Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Borough Busting

I know it's been a while. This past week has been incredible. I spent six days in New York City for class, and tramped around the island of Manhattan as well as the other four boroughs of this marvelous city, doing things I never expected to do and meeting people that I had never thought I would meet. It was an incredible experience, my sister is living vicariously through me, and I took not one but both Foci with me (which was a handful) and you'll actually, hopefully, be hearing from Murf when he wakes up from his exhaustion.

So, this post is being written concurrently with my reflection paper for class (two birds, one stone, you know how it goes) but I'll be supplementing this edition with photographs from the Big Apple and the journey that we (a class) and I (the Wandering Sagittarius) went on. So, put your walkin' shoes on (you will need them) and in the eternal words that sparked a many a Facebook photo album, "We be rollin'."

Day 1

After a bit of confusion, and miscommunication between Louise and her physics professor (which is fixed and water under the bridge, at the moment, lessons fully learned) we left the wonderfully wet city of Geneva at 3. This was after I had gotten out of class at 11:45, gone to the outlets, bought myself a raincoat (because I didn't have one) came back, packed, went to lab, and things went to shit from there (but it's okay, really) and eventually got on the bus. I lasted until about Syracuse and then fell asleep, waking up when we pulled into Great Bend at Burger King to use the bathroom and maybe get some refreshment. I actually then stayed awake all the way to the rest of the city (through the Poconos and the Delaware Water Gap) and there was a sort of tingle when you crossed the George Washington Bridge over the middle, when you're no longer in New Jersey and you're actually in New York City.

I've never stayed in a hostel before. And, when you've seen the previews for the movie of the same name, it makes you not want to. Trust me. We came down through Washington Heights and the western part of Harlem and landed at Hosteling International at the corner of 103rd and Amsterdam. Literally, we dump the stuff in the rooms, grab the Metropasses, and head down the block to the subway station to head to Columbus Circle, pay some homage to the man who accidentally more or less found the country that we live in. Or rather, the continent.

We trekked up to Carnegie Deli and, of course it being 9 at night and none of us have really eaten (Louise included) we ate dinner. Not only did my sandwich cost me $9.99, it was worth the literal (damn close) pound of bacon they put on their BLT. So you have all this bacon, some tomato on the bottom and a sheaf of lettuce on the top, and sandwiched between two incredibly flimsy-seeming pieces of wheat bread (hallelujah!) and it was so freakin' good bacon!

Upon exiting the deli, you could kind of look down and see Times Square - where we had plans to go the following night - and instead literally starting following our professors to wherever we were intended to literally wander. We passed Carnegie Hall, and wound up at Sixth Avenue, following it down to Rockefeller Center. With the help of a WS alum, we rose all the way to the Top of the Rock. The view was amazing and the entire city was lit and laid before your feet. Hell, if you knew what you were looking at, you could find airports, the Statue of Liberty, and Jersey. There were some group photos snapped, some mayhem as the group started to mesh and get to know each other (because, honestly, if you didn't know anybody coming in, you more or less sat in class very quietly and prayed that the professors didn't call on you and that nobody else tried to make conversation), and then we were off again, walking to Fifth Avenue by Saint Patrick's Cathedral. Which is incredibly beautiful. Also, on Fifth Avenue and the churches there, is where the homeless sleep. The city owns the sidewalk and the first step of the church, but they have sanctuary from the church after that first step. And many were in their sleeping bags and blankets, hidden behind folds of cardboard or out in the open. At least ten, on one church doorway.

Right. Then we did what every sane person in the world does and walked through Central Park at midnight. In a fairly large group, but still. It was somewhat sketchy, rather dark, and somebody has no sense of direction. It was alright, though, since we wound up at Strawberry Fields to see Lennon, and then passed by (after exiting the park) the Dakota Hotel where he was shot. The day, at that point, was pretty much over somewhere between 12:30 and 1 in the morning, and after getting back on the subway and heading to the hostel, I literally crawled into bed, flopped on my stomach, and went to La-La Land without lookin' back.

