Tag Archives: NYC (there)

Things Updated

I sought cookies. I got tea. As a result, as predicted, things looked up. (Getting hopped up on sugar and caffeine never hurts the effort.)

I’ve never noticed before but Levain is across the street (74th at Amsterdam) from an elementary school. Depending on who you are, that is either a huge mistake (parents) or a wily marketing maneuver (Levain).

I only ate a small piece of my half-pound, warm chocolate chip and walnut cookie with my tea, but I took the point. There’s comfort in cookies at teatime; don’t hold back on the basics when you’re feeling low.

The tea, in case you’re interested, was procured from another comforting institution, Alice’s Tea Cup (73rd at Columbus), and is called Margaret’s Hope, named after Princess Margaret. When I chose it (on their recommendation), I kind of thought that the tea might take after one of Margaret’s actual hopes and be something sinister (death to the monarchy) or naughty (sex with animals), given her history of royal misbehavior, but it was just a very nice cup of gentle black tea. Oh well.

Tea was followed by minor shopping (scarf, a few books) and the theater (more on Exit the King later). All in all, a successful recovery. Thanks for asking.

Things

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Things have gone sideways, as they do sometimes when you’re on the road. I’m alone in New York in the rain, R having gone to Boston for meetings, and the day went pear-shaped a few hours back.

I remember someone saying to me, when I first moved here, that if you were up, New York was there for you, up with you, ready to take you up-er, but if you were down, New York was the worst.

It’s not quite as bad as all that.

The worst, I mean.

There are, after all, Levain‘s chocolate chip walnut cookies some 60 blocks north if I were really motivated to help myself. Or the Cooper Hewitt (design museum) if I could conceive of getting all the way uptown and all the way crosstown from where I am now. (Or if I could get worked up for their felt exhibit, which, to me, seems like a tough sell on even a sunny day.)

I’m not sure San Francisco would be much better, but there would be tea in the cupboard and my very own sofa to mope on. But no Levain cookies in my immediate future. Maybe I should just go get some cookies and see how I do after that. And some tea. Everything seems less dreary with tea, don’t you find?

Wish me luck.

Good Morning

tulips.jpg

Happy May Day, people!

It’s drizzling in New York, but who cares? It’s New York. Like tulips everyday. Or the equivalent. You know: exhaust, subways, over-priced drinks and the usual fun! Breathe it in, people, breathe it in. It’s springtime!

New York: 202 (brunch)

202.jpg

Go to 202. Go. Go on. If I were in New York, I’d be on my way over there right now. They’re famous for their French toast, or at least that’s how I found them, and if you like French toast at all, you should definitely have that. It has found the line between “soaked enough that I’m not eating just toasted bread” and “not so undercooked that it’s crossed over to soggy,” and it lies there happily beneath excellent strips of chewy bacon.

Also on the menu: a British breakfast not drowning in grease. Simple: poached eggs on toast, a sausage, bacon, perfect grilled cherry tomatoes, and a paddy of shredded potato. Their coffee is outstanding, which is a crucial exception to me. I usually don’t even order coffee in restaurants for brunch because it’s usually bad or cold. Main point? 202’s breakfast menu is standard stock done well and carefully.

Couple of other notes: they’re open at diner hours in the week (well, 8:30AM), even though they’re located inside a chic retail store that opens later, so that’ll give you a chance to score your French toast without a wait. Their tables are narrow antique rectangles which are surprisingly conducive to both conversation and light writing, but this is not a free-wireless place packed with hipsters typing on their laptops: breakfast will set you back $20. Lunchtime gets trendy – it is in Chelsea Market – but mornings in the week or brunch a little on the early side on the weekend (10:30) are ideal times to get some real food, a little time with your coffee and sort yourself out.

75 Ninth Ave. nr. 16th St., 646-638-1173
Hours: Mon-Fri, 8:30am-11pm; Sat-Sun, 10am-11pm

Guide to New York: Part III – Orientation

So now that you’re on foot, how do you know which way to go? There is nothing more tiring than spending your precious time in the city standing on street corners wondering which direction to go or, worse, picking a direction and schlepping a whole avenue only to realize you went the wrong way. This error could be fatal in the summer when it is 1000 degrees outside and 200% humidity. Orient twice, walk once.

If you’re some kind of Daniel Boone and can navigate by the position of the sun, you can stop reading. Unless it’s nighttime and you can’t see the stars because you’ve come to the big city, in which case feel free to come crawling back. I’ll trade you my instructions for your deerskin pants. Hand ’em over.

