Sunday, July 27, 2008

Off the grid in Battery Park

Having finally arrived after my hellacious journey downtown, I was excited to be in the Financial District. As I walked out of the Wall St. 4 station I had no clue where I was. I knew I was kind of near the New York Stock Exchange. I knew I was kind of near the southern tip of Manhattan. I knew I was kind of near the World Trade Center site.

I just picked a direction and started walking. Turns out I picked south. I ended up at the US Customs House and snapped a few photos. Then I headed across the street to Battery Park. Gorgeous! There were street vendors, plenty of people and it seemed much more vibrant than I was expecting.

The Sphere, formerly kept
on the
World Trade Center plaza
now living in Battery Park.

Battery Park has such an amazing history. I think Castle Clinton is one of two last castles left standing in the city (Belvedere Castle being the other I know of). Clinton was built before the war of 1812 to help defend the city. This is where my ancestors landed after registering at Ellis Island. The ghosts live on in more ways than one, as you could also nickname it monument park. There's the Korean War Memorial and the East Coast War Memorial.

I walked down to the promenade and watched as tourists boarded ferries to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty. This is supposed to be year of boat and it was tempting to go myself. But I really hate that you can't go up to the torch anymore, so I decided to pass. I took some more photos instead.

The sun shines over Liberty Island
and the Statue of Liberty.
(Ellis Island on the right)

I walked around the park for awhile, watching kids splash in the fountains and admiring the many views. I watched the Staten Island ferry depart and saw one of the waterfalls at Governor's Island. Then, I saw a New York water taxi with a big ol' Ikea ad on the side. Wait, was this where the Ikea water taxi left from??!?

After hating Ikea for so long I've become a convert, and they just opened a new store in Red Hook (Brooklyn). They're offering free water taxi rides back and forth from Manhattan and you know I so wanted in on that. So I walked over to where the taxi docked hoping to catch a free ride. It turned out, however, that the Ikea water taxi departs from Pier 11. Wherever that is. (A search later revealed that it was just about a 5-minute walk away east of Wall St. Oh well.)

I bought a snack and walked around Battery Park City for awhile, hitting the Oval Lawn, the Esplanade, Rector Park and Teardrop Park. Everything was gorgeous. I knew I still wanted to see the New York Stock Exchange so I started heading east. A few blocks later, I knew I was in familiar territory when I saw two large posters for WTC 2012. I was near the World Trade Center site. I have not been there since 2002 and at first I considered avoiding it again. But my curiosity got the best of me.

It looks like a construction zone now, which is at once both a relief and a tug at my heart. The fence around the site is high enough so that even from my raised position on Church St I couldn't see down and in. That's OK, I have a pretty good idea of what slurry wall looks like. I struck up a conversation with a couple nearby who had come down after seeing "Man on a Wire," which looks great. Part of the movie dealt with anticipating during the twin towers' construction and the husband remarked that we are in that stage again. So true.

The World Trade Center site, eventually
to feature skyscrapers once again.

A little while later I headed back towards Wall St., taking a slight detour by St. Paul's church first. My wallet is light so I looked longingly at Century 21 without going in. I finally found the bull statue but couldn't take a picture because it was swarmed by tourists. I imagined them all to be Europeans laughing at the dollar. I walked up one of the really cool cobblestone alleys between streets and found Broad St. A few minutes later I had made it to the New York Stock Exchange.


I didn't go inside (I'm not even sure if it's open on the weekends) but I snapped a few photos. Then I walked up to the Federal Memorial and said hello to the George Washington statue outside. I laughed as some guy climbed the statue and hi-fived Mr. Washington. There was plenty of police presence but they seemed very chill about it and I thought that was cool. I didn't give George a hi-five but I took a picture of him from his good side.

I walked up to 40 Wall St. and back down past Trinity Church. I was hoping to get in to see the beautiful stained glass but the church was closed. Bummer. I was pretty exhausted by my tourist-y day anyway, so I jumped back on the 4 train and headed home. Luckily, the trip home only took about 30 minutes. It was a long, satisfying summer Saturday.

