Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Happiest of Birthdays

Detail from a mural at 5 Pointz

I'm so glad that I made it to 28. Not that I'm famous enough to have joined the "27 Club," but 27 was a rough year for me. I certainly ended the first year of my late-twenties on a high note, however, one I hope to keep going well into this next year of my life.

28 will be the first year of my life lived entirely (I hope) in New York. I will officially move into my first apartment three days after my birthday — a fresh start in so many ways. I've never been freaked out or saddened by birthdays, and luckily I've always had wonderful friends and family to make sure I feel special on or around the big day.

I am lucky in so many ways.

I'm even thankful for things that have happened to me that others would definitely not classify as "lucky" — they have made me who I am, and I'm kind of fond of me lately. I've dreamed of living in New York for as long as I can remember, and now I'm actually doing it. It's strange to be living the very life I have wanted for so long. Not everyone gets to do that in their lifetimes and I am thankful for every single day that I have or have had in this one.

I've done a few lists on birthday's past, and it was always fun, so this year I thought it would be nice to list the things I'm particularly thankful for, in no discerning order — 28 of them, but of course:
  1. New York City - Because really, if there's a better place to live than I haven't been there yet.
  2. My cat, Mozart - We're going to be reunited tomorrow and Monday she'll be riding back with me to the city to become a city girl just like her mom.
  3. Cheese - Everything is better with cheese.
  4. My family - They're continually outdoing themselves in generosity, selflessness and unconditional love.
  5. My friends - They're a crazy group of weirdos and I love them more and more each day.
  6. Books - I'm reading more now than I have in a long time and it's wonderful.
  7. Parks - Central Park, Riverside Park, Gantry Plaza State Park, I love them all.
  8. Yoga - I can't believe I waited so long to try it out, but now I'm obsessed.
  9. My legs - They take me so many amazing places.
  10. The subway - It takes me all the places my legs can't, or are too lazy to take me.
  11. The frozen margarita - You know what I'm talking about.
  12. Fall - I might lose my mind with delight in these upcoming months.
  13. Jackets - I look so much better in layers.
  14. Peanut Butter Panda Puffs - Try them and you'll understand.
  15. My new job - I am surrounded by books and the friendliest, most helpful coworkers.
  16. Eating lunch in Bryant Park - It's a dream.
  17. Fans - The noise, the breeze, I couldn't live without one.
  18. Bobby pins - A short-haired girl's best friend in the summer heat.
  19. Fruit - Vegetables can suck it, fruit is my lifeline.
  20. Summer nights - The air, the smell, the warmth.
  21. Adventures! - I hope I never stop having them.
  22. Taking photos - Maybe one day I'll get a real camera, but it's still fun to document my adventures.
  23. Sunsets - I've never appreciated a sunset like a New York City sunset. They actually make me tear up.
  24. My iPhone 5 - What a lame thing to put on this list, but let's be honest: it's a pretty remarkable thing.
  25. Gluten-free options - Especially ones that don't taste awful.
  26. Lemon or Sweet Corn-flavored anything - Give it all to me.
  27. My new apartment - I can't wait to make it a home.
  28. My life - Special thanks to my parents for giving it to me in the first place — I hope I'm doing it right!
After tomorrow, I'll have had four different birthday celebrations, in four different cities and two different states, with four very different groups of people. If 28 is half as good as the cheese plate we shared at Murray's Cheese Bar on Thursday, than I'm a very lucky girl, indeed.

Past birthday posts: 26 Things About Me  |  30 Things to do Before I'm 30

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


I walked 110+ blocks for this scoop, from Cones

A few years ago I became embarrassingly obsessed with cornbread. I think it started when I made chili and bought a box of Jiffy corn muffin mix to go along with it. I bought Jiffy because it's like, 49 cents a box, even though I was traumatized as a kid when I opened a blueberry muffin mix to find it filled with mealworms. They haven't changed the box design in like, fifty years, so I still think about that bug-infested nightmare every time I see the packaging. But I guess I'm cheaper than I am afraid of bugs, so I used the corn muffin mix to make cornbread.

