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.


There are those who long to spend their lives communing with nature. Those that yearn for the scent of dirt, pine trees, and fresh air, for the soft crunch of grass under a boot and the gentle tickle of a spider's web as it brushes across the face. I am SO not one of those people. First of all, I am allergic to EVERYTHING. And I mean everything. Second, I ABHOR dirt and bugs, and just as vehemently abhor the thought of any part of my body coming in contact with something that might have at one time ever TOUCHED dirt OR bugs. And third . . . I simply just don't like nature. So, because of my altogether rational aversions, one would easily surmise that hiking is not really my gig. One would generally be right. BUT . . . in honor of this blog and in the spirit of summer adventurousness, I decided to give hiking the old college try. For a few hours, anyway.

So, Erin B (the only person in Manhattan that’s less attuned to the wilderness than I) agreed to join me on a day hike through a place called Wawayanda State Park, a huge chunk of full-out forest that's located a short trip from the city (take 23 north in New Jersey, pass 3 fruit stands, a lake or two, the taxidermy/bait shop, a Dairy Queen, and you're there). After a short(ish) drive and a $5 parking fee, we pulled into a lot overlooking a sparkling lake and a small stone "bath house". Good, I thought, we should use the facilities before we get out into the woods - I didn't bring any toilet paper and I am NOT trying to get poison ivy on my nether regions. Erin and I gingerly walked into the stalls and after a few minutes, I heard the tentative words that confirmed that we were truly the blind leading the blind. "Um . . . Michelle? How do you flush these toilets?" "You don't”, I replied. "Oh . . . ew". Yeah . . . we were in trouble.

Really, it’s just trees and dirt, I thought. How bad could it be? We found an innocent-looking trail and began a leisurely stroll through the back country. A few paces in, we encountered a very crunchy older gentleman sporting a dirty Ben and Jerry’s tee shirt and a fanny pack. He chuckled at our apparent confusion over our trail map (or maybe it was Erin’s matching purple tank top and Converse sneakers) and offered to suggest a “nice hike” for us “young ladies”. We chuckled at his apparent lack of fashion sense. “No”, Erin replied definitively, “We want, like, a real hardcore hike”. Yeah . . . we were definitely in trouble. The old guy plotted us a “hardcore” five-mile hike and we trotted down the gravel path into the wild.

I won’t bore you with all of the gory details of the HOURS that we spent hiking on that sunny afternoon, but I will say that it actually wasn’t all that bad. First of all, the woods are quiet. Like, really quiet. Almost peaceful . . . if there weren’t swarms of gnats flying kamikaze missions into my face. I said almost, didn’t I? Second, we had a lovely encounter with a family of frogs that unabashedly jumped over our feet from rain puddle to rain puddle. They were adorable little gymnasts and, I was surprised to see, pretty serious show-offs. One even posed for a picture. In addition to the frogs, I was very happy with my chosen company. Bomboy is always a brilliant conversationalist and an attentive listener; definitely a person worthy of spending the entire day with, I must say. In spite of the fabulous company and the animals from the set of Mary Poppins, there was, somehow, an underlying element of danger on our hike. Maybe it was just my perception, but as we walked, I started to realize that pretty much anything could happen in the woods an nobody would know. It’s like, Deliverance and stuff.

This threat of danger made itself evident on two specific occasions. On the first leg of the hike, we were loudly conversing about pretty much everything under the sun when I heard a rustle in the underbrush beside the trail (I can’t believe I just wrote the phrase “rustle in the underbrush”, but it’s appropriate). We froze, listened, and searched for the cause of the disruption. Nothing. “What if it’s a bear?”, Erin asked. I thought about that. It definitely could be a bear. If it were, and it were hungry, I figured that we would have little to no chance of surviving. And if it DID decide to eat only part of us and it left us on the side of the trail surrounded by our severed limbs and dangling entrails, who would we call to take us to the hospital? We had no cell phone service and we hadn’t seen another soul for miles. “I think we’re supposed to look big and make a lot of noise”, I stammered. Erin’s answer sounded more sensible, “I think that would just piss it off. Can they climb trees? Because I can.” “Yeah . . . I think so. Koalas can climb trees and they’re bears.” We looked at each other. “We’re screwed”. “Yep”. Suddenly, a chipmunk scampered out from under a nearby bush and across the trail. We collectively expelled the air we’d been holding while we searched for the supposed savage man-eating bear. Safe. Interestingly, though, we lowered our conversation to a more respectful volume and continued down the trail a bit more alertly.