Day 2

Good morning! 6:15 and Darragh, our TA, was knocking on the door and verifying that yes, indeed, in approximately an hour, we would be awake, cheery, and ready to get going for the day. I plead the fifth to any of the above.I started off my day riding the subway in rush hour, heading down the island of Manhattan to the financial district. This was our first official tour - courtesy of Big Onion (they are absolutely fabulous) - and we started at the Customs House which used to welcome immigrants into the city and the country. There are statues depicting various parts of the world at that time at the front of the building, and it now serves purpose as the Museum of the American Indian.

Right. This is nuts. You might possibly pee yourself at this.

One of my professors is an economics professor (hence the crash-course in economics and sociology) and when walking past the Federal Reserve in lower Manhattan, he instructed us to line up against the side of the building. Ooh-kay. So we line up against the side of the building. He then says to turn around and place our hands on the building. Alrighty. So we do that. We have no idea what's going to happen next, and we definitely weren't expecting him to start basically shouting, in the middle of Manhattan and the financial district, Feel the gold! Feel the power of the gold! Hallelujah! Feel the gold! Feel it! Amen! Feel the gold! We're laughing by that point at how utterly ridiculous this must be for anybody looking on.

As we sort of backtracked back up the sidewalk to head to where Morgan used to live (the pockmarks are still in the cement from when someone basically created an IED in a cart and set it off on the street out front) and there's a Federal Reserve guard eying us in a WTF are you doing!? kind of way with a very, very large rifle.

Wandering a little further through the tour took us to Trinity Church (where Bishop John Henry Hobart, founder of Hobart College) is buried. Alexander Hamilton is also buried there, in the churchyard, and there is this fairly odd statue of what looks like an inverted tree as a memorial to the oak tree that saved a little chapel. Which, you'll hear about relatively soon.

From there it was a trek up to 55 Broad and The Hive at 55 a business improvement district. They're dedicated to really helping the community, especially considering that more and more of their buildings aren't actually financial centers and officers, but residential. About 50% or so of the buildings in the district are residential, and that's because of a certain tax break they can take advantage of. Not to mention that this BID is really looking into making the place more livable - wider streets, more parks, more access - and they're really looking out for the community and seeking a sense of unity.

More walking. Over to 55 Water and this non-profit organization Hope for the Warriors which helps veterans coming back and their families. They basically operate out of the basement of a very tall building sitting right next to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (and, on the other side of that and the street is the river - which one, I couldn't tell you without looking at a map) and across the street from some of the original row buildings (tenements, if you need that visual) which look really cool sitting next to all these high rises. Also where we ate lunch (Burritoville).

After lunch we walked down to Ground Zero. I'm going to do my best to put into words what was going through me while we were there, in this little chapel graveyard (St. Mark's, literally right across the street from TWC) and listening to the story of the wife of an alum who worked there when everything happened. Her and her husband (who worked about thirty floors up in the second tower) made it out safely, and walked from lower Manhattan all the way to Greenwich Village (home for them) once they found out that the other was alright. Someone asked a question about how she felt when she saw movies being made, and she doesn't watch them because she's lived it. Which is completely understandable. Also in the churchyard at St. Mark's we spoke with another alum who works for NYFD at Engine 55 in Chinatown. Engine 55 lost five men that day, and he explained that the event was one of those where everyone more or less grinds to a halt, and comes to help, especially in the firefighting world. They had volunteer firemen coming from all over the country, and the World Trade Center attacks were the first time that the NYFD couldn't handle it on their own.

We had time, about half an hour or so, to more or less wander a little bit. I was with two other girls, and we headed down the block. The area around where TWC stood has been fenced off, and there's banners around the fencing showing what it's going to look like when they get done. Pete, the firefighting that we spoke with, was absolutely right when he said that many consider this sacred ground because so many died there and in such a violent way. They are still clearing debris. It was an incredibly moving sight to see through the cracks in the fencing, and it will, like the day it happened, be one of those things that I never forget. It is very much sacred ground.
Now. St. Mark's chapel, directly across the street. There's a plaque with all that this little colonial church has survived, including 9/11. It was actually saved by a mighty oak tree - when one of the planes hit the towers, a wheel popped off, and headed directly for the church. Instead of leveling the church, it was saved by an oak tree. The same tree that is memorialized in the Trinity Church churchyard.

