Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Sign-up Widget!

Dear readers, at dinner last night, I commented to my beloved Linda that she didn’t seem much interested in these posts. “Au contraire,” she replied, adding that it would be swell if there was a way to be notified when I published new stuff. Ever responsive to readers’ wishes (!), I made note, and this morning got it done — look for the “widget” on the right side of screen. I confess it took this grandfather quite a while to find the widget, but there it is. Hooray for WordPress!

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New York, for a Snowstorm

Happy City, a 2004 work in mosaic by Peter Sis, 86th Street Subway Station, New York

I was on the ground for what seemed like a decade. It was actually only 43 days, since December 17. On February 8, I drove to DFW and hopped on the Silver Bird, bound for New York. Packing a small bag and preparing that morning, I was getting my bearings. Checklist for travel, check. Through security, shoes off, check.

I was excited to be mobile again, to fly. As we pushed back from the gate, I remembered my first flight, June 1966. The same joy of flight is still there. We took off and sailed right over our bungalow in Allen. I waved to Linda and MacKenzie. The view from seat 20A was bright, and white: snow blanketed the ground most of the way. We landed at LaGuardia 20 minutes early. I ducked into the Admirals Club to work my e-mail, then hopped into a cab for the short ride to Jackson Heights, then onto the F train into Manhattan. It was a warm, sunny day, yielding no clue to what would soon arrive.

Backlit art on MTA subway

Concourse, Grand Central

I ambled through Grand Central, one of my favorite transport terminals, and happened on a curiosity in an anteroom on the 42nd Street side: a walk-through display sponsored by the Madrid tourism agency – like mirrors, reflecting mirrors, tourism promotion becomes a tourism attraction. The exhibit was a series of reproductions of famous artworks from three of their large museums. There was Salvador Dali’s surreal “The Great Masturbator,” (sorry, folks, but that was the title; he had an imagination, no?), along with works by Edward Hopper, Picasso Monet Goya, and others. I sat on a bench and gazed at the art and the visitors. I smiled: I could recognize the artists at a glance, thanks to my sixth-grade teacher, Miss Feltl, who ensured that all her pupils appreciated European art (to be fair, we didn’t head into the 20th Century, with Dali and all that!).

Madrid Museum Display, Grand Central Station

At 2:30, I crossed Vanderbilt Avenue to the Yale Club to meet an old friend, Gayle Maurin. A porter politely told me club rules prohibited use of laptops in the lobby, a regulation I subsequently reported to Gayle, who is on the club’s board. We had a cup of coffee in a large sitting room, and got caught up (it had been nearly three years). At 3:30 I hopped on the 6 train south to Canal Street, then ambled west to my hotel in Tribeca. Dropped my stuff and did a bit of work, then walked briskly north on Broadway, which was a sort of 20-something retail corridor. I’ve never spent much time in lower Manhattan, and was amazed at how young it all was.

I passed The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, founded by industrialist Peter Cooper in 1859 to reflect his fundamental – and at the time radical – belief that education of the highest quality should be as “free as air and water.” For a century and a half, the College has admitted students on merit alone, and each gets a full-tuition scholarship. Across from the older main building stood a striking new one, 411 Cooper Square, designed by Thom Mayne. I admired the lot, then ambled 100 feet east to McSorley’s Old Ale House, established five years before the school. Sawdust on the floor, coal fire in the stove, it was truly old. “Be Good or Be Gone” seemed to be one of the saloon mantras, posted on signs of varied design. The place was a throwback. But the NYC Weights and Measures people should come ’round: the mugs were not filled. I suppose the regulars got full volumes, but we visitors assuredly did not!

I finished my porters, then walked east a bit north on Second Avenue to the dining room of the Ukrainian National Home, one of a few remaining ethnic fraternal organizations on the island. At 6:30, Tim Holmes, friend since sixth grade, and his girlfriend Lisa arrived (the place was Tim’s recommendation), and we tucked into plates of hearty fare and some good laughs. I had seen Tim a couple of years earlier, but had never met Lisa. She had good stories from an upbringing in an affluent Jersey suburb that was “Tony Soprano country”. For example, the father of one of her high-school friends was found dead in the trunk of a car. Ah, New Jersey! Tim and I agreed: that stuff didn’t happen in Edina, Minnesota.

