It started out a decent morning with almost clear skies.
I got a great picture of my neighborhood from the plane:
The flight was uneventful. I was able to pick out El Dorado, Arkansas because I remember at US 167 near it on a satellite image a few months back. I also think we passed over Chattanooga, TN. I figured that out because of Chattanooga’s large water feature on the northeast side of the city.
After landing at Baltimore-Washington Airport and ducking around a ceremony to dedicate the airport to Supreme Court justice, I was picked up by a Nova-owning friend in his ’63 Nova convertible. He gave me a great walking tour of Ellicott City, Maryland. Next, we went to his house in Catonsville, which is unincorporated Baltimore County. Surprisingly, Baltimore County, which includes over 700,000 residents but not the city of Baltimore, has no incorporated cities! Ellicott City is also unincorporated even though it is the county seat of Howard County, which also has no incorporated cities! (There’s something weird about Maryland.)
The most amazing thing I saw in Maryland was the Nova buddy’s Japanese maple tree:
For someone who is used to diminutive shade trees, this is an amazing specimen. It’s in full sunlight, and it’s huge! When this neighborhood was built in the ’60s, some gypsies came through and sold these maples. Many houses still have these trees, and they are in various forms. This specimen was one of the most stunning ones on the street.
It was nice seeing more of this area of the county.
That evening, the Nova buddy took me to Gettysburg for my conference, the Gettysburg College Portal 2006 conference.
Gettysburg College is a nice campus. SMU’s landscaping blows it away, but it’s still nice to see northern vegetation.
I thought this tree was interesting:
The college had several like this. I believe it was some kind of weeping form pear tree, but I am not sure.
I was also intrigued by this:
At that intersection, you have to stop unless you’re making a right turn. The road to the right T-ed into the road this stop sign regulates.
This could cause a problem if an oncoming vehicle prepares to make a left turn assuming you will first stop at the stop sign. It is still necessary to yield to vehicles in any intersection, but it seems this could cause confusion. A guy who lives in the same state just told me this is common at Pennsylvania T-intersections.
After the conference, I went to the Union Station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to catch a train to NYC. I saw the capitol building from a couple of blocks away. I wish I had time to check it out more closely. It had an interesting green dome.
Here is the front of the station:
While functional, the station wasn’t in good repair. You could tell 2006 is not the heyday of train travel. As an example, behind where I took the above picture was a bus depot. Some of the glass roof was replaced with rotting plywood:
Texas isn’t a “rich” state, but I don’t usually see this kind of dilapidation in Texas.
This is where I waited for my train:
This isn’t the main hall of the station. In fact, this station didn’t really have much of a main hall. This is like an enclosed bridge over the rail lines. When your train is ready to load, you go down the stairs. If you look out the windows, you look into a large shed-like structure:
This is looking west, which is not the direction I traveled:
The train on the left is some old, apparently retired engine. I couldn’t figure out what it is.
Harrisburg is the end of the line for the train I traveled, but other Amtrak trains pass through Harrisburg that came through Chicago, Cleveland, and Pittsburg.
That’s my train on the left.
This is the diesel engine that took the train to Philadelphia:
Here is what my seat looked like:
Plenty of legroom, plenty of width. The tray was a little too high for typing comfort. It had plenty of electrical outlets! I was able to charge my phone and laptop on the trip!
Few people were on the segment between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. At one point, a foul mouthed girl sat behind me and loudly told her friend on a cell phone how many ways she got “fucked up” the prior night with booze and drugs. I was glad that skank got off at Philadelphia.
Just a little west of Harrisburg, I saw these on the south side of the track:
Looks like we have a nuclear power plant!
(Oh my gosh, I am just now finding out that this the Three Mile Island from the infamous 1979 nuclear accident! The two stacks at the left are part of the reactor that has been offline since the disaster.)
The scenery rapidly whizzes by:
At this point, the track is old with wooden ties:
This is a 1/1000 shot using ISO 400 mode. You can tell we’re buzzing along pretty quickly. I think we were doing 80-90 mph a lot of the way.
Decrepit train station that’s still in use:
I think the tall structure is some kind of cargo elevator. It’s boarded up. Look to the left a bit, and you see the building and part of the platform:
The train stops at every station on the way to Philadelphia, so that’s why I got a good still shot.