From there it was onto the subway and up to Gramercy Park, the only private park in the city (you have to live there to have a key). Right across the street is the National Arts Club, who's president Aldon James Jr. took the time to speak with us, feed us cookies, lemonade, and iced tea, and take us on a tour. You couldn't take any photos inside. And all the artwork, sculpture, and everything else they have on exhibit has been donated. The club is used to promote the fine arts - which is everything from paintings and writings to tattoos. Yes, they had one of the best tattoo artists in the world tattoo someone on the room that we were sitting in (not while we were there, but you get the idea). The place is this really old brownstone mansion, with a building more or less out back where they have artists (usually the term loosely, and not just defining those who paint) and Anderson Cooper has actually stayed there on occasion. I asked him some questions afterward, told him I was a writer, and managed to procure his business card. I've sent him an email, attached The Sunset Girl, and I'm still waiting to hear back from him. I'm hoping that I do, and that something good comes of it. Really hoping. But Aldon - Aldon is the type of man that if you have him on your good side, you're golden. You piss him off - he'll bury you six feet under through concrete and bedrock. But that's just the impression that I walked away with, and I found him to a fabulous person who wears rose-tinted glasses.

And as a funny sort of aside, Gramercy Park was on an episode of Law and Order, and the building that was probably the National Arts Club was actually simply a foundation of sorts, and the people who own it and run it are twins (very much like Mr. James and his brother, who is his twin). We all got a chuckle out of that after returning to campus.

From Gramercy Park it was north to Union Square, Madison Square, and the famous Flat Iron Building. Which is really impressive. Then it was over to the fashion district and Madison Aquare Garden (not the sports arena, but the actual park). Once we stayed, took some photos, heard some history from our professors, we head to Times Square. I will now actually type what was given in our syllabus, from our professor, about what we might find in Times Square.

If you've not been here before, and even if you have, you need to be aware that this world-famous site is perhaps the premier place in the city where the unjust, unscrupulously practicing their anti-technes, prey on tourists and "out-of-towners": historically, scams galore have been perpetrated here and flim flam men and women uncountable have used their wiles to seduce the innocent and unsuspecting to part with their money in any manner of seemingly reasonable ways. In short, be forewarned that often all is not as it seems here and that it is perfectly possible, when you are within the purview of some of these masters of manipulation, to think one thing is happening when, in truth, something else altogether is afoot!

Keep that in mind. Seriously.

We broke for dinner (Meredith and I ate at this place called The Irish Rogue where the pork BBQ was wonderful, and so was the cider on tap) and then reconvened in Times Square where I visited a Starbucks to gather some hot chocolate.

Which then led to the next part of the trip, which is actually caught on video by Pete (Spates cousin, in one way or another, from Canada), where several of us are all freaking out. Eventually (Because I have to be careful not to ruin the surprise for those who might take this course in two years and who could possibly read the blog between then and now) we found ourselves in the audience for Lend Me A Tenor which, at the time, hadn't opened on Broadway yet. It stars Justin Bartha (The Hangover, National Treasure), Anthony LaPaglia (Without a Trace, Happy Feet), and Tony Shalhoub (Monk, Cars) and was wonderfully funny and madcap. Which is the opposite of the review it got in the New York Times when it finally debuted, but we all liked it, and that's what counts. And seriously, I didn't know that Justin Bartha could sing like that.

Opera, no less. And Anthony LaPaglia makes one hell of an Italian tenor.

Then it was back down into the subway, back to the hostel, and into bed.

Day 3

This is the day that we had heard about quite a bit. The Doe Fund. The organization that takes homeless men off the street, cleans them up, sobers them up, and puts them to work in order to eventually get them entry-level jobs and a life back.

Suck it up, buttercup, the wake up call is at 5:00 sharp.

