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.

20140109-134843.jpg

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.

20140109-135241.jpg

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.

20140109-135434.jpg

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

Christmas in New York!

20140109-135636.jpg

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

20140109-135816.jpg

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.

20140109-140031.jpg

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

20140109-140134.jpg

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

20140109-140241.jpg

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

20140109-140357.jpg

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!

20140109-140527.jpg

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.

20140109-140808.jpg

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

20140109-140911.jpg

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

20140109-141011.jpg

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

20140109-141118.jpg

Andy was exhausted after all the Christmas excitement.

_________________________________________________

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!

20140109-143227.jpg

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

20131219-170253.jpg

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.

20131219-170503.jpg

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

20131219-170602.jpg

Gorgeous chandeliers in the lobby.

20131219-170629.jpg

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

20131219-170753.jpg

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!

20131112-171729.jpg
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.

20131112-171308.jpg
Some random shots from Nov, 2012 in NYC.

20131112-171351.jpg

20131112-171429.jpg

20131112-171449.jpg

20131112-171543.jpg

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.

20130413-132359.jpg

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.

20130413-132512.jpg

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.

20130413-132721.jpgNot a great photo of the Apollo Theatre, but this was all I could see, the rest of our vision was completely obscured by the weather screen, ineffective as it was, it was also not transparent in this weather.

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.

_________________________________________

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.

____________________________________

20130412-140915.jpg

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.

20130412-141112.jpg

________________________________

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.

___________________________________

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.

_____________________________________

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.

20130412-141552.jpg

If you like this post, please share it with your friends! Click on facebook to share a link, or twitter. Or share my new URL which is http://www.PersonalTravelStories.com Thanks for reading! Darren

Don’t Tell Mama . . . Memories while visiting this bar in NYC.

Manhattan – Re: Don’t Tell Mama Piano Bar visited nov 8, 2012. Written at Empire Coffee, Nov 9, 2012.

A Manhattan Piano Bar

“No Dancing Please. It’s against the law.” Posted over an open floor area to the left of the piano, I couldn’t tell whether it was a joke or a bylaw. Perhaps a terse way to point out that the city would not grant them the appropriate permit to allow customers to sway back and forth to the music, as would sometimes be the case at a sing-along. A convivial little piano bar, “Don’t Tell Mama” attracts a mixed crowd of locals and travelers, gays and straights, singles and couples, old and young. Having failed another attempt to quit smoking, I can tell you that it was less than a cigarette away from my apartment rental.

(Post Note: I did successfully quit smoking in February, 2013.)

I had enjoyed some shopping earlier in the day and I feel like a million bucks walking in wearing my new cashmere/wool blazer-style overcoat (chesterfield) and coordinating felted hat. I quickly scan the bar, as one does when deciding where to perch. It’s a quick-as-possible routine, you have come in alone, you don’t really want to be noticed as an outsider (first-timer), yet you’d like to sit strategically beside someone who also seems to be alone who at the same time looks potentially interesting or companionable.

In an instant I have three such appropriate seat-mates in my viewfinder, but all three are blocked. (Those who are clearly solo, but with no open seats beside them.) I don’t scan the entire bar, the table section appears to be full of groups and with a peripheral glance I discount everywhere apart from the bar counter which runs the depth of the space alongside the tables with a walkway between. The piano and microphones are on the far end wall. Sometimes a performer sings self-accompanied, sometimes not, and often the bar staff join in singing harmonies and such. (As do the customers.)

I choose one of three options, this seat because the cute couple next to me (husband and wife) look kindly and there is also one open seat beside me so another solo could possibly join. The handsome bartender, Jon, bounds about within his space making Martinis and Pear Sizzles. His feisty female counterpart runs drinks to customers at tables, breaking in to harmonies and choruses along the way.

My drink arrives and now the couple to my right are already departing. “Have a good night, boss,” he says as he squeezes my shoulder. He’s a big, strong guy in his mid-twenties with a gorgeous wife. I am surprised to see him walk away with much effort using a cane for support.