We walked west. I peeled off, back to my hotel, and opened my netbook to see mail from American Airlines: my flight the next evening was canceled. A snowstorm was headed in. I dutifully called, and the first available flight was 46 hours after what I booked. Whoa. I flailed a bit, considered alternatives – of which there were virtually none – and resigned myself to spending most of that week in New York.

It was falling wet and hard the next morning. I walked across the street to a convenience store for yogurt and muffin, then south to my work, at Imagination, the ad agency handling the oneworld airline alliance. There had been a lot of turnover on the agency team, and the oneworld people asked me to repeat a presentation I gave late in 2007. We started at ten and ended after two. The team was lively and engaged, and it was a fun day.

Franklin St., New York, in the storm

The hotel, a Hilton Garden Inn, wanted $320 to stay another evening, which just sounded like too much money, and although I was expensing the whole shebang, I booked a room on Hotwire. I’ve had mixed success with them (it’s what’s called an “opaque site”: you book a star category, pay, then they surprise you). I was not expecting much for $110, and the surprise was the 1920s-era New Yorker, one of the city’s first megahotels, across from Madison Square Garden. Anything is tolerable for a night. I worked a bit, then headed out into the storm, riding subways up to East 58th and a very tasty Indian dinner at Yuva. I felt much better afterwards, and the food was splendidly hot, more so after requesting some chopped green chillies. To and from the restaurant I awarded high marks to the restaurant delivery guys on bikes, rolling through slush, dodging huge puddles, buses, and cabs. Bless their hearts, as we say in Texas!

Blue sky Thursday morning helped my attitude a lot. There was no escape plan, so I decided to be a tourist. I booked another room on Hotwire, this time a four-star for $140, and got a nice surprise – that night would be at the venerable Algonquin on W. 44th, known through the years for its literary connections. Nice!

Building the new World Trade Center

Roof arranged, I headed south on the E train to the World Trade Center. Skirting the north and east sides of the re-building site. I headed into Trinity Church for morning prayers, then over to Starbucks for a light breakfast and a tub of dark roast. From there I ambled down to Wall Street, pausing to admire the site where Washington was inaugurated first President and the NYSE, to the east end of Wall and the East River.

Brooklyn Bridge and the East River


Crossed the road to Pier 11 and got on the New York Waterways’ ferry the Christopher Columbus, a surprisingly fast vessel. We zoomed down across the southern tip of Manhattan to Paulus Hook, New Jersey, then north on the Hudson River to Hoboken.

Lower Manhattan from the Hudson River

I was the sole passenger on the outside rear deck! Lady Liberty was a half-mile south, keeping her promise. She made me smile broadly and give thanks for this nation.

Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal, Jersey City. This station is only a mile or two from Ellis Island, and it was from here that many immigrants began their American journeys

At Hoboken, we docked just south of the historic Erie Lackawanna railway terminal. Today it’s a terminus for New Jersey Transit suburban trains. The 1907 Beaux Arts building had been nicely renovated, and I paused to admire the detail, Tiffany glass ceiling, and more. Nice. I was in full Transport Geek mode, so I hopped on the Hudson Bergen light rail, riding one stop, then headed back under the Hudson on a PATH train.

Erie Lackawanna Terminal, Hoboken, New Jersey

Ceiling, Erie Lackawanna Terminal

New residential district, Jersey City, across the Hudson from Lower Manhattan. Residents commute to New York by ferry

Back to the New Yorker, grabbed my bag, and headed toward toward the Algonquin. Sending news of my being marooned, Jack helpfully replied that it was Fashion Week, and I remembered that Bryant Park on 42nd Street was the center of the action.

Fashion Week model. I am not planning to buy that outfit!

Open your eyes, Rob, and coming at me was a woman whose legs must have been four feet long. Whoa. I stopped at the press entrance. Tourists from all over were snapping random pictures, so I got one, too.

Dropped my stuff at a much nicer hotel, and headed north to the Upper East Side. Bowl of soup for lunch, then into the Cooper Hewitt National Design Musuem, a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. It’s now part of the Smithsonian.