Off the grid in Battery Park: Getting There

Photo of Battery Park/lower Manhattan
from The Battery Conservancy site.

I've wanted to visit the southern tip of Manhattan for awhile but I just finally got down there this weekend. The Financial District has a reputation for being dead at night and on the weekends but recently that rap has started to shift. I wanted to see what the deal was and snap some pictures.

It's weird but I am always a bit scared about going off the grid. I like the pattern of numbers of rectangles and am always scared of getting lost. It's silly because you can't really ever get too lost in Manhattan. But apparently my friends are no different because no less than 7 buds rejected the idea of tagging along downtown. Even my friend M who lives in the Financial District was like, "No way, I want to get out of here on the weekend." So I lived up to my independent rep and went alone.

The weather could not have been better -- sunny, pleasantly warm and only a touch of humidity. I left my apartment around noon expecting it to take about 45 minutes to get down there and I felt like that was probably longer than I needed. I had no idea the MTA was about to make me suffer.

There were MTA cops hanging out outside of the 77th St entrances. That should have been my first clue. After waiting on the downtown 6 train platform for 20 minutes (no exaggeration) without a single frickin' announcement I decided to go upstairs and try the bus instead. Bad idea because the line was ridiculous due to no subway. I watched two or three full buses skip the stop and knew that there was definitely a problem. With a sigh, I decided to walk down to 59th St to see if the express was running.

As I passed over the 68th St station, I could sort of hear an announcement about a power outage at Union Square (I think) disrupting downtown service. Awesome. That was going to put a damper on getting off the grid. It was like the city was conspiring against me! I continued walking down anyway and floated around the 59th St area for awhile before continuing down towards Grand Central. I floated from Lexington to 5th Ave and back again. I really was just walking aimlessly. Finally at 44th St and Lex I saw an empty M102 and jumped on it. My trip downtown was back on.

At least it was until it turned out that the last stop on the M102 was in the East Village where Astor Place and St. Mark's Place meet. Turns out only the M103 truly goes downtown, and it stops at City Hall. I knew I was near the 6 train so I decided to give it another shot. I walked over to Astor Place proper and while I found the uptown entrance fine I could not find the downtown entrance. I could only laugh as I walked around looking for it. I guess I could have, you know, asked someone. But it was high comedy aimlessly stumbling around. Eventually I ended up at Broadway and jumped on an N downtown instead. At Canal St. I switched to a 4.

Finally I was on the right train! By this time it was 2:30 PM. It had taken me 2.5 hours to make it to the right subway train. Yeesh. I wouldn't have been surprised if the train broke down along the way. The 4 is the least-efficient subway line after all. A couple of stops later I had finally made it to Wall St. If nothing else, I am at least determined.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I left my heart in Gotham City

I've been calling this the summer of superheroes. Hollywood is not messing around -- Iron Man, Hulk, Hancock, Hellboy, and the list goes on. Even with Spidey and the X-Men taking the summer off it's enough to make any superhero fan swoon. But without a doubt the movie I was most looking forward to was The Dark Knight. I feel like I've been waiting for two years for the movie and I have been flirting with geeking out over it.

I loved the 90s Batman cartoon as a kid. The episodes were so well-drawn and the storylines were great. Last fall I bought the series on DVD and my roommate and I spent more than a few fall and winter nights watching the episodes. I'm sure my love of deco architecture stems in part from the style of the show and maybe my love of New York City is reinforced by the image of Gotham as the city you can never abandon. The thing I most dig about Batman isn't that he doesn't have any super powers. He's just really, really determined; rich enough to buy the technology; and always resourceful.

The admiration has lasted. Living in New York City leading up to the release of the movie has been an experience. Last fall I was shopping on Broadway when we saw an interesting viral marketing effort. It was an old-fashioned campaign car, the kind I remember seeing in Back to the Future, complete with speakers on top and large signs on either side saying "I Believe in Harvey Dent," and pictures of Aaron Eckhart slapped on. My friends didn't get it but I think I did a triple-take. I'm not gonna lie, it was kind of exciting in a very fanboy-ish way. I was kind of hoping that meant they were filming in the city but I learned that the movie was actually shot in Chicago. Later on I consulted my friend D who is an expert in all things marketing and he told me it was part of some kind of alternate reality game for the movie. Over the next couple of weeks some of my friends saw other efforts around the city -- 'Gotham City Police Officers' handing out warning cards about the Joker (they handed out joker cards, of course) and copies of the Gotham Times at newstands by Bryant Park.

