Monday, December 27, 2010

Privilege to Pee

Everyone has been there: you're spending a fun-filled day in Manhattan, taking in the sights, seeing shows, auditioning, shopping, what-have-you, and suddenly . . . you need to use the facilities.  Now, in most areas of the world, this wouldn't be a problem.  In New York, it totally is.  The reason?  The "facilities" are few and far between.  And folks aren't too nice about letting you use them, either.  And, for that matter, even if you don't need to relieve your bladder, sometimes, you just need a place to rest your weary bones for an hour or so . . . preferably somewhere that does not expose said bones to the icy twenty-degree wind.   I hear you, folks.  Me too.  So, I know it's not necessarily a new adventure in the city, but seriously, most of the time, in the city that never sleeps, it sometimes IS an adventure to find a place to rest.

So, after employing the assistance of a few of my friends (thank you Julie, Rachael, Rachel, Hiatt, Michael, Bomboy, Jennifer, Brittney, Freddie, Jefferson, and Amy!), my main problem is how to organize all of my information.  I have hidden public restrooms, warm cozy atriums, secrets to avoiding long restroom lines, and general information as to how to relax in the city without paying a dime.  I'll start with the basics (so, if you consider yourself city-savvy, then scroll down) and I'll then I've decided to organize the rest by neighborhood.  Let's go.

The basics: when in desperate need of a restroom in Manhattan, always look for a Starbucks.  Their restrooms are generally open to the public and you pretty much can't swing a dead cat in the city without hitting a Starbucks.  The problem is, though, that some of the popular coffee joint's midtown locations have recently started requiring a purchase to access their restrooms and, thus, have those tacky gas station attached-to-a-spatula-or-some-other-ridiculous-object bathroom keys.  Some of the restrooms are better than others (most homeless folks know this little bit of info, too, and will often bathe in said restrooms), but if you have to go and you don't know where, Starbucks is your best bet.  So, in general, I'd say that your Starbucks restroom without-a-purchase not-completely-disgusting availability success rate is around 70-80%.  Here's another thing that people generally don't know: all hotel lobbies (and, subsequently, their restrooms) in New York are open to the public.  Now, there are tons of hotels in Manhattan, but the best thing about hotel lobbies is that they generally also have Wi-Fi.  Here's a great list of hotel Wi-Fi spots in the city:  Also, if you have a gym membership, I'm guessing that there are more than a few locations of whatever your gym is on the island of Manhattan.  It's always good to know if you're visiting, you are near a, let's say, Bally's and you want a shower, rest, or a place to change clothes (or, if you're crazy like me, a quick workout).

Oh, and you're always welcome to pick your way through the merchandise in any department store to find their restrooms.  Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Lord and Taylor, Saks, Henri Bendel, Barney's, and Bergdorf Goodman are fabulous places to use the restroom.  And they're always clean.  Just put on your blinders or you might end up leaving with a new juicy couture sweatsuit as well as an empty bladder.

Now for the super-secret rest/restroom locations:

***The best find ever: The Marriott Marquis Atrium Lounge.  Enter the hotel on Broadway between 45th and 46th, go to the central elevator, and head up to the 8th floor.  It's open, gorgeous, quiet, warm, and before 5pm, you have to buy NOTHING to hang out there for long periods of time.  I, quite literally, will pack a lunch and meet friends on the smooshy sofas for a long midday gnosh.  Their restrooms are clean and large and if you want to actually buy a lunch, there's a great little sushi restaurant across the way.

***Charmin.  It may be closing soon, but there's a public restroom on 7th ave between 42nd and 43rd courtesy of everyone's favorite toilet paper.

***New York Public Library reading room - okay, you can't bring food, but it's, in my opinion, one of the most peaceful places in the city.  It's warm and quiet and very centrally located - 42nd and 5th.  Make sure you go to the third floor (it's room 315).  And shhhhh.

***McDonald's on 7th Ave between 45th and 46th has a HUGE second floor seating area with a lovely bird's eye view of Times Square.  It can get a little crowded during mealtimes, but generally, nobody checks to see if you've purchased anything and it's, literally, in the center of everything.

***Worldwide Plaza - It's between 49th and 50th and between 8th and 9th avenues.  Worldwide plaza is an outdoor area, but if it's not really cold, it's a lovely place to sit and relax.  There are tons of tables and chairs and oftentimes in the summer, there is live music.  Also, you can grab a bite a Blockheads or Mother Burger and eat outside (I recommend the $3 margaritas).

***FYI, for all of you locals that love the Blockheads in Worldwide plaza, but hate the restroom line from the single-seater john, remember that you can walk across the plaza to the Mother Burger (same restaurant owner) for a MUCH shorter line.

***Broadway Dance Center.  I know, I know.  But it's on 45th between 8th and 9th and they have a nice lobby with at least 5 different televisions and sofas.  If you're a tourist and want to watch a New York dance class, the folks at BDC don't stop you from meandering in, walking through the facility and taking a peek at the classes in progress (every studio has windows so you can watch without disturbing). Also, it's warm, welcoming, and has a locker room in case you randomly need a shower or change of clothes.

***Bryant Park public restrooms - they're actually really nice!  The line can get a little long, but if you head to the northernmost edge (42nd) of the park near the public library entrance, you're sure to find the clean and well-maintained toilets.

Columbus Circle area/Central Park: 
***The Time Warner Center is always your best bet.  Clean restrooms, warm shopping, a Whole Foods with dining area downstairs, and a Borders on the second floor with tables, chairs, and coffee.  If you don't want to spend a dime, but want some quality reading time, head to the Borders and walk to the back and left and there are tons of chairs where people will leave you alone for hours!

***Central Park sucks if you have to use the facilities.  Trust the person that trained there for the marathon.  But . . . the few sure-fire places to relieve yourself are: the restrooms outside of the Loeb Boathouse on the east side of the Ramble, the johns in the old Tavern on the Green and the toilets by Le Pain Quotidien north of Sheep's Meadow.  There are also pretty well-hidden public toilets just north of the Jackie Kennedy Reservoir and south of North Meadow on the west side of the park, but it's a bit of a hike . . . unless you like tennis and want to watch for a while.

Lincoln Center area: 

***Bed Bath and Beyond on 65th and Broadway has a clean and accessible lavatory on the basement level.

***There's a lovely public atrium on 63nd street between Broadway and 9th called Harmony Atrium.  It's covered and warm and you can grab a glass of wine or cup of coffee before seeing a show at Lincoln Center.  Or not.  You don't have to purchase anything to chill at one of the tables.

***Barnes and Noble on 66th - In fact, any Barnes and Noble is a great place to use the commode or to chill amongst the stacks.  This particular Barnes has a large seating area on the top floor as well as a Starbucks in case you need a pick-me-up.  There are two restroom locations on the second and top floors, so take your pick.

***Pottery Barn on 67th and Broadway - after entering the store, go down the stairs and head to the right.  They're clean and I'll wager a guess that most folks don't know they exist.  Lack of foot (or other appendage) traffic is key in finding a non-disgusting latrine in the city.

***The lower level of the Trump Tower on 56th and 5th Ave has clean and spacious restrooms.  Thanks, Mr. Trump!

Other [(Brooklyn, Queens, and south of 34th and east of 5th) (not like anybody ever goes there)]:

***Whole Foods on Houston - great place to sit, grab a gnosh, and use the facilities.  If you're ever down there in KANSAS.

***Other Barnes and Noble locations with restrooms and warm seating areas: Court Street in Cobble Hill, 7th Ave in Park Slope, the north side of Union Square

***There are restrooms, a little coffee stand, and tables and chairs if it's warm enough to hang outside the Brooklyn Museum.  Also, if you're on your way to the 2 or 3 train, it's pretty convenient.

***There are a ton of delis and restaurants that have hidden seating upstairs or downstairs.  If you are game to buy some food or a cup of coffee, make sure to ask about additional seating.  Chances are, there's space to spread out and take a load off.

There you have it, folks.  It's by far not complete, but hopefully, it will, at some point, help you with your New York privilege to pee.  Rest up and stay warm, folks.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dali for the Masses

In the great words of Louise Nevelson, “Art is everywhere . . . except it has to pass through a creative mind”.   We see art in the intricacy of the petals of a rose, the contour of a dancer’s back, the music of the wind through the trees.  In New York, though, there is all of that wonderful unintentional art (well, as far as man is concerned, anyway) as well as a plethora man-made, for lack of a better phrase, intentional art.  "Art", as it were, is shoved into every nook and cranny of the city, on every billboard, on the back of every bathroom stall, in every open courtyard, and on every wall of every condemned warehouse in Chelsea.  Jean Michel Basquiat-esque graffiti, trash sculptures, complex multi-media presentations, performance art, paintings, etchings, and carvings.  To say the market is saturated is a gross understatement.  Art, in New York, is more than everywhere . . . if that's even possible.  So, I was definitely less than surprised when I heard that the mall in the Time Warner Center was hosting a six-month-long exhibit of Dali sculptures.  Dali plus shopping mall?  How could I not go check it out?

