Tuesday, August 30, 2011

No York, No York

Of course you walk or ride the subway in this city. Or you take a cab or a bus. People live far away and ride the train in to the city every day.   It is thrilling to step on a Metro North train on a platform in sleepy suburban Bedford or White Plains or Rye and step off in Grand Central Station in the heart of bustling mid-town Manhattan.  Even closer to that too-good-to-be-true feeling is taking a comfier, quieter, and more expensive Amtrak train from Rhinecliff to Penn Station, with a view of the Hudson almost the whole way.  Some activities, though, require that a person still own a car. Owning a car means that a person needs parking.
Because we live temporarily in mid-town Manhattan, we had a number of options for choosing a garage, since there are a number nearby. We chose a 24-hour garage, since those that do not carry this designation are not open on Sundays.  Based on the number of cars that magically appear on our block on the weekends, when I guess it is legal to park on the street, I have reason to think that there are people who use these Monday-Saturday garages, and move their cars Saturday night and then again before 8 am on Monday morning. After six weeks of living here I still do not understand the parking rules for the streets of Manhattan.  Whatever the details of the parking rules of Manhattan streets, they are neither easy to find out nor easy to follow.  Apartments, too, have rules like this, like 28-day lease cycles, or pet weight limits, or condo owners who can sell the unit out from under you, or co-op boards that can turn you down as a resident because they don’t like you.
Our car is monthly parker number 58. When the car is parked, it is sometimes spirited to a deep parking dimension, and notice of needing the car must be given the night before. Calling an hour in advance of needing one’s car is only sometimes considered enough notice, and I was told last Tuesday, when I called and said I need the car at 1 pm that I couldn’t have it. I then asked for 2 pm, which was granted after the fellow on the phone consulted with someone else. For this level of service, we pay $375 per month.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Our Irene

Sunday evening we made it home with equal parts of technology, stubbornness, and the kind of stupidity that is sometimes called courage.  The cat was soon sprawled on the table, having finally stopped meowing. The dogs were twitching in their sleep on the couch, dreaming of the lightning and thunder they heard that morning, or all the dogs they played with, or whatever things dogs dream of.
We had had weekend plans for a while, and went ahead, leaving a day’s more extra food for the cat and warning the dog kennel that our dogs might need to stay until Monday.  Even though cats are independent, I felt a little sad and worried about the cat, all alone in the apartment, and I did wonder about the consequences of the power going out, high winds, and flooding.  A few weeks ago, we had been invited to spend the weekend upstate with new friends. Now, the weekend had nearly arrived and (then) Hurricane Irene was approaching. The media presented scary scenarios involving 120 mph winds whipping through the tall buildings of Manhattan, flash-flooding in the streets and blocks of power outages. Upstate with new friends seemed like a better option than riding out the storm on our own in a tiny, temporary apartment.
Friday afternoon, after dropping the dogs at day care, we headed out around 3 p.m., but found gridlock within blocks of all the Manhattan escape routes. We let the GPS navigate and we made our way north, taking two hours to get out of the city and up onto a freeway.  Arriving after dark, we had a nice dinner and rushed to bed. 
Saturday was pretty nice weather-wise, although very humid, and our hosts provided pleasant and comfortable array of food and activities. Sunday morning, we slept in a bit, but woke to house-shaking thunder and lightning.  Soon we found the storm had been downgraded, and we put on our gung-ho caps and decided it would probably be okay to make our way back to the city.  Had we been paying attention, we would have also learned that people in Columbia County had been asked to stay off the roads.
We drove from Chatham, New York to Pine Plains, hoping to arrive in time for our usual Sunday riding lessons. It was raining really hard the whole way, but it was not windy, and the roads were mostly empty.  I think most people had more sense than we did. 
The further we went, the scarier it got.  We saw drainage ditches overflowing with fast-moving water, ponds that had doubled in size, roaring creeks and rivers, and standing and flowing water on roads. Within ten miles of our destination, we drove to a spot where the Taconic State Parkway had just been closed.  It was flooded on both sides with the scary brown water you never want to drive across.  The gung-ho caps were flung off, and we started arguing about how to proceed.  I am always very stubborn about turning around, but not turning around was not an option.  We turned around.  Then, we took the first safe-looking road we could find to get off the Taconic, and let the car’s GPS do the rest. The barn was damp and drippy but still had power.  I think they were somewhat surprised to see us.
After riding we visited our oldest son at Bard College, where classes were scheduled to start Monday.  While much of campus has no power, his dorm room was an exception as of yesterday.  There was still a lot of water everywhere, and some downed trees.  We tried to leave in time to make it to Manhattan without it being completely dark. The GPS had to re-route due to traffic information four times, and we made it to the city with only a few scary moments.  It was just getting dark, but our power was on.  The only casualty of the storm we saw in our building Sunday night was the elevator, which we already did not trust.  It was parked on the ground floor, with the mysterious letter “C” where a number should have appeared on the panel. The light was on in the elevator car, and the door was opening and closing, opening and closing. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

You Nork

Tomorrow, I am going on a road trip for a couple of days.   
Here is a list of some of the things in New York that made me happy in the past six weeks.

