Sunday, June 28, 2009

10 Things People Love in New York

There are a few trends here in New York that are not particularly prominent in my previous residence of Pennsylvania. I'm just going to highlight a few things that everyone seems to love around here, more so than anywhere else.

1. Avocados

Avocado slices, avocado salad, guacamole, whatever. This stuff is everywhere. Since living in New York, I've had avocado on my sandwiches, on salads, and in guacamole at almost every party involving appetizers. Go to a restaurant in Brooklyn and I guarantee you'll find avocado on at least 50% of the menu items. I'm sure this is more popular in a place like California (as I was informed while brainstorming this list) but there's definitely much more avocado affinity in New York than Pennsylvania.

2. Bloody Marys

Until living in New York, I have never had a Bloody Mary. Now I'm practically a connoisseur. Hot sauce, horseradish, Worscheshire sauce, green olives, cilantro, celery, etc. The list goes on and on. This drink is practically a meal, and two of them will get you drunk and full. Of course, you'll probably pay $10 a pop.

3. Brunch

A great way to combine #1 and #2. On the weekends, almost everyone in New York goes out to brunch. They can roll out of bed at 1 p.m. and get a huge breakfast complete with free coffee and a complimentary Bloody Mary or Mimosa. Harefield Road, on Metropolitan Ave in Brooklyn, has one of the best Bloody Marys I've had. They also put avocado on almost every entree. It's a delicious hangover remedy.

4. PBR

Pabst Blue Ribbon. For some reason, PBR has a monopoly over cheap beer in New York. It's cheaper than every other beer, and available at every single bar. They give this stuff away for free at art galleries, promotions, and Handmade Music Night. There's even a free PBR night at the Lazy Catfish. Although Brooklyn Lager takes the cake as the prominent good beer, you can't hide the fact that PBR is $2 a can.

5. Kickball

Every Sunday night at McCarren Park, you can find dozens of twenty-somethings clad in homemade uniforms competing in a three-month kickball league that spans the entire summer in Brooklyn. This is taken quite seriously, and I know some people that will practice a few nights a week in preparation of the big games on Sunday.

6. Grizzly Bear

The band Grizzly Bear, based out of Brooklyn, has been making a name for quite some time. Their album Yellow House blew up in 2006, resulting in tours with Radiohead and TV on the Radio. In 2009, they released Veckatimest and received lots of critical acclaim. This band is pretty much worshiped around New York, playing back-to-back sell-out nights.

7. The Dirty Projectors

Another Brooklyn-based band, the Dirty Projectors are hot off of the release of their new album Bitte Orca and collaborations with David Byrne at Radio City Music Hall. The eclectic mix of off-time rhythms and Dave Longstreth's warbling make this band either really amazing or really annoying, you decide. I will say that people around here will drop whatever they're doing to catch the Dirty Projectors live, especially if it's free.

8. Fixed Gear Bikes

BikeSnobNYC refers to it as the "Fixed Gear Apocalypse." It's the "Zen feeling" of riding with no brakes or gears and feeling one with the bike and the road. Don't get me wrong, I ride to work every day and I can understand the convenience of fixed gear bikes (total speed control, stopping on a dime without needing rim brakes, simplicity, etc), but many of these bikes are also ridiculously clean and/or stylish. It's almost more of a contest than a lifestyle.

9. Falafel

If you want to eat cheap and delicious, falafel is the meal of choice. A sandwich usually never costs more than $3, and depending on where you go, the toppings can vary from cabbage and pickles to cauliflower and eggplant. Oasis on N. 7th in Williamsburg is a convenient location, right across from the subway. Other notable locations include Mamoun's (W. Village), Olive Valley (Bushwick), and Pita Joe (14th St.) The random falafel carts in Manhattan also provide a delicious and quick meal for someone on the go. I eat falafel about twice a week. It's replaced pizza as my cheap meal.

