 28th Street up Broadway to 57th Street and 7th Avenue.  I got off there as there was a building nearby, on 58th Street, I wanted to photograph.  It was a couple of blocks from the station, but I think I got a couple of interesting ones of it.  I don't even know what kind of building it is, except it's 70's sort of modern or something and looking up at it it just looks interesting...

I took some photos from Pulitzer Fountain, a park across from Central Park, in front of The Plaza Hotel, facing the 5th Avenue Apple Store.  At one point while I was there some guy had the nerve to stop right there, on the sidewalk, and take photos...

Then walking up 59th Street I saw a big commercial building with dark, purple glass that was reflecting nearby buildings in an interesting way, but couldn't get a picture of it I was happy with.

A few blocks further on and I caught the subway again, thinking of a hamburger down on 23rd Street at the New York Burger Co.  This time I took a 6 train downtown.  Me and everyone else standing got a surprise when it made a curve on the tracks.  It was on the map, but maybe the driver took it faster than normal or something, as all of us got thrown around a little.  I was ready for the second one, though, since I was standing near the map and looked at the route after the first one...

I got off at 23rd Street, at Madison Square Park and walked west along the bottom of the park, until I got to 6th Avenue and didn't see the restaurant.  Then I remembered it was two blocks down, on 21st Street and went there.  I got a regular New York Burger, which is just a beef patty, lettuce and tomato on a toasted bun, sweet potato fries and a blueberry milkshake.  It was good, just what I expected.

After dinner the sun went down and I walked a few blocks over to the High Line to use the bathroom and enjoy it for a little while before walking up 14th Street to Union Square to get the subway home.

So, all in all, a good day.  I suppose if anyone tracked my movements on a map they'd be confused because I was all over the place, and going back and forth a few times to places, with no obvious pattern except my whims...


I was really confused in the morning with the time change, which after ten years in India I'd gotten used to not doing at all.  I had a slight headache, too, but not a terrible one, with my stomach a little but not awfully upset (which usually goes with a migraine).

It was around 12 noon, I think, that I got out of the apartment because I missed an hour there somewhere.  I don't know where the hour went, it seemed like I got up at a reasonable hour, but then it got late fast.

I decided to take my longest lens, the 100-300mm zoom lens.  It's not the most useful for city photography because to get interesting shots of architecture I have to be a long, long way away, which is hard, since there's then buildings in the way.  But there's been a few things I wanted to try it with.

I got off the subway at 14th Street - Union Square and walked up to the High Line where I took the camera out and started taking some photos.

There's one part of the High Line where there's a view of the Statue of Liberty a long, long, long way away.  But I'd never taken the right lens for a decent photo there before.  By coincidence, a block or two from the High Line was a digital traffic sign, and lined up almost directly under the Statue of Liberty it said "expect delays - use alternate route."

With the weather warming up again there were lots and lots and lots of people on the High Line taking photos.  There was hardly any place to move without getting in the way of someone taking a photo.  The wooden lounge benches were full of people once again, and there was a long line of people waiting to look through the viewing box at some modern artwork...  Spring is here!

After using the bathroom on the High Line I made my way back down to the street and zig zagged a bit on the streets, intending to head to Madison Square Park.  When the traffic lights were right I tried taking some photos looking up the avenues while crossing the street, but at my height, it's hard to get good ones over the nearby stopped cars, and having been hit twice before in my life, I'm probably a little overcautious about taking the photo and getting out of the street quickly.

At Madison Square Park I put my camera away and bought a pretzel and bottle of water from a street vendor, then sat down on a bench to eat that while watching the squirrels and birds wandering around looking for food.  That was entertaining for a little bit...

After finishing the pretzel and putting the 2/3 full water bottle in my backpack I hit 5th Avenue...  I worked my way up about 15 blocks to 42nd Street, where I headed off to the right to use the bathroom in Grand Central Terminal.  While I was there I picked up a take-out package of sushi from a counter in the food court.

I took the sushi over to Bryant Park where I grabbed a small, green table and sat down to eat it outside.  It was pleasant there, sort of away from many things, in the middle of the city.  Unfortunately, it was about the worst sushi I've had...  Oh well...

