As Special As Any New Yorker (“People Who Make the City” Series)

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Bernice (“People Who Make the City” Series)
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Just as Special as Any New Yorker

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From my sublet in Greenwich I take the subway from W 4th Street Station all the way to 200th, one stop from the end of the blue line. I never noticed before that the street numbers go so high. I don’t mind long subway rides during quieter times of day, New Yorkers are friendly, open people and such pause of transit usually leads to interesting interactions or at the very least fun people-watching. I come out at Dyckman/200th Street and I am in a different world. I went underground in the middle of a metropolis. Now I emerge into the centre of a well-shaken Christmas snow globe. As usual, I pull out my phone for navigation. It shows me a jagged path in an unlikely direction. The suggested route looks more like a turbulent stock-market chart than a path, but I start walking, watching my little dot follow along the blue line on my screen to verify my correctness.

It says I should go directly into what seems to be a children’s park and I do so, continuing on a path out the rear. Sharp right on a dirt or a paved path I cannot tell; it has been snowing all morning; the ground is covered and the air is still thick with snow. Where it meets another path I ignore it and take an almost about-turn sharp left. The jagged-path is having me climb a hill that had been obscured from view. The route makes sense now.

I slip my way back-and-forth through what seems like a very unlikely direction towards anything whatsoever apart from maybe getting lost in a hill-side forest. Higher-up I pause at a vantage point and from my phone map I can tell that I am near the edge of the Hudson River and I should be looking across to New Jersey but all I can see is grey. I think I see the lights of traffic, there may be a roadway lining the river just below. The snow muffles vision and sound, it quiets the air in a magical way. A very heavy structure comes to view as I approach driveways and parked cars. It’s out of place. Is it an old prison? I approach the great structure and go exactly the wrong way. Had I turned left, the entrance was just around the corner. Turning right, I entirely circumnavigate the collection of attached buildings before gaining entry only a few metres from where I started.

Phew. I made it. So, where am I? Part of the benefit of keying an address into one’s GPS and blindly following it is the fun surprise of where you have actually taken yourself.

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I quickly ascertain that I have come to a place called The Cloisters. I now understand this to be a collection of European medieval architectural features brought to Northern Manhattan by Rockefeller and reassembled into one great structure. Original doorways, entries, windows and specific structures are labelled with their original dates and places or origin, reassembled into a new situation here during the 20th century. Medieval artworks flank the walls and adorn antique tables and stands.

I did not attend the Cloisters to see bits of Medieval Europe within the convenience of a Manhattan subway ride. I had never even heard of this venue, an offshoot of the Metropolitan Museum. I have come here to attend a Baroque Christmas concert by the Waverley Consort, that is the address I have navigated to. It had prices for tickets online and more expensive at the door. Online all it said was, “tickets are unavailable” so I assumed I was too late for that discount purchase. Nope. More accurate may have been, “Tickets Are Sold Out,” because that is what I am told when I approach the ticket desk. “You might get lucky and someone might return one though,” a friendly woman informs with cringed face at my reaction of making such a trek to not see a concert. I would have gone to Tosca, and that would have been a lot more convenient, I think to myself. Well, here I am. “Is there a cafe here?” Not in the winter, there is one nearby. I satisfy myself with a water fountain and pay entry into the museum, fingers crossed that in 75 minutes I will be nestled inside a cozy medieval chapel enjoying what is perhaps my favourite kind of music.

The main feature within the Cloisters seems to be a collection of tapestries, “Hunt of the Unicorn”. The poor little unicorn. There he is all riled-up surrounded by chaos with his horn prostrating a hunting dog. In the end, he is captured and they have surrounded him by a tiny little fence. Sad.

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Back in the foyer a grumpy man has arrived without his partner and I excitedly give him $45 for his spare ticket before remembering that he would have paid $25 online. He greedily accepts and makes a dash. His guilty dash is what reminded me of the two prices, because it was odd-enough to make me think about it. This suited man literally took the money and ran. I smile at him when I join the queue for entry and he looks away. Never mind, the concert was fantastic.

Departing for the subway I join a nice couple, both musicians, and a gentleman from Mexico. We decide to navigate the slippery trails together. Most of the patrons will get into their parked cars or wait for a shuttle bus to deliver them to the subway rather than risk breaking fragile hips or twisting tired ankles. I prefer to walk rather than wait on most occasions. The Mexican fellow studied English in Toronto so we chat amicably about that until he changes trains at 168th.