The ride was, for a lack of a better word, “wobbly” on this old wood track. Amtrak is slowly upgrading the track between Philadelphia and Harrisburg to accommodate faster, electric trains. Once we hit the newer track with the concrete ties, the ride was a ton smoother:
1/800 and ISO 400, so we are again moving at a rapid clip.
During the train trip, I was able to plot out my location on my PDA using Jason Fuller’s Virtual Earth and my wireless internet. I had at least 1X data service most the way, but I had EVDO in Philadelphia and even in an occasional small city on the way.
I somehow failed to take any more pictures the rest of this day.
The train stopped at the 30th Street Station on the west side of downtown Philadelphia. I never went into the station because the train was only stopping long enough to change engines. You see, an electric locomotive is hauls the train from Philadelphia to New York. So the diesel locomotive was disconnected from the “front”, and an electric locomotive was connected to the “rear”. I like riding near the locomotive, so I switched to the car on the opposite side of the train.
Many people entered the train in Philadelphia, making the ride between Philadelphia and NYC almost full. I caught up on some sleep on this segment. I recall that the New Jersey segment had very few truly rural areas.
Occasionally an Acela Express train whizzed by. They appear with a bang and hastily slither past. I believe the marketing that these things run 150 mph on open stretches.
One thing that was interesting is you could often see an abandoned track on the west side of the rail corridor, in addition to 4 to 6 “through” tracks. Often this abandoned track was heavily overgrown and had separate, older bridges.
Over an hour later, the conductor announced we are at the Newark, NJ airport. I casually looked out both windows and was surprised to see the New York City skyline out the east side.
About 15 minutes later, after snaking through some marshland and crossing under the Hudson River in a tunnel, I arrived at Penn Station in NYC.
Getting out at Penn Station, my reaction was culture shock. People everywhere, rushing around! This is disorienting to a Dallasite, where there is usually a comfortable space between you and the next person. There are few times in my life where I pause and let my jaw drop to the floor. This was one of them.
I immediately caught a subway (more people) to one stop north of Penn Station and got out (more people) and walked half a block (more people) to my brother’s apartment. He lives on the 5th floor of a walk up apartment, meaning there is no elevator. The apartment evoked many stereotypes of New York apartments: interior, narrow staircase; you can hear and smell things going on in the other apartments as you walk through it; the apartments are small; and so on. This place is a block and a half from Times Square (more people), so with the windows open, you hear a constant NYC din. Now, all things considered, my brother’s place was actually reasonably nice. We slept fine, and the neighbors didn’t bother us at all. We weren’t there very much for the whole trip, anyway.
As soon as I dropped my stuff off, I had to leave again to meet my wife at LaGuardia Airport. So that meant another subway ride up to 110th St. and then a 1¼ hour ride on the M60 bus.
This bus went most of its way across 125th St. in Harlem. Again, more culture shock. It is said that Harlem is revitalizing. If this is the result of revitalization, I sure don’t want to know what it was like 10 years ago. Harlem makes the bad parts of Dallas look like the suburbs.
Traffic was incredibly thick, and the sidewalks were crowded.
After Harlem, the bus went over the Triborough Bridge. This was a neat suspension bridge. An interesting sign advised that photography is prohibited and “strictly enforced.” Whatever. Apparently, they fear terrorist plotting.
Not long thereafter, I picked up Jennifer at LaGuardia. We took a different bus/subway combo to get back to the apartment. That was the only above-ground subway I rode the entire trip.
The rest of the evening wasn’t very notable.
The next day, we did a major walking tour. We started early at Union Square and walked a winding path all the way up to the southeast corner of Central Park before quitting.
I thought the Flatiron Building was neat. You can’t make it out in this shot, but the building has window A/C units!
We zig-zagged for a while and saw some neat stuff. Eventually, we came cross this:
The museum of sex. The sign in the window was funny:
We stopped by the flagship Macy’s. I was surprised to see that even though the building has plenty of windows, almost all of them were blocked off.
We had lunch at Grand Central Station and walked by several significant buildings, including the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. Before lunch, we stopped by the Morgan Library, who market themselves with the snooty name of “The Morgan.” Being inside that museum was funny. Jennifer and I, in our tourist garb, were literally surrounded by east coast, intellectual-looking, moneyed types. The stereotypical liberal, “dressed in suits without a tie on a summer day,” expensive jewelry-wearing crowd. The stuff in the museum was pretty good: lots of old, important books. My favorite piece was an anti-Catholic 16th (17th?) century vase by a Protestant which depicted two large wolf-like animals simultaneously vomiting and defecating. I forget the actual message, but it was criticizing something about the Catholic church.