Once I finished eating, I threw away the trash and headed to Times Square.  It wasn't as crowded as the most I've seen it, but still pretty crowded.  It turns out the red steps actually are open and yesterday I was mistaken.  It's not maintenance or construction scaffolding blocking it, it's a stage for some kind of performances.  Nothing was going on in it, but it did obscure the view from the steps.  I hope it won't be there all spring and summer...

By then it felt like it was getting late, since Monday was a workday, so I headed down from 47th Street, where the red steps are, to 42nd Street to get onto the subway and head home to Brooklyn.  The first train that came was an R, which goes right to my apartment.  I sort of dozed off a bit, but got woken up in Brooklyn when a family got on with a screaming kid, who didn't want to get on that train...  Ug...  Fortunately the kid fell asleep within two stops and shut up.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bring Us Your Poor, Your Huddled... Expect Delays...

I'm sure it's just a coincidence...  But now that I've started the paperwork for Leena's immigration stuff, I was out today and for the first time carried a lens that would let me photograph the Statue of Liberty from the High Line park.  Normally I carry wider lenses, with which the distant statue is barely a few pixel blur, but today I carried the 100-300mm zoom.

Coincidentally, in my line of sight, right under the Statue of Liberty was a digital traffic sign.  Unfortunately without a traffic context, the sign's message could apply...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Minute to Lose It

I've been seeing ads all over recently for a new New York Lottery game called Minute To Win It.  But I really don't like these ads...  They just seem so wrong...

First off...  It's just like the game show?  I looked up the game show, Minute To Win It, since I'd never heard of it (not a surprise as I don't have a TV).  A scratch-off lottery ticket doesn't sound even remotely like the game show.

"But a whole lot easier?"  Isn't that pretty much contradicting that it's "just like the the game show?"  If it's really a whole lot easier, it can't be a challenge like the game show...  Every card is predetermined to be a winner or a loser, with no skill involved what-so-ever, it's all plain luck...

"No Time Limit..." Hmmm...  That bugs me, too, for two reasons...  First of all the name says "minute" in it, and that it's just like the game show, in which contestants have a time limit of one minute.  Plus, the graphic by it shows what appears to be a countdown, sort of making it seem like there's a time limit, you have to what, scratch off the whole card in a minute?

The name having "Win It" makes it sound like it's already a winner...  Never mind the odds of actually winning, especially the $1 million they fuss over, is so low, it's more realistically like "A Minute to Lose 5 Bucks".  And raising hopes of winning up can't be good, considering the majority of people buying losing lottery tickets are the lower income people who can least afford it.  There's a reason it's jokingly called "a tax on people who can't do math."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cold Hands

As a teenager my mother got worried about my cold, white fingers and a doctor diagnosed me with Raynaud's Phenomenon (fortunately my hands never look as bad as the ones shown in the article!), so it's not uncommon for my hands and feet to be really cold, and sometimes really pale coloured.

In India it was rarely bad, since it's tropical and hot most of the time.  And so far here in New York City, even though the winter, it never got bad, either.  Once in a while in the office, and I usually warmed up one hand at a time wrapping them around a hot cup of tea (fortunately I can use the computer mouse with either hand).  After warming up one hand, when I grab it with the other, the part I was holding onto is often cooler than the rest of the cup.

But I really notice it on the subway, holding onto the metal poles.  They're usually chilly.

But if someone else has recently held one it's hot there.  Sometimes I'll grab onto the pole and then someone else gets off at a station.  It could be several stops later, but I change my grip and hold on where they held on, and the metal still feels hot.  Then if I move my hand to where I'd been holding on for a few stops it'll barely be warmer than the parts no one touched.

When outside most of the winter I walked and walked and kept moving, so that kept my blood flowing without much trouble with circulation.  My fingers got cold when taking photographs, but not the same as the Raynaud's symptoms...

Reading through that Wikipedia article, there's an interesting fact, "Sufferers are more like to have migraine ... than controls."  No doubt...  I certainly have the migraines...