My (soon-to-be-famous-television-star) friend, Erin Hiatt, and I schlepped over to the gargantuan Time Warner Center on the west side of Columbus Circle and dodged the folks streaming in and out of the glass doors to enter the shiny vestibule.  Here's the thing about the Time Warner building: it's a gorgeous and sweeping attempt at combining upscale shopping, even-more-upscale dining, condos, a hotel, and a cultural center.  Many New Yorkers even call it the city's newest landmark (it was completed in 2004).  Yes, it's structurally stunning.  Yes, Per Se is a dining experience not to be missed.  Yes, Jazz at Lincoln Center is a blast.  No, I don't think the Time Warner Center is all it was originally designed to have been.  It has, sadly, for lack of a better phrase, been overrun by the unwashed masses.  Okay, so they're not so unwashed.  In fact, some of the clientele probably bathes in La Mer, but nevertheless, it's pretty much always a zoo in there.  Maybe it's the Whole Foods in the basement, but every time I visit, there are screaming children running through the wide hallways, dirty John Jay students toting skateboards, and fanny pack and Old Navy-sporting tourists pouring over maps and brochures.  The apparently intended Ferragamo-wearing locals are either up at the bar at Masa or have moved their shopping to Bergdorff's because of the utter pandemonium that frequents the halls of the Time Warner.  Now, add to that 16 sculptures and 40 drawings by the infamously pompous and narcissistic Spanish surrealist, Salvador Dali.  Like I said, art: everywhere.  Even where you don't want to see it.

We picked our way to the rear of the main entrance and sure enough, the first sculpture, "Woman Aflame" was literally being scaled by a snotty-nosed five-year-old while her mother negligently sampled Godiva truffles a few feet away.  Mr. Dali, I'm sure, was rolling over in his mausoleum.  We were appropriately aghast.  Eventually, the woman called off her little beast and we were able to view the sculpture without its added appendage.  It, actually, was fairly interesting.  Not that I know a ton about art (obviously), but the motion of the figure was captivating and the angle of her back, the blank expression on her face, and the empty drawers protruding from her body made me, somehow, feel her tragic desperation.  I decided to take a walk around the sculpture.  Yeah . . . not so much.  I tried from every angle to get a view of the sculpture from more than two feet away and was cut off within thirty seconds by one oblivious shopper or another.  Truly, after a few minutes of trying to genuinely appreciate this DALI, I was so frustrated that I didn't care anymore.  Hiatt folded her arms and gestured toward a large brass sculpture of one of his famous melting clocks.  A woman with a stroller and seventeen shopping bags was literally moving the red rope around it to accommodate her girth.  No attention was paid to the piece of art above her.  She was too busy sipping her latte and looking for the Coach store.  Wow.  Just . . . wow.

Now, while I understand the whole idea behind the Dali exhibit, I am more upset by the disregard for these pieces.  Well, I was.  Until I offhandedly commented to Hiatt, "I didn't know Dali was a sculptor". She responded, "He wasn't".  I looked a little closer.  She was right.  All of the sculptures that we saw were created with what was called the "lost wax casting process".  Basically, Dali approved and oversaw an initial set of castings that were done in the 1980's that were based on his paintings.  The key word being: oversaw.  So . . . he didn't sculpt them with his own hands/tools/eye/time?  Forgive me, readers, for being naive in the world of art, but do people really do this?  I guess this begs the question: how far removed can a piece be from the artist and still be considered said artist's art?  (Now, that's a whole other blog.)  I felt a little gypped.  I knew something seemed a little not-Dali-esque about them (I happen to have seen a number in person).  Now, I knew why.  Forgive the analogy, but it was like seeing a Prada-ripoff in TJ Maxx.  Okay, maybe not that bad, but I was definitely a little let down.

As Hiatt and I diligently perused the remainder of the pieces throughout the mall, I wondered how many other of these sculptures had been made from the same cast.  Somehow, that made it a little less special that there were other "Women Aflame" (potentially in other shopping malls throughout the world).  Not that I thought a first-grader should have permission to climb on the one in New York, but I realized that, perhaps, this exhibit was a little more appropriate to its surroundings than I thought.  I looked across the crowd into the Prada and spotted a purple patent leather bag.  Now, THAT'S art, I thought.  Hmm . . . Maybe that was the point of the whole lost-wax casting thing.  How many of these people would ever go to the Vatican Museum in Florence (like me!) and see Dali's "The Trinity"?  Probably not many.  How many could afford that fabulous Prada yumminess in the window?  Definitely not me.  I'm guessing these sculptures weren't as pricey as the one-of-a-kind paintings done by Mr. Dali's own hand, so how different were they than a really good Prada knock-off?  (Yes, I get that he approved the mold and I'm assuming Miuccia Prada did not approve the knock-offs, but bear with me, here.)  Essentially, the folks at the Time Warner Center had brought Dali to the masses.  Surrealist art in a shopping mall.  Art: everywhere.  Will the sculptures make your shopping experience a little more interesting?  Yes.  Will the people that have been living under a rock and have not seen the melting clocks potentially stop and ponder the brilliance of the concept?  Sure.  Do the crowded pretentious shopping mall and the kind-of-but-not-really-Dali sculptures deserve one another?  Probably.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

STAY New in New York

Hey, readers!  If you'd like to keep abreast of my newest adventures in the city, send an email to and I'll send you an email when I post new blogs.  Cheers!

Friday, December 10, 2010

New York's Best Mojito

Humans seem to have always been obsessed with finding and acknowledging the best of everything.  The best restaurant, the best moisturizer, the best singer, etc.  Even though we homo-sapiens all have individual likes and dislikes, we have some inherent need to compile our varied thoughts to find "the best".  Why?  I dunno.  But, I'm pretty much par for the course as far as this is concerned.  I use the "best" moisturizer, I long to dine at the "best" restaurants.  So . . . when a friend told me where to find the "best" mojitos in New York, you bet I high tailed it down to the East Village to see for myself.

Yuca Bar is located near Tompkins Square Park on Avenue A in the belly of the East Village (yep - you got that right - I schlepped all the way down there to try a mojito - yes I did).  Its rustic stone facade and hand painted walls perfectly compliment its "eclectic Pan-Latin fusion" menu and while the website's description for the restaurant sounds like one of those new age frou-frou fusion joints, my take was that it was much more homey and neighborhood-y than I would have expected.  And I loved it.  My first observation was that the crowd was fabulously varied and there was a general party atmosphere that permeated the joint - there was a large and boisterous group of people in the back of the restaurant cheering loudly in Spanish, a young hipster couple in the front window was surrounded by at least 6 empty mojito glasses, and our bartender was getting the life story of two thickly accented Scottish men beside us.

Victor and I hopped onto a bar stool and ordered two happy hour mojitos.  The curly-haired bartender went through a pretty lengthy process that included muddling mint, ice, limes, and sugar and shaking rum with ice, and after a few minutes, presented us with two very festively authentic-looking cocktails garnished with a straw-length chunk of raw sugarcane and sprigs of fresh mint.  For those of you that don't know, Cuba is the official birthplace of the mojito, a cocktail that is traditionally made with white rum, sugar cane syrup, mint, lime, and sparkling water (although the original Cuban recipe involves spearmint).  Most historian-types think that this drink had its origins in the 19th century when African slaves who worked in the Cuban sugarcane fields mixed cocktails with guarapo (sugarcane juice) after a long day in the fields.  Well, I have to say, whoever discovered it, thumbs up, because this mojito was fe-abulous!  A sweet slice of freshness and a cane of sugar to chew on to boot.  And at the happy hour price of $6, you seriously can't beat it with a stick (or a cane . . . of sugar)!

Victor and I perused the yummy-looking menu and ordered a shrimp ceviche and some mahi-mahi skewers (obviously, this was before my raw vegan adventure as well -  which is going very well so far, thank you).  It was all yummy-licious.  The ceviche was perfectly sweet with a spicy kick, the chips were crispy taro and sweet potato and the mahi, while not my favorite dish, had a glaze that I would love to have again, potentially on some ribs.  The food was just as joyously festive as the cocktails and the atmosphere.  We munched and, joining the fiesta vibe, ordered another mojito.