We were picked up in the Ready, Willing, and Able vans (the motto of the Doe Fund) and got a ride to the North Harlem facility. The building is known as "Harlem 1" and we had the privilege of having breakfast with the men. This was not the type of breakfast where all the students sat at one table, and the trainees at the others. We mixed. We mingled. And most importantly we talked. We talked about the paths that had brought each man sitting around us to where he was currently, and why he was trying to get back on his feet. Many of them had done prison time, been addicted to drugs or alcohol, or simply couldn't get a foot in the job market and this was all they had left. From there we were split into groups of three (kind of at our own choosing) and literally scattered over the city (the neighborhoods that participated with the program) as the men went about their regular morning. I was in the van that was heading out to a neighborhood in Queens called Kew Gardens. It's a very nice, incredibly Jewish neighborhood, and on the way out there, spoke with Ronnie and Carlton, the two Doe Fund men that the six of us were going to be with for the next three or so hours. Ronnie had been in the program once before, and then thought he knew enough to make it out there, back in Ohio where he's originally from. But things went south, because the job that he thought he was going to get, he didn't, and it's incredibly difficult to find work when you have a prison record. Many of them knew about the upstate New York area only because they had shuffled through the prison and corrections facilities (Elmira, Monterey, Five Points).

We had some time, while they were collecting their blue buckets from the gas station that serves as the starting point of their route, to talk with the supervisor, a man by the name of Chico. Chico was actually a graduate of the program. He'd been addicted to drugs, OD'd more times (actually probably shouldn't even be alive) and said, very emphatically, that faith kept him going through the rough patches. I agree with that. It doesn't necessarily have to be faith in God or religion, but everybody needs to have some faith in something. He also said that it was his job to reach back and help others. Help them through the program, pushing that blue bucket and picking up trash.

Once the said blue buckets were ready to roll, we split into two groups of three and headed out. My group was with Carlton, who I hadn't talked with explicitly in the van on the way out. We walked up the sidewalk, occasionally looking in the shop windows, but mostly talking about how he'd gotten to be where he was. They - the men - are so open and honest and generally want to change how things are for them. That's why they're in the program. They want to change. A lot of them actually cite that they want to be better parents to their children, that they really, really, want to turn things around for their kids.

And it brought me to a moment of clarification. These men, these people who have nothing left but their pride, grit, and determination, get up every morning and push a blue bucket around, picking up trash and emptying trash cans for the city sanitation department to come pick up because it's what they have and they want to get out of the cycle that they were in. Me? I struggle some days having the motivation to do my homework and other such things. It just blew my mind. It was one of those lightbulb moments that wasn't necessarily happy and cheerful. They are proud of what they do, and they do it to change themselves.

Once our three hours were up, it was back in the van (Ronnie and Carlton had to finish their shift and couldn't come back with us) and back to Harlem for lunch. We had lunch with them. The man that I sat across from had a job interview, and we wished him luck. I was able to do some private journaling while we were sitting there, before we met with the program directors and founders. A Hobart Alum was there as well, and I'll mention now that he's a Trustee, too.

After that it was back in the vans and up to the South Bronx to Saint Ann's Church. There we met Reverend Martha Overall from whom the book Ordinary Resurrections is based on. This was, possibly, one of my favorite experiences, especially as a teacher-in-training. We helped out with the after school program, including getting the children from their local school. It was interesting because there is a sense of community there, but it's a different sort. And the kids were incredibly excited to see us. There are around 70 kids in the program, and only 4 teachers. So having about 30 extra hands and minds was probably awesome for them. We helped with homework. I helped Dennise with her math homework - adding and subtracting triple-digit numbers. Other students worked on reading out loud to my fellow classmates. It was a little heart-breaking to have to leave them for a little bit to speak with Mother Martha, who's currently at odds with the city over Metropasses. The city gives free Metropasses to students so they can commute to school. However, this costs a chunk of change, and the city is thinking of taking it back. Which will mean that some students, who's parents can't afford the Metropass, won't be able to get to school. But they can put $4 million dollars into the digital signs that tell you how far your train is, in minutes, away from your platform? Doesn't seem quite right, does it?

I really do think that we impacting these kids lives in a way that they won't forget (or forget anytime soon). I think we made a difference, and I know that I want to continue to make a difference, somehow, in someway.

Back down to Manhattan we went, this time to the Doe Fund graduation ceremony. It was at the Church of St. Ignatius (in Wallace Hall, in the basement, but still a wonderful place) and it was incredible. We saw many of the people that we had seen earlier that day, and for many of these men on this formal occasion, this is the first and only graduation that they've had. And they're very proud of that. Their families are very proud of that, and they are very proud of the fact that many of them have stayed clean and sober for over two years or more. This is their accomplishment. They have earned this.

