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.