Uptown/downtown orientation

I have no sense of direction at all. None. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada. So how do I move around with confidence in New York? Traffic, that’s how. Most of the avenues (north/south) are one-way, so you just come out of the subway (which all drop off on corners) and check which way traffic is moving. For instance, if I get off the Lexington Avenue green line (4/5/6) at 57th St. and I’m headed for 59th, I walk against the flow of the downtown traffic and know I’m headed uptown (north). Of course, this presumes that you know that Lexington Ave. is one-way downtown. Any self-respecting map will show the arrows for one-way on the avenues.

If you don’t want to do that, you can use buildings. When the World Trade towers still stood, they were the downtown landmark. Now I use the Chrysler Building or the Empire State Building (which, to my mind, is much less pretty than the Chrysler, but no one asked me). Since they’re both in midtown, for this to work, you have to know where you are in relation to where they are (43rd and 34th Streets, respectively). (If you think that’s self-evident, clearly you haven’t met my kind.) That is, if you are on the corner of 72nd, you know the Chrysler Building is downtown from you. Likewise, if you’re on 14th St., the Chrysler will be uptown.

East/west orientation

Once you know whether you’re facing uptown or downtown, you can sort out your east/west orientation. (As Manhattan is an island, it’s pointless to use the water as a determiner of where you are. Also, I have yet to identify a building that is on the eastern or western edge of the city and is visible from just about anywhere.) If you’re facing downtown (south), and you need to go west, turn to your right. Since I have a lifelong handicap of thinking that whichever direction I’m facing is north, this method does leave me hesitating on streetcorners fighting my instincts for five seconds, but it’s worth it to head confidently in the right direction.

Please do not stand in the middle of the sidewalk while you sort this out. There is nothing more annoying to New Yorkers who do know where they’re going to have their paths blocked by puzzled newcomers. It will (and should) make you feel like a a gauche intruder to break the rhythm of the city by standing perfectly still in the middle of a busy sidewalk staring at the direction of traffic. Step aside. Step into a doorway (NOT a store doorway where you will still be in the way) or around the corner to where you can breathe and orient yourself.

Addresses

Knowing that a bar is on 9th Avenue is pointless. You will not know what to tell a cab driver or where to get off the subway. You must know where on 9th Avenue. First stop: most restaurant guides or store web sites will note the cross street when listing their address. If they don’t, call and ask. That’s what I do.

For those who would like to be more self-sufficient or are just weird about asking for help, using phones or whatever, here are some guidelines. First, get a hold of yourself and just call the place already. Geez. Second, if that’s out of reach, here’s what you have to go through instead:

  • If you’re looking for an address below Houston Street (pronounced “How-ston”, not like the city in Texas) or in the West Village, give up. Google maps is your only hope.
  • If you’re in the numbered streets, you have an advantage. If you’re online, go here for reference or to have them sort it for you. (Why you won’t just use Google Maps is beyond me.)
  • If you’re not online, check the actual street names again. “West 14th St.” or “East 51st St.” are distinctions that start at 5th Avenue and go up by 100 each block. That sounds confusing, but it’s not. If you need 52 East 57th St., it’s on the block between 5th Avenue and Madison (the first street east of 5th). 152 East 57th is on the next block, between Madison and Park. And so on.
  • If you’re heading to an address on an avenue, there’s a formula for that too. It’s here. I never learned this formula and I did fine.

I’m not recommending learning all this math, but if you’re a numbers nut, be my guest.

Guide to New York: Part II – Getting Around

Cabs.
Cabs are fine. I like cabs. But cabs are the #1 money sink in New York and, if you’re not used to the steep costs of the city, you will already be begging for mercy. Cutting out cabs should be your first stop when trying to cut costs. Save your duckets for tickets and drinks and wildly expensive clothing. Also, do not be fooled into thinking that a cab will be faster than the subway. This is a common non-native mistake.

