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Saturday, August 07, 2004


Road Trip! (continued...)

St. James Air ShaftI had planned to get up early this morning and troll for photos around the East Side. But no such luck; I finally opened my eyes to the light of morning a little after 9 AM.

Now the St. James Hotel was ready for my utlimate test of residential worthiness - what kind of shower was it going to be? Plenty of hot water and good pressure, as it turned out, passing with flying colors!

Getting dressed and gathering my stuff, I decided to skip the elevator and walk down the twisty narrow marble stairs from the sixth floor to the lobby. As I got to the second floor, I noticed a large door open to what seemed like a roof.

Out I went, finding myself at the bottom of the hotel's airshaft. These airshafts were a common feature of older masonry buildings from the early part of the Twentieth Century. The idea is that inside rooms would have a way of getting at least some sunlight. But airshafts have always struck me as ugly and creepy, and this one was no exception, so of course, I took some photos. Can you feel the gloom?

Once I had my fill of the airshaft, I checked out of the St. James and began to head down to Penn Station and the PATH tubes to Hoboken. As I walked along W. 45th Street, I was taking some banal photos of the Lyceum Theater, when I heard, "Hey, take my picture!... I'm The Man!"
JoséI looked up to see a smiling young guy on the bed of a truck, unloading sheet rock.

He started to pose and flex his muscles, to the delight of his Asian co-workers. "All right!" I played along, taking a couple of shots, "you are The Man!"

I showed him the second and best shot, and he seemed very pleased with his photo. This is one of the really great things about digital cameras - being able to immediately show people what you've just taken. It usually evokes a smile.

I asked my serendipidous subject if he'd like me to send him a print and gave him a pen and index card to write his name and address ... José from Brooklyn. We parted company as newly-minted NYC pals.

I rounded the corner of 45th and Broadway and headed south, with Hoboken and our rental minvan as the immediate goal. No need to take the subway to the PATH station today; it's too nice a day and only 10 short blocks in a photo-target-rich environment.

Times Square Shock and AweAs I was walking south, I couldn't believe my good luck on this trip. Today was as beautiful a day as yesterday. The temperature was about 72F with reasonable humidity and there was a nice breeze. More like late May or early June than August in New York City. Not much schvitzing on this trip!

My progress down Broadway wasn't very rapid, as I stopped about every half-block or so to take photographs. Everything looked good to me today. Even the stretch of Broadway between 40th and 36th Streets, never anything to write home about when I lived here in the '70's, seemed newer and cleaner and spiffier than in the past.

Eventually, I reached Herald Square and Macy's, where I ducked underground and followed the signs to the PATH terminal under 33rd Street. A buck-fifty got me onto the train to Hoboken, and less than twenty minutes later, I was walking up Washington Street, Hoboken's "Miracle Mile."

Chairman of the BagelHoboken has really changed over the years - all for the better. Back when I was at Stevens Tech, we used to laugh at the sign that used to be here at the base of Washington Street proclaiming it the "Miracle Mile." But by a few years after I graduated, yuppies from Manhattan discovered Hoboken, with its then low real estate values and easy commuting. Money and new blood flowed into the city, and it seems as if everyone benefited over the long run.

Where derelict docks used to insult the eyes, Hoboken now has a beautiful park built out over the Hudson with a magnificent view, taking in the west side of Manhattan from The Battery to the George Washington Bridge.

I would have liked to linger in Hoboken for another hour or so, but I wanted to get the car and meet up with the kids back at Leah's dorm. So over the the municipal garage, where I ransomed the minivan for a mere $30.

Note to self: I don't think this park-in-Hoboken thing really pays. Next time, just bite the bullet and park in NYC.

It was now about 11:30 AM, and I was heading into the Holland Tunnel. About halfway through, it occurred to me that this would be a great terrorist target. Bad time to be thinking about that, eh? I noticed that I was a little bit nervous until I saw the Light at the End of the Tunnel.

Two Live Jews Doing Their Gang Signs - D'Agostino HallI parked the minivan on W. 4th Street, just a block away from Leah's soon-to-be-vacated dorm. We marshalled our forces and decided to head down to Canal Street so the kids could do some shopping and I could do some shooting. Back to the car and down to Grand Street and Broadway, where I checked into a parking lot. Oh boy, more bucks for parking!

For those of you non-New Yorkers who've been to midtown and think it's crowded, you have to see Canal Street! I had sight of the kids for about twelve seconds, framed a shot of a vendor's stall, then looked back and lost them in the crowd. Thank goodness for cell phones.

