The Little Things

I've written a lot about the big things I've seen and done while in New York.  Since I ended up with an extra day here (thanks to a canceled flight out of White Plains) I had the opportunity to reflect on the smaller things I didn't write about that I loved on my visit here.  Here are a few of them:

  • Avery Jane saying, "Again!" any time Sam spun her around or Gram put whipped cream on her finger.
  • The way Uncle John says the dog's name.  It's Zorro, but he says, 'Zarro!' with a particular growl in his voice.
  • Uncle John's deafness and how everyone gives him crap for it.
  • Everyone accusing Gram of cheating at dominoes and her steadfast denial of it...until she actually admitted it after a few glasses of wine.
  • The controlled chaos of the kitchen as Sam, Cindy, and Gram baked goods and fixed dinners.
  • The sound of the train from the top floor of the house.
  • The way the light of the Christmas Tree reflected from the living room.
  • The crisp, clear taste of the tap water thanks to it being furnished by an actual spring.
  • The constant supply of sweets (be it pie, cake, or cookies) and Uncle John's constant ravaging of them if left unattended.
  • The way the verbal crosswalk indicators in NYC say street names with New York accents. (BRAWD-WAYE)
  • Any time someone said, "What'sa matta witchu?"
  • Looking up at night and seeing a wealth of stars in the sky.
  • The bickering that comes with a household full of love.
  • Christmas cookies
  • The term 'rib sticking' for feel-good food.
  • Any time Sam's father mentioned someone making a bad choice, he followed it with "That worked out well for him."
  • The thrill of sledding after a day has gone by and the track has frozen over
  • The way the entire family knows the music to 'The Quiet Man' and hums it like my family once did.
  • The way Avery says, "Ove' hea" and "Get outta hea!"
  • The sheer amount of languages I overhear when walking a block in NYC.
I definitely don't mind spending another night here.  The entire family has shown me nothing but love and generosity.  I do miss my home, though.  Hopefully, my flights tomorrow go well and I get home without any further delay.


Last Bite of the Big Apple

Has it been a week already?

The last seven days have been packed full of new experiences.  Not only did I get to see the sights of New York and experience one of the most iconic locations on the planet, but I met Sam's family and spent plenty of time getting to know them.  I was fed well and have been crazy spoiled up here.  Tomorrow, I get on a plane and return to the regular world.  But first, I had one more day up here, and I spent it in the city.

This time, Sam's mom joined us as we trekked to several locations throughout the city.  We had lunch first thing:  we went back to Schnipper's. Even though Sam and I ate there on Monday, it is one of their favorite places thanks to their delicious Sloppy Joe's.  I didn't mind another burger, for sure.  After refueling, we hopped on the subway and headed for Roosevelt Island.  Sam had shown me an article that had a few lesser-visited locations in the five boroughs and our first stop came from that list.  On Roosevelt Island, there is an old, abandoned smallpox hospital.  How could I resist?

It originally opened in 1856 and was open for one hundred years.  It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the early 70s, but has remained ruined.  Although there is a restoration project underway, the fenced off building is very skeletal.  There is scaffolding everywhere to stabilize the structure, since parts of it are so worn away it would have collapsed otherwise.  In fact, after doing some research, I discovered part of it HAD collapsed in 2008.  As it is, there are many angles and broken shards of the building that make for interesting photos.  Roosevelt Island itself was pretty deserted, too.  The three of us walked the southern half of the island, looking at the ruins and city across the river.  I was particularly enamored with the 59th Street Bridge overhead.  It carries two levels of traffic and is over half a mile long.  Even though there was snow on the ground and it was below freezing, the warm sun and lack of wind made the entire experience on the island very enjoyable.