Knowing smiles whenever I mention being here from Toronto, our mayor now being a one-man freak show that has even come-up on my US cell phone as the number two news story by Fox on my mobile feed. I like to think that people only elected him to break our straight-laced stereotype. That he is accomplishing very thoroughly. With any luck he won’t completely destroy the city. Anyway, Americans seem to quite enjoy him. “The joy we get laughing at Mayor Ford almost makes-up for Beiber,” suggested one late-night talk show host. Poor Beiber. You grow-up poor, become uber-famous as a kid, make unfathomable amounts of money, and try not to have any issues. A completely predictable outcome, hopefully he is in a phase he will come-out-of okay. Ford is just a selfish moron who loves attention. And people like to give it to him so his parade may be quite long.

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I am joined by Bernice, a largish black woman in her fifties who appears to have been doing some shopping today. “I was visiting my son and my grandchild today,” she happily offers, “I let them have my Manhattan apartment and moved to New Jersey.” We chat about Christmas and American Thanksgiving. She’s having an easy Christmas this year, it’s her sister’s turn. Three of them take turns hosting.

“When we get together, time passes and suddenly it’s time to go home,” she shares, reminiscing about the bond she has with her siblings. “I got there for Thanksgiving on Friday night, we were having such a great time and were so involved in conversations that we actually forgot to go to bed. We had to take naps on Saturday.” I tell her of my upcoming visit with my sister, who will come here for Christmas and New Years with her Dachshund, Andy. Andy is my pride and joy, which is a bit pathetic when I think about it. Apart from my pride being a dog, and my joy being a dog, he’s not even my dog. Of course I pull-out my iPad and show Bernice (who claims she does not like dogs, but I will not accept this) a slideshow of Andy photos which I am sure she thoroughly enjoyed before she jumped off at the Port Authority Terminal. I hope that really was her stop.

New York is a special place. A forty-year-old man showing a slideshow of his sister’s Dachshund to a large black woman who doesn’t like dogs on the subway – probably makes me special too.

Yes, I could probably call this home.

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It was a strange feeling entering the subway in Greenwich/West Village and exiting into a winter wonderland. I didn’t know where I was going, I just keyed in the address of the performance space and followed GPS.

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And if you see this view, turn left and the entrance is right around the corner.

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I would not have believed such a photo would be taken in Manhattan, unless it was in Central Park.

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I believe this collection of tapestries to be the most famous of the Cloisters holdings.

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The sad finale of the series, Hunt of the Unicorn.

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This is what I was making my way towards. The rest of it was all unexpected.

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I have to show you a few pictures of Andy, then you’ll know that really I’m very normal.

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I showed this one of my Facebook. My sis had gone to Ireland and I was taking care of Andy. After our walk I had been doing emails and the tv was on and finally I wondered, where’s Andy? I went around the corner and there he was. In silent pain. “How could you forget my treat?” He had just been sitting there, desperately hoping I would remember without making as much as a peep. So of course I ran for the camera to capture the moment and then gave him two treats.

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Sometimes he poops. He doesn’t mind me showing you this photo because he’s a dog.

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From Christmas Day in NYC. You can see more pics from that posting.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoy my blog, please share it with your friends! Thanks!

Christmas in New York & Happy New Year!

Dear Readers,
I hope you have all enjoyed the end of 2013 and that you have high hopes and dreams for a happy 2014.

I have not posted on my blog for some weeks but I figure this has been a busy time of year for everyone anyway. Whether you celebrate holidays in December or not, the end of the year brings with it various traditions in many cultures as we reflect on the previous year and look forward to the new one.

I’m not going to share a story today, instead this is just a bit of a catch-up and sharing some photos from my own Christmas in New York.

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This photo collage from 2013 showing pics from the UK, Canada, India, and the USA. If I had sent Christmas Cards or New Year Cards this year, I was going to put this photo in them.

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I spent the month of December in Manhattan. This view was taken from Brooklyn when I joined a tour led by friend, Laurie, who is a NYC Liscenced Tour Guide.

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I stayed just off Washington Square, in Greenwich Village bordering West Village. I loved the area.

Christmas in New York!

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Of course I got a christmas tree to enjoy. I dried orange slices for the first time and really like that traditional look!

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I had a lot of great times with new friends and old during the month, but my hands-down highlight was Christmas with my sister, Barb, and her dog, Andy. They visited from Dec 24th until Jan 1st so we also enjoyed New Years together.

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On Christmas eve we joined carol singing in Washington Square with our friend Guy from England.

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We loved Christmas Eve dinner at “Home” on Cornelia Street, very near to the apartment.

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It was fun taking Andy out on Christmas Day too. He often goes in for kisses when the opportunity presents itself.