Cabs 101:

    1. Cabs have lights on the top. Take a look. See? If the lights are off, the cab’s occupied. Don’t run after it swearing. It won’t stop, and you will look silly. If the center light is on, it’s up for grabs. (If all the lights on top are on – side lights + center light, the cab’s off-duty. Also no running and swearing.) Max capacity is four passengers in a regular cab, no arguing.
    2. Just getting in a cab will cost you $2.50, even if you change your mind and get out a block later. After 8PM, tack on a night surcharge of an additional $1.
    3. Bearing that in mind, always catch a cab going in the direction you’re headed. For instance, if you’re on 17th St. between 6th and 7th Avenues and you’re going downtown to meet your pals in SoHo, walk over to 7th and grab a cab there. (7th is one-way headed downtown – see Part III – Orientation). Otherwise, you’ll pay $5 to basically drive around the block.
    4. Cabs are definitely faster at night – say, after 8:00PM – when subways run less frequently and you might spend an extra 5-10 minutes on the subway platform.
    5. Late at night (after 11:00PM), I’d jump in a cab. This isn’t because the subways aren’t safe (they are), but mainly because I’ve usually had a drink (or many) and the long waits underground combined with the super-bright lights on the cars are a downer.
    6. Flip side is that during rush hours, cabs are to be avoided entirely. You will be paying to sit in the backseat of someone’s car while they take your money. It’s like being mugged very, very slowly.
    7. Cabs from the airports are brutally expensive. From Newark, expect $65 minimum. From JFK, there’s a fixed rate of $45 into Manhattan + toll + tips, so you’ll come in around $60. La Guardia’s the cheapest. You might get off with $40 total. That said, I still cab in from the airports because I don’t like flying, so I’m usually worn out and am willing to fork over the cash.If you have time and patience and not much luggage, there are definitely public transportation options to all the airports. The subway runs to JFK. See here for directions. There are efficient and cheap shuttle buses to/from Newark or you can hop New Jersey Transit (train), both of which will drop you in/near the subway system once you’re on Manhattan. (Your best bet to getting on the right bus with the right ticket in your hand is to go to the info booth in your terminal – they’ll hook you up and point you in the right direction.) The M60 bus to La Guardia is the preferred non-car route. See here for options.
    8. When I’m going to the airport, I don’t try to catch a cab, since that usually requires that I schlep my luggage to a corner. Call a car service: it’s the same price as long as you don’t opt for a luxury car. Call 212-777-7777 and tell the dispatcher where you’re staying and they’ll collect you at the right time to make your flight.
    9. Speaking of airports, if you can help it, don’t book your flights to New York to depart or arrive between 8-9:30 AM or between 4-7PM. That’s rush hour, kids, and your commute to/from the airport will suck.

 

Subway

The subway rules in New York. It goes pretty much everywhere except the far east side and they’re digging up 2nd Avenue to solve that one right now. Get a subway map, buy a MetroCard from any station, and you’re good to go. Fares are $2 each time you go into the subway + free transfer to/from a bus within 2 hours. You can swipe four consecutive people – your kids, strangers, bandmates – through on the same Metrocard. If you load your MetroCard with $20 or more, you’ll get a free ride for every $20 you spend. (But don’t go too wild: MetroCards have expiration dates, so if you thought you’d buy $800 of rides for your weekend and be good to go for the rest of your life, you would be wrong. $760 wrong. Which is a lot of wrong.)

Cab vs. Subway Showdown: when in doubt, just get on the subway.

Buses

I don’t take buses much, but they’re a great idea when trying to get across town when Central Park’s in your way – say, from the Met over to the west side for dinner. Buses are also great if you have a lot of time (they stop every couple blocks) and want to see the city as you’re getting to where you’re going.

Note to self/you: getting across town (east/west) is tough both on subways and in cabs but I think cabs are worse. This is because most cross-town streets are one-way and one-lane so you sit in traffic a lot. The cross-town artery streets that aren’t one-way and have four lanes (14th, 23rd, 28th, 34th, 42nd, 57th – don’t try to find a pattern ’cause there isn’t one) are wildly busy.

Rather than cab it to get crosstown, I’d take a subway to one of the few crosstown subway lines: the L runs across 14th, the S across 42nd St., or the N/R runs up/down Broadway diagonally. The “N/R” stands for “Never/Rarely”, so be warned on that one. It’s an annoying line. I know. I used to live on one of its local stops. Don’t ask. It hurts to talk about it.

Walking

The standard wisdom is that it should take about 1 minute to walk one block, which is about 1/5 mile. This presumes you are walking and not looking around. It also presumes that you are not wearing high heels, so don’t count on making that kind of time on your way out to dinner or the theater. An avenue is about a ¼ mile so it’s gonna take 2-3 minutes to walk.

I walk all the time in Manhattan. It’s the best way to see the city and there are very few dead spots in central Manhattan where a brisk walk won’t be interesting. (Once you’re on the far east or west side of the city, things get farther apart and duller.) If you have evening plans, think ahead though: walking around for eight hours will take it out of you, so if you’re tourist-ing it up, pace yourself.