Broadway and CanalI headed east on Canal Street, enjoying the colorful storefronts and the colorful crowd. There are still a few old-fashioned hardware stores here, but within a block or so, we're solidly in Chinatown. Between the crowded storefronts and the vendors on the sidewalk, this isn't a place for the faint of heart. Lending a surreal air, there seemed to be an enthusiastic "bubble-gun" vendor every half-block or so, and soap bubbles wafted along with the crowd.

When I was a young guy living in Manhattan, one of my favorite things to do was to head down to Chinatown for a meal. Then, like a reverse Marco Polo, I would go to Mulberry Street and cross Canal Street into Little Italy for some cappucino and pastry. Fantastico!

So today, as my kids shopped on Canal Street, I took a detour down Mulberry. The part with all the Italian restaurants and shops is all of two blocks long, but it was so much fun, I ended up staying for about an hour.

Fratelli Ristorante - Little Italy
This gentleman from Fratelli Ristorante was handing out flyers for his restaurant. "Hey, I love your tie!" I said to him, and was rewarded with this million-candlepower smile.

Just a little bit further, I heard ... Frank Sinatra?? singing Come Fly with Me! It turned out to be a talented young guy, Tony, who could do Sinatra better than Sinatra himself. Tony was performing for a crowed at the corner of Mulberry and Hester, part of an afternoon-long tribute the the Chairman of the Board (there were more ersatz Sinatras waiting in the wings.) Tony was handsome and engaging, and he had us all eating out of his hand in no time. For his rendition of That's Life!, he enlisted us to do the background vocals (which, of course, are limited to belting out "That's Life!" every so often.)

I stayed for a very enjoyable five or six songs, then headed east on Hester. Back among the Asian community, I passed a few storefronts advertising foot massages. Now that's a great idea! My right foot was really hurting by now, and if I had had enough time, I woulda taken advantage of this unique service.

Note to self: Make time for a Chinese foot massage next trip to NYC!
Hester Street Boy and Grandfather
Now I was into the "new" part of Chinatown, which is actually what used to be the west end of the old Jewish neighborhood. "Old" Chinatown is centered around Mott, Bayard, and Pell Streets, across Canal Street from Little Italy, while this "newer" area is north of Canal and even a bit east of Bowery. Somewhere in this area, I remember, is the old Forward Building. The Forward is the Yiddish newspaper that my grandmother and great-aunts and great-uncles used to read.

I remember picking up a copy of the Forward from time to time in the '70's, usually when something big happened in the news. I can read a little Yiddish, and I wanted to see how the editors implemented terms like "space shuttle" and "nuclear power plant" in Yiddish (ah-TAW-mi-sher tzen-TRAL is what they called Three Mile Island, I remember.)

Forsythe Street Looking North
I was thinking of continuing on to around Orchard Street, hoping to find the old Forward Building and maybe photograph some Yiddish signs (the stores being closed today for Shabbat.) But the kids and I had arranged to meet back at the parking lot at 3 PM, and it was getting close to that time. Reluctantly, I headed back to rendezvous with Leah and Ben and head back to the dorm to finsh loading Leah's stuff for the trip home.

Back with the kids, into the minivan and back to W. 3rd Street, I parked the car across from D'Agostino Hall. It took us four tiring trips to get all of Leah's things out of her room and loaded into the car. As we brought down the last mini-dumpster load, I thought for a few moments that it wouldn't all fit. But Leah is her mother's daughter, and my wife can fit 10 pounds of potatoes in the proverbial 5-pound sack. It all worked out.

3rd Street Fire HouseProud of our hard work and just about ready to leave for home, the kids prevailed on me to walk over to an ice cream store a block away for some pre-trip nourishment. We were there for just a few minutes, then walked back to the car.

In we all piled, got ourselves seated and belted and ready to roll. Just as I turned the key, Leah said, "Dad, you've got a ticket on your windshield."

Sure enough, I was the lucky recipient of a genuine City of New York Notice of Parking Violation for ninety-five dollars!

I looked around, but Lovely Rita Meter Maid had disappeared. My timing was exquisite - the time marked on the ticket was 4:45 PM, and it was now about 4:50 PM.

Now I remember why I didn't own a car when I lived in Manhattan.

I glanced at the back of the ticket and noticed that you can now request an "internet hearing" by going to a web site. That's what I'll do - I'll simply tell my story and see what happens.

Maybe I can link to this blog post?

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