Our next stop was uptown on the western edge of Central Park.  When we surfaced, the first thing we saw were dozens of kids in the park with sleds, enjoying the snowfall with more glee than I can accurately capture with words.  They were everywhere, slipping and sliding on even the smallest hills.  I was invigorating to watch.  Our destination, just a few blocks away, was a place full of opposing emotion.  The Dakota is an apartment building on 72nd Street that was home to John Lennon and Yoko Ono and is the place he was murdered in 1980.  It's a beautiful building and has a style that is completely different from its surroundings.  Even though I associate this residence with a dark event, it's been around for about 130 years and is a real gem of architecture in the area.  Just inside Central Park near the Dakota is a small area called 'Strawberry Fields' with a tribute to the late Beatle.  It was nice to take a moment and reflect.

The sun was already starting to set behind the tall buildings as we descended into the Subway once more.  The last place I wanted to hit while the sun was up was the Brooklyn Bridge.  We arrived at the perfect time and the entire East River was bathed in warm light.  An American flag waved proudly from the bridge as I snapped photos below.  To the south, Lady Liberty held her torch.  I could see the new Trade Center across the water.  It was a lovely spot that served as my last wide vision of the city.  On our way back to the subway, I even hopped up to the main deck of the bridge to get a shot.  We didn't have the time (or energy, for that matter) to walk across the bridge, but I made a note that I would definitely have to do that when the weather was warmer.

By the time we arrived at our actual final stop of the day, it was full-on night.  The slushy streets were turning more treacherous and the unfamiliar streets felt a little more menacing in the East Village.  After all, I was the one leading this party today.  While I was sure my companions would tell me if I was wandering into a questionable part of town, I still kept my head on a swivel.  As with the rest of my time here, I had no problems and arrived at my destination unimpeded.  McSorley's Old Ale House is the oldest Irish pub in the city, being in constant service since the 1850s.  Back when New York City was his home, Woody Guthrie spent a lot of time singing and drinking there.  They only serve two kinds of beer:  dark and light versions of their house ale.  I ordered a dark beer (served in a pair of smaller mugs) and drank in the ale along with my surroundings.  An ancient refrigerator, beer taps that had to be at least 50 years old, and countless pictures and articles on the walls.  Behind me, I felt heat from the old stove that I recognized from a TIME Life photo of Woody Guthrie and his guitar.  Sam took my picture next to it, too, and I left the pub a happy man.

Another long day; another good day.  I loved seeing more of the city and spending it with wonderful people.  The entire last week has far exceeded my expectations.  I will sleep tonight with a happy ache in my feet and my heart.


Snowed In

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been enjoying a few days of rest up here in Brewster.  However, rest does not mean immobility.  Before the snow moved in yesterday evening, I was able to get out and about a little bit around the village and have a look at a few places.

The house sits on a hillside in Putnam County, not far from the Tilly Foster Mine and surrounded by multiple water reservoirs that supply some of the water to New York City.  A dusting of snow fell on Thursday morning, and I was able to wander the acreage and get some photos.  I love the tall, narrow trees and the partially collapsed rock walls that litter the landscape here.  I also toured the old workshop that belonged to Sam's grandfather that passed nearly a year ago.  The cluttered barn was full of old parts and pieces; it was clear where Sam got much of her love for tinkering.  It felt like a holy place.  Once I'd sufficiently explored that, Sam's mom offered to take us around a few places I might find interesting.

Our first stop was a tumble of rocks along the road about half a mile from Gram's house.  It is Cindy's favorite place in the entire area, though she doesn't know why.  Looking around myself, the rocks at this particular spot were larger than any others.  Most likely, they were participants in a rock slide some years ago and this was not their original home.  As such, they stood out and the shadows danced around them uniquely.  Once we left and headed towards the village proper, I noticed the woods had a lot of fallen trees.  Cindy told me the area is a designated watershed area and removing the trees is actually illegal.  As such, the patterns of snowfall and shadow were beautiful in a special way.

The main sight I wanted to spend some time looking at in Brewster was an old railroad bridge that spanned the river.  Those that know me know of my love for old steel bridges.  Thanks to the kindness of the folks at the Honda dealership that exists below the old bridge, I was able to wander freely and get some shots I'm quite happy with.  I also looked at the old Borden Milk factory, the closed elementary school Sam went to, and drove through the quaint downtown district (complete with traditional diner and closed movie theater.)