Guide to New York: Part I – Overview of the City

My first several trips to New York, I was five years old, so that wasn’t a great time to orient myself to the finer points of the city that never sleeps. There are a couple of things you should know right away.

  1. With the possible exception of going to Sweden, you will spend more money than you think humanly possibly within your first 24 hours in New York. Plan accordingly. And by “accordingly” I don’t mean what your dad would tell you, like, “Watch where you spend your pennies because they add up to real dollars.” I mean, you may well have spent all your pennies and their associated dollars before you even make it out of your hotel, so brace yourself and multiply what you think you can afford by x4 before you even get there and plan for that as your budget.And don’t try and lower costs by joining up with some insane package deal run by a bunch of yahoos in Duluth. It will just mean that your trip to New York will be exactly like the trip you took to Branson, Missouri with your grandparents when you were eight (i.e. featuring people who can’t hold their liquor and shows that you can catch on tour in just about any medium-sized city a year from now).
  2. Nowhere you stay will be larger than your average closet. I don’t care if it’s an Ian Shrager hotel off Times Square or on the floor of your college buddy’s walk-up in the Village, the shower will be within reaching distance of all major room landmarks. Remember that it is a privilege to be in New York and 8.2 million other people think so too (1.6 million if you stick with Manhattan, not counting you and all the other visitors) so y’all are competing for some seriously limited space (23 square miles, to be exact).
  3. If you are not from San Francisco or the Third World, New York will seem dirty to you. It’s not. It is, but it’s so much better than it used to be + you need to keep those 1.6 million people in mind, so pull yourself together and, as my high school physics teacher used to say, “Quit’cher bitchin’.

Basic geography.

Location, location, location. Learn your geography. You will be nowhere without it, pun somewhat intended. When I went back to New York as a college student, I was with friends who knew their way around, so I paid no attention, which left me looking uncool when people chatted about uptown, downtown, crosstown and pretty much any neighborhood.

For starters, New York City has five boroughs: Manhattan (an island), Brooklyn (an island), Queens (same island as Brooklyn, namely Long Island), the Bronx (not an island) and Staten Island (predicatably, an island). These are not neighborhoods and they do not share the address of “New York, NY,” or the area code 212, as I discovered when I moved into my studio in Brooklyn as a novice New Yorker. The island of Manhattan is the only New York, NY. The boroughs are all governed by the same mayor (currently Michael Bloomberg) but each has a borough president, plus representation at the neighborhood level. It’s complicated. All you really need to know is that if go to New York, you probably mean Manhattan with a possible hipster sojourn to Williamsburg (a neighborhood in Brooklyn) or a trip to the Bronx Zoo (in, um, the Bronx).

I recommend this map. It’s the Filofax-sized version of the Streetwise map series and it kicks ass. I got my first one when I moved there in 1994 and still carry one with me all the time (when I’m in New York, that is. Don’t be a smart aleck.) It’s small, it’s laminated and it has all the subway stops, a bus map, an index and everything you need (except a view of the other boroughs which you can also get from Streetwise but which aren’t in the handy small size).

The whole island of Manhattan is only thirteen and a half miles, north to south, and about two and a half miles wide, less in most places. The Hudson River bounds Manhattan on the west and separates it from New Jersey or “Jersey” as you should now call it. The East River bounds it to the, er, east.

Central Park. Find it on your map. It runs from 59th St. up to 110 St. and is the boundary for the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side.

With the confusing exceptions of the financial district all the way downtown and the West Village, the city is pretty much a numbered grid of avenues that run north/south (or uptown/downtown) and streets that run east/west (or crosstown). Naturally, there are exceptions to this, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Basically, it’s a grid.

The avenue numbers start on the east side and increase as you move west: First Avenue is on the far east side and 11th Avenue is on the far west side. The exceptions you should learn right away are Madison Avenue, Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue which disrupt the avenue numbering system on the east side of the city. Memorizing their order is a minor task: from the east, it goes 1st Ave., 2nd Ave, 3rd Ave, Lexington, Park, Madison, 5th Ave., 6th Ave. and so on.

Broadway is the only diagonal artery in the city. South of Central Park, it runs west-east diagonally across Manhattan. Once it hits Central Park it straightens itself out on the Upper West Side.