Right before we hit the United Nations headquarters, I saw this:
I had no idea that The Onion is an actual circulating newspaper! All this time, I thought it was just an online oddity.
Next was the United Nations Headquarters. Here’s the Security Council chambers:
I got such a nice shot because I didn’t use the flash.
The tour guide asked us for examples of what the Security Council does. I so badly wanted to say, “it helps Iran get nuclear weapons.” I bit my tongue, HARD, to hold back.
The signs gave me several giggles:
Notice how everything is in English and French? Know why? French used to be the language of international communication. English has taken over now.
Here’s one of the few worthwhile pieces of art in the UN. It was donated by the United States:
Here’s the General Assembly chambers:
This is where they perform important tasks like repealing our right to bear arms or setting up international court systems to punish Americans.
Here’s a close up of that seal in the back of the room:
The tour guide asked why the map shows the world from the perspective of the north pole. Just for shock value, I wanted to say, “because the vast majority of political, economic, and humanitarian activity happens in the northern hemisphere.” But I didn’t. The explanation is something silly like this projection allows all countries to appear equal or something. Sure, Australia seems like an equal when it’s all squished like a pancake.
More French, and a sign with the marketing panache of the USSR.
While UN is busy banning guns, do they realize what their own security guards are wearing?
Yup, big, nasty guns.
By the way, it is often said that a prominent apartment building near the UN’s southwest corner has no windows on its west side because the UN property used to be a slimy meatpacking district. Turns out that is untrue:
Probably another lie concocted by those UN hippies.
From there we did more sightseeing. The Citigroup Center is fascinating.
This 59 story building starts 114 feet above street level. It’s supported by five massive piers. The reason for this is because a church already occupied one corner of the block and didn’t want to move. The church would only allow the tower to be built over it.
The rest of the day was spent looking at more touristy stuff.
The next day, we attended the Riverside Church‘s 10:45 AM Sunday service. We went there in part because our home church’s youth choir happened to be in NYC the same time and was performing at that church. This was an amazing building. It wasn’t of the same prestige of Washington National Cathedral, but it was still impressive nevertheless.
After the service, we visited the adjacent Grant’s Tomb.
It seemed rather strange that inside this tomb is a gift shop!
Here’s a picture of the 116th St. subway station near the church. This station actually has sunlight, so it is rather unusual.
Here’s our train rushing at us:
After lunch and changing clothes, we went to the TKTS booth to pick up tickets for a musical. A few bums are out front distributing fliers showing the remaining musicals for the day. Even though they are required to give these out for free, these bums demand a “donation” (more crack money) before they give you anything. I have no idea why TKTS allows hardcore bums to hand out this stuff.
Having several hours to burn, we went to my brother’s (now former) workplace (a retail establishment) at 86th and Lexington. From there, we took a bus south to Bloomingdale’s to check out that place. Then we stumbled across the aftermath of the Puerto Rican Day Parade:
That truck in the background is a street sweeper. Apparently these things are huge vacuum cleaners. They pick up a lot of stuff on each pass.
We made it through throngs of departing Puerto Ricans to the nearest subway station. Here’s the 5th Av./53rd St. station:
That evening, we saw Avenue Q, an adult themed musical featuring a cast of humans and puppets, many of which spoofed Jim Henson’s Muppets. We really enjoyed it.
The next day we started out at Central Park. After about 30 minutes of touring, we had seen enough (we live next to Dallas’s flagship park, so parks aren’t a novel experience for us). We walked over to the upper west side and caught a bus back down to the vicinity of my brother’s apartment.
That afternoon, we attended a taping of the David Letterman show.
Here’s how it works.
Several weeks before you visit NYC, you visit the show’s web site and enter their ticket lottery. Before the taping, if you are selected, an employee calls and asks a trivia question. (They asked Jennifer what line of business Rupert is in.) If you get past that, your name goes on their list.
On the day of the taping, they let people in the building from 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM for a pre-screening. We arrived at 1:45 PM. When you get inside, you are queued into a few lines. At the top of the line, you get briefly interviewed by an employee. This employee hands you a ticket, and it has one of three things: a signature, a number, or some other unknown marking.