In short, on a cold and grey winter day, we took a little dinner vacation to a small town in Cuba by way of the East Village.  Subway fare: way cheaper than airfare to Cuba.  Was it the best mojito I had ever had?  Yep.  Best mojito ever made?  Probably not.  I dunno.  But does it really matter as long as you enjoy it?  Nope.  I'll definitely be back.  Well, after January.  (Rum, for your reference, is not a raw food.)  Beberse todo.  Disfrutar!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Creepy Hike Under the GWB

Directly under the George Washington Bridge on the New Jersey side lies the last thing you would expect would be directly under the George Washington Bridge on the New Jersey side.  A park.  Not like, a city park with swings and sandboxes and homeless folk.  Like, a national park, with hiking trails and campsites and picnic areas.  And, apparently, with a view of the Manhattan skyline.  Here's the skinny: Palisades National Park is twelve miles long, 1/2 mile wide, and boasts (according to their website), "mile after mile of rugged woodlands and vistas just minutes from midtown Manhattan".  Yeah . . . all that and a bag of chips, right?  Serious hiking minutes from midtown?  Dude.  Really?  I mean, how rugged could it be when the "miles of woodlands" are sandwiched between the Hudson River and the Palisades Parkway, right?  Well, last week, Victor and I endeavored to find out.

Here's how it happened:  The Palisades Interstate Park Commission was created by New York and New Jersey in 1900 to keep stone quarries from destroying the cliffs on the west side of the Hudson.  The area that is now under the George Washington Bridge and the miles north of it was the first section of land that was acquired by this commission.  Basically, it's been there ever since.  And nobody has messed with it . . . other than to establish trails, set up a few restroom facilities, and carve out overlooks and parking lots at the trail heads.  So . . . Victor and I drove to the northernmost parking area, found the nearest trail head and started trekking.  We, I believe, were on the Closter Landing Loop, a five mile trail on the north-westernmost area of the park (meaning, the upper part of the cliff or, for all intents and purposes, the high road).  The beginning of the trail was a lovely little stroll through the woods and we chatted and sipped coffee in the brisk early winter air.  The interesting thing was, the trail wove from side to side (east to west), so we could view, alternately, the breathtaking, peaceful, and sprawling view from thousands of feet above the Hudson and the very loud and very concrete Palisades Parkway.  It was, literally, a slice of nature.  A very small slice.  As we rambled through the fallen leaves, the terrain became incrementally more raked toward the east.  I could see how this hike could get a little scary.  There was very little between us and a long slide into the cold waters of the Hudson.  Still, though, it was a moderate and very pretty, if from time to time noisily polluted by traffic, hike.

After a while, though, the Parkway receded, the noise receded further and further into the distance, and we came upon what I can only call . . . ruins.  Rising out of the fallen leaves was what must have once been a large stone building.  The windows and doors were long gone, but the sun slanted through them to reveal a man-made floor and windows to an inner room.  Rubble and fall leaves were scattered on the floor and as we explored, we found small enclosed rooms containing debris, leaves, and the remnants of a previous human presence (water bottles, glass, etc.)  We climbed stairs to the roof and picked our way over the holes where the roof had caved into the tunnels of the building below.  I was suddenly aware of how quiet it had become and how utterly alone we were.  I gazed into a dimly lit completely enclosed alcove and wondered who or what lived there in the night-time.  Then I wondered if he/she/it was still here during the day and if we were potentially disturbing he/she/its slumber.  Suddenly, in my vastly avid imagination, I was Will Smith in I Am Legend and Victor and I were the only two people left on earth and some creepy alien thing was dragging its pale emaciated body out of the rubble to feed on my flesh.  I hustled to Victor's side.

"Dude.  I'm a little creeped out.  Isn't that silly?", I asked hesitantly.

"Nope.  I am, too.", he replied, "Let's explore down here away from the trail".  Um . . . yeah . . . great.

Now, it's not like you can get all that lost in Palisades Park since it's 1/2 mile wide, but it is pretty significantly steeply set up, so it was a little precarious moving away from the trail and down toward the Hudson.  But, if you know me at all, you know that I'm always up for adventure, so I headed down the steep incline after my equally-as-adventurous husband.  We encountered more stone structures that I found, after a little post-hike research, were part of what was once called "Millionaire's Row", part of a clump of old estate foundations along the Palisade cliff tops.  We carefully picked our way down the steep incline through the piles of stone and vegetation and I nearly missed stepping into a very deep hole surrounded by stone.  I peered down to the bottom of what was once a small room or a large well and strained to see the sides of the enclosed area.  I couldn't.  Yeah . . . anybody seen The Descent?  I imagined an assembly of pale, fanged, semi-human Gollum-like creatures reaching their spindly arms out to drag me down from the Palisades into Dante's seventh circle of hell.

I looked over at Victor and realized he was equally as intrigued/creeped/excited by the eerily quiet ruins as I.  We explored a bit more and as the sun began to angle toward the horizon, we decided to head back to civilization.  It took some picking through high foliage, but we eventually found our way back to the trail and eventually the car safe and sound.  As we drove home, we discussed the breathtaking views of the city, the beautifully sunny and crisp taste of nature that we had enjoyed, and, of course, the perfect beginning to a horror flick that we had just lived.  And it was all good.  And deliciously sinister.  Palisades Park is, by far, not a get-lost-and-be-surrounded-by-nature hike, but I would say if you're in the New York area and you want a little perspective (or you want a fabulous place to shoot your Jeepers Creepers-inspired student film), it's worth a little trip across the George Washington Bridge.  Just bring an extra friend in case you need to sacrifice someone to the creatures of the forest.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Winter's Eve at Lincoln Square

Last week, at the suggestion of my buddy, Brittney, I attended the annual tree lighting and winter festivities in Lincoln Square.  Winter's Eve, as it's called, is deemed (according to their literature) "NYC's Largest Holiday Festival", spreads along Broadway from Columbus Circle to 68th street, and features live music, face painting, acrobats, carolers, arts and crafts, shopping, a large scale tree lighting, and food from some of the best restaurants in the area.  It was beautiful and fun and very festive, but, to be quite honest, it was kind of a lot.  Here's the skinny.

Victor, Rachael, and I met Brittney and her adorable son, Max on the steps of Lincoln Center just after dark to pick up a little holiday cheer while watching the tree-lighting ceremony.  We joined a bevy of cheerful families in listening to an interesting conglomeration of musicians and performers (a jazz band, some cloggers, and a virtuoso fiddler) and oohed and aahed when the appropriately PC blue-lit holiday tree was illuminated.  The crowd was a little large and the performers were a bit too far away to hear clearly, but from our vantage point, we had an unobstructed view of the semi-large tree, so while we were a tad removed from the festivities, it was a pleasurable, if slightly unremarkable tree lighting experience.  (And Max really liked the virtuoso fiddler, so that alone was worth the trip!)  We then headed up to Richard Tucker Park to one of the numerous outdoor food tasting stations for a little grub and some more holiday festiveness.  Well . . . apparently, every other person in New York and its surrounding boroughs had the same idea.  Every foot of the less-than-one-block triangle of space was quite literally packed with tents from different restaurants serving winter-inspired chow and encircled by lines of people hoping to snag some of the cheap grub.  Dozens of swanky eateries featured soups, ravioli, and pasta for three and four dollars per portion and every person in the square seemed to know which tents they wanted to visit.  Luce had wild mushroom ravioli, Gourmet Garage had tomato bisque, and Bar Boulud featured a butternut squash soup.  Folks squeezed past each other, moving through the square, often toting piles and piles of cheap gourmet food and hot chocolate.  I tried some fabulous ravioli, but when we tried to find a place to enjoy it, we were jostled from side to side and were, generally, pretty uncomfortable.  It seemed that the best plan of action was to just keep moving with the flow.  Like I said, it was a lot.