In start contrast to this was dinner. A college Trustee sponsored a dinner at Tse Yang Restaurant, and it's known as one of the best Chinese restaurants in New York City. A Hobart alum was the chef in charge of preparing our meal - including his signature dish of Peking Duck - and it was an absolutely fabulous dinner. There was so much food. And there was also a lot of mixing of the students. This was the night, I think, that we really got to know each other and grew closer as a class.
Once dinner was over it was back to the subway and back to the Hostel, and rolling into bed.

Day 4

Dead yet? Caffeine is a must.

Wake up is at 6:00. That's practically noon!

We were supposed to walk through the Upper West Side (the neighborhood we were staying in) to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine and instead more or less bypassed that and walked down to Morningside Heights Park and into Harlem to spend part of the morning at the Harlem Children's Zone and Promise Academy Charter School. This was....this was another one of those incredible experiences. We watched their morning chant and dance session in the hallway on the third floor of a school building (they have going to college built into this), watched them hand out student of the week awards for each class, and then had a conversation with the principle. Being a teacher-in-training, this was interesting for me because it was a different sort of setting than what I'm accustomed to. The teachers, in this academy, aren't unionized. All of them must have a certain number of students pass, or they're gone. Their extra stipends come from how many are in a certain percentile. I'm still a little on the fence about where I sit in terms of unions, but I could completely see that this was working for them. The students were engaged and excited to be there.We were then allowed to push into some of the classrooms, and one girl that I had introduced myself to in the hallway earlier, remembered my name. And they wanted to know if I was their new teacher. I went with them down to the cafeteria (they get breakfast every day, free from the school) and it really was like they considered me a new teacher. Back upstairs, Loren and I were talking with some of the students and they were incredibly eager to share with us what they were learning, and how good they were at what they did. It was an incredible experience, and different from the children at St. Ann's because at St. Ann's sometimes you had to constantly prod the child to do work, and to focus. Here, they want to do well, and they want to go to college. It was flooring.

Downtown we went afterward, down to the 34th Street Partnership that's working with businesses to improve their storefronts. Well, okay, I'm a little mixed about this place. I understand that they want to bring money and a certain type of person into their neighborhood, but they were doing it by getting rid of those mom and pop stores that you usually see, their storefronts overflowing. Now, I'll agree that that probably didn't look the best, but there has to be another way to get them to have some improvements without forcing them from the neighborhood they've called their own for a long time. The 34th Street Partnership is also responsible for the new garbage cans, street lights, and putting more greenery on the streets in general. Another interesting thing to now is the benches - the benches are sectioned, like individual seats. Which, before I had been through experience I wouldn't have really thought anything of it - now I realize they did that to prevent the homeless from sleeping there. Cleaning up the neighborhood in more than one way, dontcha think? Take that as you will.

So, the 34th Street Partnership is across the street from Bryant Park - the sight of the Fashion show in the summer, the culmination of Project Runway if you watch that, and what happens is that every year (or every year prior to this, as Fashion Week has moved to a different location) those who put the show on replant grass in the park because they basically tamp it down and make it look very, very bad. Bryant Park has a wonderful public bathroom, and sits behind the New York City Public Library. The famous one, with the lions out front.

We actually got to go into the library for a little bit. When some of us came back outside, much to our surprise there was a New York Times reporter who had somehow heard word of us in the city. So, he and his photographer walked with us from the NYCPL up to Grand Central Terminal, asking us questions and gathering information about the course and what it's supposed to do. And, well, all week we've been told to ask questions, and at one point, I think we were asking them more questions than they were asking us.

The Blog article appeared in the City Room section. Follow this link to read about us.

On the way to GCT we passed the Pierpont Morgan Library, and walked up Park Avenue. We had a really quick lunch in GCT, and then it was back to Park Avenue. We passed the Waldorf Hotel (even went in, and because I really had to use the bathroom, used the bathroom at the Waldorf and it was the most amazing bathroom I have ever peed in) and various other buildings, looking at them for their architecture courtesy of a guide who works for the New York Landmarks Commission.

