Thursday, June 26, 2008

The New York Philharmonic...and fireworks!!

photo from the New York Philharmonic site

Before this week I had only ever seen one concert on the Great Lawn at Central Park. I'm embarrassed to admit it was Garth Brooks. (I don't even like Garth Brooks!) All I remember was that we were very far away, it was very hard to see the stage and we didn't bring a blanket so our asses got soaked.

This week made for quite a different experience. Every summer the New York Philharmonic gives two free concerts on the Lawn. The first one was on Tuesday. Friend M coordinated the whole thing wonderfully: she planned a potluck wine/cheese event and brought two huge blankets. To help us find her blanket she had a small bunch of purple balloons. The idea worked great -- I arrived just before the concert started and had no trouble finding my group. Of course I had to creep my way through a sea of blankets but everyone had left enough space so that the process was not terrible. I followed a guy who was saying "Which group of red balloons?? There are like 10 of them..." and another saying "Yeah, you may be waving but I have no idea where the fuck you are." Ha.

Our group was a mix of peeps I did know and peeps I didn't. Everyone got along well, especially once the wine was flowing. M had staked out a great spot. We were in the second large section of the lawn, behind the section with the speakers. So it wasn't too loud and we could be social because we weren't with the hard core music lovers. While we didn't have a great view of the stage it hardly mattered because we talked through the whole concert anyway.

The concert itself was great. The Philharmonic played the 1812 Overture, which is one of my favorite pieces ever (though I like Bond's version better) and a few Sousa marches. It was perfect summertime lite fare. As the sun set many people around us lit candles while others broke out light sticks (note to self: bring light sticks next year!). It made for the city's largest picnic. The skyline peeked over the trees as if to listen in and the whole scene was gorgeous. We could even see a few stars in the sky.

During the concert though, I couldn't help but think to myself 'Do you know what would make this even better? Fireworks.' It's summer, it's almost the 4th, and I want fireworks in the city dammit! When the concert was over, I looked south and wished for some sparks in the sky.

As if my prayers were answered, suddenly fireworks appeared! A terrific 15-20 minute show yielded awesome sparklers and I was giddy like a little kid. M and her fiance (also M) chanted ooh and aaah as needed while I attempted to take pictures.

Fireworks, baby!

Amazing. They even had a grand finale as all fireworks shows should. What a great night. Kudos to the Philharmonic for a great show, the Central Park Conservancy for an awesome event, and the NYPD for keeping the peace.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Filling out the MTA survey

'This is a Brooklyn Bridge-bound 6 local train.
The next stop is...overcrowding.'

I can't wait until the 2nd Ave subway line is done. Taking the 6 train in the morning is a disaster right now, and taxis are even worse. I live near the 77th St 6 subway station and go downtown to the 23rd St station for work. If you try to catch a train between 8 AM and about 9:30 you are guaranteed to be squished together with 40-50 other angry, squished commuters in a car where the air conditioning may or may not work.

Around 8:45 there is usually a pack of 3 trains that comes one after another. Were we smart, we would wait for the last and theoretically least crowded train (though in my experience, least crowded is quite relative). But because the station is so miserably hot and crowded we force ourselves into the 1st and 2nd trains, shoving women, children and the elderly alike. I'm embarrassed to be a human at times like these.

Lately my favorite moment of the morning has come at 33rd St, where the conductor often announces "Ladies and gentlemen, due to crowding the next stop on this train will be Union Square." Fuck all. I cannot express how annoying it is to be on a local train that turns express. I'm not sure what problem this solves exactly, since the car pretty much empties and we all just crowd onto the next train instead.

So when I got a MTA survey in the mail, I was excited to complete it. Because it's not just the 6 train that's a fucking mess and I'm more than happy to tell anyone that will listen. The M79 bus is a crowded mess on weekends, and so are any of the 5th Ave buses. Don't even get me started on Metro North. The new train cars for the New Haven line cannot come fast enough. I would recommend avoiding subway elevators. And has anyone actually ever seen a V train? I'm just wondering because the ratio seems to be 5 E or F trains for every one V as you travel along the line.

But the two things that have me the most riled right now are that 1) the MTA board apparently doesn't use public transportation and won't pay tolls unless they're comped and 2) that despite promises to the contrary, it sounds like another fare hike is coming even though fares just went up.