We had a thoroughly addicting (and I'm assuming VERY cream-based) tomato soup from the Gourmet Garage tent and a cupcake from Magnolia and headed down toward Columbus Circle in search of a Mexican Hot Chocolate from Rosa Mexicana.  (Obviously, I participated in this adventure before the installation of my raw vegan diet).  Along the way we encountered an array of jugglers, unicycle riders, clowns, and face painters, all partially or completely surrounded by mostly impenetrable crowds.  Nevertheless, the trees lining Broadway were illuminated, the air was a crisp, and the company was unbeatable.  When we arrived at Columbus Circle, the scene was very similar to the one uptown - festive, but riotous.  We wove our way toward the hot chocolate booth just to find out . . . they had run out.  Wah wah.  Dude, that's what happens when tens of thousands of folks come out to celebrate in the cold weather.  The Rosa Mexicana people didn't anticipate tons of hot chocolate sales?  Really?  We scooted to the edge of the sidewalk to survey the situation and figure our next move (we would be trampled if we attempted to do so in the middle of the path).  We decided to head toward home and heat and peace and quiet.  The sidewalk, for as far as I could see, was cacaphonous.  Interestingly enough, though, the holiday spirit permeated even the thickest sections of the crowd as the normally (well, in my experience when bargains are to be had) combative crowd threaded politely past each other.  I heard folks actually saying, "Excuse me" and "That pulled pork looks good.  Where did you get it?".  I even, for the most part, saw more smiles than frowns.  Not to oversimplify the entire gigantic festival, but I think that perhaps Lincoln Square's Winter's Eve, in its own way, was a New York success.  What can I say?  Smooshing huge amounts of hungry New Yorkers into a small space without conflict and nary a disgruntled comment is, in my estimation, somewhat of a Christmas miracle.  Happy holidays.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Manhattan's Secret Subway Station

I had read it in a few places. has an article entitled, "The 'Secret' Subway Stop" that uses phrases like, "hidden deep under New York" and ". . . if you know how to find it".    Weekly World News has an article that says a visit to this secret stop makes "you literally go back in time", and is accompanied by gorgeous pictures of an ornate and glowing gold station of the past.  Other sites say that the ghost of a former train conductor from 1904, Fritz Barnkopf, wanders through the train when it passes through the station, asking passengers for a secret password ("Teddy Roosevelt" in case you encounter the walking deceased).  Now, I'm a sucker for a ghost story and I'm more of a sucker for solving a mystery, so you'd better bet that I, and my brave cohort Hiatt, took a journey on the 6 train to seek out the mysterious unused City Hall subway station.

First off, I did my research.  According to all of the articles, all we needed to do to encounter this station of the past was to take the 6 train to the last stop (Brooklyn Bridge) and stay on the train.  Basically, the train circles back to head uptown and the formerly functional City Hall station is located somewhere in that loop.  Sounded easy enough.  Hiatt and I boarded the train and headed south, cameras poised in anticipation of ghosts and adventure.  Like the geeky tourists that we were emulating, we even asked a stranger to take a picture of us (well, I asked him to take three - a girl's gotta look good in a pic).  Soon, the train reached its southernmost station and an electronic voice kindly asked us all to get off the train.  We stayed, feeling like naughty little kids and giggled while we paced around the train.  Secret subway stop, here we come!!!!  I must admit, I was a smidge creeped out.  There's nothing weirder than an empty subway car.  Particularly one that's taking you into the depths of the unknown, an unknown that's apparently patrolled by a dead train conductor. The doors closed, the train started forward, and we pressed our faces and cameras to the windows on the side of the train.  Dark.  The train moved on.  More dark.  Then, slowly, the dark walls moved away to reveal . . .

A dirty old barely visible run-of-the-mill subway tunnel.  Okay . . . maybe it would get better.  Between the florescent lights inside the car, the darkness outside the car, and the glare from the windows, I barely saw a grey "City Hall" pass by my window.  "Oh!  We're here!  I think . . ."  I squinted to try to see more.  We crept along and smooshed our noses against the window at the front of the car and looked toward a growing light at the end of the tunnel.  Suddenly, a dark shadow crossed our  line of vision and we simultaneously squealed and jumped backward.  The ghost!  Yeah . . . no.  Just the conductor wondering why two ridiculous young women decided to stay on the train after he had told them to get off.  We exhaled and focused on the growing light.  This must be the secret stop.  It grew and grew, and . . . we saw . . . Brooklyn Bridge.  Again.  And a lot of grumpy commuters.  Wah wah.  REALLY?  That was it!?!?!?  The much acclaimed "secret" subway stop that was the subject of so many articles was a dusty old ledge and a barely visible sign?  Boo!!!  FAIL!!!  We joined the disgruntled strap hangers in body and in spirit and settled in for the ride back to Midtown.  I looked at Hiatt, "Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?".  She rifled through her ginormous purple bag for chapstick and scrutinized a pair of too-tight jeans in front of us.  "Right.  Let's go get some sush".  Leaving: adventure.  Next stop: reality.  Moral of the story:  Don't believe everything you read on the internet.  Well, that is except what you read here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Veganista in the Raw

So, there’s this pseudo-trendy movement these days in New York (and, for that matter, in most areas of the country) that is beginning to greatly affect the restaurant and food sales industry.  A cruel new kind of degustory torture called raw veganism is quickly spreading throughout the nation (well, New York and LA, anyway) and models, moguls, and celebrities alike are flocking to the nearest Whole Foods to comply with the newest and coolest diet of the year.  Demi Moore, Brooke Shields, Woody Harrelson, Natalie Portman, and Paul McCartney have all recently proclaimed their departure from the age-old habit of meat and cheese consumption in favor of a vegan or raw “lifestyle”.  Similarly, the likes of Rawstar, Tao Palate, and Candle 79 have taken the New York restaurant scene by storm and are only inspiring more restauranteurs to create havens for the growing number of folks looking to munch on unprocessed, uncooked, and (I’m assuming) generally un-tasty nuts, twigs, and berries.  Ellen Degeneres and Dr. Oz have devoted entire episodes to the cessation of animal ingestion while Alicia Silverstone’s new book, “The Kind Diet” is selling like hotcakes.  And for those of you that don’t consider anything trendy until you see it on Sex and the City, the restaurant where Kim Cattrall met her hottie boyfriend Smith in episode 76 (don’t judge me, people) was called RAW and had a menu that reflected its name.  What’s the deal, folks?  How much more amazing can a raw vegan lifestyle be than, let’s say, bacon?  Or brie? Or a 10-ounce filet cooked medium rare with a bĂ©arnaise sauce?  I guess I’ll have to see for myself.

According to Wikipedia:

A raw vegan diet consists of unprocessed, raw plant foods that have not been heated above 46 °C (115 °F). Raw vegans believe that foods cooked above this temperature have lost much of their nutritional value and are less healthy or even harmful to the body. Typical foods include fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouted grains and legumes.

Um . . . so, like, literally, nuts and twigs and berries.  And, I guess, fruits and vegetables, too.  Okay . . . fine.  I can do that.  What’s the big fancy ultra cool deal about being a raw vegan?  Well, according to the websites I have looked at, the benefits are pretty widespread and varied . . . but you can’t believe everything you read on the internet (duh).  Nevertheless, here are the supposed benefits:

Raw foods have more nutrients than cooked food and, thus, give you more energy.

Raw vegans say that processed food (think, Sun Chips and GoGurt) have stuff in them that enhance flavor and cause excitotoxicity (the pathological process by which nerve cells are damaged and killed by excessive stimulation by neurotransmitters such as glutamate and similar substances).  Whatever that means . . .

Raw foods have good bacteria and micro-organisms that are killed by cooking.  Some believe that these can ward off rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and can stifle signs of aging.

It apparently is the cool thing to do

Alright.  It seems like a pretty crazy lifestyle, but . . . why not?  On a personal note, I've also been inspired my my healthy schmealthy mother and father-in-law that have been vegan for years - and they seem to grow younger with every year.  Also, my fabulous dance partner, Freddie Kimmel, has been a proponent as well.  Ooh, and he has a great blog: - read it - it's brilliant.  So, folks, let’s do a little experiment in the interest of blogging about new stuff.  From this moment (December 1 at 6pm) through December 30th, I am going to be a raw vegan.  With the exception of one prearranged dinner party (I don’t want to be a bad houseguest), I will not be ingesting anything cooked over 115 degrees and no animal product will pass my lips.  We’ll see how it goes.  Hey, it can’t hurt, right?  And anybody can do anything for 30 days.  I’ll keep a little journal so I remember how it goes and you guys can look forward to the official “results” blog on January 2, 2011.  In the meanwhile, I’ll be blogging as usual about fun NY stuff.  Next blog: the secret subway stop.