10. iPhones

It didn't take long for the iPhone phenomenon to sweep the country in much the same way as the iPod. However, it has almost absorbed EVERYONE in New York. I'm probably one of about five people that live in New York without one. With the maps feature and instant internet access, it's perfect for a person that is constantly on the go. Bar specials, entertainment, directions, everything is at your fingertips. Which also means most people are looking at the palm of their hand 75% of the time. I'm going to hold off as long as I can, sacrificing the convenience for living in the real world.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Writing in the Rain

Summer 2009 has taken a rainy turn. I've begun to write a lot more, tying to capture life in New York in the moment, as it happens. Maybe try to compile all of these pieces into some sort of story down the line.

Here's a recent piece I wrote last week about biking to work in the morning:

So I wake up covered in sweat, two feet from the arched ceiling of the Domino's sugar factory. I stare at a dangling rusty chain hanging from the ceiling. The alarm clock beeps on a shelf that's hanging from tacks in the wall. I trace the extension cord above my head to where it's stapled to the wall over the doorframe. A maze of water and heating pipes weave through the air above me. I'm not sure which are still in use. I grab the red pipe directly above my head for leverage and search with my toes below the bed for the makeshift set of three steps used to climb into my loft bed. They're not quite high enough to reach the bed, and not quite aligned at the right angle. One slip and it's a six foot drop to the plywood floor. The pipe I am hanging from is actually in use, and if my force should break sealant inside, the sprinklers will turn on, ruining everything in the building.

I open the door and groggily stare out into the open space of the factory kitchen. I'm perched on the edge of a ten foot drop, with no railing or banister to prevent a fall to the cement floor. The cinder block walls stretch twenty feet up to the ceiling, a canopy of chains, pipes and beams extending across the open expanse. I descend the wooden staircase and enter the bathroom, a plywood room set off to the side of the kitchen. The shower is a giant round altar, set three feet above the ground and complete with mirrors along the far wall. It would be the most impressive and majestic structure in the entire living area if it weren't for the thick mildew and dirt around the edge. I kick the broken tile scraps and dirt from around the toilet. No one walks around here barefoot. Four feet away from the toilet is a miniature toilet, complete with Blues Clues seat cover. Apparently, it still works.

Emerging from the bathroom is the cleanest part of the day. It's all downhill after that. Sometimes I'll carry deodorant with me from all the sweat and dirt.

I grab the ragged black backpack I carry everywhere. The straps are frayed and it's splattered with white paint. It's an essential rucksack, carrying the basic necessities of one day away from home. There are days I won't be back until 2 A.M., and the extra apples are nice. A sweater and hat could come in handy if the weather gets back. The water bottle is nice, when I remember to refill it periodically. I like to pack a lunch as well. That peanut butter and jelly sandwich comes in handy if I work straight through my lunch break. It's also nice when I find that bag full of bagels in the dumpster a few blocks away. Extra fuel for weeks. The rucksack also harbors my portable toolbox. Riding to work on a bike requires almost as much gear as an overnight camping trip. It's safe to always have the following items:

Spare tubes
Tire lever
Hand pump
Set of allen keys
Spoke wrench
8 mm wrench
10 mm wrench
Pocket knife

I don the brimmed Bern skateboarding helmet I borrowed from Drew. Stick my mini Kryptonite U-Lock in my back pocket, and grab sunglasses. I'm ready.

I walk down the sticky tiled floor of the old sugar factory. The door on my left leads to another living space. The double doors on my right lead to the stage. Bands crowd this area almost every night of the week. I am often forced to step around synthesizers, drums, and guitar pedals when I go out at night. I push open the heavy front door and breathe in the warm Brooklyn air from the East River. A bulldozer sits in the middle of the street. Construction workers mill around me. I notice suspenders and curly locks dangling from the underside of the bright yellow hard hats. A few more blocks south and all the storefronts are completely Hebrew.

I walk my bike out to the middle of the street. I swing one leg over and lock my shoe into the toe clip. I take a deep breath, and then in one fluid motion, it starts.

Speed. The first thing you notice about a bike in the city. You're as fast as a car, and much more efficient. There's no stopping at stop signs, and most intersections can be bypassed with a quick glance left and right. You can weave through lanes and go down one-way streets in the opposite direction. Somehow, breaking traffic laws on a bike is allowed. Wythe Street, my first thorough way, is complete with a white painted bike lane. It's a nice comfort zone, but ultimately useless. After one block I weave around a parked taxi in the bike lane.