It was very good, and a great compliment to the chili so I started buying it more frequently. Gradually I started adding sugar to the mix (this is America) and at the height of my addiction I was not only adding a few tablespoons into the batter, but I also sprinkled it on top so it developed a delightful, sugary crust. Sometimes on nights when I was home by myself, cornbread was the only thing I ate for dinner. I eventually broke out of my terrible cornbread habit by going (mostly) gluten-free, but luckily I've found a few other sweet corn treats to take its place.


In the beginning of this year, I discovered the heaven that is the corn cookie at Momofuku Milk Bar. They're famous for their compost cookie, but it's actually my least favorite from their line-up. My favorite is definitely the corn, and it's obvious to me why: it tastes like an even better version of my sugary cornbread. I feel like I had been basically trying to make this exact cornbread cookie without even knowing it, all along. It's chewy and soft and a little undone which is exactly how a cookie should be. Yes, they are also not gluten-free, but I occasionally allow myself one as a special treat. In a showing of extreme willpower, I also no longer buy them in threes — even though they're cheaper that way.

I'm not exactly sure when I discovered that sweet corn ice cream was an actual thing, although I know I immediately typed it into Yelp to get to some as soon as possible. The first place I tried was Sundaes & Cones in the East Village. I went there specifically one night to try the sweet corn, but after tasting a sample I was unimpressed. It didn't have much flavor, and wasn't what I was expecting, so I ended up with a scoop of mint chocolate chip.

The next place I tried was just called Cones (apparently there's not much creativity in the ice cream shop world), in the West Village. They had rave reviews on Yelp, so I was hoping I wouldn't strike out again. At Cones they ask you if you'd like a sprinkle of cinnamon on top of your sweet corn ice cream, and I said sure I do. I definitely recommend the cinnamon even if it might sound weird, but it was a great pairing. The ice cream itself was exactly what I had wanted it to be — great, distinctive flavor and even tiny bits of real corn. I actually came back to Cones the next day to get the almond ice cream which was also amazing, so I think anything you order there will not disappoint.

Last Sunday I went to Shake Shack with the intent of ordering a burger (duh) and a lemonade, but scrapped the drink when I saw that their special custard flavor-of-the-day was blueberry sweet corn (!). It's hard to overshadow the deliciousness that is the Shack burger, but the custard came close. The blueberry was an inspired addition, and because it was a custard it was creamier than the scoop from Cones. It's dangerous now that I know that it exists, especially because I can get it from the 'B' or 'C' lines without having to wait forever.

I would also love to try Jeni's sweet corn and black raspberries — it would figure that I would discover something exciting in Ohio a few weeks after I move away for good. I might have to break down and order a pint for myself, although at $12 + shipping I'm already longing for those cheap boxes of Jiffy mix.

The Ed Koch Queensboro 59th Street Bridge

After yoga in the park on Saturday, I decided to get back to Manhattan from Queens by walking the Queensboro — or if you're reading this post-2010, the Ed Koch, or if you're feeling groovy, the 59th Street — bridge. It's the fourth bridge I've walked, and the first that hasn't spanned from Manhattan to Brooklyn.

I'd admired it from Roosevelt Island, but I'd never heard much about walking over it. It's certainly not as touristy (or as beautiful) a walk as the Brooklyn, and it doesn't deposit you in a trendy neighborhood like the Manhattan or the Williamsburg, but I loved the walk. It's getting hard to rank the bridges at this point since they have all been so different, but I think I would put it above the Manhattan and tied with the Williamsburg. I've said before that the Brooklyn Bridge will always be my favorite, and I don't see it losing that title anytime soon.

The Queensboro is the longest of the four bridges, with a lengthy (and slightly inclined) approach from Queens before you're even on the actual bridge. I took my time (and approximately six million photos) and there is a lot to see so it's definitely worth it. It's a divided path, Manhattan -> Queens on one side of the line, Queens -> Manhattan on the other. Bikers and pedestrians share the same lane, which I thought would be treacherous but aside from one person yelling at me VERY loudly to signal they were approaching to my LEEEFFFT, it was surprisingly civil.

The side is lined with high fencing, so you never have a clear view, but it feels safer than the Manhattan. The walkway is right next to the car lanes and below and to the side of the subway track. I actually never knew that trains went over the Queensboro until I started taking the N train to yoga on the weekends.