Today, we awoke to six inches of snow on the ground and temperatures in the single digits.  Sam was giddy with excitement, because this meant we could go sledding...something I'd never done before.  I trudged through the snow after her, can of Pam and round sled in hand.  Sam was kind enough to blaze a path down the hillside, after which we took turns sliding down the increasingly fast slope.  The countryside was silent aside from our happy noisemaking.  Even though I was cold and exhausted after a short while, I loved it.  It felt like a rite of passage.

I just finished helping bake a cake with Sam and Avery, the four year old that has complete control of the household.  Gram is sitting at the kitchen table, making a quilt.  Even though it isn't quite four in the afternoon yet, the shadows already surround the house.  It's been a good few days; even though my foot still aches from whatever the heck I did on Monday, we're talking about going into the city one final time tomorrow.  My trip so far has been glorious and breathtaking...I could go home right now and be totally satisfied with my trip.  Regardless of what happens tomorrow, I've had such a wonderful time.


Ringing in 2014

Another day, another selection of sights and sounds that are uniquely New York.

Sam's mom Cindy drove us into the city yesterday afternoon to a hotel in Brooklyn, where we'd be spending New Year's Eve.  For my visit, Sam purchased tickets to the Bootlegger's Ball, a party held in an old church that was 1920s/30s themed.  Since we were in a car instead of the train, I had a different view of New York on the way in.  Seeing Manhattan from the freeway all lit up was a magnificent sight.  The Empire State Building was lit up with dozens of changing lights, as if it were a spinning disco ball of color.

We checked into our hotel with ease.  Once we got to our room, however, it was quickly obvious that the thermostat was broken.  We called the front desk we were put in a different room immediately, so we quickly gathered our things and moved up six floors.  Not only did we have heat, but the view was much better!  We dressed in our finest and went to dinner around the corner at a little place called Junior's.  The atmosphere inside felt like old town NYC and the food was fabulous!  After a little research, I discovered the place had been open since 1929 and was even featured in a local pop-up book about Brooklyn sights.  Not bad for a random "Hey, let's just eat at this place" selection.

The party was a few blocks away, so we walked.  It was getting bitterly cold and the wind made things even colder.  The streets were quiet, but not menacingly so.  In fact, all of our walking around New York has been without incident.  I haven't even felt uncomfortable.  Anyway, we arrived at the church, checked in, and took in the room.  The crowd was dressed in a mixture of stylish costumes inspired by the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s:  fedoras, feathers, headbands, ties, pinstripes, furs, and spats.  There was a band playing...or, more accurately, an orchestra.  The 13-piece group played all manner of big band dance numbers with occasional interruption by burlesque performers, an aerial performer, and a strongman.  Sam and I danced the night away and rang in the new year under a rain of paper and a cheerful crowd.  It was all quite lovely, even though I can't dance to save my life.

New Year's Day started with a startle.  I hadn't taken my nice camera down to the party, yet I couldn't find it in the room.  I tore the room apart and it was nowhere, even though I KNEW I brought it.  Maybe I left it in the van on the way down?  No, I was sure I had brought it to the hotel.  The only answer that made any sense was that I'd unloaded it in our first room and missed it when we did our sweep before switching.  Maybe the room had stayed empty.  I called the front desk and mentioned our room switch and asked if it would be possible for me to look around the old room.  The clerk told me the hotel was 100% booked and the other room was occupied.  My stomach clenched and my heart sank.  I just stood there, holding the phone and accepting the fact that my camera was gone.  The clerk asked what I was looking for and I meekly said I'd possibly misplaced my camera.  "Oh, the Canon?" she asked.  I stood up straighter and said why, yes indeed, it was a Canon.  The other people had turned it in.  I am so grateful and thankful for the humanity of others.

