Sunday, March 28, 2004

new york stories (2)

Note: Still tracking down the images that originally appeared in this post.

Day 2 - Metropolitan Museum of Art/Harlem/American Museum of Natural History/32nd & 2nd area
All early indications pointed towards decent weather for our trip. As Monday night rolled around, all of the local stations suddenly predicted a monster storm, going into the full-panic mode American TV stations love to go into when more a dusting of snow occurs. We figured there wasn't anything to worry about.


At least our plans could handle a storm. If it had been an episode of Polka Dot Door, it would have been "get ready, get set for Museum Day." By the time we hit the Met, the storm had started in earnest, with strong winds making it hard to walk from the subway station to the museum.

The day soon became an exercise in seeing how long Amy's feet would hold up. The Met is not a puny museum - unless you spent a few days there or had Flash-like powers, it's impossible to see the whole thing in a day. We roamed for almost three hours, stopping here and there to observe or give the feet a rest.

Even the statues have to take a time-out

The following picture features the most pathetic-looking piece in the Met. Not even the Cowardly Lion looked this hangdog.

For lunch, we crossed 110th St into Harlem. The snow was coming at a furious rate, so we quickly made our way from the subway to our destination, Manna's Soul Food & Salad Bar (Frederick Douglass at 125th, about a block from the Apollo). I'd been there on my last trip and enjoyed it - a buffet-like set-up, but not all-you-can-eat, that offered a wide variety of soul food staples. I loaded up on fish, meatloaf and greens, while Amy went for some good chicken wings. Guess others like it too. Far from the healthiest meal of the trip, but very tasty and hopefully enough calories to get through another museum.

With conditions too miserable to do any exploring, we headed back to the subway. Next stop...

Another pic from the NYC Subways site. This station is well-decorated - an idea Toronto could use with Museum station (for the ROM) or St. Patrick (AGO). Ad campaigns don't count.

Like the Met, we spent three hours in the Museum of Natural History and weren't able to cover the beast. An odd mix of curator styles in the building, from mammal exhibits straight out of the 50s (text straight out of an old Disney animal film) to the new space exhibit build in the old Hayden Planetarium. Showing how much of an editing/design geek I am, I could identify when exhibits were put together by the lettering style used. Our feet grew wearier as we tried to catch as much as we could. Better inside than out, as this shot from a window in the dinosaur exhbits shows.

Looking out onCentral Park West. The streets were bare in the morning.

Declaring defeat (and an inability to decide on future gifts for friends in the gift shops - would anybody want a slime-making kit?), we dragged our aching feet back to the hotel around closing time.

We summoned up our remaining energy to head over to 2nd Ave. In Amy's city guide, I noticed there was a Borders at 32nd and 2nd. Figuring this would be a relaxing place to end the day, also figured there'd be someplace to eat nearby. Maybe it was the wind, but the snow felt like it was turning to sleet. A miserable trudge until we finally found a spot to eat - Mee Noodle Shop (2nd Ave at E 30th). We couldn't believe how low the prices were on the menu, so we figured the portions weren't large either, making it easy to order several dishes.

Wrong again.

Healthy-sized helpings of food. We ordered one dish too many, but made a valiant effort on a shrimp/noodle dish, a twice-sauteed pork and especially the green beans, which were similar to one of our favourite dishes at Shin Shin in Windsor. We waddled over to Borders and browsed for an hour. On the way back, stopped at a grocery store to see if we could find any oddball goodies. Not much, but one item caught our eye - Trump Ice bottled water (99 cents/bottle as big as the Donald's ego). Not being a devotee of "reality" TV, we didn't realize this product was part of The Apprentice. Bought a bottle for a laugh, keep forgetting to bring it as a gift for a couple co-workers.

Two days down, one to go...

one fine saturday in toronto

Spent all day Friday in bed. Throat felt worse than it did the day before, body was numb. No way would I be able to sit in front of a computer all day. Didn't get any additional sleep - I had intended to do some work from home if I felt up to it, but I forgot the reference book I needed. I spent 12 hours throwing movies into the VCR (note it was videotape, not DVD - I was too lethargic to bend down and switch the plugs. For some reason, the plug for my printer won't fit into any power bar and my workspace has a lack of outlets. So, I have to switch between a power bar containing the DVD plug and the printer). Was in too much misery to enjoy most of them. My throat was so raw that any liquid burned.

Felt a bit better yesterday, well enough to escape the house. A day-and-a-half of being shut in is enough to give me a king-size dose of cabin fever. Hadn't been for a stroll downtown since returning from New York. Monster lineup running out of Sunrise Records - later learned it was for Madonna concert tickets. Wandered down Queen, picked up some used DVDs, then up through Kensington. Saw a sight I hadn't seen in years - a procession of Hare Krishnas coming at me down Kensington. Did not partake of their literature.

Seeing the Hare Krishnas bought back childhood memories of seeing groups of them chant away by Tiger Stadium in Detroit while my father and I waited for a bus back to Windsor. Post-baseball game trips were often odd experiences, like the time soused fans entertained the bus by doing a non-stop interpretation of Lite Beer ads - remember "less filling, tastes great?" They did their imitation of the one where Bob Uecker thinks he's going to get some great seats, but winds up with some that resembled the far reaches of the Skydome on a dead night.

Strolling up Augusta, saw two derelicts play-tussling, one yelling at the top of his lungs "he's a neck twister!". Everyone in the block turned, saw them rolling with laughter, then continued on.