Around mile 4 ½ of our “hardcore” 5 mile hike, when we basically felt like our legs were going to fall off, we arrived at the most rocky portion of the trail. (Thanks, Ben and Jerry’s.) Now, if you didn’t know, trails are marked by small colored squares affixed the trunks of trees. Not arrows or mile markers. No. Of course not. Then it would be way too easy to discern the trail from the surrounding not-trail. Stupid crunchy hiking-trail-makers. Why’s it got to be so hard, huh? I digress. So . . . around mile 4 ½ and after climbing over WAY too many fallen tree branches and jagged rocks, we realized that we were no longer on the marked (or not-so-marked) trail. No orange markers anywhere in the vicinity. OMG. Panic started to set in. Really? Are we stuck here in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone service and lost in the wilderness with nobody to hear us call for help or air lift us out and we’re going to have to sleep on these jagged rocks with millipedes crawling down our shirts and chipmunks eating our festering exposed sunburned flesh? Will they send a search party to look for us before we starve to death? Or thirst to death? Do you die of hunger or thirst first? Would I be able to eat Bomboy if she died first? Could I go back and drink the rain water and eat the frog legs? If one were to, in the interest of survival, eat another human, what part would you eat first? Or would I die first when the inevitable bear attack would ensue? WHY IN THE WORLD DID WE COME OUT HERE ANYWAY!?!?!? “Here it is”, Erin yelled somewhere behind me. I was jostled out of my day-nightmare. I practically jogged back to where we had lost the trail. There’s no way I’m dying in the wilderness today, I thought. Or ever, for that matter.

When we reemerged at long last in the safe paved parking lot under the wide sky, I wanted to cry. We had made it. In one piece. Every part of my body ached and I was working a mad sunburn on the part of my hair, but somehow, I felt somewhat accomplished. Almost . . . good. Maybe it was the hiking endorphins. Maybe it was the prolonged exposure to sunlight. Nevertheless, my scary, dirty, exhausting day of hiking was oddly rewarding. We dragged our heavy feet into the car and stopped off at the Dairy Queen on the way home without a shred of guilt. After all, hiking burns 700 calories per hour. That’s almost reason enough to go back. Next time, though, I’ll learn how to wrestle a bear first.

Outdoor Summer Movies

Ah, summer. Happy frolicking New Yorkers swing dancing in Lincoln Center, lounging on the grass in Bryant Park, and populating every rooftop bar from the lower east side to Harlem. Yes, we urbanites enjoy many seasonal perks when the weather's warm, but one activity, more than any other, seems to be happening on every lawn, pier, and park in the city. The outdoor movie. Most Americans, when considering seeing a film out of doors, hop in their cars and go to the drive-in. The New York version of the drive-in summer flick involves a blanket, a picnic from the nearest Pret a Manger, and a few friends and has quickly become one of the more popular pastimes of city folk young and old. Free showings of films from all eras are being projected this summer in Bryant Park, Central Park, Pier 54, Hudson River Park, and the Intrepid (to name a few). I decided a few days ago to lug my lawn chair over to Pier 54 to see a free showing of Julie and Julia and to partake of my first drive-in movie . . . New York style.

I arrived a good 45 minutes before the start of the film, staked out a spot in a sea of laughing, munching young adults, and settled in to read a book (Bonfire of the Vanities, people - it's a must-read). Soon, though, I realized that since I would be blogging about the experience, I should take a picture to document my presence before the sun finished its relatively quick descent into the Jersey horizon. I asked my nearest neighbor to snap the shot above. Interestingly enough, my nearest neighbor was a portly older guy named Bob whose genuine New York upbringing became apparent within the first minute of conversation. Bob snapped my picture.

"You know, I don't know how those new-fangled phone things work. My daughter's going to teach me one day to do that texting, though. She's on her way here with my possible future son-in-law. Ha!". A knowing nod and a roll of the eyes under his bushy Italian eyebrows.

"Wow. Yeah. Thanks for the picture." Good book not being read + talkative old man = grumpy Michelle. I love how people assume that I'm a friendly and approachable person just because I look unintimidating. I am not interested, people. Get that?!?! I walked back and sat down in my camping chair. I had started it, anyway.

Two minutes.

"Hey, do you know the history of this pier?". OMG, what had I gotten myself into?

"Nope". Look down at the book. Don't engage.

