Friday, May 23, 2008

GUEST POST: A Southern Gentleman and his Lady’s trip to the Big City

Welcome to what I hope will be a recurring special feature of this blog: the guest post. My parents went on a fabulous trip to New York earlier this month as a reward for Daddy being "whoa and spiffy" at his job (for those of you who don't know, he works for IBM, and he was recently awarded a patent!). He and Mommy wrote about their trip, as an "homage" to my blog, they said. I present it, in full, to you here:

The alarm clock rang at 4:30 Thursday morning, so that we could make a 6am departure from Tallahassee through Atlanta to New York LaGuardia. While we enjoy Linna and Walter’s company, I’m glad they didn’t join us, or we would have camped out at the Tallahassee airport and still awoken at 4:30 to make the 6am departure. We had packed the car the night before and dropped off Harry at the Puppy-Plaza hotel the day before where he dined daily on a specially prepared mélange of free-range turkey and rice infused with egg protein. Our flight through Atlanta was uneventful as we munched on our 7-grain cherry bit infused Kashi granola bars with our free tea (Lipton) and Delta diet cokes “Can I have the whole can, please?“

Upon arriving in New York, we gathered up our eclectic collection of bags and arranged for ground travel. Our taxi driver spoke fluent English, and smelled of curry, as he transported us to the Hilton hotel via a circuitous route to avoid “traffic” in Manhattan. We enjoyed the “no honking, $350 fine.” signs that were posted and ignored throughout the city. On our previous cruise to Alaska, we learned that unpacking a suitcase for an extended stay makes one feel more homey and civilized, so we unpacked before we set out to sample some of the local fare for our lunchtime victuals. The doorman insisted that we go to Carnegie Deli, aptly named for its close proximity to the famous music hall. It was sublime. The walls were lined with signed 8X10 photos of people that were marginally recognizable. We were seated at a table for 8 that was already occupied by a tourist and a businessman with his tie tucked into his shirt. The NY style cheesecake was teasing me from the windowed carousel. An assortment of pickles was placed before us. Linda recently fell off the diet coke wagon, so we both ordered diet cokes. I ordered the Hot Pastrami on rye and Linda ordered the Shrimp Salad “Are the shrimp fried?” I laughed at the size of the roast beef sandwich delivered to our dining companion and quickly apologized for laughing at his food. My sandwich was 8 inches tall filled with salted, cured, steaming meat, delicious with a bit of mustard. Linda’s salad was overwhelming and at the end of the meal, I asked when she was going to start eating. We skipped the cheesecake, feeling confident that it would not be our last offer of the tempting rich local speciality.

We walked a few blocks to the American Folk Art Museum and saw a goodly collection of Practical Art made by untrained artists. A lovely collection of quilts, carvings, signs, pottery and paintings were arranged by the curator, mostly by history and region. We then saw the special exhibition of Dargerism. Apparently in 1972, Mr. Darger died, and found in his home was a large collection of original art based on 2 child characters called the Vivian Girls who just happened to have male genitalia. He created this whole fantasy world with large drawings that current artist have chosen to emulate through paintings, video and photography. Our eyebrows and heads didn’t return to their normal, upright, unquestioning position until we exited the exhibition. I use the term exhibition as in exhibitionist…

A stroll through Central Park seemed appropriate where we came upon an historic Carousel. We were not the oldest riders on the gaily-decorated stallions! We encountered small school groups and Nannies with their charges ensconced in designer perambulators throughout the park. Puppies of all breeds, colors and sizes were in abundance, much to our collective delight!

Learning from our aforementioned trip to Alaska, we took advantage of having our Hotel room right in the city and went back to the room for a bit of a rest with the serenade of honking taxi cabs reaching our 22nd floor room. We soon got used to the big city noises.

For dinner, we took the subway “downtown” to the Meat Packing District and had a short walk to the “Spotted Pig,” a Mario Batali gastro pub in Greenwich Village. It was early and we were seated right away upstairs in a cozy corner booth where we could watch the bartender and the chef who prepared the “bar food” appetizers. “Jack and Coke” for me and a Mojito for Linda. Apparently Galiano sours are not a common drink in the Big Apple. We discussed being adventurous and ordering the herring appetizer, but a 2nd server came by and made a face, so she talked us into the “Devils on Horseback” for out first course - Pear and Prune wrapped in bacon and boiled in green tea. Lovely. We didn’t eat them all, so when another table of three aspiring actors was seated next to us, we let them try our last one and they ordered a plate for themselves.

I had Ramps for my salad with a fried duck egg on top, followed by a ginger infused beef salad for supper. Linda had a roasted beet and warm goat cheese salad and a colorful arrangement of local and seasonal veg for the entrée. The food, atmosphere and company were phenomenal, thanks largely to the open-minded influence of our progeny who have exposed us to all matter of interesting eatables and activities.

The next morning, we had an official IBM meeting to attend complete with the pre-printed name tags. “Hello, my name is David” and a big sit-down breakfast with other IBM award winners and their spouses. The speaker was one of the award winners and his job was to spend the allotted 15 minutes to meet the IRS requirements for the business expense deductions. An excellent speech that included the information that most of the major museums in New York are free to IBMers and their guests since IBM is a corporate sponsors of all the museums. Nice.

