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Friday, August 06, 2004


Road Trip!

Ready to Roll! Daughter Leah's 10-week internship at Tommy Boy Music in Manhattan being over today, it was once again time to rent a minivan and play Santini Brothers. This time, Sandy is in California visiting a girlfriend, so it's up to Ben and me to drive to NYC, stuff Leah and her belongings into the rental, and bring her back home. Leaving Ben and me without adult supervision is always a bit dicey, but I guess Sandy figured it would build character. Anyway, I know she's tired of moving Leah - we lost count at over ten moves since she started college.

But Ben and I are very psyched about this trip. We've wanted to take a road trip for some time, and this is our chance, at least for a short one.

Our plan went like this: Drive the car to Hoboken and park it there, then take the PATH to Leah's office on W. 18th Street. Have lunch with Leah, then go to our hotel, the St. James on W. 45th Street. I had planned to visit Dave Beckerman on the Upper East Side that evening. Then walk-around-photography Saturday morning, retrieve the van around lunchtime, drive to NYU's D'Agostino Hall to load the van, and finally head home late Saturday afternoon. Somewhere in there, the kids had plans to try to get tickets for Avenue Q, and failing that, for Rent.
Rest Stop on the Turnpike
I had planned to get up at 6 AM this morning, but sleep got the better of me; we finally pulled away from our driveway about 9:30. Still, traffic was light and we made good time. Before too long, we were over the Delaware Memorial Bridge and onto the Jersey Turnpike.

Ben deserves a medal for putting up with me, as I insisted on "documenting" our trip. At our first stop, the J. Fenimore Cooper Service Area, I had my camera out as we walked into the mens' room, saying, "Hey Ben, check out this great repeating pattern made by these urinals --- let's take a photo!" And so I did. Ben was a good sport to pose (simulated, of course.)

As Ben and I have seen an awful lot of rest stop mens rooms on our many trips to visit family and friends over the years, we've become urinal mavens. J. Fenimore would have been proud to know that his namesake rest stop had state-of-the art auto-flushing, "deep well" urinals, a fact on which I remarked to Ben as we were leaving. "Notice the vertically-oriented plastic strainer," I pointed out, "a striking departure from the conventional horizonatally-arrayed combination strainer/urinal cake holder." Ben nodded and gravely replied, "Impressive."

Exit 12 Underpass
Back on the road, I told Ben about my idea of a coffee table book with fine art photos of the Jersey Turnpike. "Never been done yet!" I said. I told him that I wanted to stop the car from time to time, get out, and take photos. "You'll get arrested," Ben warned.

Actually, the coffee table book idea may be a bit far-fetched, but I've been fascinated by the Jersey Turnpike ever since I was a kid. There are buclolic scenes all along the lower portion - not at all what you think of when you hear "Jersey Turnpike." My favorite stretch, by far, though, is from about Exit 12 on, with refineries, power plants, and port facilities, both operating and defunct, seemingly lining every inch. It's probably my education and background as a mechanical engineer, but I find it all fascinating.

We did stop once for a photo opportunity - a bridge over a small river bounded by wetlands. But for the most part, these scenes came up too quickly, so Ben just started making notes for another trip, jotting down the mile marker and a short description.

Welcome To HobokenFinally, a little before 2 PM, we got off of the Turnpike at Exit 14C turned north, and traversed the few blocks to Hoboken.

As we turned onto the mile-long Washington Street, the main drag, Ben remarked what a nice little town it was. And lively, too - attractive shops lined Washington Street and there were people all over the place. This was not his father's Hoboken, for sure. When I went to school here 1967-1971, Hoboken was a depressed area. Quite a few shops along the main drag were closed, and those which were open often had dingy storefronts that looked like something from the '30s.

I wanted to swing by my alma mater, Stevens Tech, to show Ben the incredible view of the NYC skyline. Stevens campus is a small green island, a few blocks long, along the eastern edge of Hoboken, built on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River. The center of campus, Castle Point, has the premier view of the City.

Empire State from Castle Point
So we spent a few minutes at Castle Point, and Ben was appropriately impressed with the view that I had enjoyed during those four years decades ago. I took a silent moment to look towards Lower Manhattan and remember the twin towers. From this very spot, we students at Stevens in the late sixties and early seventies had watched the steel go up and witnessed the first tower being topped off...

But it was too nice a day and too wonderful a feeling, being once again this close to Manhattan, to dwell on the past. I turned my gaze towards midtown, where picture-post-card clouds floated behind the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. Aha - a chance to use my brand-new lens, a 70-300mm Sigma zoom.