Up by the Bloor Theatre came another crowd head-turning incident. In the entrance to the Bloor Theatre was a busker who began screeching away, wrecking an old Neil Young nugget (which one it was, I don't remember - my ears were too occupied trying to tune him out. I think it may have been Needle and the Damage Done). Two girls ahead of me looked back and we all stared at each other in horror. Ended up by chance running into some friends and went out for dinner, praying I didn't infect any of them (if any of you start hacking in the next couple of days, I apologize!)

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

new york stories (1)

Note: Still tracking down the images that originally appeared in this post.

Every three years, like clockwork, I head down to the Big Apple for a few days of stretching the limits to which my feet can walk. Last trip was in '01, which stands out in my mind for being one of the last times I talked to my father on the phone and a wonderful walk across the Brooklyn Bridge (I should get my partner in crime on that trip to jot down her memories sometime).

I tried to recruit anyone I could think of to come along, but time, finances and maladies got in the way. Looked like I was on my own until Amy decided to come along. I booked the hotel online, then decided we'd go by train. Flying is faster, but I hate going through the whole security/waiting rigamaroll at the airport. Hadn't been on a train in ages and I didn't want to risk driving into any sudden winter storms.

The trip down took a long time, but didn't feel worse than a flight across the Atlantic. One family of 3 or 4 ahead of us managed to take up at least 8 seats with their stuff and never seemed able to sit down. US border guards did 3 skims of our car, each time with a different set of questions. Most puzzling - when Amy said she was a substitute teacher, they wanted to know the last day she worked. Maybe they thought she would join the underground economy.

Due to a long delay at Albany caused by a burning train ahead of us, we arrived in NYC around 11. First impressive sight - walking down Lexington Ave and seeing the Chrysler Building lit up. We stayed at the Ramada Eastside (Lex & 30th) which was a much better hotel than similar-priced dumps I've stayed at in the past (like the second trip - four in a dinky, dinky room at the Portland Square, near Times Square, with a bathroom smaller than my fridge).

DAY 1 - East Village/Herald Square/Times Square
Started by heading down to what would become "our" subway station, 28th St on the 6 Line, one of the older stations in the system (photo from

Headed down to Union Square, then wandered south along Broadway. Amy bought a bundle of books at the Strand, including a city guide that would become her lifeline. Discovered that the Tower Records outlet no longer existed. Feeling a case of the munchies, quickly strolled down St. Mark's Place to Benny's Burritos, marking out places we'd stop at on the way back. Interesting graffiti along the way, including typical cries against the Shrub and one that could mean anything.

Many spots in NYC to see this message.

We tried to figure out who was the eggman and who was the walrus.

I've eaten at Benny's every time I've been to NYC and haven't been disappointed. Big burritos, good soup and salsa, and a bar which Animal calls home.

It looks like the Muppet gang calls this their watering hole.

Went back across St. Mark's Place. Found a fantastic video/CD store, Kim's, which was loaded with reasonably-priced oddball DVDs. I looked for ages, trying to decide which treasures to pick up. Settled on two compilations of cruel, cruel educational films from the 40s-60s, where it was a capital crime not to fit in. Had an inkling I might try to make my way back before the trip was over.

After dumping our stuff at the hotel, we headed over to Herald Square (34th & Broadway), where Amy could get some shopping in. Discovered a closeout department store called Daffy's, who claimed to have "clothing bargains for millionaire". You might be able to deck yourself out as a millionaire...a coked-out one, circa 1978. With each aisle, our jaws dropped further to the floor. The place to go for striped men's pants (I just looked at the website - it sure doesn't look like the stuff we saw).

Next was Macy's, where Amy had a field day. I bought her a watch for her birthday, then she saved $140 or so on a sweater. It took awhile to buy it - there was no tag on it, so it had to verified, and so on. Meanwhile, the two people behind her in line got into a verbal spat because one left the line for a few minutes then assumed she could have her place back. If Amy noticed nothing else on the trip, it was that New Yawkers love to argue and yell, especially into their cell phones.

Hopped across 34th to an upper-end cosmetics store, Sephora. Amy hit nirvana, testing out half the store, to the point she could no longer distinguish all the scents on her arms. This was a good cue to find dinner. We headed up to Times Square, to a place I'd read wasn't a tourist rip-off, Virgil's Real BBQ. It wasn't - huge portions of good ol' southern BBQ. Amy's chicken & rib combo never seemed to stop reveal veins of meat. Waddled out Broadway, where the only truly oddball sites were a poster of a 1930s mug shot of Frank Sinatra and passing Senor Wences Place, where we couldn't resist launching into a routine ("s'alright? s'alright!"). Legs about shot, we headed back to the hotel.

Each night, there was one show I couldn't stop watching. There was a Mexican talk show that caught my eye, Hasta En Las Mejores Familias (Every Family Has Them), one of the bizarrest things I've seen. Due to my non-existant grasp of Spanish, I can't tell you precisely what was going on, but here's what I could figure out. A little background can be found here (go to the "Track 3" section), along with some pictures (Spanish text). Every night we watched the show, the audience included (1) a pale-faced vampire whose eyes perpetually faced up, (2) a saucer-eyed alien whose hands gestured so wildly you assumed the actor had too much coffee before being seated, (3) a woman dressed semi-tartily who forever blew bubbles and (4) a man with Alfred E. Neuman fake ears, blue-framed glasses and a mullet. On the last show, they were joined by a normal-dressed woman with a fake witch's nose and a snaggled tooth. We couldn't decide if it was a satire of shows like Jerry Springer or the next logical step. Fights broke out every 5 minutes, punctuated with sound effects borrowed from Batman (Adam West version). The audience would jeer or chant in unison. On one show, half the guests came out dressed like clowns, which resulted in tearful families hugging each other. It was like watching a car wreck - you don't want to watch but can't resist. If you have access to the Univision TV network, check it out.