Then it was onto the subway and out to the Meatpacking District and this really cool park called The High Line. What The High Line is, is an old, abandoned, elevated freight railway that they've converted into a public park. It weaves through buildings, has great views, and the park is pretty snazzily put together. And to think they wanted to tear it down. A quick (and I mean quick, like run!) jaunt through Chelsea Market and then into the Meatpacking District proper to see how gentrified it has become. Then it was out to Washington Square Park to see the filmmaker of one of the films we saw prior to traveling to NYC - but we were more fascinated with the fairly crazy lady in all black with red boots and a red floppy-brimmed hat feeding the squirrels out of her hand. It was quite impressive, and absolutely hilarious. We were there about fifteen minutes, max, and then hustled out and over to John's of Bleeker Street to have pizza. It was good pizza. I was expected the slices that I ate to come back and bite me later, but amazingly I was good to go.

Though, and I really do need to mention this, after dinner there was a little bit of leeway time - not enough to wander substantially - but enough so that if we needed to we could get some coffee and such. Well, considering it was the middle of Lent and Louise couldn't have coffee, I settled for hot chocolate. And I found this little hole-in-the-wall that was a hotdog place more than a coffee shop. It was the best hot chocolate that I have ever had. I probably couldn't find it again if I tried.

Next was a nighttime walking tour through Greenwich Village and the West Village by Big Onion (those people were amazing). By that time, because the sun had set, and the wind was blowing off the river much like it does off the lake, we were all freezing. We had been joined a little bit by a homeless man who was slightly disruptive, but managed to shake him and his 3.9 from NYU off for the rest of the tour. By the end of it, we were all frozen. I did not go with one of my professors to the White Horse Tavern (passing Jane Jacob's house, probably) and chose to get back on the subway and head back to the hostel. Where, later, as I lay in bed and was carrying on a conversation with two other people, I'm pretty sure we all fell asleep in the middle of it.

Day 5

Awake? No? Coffee up, cowboy, we gotta go. Wake up call at 6:30 and we be rollin' at 7:30.
So, one of our local guides, guy by the name of Jack (who commented on the blog post by the New York Times) took us through the housing projects that rest right next to our hostel. They were built as part of the urban renewal in the '60's, built in place of tenement stock that used to be there and becoming home to the poor - most of whom are not Caucasian. Then it was through the northern edge of Central Park (with the dogs, some of whom needed some fashion sense and more fur) and into the Upper East Side. The place is known as Billionaire's Row (for obvious reasons) and I had this really funny thought while we were walking there. Actually, I had it the day before, too, when we were on Park Avenue near GTC and there were doormen. I don't think I could live somewhere that had a doorman. I'm self-sufficient in ways that, well, I like to open my own doors (except when I can't, like being on crutches or something) and it feels weird to have people who aren't waitresses or waiters in restaurants wait on me. Feels really awkward.

There's a place on Park Avenue, where the "park" starts, that is almost a definite, noticeable dividing line between those who have and those who don't have. That's where the train tracks - the subway and the actual train - go from being above ground to being below. And it's a definite line in the city.Keep that in mind. We hopped on the subway then, and headed up to the South Bronx. I mean way up, in Mott Haven, to be exact. Next to the Cross-Bronx Expressway. Which tore apart a neighborhood and a community when it was built by Robert Moses. Robert Moses, actually, wanted to run highways for the sake of moving traffic easier all across the island of Manhattan. To help traffic flow. Never mind the neighborhoods and communities that he would destroy in the process. Which isn't to say that he didn't do great things for NYC and the State. He was Parks Commissioner. He did parks. Parks are great. Public space is great. Highways bisecting neighborhoods and destroying them...not so much. But it's a balance. He thought he was doing what was best for the city, and in some ways he was. In other ways it didn't work out so well.

I just want to mention that as you enter the Bronx the train becomes elevated. There is absolutely stunningly beautiful public stained glass art in the subway stations. Absolutely gorgeous.