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Andy was very lucky that we were happy to walk for hours and that most stores let us shop with him too. Only we couldn’t stop for coffee or food, the laws are very strict about no dogs wherever there is food being served. This is the look he makes when we have returned from a walk but did not take off our coats. Sorry Andy, we’ve gotta eat too!

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Andy could tell where we were getting ready to go out without him. Here he has nestled himself onto Barb’s lap as she is trying to put on her boots.

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Andy Skyping with our Dad’s pug, Buttons, on Christmas day.

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We did not take off our pajamas on Christmas day. I may have cheated and pulled jeans over my onesies though.

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We made our Mother’s cheesy eggs bennies on Christmas morning.

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Andy was exhausted after all the Christmas excitement.

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In the upcoming weeks I will be working on stories from this month in Manhattan while staying in Richmond, Virginia. I also need to catch-up posting my even more recent travels, which will include:

-After NYC I visited dear friends in Rhode Island during the first week of January. They showed me the very handsome towns of Wickford, Newport, and Providence.

-I stayed briefly in Philadelphia but the weather betrayed me so I didn’t see as much as I would have liked. It was freezing and windy and RAINING.

-Currently I am in the charming city of Baltimore where I have enjoyed meeting friendly locals and wandering the streets in the cold, but dry weather.

-Tomorrow I am off to Fredericksburg, Virginia, just for one night as I needed to delay my nearby stay commencing Saturday, Jan 11th.

-I will be staying in Richmond, Virginia for four weeks. The purpose is to get down to business writing! I had too many distractions to write much while I was in New York an I’ve been busy sight seeing ever since. So I needed somewhere to pull-over and reflect and after some research I could tell that I should feel quite at home finding a mix of social activities and quiet time in this little Virginian city.

-I may visit Charlotte, NC, if scheduling allows.

-Following Richmond my “Reunion Tour” of long-time friends continues with a visit with a family close-to-my-heart near Atlanta, Georgia.

-One of my US favs,New Orleans, continues my reunion tour after Georgia.

-Finally, my reunion tour will take me as far as Austin, Texas before I need to start my loop back to Toronto. I’m not American so I need to limit my stay to a max of 6-months during any 12-month period. I don’t want to max my time now because I’ll probably want to spend some of it in NYC again later and who knows where!

I am always happy to meet people while I am travelling so if you or someone you know is in a destination I am visiting, please let me know! Click on the “contact me” tab for my email address.

Cheers Everyone, and
All The Best for a Wonderful 2014!

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Going to the Met (“People Make the City” Series)

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Vera

“I’ve been watching that collect dust for 35 years,” a mature New Yorker tells her friend as they sit staring straight-ahead from the Dress Circle of the Metropolitan Opera House. There is an odd sculpture directly above the proscenium, incongruous to the main of the decor. “It looks a bit like old-fashioned toothless saws and some fishbones; what is it supposed to be?” I ask. In Manhattan one is allowed to jump into others conversations. Toronto is a friendly city too, but we would pretend not to hear a private conversation beside us, to be polite. Here people join in strangers conversations all the time, it’s probably what I love most about this city. “I think it’s a broken violin,” she answers, “but it’s hard to tell. Whatever it is, it sure is ugly.” Yes, it is that. (I look it up later. It’s a bronze called “Untitled” by Mary Callery. I guess she didn’t know what it was either.)

“It’s an ugly theatre,” she adds, “from 1966. The one the opera used before was much nicer.” It’s true, looking around all the balconies, the gold scallop design would have been ugly in any era. The ceiling is great though. I love the Sputnik chandeliers, bursts of crystal celebrating the space age and reminiscent of Superman’s icy home planet. (Did he have an icy home planet? It’s been a while.) I mention this and she adds,”The chandeliers are from Austria.” Before the show an elderly couple I was chatting with in the foyer had told me they were from Czechoslovakia. “The Czech Republic is known for it’s glass and crystal work,” I had acknowledged. Anyway, they are definitely from somewhere. (Post note, they were a gift from the Austrian government and were recently sent to Vienna for refurbishment in 2008.) The lights lower and the low-hanging chandeliers around the periphery rise in unison, they make their way to the ceiling as to not obstruct any view. It is apparent that a few have at times risen too far; there is some damage to the gold leaf ceiling exactly where a few of the chandeliers have scratched against it. This evening they stop about three feet below. In the Met gift shop there are pieces of replaced chandeliers available for sale. Little pieces of starburst that had caught my eye before I knew what they were as they reminded me of my former-partner’s sculptures that he called orb.bits. Sparkly, unique, and collectable, people bought them mostly to hang on their Christmas trees.