I was really hoping to be able to address both of those items in the survey somewhere, but surprise surprise it's just a readership study with no room to write your actual feedback on the MTA's services. With a sigh of resignation I still filled the damn thing out so they can at least reflect my travel habits.

The survey was three parts: a demographics survey and two daily travel logs. What a disappointment. Two days hardly accounts for the various lines I use. I chose to fill out one of the travel surveys on a weekend day when I was going to Connecticut, just so I could include more modes of transportation. I filled out the survey and mailed it back but you can also call in to a call center. There is, of course, no online option. There's also nowhere to record things like delays, the state of the trains, or other useful information that I think the MTA would want to know about.

As I put the survey back into the mailer, I seriously doubted the usefulness of it. Sure, ridership rates and routines are good to know but does two days really add up to a routine? With no area to give feedback what am I really telling the MTA? And will they really do anything with the information I give them? Something tells me the answer to my last question is no.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Yes, you can get an apartment without a broker

BFF M's boyfriend just made the move from Long Island into the city (well, Roosevelt Island), did pretty much everything wrong yet still managed to find a great place and not pay a broker's fee. A is my new hero.

He hadn't really saved any money for security/broker's fee. Wrong! He started looking during the summer. Wrong! He didn't really pick a price range. Wrong!

Here's how his apartment search went: he saw a sign for The Octagon somewhere, called them up, walked through their model and then signed a lease. Voila! No broker. No extra months of security deposits. No friggin way.

BFF M sent me pictures and the place looks nice enough. The list of amenities is enough to make your jaw drop but I don't want to sound like a shill. Of course, it wouldn't be perfect for someone like me or M -- it's not in Manhattan. You have to take the F train into the city; it's the line that is buried about 10 stories below ground I think. They're closing the Roosevelt Island tram in the fall for renovations. To drive to Manhattan, you have to first take the Triboro to Queens and then come back over to Manhattan.

But all in all A got a really sweet deal. It helps that he's a doctor -- no one really asks doctors for credit checks or extra months of security -- and his price range was $6000 a year higher than mine.

It brings up some excellent points for apartment searching though. You can skip the whole broker money rape by looking up building management companies directly or searching sites that list legitimate no-fee NYC apartment rentals. Pay attention to building ads around the city and visit their websites to get details.

The fee escape seems to be easier for renters looking in NYC the second time around. Here's hoping I have the same good luck in my next apartment search.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Happy Birthday, Brooklyn Bridge!

The Brooklyn Bridge turned 125 in May.
(photo from the Daily News)

Even before I lived in NYC, one of my dreams was to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It is one of my favorite pieces of architecture. I've been under it tons of times on the 4 train, and taken it in from the Manhattan Bridge via the N, R or Q trains. But somehow walking it slipped down my priority list once I moved here until I got two separate invites to make the walk. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas.

My first walking date with friends J and A was killed by torrential downpours. I was disappointed but at least I had a backup date, or so I thought. The rain continued for weeks and my second date was also scuttled by the wet weather. Unbelievable! I whined to anyone who would listen.

For once my whining did some good. About 5 friends forwarded me announcements for the bridge's 125th anniversary party. It was an entire weekend of events starting on Thursday with fireworks. Of course all of the forwards came on Thursday so I was left scrambling for a partner in crime.

After some phone calls I rounded up a small crew and despite the rain earlier in the day we decided to head down. The skies were threatening, the ceiling was low and we were afraid there would be no fireworks. Luckily we were wrong and the fireworks went off as planned.

Once the show was over we walked across the bridge. NYC visitor's guides were handing out informational flyers about the bridge so we grabbed one and were reading the stats out loud as we walked across the bridge. Friend D sarcastically pointed out that the bridge was rated 'poor' during its last inspection. Gulp. Way to point that out when we're halfway across the span!

During the walk I kept looking up at the towers above. The bridge was lit up and Brooklyn looked gorgeous. Once across, we turned around and took in the view of Manhattan. It's views like this that make me wonder if I live in the wrong borough.

The bridge from Brooklyn.

It's such an amazing view from Brooklyn (although the two most iconic pieces are gone) seen everywhere from visit posters to the Sex and the City title screen. Once we'd had our fill, we went over to where a group had gathered around what looked like a really big submarine portal. It was the Telectroscope, which promised a view from Brooklyn to London. A guide was saying that a "long-forgotten" undersea tunnel had been discovered. Obviously for the kiddies. My friends and I snickered but I have to admit looking through the thing was pretty cool!