Now . . . what the HECK can I eat?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Grimaldi's Pizzeria

Sometimes in New York, it's all about knowing about the places that everyone else doesn't know about.  The places that stylish famous people go to when they don't want to be bothered by paparazzi.  The places that are in a corner, that don't have a sign on the street, that require a password, that are under a bridge; the places that are so good that only the cool people are privy to their goodness.  Somehow, secret is always better.  Perhaps it's some leftover genetic penchant for finding the speakeasies of the Prohibition era.  Perhaps it hearkens back to the grade school days when knowing that Bobby had a crush on Sally was the most important thing on earth.  Either way, I've officially found the pizza joint that satisfies the secret "I know something the tourists don't know" tendencies AND (incidentally) has really freaking good pizza.

Grimaldi's Pizzeria is located, quite literally, under the Brooklyn Bridge (in Brooklyn).  Its unceremonious facade and not-so-prominent location speak more to a commonplace bodega and we-happen-to-make-pizza-too-because-it's-cheap-and-sells-well-in-New-York establishment than the pillar of the degustory Italian community that it is.  Why, you may ask, is this pizza so superior to other dough/sauce/cheese concoctions in the New York area?  You also might wonder why this growingly popular outfit is located in Brooklyn (or BFE, according to my close friends) instead of Manhattan.  Well, the answer to both of these questions, interestingly enough, lies with the New York department of food safety and inspection.

See, fifty years ago, New York officially banned the use of coal ovens on the island of Manhattan.  Why?  I don't know.  I guess it's some sort of feel-good-save-the-earth-one-pizza-at-a-time law.  Whatever.  During this process, there were a few restaurants grandfathered in (Lombardi's and Angelo's to name two), but the other restaurants established after the 1950's were left out in the cold.  Literally.  The thing about a coal-burning oven is that it heats the pizza to 900 degrees (as opposed to a wood-burning oven that heats to 600 degrees).  The extreme heat seals in the juices of the toppings and gives the crust that perfect crispy outside/gooey inside that we all love.  None of that in Manhattan, you ask?  None that's legal, but like anything in the city, you can find it.  (Although, it is much harder to hide a coal burning oven than a sous vide machine - which is equally as illegal in the city and is much more widely used).  So . . . Grimaldi's (obviously) is as close to Manhattan as you can get a coal fired pizza from a new more-than-likely-not-owned-by-the-mob restaurant.  I decided to try it out.

First impression?  Not so inviting.  Because of the restaurant's popularity, a maximum number of tables had been added to the interior of the restaurant, so that leaves the hungry guests waiting for a table . . . you guessed it.  Out in the cold.  Huddling in a line, shivering, salivating over the aromas wafting from the glowing pizzeria, yearning to be called into the light and warmth.  Suddenly, I felt very Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.  Ugh.  Note to self: forget that reference before you order the pepperoni.  The line moved fairly quickly, though, and I was impressed to see that the Grimaldi's folks were equal opportunity pizza-givers.  The take-out folk waited alongside the dining folk and people were seated in an orderly first-come-first-served fashion.  The host, in a puffy jacket with a full apron over it, gave us a nod, demonstrated his Brooklyn accent, "You folks, c'mon in", and jostled us to a small table in the middle of the restaurant.  We were literally surrounded by a bustling blur of waiters squeezing between tables with HUGE pies over their heads, loudly toasting teenagers, and a sea of red and white checked tablecloths.  It was festive, homey, and I instantly felt like family.  (Which is good because we were so close to the table next to us that we were practically dining together.)

We ordered a carafe of red wine (our choices were red, white, and pink) and a large pie with lots of meat.  (Grimaldi's is also well known for not selling slices.  In fact, it seems to be a huge insult to them to even mention the IDEA of a slice of pizza.  In fact, there are paper plates with angrily scribbled "NO SLICES" on pretty much every window.)  Now, oftentimes, a restaurant's success is propagated by its atmosphere, its service, its location, or any combination of the three.  Heck, and combination of the three plus good or mediocre food will make a restaurant a success.  In my opinion, Grimaldi's is successful solely because . . . they make the best pizza.  Ever.  Anywhere.  People, when I say this pie was good, I mean it was GOOD.  (And I happen to consider myself somewhat of a pizza aficionado.)  It arrived at our table steaming and gooey and was placed (as it should have been) on a pedestal in the center of our veritable card table.  The crust was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, the bottom was perfectly thin and browned, and the cheese was very obviously fresh real mozzarella.  Heaven.  Who cared that we were drinking out of plastic wine glasses?  Who cared that my feet were just starting to warm up from the long wait in the cold?  Heck, who cared that we were in Brooklyn?  All that existed was the beautiful pie in front of us.  We ate and ate.  And then, we ordered a second.  Yes, we did.  Don't judge.  We waited a long time to get our table, we decided to take full advantage of it.  I received an impressed nod from our neighbors as we put together our next combination of toppings.  Artichokes, capers, ricotta, and basil.  And, folks, it was divine.

Eventually, we waddled our bloated bodies out to the street and walked toward the East River and the twinkling lights of Manhattan.  I smiled at the line that was still formed down the block and caught the eye of a particularly uncomfortable-looking young woman.

"It's worth the wait," I offered.

"Yeah, we came all the way from South Carolina to have this pizza," she drawled.  And then, in a lowered tone, "One of the locals told us it was the best in New York".  She winked and glowed with the pride that she had found the secret place that the locals went for their pizza.

Okay, so, no threat of paparazzi, but if this southerner was excited to have the skinny on the secret pizza joint, I was happy for her.  So, maybe the secret is getting out.  Whatever.  Doesn't matter.  It's still really freaking good pie.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The 2010 New York Marathon

Last week, I ran the New York Marathon.  I’d like to say I did it specifically for this blog, but really, I did it just for me.  But, I’ll blog about it anyway.  After winning a lottery to enter and training for 14 weeks, I ran 26.2 miles in 4 ½ hours through 5 boroughs and over 5 bridges to complete the most famous marathon in the world.  I was (and still am) pride incarnate.

Here’s the funny thing about pride.  Most times, it is off-putting, unflattering, and more often than not, covers up an innate lack of confidence (ironically enough).  On a more rare occasion, though, one runs across a true reason to possess what I’d like to call justified pride; a self-gratification that is usually a long time coming that results from determination, hard work, focus, or some combination of the three that can be shared unabashedly with others.  This is the pride of which I speak. Of course I am proud of many things, but this accomplishment has been the only one (that I know of, anyway) to date that has been solely up to me, myself, and my dedication.  Yes, I’m proud (amongst other things) that I’ve performed on Broadway.  But, ever how hard I worked in voice lessons and dance classes, it was ultimately up to someone else to hire me for the job.  In a world and a business that is more than largely subjective, I guess I have officially found deep satisfaction in the precise and ancient art of healthy competition.

But, I digress.  The New York Marathon is, in a word, HUGE.  Every year, approximately 45,000 runners participate in a race of endurance through Manhattan streets past over two million cheering fans in hopes of snatching a bit of the $500,000 of prize money, raising money for charity, or fulfilling a personal goal.  It has been an annual occurrence since 1970 and is now the United States’ most watched one-day sporting event (according to  Seeing that it was my first marathon and I’m by far not remotely Kenyan, my goals for the run were trifold.

1) No matter what, keep running the entire 26.2 miles (no walking)
2) Crush Katie Holmes’ time of 5:29:58 (a joke amongst myself and a few buddies)
3) Don’t die or pass out while doing 1 and 2.

To be honest, I really didn’t know what to expect.  I had trained, but running in a race through Manhattan with 45,000 people from around the world is very different than cranking out 20 lonely miles in Jersey.  So, I nervously boarded the Staten Island Ferry at 8am on Sunday to get to the starting line by my 10:40am start time (I was wave 3 – because of the number of runners, they have to space out start times).  I immediately made two new friends.  One thing about running – it brings folks together.  All you need to ask is, “Where did you do your last 18 miles?” and you automatically have something to talk about.  My two friends were a British Alzheimers nurse in her 50’s and a sarcastic 28-year-old white-collar crime investigator (no, she did not know Bernie Madoff – I asked).  We stuck together through the two hours of transportation, number-showing, teeth-chattering, and bagel-eating before the run and then parted to be (literally) corralled into our numbered starting corrals.  I figured I’d never see them again, but it’s always nice to have company when you’re nervous.

There are a few odd things that happen during a marathon that I had never known.  One, people wear warm clothes to the start line and when the race starts, strip down to practically nothing and literally throw their hoodies and pants on the side of the road.  New York Road Runners donates the clothes that are discarded to a good cause, but seriously, the image of the Verrazano Bridge covered in a sea of clothes was one of the more odd things I had encountered.  Odd thing number two – people have no qualms about relieving themselves along the race course.  And nobody seems to care.  Men literally sidle up to a wall and whip it out and the more competitive women don’t even bother to stop.  They just go as they run.  Seriously.  (I refused to do that and made a quick stop at a port-a-potty at mile 7 – I’m not that hardcore).  Odd thing number three – people chat as they run.