Cindy picked us up at about 10:30 and took us to our only planned destination for the day:  Coney Island.  On New Year's Day, the Polar Bear Club has their annual plunge into the icy waters.  Even though it has been going on for over 100 years, it's only ballooned in popularity the last decade or so.  There were about 2,500 people there this year participating and many more spectating.  It was 34 degrees out and the water was 41.  Some people were in costume, some people went in with their families, and others spoke about tradition and had been participating for a long time.  At 1:00, the first wave of crazy people hit the water.  I cannot even imagine the feeling of hitting the water.  I was super cold on the shore as it was.  Still, it was amusing to see the shock on their faces.  After walking the boardwalk for a few minutes and stopping into Nathan's (omg best hot dog I've ever had) we headed out.

We decided to make one more stop before heading back to Brewster.  The night before, I had remarked at the landmarks at Flushing Meadows Park, so we drove over to check them out first hand.  The park held the World's Fair in 1939 and 1964 and left behind a few famous structures.  It was empty aside from a few kids at the skate park and a Chinese couple getting wedding photos.  We saw the Unisphere (a big ol' globe) and the observation towers, which most people now associate with the film Men in Black these days.  The towers are rusty and have been closed for almost fifty years now, as has the 'Tent of Tomorrow' ring around the bottom.  I loved getting to look around the area and capturing it with my camera; since the fountains were off, I was even able to get up under the globe to get some shots.

All in all, it's been a lovely 24 hours.  I am still hobbled, though, and am very much looking forward to a day of rest.



New York City.  Finally.  It is, indeed, a hell of a town.

Yesterday started early.  We woke before dawn and bundled up.  Sam's Grams gave us a lift to the train station and we caught the 7:27 train to Grand Central.  Being on a train again brought back a lot of memories of London, Kuala Lumpur, and Osaka.  I watched out the windows with great anticipation as we passed through several small towns like Bedford Hills and Chappaqua.  As we got closer to the city, the buildings got denser and taller.  We passed through a tunnel and suddenly we're riding through Harlem.  Brick apartment buildings were scattered to the horizon; the city seemed to stretch on forever.  It wasn't long before we entered another tunnel and arrived at Grand Central Station.

Surreal was the word of the day, for sure.  Here I was, standing in arguably the most famous train station in the world, looking up at the windows and tile work with my own eyes.  It wasn't as busy as I expected, thanks to us arriving at a non-peak time, and I was able to wander the levels a bit with my camera.  Sam showed me the aural phenomenon that is Whispering Corners (a landing in the station where two people can face away from each other and talk into the tile and hear each other from quite a few feet away.  It reminded me a little of Center of the Universe in Tulsa.  I wonder if this was intentional or just a coincidence, much like the Center?  

Leaving the station, I was greeted with my first real look at the city...and it was busy.  People rushing everywhere on their important errands, trash piled up at the curbside, and Starbucks shops as far as the eye could see.  We took my friend Richard's recommendation to see the Chrysler Building lobby first (an art deco treasure) before walking down to the New York Public Library.  It wasn't open yet, but I got to see the iconic lions out front with their decorative Christmas wreaths.  Around the other side sat Bryant Park, with a few pop-up shops and an ice rink.  Sam tells me the fountain there was featured in the opening for Friends...but seeing as how I never watched that show I just nodded and smiled.  We walked a bit further and I suddenly found myself surrounded by the bright lights of Times Square.

Surreal, once more.  It was the day before New Year's Eve; police barricades were already set up in many areas and preparations were well underway for the celebration.  I stood in the center of the square, nearly by myself, looking up at advertisements and displays that cost more than I'll probably make in my lifetime.  Taxi cabs crawled around me and people continued their rushing about.  I took my small TARDIS out to get a shot of the square when I noticed a guy taking a picture with a worn little sock monkey.  He saw my TARDIS and we talked for a few moments; he was in the city on business and was taking a picture of the monkey for family back home in Oregon.  He was a Doctor Who fan and insisted on getting a few shots my traveling companion as well.  We parted ways as quickly as we met; Sam and I wandered from the square and headed to Rockefeller Plaza.

