Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Conservatory Garden: August 2016

Now that I no longer have the pleasure of commuting every day through Central Park, I don't get to the Conservatory Garden nearly as much as I should. It's one of my very favorite spots in the park and I'm always happier after spending some time there, even if it's just my lunchbreak. I decided to look for Pokemon check in on the gardens recently and it was as beautiful as ever. The last time I was in the Conservatory Garden, the tulips were in bloom, so I was way overdue for a return visit.

Plants will always be a mystery to me—as evidenced by the time I mistook a billion chrysanthemums for daisies, or the succulent that I recently murdered—but that's part of why I admire them so much. I started off looking at the dahlias and other blooms, but very quickly started to fall in love with all of the darker plants. It's a trend I noticed when I visited at a similar time last year, but the dark color palette is definitely more pronounced this year. Deep purples and charcoals might not seem like an obvious choice for a summer garden, but that's what makes them so wonderful.

The deep reds were also really beautiful and as always the contrasts of textures, colors and shapes is really spot on. The Great Fall anticipation always begins for me around this time of year (I blame back-to-school advertising) and for a brief moment I allowed myself to get excited for all things pumpkin, spooky and crisp.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Carpet-Clutching Muffler Man

Ever since I saw my first (and second and third and fourth and fifth and sixth and seventh) Muffler Man, I've been obsessed with meeting every one I can. Roadside America has an invaluable map of known Muffler Man locations and I consult it wherever I'm going to make sure I don't miss one. I've known about the one in Jersey City for a while, but I just recently made it across the Hudson to finally see it in person.

The carpet-clutching Muffler Man stands outside of the entrance to Wilson's Carpet and Furniture under the Pulaski Skyway in Jersey City. Owner Norm Wilson bought the 25-foot-tall Bunyan figure in 1974 for $5,000. In 1998, the Muffler Man became legitimately famous when it was included in the opening credits of the Sopranos—something I didn't know about it until after I got home. He's definitely changed over the past eight years, and is in desperate need of a touch-up, but he's still clutching his signature steel "carpet" roll.

The electronic sign board appeared to be broken when I went, and a HUGE SALE!! banner hung in tatters from one of his hands. He stands on a base declaring "America is #1! Love it or leave it!" which feels a little bit too "Make America Great Again" for my tastes, even though I know it predates any Trump-related craziness. Wilson's is located on a very busy road, near the New Jersey turnpike, Hackensack river and elevated PATH train tracks. It's really not a pedestrian-friendly area, but I wasn't going to let that stop me from checking out my eighth (!!) Muffler Man. 

This Muffler Man gets the sad distinction of being n the worst condition of the eight I've seen—the paint is peeling from his pants, his carpet roll is rusting and his faded facial features create a greying, salt-and-pepper look. It was definitely a harrowing journey—despite being only less than nine miles from my Brooklyn apartment—but it was so very worth it.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Jersey City

I recently joked that I was running out of things to do in New York, so I needed to expand my radius. Of course this will never really be true because New York City is huge and constantly changing. However, as I become more comfortable living here and exploring different neighborhoods, it would make sense that my exploration area would be ever expanding. I had an entire sunny Sunday free recently, and decided to use it to venture over the Hudson into New Jersey.

Of course I've been to New Jersey before, but I'd never taken the PATH train. It was easy enough to figure out (you can use your MetroCard!) and I was surprised at how quickly I got from lower Manhattan to Jersey City. I had a loose itinerary for the day, which began with a stop at the VIP Diner. It had everything I look for in a diner—original furnishings, excellent signage, a friendly waitstaff and cheap, filling breakfast. From the diner I headed to check out a Muffler Man and a cemetery (more on those later), before making my way back east to downtown Jersey City and the waterfront.

The "Historic Downtown" area of Jersey City actually looked like a movie set to me—complete with generically named shops like "Hardware" and "Dry Cleaners." I stopped in a cute bookstore to browse, drank my weight in iced tea and marveled at the cute PATH entrances. It was very, very hot, but I was still surprised to find the streets so empty on a weekend afternoon, but it was a nice break from the sweaty, crowded sidewalks of the city.

I found out that New Jersey has a light rail when I almost got run over by it as I was crossing the street. I tried to ride to Liberty Park but I wasn't aware of the weekend service schedule so I had to get off after going just one stop, but it was worth it to experience yet another form of transportation (I have a seriously nerdy obsession with all of the varying forms of public transit).

It's funny to me that you have to go to New Jersey (or Brooklyn, or Queens) to really see Manhattan, and one of the best parts about Jersey City is the incredible skyline view. The neon view as you descend the escalator at the Exchange Place PATH station is pretty wonderful too, although it's still not quite enough to make me consider defecting west of the Hudson just yet.