Herman Miller's lightweight Caper chairs (I would buy these, for sure!), Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum

Unhappily, it’s undergoing a huge re-do, so the permanent collection was gone. I did enjoy a special exhibit marking the 10th anniversary of the National Design Awards. On display were works (and photos) of winners from a range of categories. Best thing from the Lifetime Achievement Awards was an awesome red electric space heater (1973) designed by Bill Moggridge, co-founder of IDEO (a way-cool design firm) and manufactured by Hoover UK. It was just so elegant, and it probably cost like $30. The stuff was mostly, but mercifully not entirely elitist-highbrow, and I uttered a small cheer when I spotted that Tupperware won the Corporate Achievement Award in 2001. I’ve always appreciated the office-furniture maker Herman Miller, which won a product design award in 2003 for the Caper chair, “designed to respond to the changing nature of a flexible workplace and the growing demand for the efficient use of materials in industrial production.” Photography was prohibited, but I snapped images of some bright Capers in the museum café. After a cup of coffee, I headed to the second floor for a “Quicktake” display on the fashion design firm Rodarte. It had a silly, decline-of-Rome aspect: who would wear such togs, I asked myself. Goofy. A Quicktake on the main floor had more promise: the Indian microcar Tata Nano, but it was not yet open.

Check and done, I headed south on Fifth Avenue, past all the big museums,

Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum, Fifth Avenue, New York


A nice work just outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park

and into Central Park, buzzing with activity. High point, no pun intended, was sledding on Cedar Hill. There, the “Best of Slope” award went to three girls riding discarded shards of larger plastic saucers. There were some nice crashes, and rather too many wealthy parents worried about their kids. But it was still way, way fun. I walked all the way back to the hotel.

Sledders, Cedar Hill, Central Park

After a bit of work, at 6:15 I met a former mentee at AA, Andy Von Kennel, who is a rising star in the Omnicom advertising empire. We had a nice visit and a pint. Andy headed home to Connecticut, and I rode south to Chinatown, and a nice Korean meal at Júp Shē, which means “Korean plate.” Dumplings called mandu, a spicy stew of tofu, beef, and vegetables called jigae, and a couple of Coors Lights. Yum! Had a friendly exchange, not quite T-t-S, with the waitress, paid up, and rode the B train back to the hotel.

I headed to LaGuardia early Friday morning, hoping to stand by for an earlier flight, but ended up working all morning in the Admirals Club. My confirmed flight was late. We landed at 6:30. I was glad to be home.

Winter Tree, Fifth Avenue

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Into the Past: Coolgardie, Western Australia, August 1973

Henk, the kindly hostel warden

Henk, the kindly hostel warden


Take heart, faithful readers (and I am frankly astonished and gratified by how many of you are out there!): travel resumes this month. Because I have not yet landed a job, and did not book a full teaching schedule for the first months of 2010, the pace will be slower.

While you wait for almost-real-time updates to resume, come with me to past travels. From time to time, I will post vignettes like this one . . .

It’s August 1973, and I am seven weeks into a 13-week round-the-world foray. Since July 1, I have already hitchhiked 4,400 miles in Hawai’i, New Zealand, and Australia. Several days earlier, on a rainy morning in Adelaide, South Australia, and on a whim, I decided to hitch across to Perth, on Australia’s west coast, 1700 miles. George and his ’62 Holden station wagon got me 1100 miles until it conked out in the middle of nowhere, and we caught a tow, 50 feet of rope separating us from a huge dump truck. I said goodbye to George and made it to Perth the next day. Was feeling pretty full of myself. Had a good look ’round, and two mornings later I stuck out my thumb for the return to Adelaide (a promised ride all the way never showed up).

It was slow going. I only made it 348 miles that day, to Coolgardie, an old mining town, with, happily, a youth hostel. It was dark when I arrived, and the front door was locked, so I tapped on the kitchen window. Henk let me in. He was retired from the Dutch Navy, and could not really explain how he ended up as the warden (as they called hostel managers back then) of a youth hostel far from the sea, in a dusty little town. I was the only guest, and Henk was happy to see me. He offered eggs to fry and bread to toast, and refused to charge me the full overnight price of A$1.50. Henk said, “I am old but I keep a very clean hostel; I am a good warden.” Indeed.

Henk refused my offer of a glass or two of Swan Lager at the nearby Hotel Denver, so I ambled off for a couple of cold ones before collapsing.

Next morning, I snapped Henk’s picture in bright morning sun, and resumed thumbing east. The day was no more productive than the previous one, and in steady afternoon rain I crossed to the other side of the road, and headed back to Perth. Got a ride all the way with a friendly engineer-geologist from Shell Oil, who brought me to his house, provided a bed, and drove me into downtown Perth the next day.

I bought a ticket on Ansett and flew back to Adelaide. After four years of what I described back then as “hard-core hitchhiking,” I got stranded. Luckily, I still had my travel-agent credentials, and I copped a 75% discount.

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