Skip forward to this month. My friend P calls to let me know that the Bat Signal is on...the bat signal is on?? What?? Sure enough it was true. Not in the sky unfortunately (how cool would that have been?) but projected onto the Woolworth Building downtown.

The bat signal on the Woolworth Building --
probably not visible from the Bat Plane.

Well that about sent me into a frenzy. It was taking too damn long for this movie to just open already so I could see if it came even a little close to living up to the hype. They even had a large version of the movie poster as the huge building billboard at 23rd and Park. So every night it was like a countdown on my home...20 days until Batman, 19 days, etc. Last week a couple of my friends went to Lincoln Center to check out the red carpet premiere. They marveled at the Batmobile (Bat tank?) and the Bat Pod (Bat cycle??) outside the theater.

The movie billboard
at 23rd and Park.

When my friends wanted to buy tickets three weeks before opening day, I thought they were nuts. But it was a good move on their part because the movie was pretty much sold out all over NYC on opening weekend. The Gotham connection I'd think. Unfortunately I was stuck at work on opening day so I missed out. Luckily for me, my friends accompanied me to a 12:10 AM showing that Sunday (thanks guys!). As everyone has said, Heath Ledger was amazing and I really think the entire cast was pretty awesome.

It's been interesting reading the professional take on the movie. It's a movie about terrorism! It's post-heroic! It takes itself too seriously! But most interesting to me was that Batman was really a secondary character in his own flick. Yeah, the villain always rules these movies. But you could argue for 3 or 4 characters who seemed to have deeper plot lines this time around then either Bruce Wayne or Batman. I went in expecting Batman to save the day but that isn't really what happened. I left the movie both satisfied and unsatisfied. And I left the theater thinking about mob mentality, the danger public servants put themselves in, and what would happen if NYC really had a superhero. Would a super villain also be born of that? Why so serious indeed.

A week later, shows are still selling out and this is probably going to be the biggest movie of the summer. Meanwhile even though I've seen it I can't shut up about it. I'm so interested in other people's takes on the movie. This is worse than after the season finale of Lost. At my work we have a Thursday afternoon drinking party each week during the summer, and this week TDK was the theme. We all came in to find Joker-esque pictures of ourselves on our desks and spent the afternoon chatting about the movie. Just about everyone has seen it.

A photo of our office dog, Joker-ized.

The worst part is that I can't wait for the next one now. And they can't possibly be releasing it before 2011, right? I mean, they have to write a script...and shoot it...and edit it...and...yeah. It's gonna be awhile. I can only hope it's better than the recent 3rd movies in trilogies. Spider-Man 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 3 and X-Men 3, I'm looking at you. And who will the villan be? I guess I have plenty of time to speculate.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The birds have got it out for me

I have no idea what I did to offend the birds in this city, but whatever I did I'm sorry! In the past month I have been the victim of two malicious bird poop attacks. The first one came the day of the NY Philharmonic Concert at Central Park. It was also a Taco Bell Tuesday -- a work tradition that needs no explanation. I was standing innocently enough under a tree on 14th St when I felt the unmistakable plop of bird shit in my hair. A couple of weeks later I was on my way to meet up with a date at Central Park south when a bird pooped on my new white skirt. Lame!

You have to understand I have bad memories of bird poop. In high school I worked on ax exotic bird farm (don't ask) and shoveled more shit then I care to remember. In my sophomore year of college I was walking to American Civ with my then-boyfriend when a flock of birds maliciously dive-bomb pooped on us right outside of Braden Hall (witnesses could only describe the scene as 'ugly').