If your ticket has a signature, that means you are stuck in the balcony.
If your ticket has a number, you may sit on the lower level.
If your ticket has some other, unknown-to-me marking, you sit in bottom center.
We got numbers:
They set us free until about 3:30. When we came back, we queued up again, but this time we lined up according to our number. At 3:30, the entire numbered throng re-queued in the theater’s atrium. Due to some delays, they had us in there for quite a while.
Finally, they let us in the theater. Jennifer and I ended up on the furthest, rightmost two seats (from the stage’s perspective), about 7 rows back from the front. This was right in front of the band. We got a really good view of the entire stage.
The show’s staff ran the place with a casual precision. That is, they were constantly joking and cutting up, but they knew where fun ended and business begun. I could tell that the show is well rehearsed. This show featured Paris Hilton and Will Shortz.
Paris was just dumb. She couldn’t interact; all she could do is respond to Dave’s questions. Will Shortz, the guy whose Puzzlemaster feature is on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, was interesting but really dry. What else can you expect from a guy who creates crossword puzzles for a living?
Unfortunately, the show wasn’t that interesting.
Before the show, we walked by the Hello Deli:
This is Rupert’s business. Notice any writing behind the green sign? This guy is too cheap to properly cover up the old shop’s sign:
The Hello Deli’s prices were surprisingly reasonable–by New York standards.
This is a throng awaiting Paris’s arrival to the David Letterman show:
Several paparazzi were there, too:
After the Letterman taping, we stopped by a nearby Food Emporium grocery store. In some ways, it was surprisingly similar to an everyday grocery store. Everything in the store is closely spaced, and not much of each kind of produce can be on the shelves. You could barely fit a shopping cart in the aisles. Stocking the shelves has to be a constant operation. A disproportionately large percentage of the store was dedicated to ready to eat foods. I guess New Yorkers don’t have time to cook? Prices were amazingly high, but I guess that’s to be expected in NYC?
That evening, we wandered around Times Square some more. We encountered The Naked Cowgirl, who was two pasties away from a public indecency citation.
That evening, we ate at Virgil’s BBQ off of Times Square. That was good food. We ate so much that I didn’t feel good the rest of the evening.
Obligatory pictures of Times Square:
We met my brother at his store because we wanted to take him for dessert that night. It turned out that his perennially understaffed store had a lot of cleanup to do, so that gave us time to talk to Gracie Mansion and back. It was a neat walk, especially at 10:00 PM at night. When my brother was finally done (11:30 PM), we waited for a bus at a nearby bus stop. Within a few minutes, a glass beer bottle shattered in front of me. Some invisible idiot threw the bottle from a second story bar, and this bottle barely missed my head.
We finally hopped a bus and headed back to the Upper West Side to Cafe Lalo, the cafe featured in a scene of the movie You’ve Got Mail. This place is well aware of its fame. Why else would I have to pay $6.50 for a slice of cake?
Here’s what subway stations look like at 1:30 AM:
We stumbled into the apartment around 2:00 AM and immediately crashed.
The next day we toured lower Manhattan. We started out at 12:30 PM at Battery Park. By that time, all tickets to the Statute of Liberty museum were sold out. You could still hop a ferry to the island, but that’s it. That fact, plus the discovery that Ellis Island charges $5 for each attempt to look up names, changed our minds. We got some good shots from the shore and went on.
Statue of Liberty:
On the other end of Battery Park is The Sphere, a bronze piece of art that was saved from the WTC rubble:
I think a more permanent enclosure or 9-11 memorial is being built behind it.
The streets in lower Manhattan are crazy: they are narrow and go every which way
Here is the NYSE:
The WTC site:
Yet another bum was nearby, yelling out conspiracy theories and handing out leaflets.
City Hall was surprisingly fortified.
Here is Chinatown:
Very crowded with shops selling touristy crap. Beware of the t-shirt shops: those emblems will wash off in no time.
After Chinatown, we took a bus down to the free Staten Island Ferry. This gave a lot of good views.
Another angle of the Statue of Liberty:
Lots of sailboats:
I have no idea what this is.
I’ve heard of these water taxis but never seen one before:
Being exhausted, we didn’t do much of anything else that evening.
The next day we took public transit to LaGuardia and flew home. We were exhausted.
While this was a fun and interesting trip, New York City is a “nice place to visit, never want to live there” place.