One of the most special parts about the walk is Roosevelt Island. The bridge spans over the island (a car elevator used to deposit you onto RI if you wanted) and offers amazing views of the adorable tram in action. I waited like a bouncy little kid for the perfect tram photo, but if you miss it don't worry — they run pretty frequently along a good portion of the bridge walk.

There are a few locks scattered on the fence, which I haven't seen on other bridges, carved with initials and messages. I wish I would have thought to start doing this to commemorate my bridge walks, although I think it's mainly a love thing. But I really love walking over bridges and New York City, so that counts right? Mallory's big purple lock echoed my thoughts perfectly, but it was the tiny one with the painted initials "R + H" that really got me. Isn't it just the cutest thing?

The approach into Manhattan is pretty spectacular, and as the name implies you're left off right onto 59th street. I definitely recommend walking the bridge from Queens to Manhattan (instead of the other way around) since you're on the fence side, with better views and photo-taking opportunities. I think next I'm going to walk the cute red Roosevelt Island bridge, which is the only way to get to the island on foot (you enter from Queens) or maybe the George Washington bridge. Unfortunately I can't tackle the Verrazano-Narrows anytime soon because it was never built with a pedestrian walkway. Maybe they thought no one would be crazy enough to want to walk one of the world's longest suspension bridges. Although now that I've read that heavy use and deterioration have lead to it being called "New York City's Most Dangerous Bridge," maybe it's a good thing I don't run marathons or take bike tours.

I guess I'm actually running out of bridges to walk, which is kind of a weird problem to have. I like the idea of returning to each one to leave a lock, or maybe I'll try walking each one at night. The Brooklyn is breathtaking all lit up, but is under construction until 2014 which is kind of a bummer. Does anyone know where I can get a few locks engraved with "AC + NY" ? I'm asking for a friend.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Alice's Tea Cup

On Friday I had arranged to meet my good friend Grace, who recently moved back to the city, for lunch (I get off at 1pm on Fridays — for one more week). We met in college but hadn't see each other for about seven or so years (!) so we had a lot of catching up to do. Grace suggested that we meet at Alice's Tea Cup on West 73rd. I had never been there but I'd walked by many times and it was on my list of places to try.

I could describe it as an amazing place to have a birthday party if you're a 7-year-old girl, but that is just part of it. Yes, they offer you fairy dust and sell costumes and wings, but when we went it was filled mostly with adults. It's bigger than I expected, with a lot of tables (you can also order to go), each set with teacups and china in a variety of patterns. As the name suggests, it is Alice in Wonderland themed, and the main attraction is the tea. Well, that's what they probably want you to think but I think we can all agree that what I was mainly excited for was their pastry selection.

They have real food too, but we decided on the two-scone-and-pot-of-tea deal, with two extra scones because who can decide on just one? They have a ton of rotating flavors, all of which sounded delicious, but I chose the blueberry lemon and banana almond (which just happened to be vegan). I have always had this idea in my head of scones being these dry, sad, barely edible rock pastry impostors, but I couldn't have been more wrong.

These scones were brought to us warm, with a side of cream and jam. They were both so incredibly, mind-blowingly delicious that they forever changed my opinion on the scone as a viable pastry option. They were so good, in fact, that I almost forgot we had tea — almond tea — which was also very good. The combination was perfect, although their list of teas is so long that I'll probably have to try a different one next time just because I can.

We didn't get too far into their menu before making our decisions, but everyone around us had adorable and tasty-looking racks filled with sandwiches, cookies and even more scones. I can totally understand why Alice's is such a popular destination, and now I want to bring everyone I know. Even if the idea of having a proper tea sounds boring and girly to you, I urge you to take a leap of faith and try Alice's.

As the weather gets colder I'll probably find myself there more and more — Grace and I said that we should just start at the top of the tea list and work our way to the end. That might take us a while, but I think I'm up for the challenge.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Free: Yoga

So I guess I'm a yoga person now? I've been wanting to try yoga basically my whole life (is that how long it's been, like, a thing?) but I didn't take my first official class until last Wednesday. I am the least flexible, coordinated and athletic person you will ever meet, so I was understandably hesitant. But it's also because of those things that I always felt that yoga might actually be the perfect thing for me, and even after only three classes I can say that I think it is.