Now that I think about it, maybe that's how I developed my love of long, hot showers...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Rainy Sunday - MoMA - Japanese food in the East Village

After talking to Leena on the phone, then preparing some papers for the apartment broker, I got dressed and decided to go to the Museum of Modern Art.  I'd purchased a membership in October or November, but the only previous time I went the lobby was crowded I left immediately.  Knowing I was going there, I didn't take my backpack, since those have to be checked, nor my camera, since I wasn't fully clear on the camera policy from their website.

I took the R train, and at 36th Street transferred to an N express train to get there faster.  The MoMA is near (or maybe part of the complex) Rockefeller Center, having been founded by Rockefeller's wife.

I got off the train at 49th Street, near the top of Times Square.  Walking to the MoMA, across from Radio City Music Hall an Indian fellow all by himself stopped me to ask me to take his photo, with his camera.  I asked him what he wanted for a background and he said "the tall buildings" so I did that, and had him move a little over so I could get the Radio City Music Hall sign behind him in a couple as well, as that's a major landmark in the city.

When I got to the MoMA it was jam packed.  I had to go around the revolving door twice because the woman before me stopped right inside and didn't give me room to enter the lobby while she fiddled with her dripping umbrella.  The second time she'd moved away enough I could squeeze past her, but still got splashed slightly by water from her umbrella.

I found my way through the lobby to the entrance to the museum proper, where I gave the attendant my membership card, which she scanned, and I went through.  The other side was pretty packed, too...

I explored all five floors of exhibits.  I liked some of the art and didn't like some of it.  The exhibit on photographs used to prepare for filming action scenes, for instance, just wasn't very interesting.  Some paintings here and there were interesting.  I was more fascinated by an exhibit of industrial designs, like chairs and tables and what-not, most of which were designed by architects.

A few galleries had exhibits that I never would've associated with the term modern art, like Picasso, Cezanne and Monet?  I thought modern art started as sort of a rebellion against those, but now that I'm looking it up online after going there I see my impression was wrong.  There were some works by a famous modern artist, Marcell Duchamp, whose works I'd seen before were mostly kind of silly, but they had some that were actually kind of nice.

Another gallery was full of just Jackson Pollack paintings, some of which I'd seen in art books before.  But none of which I actually liked.  I mean, sure I remember in junior high, it was fun to splatter paint like Pollack, but the end result isn't much to bother looking at…

The single largest crowd of people was standing in front of Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night painting.  Although there were a tremendous number of people sitting on the benches across from the room-wide Monet triptych, Water Lilies, so many I was uncomfortable walking between them and the painting to get to the other side of room...

It was fun, but super crowded.  In places it felt like trying to walk through Times Square or something.  Lots and lots of people were taking photos, so almost everywhere I tried to walk I stepped in between a photographer and their subject, "oops, sorry, excuse me".  And people reading the little explanations next to paintings would step back without paying any attention to whether someone, like me, was behind them, "oops, sorry, excuse me..."

I don't think I saw it all.  The galleries have lots of entrances and exits between them, so I'm sure I missed something.  But there's also things I'd go back and see again.

Back out on the street I was thinking about sushi again for lunch, down on 12th Street in the East Village, since I quite like a Japanese restaurant I found there.  At the moment it wasn't raining so I sort of considered grabbing a knish near Bryant Park and then walking 30 blocks down and being hungry enough for a full lunch.

But while I was walking from 53rd Street down to 42nd it started raining pretty heavy...  Too heavy to eat a hot, fried snack outside without it getting wet, cold and soggy...  So, I went into Grand Central Terminal, used the bathroom and contemplated getting sushi in the food court there.  However theirs was all packaged and I figured it'd be better to go to a real restaurant and get it fresh.

I grabbed a subway train from Grand Central.  First I got to a platform with one train on either side, so I dashed into the one with an open door closest to the staircase, which turned out to be a 6 local.  The other train, a 5 left, while the 6 just sat there, with the conductor playing the "we're being held momentarily by the train's dispatcher, please be patient" message every couple of minutes, but without going anywhere.  Then a 4 pulled up across the platform, so I went over to that, and immediately the 6 train left, while the 4 I just got into played the same delay message...  Fortunately it didn't play it long, and we were soon underway, with that one being an express train, so the next stop was 14th Street Union Square, exactly where I wanted to go.

At Union Square I got out and got wet in the rain walking a few blocks over to 2nd Avenue and 12th Street, where Shima is located.