"Well, remember the Titanic?" No, dude. I don't. I wasn't alive then. But, apparently you were and I'm guessing you're going to tell me whether I like it or not. "Well, after it sank, the nearest ship, the Carpathia, brought the survivors to this dock. Back then, this was Pier 23, though, not Pier 54. See that steel archway that you walked through to get here? That's the original entrance."

Hmm . . . okay. I was interested. I wondered for a few minutes if this guy was a flake and was making up stories. It made sense, though. And he seemed nice and genuine enough. All right, I thought. I'll have a little history lesson from Bob the New Yorker. I put down my book.

"Really? I love history." All I needed to say. For the next 20 minutes, Bob told me all about New York when he was growing up (okay, he wasn't alive during the whole Titanic incident, but he was a veritable expert on the subject).

"See that building over there? That used to be the ABC building." I raised my eyebrows. Now, he's really making up stuff. He chuckled. "American Biscuit Company. Now the company has moved and changed its name. Nabisco. There was a train that ran down 10th avenue and would run right through the building."

"Death Avenue", I interjected.

"Very good, young lady!". I knew a few things (see January 3rd blog for more info on Death Avenue).

We chatted until Bob's daughter arrived with her boyfriend. He introduced her to his new friend (me) as "a nice young bloggy lady" that he just met.

"You write a blog? I'm vegan. You should write about being vegan in New York. Did you know that the percentage of Vegans in New York has almost doubled in the . . . "

OMG. Well, I could tell where she got it from, anyway. Luckily the movie started and we settled down for an altogether adorable flick. I looked up into the navy sky and cherished the breeze that was intermittently ruffling my hair. Now, this was what people should do in the summer. I looked around me. This was more than seeing a free movie. There was a lazy camaraderie amongst the folks on Pier 54. It was free, but the people seemed free as well. Almost as if we had hung our protective New Yorker coats at the entrance to the pier to enjoy the company of strangers on a balmy evening. It was a big urban slumber party. I looked over at my new friend, Bob. He had understood the New York drive-in etiquette. He shared his history with me in a way he would never have done (and I would have never let him) if we were strangers on the street. I felt like I had gotten something for nothing. A lot of somethings for nothing. I guess sometimes it pays to put down the book, disregard your mom's advice, and talk to strangers.

Sick in the City

Hi, folks. You may be wondering why I have not posted any fabulous new New York adventures lately. Or maybe you haven't. Maybe you've been pondering more important issues like health care reform, the loss of biodiversity, and Snookie's oh-so-Jersey-licious new buddy on Jersey Shore. Whatever. I'm going to tell you anyway. I've been sick. Not like sniffles and muscle aches sick. Like fever, hacking up a lung, I-wanna-crawl-under-a-rock-until-Spiderman-finally-opens-on-Broadway sick. Unfortunately, I do not (and probably never will) have the luxury of crawling under a rock when I'm sick. (If I do, though, I'm sure Spiderman still won't be open, so . . . I guess my statement stands). What to write about when I'm not feeling well enough to plan any new urban exploits? How's about I tell you how much it sucks to be sick in the city. 

First of all, let's talk about how you get sick in this city in the first place. Let's say you need to get from one place to another. You have one of three options (generally speaking). Option 1: Walk. That sounds simple enough, right? Sure. Try walking anywhere near Port Authority or Penn Station between the hours of 8-10am or 5-7pm or in the Theatre District between 6:30 - 8pm. What will you find? Hoards of people. It is literally impossible to traverse any of these areas during these times without Someone in front of or beside you sneezing or coughing. Chances are, that Someone is inevitably carrying a multitude of diseases, sinus infections, bronchitis, and heaven knows what other maladies that can befall the human body. Do you see the germ particles floating from their ailing hacking mouths through the air into your throat? No? Well, if you don't, here's something you CAN see. Remember those new laws that say that nobody can smoke anywhere in the city other than on the streets? So, where do you think Joe Schmo business guy will smoke his cancer stick on the way to or from work or the theatre? Yes, folks, that's right. Directly in front of you. Second hand smoke right in YOUR face. Not his. Remember, everyone on the sidewalk (except tourists in Times Square) walks at a fairly brisk pace. That means the person behind the nicotine addict will reap the second hand effects of said cancer stick. Congratulations. So . . . what if you manage to turn your head away from the clouds of killer smoke and the coughing person is germ-free? Well, then, you've probably been slimed. Yes, slimed. In the winter, one generally has protection from this awful experience, but in the summer, exposed arms, shoulders, backs, and calves tend to find the exposed (and generally sweaty) limbs of other (probably diseased - always assume diseased) people and the resulting effect is what I call a "sliming". I must say that this is the worst of the three walking casualties. By far. 