A new couple arrives to take their place, a very clean, fresh-faced, wholesome-looking early 20’s couple. I overhear an accent but it’s muffled by the music and the bar noise, maybe from Australia? She, sitting closer, sounds mainstream American herself. As I sit here I am writing about buying lunch for a guy in a wheelchair earlier in the day who, “Had my legs blown off in ____”. That place sounds familiar but I cannot think of where it is. I ask my neighbours if they know. “That’s in Northern Iraq,” he indicates, “what has you ask?” “Just wondering,” I reply to kill the conversation and make them wonder what kind of social oddity they are sitting beside who comes up with completely random questions regarding war-torn towns to strangers at a piano bar. Just kidding! A conversation now opened, I now enjoy their company as he and I happen to sing along to “Monday, Monday”, “California Dreaming”, and the like. (His girlfriend, sitting between us, sadly suffers from tone deafness, my words but apt to describe the condition they indicated.) They are holiday-making from Indiana for 3 days. They cannot explain why she doesn’t share his regional accent.

___________

“Monday Monday, so good to me, Monday Monday, it was all I hoped it would be,” belted Beth into her microphone as we all swayed singing along on the tiers of the music room at lunch time. Mr.Thomas, the music teacher, had created a music group in our high school that went well beyond just practicing music. It was a time when the school choir was changing from a group that sang pretty music to a group that sang fun music. Kids still learn lots about music even when it’s fun, seemed to be the modus operandi. Especially when it’s fun is more like it, we were all fully engaged and we all loved it. Our engagement created dedication and Mr.T’s enthusiasm was contagious.

To be honest, I would have been happy singing anything. I didn’t consider myself one of the cool kids who had to do cool things and be with cool people. I didn’t listen to pop music at all until high school, I mean the kind of popular music one hears on the radio, the top 40 countdowns and the repetitious favourites of the day. I had discovered various forms of Classical music during Junior High (age11-14) and that’s what I spent money on. I thought “Hooked on Classics”, those tacky remixes of music put to drum beats during the era of the cassette, were the bomb. When personal CD players came out in grade 10 (1988) and I brought mine to school, kids would be surprised, when they asked if they could hear what it sounded like, that I was listening to an opera compilation or my favourite at the time, Handel’s Messiah.

I only started hearing “popular” music when my girlfriend in grade 10 (she was my beard) introduced me to the radio, she only listened to the top hits and had the radio on all the time. I never listened to it on my own though. When it came to singing, I preferred the Classical Folk Music that I sang during voice lessons that used Royal Conservatory repertoire. I took lessons for a few years, through grades 9 to 11 until my voice teacher moved away.

Mr.T’s choir was called the “Blue Tones” and I auditioned to join soon after school commenced at Kennebecasis Valley High in New Brunswick. A largish school of more than 1700 students in grades 10 through 12 and 99 teachers at the time, it had a great selection of extra curricular activities. Primarily a jazz choir, it was Mr.T’s fun and creative flair that made this group a very central experience to many of us throughout high school. He had a love for music from the 60s and 70s and one-by-one worked out vocal and instrumental arrangements for many great numbers for us to learn, practice, and perform. He was probably listening to the Mamas and the Papas one day and thought, “Beth’s voice would be perfect for this one. I’m going to figure it out.” To me he gave, “Blue Moon”.

We learned the requisite jazz numbers that this type of choir should, enough to engage in competition and be able to perform as such. But the level of interest that Mr.Thomas inspired and the amount of dedication he gave us, we were able to have an entirely separate concert-length repertoire of fun, playful tunes. The endless noon hours, after schools, and weekends that man dedicated to his students I would not even realize until I became a teacher myself many years later.

Instead of the usual choir concert at the end of the year, or the occasional choir accompaniment to some other performance, Mr.T set up “gigs” which gave us lots of concerts to work towards and the feeling of purpose that came from rehearsing to perform. Mostly these involved entertaining at shopping malls which had the added benefit of earning some funds so we could purchase better equipment and more music materials and such. In grade 12 Mr.T had to move away with his family. A lot of tears were shed. Luckily, his successor, Ms.Woodford, picked-up the ball and kept it rolling, continuing the experience for us and future KVHS students.