Which leads me to the continuation of my story.  After discarding my sweatshirt and crossing the start line, I heard a deep voice next to me:

“So, this is going to be a long run, Let’s do some introductions, folks.  What’s your name?  Where are ya from?”

Really?  My initial reaction was to run faster and clear this crazy man.  But then, I thought, he actually seemed entertaining and 26 miles can get pretty lonely.  I settled into the stride of the little clump and introduced myself to the group who, lucky for me, was right on my intended ten minute fifteen second mile pace.  I met a fresh-faced hardcore runner named Lori and a boisterous lawyer (the aforementioned deep voice) named Tony.  And so we went.  And chatted.  Five miles in, we lost Lori who was determined (wisely) to stay with her pacing watch.  Tony and I were too excited and ran ahead.  We swapped stories, pointed out interesting signs and groups of spectators, and searched for our friends at our predetermined “cheering sites”.  Tony was the perfect running partner.  He was contagiously enthusiastic (sometimes a little too much – I had to tell him a few times that it was the crowd’s job to cheer him and not his to rile them up – energy lost over a 4-5 hour run is very precious).  We would come upon a mile marker and he inevitably had something to say:

“Woo!  You know what’s ahead?  Mile 12, baby.  Dude, we’re so crushing this marathon.  Yeah! (fist pump in the air and a little Rocky-esque shake of the shoulders)”.

And so we ran.  The most amazing thing about the New York Marathon is most definitely the people that cheer alongside it.  There were encouraging New Yorkers lining every block of every borough of the entire race.  We passed the fire department of Bay Ridge with banners strung along their fire truck.  “Welcome to Bay Ridge, runners!”.  A family passed out bananas in Park Slope while a rock band blasted a cover of “Hard to Handle”.  Stylish young adults in Williamsburg held up signs reading, “Toenails are for sissies” and “There’s a beer waiting for you in Central Park”.  Volunteers on the East side gave free back massages with rolling pins to runners that stopped.  A salsa band on 125th prompted one runner to stop, shake a tail feather for a few minutes, and move on.  A fully costumed African drum ensemble in the Bronx played and danced us through mile 21.  And on and on.  The entire 26.2 mile course was a cultural panorama of the passion and exuberance of the people of New York.  These amazing people more than once brought tears to my eyes, pride that this melting pot of life, this greatest city on earth, is my town.

Tony and I ran through mile 22 together.  He had a bit of a setback, decided to walk for a bit, and told me that I could run ahead.  I thought of sticking with my new friend, but I reminded myself why I had done this marathon in the first place.  I wanted to accomplish something on my own.  I wished him luck and ran ahead.  And when I say ran . . . I ran.  On mile 22 and coming on hour 4 of running, I was miraculously no longer tired.  I actually felt free.  I had never run this far in my life and, yet, I was doing it.  The wind blew through my disheveled hair as I passed runner after runner and garnered the attention of the growing crowd of fans on my way toward the finish line.  Then, I passed a time clock.  Four hours and five minutes.  I vaguely remembered someone saying that the New York Times prints the names of the runners who finish in under 4 ½ hours.  I looked ahead toward the Central Park finish line.  Yep.  I could do that.  It would be close, but I could make it.  Then, something clicked.  I WOULD do that.  I picked up my pace again and looked for the next clock.  I can genuinely say that I more or less sprinted the last three miles of my first marathon.  Looking back on my stats, I ran about a nine-minute mile for the last three miles.  Toward the last mile, I felt my lungs start to close up (asthma), my knee pain started to shoot up my leg (tendonitis), and my calves started to cramp.  I didn’t care.  I was making the New York Times.  I turned the corner and saw the finish line.  Almost there.  I approached and watched 4:30:00 come and go.  I sprinted through anyway.  4:31:12 was my finish time.  Wait!  My clouded brain grasped for something on its periphery.  That’s not my time.  I thought of the start line and it came back to me.  It had taken me over two minutes to cross the START line.  I had made it!!!  I had made the New York Times.  I walked ahead and received my medal with tears running down my face.  I’m a sappy dork and I didn’t care.  I had just run a marathon.

A short summation of things I learned from the New York Marathon:

1) I am way stronger and more determined than I ever thought I was.  (And I thought I was pretty strong and determined to start.)

2) The human body is a really amazing machine and on the whole, we humans do not even scratch the surface of its capabilities.

3) Justified pride is not a bad thing.  In fact, it's the cherry on top.

4) Distraction is not always a bad thing and good company is always the best way to go.

5) We (not just me, we people) can pretty much do anything.  If we want to bad enough, somehow, we make it happen.

Argo Tea Cafe

Word on the street is there's a new joint in town that's jockeying to get a hand in the New York caffeination business (as if the industry weren't more than completely saturated enough already). I decided to check it out and see what new innovation there could possibly be in the world of brewed beverages. I was actually, pleasantly surprised.

Argo Tea has a few locations throughout the city (Union Square, NYU, Flatiron), but on a recent sunny day, I decided to visit the Columbus Circle shop before a stroll through Central Park. I strolled into the cozy and clean air-conditioned shop and stood, transfixed, by the digital menus that flashed up beverage after beverage for my consumption. Chocolate mint tea, green tea ginger twist, white tea acai squeeze, tea sangria, bubble tea, hibiscus steamers, teappuccinos, Carolina honey, Earl Grey vanilla cream, red velvet tea, hot, iced, skim, soy. I, actually, was reminded of the first time I walked into Starbucks many moons ago, and was overwhelmed by their many different variations of coffee beverages (before I became the menu-memorizing-skinny-vanilla-latte-guzzling lemming that I am). And now, right in front of me, was Starbucks' tea equivalent. Was there a place for such a specific store to thrive when people are already Jamba Juicing, Dunkin' Donuts-ing, McDonald's smoothie-ing, and generally drinking all of their calories en route to their busy lives? I looked around at the tables full of customers around me. Apparently, there was.

I followed my friend's lead and ordered an iced Mate Latte. Skim (Duh). Fabulously creamy, sweet, and refreshing. World changing? No. But it was a tasty and well-packaged treat. I surveyed the room and realized everything was astonishingly well-packaged. Now, I will fully admit that I am a sucker for something that looks good and in this tea shop, everything was adorable. Loose leaf teas were dispensed out of colorful containers lined along the wall, vibrant tea paraphernalia was artfully displayed next to it, and snacks were perfectly packaged into snack-appropriate-sized containers, labeled with nutritional information, and lined in a cooler beside the cash register. The entire store had been so obviously designed to evoke maximum buying potential from customers . . . and I hated myself for loving it.

Then, I saw a pamphlet next to the perfectly lined sweetenter bins. I grabbed the "About Us" tri-fold paper and read while I sipped. Turns out, Argo is a sustainable business that works with local tea and food growers and actually seems to contribute back to the community. Every month, they pick a new charity to partner with and donate 10% of net proceeds from their "ChariTea" sales to that nonprofit partner. This month's NYC ChariTea partner was SHARE, a charity that supports women (and their families) that have experienced breast and ovarian cancer. Argo Tea employees participate in numerous volunteer community enrichment programs, and a program called CreativiTEA supports local Chicago artists (that's where they're based) by producing their original cup, tee shirt, and poster designs. Okay. I was feeling a little better about my $4 cup of tea.

Not that I plan to spend all of my money on brewed beverages, but when I'm in the area, I will definitely visit Argo again. It's nice to know that a little of my beverage budget is going to a good cause.

The Big Waltz

A few days ago, Lincoln Center hosted a large, splashy event called The Big Waltz, a spectacle to promote Austrian tourism, and little ol’ me had the privilege of being a small part of presenting the festivities. Here’s the skinny. Basically, the tourism folks from Austria paid us dancers to teach New Yorkers how to do the Viennese Waltz in the courtyard of Lincoln Center. A fabulous looking blonde Austrian deejay in black leather pants mixed Viennese classics, including the Blue Danube and Emperor's Waltz while twenty of us Broadway gypsies pulled New Yorkers from the crowd and instructed them on the finer points of the waltz. It was fun and exhilarating and not only made me want to go to Austria, but it kind of also made me want to go to Fred Astaire and take more social dance lessons. Even better, I had a surprisingly fun time meeting some of the people of the city.