Okay, so you decide to take the subway so as to avoid all of the above. Yeah. Not so much. The only thing you'll avoid on the subway is the cigarette smoke. Take the remaining dangers of getting sick while walking, put them in a Petri dish, chug it, and that's what you get on the subway. At rush hour, there are at least 30-40 people per car. Enclosed in a car. Sandwiched together with no windows. What are the odds that one of those people is sick? What are the odds that you are standing near one? How long can you stay in a sealed area with those sick-people germs without contracting them? Who knows. Suddenly, a haggard red-eyed person inserts herself into the 6 inches of space next to you, coughs into your air space, remembers her manners, continues to cough into her hand, and then holds on to the subway pole. Images of Auschwitz come to mind. Don't breathe. Don't breathe. The car lurches forward and you grab the pole to keep from flattening a pregnant Asian woman next to you. Game over. Better call the pharmacist now because you're on the way to sich ubergeben. Same thing goes for a cab. No, you're not sharing air with the masses (except for the cab driver that mostly smells of either curry or garlic depending upon nationality), but YOU try to get into and out of a cab without touching the germy seat, handles, and windows. Do you even have a guess as to how many drunken passengers have puked on the seat you are currently occupying? You don't even want to know. 

So, you're sick. Fever, cough, stuffy head, achy muscles, headache, earache, rash, atrophied limbs . . . whatever. Name your own symptoms. How do you get to the doctor to diagnose those symptoms? Uh oh. You guessed it. Walk, take subway, or hail a cab. To infect the rest of America. "Let the circle be unbroken . . ." In order to attain medical attention, you must drag your infected ass out of the apartment, down the stairs, walk to the subway, go down the stairs, get on the train, go up the stairs, walk to the doctor's building, press the elevator buttons (L is always the germiest), turn the door knob, and see the doctor. In order to do your part to keep your fellow New Yorkers well, you must do all of these things without breathing, coughing, or touching anything. Ready, go! If you get to the doctor and have not managed to infect someone along the way with your illness, congratulations. No doctor in New York (none that I can afford anyway) makes house calls, so if you are going to get better, you have to sacrifice the health of some of the masses to seek medical attention for yourself. Such is life. It's all for the greater good, right? Wait . . .

After your diagnosis, repeat the steps above to schlep to the pharmacy, obtain healing drugs, and schlep back to your sickbed. Your phone rings. What to do when, instead of your doctor, it's your agent with an audition in a few hours for the role of your dreams? What? They will only see you tomorrow at noon? "But, Agent", you say, "I'm sick. Yes, Agent, I can still sing. No, Agent, I don't have a job after August. Um . . . sure. I'll go. I'll just be really careful to not get anyone else sick". So . . . you take LOTS of drugs, mask the symptoms, slather on makeup, and walk, take the subway, or hail a cab to the audition. Remember to refrain from breathing, coughing . . . you know the drill. Or . . . just forget about it, cough, breathe, and touch anything you want. It's all disgusting anyway. And you're going to get sick. You WILL get sick. And then you will get your fellow New Yorkers sick. And then they, in turn, will get you sick. And you can't stop them. What? No tag-backs, you say? There are always tag-backs when germs are concerned. And there always will be. "Let the circle be unbroken . . . "

Sidewalk Catwalk

For the last few months of summer, the world of high fashion will be taking up residence on the sidewalks of Times Square. Poor sidewalks. They deserve a little style. Particularly on Broadway between 34th and 42nd. Those poor pathways have seen nothing but the likes of Payless and Candies for years (not to mention what's above them). Now, not to say they haven't relished a fleeting Louboutin or Manolo Blahnik from time to time, but for the most part, the sidewalks of the fashion district are a fashion wasteland. Sad, but true.

Imagine my surprise when, between shows, I wandered over to Broadway for an iced latte and happened upon a hot little Isaac Mizrahi in the middle of the street. And the dress wasn't on a person. It was draped over a chic grey mannequin strutting mid-step down Broadway toward Herald Square. I looked down Broadway and saw a line of similarly postured mannequins in different designer clothes. What a fabulous idea! Fashion in the fashion district! I grabbed a nearby flyer and headed down the "catwalk" to see the other designs.