The walk from Times Square to Rockefeller was filled with more sights that littered my memory, including Radio City Music Hall & NBC Studios.  We rounded the corner to the plaza and my vision was filled with one of the largest trees I'd ever seen.  People were everywhere, taking photos and reveling in the giant Christmas tree.  Ice skaters glided around below us as we circled the plaza, looking into the Lego Store and the nearby Nintendo World store.  My heart was full of excitement as we went into 30 Rockefeller Plaza and rode the elevator up to the observation deck.  It was there that I saw the most amazing sight of the day:  Manhattan from 70 floors up.  We walked around the rooftop and could see to the horizon in all directions.  The Empire State Building and World Trade Center to the south, Central Park to the north, and all points in between.  It was stunning!

Once we descended back to the surface, we took the subway south to the Flatiron district.  The Flatiron building was my absolute must-see in the city; since I loved the Triangle Building in Pawhuska so much and had seen it my entire life, I was very interested in seeing the most famous triangular building in the world.  It didn't disappoint.  It looks impossibly thin from many angles & the architecture had many stylistic nuances that speak to the time it was built.  Like the rest of New York, it was surrounded by dozens of other buildings that, had they been built elsewhere, would get a lot more attention.  In New York, though, architecture suffers from an embarrassment of riches.  We had lunch (at a great little burger place called Schnipper's!) and walked over to The Highline, an old elevated train track that was converted to a park a few years ago.  This was probably the least-touristy place of the day, and even though it was winter time there were sections of green grass among the dormant bushes and trees.  It was here that I realized the shoes I had brought didn't have enough arch support for the day's walking and I developed a slight limp.

We walked back to the subway and went south to Hook and Ladder 8, the fire house in TriBeCa that was used in 'Ghostbusters'.  It was pretty quiet; aside from a painted logo on the sidewalk with a ghost you might not even know its' significance.  It is still in service, but I got a few shots of the building.  My geek heart was happy!  We continued walking south, seeing the new Trade Center up close, Trinity Church (with grave markers form the 1700s!) and eventually making it to Battery Park, which is as close as I got to the Statue of Liberty.  By now, the sun was setting and we needed to head back uptown to have dinner and see the play we had tickets for:  Waiting for Godot with Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart.  Suffice to say, it exceeded my expectations.  It definitely shows that those two are close friends in real life.  Sam, who isn't a fan of Beckett's work normally, was pleasantly surprised at how the play came to life.

We boarded the train back to Brewster at 10:22.  We spent thirteen hours touring the city.  I saw many of the sights I wanted to see, and a few that surprised me.  As I mentioned earlier, the entire day was filled with the surreality that I was in this famous city after dreaming about it for so long.  I felt blessed to experience it with Sam, and we both saw some parts of New York for the first time.  It's that kind of place.  I could spend the rest of my life in NYC and never have the same day twice.


Welcome to New York

Saturday morning started very early for me.  I've turned into more of a morning person over the last few years, but getting up at 4:15 is something I can never adjust to.  It does help to look forward to the reason you're getting up so much earlier than the sun, and I had a great reason.  I was about to board a plane for New York to meet up with my girlfriend Samantha, meet her family, and spend the next eight days experiencing the country in and around The Big Apple.  Even on just four hours of sleep, I was tremendously excited!

My flights were uneventful (just the way I like it) and I arrived at the regional airport in White Plains just before noon.  Seeing Sam's smiling face was like getting a shot of adrenaline; we embraced each other for what felt like forever.  Once we got my bag sorted, we walked outside and I met Sam's mother.  She is a charming woman and it was immediately obvious where Sam's generous spirit came from.  I was welcomed with open arms as we loaded into the family van and drove out to Brewster, the small town where I would be staying.  Although the drive was only about twenty minutes long, I already had a feeling for the countryside.  Trees and water reservoirs were plentiful and the houses all had that northeast charm I'd seen in books and on television.  When we turned into the drive to Sam's grandmother's house, I was immediately in love with the place.