Here’s the thing about living in New York. Despite the fact that it’s a huge city, it’s pretty insular. I hear friends complaining all the time that they only meet people that are like them/in their profession/same cultural background, etc. It’s true. I can walk down Eighth Avenue on a Wednesday at 5pm and see at least 3 – 5 people that I know. Guaranteed. Same thing with restaurants and gyms. It’s pretty much a small neighborhood. The fun thing about The Big Waltz was that, for the most part, is wasn’t my demographic. It wasn’t really anyone’s. It was kind of everyone all mooshed together and it was really, really interesting. The first guy I waltzed with was a lawyer of about 60 from upstate that was obsessed with all ballroom dance and had recently competed in a salsa competition for seniors. He was poised, focused, and generally gentlemanly. My second waltz was with a middle aged couple of college English professors that had never danced, but were excited to learn so that they could go to her sister’s wedding. They proved to be kind, attentive, and wholly uncoordinated.

My third partner asked me to dance . . . with her boyfriend. “Teach him. He show me”, she said in broken English. The elderly Polish woman proceeded to shove her wide-eyed, gangly elderly boyfriend toward me while she pulled out her video camera. Well, okay. This was what they were paying me for, right? I taught him for about three minutes before I realized that he spoke NO English at all. I turned to the side to ask his girlfriend to translate and saw that she was videotaping my face. Only my face. Hmm . . . I figured they would have a hard time recreating their waltz experience. I quickly taught them how to execute a dip and moved on. They were more than thankful and she gave me a joyous and very tight hug. “We do dancing and chicky-chicky tonight”, she winked. Yeah. Chicky-chicky is way too much information for this dance instructor. Partner number four was a very astute investment banker in a mustard tweed suit that offered me a tour of the balloons the day before the Macy’s parade as compensation for my efforts. “I volunteer every year. It makes me feel like a kid.” And so it went. Partner after partner. Each person and couple with a more interesting story than the last. Perhaps, I thought, I should get out a little more often and take the chance to meet people who know nothing of musical theatre. Waltzing with strangers made me fall in love with New Yorkers all over again. People were not shy at all to come up and ask about a step, ask me to dance, or even ask if I was Austrian. (Not that I know of, but maybe). I truly hope that The Big Waltz made everyone want to visit the (I hear) beautiful country of Austria. It sure did make me want to go. It did, though, also make me want to see more of my own city. And more of the people in it. I collected my paycheck, turned in my red Dance Austria sweater, vowed to visit Vienna one day, and made a resolution to introduce myself to one new stranger per week. We'll see how that goes.

Manhattan By Sail

Hey, folks! Sorry for the lack of blog entries of late, but I've been spending some quality time away from the city on a fabulous vacation in the Bahamas with my family. It was wonderful and sunny and relaxing. But I'm not going to blog about it. This blog is about things you can do in the New York area. Interestingly enough, though, I did have a wonderful and relaxing sea adventure in the city with Erin H right before I left. Who knew? Here's a little taste of my recent urban nautical adventure on an 80 year old classic Schooner called the Shearwater.

Mostly because of this blog, I get tons of promotional emails about things to buy and do in the city. Lifebooker and NYC Daily Deals are the most frequent inbox jammers, but I do always open them to see if they're offering something "bloggable". A few months ago, Lifebooker offered a reduced rate on a "City Lights" cruise from a company called Manhattan by Sail. This cruise's advertisement was as follows: "See the world’s most famous skyline light up the night. The bustle and noise of the city turns to silence as we slip out onto the Hudson, cut the engines and unfurl our sails for a tranquil 90-minute cruise.". Okay. I can do that. And for a reduced price of $35 (from $45), I would take my wonderful husband and we'd recline on the gently rocking ship in the warm breeze while we sipped complimentary wine and spent a romantic evening on the Hudson. A few months later, Hiatt and I were shivering under relentless gusts of frigid wind, sipping nothing (because someone spilled our wine), and remarkably, still having an overall good time.

First of all, the ship is REALLY small. Like, much smaller than you'd think it should be small. Like, I really was concerned as to the capacity of the ship when we got on alongside at least 20 other strangers small. Second, there were no seats on the ship. Apparently, you were just basically expected to sit on the randomly dispersed cargo and boxes of life jackets (again, isn't there a rule against this stuff?). And third, the complimentary wine was cheap and mine got smashed when an assistant boat pilot (is that what you call them?) opened the cooler on which it was sitting. Not a good start, I must say. Erin, though, was a trooper and uncharacteristically saw the bright side of the situation. "These buildings are beautiful". Yeah, actually, they were. The boat was docked on the west side of the financial district and was surrounded by a horseshoe of tall glowing buildings. It seemed a little surreal to be outside the bustle of the city but to still be surrounded by it. The dock was quiet and peaceful, but I could see people milling about in the lighted windows. I see why they called the cruise peaceful.

We set sail and slowly moved away from the dock and toward the Statue of Liberty. I couldn't help but notice that the boat seemed a little unsafe. There were no railings on the side of the ship, only wires, and we could walk anywhere we wanted, including around and under the sails which, I learned a little later, move. I made a note to keep my head down so as not to take a cool dip in the Hudson. We parked ourselves on a box of life jackets and made conversation with the folks in front of us (we really couldn't help it - their knees were touching ours). They were sweet and young and had been hoping for the romantic time that I had imagined. The young lady shivered in her short skirt and open-toed sandals. "It was a surprise", she said. We joked about the boat's capacity and all went well until they asked the inevitable question I hate more than anything else in the world. "What do you do for a living?". I tried to dodge. They were having none of it. "She's been on Broadway for five years", Hiatt blurted. "Let's just get it out". Now, that was more like my favorite sarcastic friend. Can of worms opened. For the next fifteen minutes, I had to answer questions about every show that had ever been on Broadway, listen to school play anecdotes, and make recommendations for their next date night. Ugh. So much for a relaxing cruise. Hiatt and I managed to politely disengage ourselves and headed up to the front of the ship. The bow of the ship was a narrow plank of wood no wider than six inches that jutted out into the black water. Being the brave young individuals we are, Hiatt and I squeezed ourselves past a few important-looking poles and out to the quiet front of the ship. We took a seat and stared at the growing Statue of Liberty and the spread of city lights behind us. Aaahhhh. This was what we were looking for. Peace, lights, water, perspective. Well worth the price of admission. We relaxed, tried in vain to get an un-blurred picture of Ms. Liberty, and basically enjoyed the ride.

When we couldn't stand the cold wind any more, we headed back to the crowded body of the boat. And back to our new star-struck friends (people seriously don't realize how un-famous musical theatre people really are). I decided to take the only way out: make them talk about themselves. "So, what do YOU do for a living?". "I do cancer research at Mount Sinai". Now it was my turn to be star struck. And our turn to ask dumb questions. It was a fair trade. As we headed back to the city, we had made two new friends, whether we'll see them again or not. The bashful assistant boat guy brought us blankets and we soon quieted down to enjoy the awe-inspiring skyline that is our home and our city. You know, I thought, this cruise is pretty nice. It should definitely happen when it's warmer, but it's beautiful and relaxing. And it truly does give you a little perspective. We live in this, one of the hugest, most competitive cities in the world and I, for one, get upset when things don't always go the way I expect them to. Really? Really, Michelle? In this HUGE city where pretty much everyone is good at everything? Where the best of the best move here to do what I do and I get all cranky because I don't ALWAYS get the parts I want? Really? Apparently, it was about time for me to get a little perspective. I looked at the twenty-something cancer-curing geniuses across from us and realized . . . it's pretty much all about perspective.

Bryant Park Fall Festival

There is quite literally ALWAYS something going on at Bryant park. I think so far in this blog, I have gone ice skating, played Petanque, gone to fashion week, and visited the New York public library. All in the space of the four city blocks that make up Bryant Park. In the interest of variety, I did not plan to do any more "bloggable" activities in the area, but a few days ago on the way to a shindig, I happened upon another adventure in this happening midtown locale. The Bryant Park Fall Festival. Apparently, every Fall, the park puts up a large raised stage, invites numerous well-known performance-based groups to do their thing, and New Yorkers come out with blankets and hot chocolate to hear and see these free bits of soaring culture. I literally was walking down 40th street and was drawn toward the angelic music of the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Luckily, I had a bit of extra time, so I headed into the park and sat down to enjoy.