From there it was a subway hop on the G train and down into Queens. If you kept up with my tweets, this is the part where I was like, I have to hold it all the way from the South Bronx to Queens!? and was truly impressed that I didn't mess myself. I really had to go. Once we were in Queens, we went to the City of New York Department of Transportation. Which, funnily, is housed in the same building as the City of New York Department of Education. In this building are the traffic cams. They actually combined their workstations - the State, City, and the branch of NYPD that takes care of things like this used to be in one building but separate offices. Now they share. The technology in that room is pretty cool, as are the TV's. We got to learn a little about the Traffic Management Center at Queens Plaza. How they keep everything operating. There's a board that has LED lights in it that are the functioning traffic lights in Manhattan. They're working on doing similar for the other boroughs. Lunch was with a friend of mine who suggested we go to the corner store. Her boyfriend lives further into Queens, and they don't really have any fast food chains down in that area - they have corner stores. This corner store happened to serve Boar's Head meats - and they had wheat bread, too! And the sandwich was really good, too. And a lot cheaper than what I would have paid had I gone to Subway like I was itching toward. The stop at the Dunkin Donuts couldn't be helped.
From there it was to Long Island City, where one of my professors was born. (You'll find this amusing - one is native to NYC the other to that city to the north that Yankee fans don't speak of. It makes for an interesting class dynamic, especially since baseball is heating up.)

So, funny story. There's this park, down by the river in Long Island City. And, of course, when you have a bunch of college kids, an alum's little son, and there's a playground - we're going to beeline for it. Well, Louise didn't guesstimate right because I went to go into the playground (the slide! It was twisty!) and tore my raincoat on the gate. Stopped, had the perfect expression, and then was like, shit happens, and then went and slid down the slide. The hole in the raincoat doesn't actually go through the liner, so that's good, but there's still a damn big hole in it. There are worse things in life than ripping your raincoat. And there are only a few things more fun than sliding down a slide. In NYC nonetheless.

Back on the subway. Out to Park Slope in Brooklyn, next to Prospect Park. Look at all the brownstone buildings. Borough Hall. A branch of the library. Grand Army Central (which I just had to GoogleEarth because I couldn't remember what it was named). Then it was back on the subway to Brooklyn Heights. There was some time to get some coffee.
Also buy a postcard. Again, if you followed my tweets you'd have seen this. Since Madaline was born, she's gotten a postcard from every place that her Aunt Olly has been. When I went to Holland, Belgium, and Germany my senior year of high school, she got a postcard from the small German village that we wandered through. She got a postcard over the summer from me in Martha's Vineyard (actually, I think she got two because I didn't put a stamp on the first one and then thought that somebody wouldn't have, bought another one, and filled that out and sent it, stamp included) and the idea is that I want to fill the side of her fridge from the places that I go. So, she has a postcard from NYC with a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge on it, from Aunt Olly. And, barring any incredible unforeseen accidents, she'll get one from Toronto in a couple of weeks.

No idea how many she's going to get in the Fall. But it's something that I want to be ours. She has things she does with Daddy, and Mommy, and her Grammy and Grampy. Her aunt who's at college nine months out of the year? We'll have this.So, down the street we walked to the Heights Promenade. The skyline was wonderful, and we were in the process of just timing it right. Down along the river we went, toward that bridge that everybody knows. And, of course, we walked the bridge as the sun was setting and the twilight was coming, and everything was perfect.

Once on the other side of the bridge, after some of us had waited for our professor (the one who is retiring this year) to get done with his bridge walk) all got hugs as he got sorta emotional (understandable) and me being me, if somebody else cries then there's that 95% chance that I'm going to start tearing up, and it was...it was special and lovely. And I'm really glad that I got to be a part of it.

Then it was a free night. Some of us went back to the Hostel, some went to the bars, and some of us went with a friend and native New Yorker back to Brooklyn for dinner with her and her family. It was curried shrimp, mixed vegetables, white rice, and absolutely awesome!

After that - and it's like almost midnight now - it was back to the Hostel and into bed. One day left in the city.

Day 6

This is the day that we ate our way through Lower Manhattan. No joke.
6:30 walk up call, pack the bus, get on the bus, and sort of drive around until they drop us as Astor Place. Through the East Village we went. We visited St. Mark's in the Bowery and Tompkins Square. We were walking through the place that nearly every immigrant group had walked before us, on their first journey through the streets of America and New York City. They started their lives again in the streets that we were walking. Who knows how many of my ancestors came before me through that place? There was lots of public art - murals, and such - and there was this one memorable place in which you could get your tattoo while sippin' on a cappuccino. I found that rather amusing.