During high school I was not the person I appeared to be. On the outside I probably looked like a smart, popular kid with lots of friends. A kid who drove a Cadillac to school one day, a motorhome the next. (Mother needed her car that day. Later she replaced it with a wheelchair van.) On the inside, among other things, I felt friendless and alone. People may have considered me their friend, but I felt unworthy of friends and I did not trust they would want to know me if they knew my “deep, dark secret”, so to me they were just people I knew. I liked people, some people I liked a lot, but there was a distance within me caused by my own invisible protective walls. Shame and guilt for being gay was bound with my own self-loathing and certainty that others would loath me too if they knew. A good Christian upbringing combined with some family trauma to distract my parents sealed my low self-worth. It was a different time and it seemed like I was the only one.

Perhaps my only friend at that time was our full-time cleaning lady, Myrtle. She was a woman near to her 60s who had 9 children (all then grown) and I knew she would accept me. If I didn’t have anything scheduled after school I’d hang out with her in the laundry room while she folded and ironed at the end of each day. My family sure made a lot of laundry. My vocal coach, another woman near to 60, was nearly another friend, in retrospect, the only other person I trusted not to reject me. But I only saw her weekly at most and it was not social, my lessons were at a conservatory and there were lessons before and after mine so there was no chat time. She was from Vancouver and had big-city open-minded artistic ways. She moved away and Myrtle was eventually fired. (Although not fired for this reason, Myrtle could barely get around by that point anyway, she was a large woman and was waiting for a hip replacement.) We kept in touch but she died before I came out to her or anyone.

Ironically, in my grad class of more than 500 students I was voted, “friendliest boy”. Does that mean I was popular? I don’t know. I did appear to fit-in with a lot of different groups. I kept myself really busy so no one could tell that I was a friendless-loser who hated himself. When I wasn’t busy I always went home alone, I never had someone over or went to someones house after school. When I was 15 I wondered what friends did outside of groups, I had no idea that they might just watch tv or play video games. I didn’t know what people meant by, “hang out”. I was an outsider on the inside for all those developmental years. I nearly had friends right at the end of high school, but it was kind of too late and it was too brief for me to conquer my barricades to be able to trust and feel close at the time. Really nice people though, I felt lucky they included me and we had a few fun times, but I still felt like I wasn’t worthy of the inclusion and it was only temporary.

What a shame I couldn’t feel it, being the friendliest boy I mean. I felt friendly towards others, I just could not feel it coming from them. I could not trust anyone and felt very much alone. Although I trust people now, I have nothing to hide anymore, I tend to fly solo still today. I did not grow-up having normal friendships from about age 10 until age 20 and I’m still not great at them now. People like me and I like them, but I tend to feel apart. The feeling I suffered in high school, of not being good enough to have friends, it still sometimes creeps in. What if I’m not fun enough or interesting enough or if I can’t live-up to whatever it is they expect of me. It causes me to pause or not call someone, to procrastinate meeting-up. Now it’s called social anxiety. I’m working on it.

This is a much longer story, but I just want people who knew me then to know that there was probably nothing they could have done to help me in high school. When I was 12 years old my brother shot himself through his head playing with a gun he found. (My father had a collection from his early-deceased parents and Mark had found the key to the gun cabinet.) A bullet through the brain left him a nearly brainless body that was alive but had no purposeful movement or ability to communicate until he died a few years ago. My Mother decided he had to live at home.

Overnight family life changed forever.

Overnight I suddenly could no longer relate to my peers.

I was in grade 7 and I found myself suddenly an outsider not sharing the experiences of anyone I knew.

By grade 8 home life entirely revolved around my invalid brother as it did for many years after.

I had an unrecognised depression and I struggled to get through the days. From having to pretend all was well when it wasn’t, by high school I was really good at playing the role I was expected to play even though I suffered so much. No one should feel guilty about my experience, by high school with the added issues of sexuality estranging me further, I really was beyond being able to be helped. It was a pain that had to be lived out. But this is another story. Actually, this is a book. But not right now.

Choir and drama made a lot of difference to improving my everyday during high school by keeping me busy with things I enjoyed. I will long be thankful to Mr.Thomas and also to Mrs.Doyle-Yerxa, the English teacher who changed lives through her dedication to students through the Drama Department. But that’s another story. As is Myrtle.

May I remind readers that these events from my past, although they have lingering influence on my life years on, they were then. I refer to high school as the worst time in my life because as a suicidal teenager, it was. However, life became and is much, much better. In fact, now I’m making up for it with some pretty great years and the best is yet to come.