Although I don’t love the music of Verdi’s Falstaff I’m happy to see this production conducted by James Levine. I had seen some of his backstory during a live broadcast of Tosca at a cinema recently in Toronto. He has come back after a major spinal injury that had seemed like the end of his illustrious career. Now he’s back and with as much passion as he ever had. With the energy apparent of a twenty year-old. It is a miraculous recovery, even if he is aided by the best hydraulic technology.

“Today’s curtain calls are about twice as long as they should be,” I suggest to nodding seat mates after we’ve all tired of clapping and most of us have stopped. I think it’s great to show appreciation, but if I were directing a curtain call I’d have the company do a respectable once-over and leave the stage with the thunder at it’s full force and before the audience has become worn-out by the effort. Instead they wait for it to trickle, as if they must be standing before us since we’re still clapping. Then we feel like we must keep clapping because they are still standing before us. “Thank you SO SO VERY much,” we seem to be clapping, as if we had not paid hundreds of dollars for our tickets.

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Standing in front of the Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Centre, Manhattan, NYC.

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Gorgeous chandeliers in the lobby.

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Gorgeous chandeliers in the auditorium.

Click the link below to see more images of the chandeliers:

https://www.google.ca/search?q=metropolitan+opera+chandeliers&client=safari&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=emuzUpikKqHIsAT41oL4Dw&ved=0CFwQ7Ak&biw=1024&bih=672#facrc=_&imgrc=lwvz7LK3axG8QM%3A%3BKaFFE8jvKuePuM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fm6.i.pbase.com%252Fg4%252F65%252F615665%252F2%252F60101906.ChandelieratMetropolitanOper.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.pbase.com%252Fimage%252F60101906%3B800%3B533

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Meeting on New York Street Corners

I started my writing project last year in Manhattan, in November 2012. This short posting is from that first month of writing. I will soon be completing the circle and returning to NYC in December where I have rented an apartment in Greenwich Village for the month. I am already starting to plan to do some readings and open mics so if you are in NYC let me know if you’d like to join the audience some night when I’m taking the stage! Cheers!

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I experienced the re-election of President Obama in Times Square during my visit in November, 2012.

Warning: The following prose contains some language of a mature nature that may be offensive to some. Also: Smoking is bad for you. Really, really bad. It was really hard to quit, but I finally did for good in February, 2013.

Finn

“Can you spare a cigarette?” so often the opening line of so many interactions and another reason it’s so hard to quit, again. “Sure,” I fumble into my pocket to pull out a package of B&H. I clearly have the look of someone who does not mind sharing cigarettes, based on the frequency this happens. And it’s true, I don’t mind. “Do you need a light?” I ask after handing him one and his hand lingers on mine a second longer than is comfortable. “Sure,” he says with a gentle voice. I flick my little disposable yellow bic holding it up to where it needs to be. He takes it from me and lights it himself.

“Yellow is my favourite colour,” he smiles, handing my lighter back. “Mine too,” which is true, but a long margin. “What’s your name?” he asks. “Darren.” “Darren?” “Yeah. What’s yours?” “- – -in” The noise at the street corner is loud and I miss it. “Sorry?” “Finn.” “Oh, like Finley?” I elaborate as way of verification, still guessing what I heard. “FINN! F – I – N – N ! God! It’s a simple name!” His anger surprises me and I step back, I turn away. I’m back to the task at hand which is meeting someone for dinner at the corner, but I’m not sure which corner, I just know that we’re meeting at this busy intersection.

“I’m sorry,” he says, reappearing in front of me after having sat for a few moments and finished his cigarette. “Would you like some beer?” he asks, standing too close, intensely making eye contact. I’m blushing. He’s a very cute little guy, not at all my type, but the attention feels nice and he makes me feel special. He holds-up a large can wrapped in a magenta pashmina with just the top showing. “No thanks, I’m waiting for someone, I’m meeting him here.” “Oh,” his face drops. “Is he your boyfriend?” “No.” “Your bodyguard?” “Yes, I’m meeting my bodyguard.” “O-Kay,” he replies in that high-toned ‘I understand’ sort of way. “I’m just kidding, I’m meeting a friend.”

“My roommate calls his guy his bodyguard. Whenever they go anywhere, he tells everyone he’s his bodyguard.” “Really?” “Yeah, but my roommate is an asshole. I mean, he’s a nice guy, I like him, but he’s an asshole.”

“What’s your name again?” “Darren.” “It’s just that I’d really like to go with you to your house and suck your dick all night. I’m just sayin’ . . . . .”