We walked to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) to get in for free and avoid the lines. We took a vow to be “open minded” before we went in. We enjoyed most of the exhibits. The mono-color slabs of paint were silly. The “women’s studies” based art was a little too much “in your face.” The large Monet was cool. My favorite was a large 3 story foyer with a 18” fan hung from a 30 foot cord that just randomly blew around the room. The other really neat area was on the 2nd floor as you went up the escalator. Linda noticed that everyone ahead of us on the escalator was wearing black and white clothes. They had some special yellow lights that turned everything monochrome. All the colors were washed out. What was really neat was that many people walking through didn’t have any reaction to it. While discussing the lighting effects with a family of fellow museum goers, one of their party took a digital photo of her family in the light. When she entered the hall where usual light was restored, the photograph appeared in color. Hmm!? The sculptures in the outdoor courtyard were especially rewarding. One of our favorites was done by a sculptor with the last name of Rickey.

Then we set out to catch the subway down to the bottom of the island to go on our helicopter tour. We arrived early and a gentleman in a red windbreaker told us to get in line next to the building with the others. 20 minutes later a gentleman in a blue windbreaker come out with an official looking clipboard and started looking for someone. We had made a reservation for a flight that was about to take off, so I asked him if we were in the right line and apparently we were not, so he told us to go through the metal detector and he escorted us inside to a desk where we were told we each had to pay an additional $60 in fees and taxes for heliport fees. We waited for another 20 minutes while all the windbreakers had their pizza lunch. There were about 40 people working there in various roles: security, ground crew, pilots ( VIP lounge ), business managers, FAA, Port Authority, etc… It turns out that 3 different companies fly out of the same place and they try to steal each other’s patrons by putting them in the wrong lines. After a lengthy delay the safety video was played which told us about the 4 different kinds of seat belts that can be found in their helicopters. We were also given a yellow life vest pack to fit around our waists. When we finally went outside, we didn’t have to duck under the rotors, but it was fun to do anyway. The flight was about 12 minutes over the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty, but it was very foggy and we couldn’t see much. We can check it off our list and it was on IBM’s dime, so… We got the requisite $20 photo of us next to the helicopter.

We took the subway a short two stops “uptown” to the World Trade Center site. Lots of tourists being respectful and solemn looking at a construction site. Weird. We walked through an old Episcopal church, that George Washington attended, right across the street from the Twin Towers that acted as a rest area for the rescue workers after the September 11 attacks. It was nice. Cots were still set up and lots of memorabilia about 9/11 was on display. It’s still hard to believe the shock from when the mammoth buildings actually fell down, and the horrible loss of life that occurred, but proof that “the world goes on” was strongly evident in the present scene…

Our 2nd nap of the weekend ensued when we returned to the Hotel.

I got to wear my new blue sports coat with big buttons for our evening excursions. We took a human powered bike taxi with a warming lap blanket to Broadway. It’s amazing how safe you feel knowing that a bus, taxi, police car, etc. wouldn’t dare hit a person on a bike. All he had to do was hold up his hand and the traffic stopped!!! He also told us about a place to get a pre-play drink and another place to get a post-play drink. We walked across the street from the theatre to Sardi’s for a drink - a classic small NY bar with regulars and a few tourists. I was getting drinks and Linda was getting a table. When I returned, she was in deep conversation with a nice lady from South Carolina. “I really like your shoes” was how that all started. They were going to Spamalot as well.

We were in the 2nd row and could really see all the facial expressions of the actors. They were having a good time and it was a truly silly, fun affair – even funnier than the Monty Python film. The actor who portrayed Sir Robin was Clay Aiken of American Idol fame. The cast also included an FSU alumnus. It was very entertaining and a thoroughly New York experience.

We took a stroll to the Piano bar recommended by our bicycle guide, but they didn’t have snacks so we went across the street to get a Tapas dinner. We had Manchego cheese, salads, chorizo, spicy fried potatoes and Clams Casino. All dishes were pronounced delicious

That was a full day.

Saturday, we slept late and decided to go out for brunch. We ended up at a diner type place named Lindy’s where we paid $60 for a very mediocre breakfast with “omelets” filled with canned mushrooms and unmelted American cheese food slices – not our finest meal. Curiously, french fries were served alongside the eggs where the unavailable grits should have resided.

The American Museum of Natural History was phenomenal! We’ve all seen pictures of the dinosaur bones in the front entry to the beautifully architected building, but the marvels inside were beyond words. Unfortunately, the museum has not seen fit to publish a volume highlighting its treasures in word and picture form, so the vast majority of our discoveries there remain in our imaginations and memories. After hours inside the museum, we were in great need of some fresh air and Central Park beckoned. We rented cruiser bikes with the intention of wheeling around a section or two of the huge urban greenway, but ended up riding around the entire perimeter of the park! We were proud of our endeavor, having to walk our one-speed bikes only near the very top of the aptly named Great Hill. We spied Lance Armstrong-attired riders with their expensive rides huffily struggling up the apex of the ascent so we didn’t feel bad about having to momentarily accompany our bicycles on foot.