Starting something like yoga can be intimidating (and expensive, and confusing etc.) — this post is actually really good at explaining why, and then encouraging you to just do it even if you're scared. I'm so glad I finally just went for it, and now of course I'm wondering what exactly took me so long. But better late than never, right? Yoga is the exact combination of things I need in my life right now: it's relaxing, challenging but not impossible and free! That last one is the biggest reason I tried it, actually, because I wasn't really ready to hand over a bunch of money to a gym or studio without knowing if I even liked yoga first. 

Luckily, it's summer in New York and I've already found two great parks offering yoga for free: every Wednesday in Riverside Park South from 6:30 - 7:30pm, and every Saturday (9:30 - 10:30am + 11am - noon) and Sunday (10 - 11am) in Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens. Both sessions run until the end of September, and began in May. I'm sad I am just now getting into it, but grateful that I have more than a month of classes to go.

I've gone to both, and enjoyed them equally. They're both in wonderful parks, right by the water, with excellent views and a great breeze. Both teachers have been really helpful and kind, and while the routines were different (I liked the variety), they seemed to be the same level of intensity.

 I feel so amazing after doing yoga, which is a huge change from the tight muscles, hunchback, and general feeling of awfulness that I've grown accustomed to. Sitting at a computer all day wreaks havoc on my neck and back, but stretching and increasing my flexibility will definitely help. If you've been on the fence, I urge you to just go! Do yoga! Don't worry about how you look, or about not being able to do some of the poses — no one is judging you and it's totally ok to go at your own pace. I'm wobbly and probably won't be able to touch my toes for a very long time (if ever) but I haven't felt embarrassed for one second.

Also don't worry about going alone — my first time I went with my friend Alisha and while it was nice to have company, you don't talk or interact during the session so it's perfectly cool to go alone. I'm already thinking about finding a studio for the winter, but I'll definitely be taking advantage of the free sessions as long as I can. I think I'm already spoiled by taking classes in such beautiful settings — no indoor space could possibly compare. I'm also already thinking of buying a new mat because the only one Target had left that wasn't insanely expensive was bright fuschia and I kind of hate it. Anyone know where I can get a gray (Mozart-colored!) one? Anyone in the market for a thrice-used pink one? I  know a guy.

Floor Pizza

So, I mentioned that I had signed a lease on an amazing apartment a few weeks ago, and last night I picked up the keys! I was a little nervous that it had somehow all been a scam (hey thanks for the thousands of dollars, you naive midwesterner) or that the apartment would be different than I remembered it. Luckily, neither of those nightmares came true, and I'm happy to report that it is just as I remember, if not better.

First, I took a minute to check all of the fixtures, drawers and appliances to make sure nothing major was broken (it wasn't). I flushed the toilet, opened the windows, looked in crevices, turned on the burners — everything checked out, thankfully. I was terrified that I would find thousands of cockroaches or a rat in the toilet, but aside from some dust it was surprisingly clean. Then, I spent a few minutes just walking around, picturing where all the stuff is going to go and imagining living there for the next year.

I decided that the occasion called for a bit of a celebration, so I headed across the street to Mama's Pizzeria and ordered an individual pizza to go. I had Mama's a few time when I was here in the winter, and I had been pleasantly surprised to find out that it was literally across the street from the apartment. While I was waiting for my pizza, I actually heard the employees talking about how Johnny Depp had just eaten there LAST Sunday. Like, the Johnny Depp. Right across the street from my apartment.

There are no more words.

I took my pizza and my Snapple back to my new Johnny-Depp-adjacent apartment, and sat on the floor watching Gilmore Girls on my laptop. I won't have furniture until after Labor Day (and I'll be staying in my sublet until then), but it's already starting to feel like home. It's incredible to finally have a place to call my own, especially since I've spent the first half of this year bouncing from place to place. I've moved five times to four different places since January. I can't tell you what a relief it is to finally start to feel settled again after a rough few months.

I decided to walk back to my sublet, because it was a beautiful night and also because there is no great way to get from one to the other. I walked around the neighborhood for a bit, familiarizing myself and making a mental note of restaurants to try and happy hour times.