The Telectroscope.

At the end of the night my fondness for the bridge only grew. I heart New York a bit more each day.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Does anyone else feel like a fried egg?

Come on now, weathermen. When I was whining a couple of weeks ago about it raining all the time and asking for something better, this was not what I meant. Nearly 100 degrees for 4 straight days? Really?

I'm going through my first NYC heatwave as a resident (though today it has cooled to a relatively chilly 86 degrees) and it sucks. You can see the smog rising from the buildings a la Denver and it's painful to walk more than a block in any direction. The buildings and sidewalk absorb the heat and radiate it out. The subways, buses and cabs reek of body odor. It's gross.

On Monday I was at Yankee Stadium. I'm so glad our tickets were in the shade. With temps up to 98 degrees during the game we watched as people in the sun slowly dropped like flies, retreating to the relative cool of the stadium's innards. I'm surprised the players made it through the whole game. Then yesterday I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Museum itself was great but getting there was horrible. We decided to walk and though it was less than 10 blocks we were both drenched by the time we got there. We wanted to go shopping afterwards but were too exhausted.

Out west, the heat isn't too bad because it's dry. But here in NYC it's not really the heat that gets you; it's the humidity. It's why your hair gets curly even though you flat-ironed it. It's why your shirt is soaking wet the minute you walk outside. It's why every breath makes you wonder if you're at sea level or 14,000 feet.

At least I have A/C. I'm lucky in that since I'm on the first floor I can leave it on at the Con-ed recommended level of 75. My friend lives on the top floor of a walk-up and even with it cranking at 70 she was baking. Frying. Whatever.

One thing NYC does have that's nice: fire hydrants. On hot days people crank them open and it is suprisingly refreshing to run through the water. But mostly the whole city seems to be moving at about half speed. Or maybe it's just a mirage...the whole sweltering thing is really messing with me.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Wait, not everyone wants to live in NYC?

In college, when I told people I wanted to live in New York City after school I typically got one of three responses:

1 - Awesome. I'm crashing on your sofabed.
2 - Good for you, but I'll keep my Colorado or move to California thankyouverymuch.
3 - NYC sucks.

Most of the people who gave me the third response had never even been to the city (and in some cases had never even left Colorado). So I usually dismissed it as the typical midwestern anti-East Coast bias. Then once I arrived here some of my friends told me how much they hate the's expensive, people are rude, etc....but they were usually from Boston so I dismissed it as typical Boston anti-New York sentiment.

But now there's been a new type of person that I can't lump into a broad generalization category: the person who just plain doesn't like New York. These people have actually been to New York. They aren't from one of our rivalry towns. Some came here with a positive view and had their minds changed. Some just like the suburbs or country better.

I was at a dinner party a couple of weeks ago telling some new acquaintances about my experiences living here so far. Everyone seemed pretty interested but one of the couples revealed they didn't particularly like the city and rattled off several reasons why. Turns out they were from Boston. But then my friend B admitted he also hated the city. He hated it when his girlfriend dragged him there, he hated it when his friends wanted to party there, he hated getting anywhere within 15 miles of the place.

I was so shocked that I gasped audibly. I have known B for about 5 years and this was the first time I was hearing this. "But...but...we party in the city all the time," I said. "I know, and I do it because that's what everyone else wants to do, but I hate it," he replied. "You're down here practically every weekend though!" I insisted. "Because [my girlfriend] makes me come down," he retorted. "The things you do for love." My eyes glazed over and I tuned out of the conversation. I was trying to process this...there are people who actually don't like New York City?

I went outside for some air and a little while later T came out to find me. You okay? he asked me. I stammered on for a few minutes about how people from all over the world come to New York City because it's the place to be and how could anyone possibly hate? T, an NYC ex-patriot now living up in CT, laughed and reminded me that not everyone loves the sound of parties and ambulances at 2 AM, apartments smaller than most people's closets and food prices that put designer clothing to shame.

"Besides," he said. "Isn't the city already crowded enough? If everyone loved it you'd be priced out."

Okay, you win T. Good point. But my god. I have this whole new perspective I have to incorporate into my worldview now. Not everyone loves New York...not everyone loves it. I keep thinking that if I say it to myself enough I will realize it's true.