“You saved me!” I blurt aloud as my date arrives on the scene. “Oh?” I gesture with wide eyes. “Okay then, lets go!”

“Bye Finn.” “Bye Darren.”

My date and I walk nearly a dozen blocks South before settling on an Italian Restaurant for dinner. Chatting, we don’t pay great attention to the restaurants we’re passing, but it’s in the direction of his meeting afterwards. Following dinner, we walk a few more blocks where I deposit him for his evening rehearsal. After parting, I continue walking up the side street, I’ll walk a different route home for interest.

“Can you spare a dollar?” a small voice calls out to my left as I round the corner onto 8th Avenue. “Finn!” “Darren!” “Yeah, I’m a homeless guy,” he admits,”that’s my bed and he’s my roommate I told you about.” He points to a commercial entrance closed for the day, in which there is a small pile of dirty blankets, a shopping bag, and another smallish black guy holding the fort.

Finn suddenly brightens. “How was your date, Darren?” “How did you know it was a date?” “Oh, I could tell.” “It was really nice. We’re meeting again.” “I’m happy for you.” “Thanks.” “Here’s some money for dinner, Finn, I gotta go,” I start to walk. “Thanks Darren! See you around!” “Take care Finn.”

As for my date, we did meet once more. But only once.

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Some random shots from Nov, 2012 in NYC.

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Manhattan – Story – Uptown Tour

Manhattan Story – November 2012 – Uptown Tour

Uptown Tour

“We’re visiting from Hawaii. How about you?”
We’re perched on a bench on the 3rd sightseeing coach I’ve waited for. It’s 1 Celsius, pissing rain outside. Too cold and wet for wandering, I thought, a good day to take a tour.

The first bus had room for 10 or so inside, but the bubble covering half of the double of the decker was full. “You can sit in the open area,” I’m informed, “but it would be better to wait for the next bus in 20 minutes or so.” No kidding. A little more than 20 minutes later the next downtown tour does arrive and I am again faced with the same option. A family of 4 is demanding a refund and I ask my options. “Go around the corner off 8th for the Uptown Tour, they’ll have room.”

“You know you can’t sit there, you’ll have to go upstairs.” we’re told after we’ve been joking about the non-existent view from our hard bench seats. Oh, it’s not a bench, it really is just a ledge. We disembark for the next tour bus to arrive. It’s been well more than an hour that I’ve been trying to board a tour bus now, I’m already wet and cold waiting for lucky number 4.

“In Northern Thailand she tried to pet a baby water musk-ox,” he tells me, “but the mother was not far off. I saw the mother crouch down to charge and I yelled for her to run.” (This story launched from me asking them if they had had any crazy travel adventures after having told them one of mine. I don’t remember what story I told.)

“I looked behind me and he was already far away,” she adds, “so I backed away too. The mother didn’t charge after all, I guess I was lucky.” No kidding. This nice couple, they seem far more sensible than to approach and pet a wild water musk ox.

I suppose our live lives are so safe compared to our evolutionary ancestors that precautionary behaviour needs to be learned. I see this with dogs all the time. People will approach a tied-up stranger dog (a threatening position for the dog, they are tied-up, can’t get away from you and could panic if they misread you as threatening), then they approach the dog from above (an aggressive, threatening stance from the dog’s perspective) and reach right for the dogs face to pet his head. Parents will even sometimes let their kids run up to the dog, which can be frightening and threatening, to the dog it is the same as what an attack looks like and they don’t have time to assess. Most dogs are trusting and kind and will accept this threatening behaviour with a wagging tail and hope for the best, but if a dog is fearful at all this scenario can turn out poorly. It would not be the dog’s fault if he bit the stranger, it would be a predictable outcome. People can be thoughtlessly stupid and very often are.

Tour bus number 4 arrives and we climb the stairs (there are no seats that even exist on the main level of this one, it’s “not open to the public”) The top of this coach is open-covered. A canopy of semi-transparent very-worn plexiglass covers the roof and sides just enough to obscure the view. We all peer out the front, a 20-or-so inch concave opening that creates a wind-tunnel of the elements.

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One block from home we set off through the Theatre District. I learn that a Broadway Show has 500 or more seats, Off Broadway has less than 500. The term does not identify specific location or the type of show.

Passing Columbus Circle we learn that the city stopped celebrating Columbus Day when it was brought to light that Columbus murdered at least 2 dozen indigenous people (Native Americans) in cold blood. (Cold blood meaning without provocation, for no reason.) NYC still has the day off to make it a long weekend, but it is no longer in honour of Columbus since discovering he wasn’t honourable.