I reach the bridge and turn to ride under it. I can hear the cars above me. Old Hispanic men crowd the edge of the street, clad in wife beaters and smoking cigarettes. Two guys carry a refrigerator to the edge of the curb. After another block, I make the 180 degree turn to the base of the bridge. At the start of the turn, a white ghost bike sits chained to a sign. Tombstones littered all around New York.

The Williamsburg Bridge. The two mile barrier between the calm and the storm. The obstacle course featuring joggers, commuters, and Hasidic women pushing strollers. It's a grueling one mile uphill, the best wake-up call. I push my legs to keep their speed, never allowing myself to slow down. At the crest of the bridge I see the skyline of Manhattan. Even from here, you can feel the energy. The city has no mercy. Slow down or show vulnerability and it will chew you up and spit you down on the trash-littered sidewalk. It's every man for himself. Life or death. Paradise.

Downhill now. The descent plunges into the heart of the beast, dodging people left and right, picking up speed as the city invites you into its veins. Awareness peaks. Adrenaline rushes. I've just become a rabbit in a race of hounds. I burst from the crowd and hurdle off the curb into the nearest lane of traffic. This is my favorite part of the day.

I turn around the back of a minivan, narrowly squeezing in front of the front bumper of a sedan. Got to get to the other side of this five-lane road. The potholes on the sides of the road look like the surface of the moon. Sleek metal sheets litter the road, covering bigger holes. Sometimes they're a few inches above the pavement. It's a miracle my bike doesn't fall to pieces every morning. First Avenue approaches and I hang a hard right, keeping up with the taxi on my left. If I slow down just a bit, he can cut in front of me to pick up pedestrians. Can't let that happen. At the next red light, I leave him behind and power on into Chinatown.

Here, the delivery drivers don't follow the rules. At least I ride with traffic most of the time. This Chinese guy is coming straight for me, riding the wrong way in the bike lane with two bags of delivery food hanging from his wobbly handlebars. There's nowhere to go. I'm trapped between traffic and parked cars. I speed up to cut in front of the first moving car, swerving back into the bike lane and just missing a General Tso's Collision.

As 14th Street approaches, pedestrians grow threateningly anxious. They step out further into the street to hail cabs. They cut across streets into oncoming traffic. They certainly don't give a shit about bike lanes. From my point of view, they're basically an intelligent obstacle. You never know what they're going to do. I breeze inches away from the extended hand of a business man, standing in the center of the bike lane. He doesn't flinch as he stares past me at the taxi approaching. People still don't notice bikes, even inches in front of them.

The 14th Street intersection is lined with crowds of people. “Hello sir! Would you like to donate to the homeless?” Sitting at the light, I see a business man rush to get past the soliciting. The homeless man waves his brochure at him, but he turns his head and ignores it. Green light. Time to go.

The taxis start here, greedily seeking out any idling figures. They swerve across lanes, as if attracted by an invisible magnet pulling from someone's waving hand. I see someone on my right hail a cab and immediately look to my left. Sure enough the cab speeds past me and cuts me off. I bank a hard left, cutting between the stopped cab and the oncoming bus. My bag hits the side view mirror as I pass. I think that's retribution enough.

The hospital is on my right now. Cabs, patients, ambulances, and NYU buses line the side of the street. Cars double-park to drop patients off, and slow moving senior citizens meander across the street at red lights. This is a steep decline, and with all the obstacles I feel like a downhill slalom skier.

At the bottom of the hill, the buildings on my right cut off and the sun glares in my face. I can see the Interstate, cutting across to Queens. This will be one of the few times this morning I will see the sun. Here, the buses stop more frequently. I trail one and bear left as it pulls to the curb. You don't want to get wedged between a bus and the curb. I ride the left edge of the bus lane, close to traffic. A limo is stopped up ahead, turning into the U.N. Headquarters. I snake around it, careful not to scratch the shiny finish with my bike. I glance right and see a half circle of flags. Hoards of people pour from a bus onto the cobblestone sidewalks and squint into the sun. They walk around with their necks craned upward, most of them wielding cameras. I could probably be seen somewhere wearing these dirty clothes, riding this makeshift bike, and carrying this ragged backpack in a photograph of a real Manhattan street.