Soft serve ice cream which was in abundance during the previous days excursions was not to be found, so after an exhaustive search for the delicate comfort treat, we tried to have tea at the newly refurbished Plaza Hotel, but we missed it by 15 minutes, having used our time in our failed crusade for a cooler snack. We settled for gourmet cheese and crackers procured from an International grocery store which we enjoyed at our leisure in our hotel room.

Chinese food was had for supper. Lucy Ho’s it was not, but it served as a good starter for the remainder of our evening activities. The Carnegie Club which we greatly anticipated enjoying for Sinatra night, turned out to be a Smoking Club. The unbreathable fog of acrid smoke that enveloped us as we opened the establishment’s door lived up to the purpose of the club’s name.

Went back to the “Don’t Tell Your Mama,” piano bar our bicycle driver told us about the night before, and after waiting a short while in the cold air outside, we were beckoned into its cozy environs where we joined in the ersatz community of theater goers and locals and joined in the singing of show tunes by our waiters and bartenders who all had experience or high hopes of singing on the Great White Way. Again, Galiano was not to be found, but a pineappely sweet Rum Punch served nicely.

Sunday morning arrived with more frigid temperatures, but the rain promised for the day never materialized. We inched our way through a maze of bicycles gathered to begin the Five Borough Bike Race and ventured to St Patrick’s Cathedral for Mass. The gothic architecture of the 160-year old church befitted its role as host of the Pope’s visit just two week’s prior. Mass was celebrated in a decidedly spare manner considering its noble setting. We thought about taking a tour of Brooklyn, but we didn’t know what to look at, so we settled for a bit of breakfast at Starbucks and a shortened tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Having limited time to discover the museum’s many treasures we made a beeline for the Impressionists. Afterwards, we meandered through a maze of Egyptian pyramid exhibits, apparently what is not in the British Museum in London, only to discover that the sculptural exhibit we sought was not open for the day. On to the gift shop where we purchased two posters of art to hang as souvenirs of our New York holiday upon arriving home.

We had time for a bit of a stroll down Park Avenue and a quintessential diner for lunch. The chili burger was wonderfully and pungently spiced and the free range burger expertly prepared. David saved room for a final, last-minute slice of New York cheesecake and Linda finally got a cone with a velvety swirl of soft serve vanilla. Yum!

Our time up and our tour of the samples of the Big Apple complete, we swooped into our hotel and picked up our luggage and hailed a cab back to the airport. The flights were uneventful with a somewhat annoying 90 minute delay in our departure from our Atlanta connection due to a lack of flight attendant available for our 45 minute, no service flight to Tallahassee.

We arrived home about midnight, exhausted and fulfilled from our adventure. The next day we knew we were truly home when we picked up Harry, clean and poofy. And of course we appreciated coming home to a clean house which would be ready for our first wave of visitors in three days…

Can I get some catch-up with those chips?

It's been a hectic month for the London Marders. I have a lot to catch up on, and I'm hoping to do that over the long weekend (we get Monday off for a "bank holiday").

First things first, though. My job. My friend Amy, who had been the website manager, left in April to take a job elsewhere. I asked for her job, but they didn't think I could handle it (boy were they wrong), so they hired someone else and I started applying for other jobs. But the new guy only lasted two weeks, and in those two weeks, even though I was unhappy with my job, I did well enough to show them that, in fact, they should have just given me that job in the first place. My boss actually admitted this and offered the job to me and hired a new assistant website manager. I also got a pretty sweet little raise out of the deal. I started three weeks ago, and I've been insanely busy ever since. But today I finally got some big things crossed off my list, and I think I'll be able to take it a little easier now. The bank holiday could not have come at a better time. Even though I've been really busy, though, I'm really happy with my new job. I feel like I'm accomplishing something, and I'm in charge of the website (absolutely) and the assistant manager (at least nominally). I feel like such an adult!

Andrew's branch manager gig continues to be challenging and, depending on the day you ask him about it, rewarding. He is also ready for the long weekend. While I am catching up on things, I hope he will sit on the couch and play Nintendo until his eyes glaze over. After all, it's a bank holiday. I think bankers should get to relax even more.

I suppose there is a yearly cycle of busy spots in the year, and the cusp of summer is one of them. That, plus our job stuff, plus traveling and entertaining visitors (more on that later...several posts worth) has just left us exhausted. The other thing that has been tiring me out, perhaps I could get some advice on. I recently subscribed to The Economist, which is one of the world's best publications, in my opinion. I can almost feel my brain getting bigger as I read it. Unfortunately, it comes every Friday, and at over 100 fine-print pages per issue, I just can't keep up. I was frantically trying to finish on the train today, but I'm only on page 89. When I walked in the door, I looked on the stairs to see if the mail was there, and it wasn't. I breathed a sigh of relief: maybe I would have an extra day to finish last week's issue. But then I turned around, and lurking behind the door, ready to pounce at me, was the new issue! Does anyone else struggle to keep up with a weekly (or daily or monthly) publication? Any tips?

And finally, high on my list for the weekend is writing some blog posts to publish over the next couple weeks. I've got a lot to write about!