I couldn't resist stopping at Pinkberry on Broadway and 112th  — finding an apartment was stressful, hard, and confusing — I wasn't ready to stop celebrating. Once I get settled (and actually have some furniture), I plan on throwing a more proper house-warming, which I'm looking forward to immensely. I love putting together parties and cooking for friends. I'm so happy to have a space for that once again, even if it's a tiny one.

But there was also something wonderful about being there alone, just me, my pizza and my new keys — I think we're all going to be very happy together.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Perfect Weekend

Now that I will be in New York for the foreseeable future, I've written about how I've been trying to relax, and settle into a routine. Slowly I'm getting more comfortable not having a huge, exhausting adventure every single day that I'm free. This weekend was filled with the perfect mix of activities that were relaxing but also incredibly fun and exciting in their own way.

Saturday morning I made the trek back to Queens for free yoga in Socrates Sculpture Park. I tried yoga for the first time last Wednesday and was immediately hooked. Every Saturday until the end of September there are two free sessions in the park. I opted for the later one (11am - noon) and it was wonderful. The teacher was helpful, the poses were challenging but not impossible and it was an incredibly beautiful morning. There weren't a ton of people so it felt intimate and the breeze off the river was perfect.

After yoga, I headed back to Manhattan to meet some friends for a picnic in Sheep's Meadow in Central Park. Everyone brought snacks (and, um, beverages) and when the iPod speaker arrived it really became a party. It was impromptu, casual and totally fun. There's really not many better ways to spend a summer afternoon than eating a variety of snacks while lounging with your friends in a sunny meadow in Central Park (or at least I haven't done them yet).

When we finally decided to pack it up, my friend Alisha and I weren't quite ready to call it a night, so we headed uptown to a wine bar that we had been wanting to try for a while. We both live around the west side of Harlem, and had tried to meet up at VinaterĂ­a once before only to discover that they are closed on Mondays.

They were pretty busy Saturday night, but we got seats at the bar. We both ordered a glass of wine, and then almost immediately decided that we had to try out the cheese/prosciutto plate as well. The entire place was just as awesome as their cheese plate presentation, with a metal bar, custom tile floor and a ton of industrial, vintage touches. We decided to make it a regular date, and made a note to check out some of the other new and interesting-looking places that have opened in the area.

On Sunday I slept in, and then took a leisurely stroll through Central Park. I'm only a few blocks from the always-stunning Conservatory Garden so I took my time wandering around, trying to take as many "insect-in-flower" photos as I could. The garden is breathtaking in the spring, but I've been in most other seasons (I'm coming at ya, fall) and it never disappoints. It's small, but carefully curated and feels like a secret haven, with a quieter, more reflective vibe than the surrounding park.

I walked down past the Reservoir, and crossed over to the west side, ending up at my new favorite brunch place: Cafe Eighty Two. They have an entire gluten-free menu, but I've gotten the GF waffle (with bacon) three times now because it's so delicious.

I definitely want to make it my usual place, and I can't wait until they know me and my order as soon as I walk in. The place is filled with elderly, UWS residents who are cranky and demanding and I love every one of them. I can only hope to be doing exactly what I'm doing now, when I'm 80-years-old, although I'm sure I'll have on a lot more sweaters.

Right across Broadway is a Barnes & Noble, so I went there after brunch to catch up on my trashy tabloids. After spending a few hours with my good friends US Weekly, People and Entertainment Weekly (Fall Movie Preview!) Alisha met me there and we headed downtown to the Strand. She needed to pick up a gift, and I needed to browse the dollar racks because it had been a whole week or so since I'd been (the horror!). I have a habit of buying and hoarding used books, but since I've moved to the city I've actually been reading everything I buy. Reading on the subway means that I go through about a book a week, which has been really wonderful. I plan on getting my library card soon, but I'll always have a soft spot for the Strand.

When I was done browsing, I headed back uptown, stopping at Trader Joe's to buy my groceries for the week. I'm getting pretty good at only buying what can fit in two bags, and I think I've finally perfected my post-shopping subway turnstile entry technique (slide the bags through first). I'm so glad that I'll still be close to TJ's when I move into the new place (this week!). Everything I ever get from there is so delicious, and it's crazy cheap when compared to other places in the city.