We travel alongside Central Park and the guide jokes about any of us wanting off for a wee stroll through Strawberry Fields, the place so famous from the Beatles Song. After being pelted by rain flying straight at us, we’re now enjoying icy winds, accentuated by driving in our wind tunnel, and snow. By this point I am now wearing a plastic bag rain coat over my soaked usually-warm overcoat. I empty my shopping into my satchel and tie the plastic shopping bags over my now-soaked gloves. I am freezing, we all are.

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At the top of the park we head West to Amsterdam Avenue where we pass the Ivy League school of Columbia intermingled, it seems, with student dorms and public housing. A story about Eisenhower, he didn’t teach here but he did research here. There are 79 Nobel laureates in Science alone, from Columbia.

Towards the Hudson River we pass an enormous Cathedral (Riverside church?). Heading more centrally into Harlem we pass the famous Apollo Theatre, home to Jazz greats. We learn that the Clintons have domicile nearby. With this neighbourhood’s short domicile requirement Hillary could more quickly follow her vocation from here than most anywhere else after her husband’s Presidency.

Harlem has been cleaned-up with technology. Camera’s everywhere, one cannot snipe a chocolate bar or graffiti a mailbox without being made famous by cameras. It worked too, this is now a walkable area whereas 20 years ago we would have stayed well-away.

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Returning to Central Park, now on the East Side, we pass the only natural body of water in NYC, the Harlem Reservoir. Now driving along Museum Row, the are of 5th Avenue alongside the park that houses the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and others, I now find myself alone on the tour. The others have all jumped-ship for warmth. I would too, but I just want to get home and a taxi would be no quicker, we’re slugging along with the traffic. Fire trucks now behind us take minutes to be able to make any headway, the sirens fill the air for minutes as there is no space for anyone to give way. Eventually they come to an intersection and are able to turn off. Traffic-wise, it’s an odd place for a fire station, but I’m sure they were located here to protect the museums.

I learn that Mark, our mid-forties guide with a strong Jewish accent, is from New Jersey. He has been narrating these tours for a decade now. You’d think after a decade he’d come up with some fun banter that extended beyond the memorised facts. I ask him, as a local, where would he suggest I should go exploring on my bicycle. I guess he’s not a cyclist because he has no interesting suggestions, just the usual, obvious places. It could be that there are no hidden gems, no rocks unturned in this populous city, what you see is what you get. No, I don’t think so. I often stumble upon interesting places off the beaten path; he’s probably just dull.

The weather being what it is and the service being inadequate (not enough buses for tickets sold), I miss the Downtown segment, that I had already attempted twice, during my 24 hour window. Maybe another time.

If you enjoyed this post, please let me know by clicking on the “like” button, below. If you like it less than most of my posts, please don’t like it, I can use my likes as a guide to what works and what doesn’t. Also, please share my blog with your friends! My URL is http://www.PersonalTravelStories.com or you can share the link on facebook by clicking below. Thanks for reading! Darren

Manhattanites – Story – The People make the City

Manhattanites from November, 2012 – Jane, Nick, Marta, Chris, Laurie, Qi

Jane

“SHE SAID – HER BAG – IS UP – SIDE DOWN, ” a large, 6’4″ rough-looking black man with an afro shouted to the workers of the Port Authority Deli as I was wondering out. Apparently a tiny old woman had been trying to communicate this several times without success. They understood him though.

“You should be an English – English translator” I joked with him as we were both walking out. “Happen’s to me a lot!” he claimed enthusiastically. “Could be a career in it,” we chuckle as he continues away. I light a cigarette.

(Cigarettes are highly addictive and they are terrible for your health. I have since successfully quit but it was really hard so just never start.)

“Do you need some help love?” I ask after the elderly woman has emerged onto the sidewalk under a construction girdle seemingly ever-present on 9th Ave between 41st and 42nd streets. (“Love?”, I think to myself, “when have I ever called anyone Love?”)

Jane, who stands all of about 4’10” replies, “Could you help me across the street? I’m fine if I can cross the street.” “Sure!” I take her shopping cart, the kind with two wheels I know so well from Japan, it must have weighed 50 lbs or more. “Can I take your arm?” I ask as we start-off, tiny slow step by tiny slow step in the direction of 41st.

“What happened to your leg?” I ask, clearly she has a disability but is trying to get around. “I’m waiting for my second hip replacement,” she responds, “it was replaced 5 years ago but it doesn’t work anymore. I have 3 more months before I can get my new one, but I think if I checked into the hospital maybe they’d give it to me earlier.”