Let the record show I have never done anything mean to birds. Well, I maybe chased Canadian Geese at my Grandma's house. When I was 5. But since then I've been -- dare I say -- a bird supporter. I would vote for bird rights if a petition came up. I make way for the ducklings. So what gives?

I suppose it wasn't all bad -- the first poop attack on 14th St led me to get my hair shampooed and styled at the upscale salon my work shares a floor with, and I have never gotten so many compliments on my hair. And the second time was an excuse to get a new summer dress, which my date loved. But seriously birds, enough with the shit. Cut the crap. And leave me alone!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Going, going...gone!

We totally got our money's worth
at the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium
on Monday.

I don't know why I love sports (or videogames) so much, but I do. I always have. I have scared enough dates with my multi-sports knowledge and would make the characters on "My Boys" proud. So it should come as no surprise that when faced with the choice of spending my Monday night at Yankee Stadium watching the Home Run Derby or going to a fondue party with some friends I chose bats over dipping pots.

I have to admit the Home Run Derby idea didn't really interest me at first. I was much more interested in trying to get tickets to the All-Star game before I saw how expensive they were. Friend T and I were able to snag tickets for the Derby for under $200 each in the bleachers. Not cheap by any stretch, but still a pretty good deal. The same seats were $500 each for the All-Star game. When faced with the prices, we chose Monday's Derby.

One we got to the Stadium, I was thrilled with our choice. The weather was great, and we got there early enough to see All-Star batting practice. Our bleacher seats were in left field, which we knew would drastically reduce our chance of catching anything with right field's short porch. But the right field bleacher creature section was much more expensive. It didn't matter -- we got to our section just as A-Rod smacked a 425-foot home run right at us. If we'd been more heads up about it we probably could have at least made a play for the ball.

The picturesque sky over Yankee Stadium
during the 2008 Home Run Derby.

We watched Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday (my personal fave) belt carefree homers to all fields as I wistfully pretended that the Derby had already started. Besides Justin Morneau and Berkman I didn't really recognize any of the Derby competitors and it was kind of a bummer. It was almost enough to make me wish Jason Giambi had been voted in as the 32nd man (he promised to take part in the Derby if voted into the All-Star game).

After an hour of downtime, which T and I spent leering at the ESPN crew just to our right and watching the sky turn various shades of pink and purple as the sun set (gorgeous) it was finally time to start the damn thing. We endured Michael Kay trying to excite the crowd, a mini-concert by 3 Doors Down and someone singing the national anthem and then finally Dan Uggla of the Marlins stepped to the plate.

The first round was fun if unremarkable until the Rangers' Josh Hamilton came to the plate. The crowd has been giving polite applause to the competitors, but once Hamilton got going it became clear something amazing was happening. We knew it when one of his early homers run the back of the right field bleachers, and then the next one came within 20 feet of the "Hit it here and win $1,000,000" sign. The jaded crowd woke up, and soon after Hamilton went on a run of 13 straight homers without an out. It was ridiculous. We were all chanting "Ham-il-ton, Ham-il-ton" which is amazing considering 1 - he plays for another AL team and 2 - Yankees fans don't chant for players on other teams under any circumstances.

When Hamilton's 10 outs were spent, he'd broken the single-round record set by current-Yankee-then-Phillie-Bobby Abreu and outhomered the other 7 contestants by at least 11 runs each. The second round become something of a let-down as a result, and the finals were even worse because Hamilton didn't even win the Derby! (This was because the homers total resets itself in the finals, and Hamilton was either exhausted or had cooled.) I didn't know Hamilton's back story or pretty amazing comeback story. I wish I'd known about his dream of hitting a HR Derby out of Yankee Stadium because he came pretty damn close. Suffice it to say I am now a fan...and it certainly doesn't hurt that he's pretty cute!

But man what a friggin' awesome night. Whenever I go to a Yankees game my favorite part is seeing home runs. On Monday night we saw over 50 of them. At the end of the day, the All-Star game is just another baseball game. But the Home Run Derby is a special, unique event that is different and exciting every time. I am so glad I got to see it live. Seeing it in the last year of Yankee Stadium's existence only made it that much better. Just don't ask how much I spent on swag after.