Trump towers on my left. If I'm lucky, there will be a mass protest outside. The most effective protests are barricaded off into a one-block area and ignored by everyone. As long as you can designate a place for people to voice their opinion loudly, you can choose to ignore it. I cruise down the hill, gaining speed. Suddenly, a cab backs up into the middle of my lane. I brake hard and turn left. I pound on the side of the car as it drives me into traffic. The cab stops suddenly and I pop through the narrow gap between the cars.

As I cruise through the last twenty blocks of the Upper East Side, I can relax a bit. Only delivery trucks to hinder my route, parked in the center of the bike lane. I weave through women pushing strollers and walking small dogs with sweaters. Welcome to Yorkville. The food is expensive, the streets are clean, and the people are all pretty rich. I pull my dirty bike onto the curb and approach the door. I'm sweating and dirty already, and it's only 10 A.M. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Summer in the City - Free David Byrne Show

This past Monday signaled the beginning of summer in Brooklyn. Or at least a kickoff of free concerts in outdoor venues. Instead of getting together with Alex and Chak and finally playing some music (something that has been getting postponed a few times a week this month), I decided to join the rest of Williamsburg in the mass bike commute to Prospect Park.

I arrived with my roommate Alex and his girlfriend Dorothy an hour before Byrne was slated to go on. We found a line that stretched practically the length of the park, complete with barbecues, picnics, and a softball game. We opted for the much more appealing plan of getting beers and sitting in a field and listening to the concert from afar.

Since I really have only listened to Remain In Light out of any of David Byrne's music, I really just wanted to relax and enjoy the show, even though I couldn't see it.

I got to see my old friend Brooks, who I hadn't seen in a while, and hear a few Talking Heads tracks while I was closer to the stage. I love David Byrne because he combines my three favorite pastimes: biking, music, and interpretive dance:

On my way out of the park, I noticed a Transportation Alternatives tent with bike parking. Since Byrne designed bike racks around New York and is a huge cycling enthusiast, I'm really not surprised. Even BikeSnobNYC was there, albeit by mistake.

I met up with Chak afterwards for a drunken good time at Barbes in Park Slope, followed by a long, wobbly bike ride home. Summer is great.

Friday, June 5, 2009

June Arrives in Rain Torrents

My last weekend in May was spent in State College, catching up with a few people, sitting on the Old Main lawn, checking out the gutted Hookah Lounge, and slaughtering a rooster with Shafni and grilling it at my old house. Roosters run for a much longer time with their heads cut off than I thought.

I got back to New York with a slight sinus infection, and in the midst of torrential rainstorms. Most of my nights have been spent inside, working on the shelves in my room or listening to music. Drew, Nate, and Bill are involved in a project back in Wilkes-Barre. I'm sure this is going to be fantastic. All these guys are really talented. I've been listening to some of Bill's old music, and some of this stuff is brilliant. His myspace page has a few songs that are amazing, and everyone should at least check him out. I'm really excited to hear their recorded stuff.

Speaking of outstanding people, I met Bladie Flowness at the store last week. Bladie hangs out in Central Park, mostly teaching in-line skate dancing. He can actually be seen in the movie The Visitor dancing in central park. He also happens to own a few 9-foot tall bicycles that my boss has outfitted with electric drive motors.

Bladie is a PHD candidate in psychology, a musician, a dancer, and a revolutionary. He has written a series of letters to President Obama outlining his idea of changing the world. Barack and Michelle both "wrote" back, thanking him for his passionate devotion. In any case, Bladie's flamboyant attitude and undying optimism bring a smile to my face whenever I see him. You can see Bladie in this video of Funky Rhythm Roller Skating:

On one last note, I picked up a random Moondog album the other night and it was one of the best purchases I've ever made. The Viking of Sixth Avenue is avant-garde jazz based on percussion. I have a soft spot for percussive albums and I was not disappointed.

This following track is my favorite song by him, "The Bird's Lament"

Oh, and apparently my blog was quoted in Brooklyn Vegan. I don't know how I feel about that, but apparently this is a bit more public than I imagined. A band was practicing here and asked me, "Are you the blogger?" I suppose I am. Although I'd much rather be known as something else...