“Do you have family here?” “Oh yes, but my sister and her husband, they’re busy this weekend. But I just couldn’t wait, my leg is infected and my pants had to be washed. I couldn’t wait to do my laundry.” “Can your insurance send someone to you, to do your laundry and stuff?” “Oh, I’ve never heard of that,” she says.

“Does your HMO cover your hip replacement?” I ask. “Whats an HMO?” “Oh, I thought that’s what health insurance was called in the US, I’m from Canada.” “No, I just have Medicare.” She pauses, “My parents came from Canada, from Nouvelle Ecosse.” (Nova Scotia) “Really? I’m from New Brunswick.” (Which neighbours Nova Scotia on Canada’s East coast. Both Maritime provinces, they share similar qualities.) “Are you on holidays for the weekend?” she asks.

“No, I’ve been really lucky. I’m here for a whole month, I’ve decided to start my writing career here in New York City.” “Oh my, that’s wonderful! What kind of writing, a novel?” “No, non-fiction.” She stops and looks up face-to-face for the first time. “That is the best kind of writing,” she suggests, speaking slowly for emphasis, “what’s your name?” “Darren” “I’m Jane. I’ll look for your book, Darren.” she informs me as I help her into the station never to see her again.

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Nick

“How much for a cut?” “$14” “Alright”
“Same as you have but shorter?” “Sure”

Those long negotiations over with I settle-in to a chair at the barbershop below my flat. (I consider everything on the short block between 41st and 42nd to be below my flat.)

From Russia, nick came to NYC at the age of 21 and has been a barber ever since. Now 39, he seems somewhat older than me, even if I did still keep my white hair, he is far more weathered. I turned 39 last month.

“Where are you from?” he asks in his harsh, macho way he has of speaking. “Toronto. How’d you know I’m not from here?” (I took his question as where I came here from rather than where I grew-up.) “From your accent”, he answers, in his very strong Russian brogue. “People here, they come from all over.” Most likely his question is a conversation starter with most of his walk-ins, perhaps a lucky guess. Everywhere else I’ve been assumed to be a Manhattanite.

“Toronto is good. Colder than here now.” Yes, his no-nonsense observations are both true.

My hair soon chopped somewhat shorter than I had hoped for, I pay with tip and hit the streets again, fresher than a few minutes earlier.

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Marta

“In the beginning, there was darkness. Then God made a good strong pot of coffee and got to work.” I like this sign, just in the entrance of Empire Coffee and Tea Emporium.

Located directly below my flat (2 floors down and facing the street, whereas I’m facing the courtyard) this coffee shop boasts no interior fashion whatsoever. Horrible, uncomfortable seating (2 flat wood benches, 4 folding chairs, and 2 low stools) below a basement drop-ceiling and on a generic tile floor all lit with painful fluorescent tubes. Clearly, this was some other business for which ambiance was no concern (perhaps an exterminator?) and they did not change a thing when they opened it as a coffee emporium.

The coffee is fantastic. There is a steady stream of customers, from the disenfranchised to policemen to retired couples to young and trendy locals. Throughout my month, I will only need to visit the Starbucks around the corner on 9th Ave, twice. (When Empire is not open.)

I sit on the bench facing the window and write with my notebook balanced on the arm. Across from me a bag lady has an animated conversation with herself. She seems to be sorting through 5 bags of rubbish. Dirty papers and plastics, nothing nasty. “How are you, Marta?” someone calls in passing. She doesn’t notice. I take a discrete photo and short video.

I don’t purchase my coffee beans at the moment only because I want to come back sooner than later. (If I buy beans, I have less reason to come for a cup of coffee.) I sip my coffee, write, and wander back upstairs when my bottom hurts too much from sitting on a solid, flat piece of wood for too long.

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Chris

“Sorry Sir, this is my first day”, a young, plump, early-20’s kid with huge lips informs me every step of the way as I try to buy a bicycle on 34th street. “That’s okay,” I let him know, ” as long as you make customers feel like you care, they won’t mind that you don’t know anything.” And I do mean, nothing. “So how do I buy this bicycle – I guess we have to get it down.” “I don’t think so,” he replies as I am already pulling the cruiser bicycle out from the display rack.

“The tires are flat. Can I pump them up?” “I don’t know,” he indicates while I am already filling the rear tires with a pump I pulled from the shelf. “This tire needs a new inner tube,” I inform, the air is coming out faster than I can pump it in. “Can it be fixed before I buy it?” Chris has no idea. What’s an inner tube?