When I got home, I cooked up a huge batch of my new favorite pasta dish (GF pasta, vodka sauce, mushrooms, zucchini, hot pepper flakes, feta, parmesan) and I have at least two more meals-full in leftovers for this week. I always want to eat everything I buy on grocery day at once, but I'm trying to pace myself. Add in a few episodes of Gilmore Girls, an early bedtime and ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the very perfect weekend. I hope to repeat this itinerary  — with minor variations — on many more weekends to come and it feels great to finally be settling into my new life.

And what a lovely life it's turning out to be.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Red Hook: Part Two

I went to Red Hook, Brooklyn for the first time this past February, when I took the ferry to IKEA, ate a  dollar cinnamon roll, walked over to Baked for brownies (I'm fat) and that was pretty much it. The area was still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, and a lot of the businesses were closed. Since I've recently found an apartment and very much need to fill it with stuff, I decided to go to IKEA last weekend to begin to get a feel for what was available.

My friend Alisha agreed to go along, and the night before we went I texted her our itinerary because I'm a crazy person: Ferry > Fairway Market > Brunch > Waterfront Museum > Steve's Key Lime Pies > IKEA. Luckily she wasn't intimidated and we ended up accomplishing most of what was on my our list.

We took the IKEA ferry, which has added a stop at Fairway Market/Van Brunt Street if you're more into exploring Red Hook than shopping for Swedish furniture. The stop was a pleasant surprise and much more convenient for our itinerary.

Fairway Market was one of the businesses that was closed for months, so it was my first time seeing it up close. The pre-Civil War building is amazing, but inside it's, well, a grocery store. They had some good free samples, but you'd never really know you were in such a beautiful building from the inside.

From there we made our way down Van Brunt Street, the main drag in Red Hook. There are a ton of cute brunch places, bars, galleries and shops, including Baked where I ate "Oprah's favorite brownies" last time I was there. We had decided to eat brunch at Home/Made, which was really, really good. We both had scrambles and the portions were huge, even if the prices were a bit higher than the menu currently shows on their site. Definitely sit in the garden if there's seating available. If there's not, at least you can sip a complimentary cup of coffee while you wait (flashbacks to Tom's Restaurant).

After brunch we walked along the waterfront, through the more industrial areas, ending up at Louis Valentino Pier. The pier has great views of the Statue of Liberty, fishing and free kayaking. As we were walking around the park, we ran right into Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pies, without even trying. I had read nothing but rave reviews, and like Fairway, the shop had been closed for months for repairs. They eventually moved to a new location, and the shop feels like you've stepped right into Key West (or what I imagine Key West is like).

I'm pretty sure we were waited on by Steve himself, who was drinking a beer at 1pm which is exactly what any owner of a Key Lime Pie shop should be doing at 1 in the afternoon. We both got a Swingle, which is a Key Lime Pie tart on a stick, dipped in chocolate. It was amazing. We ate it under a shady tree with a view of the Statue of Liberty and talked about how lucky we felt to be New Yorkers.

We eventually made it to IKEA, but managed to browse the entire store without buying a single thing. I'm glad to have a better idea of what they have, and I've started a list of potential purchases. I'm trying to do this whole "experiences over possessions" way of life thing, but I'm going to need a few essentials — like a bed — and IKEA is a great place for the tiny things that are necessary for tiny apartments.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to tour the Waterfront Barge Museum because it's only open on Saturdays. I had actually thought it was Saturday and felt incredibly stupid when Alisha pointed out that it was actually Sunday. Now we have a reason to go back to Red Hook, for the museum, as well as wine tasting at the Red Hook Winery — we were so full from brunch + Swingles that we couldn't even look at wine but the place was awesome and we vowed to go back.

Red Hook is a great neighborhood to spend a day (or two) exploring. It's filled with great old warehouses, beautiful storefronts and vintage, nautical details everywhere you look. I'm glad it appears to be finally recovering from Sandy, and seems to even be thriving. With such delicious brunches, IKEA AND my new best friend the Swingle there are more than enough reasons for me to keep coming back.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Summer Streets

On Saturday I, along with my friends Katie and Jim, got up early to take advantage of this year's Summer Streets events. On three consecutive Saturdays in August, "nearly seven miles of New York City's streets are open for everyone to play, run, walk and bike." We did a little playing, and a lot of walking, but our main destination was the Park Avenue Voice Tunnel.