I haven't seen the movie When Harry Met Sally. If you have, and you remember the diner seen? Katz's? We went there. I didn't eat anything, because at Tompkins Square Park there were some local vendors - I was in possession of a black and white cookie, warm cider, and the sight of a Red Jacket Orchards truck 280 miles from the legit Red Jacket Orchard. And being down around Alphabet City ultimately reminded me of RENT.

We then walked through Hester Street (saw the film, yes I did) and then entered in Chinatown. Broke for lunch. I had bubble tea - incredibly sweet tea with tapioca balls at the bottom that you suck through with the tea. Tapioca by itself and in large ball form? Very chewy. It's a different texture, but you get used to it. We re-met at the Church of the Transfiguration for our last Big Onion tour (he was awesome) and he took us through a tour of Chinatown (the crookedest street in New York City - known also as the Bloody Angle since you can't see around the corner and someone could bludgeon you for your money) and then up into Little Italy.

We then paid a visit to Engine 55, the firehouse one of the alum's is out of, and no, we couldn't slide down the pole though we really did want to, and saw the memorial they have of the five men they lost on 9/11. The hooks on which their coats hang - the five fallen - are from TWC, and there's a door from one of the fire engines they also lost. The gear is still set up, like they could slide down the pole, step into their boots and go. And though there aren't many, there are women who serve the NYFD, and I had a chance to speak with one of them. There is a strong sense of brotherhood (and sisterhood) that the NYFD has, and you can just tell they take so much pride in what they do, and that they help people. And that's important.

After that we had some time before we were slated to walk through SoHo. Which meant that Louise, who wanted Little Italy Italian Gelati trucked herself back through the streets about four blocks, stood in line, got raspberry Gelati - and two cannoli - and hoofed it back in record time. Which meant that I didn't get a bathroom break and ended up running into a bicycle shop and using their bathroom. The canoli? For my mother and my sister. Why? It's Little Italy.

We strolled through SoHo, and I was definitely the wrong child in the family to be walking through there because my ideal outfit is jeans and a shirt. Possibly plaid. Maybe button-up. Anyway. It was interesting.

One last subway ride. South Ferry. Off we went on the Staten Island Ferry. I went all the way up to the top floor, and on the side of the ferry that there really wasn't anything to see because I wanted to see something that wasn't normal. That wasn't what everyone else wanted. I wanted to look beyond the bridge that connects Staten Island back to mainland America, and I wanted to see what was through the fog and out into the ocean. I wanted to look at the opportunity, the vastness of it, and realize that there is something out there to experience and you just have to find it. You have to find it, and have it, and make it your own. I just wanted to look and reflect, and take a photo or two of something unusual. I wanted to mellow out. I also needed to hang onto my $3 Chinatown black beanie (it was freakin' cold in the city) so it wouldn't wind up in the harbor and realized that, in that moment, there was no place else that I wanted to be, except looking at the horizon and thinking, even if for a moment of fearlessness, bring. It. On.

Once again I had to pee (and when you've peed on one moving vessel, it gets easier, especially for something as big and steady as the Staten Island Ferry) and then it was regrouping, making damn sure we had everybody, and then onto the bus. Again, I'll let the poetic words of my professor wash over you because I can't do it any better than this:

After which words of wisdom and paeans of praise have windily wafted down the strait out toward the open sea, we shall board once again our Chariot of Tire and (leaving the driving to them), move toward the cozy confines of the Colleges of the Seneca, resting well (more likely, passing out) in the knowledge that, in a mere six days, we have appled like few before us, smilingly aware that we have eaten all the way to the core of one of the world's most toothsome towns.

Bring on Toronto!

That was the planned stuff! The unplanned stuff? Well, that's this list:

-Having the possibility of getting arrested for, more or less, jumping a turnstile in the subway.

-Getting stuck in the subway door after ramming my thigh on the turnstile.

-Ripping a raincoat.

-Meeting amazing people on the subway, included to, but not limited to, a mariachi band, a man with a guitar that had our professor dancing, and generally just talking with people.

-Watching classmates catch up on sleep on said subway.

-Meeting amazing people in general.

-Having more fun than should be allowed in a college course.

Worth it? Most definitely, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

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"The difference between life and the movies is that a script has to make sense, and life doesn't."

-Joseph L. Mankiewicz