All in all, there were a total of 32 designs stomping down Broadway that were conceived by an impressive mix of well known designers and up-and-coming art students. A very sparse Kenneth Cole "dress" made out of words (I can't describe it, you just have to see it) stood next to a more traditional frock from a few students at FIT. A neon Nanette Lepore (my favorite design of the collection) was directly in front of a leopard print Diane Von Furstenburg. It was a veritable feast of fashion. As I walked down the street, I found it most interesting that these designers had been forced to use materials that would withstand the elements. Fabric was, basically, out. Between the summer heat, rain, and the ignorant tourists disregarding the "Do Not Touch" signs, these well-known artists wisely chose to craft their frocks from plastic, metal, stones, twigs, bricks, tarps, and a random but ingeniously draped army green parachute (Victor Alfaro). One of the most inventive uses of materials (in my opinion) was from a team at the Parsons New School of Design that used stones, sticks, and what looked like twine to make a whimsical evening gown.

The Sidewalk Catwalk is only on Broadway until Labor day, so if you're going to go, make plans to do so in the next month or so. But, here's the good thing about it. It's free! And it's always there. Maybe you only see one design on your run to the subway. Well, that's one more design more than you would have seen, isn't it? Every bit of fashion helps, I think. I walked through the entire collection in about a half hour and then headed back uptown to recap and pick my favorites. On my way back, I saw tons of other folks enjoying the designs just as much as I did, many of them in Payless, Old Navy, and Heaven-Knows-What-designer-designs-for-Kmart. Ah, education. Who knows. One day, Joe Schmo polyester blend will purchase a smart little Jason Wu because he/she became acquainted with him on the sidewalk catwalk. A drop in the bucket toward the beautification of America. Thanks, designers.

Central Park Carousel

A wise person once said that you’re as young as you feel. I wholeheartedly agree with him. Or her. I’m guessing it was Him. Her was probably getting a restalyn treatment at the spa while Him was letting his inner child run free with the wind blowing through his bald spots. Whether you’re a Her or a Him, I have a surefire way to feel younger . . . at least for five minutes. And it’s only two bucks. Here it is, folks . . . the carousel at Central Park.

Kraig, Crunchy Erin, and I spent a leisurely afternoon last week pretending to be tourists in the Central Park area. Now, this involved a few things I’d never done in the city, but the highlight of our tourist adventures was definitely the carousel. The carousel is located somewhere in Central Park. Here’s the thing about the park: nobody knows really where anything is because we’re all used to living on a grid of streets that are very politely organized numerically. So, suffice it to say that if you enter at the southwest corner of the park by the fountain, take a right at the pedicab hangout and follow the main jogging lane, you’ll see the carousel on the left after you circle the bottom half of Sheep’s Meadow. Anyway, Kraig (aka Uncle Kraig) offered to buy his two thirty-something make believe nieces a carousel ride and we gigglingly acquiesced.

We waited for a short while behind a squirming mass of brown pigtails and then entered the covered brick building to choose our silently neighing equine seats. The carousel itself was obviously very old, but had been expertly renovated to retain its antique charm. I chose a proud looking white steed and hopped on (side saddle) while Erin and Kraig saddled up next to me. A few minutes later, a wheezing but cheerful Italian tune respired through the speakers at the center of the ring of animals and our ride began. Perhaps it had been a long while since I’d been on a carousel, but that sucker was fast! Seriously, I looked behind me at a little Asian girl of no more than six and wondered how she was holding on. Wheeeee! As the carousel whirled around, I looked over at my bobbing buddies and saw them having just as fabulous a time as myself. Why don’t more people do this? Yes, I know we probably looked a little stupid amongst the jaded Manhattan children (acting more childlike than them, nonetheless), but I, for one, didn’t care. It was a blast! And a long blast, for that matter. Our ride was a good five minutes long, if not longer. Well worth our two dollars (or Uncle Kraig’s). The ride slowed to a halt, we snapped a few pics, and headed toward the exit. Exhilaration! I felt younger than any microdermabrasion-ed Upper East Sider could ever feel. So, there. I was officially as young as I felt. Ten. We passed a hot dog cart and I caught my reflection in the side. Hmm. Okay, maybe twenty. We began to stroll up the hill toward the west side of the park and I shifted my gait to accommodate my arthritic knee. Yeah . . . back to reality. Maybe my next blog should be a spa day . . .