Shima was virtually empty, with the only other customers being a Japanese couple at the corner window.  The hostess told me to sit where I wanted so I took a seat looking out the window onto 2nd Avenue.  I ordered the sushi lunch and asked if they had sunomono salad, which is a Japanese salad made with thin sliced cucumber, a little thing sliced carrot, vinegar, sugar and salt that I like.  I didn't see it on the lunch menu anywhere, but she said they had "sunomono mix" on their dinner menu and that it wasn't included with the lunch, but they could "mix it" if I wanted.  I agreed, since I hadn't had it for a long time...

I got my miso soup first and burned my tongue on it as it was piping hot.  When I finished that she brought the sunomono mix, and it was not at all what I expected...  I expected a small bowl of salad, but this was a large square plate with sashimi, slices of fish, mushroom (I think?), crab, a prawn, some things I couldn't identify, and two slices of octopus tentacle.

I never really wanted to try octopus before, and I always wondered what I would do if it ended up on a plate in front of me.  Now I know.  It doesn't have much flavor, and its texture is very, very rubbery, like it was a rubber octopus toy or something...  It was easier to eat it while I was by myself, without someone else watching to see what I do.  I ate both pieces and I wouldn't say they were really bad, but there's so many better things available I definitely wouldn't go out of my way to get it again.

The things I couldn't identify also had a rubbery texture, and I actually don't know if they were animal or vegetable.

Underneath the other stuff there was a bed of sunomono salad that was what I actually thought I was ordering...  And once I found that under there, it went great in combination with the other items as a single mouthful.

I definitely enjoyed the fish, prawn and crab pieces, delicious!

As I was nearly finished with the sunomono mix my plate of sushi came.  This time for the roll I picked spicy salmon, and now that I've had it, I prefer the regular salmon or tuna rolls...  Not that it was bad, but the spicy flavor from it stayed in my mouth and overpowered some of the rest of the subtle sushi flavors, which is quite subtle indeed...  And the fish on the sushi pieces was fresh and tender, melt-in-your-mouth...  Mmmm...

All in all, a delectable meal...

When I finished and paid I grabbed my jacket off the chair back, and the earlier rain had had time to soak through it at the shoulders, so it was kind of cold putting it on.

Back out on the street it was raining harder again and I got wetter on my way to Union Square.  There's a Whole Foods store across the street from Union Square so I figured I'd pop in and see if they had chocolate bars with bacon in them, something I saw a few years ago at a Whole Foods in Los Angeles, which seemed gross at the time but I've been thinking of it since then and would like to satisfy my curiosity...  The store was jam packed with people, although not as crowded as the MoMA.  I passed a truly overwhelming tea selection before finding the chocolate bars.  They didn't have what I wanted, so I didn't buy anything.  And when I returned to the front of the store where the checkouts were, I was glad I didn't find it, or I would've been stuck in that insane line for the checkouts and I have no idea how much longer I would've been there...

So, I got the train home and here I am...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Park Slope, Here I Come - 2011 Apartment Hunt

Okay, it worked out today...  And I don't have the nagging feeling at the back of my head, "uh oh, I may have made a mistake," that I had when I last got an apartment in September.

Late in the morning I got an email from the broker from Rapid Realty, Jason, asking for my phone number.  I emailed it to him, but he didn't call right away.  After a while I got antsy and impatient sitting in the apartment, so I called him up and he asked me some questions about what I was interested in and then we arranged to meet at Rapid's 4th Avenue & 21st Street office at 2pm.

I ate a quick bowl of soup and then got dressed and headed out.  I got to his office around 1:50pm or so and the receptionist told him I was there.  He was still organizing things and getting some keys ready to go out.

Once he had all that he said a new broker, Rico, was going to shadow us to learn the ropes.  Rico ended up having a car, so we drove everywhere instead of walking or taking the train.

The first apartment we looked at was right on the same block as his office, on the corner of 4th Avenue and 21st Street.  It was four or five (I lost count, I was out of breath) floors up, without an elevator, and it wasn't a really nice building.  In the apartment the living room and kitchen combination was tiny.  It had two bedrooms, both fairly big, and a huge bathroom with a fabulously huge window looking out over Brooklyn, and it would be easy to imagine showering in there at night with the lights off and looking at the city, without the city looking back...  One downside was the kitchen was tiny and had almost zero counter space or cabinets.