Open to pedestrians for the first time in history, the Park Avenue Tunnel is currently home to an "interactive light and sound installation," known as the Voice Tunnel. I had heard that the lines had been pretty long the previous Saturday, so we met there at 9am. The line was long but moved incredibly fast, even with everyone being required to sign a waiver before entering the tunnel (it's pretty much seizure-city in there so if that's even a possibility for you I would sit this one out).

It's kind of hard to explain what the Voice Tunnel is about and how it works, but if you're interested you can read the official explanation here. I think I was expecting a more randomly influenced pattern of lights, but they came on and off in consistent intervals. It was neat to be able to walk in a tunnel that has never been open to pedestrians before, which is the appeal of Summer Streets in general. It was a pretty long walk through, and by the end of it I was very much in sensory overload. With the hundreds of voices blending together and the flashing, moving lights, I was definitely glad to reach the other end.

It's hard to complain about something that is free, but it's definitely not worth the Rain Room comparisons, in my opinion. I do recommend getting there early if you'd like to get in, especially on the last day. Summer Streets goes from 7am -1pm, but they say to arrive by 11am if you'd like to guarantee entrance into the tunnel. It's been my experience that New Yorkers are late risers in general, so the earlier you can get somewhere the more likely you are to get the proverbial worm.

When we emerged from the tunnel I was pleasantly surprised to find us right under Grand Central Terminal. Because of the car-free streets we were able to walk right up to and around it, then down through the Helmsely Building and back onto Park Avenue. We took Park all the way up to Central Park, and it was kind of awesome to have the entire street as your sidewalk.

There are a ton of events going on along the car-free routes, but we mostly just enjoyed the walk. There's one more Summer Streets Saturday left and I might go back to see what else is going on — I saw a bunch of people eating chocolate-covered bananas, so that definitely warrants further investigation. I love events like this in the city that make you look at places you might pass by every day in a whole different light, and it doesn't hurt when they're totally free.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Living the Dream

My apartment is behind that tree, I promise.

When I moved to New York a little over a month ago, I had a few interviews lined up, but no solid job prospects and stayed on my friend's couch for almost two weeks. I had planned to sublet a room temporarily while I looked for a job, and I found a great place on Central Park North that I moved into on July 11th. The sublet is only until August 31st (my birthday?) however, so the pressure was on to find something more permanent before then.

I probably don't need to tell you how crazy competitive the New York housing market is, and most people won't even show you a place if you don't have a job. Luckily, I got a great job working at W.W. Norton as a designer in the college division, so all that was left on my list of life goals (for the moment) was to find an apartment.

Well, last week I did that too!

Everything moves so fast here: I went to see a place on Sunday, put a deposit down on Monday, found out I was approved the same day, and by Wednesday I was signing the lease papers. It's such a relief to know that I won't be homeless come the 31st (happy birthday — you're homeless!), and even more exciting that I'm moving into a place I really love.

Riverside Park South

The apartment is on Amsterdam Ave. btwn 106th and 105th streets on the upper, upper west side. The neighborhood is technically called Manhattan Valley, but I rarely hear that term used here. It's definitely not Morningside Heights or Harlem, so to anyone not familiar with the ridiculousness that is New York neighborhood naming conventions, it's easier to just say the Upper West Side. It's an amazing neighborhood, and I'll be only a few blocks away from where I stayed when I came here in January/February of this year.

I'll be two blocks from Riverside Park, three blocks from Central Park, five blocks from Morningside Park, right across the street from Mama's Pizzeria and four subway stops from Trader Joe's. There's a laundromat literally in the ground floor of the building, a Duane Reade one block away, a 24-hour deli on the corner and a Dunkin' Donuts half a block away. There are a ton of great restaurants that I can't wait to try, Chinese and Mexican places that I can't wait to order delivery from and great markets and coffee shops super close by.

GAH I can't wait to see this face every day!!!

My move-in date is August 21st, which gives me some overlap time to slowly move the things I have over to the new place, while still having a bed (and Internet!) until the 31st. I'll be going back to Ohio on Labor Day weekend to grab the rest of my belongings, but most importantly I'll be returning WITH MY CAT. I can't express how much I've missed that perfect specimen of a feline, Mozart, and I think she'll be very happy in her new home. A few of the windows in the apartment overlook an alleyway, and when I was there three pigeons were hanging out on the windowsills. I imagine they will keep her very entertained, and the place has a railroad-style layout with a long hallway perfect for playing fetch. It's been lonely living in a new place without my best friend. I really hope she likes being a New Yorker as much as her mom does.