Try not to pity someone who can follow his passions of traveling and writing with the freedom that I have. I don’t want pity, I’m just relating my history. The person I was in high school, definitely, pity him. No one should hate themselves like I did, I really thought I deserved to die. I thought I was evil, and the church at that time, it told me so. We still lose a lot of young people to suicide due to them being gay,lesbian,bi, etc, even with all the characters on tv and celebrities who are out now.

If you are a teacher or you know young people, make sure they believe, that they know, that there should be no guilt and no shame about accepting who they are. No one should think they are evil and discount all that is good about themselves the way I did. Ever.
___________________________________________________________________

The bar is not very busy at the moment so I place myself at a small round table against the wall, midway between the piano on the back wall and the entry at the front. My third visit, I am now more comfortable coming in alone and finding whatever seat. Against the wall has a nice vantage point of seeing the entire bar. There’s couple to my right and another to my left, easier to socialize with than the larger groups who are having birthday nights or hen nights, or just a group from the office getting together. I pull out my notebook. I sip one of my 2 drink minimum, a Bellini, as I set pen to paper and remember events of recent days. A flash pulls my attention to the crowded sit-at bar counter that runs the length of the room opposite the tables.

Two smiling middle-aged women dressed to the nines for a night out in Manhattan have captured me on their iphones and continue to look on. They don’t look like locals, but also not tourists, I figure they probably came from across the river in New Jersey. I smile as they turn back around in their seats and I return to my task at hand. I forget a reference and chat with the male couple to my left who friendlily help me to think of a film’s name.

Another flash in my direction catches my eye and pulls my attention to the next party sat at the bar. This time, further up the bar, I watch covertly without lifting my head. Another photo, another camera. I discretely look behind me to see nondescript wall. The people around me seem ordinary enough, anyway, I’m fairly sure that I was the one on their screens.

After some time on completion of my 2nd drink I put away my writing materials, dawn my coat and scarf, and head towards the door. Friendly greetings from the bar as I pass, “Have a nice evening!”, “Nice to meet you!”, “Nice seeing you!”. I smile and say goodnight each time but without pausing. After crossing the threshold I stop and turn around, amazed.

Who did they think I was?

____________________________________________________________________

The chorus to “Eleanor Rigby” seems ever-so-true sometimes in NYC, as it certainly does in London. “All the lonely people, where do they all come from . . . ” Although generally adept at making my own way, tonight I am not. It’s Friday night and I’m feeling intimidated by the crowds at all the fun-looking places along 9th Avenue. I venture into the restaurant section of “Don’t Tell Mama” as I happen upon it and I want to check the menu. Instead I stand there waiting for attention a few moments too long looking foolish, no just feeling foolish. It is crowded and noisy and jovial and I feel like I should not be coming in alone because it seems like no one else is. I leave with my tail between my legs before I’ve even been noticed by the busy waitstaff.

I make a circle towards home and eventually I pass my corner having failed at attending to dinner. I had set out and walked the periphery of Restaurant Row, past dozens and dozens of restaurants and now I continue in another direction, towards the water on 9th. I come to a very mediocre diner, it’s quiet and seems to be at about a third capacity. Over-lit, it has an uncomfortable, impersonal feel. There are a few couples eating in silence, some young, some old, oddly none in-between. I have low expectations as I start my french onion soup. Poor service, my burger arrives just after my soup, both are items I’d prefer to eat while hot. A glass of Cabernet Sauvignon tastes like it’s been open a long time, a bit disgusting; it gives me acid reflux. I won’t drink it, but I also won’t send it back. A decent restaurant might enquire as to why I didn’t drink it, here they won’t care. The burger is lacking in condiments, ketchup only. I don’t put ketchup on my burgers, I prefer steak sauce and some mayonnaise, and maybe a dollop of sharp mustard for punch. The mustard should not be spread all over though, I like the surprising kick it gives to a few bites.

My New York experience would not be fully authentic without some lonely days and nights. Do I retreat now, or should I wander some more looking for another story? No, I’m too vulnerable this evening, I’ll call it a night.

If you find this posting interesting, please share it with your friends! Also, if you like it, let me know by clicking “like”. (If you don’t, please don’t, it’s how I can learn what works and what doesn’t.) Thanks for reading! Darren