I am a bit embarrassed to say this, but I have never seen the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Anywhere. As a good friend put it, "NO! Michelle's in Brooklyn?!?! Oh, wait. Brooklyn came to Michelle in midtown." I think that sums it all up. I generally don't traverse the island to visit those far away boroughs, but after seeing the performance at Bryant Park, I might actually consider it. First of all, it was a mild early Fall evening at dusk and there was ample seating on the lawn. I chose a seat on the right of the stage and settled in. There was an adorable older couple snuggling beside me with eyes closed, apparently appreciating the Appalachian Waltz. There were kids playing at a respectful volume to my right while their parents discussed the clarinet player's extensive training. A group of young adults were huddled together toward the center of the lawn playing some sort of card game and drinking out of paper cups. Oddly, none of these folks seemed rude. The laid-back environment of the park seemed to be the perfect place for all ages to enjoy the music. In most concert halls, these young children could never sit through an entire concert, but here, they danced and skipped to Mozart's Quintet for Clarinet and Strings. Additionally, the program was very wisely chosen to be music that is accessible to a wide variety of people. Good thinking, Brooklyn Philharmonic. I sighed deeply and wallowed in my good fortune for finding such a lovely way to spend the early parts of my evening. It was another very New York moment. I looked up at the towering buildings around me and the deepening cobalt blue sky, I looked at the world class musicians that were playing for me for free, and I looked around at the bevy of diverse individuals with which I might share this experience. Only in New York.

The Great Urban Race

Everyone has a vice or two. We are human, after all. I, unfortunately, have a few, but definitely the least constructive and the most time consuming has got to be my ardent addiction to reality television. Biggest Loser, Top Chef, Survivor, Hell's Kitchen, Bachelor Pad, Rachel Zoe, Project Runway . . . you name it, I'll watch it. My boob tube addiction covers a wide array of trash, but I’m proud to say the best and least trashy reality show (according to the Emmy voters) is by far my favorite: The Amazing Race. If you haven’t watched it and you don’t know what it’s about, a) you are potentially the least pop-culturally aware person on the planet and b) I’m not going to tell you about it because you HAVE to go watch it on Hulu. Either way, my faithful partner in all things blog, Erin, and I had a chance to pretend (pretty believeably) to be on my favorite reality show and it was exhilarating!

Here’s how it worked. First, we signed up online to be a part of a relatively new phenomenon that’s sweeping the country called The Great Urban Race ( In my opinion, the race, basically, is a win/win situation. You pay to join the race and can raise additional funds from sponsorship to participate in a fun day of competition and adventure, but part of the money goes to the St Jude’s Children’s research hospital. Fun for charity. For the shameless competitors in all of us, though, the Great Urban Race is also billed as “the ultimate scavenger hunt”, takes place in over 20 cities nationwide, and culminates in a national championship in Las Vegas with a prize of $10,000 going to the winners. Like I said, win/win.Teams of two solve twelve clues that lead them around their respective cities to various locales to perform various tasks and then race back to the finish line. Just like Amazing Race (!) except for two fabulous differences. 1) Teams can use electronic devices (GPS, internet, iPhones, etc) and can call friends for help and 2) Teams are encouraged to “dress up”. Yes, there is a prize for the best costume at the end of the race. It could not get more fun. Erin and I excitedly picked our team name “The Trinas”, donned tutus, leotards, buns, and sneakers, printed up maps of lower Manhattan, and trekked over to the starting line at the Boat Basin CafĂ©.

We walked into mayhem. It was like a circus, a marathon, and Halloween in one outdoor restaurant. We started out in search of the registration table and ran into two Bananas in Pajamas calmly dining on chicken fingers and Corona. Really? Yes, really. And these dudes didn’t even win the costume contest. We got our race numbers, met our buddies (the Sexy Savages) and settled in to check out the scenery. Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, and Princess Peach strolled by apparently going over their game plan. Two ninjas searched for safety pins to attach their race numbers. And, our favorites and the winners of the costume contest, two Robin Hoods in their early 30’s posed for a picture with a pair of Vikings. This, alone, was worth the price of admission.

But, I digress. Erin and I were on a mission. We were going to kick all of these peoples’ extravagantly costumed popotins. We may have looked sweet, but we were not kidding around. With Bomboy’s knowledge of the city and my strategically placed cohorts in the theatre district, we were sure we would win this competition. We were handed our sealed clues, a horn sounded, and we were off, leaving the munching fruit in the dust! We had twelve clues that we could solve in any order and we could skip one. The plan was to sprint to the nearest subway and to solve the clues on the way to Columbus Circle. Just so you can get an idea, here are a few clues:

2) Ahoy Matey! Translate the numeral pennants below to decipher the three digit address, on West 54th Street, for your next challenge. Make your way upstairs and using the supplies available, recreate the “king of knots.” Once completed, you must receive a stamp on this clue sheet from the GUR staff as proof of completion. NOTE: You must UNTIE the knot prior to leaving the clue site.

5) Head to the 15,000 square foot sweet shop in Manhattan that was founded by the daughter of a world renowned fashion designer. As proof of completion, locate their iconic bunny statue and take ONE picture including ALL teammates posing the action of the following French verb to each other: oreilles de lapin.

7) Solve the word scramble below to discover the name of this gastropub near the Theatre District: K R C D R A I B Y. Make your way to the back of the pub where a flight of cold brews will be awaiting you. Using sight and smell, determine which of the two brews listed below are NOT included in the flight.

9) Make your way to Chelsea Piers Bluestreak. Head up the flights of stairs to the track. Upon arrival, one teammate must run the length of the 200 meter track while one teammate climbs the rock wall. Take a picture of one teammate with at least one hand and one foot clearly visible on the climbing holds as proof of completion.

We did 11 of these suckers. And they were SO much fun! The trick to the race (we know now) is solving all of the clues and planning strategically how to best complete them all with minimal travel time, as we were not allowed to use anything except public transportation and our own two legs. Meaning . . . we pretty much ran for three hours. In tutus. As we sprinted around the island, we ran into other teams, equally as ridiculous-looking, and generally a high five or a clue was passed amongst us. We ran, giggling, from Rickshaw’s where we shared a chocolate dumpling, toward the magic shop where we took a picture with a deli case of fake severed limbs. The best and most ingenious part of the race was that pictures were required as completion for most tasks. We would have proof of our tasks, but we would also have tons of pictures of the crazy things we did to show our friends afterward! Take a picture with a skateboarder, shake a dog’s hand, read a grocery list in Braille, buy a coloring book for underprivileged kids. We were on a roll. We were going to win this race!

Until . . . the last clue. A picture of a clock. That’s it. “Find this clock and take a picture in front of it”. It looked slightly familiar . . . We decided to ask a stranger. An intelligent-looking woman in a suit said very confidently, “Oh, that’s Rockefeller Center”. OH! Of course it was! We ran about a half mile to where we thought the clock was. Nada. We asked a woman at the information booth at Rockefeller center. “Oh, no. Another team was already here. That’s the Chrysler building.” Duh. Of course, it was. Look at that art deco statue. We ran from Rockefeller Center to the Chrysler Building. Nope. Not there either.We saw another misguided team. “No luck?”. Nope. We dragged our leotard-clad bums to the nearest subway to regroup. We had lost our lead. Stupid New Yorker liars. I took a chance and asked a few people in the subway. One older lady leaned over and nonchalantly sighed, “That’s the Fuller building. 41 East 57th street. I used to work there”. Cha ching! We hopped off and speed walked (no more running – by then, we both had major blisters) to the clock, took a picture, and boarded a bus toward the finish line. On our way back, we saw a couple confusedly searching 41 WEST 57th street. At a stoplight, I knocked on the bus window, got their attention, and mouthed “WEST” while pointing back. They smiled, waved, and dashed toward their clue.

It’s not very often that one can feel genuinely connected to a group of strangers. Particularly in New York. The Great Urban Race is one of those rare occasions. We all had gone through the same, if you will, Amazing Race, and we were happy to share our war stories and victories with the other teams. As we crossed the finish line, we knew that we had not won (we did, though, finish in the top 100 out of 400 teams), but we had seriously had one of the most exciting days, like, ever. We settled in for a well-deserved lunch (at the finish line – Boat Basin) with the Sexy Savages and told of our adventures. We congratulated the Bananas in Pajamas for their relatively quick finish as we turned in our completed clue sheet and met with the “official picture reviewer” (next to two much-less-believeable ballerinas) to verify our pictures in the clue locations. As we munched on chicken sandwiches and margaritas for a few minutes, I looked at Erin and said, “So, next year, we definitely should set up someone on a computer and plan our route first”. She smiled and nodded in agreement. Yep, that’s right. Next year, people. We are SO going to win.