Guide to New York: Intro

When I was in college, I knew New Yorkers. They were divided into two groups: natives and familiars. The familiars would have gladly passed themselves off as natives but were distinguishable because they were trying a tiny bit too hard to seem nonchalant. The natives had an entitlement that seemed both tasty and repellent. But that might’ve been because the only natives I knew were either a.) actors or b.) insanely wealthy, not two sets known for their humility or tact. I myself became a New Yorker not long afterwards and still consider myself one since I haven’t found anything better (yet).

New York was a mystery to me when I started looking for a place there and I could have used a hand. I know there are already roughly 1 million guides to New York on the bookshelves, but I didn’t need one of those. I needed a.) someone to tell me the non-touristy basics that I wouldn’t even have known to ask about, and b.) someone who was roughly like me to tell me what was worth doing once I sorted myself out. That’s why I wrote this.

Who Will Benefit

    1. If you have never been to New York and desperately want to go but are just a leetle beet afraid of the city or are overwhelmed with all the options.
    2. If you have only been to New York for that bus trip/dog show/bachelor party that one time but have been meaning to go back.
    3. If you have been a bunch of times but still don’t feel comfortable or want to look more like a native.
    4. If you are up and moving there (hooray!) and have no idea where to start.

 

The Google + The Subway

Me: Shall we get a cab?
R: In the spirit of being frugal…
Me: Subway.
R: My iPhone/Google app will tell us what train to take.
Me: I can tell us what train to take.
R: My iPhone will tell us when the next train is coming. And how long it’ll take to get there.
Me: Your phone can bite me.

Ten minutes later:
Me: We can take this F.
R: Let’s wait for the B.
Me: They go to the same place.
R: I’m following instructions. [F train leaves. D train arrives.]
Me: We can take this D.
R: Let’s wait for the B.
Me: They go to the same place.
R: I’m following instructions. [D train leaves.]
Me: Your phone is stupid.

We have dinner.

R: Let me figure this out…
E: It’s Emma Time. We’re taking the 6.
R: Hang on…
E: We’re taking the 6.
We go through the turnstiles.
R: The next 6 won’t be here until 11:15.
E: It’s 10:40.
R: See? The phone knows all. You should’ve listened to the Google.
E: The phone is full of #$%$(&.
R: No. The phone knows all, sees all.

5 minutes later
E: Isn’t that a 6 train? Or would you rather wait another 25 minutes?
R: ….. I don’t know what’s going on …
E: I do: the Google has fallen. It can’t get up.
R: But the Google is always right.
E: The Google hasn’t met New York. Or me. Take that, stupid Google. Emma wins. Booyah!
R: You are not at your most attractive right now.
E: Whatever. I win.

For more subway fun, hang out with Christoph Niemann’s sons and the subway on his art blog.

Homesick

In San Francisco, it’s raining. And I don’t want to go out. Why? Because it’s raining? No. Because it’s NOT SNOWING. Normal places all got snow. San Francisco? No. Why? Because this place can’t get it together to have proper weather. *sigh*

In New York and Boston, I got up in the morning, got myself out the door and stepped into the flow of a real city. A city with people on the street who have places to go and things to do. San Francisco? Two people have been sitting in my eye line for half an hour doing NOTHING. Nothing. Staring. Sitting. Nothing. Yesterday I stood behind a guy writing a check at the supermarket. Do you know where people think it’s OK to write checks at the supermarket in 2009? Small towns, that’s where. The middle of nowhere. Fine. A place masquerading as an actual city? NO!!!

San Francisco, you have got to stop. Pink hair is not cool on an overweight 35-year-old. (I don’t really think it’s cool ever unless it’s 2AM in a club in 1999.) Dawdling is not cool. Homeless people are not cool. Having to walk five blocks through urban blight to get to the nearest cafe is not cool when you live in one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city. Especially when that cafe is a #$(*#! Starbucks. What is wrong with you, SF? Why can’t you get yourself together to have some ambition, some drive, a little get up and go?

I think I must be missing the point. People come here to step out of the river current, I guess, not to gain momentum. San Francisco is the lukewarm pool of water off to the side where people paddle around in the eddies and surf and smoke weed and have kids and go out to eat a lot of vegetables and worry about their hemp pants. SF is like the stoner teen who is happy to get C’s and be self-righteous about “the man.” The northeast is the driven over-achiever kid who has things to do and places to go. San Francisco is like the retirement community of cities where people dye their hair blue and self-entertainment passes for self-actualization. New York is where the old ladies knock down muggers with their handbags, look better than I do and schlep around on the subway to 75 events a week.

I just don’t get this place. Maybe if it ever snowed here, it would brace up and get its rush on. Bring me my snow already then and let’s get moving!!! Geez.