1. A dozen Pakistan Independence Day Parade floats silently lined up outside the apartment one Sunday morning
2. Finding a really good dentist
3. The old slightly frail guy sitting alone at hipster burger joint Black Shack on Lexington, drinking a shake and eating a burger while he read the New Yorker
4. The Whitney Museum, especially the fourth floor
5. The High Line, plus the bit of unrestored elevated railway that is at the end of the High Line and is both utterly unpromising (covered in weeds, crumbling of rust) and promising (as a future extension) 
6. Our doorman, Ramon
7. Our dog Cherry now pees on command and will even pee in the street sometimes
8. The Brooks Brothers we can walk to
9. Riding the subway or walking in Times Square in breeches and half-chaps
10. Wild Edibles on 3rd Ave between 35th and 36th
11. Summer Streets, when they close Park Avenue to traffic from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park three Saturday mornings in August
12. Traditional Lamb Tagine with couscous at Barbe, the Moroccan restaurant two blocks from here
13. Breakfast and the New York Times and the giant newspaper recycling bins at Grand Central Station
14. The dog run at Madison Square Park 
15. Newton’s “Principia Mathematica” at the Morgan Library 
16. Central air-conditioning
17. Climbing boulders in Central Park
18. Buying a decent banana for 30 cents from a sidewalk cart
19. Jay-walking

Friday, August 12, 2011

Noob York

Today was Friday. A maintenance team of fellows speaking all manner of languages (save English) was expected at one to take another crack at the stopped toilet.  The dogs needed to be out of the way. We needed to be out of the way.
We walked down to West 25th to drop the dogs at doggy day care, and stopped nearby at a forgettable corner “coffee” shop for a late breakfast. It was not Starbucks, which is only for true, on-the-road emergencies. I was served a delicious bagel and cream cheese and fresh squeezed juice, which was nearly ruined by the presence of dreadful see-through tan beverage known in this city as “coffee.” The “coffee” in New York is so consistently bad I have nearly given up the stuff, having gone now from a connoisseur to a sad, furtive junkie.  
After a hurried meal where I growled unnecessarily at my companion, I let him choose the destination: a museum from the list of larger museums we had not visited yet. I am not a fan of the biggest museums, finding their bigness too big to take in, and their sprawling labyrinth floor plans unnavigable. No museum can display everything related to a subject, yet the larger and more grandiose the institution, the greater pretensions of completeness. I might find the gray squirrels entombed in their taxidermed glory, lifeless, dusty but where are the red or the black? The sugar gliders? Chipmunks? Maybe they are there, too. Maybe we just missed them. A frantic search ensues. But the Italian tourists are taking photos of themselves posing in front of the jaguars, and we are in their way. We always move along.
My son picked the American Museum of Natural History, in theory a nice change from the art and antiquities we have already seen at the Morgan, the Guggenheim, the Whitney and the Frick. I knew we could take the subway there: the B (or was it the D?).
We got on the subway at 23rd and 6th, headed uptown. This was a Bronx-bound train, the M, so we would have to change to the B (or was it the D?) in a couple of stops. We hopped off, and on again, making the switch to the D without missing a beat. Just as the doors were closing a young guy with chin-length black wavy hair and a black guitar got on our car and began to sing and play.
He started with the Flaming Lips “Do You Realize?” which he played serviceably despite his insertion of his own harmonica bridge, and moved into “Rocky Raccoon” for which he got a dollar from us and one from another rider. Then he moved down the car with “Don't Think Twice It’s All Right.” It was at this point that we realized the train had gone express, and we were roaring through subway stops without doing the thing that trains are supposed to do at subway stops: stopping.  72nd, 81st, 86th, 96th, and 100th had already flown by.  Before it was over, we would be at 145th, where we would go up and down another flight of stairs to the downtown B and travel another five stops to 81st as intended. 
Our favorite thing at the museum was the skeletons. My son complained that the place smelled of babies. We left after not that long, and by the time we were three blocks from home, I felt the unmistakeable feeling that I was coming down with the strong and sudden virus that knocked my husband out last night in the middle of dinner. Today’s lesson: it should have been the B.