Until then, every spare moment I spend daydreaming about how I'm going to decorate my adorable new place. Everything seems to have happened so fast and I'm trying to let it all sink in, but I'm officially a New Yorker with a real New York job (!) and a real New York apartment (!!). I know it's corny and emotional, but I can't stop thinking about the part in Willy Wonka (probably because I saw it twice in two different parks?) when Willy turns to Charlie and says:

"But Charlie, don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted."

"What happened?"

"He lived happily ever after."

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Shakespeare in the Park

One of the things I knew I had to do during my last week of unemployment was wait in line for Shakespeare in the Park tickets. The Public Theater does two shows during the summer season, and this year's schedule included The Comedy of Errors in May/June, and Love's Labour's Lost in July/August.

I had gone twice before when Meryl Streep was doing Mother Courage, so I knew the process very well. A few things have changed since I went in 2007 — they now distribute the tickets at noon instead of 1pm, for example — but mostly it was a similar experience. I wasn't quite as fanatical about being first in line this time, especially after learning that the seating is distributed randomly — first in line only guarantees that you'll get a ticket, not necessarily a great seat. I understand why they do it this way, but it's still a little annoying. Knowing that, however, took a bit of the pressure off and I got there around 6:30 am instead of 4:30 am.

There were probably 30 people in front of me, but I had a great spot. I was on the grass (instead of the asphalt or mulch), under a huge, shady tree and had a nice view for people watching. I've been getting pretty good at picnicking lately, so my blanket and food situation was perfect. I know it's totally weird to say, but napping in the park is one of my very favorite things to do. I certainly don't envy homeless people, or wish to make light of their situation, but there are certainly worse spots to sleep than under a shady tree on a breezy, bright sunny day in Central Park.

I understand why people are appalled at the length of the line, or how early you have to arrive, but it's really just about the easiest thing you can do: you nap a little, eat a little, read a bit, listen to some music and before you know it you have two FREE tickets to some of the best performances in the world.

Back in June, I waited two hours to see the Rain Room and I would take the six-hour wait for theater tickets in the park over standing in the hot sun on the asphalt in Midtown outside of MOMA, any day. I've noticed that living in New York makes you get used to waiting in line for almost anything: last night I had to wait in line just to enter a Trader Joe's. It's not so bad if you have the right supplies or the right company, and most often the payoff is totally worth it.

Noon came before I knew it, and I was actually reluctant to abandon my cozy spot. So reluctant, in fact, that I pocketed my tickets, moved about ten feet over to Turtle Pond and set up another picnic spot. If picnicking was a job, I'd be employee of the month.

At about 8 that night, my friend Katie and I headed back to the Delacorte to see the show, and I'm happy to report that it was great. I wasn't sure what to expect, having never read the play, but I'm kind of glad I went in without any preconceived notion of the story. This production was actually made into a musical and performed in a very modern, present-day setting.

Sometimes I groan when companies try to "update" Shakespeare, but this one worked extremely well. Once I got used to the tone, it was hilarious and the music was surprisingly heartfelt and catchy. If you only listen to one of the songs, definitely make it "Love's a Gun." I've been playing it on repeat since last Tuesday and I actually got chills seeing it performed — Lindsay Mendez was a stand-out among the ridiculously talented cast.

Everyone in the cast was a brilliant triple threat — dancing, singing and speaking Shakespeare with ease. The most famous cast member was Rachel Dratch, who played a professor reminiscent of her "lahhvers" character, and got huge laughs whenever she was on stage.

There's really nothing like seeing a great performance in an open-air theater on a perfect summer night in the middle of Central Park. It's one of those magical New York moments that I'm so grateful I got to attend at all, let alone three times already. I'm sad I missed out on Comedy of Errors, but I'm excited to be able to make Shakespeare in the Park a regular tradition. I'm hoping Meryl decides to return to the Delacorte stage soon and I guarantee I'll be there, enjoying my time in line almost as much as the play itself.