He said he wasn't sure I would like it, but it was close to their office and he said getting a client into an apartment and asking what they do or don't like about it is an important first step, often more valuable than talking on the phone.

Rejecting that one, for several of those reasons we then hopped into the Rico's car and went a few blocks up to another apartment building on 17th Street, between 4th and 5th Avenues.  Rico has kids so he had a child lock on the door, so when we parked I couldn't get out.  Jason was walking away, not knowing the door couldn't be opened from the inside and gesturing to me to come out, while I shrugged and made a face because I couldn't...  Then Rico apologized and opened the door from outside...

This building looked like it had been grand and luxurious at one time, once very wealthy accommodation, but was fairly decrepit now.  Lots of old carvings in the stone of the building, but long faded and dulled, some cracked off.  Jason was on the phone and using the intercom to try and get us into the building, but no one answered the intercom to buzz us in.  He kept trying and trying until some people were just coming out and let us in.  The lobby was like the outside, really fancy, with grand tiles and details on the moldings and ceiling, but worn out, broken, dirty and obviously not maintained.

We were stuck in the lobby, as we couldn't get in the next door to the hallway and elevator without someone buzzing us through.  Again, we got lucky and some people going out, actually another broker and client, let us in.  Jason asked "where's the elevator?" and they said there isn't one.  He said he was told there was...  He asked me if I wanted to walk up five flights of stairs to see it, and I said forget about it, not another long stair case, not that far up.

Back at the street he asked me a few more questions about what I was looking for, whether I wanted to look at more of the apartments in that part of the neighborhood or what.  I said I wanted to be on lower numbered streets, closer to the top of Park Slope, in a somewhat better building than he'd shown me, and he asked if I was flexible in my budget because that would cost more.  I said I could go another $100 or even $200 a month for something better.

So, we went back to the office for him to do a bit more research on the computer.  I sat in a room by myself he while he did a computer search out in the main area.  After a few minutes he came in and said he wasn't having much luck, as most things that I was really looking for were all not available at the time, with notes in the computer listings like "don't show till May" and stuff...  He said he'd check a bit more and then let me know if there were any options or if it would be a bust.

He came back again and said he found one that wasn't yet listed in the computer on 8th Street, between 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue.  That sounded promising, that's in the heart of Park Slope, a great location.  So we hopped in the car and Rico got lost, he mixed up the Avenues and Streets, but then Jason corrected him and we found it.

It turned out to be the least attractive building on the block, the only one that's not a classic brownstone, but an apartment building with hardly any character on the outside...  At first I thought "ug, oh no..."

We went into the first part of the lobby, and Jason kept trying to buzz people on the intercom to let us in.  Inside the locked door it looked somewhat fancy, modern and rich, so that was more promising than the outside.  Jason was talking to the building superintendent on the phone who was telling him to try buzzing one apartment after another on the intercom, 2C, 3C, 3D, 2D, 4C, 4B and so forth, but only one person even answered their intercom and didn't stay on the line to talk to us...

Eventually some people were leaving, yet another broker and client, in fact, and we went through the door as they left.  The elevator was pretty fancy for an apartment building, with doors on both sides of it, quite high tech, and that took us up to the 2nd floor.  Stepping out of the elevator was like being in the hallway of a nice hotel.  Of course, once away from the elevator, the hallway was a bit shabby...

The apartment itself was nice, though.  It's big.  One bedroom and a large, large living room and dining area.  The dining area has mirrors on the walls which make the room seem a lot bigger than it really was, and helped reflect light from the windows so it was quite bright in there, despite being cloudy outside.

The bedroom was big, the bathroom was good sized.  The kitchen had a lot of cupboards, with shelves low enough for me to easily reach them, and a lot of counter space.  It even has a dishwasher (but since I prefer to hand wash dishes, it's still useful as a drying rack without taking up counter space on a drain board).  There were a couple of closets in the apartment, including one with a hookup for a washer and dryer, which aren't included, but can be purchased.