The house is across the road from a canal that connects several water reservoirs, nestled in a forested area.  The three-story structure sits on three acres that are also populated with several small buildings, farming implements (both for decoration and practical use), and an assortment of old trucks in various states of restoration.  Walking into the home filled me with an immediate sense of belonging.  I met Grams and Sam's four year old niece, Avery, and toured the lovingly cluttered rooms that all spoke of several generations' worth of accumulation.  Weathered furniture sat in the spaces unoccupied by family crafts, World War II memorabilia, and the living needs for a space that regularly housed six people:  Grams, Avery, Sam's brother Caleb and his wife, Uncle John, and cousin Jason.  This didn't count others, like Jason's fiance or Sam's mom, who regularly spent a significant amount of time here.  It was a house of controlled chaos.  Sam's room was at the top of the staircase, and that's where I put my bags...right next to the husk of an old .50 caliber gun.

I mentioned earlier that I felt an immediate sense of belonging.  Not only did I get hugs when I walked in, but in a grandmotherly tradition I was offered food instantly (and constantly thereafter.)  Cookies were baked, snacks were purchased...they even got pizza for lunch so that my first meal was authentic New York Style pizza.  I took a short nap and was greeted afterwards with presents and a stocking from the family.  As the evening wore on, dinner was prepared (breakfast for dinner...a choice specific to me) and I met everyone, including Sam's father.  I had been pretty nervous about this meeting, considering our backgrounds were vastly different, but it actually went rather well and we found a few things to talk about.  We ended the evening by drinking and playing dominoes, another family tradition.  I lost miserably, but that hardly mattered.

Sunday was much less busy, but I got the chance to walk around the property and see some of the artifacts up close.  It was raining, so I didn't get a lot of good pictures, but I look forward to taking my camera out later in the week.  Tomorrow will be my first day in the city proper, and I am prepared to be overwhelmed.


The Possibilities of the Future

"What is your favorite picture that you've taken?"

I was asked this recently, and it is one of those questions that I get often.  I feel differently about all of the pictures I've taken and been pleased with; it's difficult to narrow down a single photo as an absolute favorite.  It feels somehow unfair.  That being said, I do have a picture that is my favorite.  And that troubled me for a long time.

Highway 11 in Osage County

As many of you know, in January of 2011 my father passed away unexpectedly.  He had moved back to his hometown of Pawhuska, Oklahoma to care for his mother, who was in the last stages of lymphoma.  He had no will, so when I received that dreadful phone call, it fell to me to handle his estate.  For the next few months, I traveled to Pawhuska regularly to get everything taken care of.  The road I traveled was the same one that lined memories of visiting my grandparents in the summer or getting together with family for the Fourth of July.  These happy memories of my childhood were being mixed with new feelings of sadness and loss.  I took this photo one morning as I drove through Osage County, along a stretch of highway that mirrored my emotions; familiar, yet strange.  My life was moving into unknown territory, just as the fog obscured my destination.

I will never be able to replicate this picture; the time and emotional place are just as important as the physical location.  That's the reason it's my favorite.  However, until recently I felt that it limited me, which is why it troubled me.  "Surely, nothing I experience will ever match that day...so no future photograph will ever measure up."  Rather than choosing a limited view, that same understanding can open me up for greater success.  I will never take another picture like that again, but I can seek completely different images to express myself.  Acknowledging that I will not be able to replicate that image will stop me from trying...and move on.  Trying to re-create a "better" version of that picture is a waste of time and resources.

This same process is helpful in a variety of areas in life.  No two books are the same.  No two relationships are the same.  No two jobs are the same.  The longer we hold on to the feeling of, "This is what I've experienced before, and this is what I need to achieve again," the longer we rob ourselves of new and potentially greater experiences.  I encourage you to look around and see if there is anything you are trying to 'recapture' from the past; it could be limiting you from even greater heights in the future.