The buzzing in my pocket turned my attention away from the skyline. It was Leah, who was getting really hungry and wondering when the heck we were arriving to take her to lunch. So it was time to stash the minivan for the night and head over to Manhattan.

I drove back to Hudson Street and headed south, looking for a place to park. We ended up berthing the car in a municipal parking garage near the PATH station. Then into the PATH we went, our destination the 14th Street PATH station on the other side of the Hudson.

From the PATH, it was a short walk to Tommy Boy and our reunion with my first-born. Leah led us to a good deli at Union Square where I bought us lunch. Ben decided to stay with Leah to help her pack and then try to get tickets for Avenue Q. Meanwhile, I ducked back underground, taking the F Train to Times Square and then a short walk to the St. James.

Woman on Platform - Times SquareComing up out of the hole-in-the-ground at Times Square, I heard crowd commotion up ahead. With the security alerts in effect, this got me momentarily worried, but I soon recognized the location and the situation as the daily gaggle of girls at 45th and Broadway, hanging out under the MTV studios. Every once in a while, a cameraman on the second-floor studio points his camera at the crowd below, and they go wild. I've seen it before, in fact, when my kids were a bit younger, I stood with them in that very crowd during one trip. Anyway, welcome to New York City!

The St. James wasn't much to look at from the outside, but the room was quite nice. At $115 a night for two, this was the cheapest I could find. Nevertheless, the room appeared to be recently renovated, as advertised, very clean and nicely decorated. The shower worked, there was plenty of hot water, the air conditioner unit was functional and quiet. And, here I was right in mid-midtown. Not bad at all.

But by now, it was almost 6 PM and time to head uptown to meet Dave Beckerman. I have admired Dave's photography for some years, and we've corresponded by email, but we had not yet met in person. By coincidence, Dave lives just one block from my last apartment in Manhattan, on E. 83rd Street. Wanting to see the old neighborhood, we arranged to meet at his place and then go out for dinner.

Dave Beckerman, Photographer ExtraordinaireI arrived at his building, pressed the appropriate button, and he buzzed me in. I laughed as I walked up to the third floor, because the place had exactly the feel of my old apartment down the block, except that the staircase spiraled in the opposite direction.

Dave met me at his door and ushered me into his one-room apartment, also very much like mine, the one I enjoyed so much for three years in the last '70s. Dave's was much more efficiently laid out than mine, however, a fact that he attributed to having lived there for many years and having tried several different arrangements.

Dave hospitably offered me juice and megabytes, burning my day's exposures onto a CD so that I could reuse that memory card the next day.

After we chatted for a while, we headed around the block to Jackson Hole, arguably the best place in the city for hamburgers, and good hamburgers we had.

Although I keep close tabs on Dave by regularly reading his photo blog and already knew that he now shoots with a Canon Digital Rebel, it was fun to actually see it in action. Dave has used a number of different cameras in the past, from Leica M6 to 4x5 view to, most recently, a Canon Elan 7 - all film based. But just recently, he has Gone Digital, and now shoots with "my" brand. It's kind of like seeing Michael Jordan wearing your sneakers.

By the time dinner was over, it was about 10 PM, and bedtime was calling me. I bade Dave goodbye and walked north on First Avenue up to 86th Street, just to get the feel of walking around my old neighborhood again.

383 Madison Avenue - Looking NW from E 45th & VanderbiltBack into the hole-in-the-ground at Lexington and onto the Express to Grand Central. At the other end, the subway exit dumped me onto Lexington Avenue across from the Chrysler Building. But since one of my life mottos is, "Never miss a chance to walk through Grand Central," I headed west on 42nd Street to the middle of the block and strolled through the Main Concourse once again. Then up the escalators to the Pan Am... er the MetLife Building and out the doors onto E. 45th Street.

Finally heading back to my hotel, the end of a very long, and very enjoyable day. My feet are tired but my spiritual batteries are recharged from my day in and around NYC.

Tomorrow I plan more photos, of course. If I can get up early enough, I'll roam around Midtown East. If not, there will be plenty of photo-ops wherever the kids decide to go. I heard them mention something about shopping Canal Street tomorrow afternoon. Chinatown, Little Italy, lots of color and colorful people. That'll do just fine.

Editors note: SteveR did not know the name of the building in this photo at the time of this post, but our Architectural and Urban Technology Researcher, Greg Viola, has since determined that this is 383 Madison Avenue, also known as the Bear Stearns Building.

Armed with this information, our photo editor has done an extensive Internet search for other photos of this building, and amazingly, found not one single image that was better than this one. Try this experiment yourself: go to
Google Image Search and enter either of these phrase: "383 Madison Avenue" or "Bear Stearns Building" Go do it now and come back in a minute.

We told you!

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