So, I said I'd take this one.  And it's still a couple of hundred bucks a month lower than my initial maximum budget...

We then drove up to one of their farther offices in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where they have a debit card machine and I filled out some applications.  I paid a month's rent to reserve it for now.  I have to supply some financial paperwork, bank statements and salary slips, and then if my credit check passes we'll arrange a time over the next two weeks to actually meet with the landlord and sign the lease and I'll pay the rest at that time.

After wrapping up at their distant office, in a part of town I hadn't been, Rico gave me a lift back to a more familiar neighborhood.  We had an interesting chat in the car.  He works half the year doing movie making stuff, but now that he has two kids wants to do the real estate brokerage work to earn money the other half of the year.  He asked me a bit about India and said that his 6 year old daughter picked India as a place to visit, and he told her if she could find it on a map of the whole world, then he would save money to take her there, and she instantly pointed right to it, so now he's saving money to go there.

After he dropped me off I walked around a bit in Park Slope, then at 9th Street I took the subway home.

So, that's that...  It's a great location, just a block and a half walk from cool restaurants and shops on 7th Avenue and a good neighborhood.  It's not on the "fringe" but right in the heart of it.  Close to two subway stations a couple of blocks either direction.  A big park, Prospect Park, is also nearby.

Here's a link to it on Google Maps.

7th Avenue, to the right of it is the key restaurant and shopping street, with 5th Avenue and 4th Avenues to the left of it being a bit less classy shopping and restaurants, but probably lots of useful things, including 24 hour small food shops and take-away delicatessens.

For me it's probably about an hour walk to the office, though that could be reduced if I learn my way through the park.

Rico and Jason

Jason in the doorway

There's Rico on the left

Friday, March 4, 2011

Art - Code on the Subway?

I've seen this poster on the subway lately and I like it (I took the image itself from the MTA's website).

I didn't notice it the first time I saw it, but what's with the letters and numbers on the bottom?

They're presented as the symbols for the various subway lines, including the colour the subway system uses on trains, signs and maps for each line, but there's no obvious order and the strings are different lengths.  Several are duplicated, but not all of them...  All of the subway lines are represented.

I suspect it's an encrypted message...

The symbols are:

Any ideas?  I've tried a few simple, basic decryption attempts, but no luck so far...

Follow up on March 4, 2011

I wrote to the artist, Takayo Noda to ask if I was on the right track...  This is her reply:

Thank you for your Question / Comment.
I wish I had an exciting code to give you but the line numbers and letters are placed for the visual purpose. However, I was careful with not spell out any words with the letters.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Safety in Crown Heights

I work in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, which is predominantly lower class black, along with lots of French speaking blacks from Caribbean area, with a smaller, but very visible community of Hasidic Jews.  Unfortunately it's not one of the safest neighborhoods in New York City...

I'm sometimes a bit nervous walking from the subway station to the office.  It's about five or six blocks, but I go through the sort of edge of the neighborhood where I see the ethnic mix pretty strongly.

This New York Times article from early December last year mentions that there had been 66 shootings up till that point in the year in Crown Heights.  Later in December there were at least two more murders that I know of, both on the same block as our office.  One was a body the police found in the empty derelict building directly across the street.  The other was an armed robbery gone bad in the laundromat in the same building as our office.

After the laundromat one a coworker of mine recognized the victim as someone he hadn't met but saw in the same Russian immigrant synagogue he went to, so he bought a bullet-proof vest that he wears everything he comes in and out of the office, even for lunch or a quick walk to the office of our biggest customer, two doors down from us...

Now that my apartment lease is almost finished I mentioned at work that I'm about to start looking for a new apartment.  One of my coworkers, who lives a few blocks from the office asked, "why not move ot Crown Heights?".

I told him I don't feel very safe there.  He said it's safe, there's nothing to worry about.  I mentioned I feel a bit uncomfortable walking to the office from the train station and he said "well, that's just the fringe of Crown Heights where it's a bit rough, other parts are much nicer."  I mentioned the two murders in December and thought about it and said even his wife doesn't feel safe there, but he hadn't really taken her seriously before, but now that I brought it up she might actually have something...

In any case, I'm more interested in the Park Slope neighborhood for now...