Chris calls a fellow staff member. They ascertain that these are the only assembled, ready-to-sell bikes, there are none in the back. We find another men’s bicycle, quite different, but it’s the only other man’s cycle that they have, somehow the assembler has not noticed that mens cycles have sold more than woman’s cycles and just keeps the display area full. Now competent in removal, this time he helps me lift the cycle down to the floor and I again start pumping-up the tires.

“It’s more expensive, but it seems fine. I guess I’ll take this one.” I collect all the necessary accessories and the two of us head to the cash, he with the cycle, me with an arm load of lights, mirror, helmet, bell, basket, and locks.

“That’ll be $297,” the cashier indicates as I swipe my card and happily so. I called all the bicycle rental shops, the best I could find was a rental bicycle for $200 per week or $40 per day. It can be cheaper to rent a car. Crazy. I tell this to the cashier and she shares this astonishment yelling to another nearby cashier as I excitedly walk my bicycle out to the street. “Did you hear that? That white guy said that . . . .”

Feeling liberated from my feet which tie me to the ground, I mount the bicycle and start down the cycle lane, which have become plentiful in Manhattan. At the first light I think, “there are no breaks!” as I try to squeeze the handlebars. I realise quickly that a reverse pedal brings me to a tentative halt.

Excited, I turn on to 8th Avenue, another cycle lane. CLIKKKATTY – SSLLLIIIPP – KKKKHHHKKK – my legs are pedalling but I am not moving. The chain has not slipped. The gear on the rear tire has come apart. There is no forward motion.

“It’s not my fault, ” Chris says as I push the cycle back through the front doors looking as dramatically deflated as possible. The assembly guy is here in morning, I know this already from my hour of trying to ascertain whether it was possible to purchase a bicycle here. “Will you be here tomorrow when I come back for another one?” I ask. “No, it’s my day off.” “You’re a pooh-head,” I tease as he walks with me towards the returns desk.

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Laurie

“It’s so nice to meet you! Our waitress won’t let us add any more people to our table.” It is my first time meeting Laurie, 10 days after I started staying in her Midtown Manhattan apartment. She and her partner have come away from their group to visit with me at the bar.

A film producer, Laurie is meeting with the cast and crew of their film, “Girls Who Smoke” which is later this evening to be part of the opening night program of the Big Apple Film Festival being hosted at Tribeca Cinemas.

Outside for a smoke myself, I meet a straight guy lamenting his girl troubles with a girl co-worker. They include me in the conversation as if we’ve known each other.

Two blocks from where we met for drinks we enter the crazy, crowded, chaotic, tiny cinema entrance. I claim my entrance ticket and he, “takes my word for it,” since for some reason he has no list of the pre-purchased. I buy a coke that’s “mostly ice”, my request, and somehow this provides me entrance to behind the bar. (I had stepped out of the crowd to order my drink and now it seems okay that I linger.) I find myself safe from the pressing crowds, leaning against the back counter inside the service area with a gorgeous blue-eyed dancer. (Not a student, this is a 2nd job along with dancing.)

Time to go in, I join my invitees again to slowly join the cattle shuffling into the little auditorium for our programme. “Girls Who Smoke” is the 4th short on the programme.

A slice-of-life film, two woman making a brief deep connection before going back to their separate lives. I love it. It’s my favourite kind of story telling.

The film ended, I sneak out, running off to my next adventure starting in 20 minutes at 11PM. I love this city.

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Qi

“For you, $20,” I am enthusiastically told by a good-looking Chinese man while he Vanna Whites his menu which indicates $80. “I feel SOOO special, why for me do you drop your price so very low? Sure.” I take my seat on a small folding stool on the sidewalk in front of Madame Tussaud’s. They charge about $1 a minute, the basic portrait will take 20 minutes at most, but most of them have these inflated price signs to be able to entice tourists by the bargain. I have also seen the advertised bargain approach, for a cartoonish scribble, only $5.

His name is Qi, from Shanghai. I spent some time there years ago when presenting recruitment seminars along the Eastern coast of China for an ESL college in Toronto. Shanghai is a gorgeous city, very impressive. Many of the unique, highly-designed sky scrapers were designed by New York City architects. It is China’s flagship city.

Qi’s son studies at a University in North Carolina. I could not catch what program he is in nor the name of the school, English was very limited. At home, Qi says that he owns a design business, for T-shirts. He visits his son in the US every year. The total yearly cost of having him study here is $80 thousand.

All this seems very, very odd. We are sitting on the street and he is drawing my picture. Why is he here? To earn extra money. He did drawing as a student, it was his hobby.

Finished my portrait, I give him $40 and he seems pleased. Such an odd story, but why would it not be true.

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