Tuesday, May 27, 2014

World's Fair Festival: Part 2 - NY State Pavilion

While we were at the 50th Anniversary World's Fair Festival in Queens, we got the extraordinary opportunity to tour the inside of the New York State Pavilion. The Philip Johnson-designed complex was built for the 1964 World's Fair and included the Tent of Tomorrow, the Theaterama, three observation towers and a large scale terrazzo Texaco highway map of New York State on the main floor.

Unfortunately the structures have basically become ruins over time and are currently closed to the public (the Theaterama has been restored and is home to the Queens Theatre). I have been admiring the inside of the pavilion (through very tiny fence openings) since I first went to the park last year, and never dreamed that I'd actually be able to step inside of it (legally). I tried, unsuccessfully to get inside during tours back in April but the demand was insane and I was totally bummed that I had missed out.

When we got to the festival, by chance we heard a woman explaining to a long line of people waiting to sign up for walking tours that they were not in line to tour the pavilion — if they wished, they would have to go stand in a different line right outside of the pavilion. We immediately hurried over to the entrance and found that there was almost no line at all — in fact I confirmed with a volunteer that they were even doing tours because the line was so inexplicably short. We totally just lucked out though, because very soon enough it started to grow, and by the time we got out of the pavilion the line was appropriately (i.e. very) long.

We all had to put on hard hats before we entered, but then we were allowed to wander as we pleased. We were once gently told to hurry up, but not before I had already taken about a million photos and squealed with delight more times than I can remember.

There isn't much left inside of the pavilion, but just being able to step inside was thrilling beyond words. There were pieces of the terrazzo map on display, with the rest of it (or what's left, anyway) covered in gravel to protect it from any further decay. There were a few objects on display, including a piece of the "Otis Escal-Aire," a streamlined escalator that debuted at the fair and later was used by Diana Ross in The Wiz — you can still see the entire thing, although you couldn't get very close, and the upper mezzanine was not open for exploration.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the pavilion finally getting a major restoration, which I'm totally supportive of — we all signed a petition to help save the structures — but the ruins are also so amazing in their current state. No matter what ends up happening with the pavilion, I'll always be glad that I saw how it looked during its 50th year, and sad I never got to experience it in its full '60s glory.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

9/11 Memorial Museum

Wednesday was the first day that the 9/11 Memorial Museum was open to the public and my friend Alisha was able to get free tickets through work. I am adamantly against the regular admission price ($24) to begin with — I feel like it should be suggested donation, if anything at all — but I was curious to see the museum.

9/11 is the first huge, historical event that I was actually very much alive for — I was 16 and watched the horrible events unfold live during my high school Spanish class. I had first been to New York (and had fallen madly in love with the city) two years earlier, although we never visited the World Trade Towers. My love of New York has only grown in leaps and bounds with each passing year, and now that I can finally call myself a resident seeing the museum felt like something I needed to do.

I hesitate to describe the museum with any adjectives that would come across as disrespectful — I wasn't excited to go, but I was interested. I didn't have an awesome time, but it was, I thought, a very moving experience. It was also incredibly heartbreaking, terrifying, abstract, emotional and every other word that comes to mind when you think of a museum devoted entirely to remembering a great national tragedy.


I think the design of the museum is very well done, and beautiful in its openness, stark spaces and industrial feel. There are, of course, objects, both enormous (part of the antennae, a tangled firetruck, twisted steel beams) and tiny (shoes worn by evacuees, Metrocards that were used that day, Yankees tickets for a game that never happened that night) but it's the stories and the faces that hurt the most.

None of us left the memorial rooms filled with photos of the victims with dry eyes, and the recordings of voice messages from people within in the towers were the hardest to bear. There are tissue boxes placed in nearly every room, and for good reason — you won't question their necessity at all — in fact there were times we wondered why there weren't more of them around (maybe they ran out?).

The events of 9/11 are so crazy complicated and emotional that it's hard to know how I feel about any of it — sad, confused, angry, scared, detached or all of the above. I do know, however, how I feel about the museum gift shop selling 9/11-themed magnets, silk scarves and cheese boards — embarrassed, for those who buy those things as well as for those who profit from them.

I wish, of course, that 9/11 had never happened but unfortunately we can only go forward, not back. I can't say that I'll be returning to the museum anytime soon, and I'll likely be recovering from my first visit for a long time, but if the true goal of the memorial is that we "never forget," then, at least in my experience, the museum is a success.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

World's Fair Festival: Part 1

On Sunday my friends and I went to Flushing-Meadows Corona Park for the 50th Anniversary World's Fair Festival. I had gone back in April for the actual anniversary of opening day, but this was an actual NY Parks-sanctioned festival so there was a lot more going on. The park was more crowded than I had ever seen it, and although I prefer my desolate January visits, it was nice to see so many people interested in the World's Fair sites.

Sunday was definitely one of those "I can't believe how wonderful my life is" magic New York days, beginning with the fact that the fountains around the Unisphere were turned on. I have been dreaming of the day that I would finally see them working, yet actually seeing them in person somehow managed to exceed my expectations. The Unisphere itself is always impressive, but the fountains take it to a whole different level. A few hours after we arrived, the fountains were actually turned off again— I read that they were blowing on people — and I'm sad that we didn't get to enjoy them for longer, but ecstatic that we saw them at all.

Shortly after arriving we also got to tour the New York State Pavilion and I took so many photos that it warrants its own post entirely. There were walking tours, memorabilia tents and a lot of food vendors — I was excited for the Belgian waffles, but they turned out to be from the Wafels and Dinges trucks, which are all over the city so it wasn't really worth standing in the insanely long line. Speaking of long lines, we did wait more than an hour for a completely average and ridiculously expensive pulled pork sandwich, which is probably as close to an authentic World's Fair experience as we'll ever get.

There were classic cars on display, including a Batmobile — complete with the very awesome BatPhone — a show with replica World's Fair structures made from Legos, and even a vintage Greyhound cart that was zipping around the grounds. We all agreed that they should make this a yearly event and I don't think I'll ever get sick of seeing the Unisphere fountains — I hope I get to catch them on periodically for at least another 50 years.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Friday Food: The Airline Diner

After finishing my (sadly short) list of stand-alone diners left in Manhattan, I knew I wanted to continue my search into the outer boroughs. Last Sunday I went to the Airline Diner in Queens, which was established in 1952 as the Airline but is now part of the Jackson Hole franchise. It's located on Astoria Blvd, close to LaGuardia (hence the airline theme) and accessible by taking the N/R or the M60 bus (I took the bus).

Thankfully they've kept the exterior pretty much intact, and the interior is classic diner d├ęcor through and through — shiny vinyl chairs, amoeba-patterned tabletops, jukeboxes, vintage signs — if you think a classic diner should have something, chances are the Airline does. I'm not sure how much of the interior is "original" but none of it feels forced or out of place and it all looked pretty authentic.

The building itself looks as if it has been added onto at some point, and is twice as big as I expected it to be. There is an additional seating area in the back that you access by walking behind the counter, so although there were a lot of people waiting we were seated fairly quickly. I had cinnamon raisin bread french toast, which was as delicious as it sounds, and their diner coffee was strong and the refills plentiful.

I really appreciate that, although they clearly rebranded the diner as the Jackson Hole, they did so in a way that remained faithful to the original signage. So many places would have just slapped a terrible modern logo onto the amazing neon signs or, worse yet, replaced them all together.

You might recognize the Airline from Goodfellas, a movie I definitely should see and I'm kind of embarrassed to say that I haven't yet. The only bad part about going in the morning is that we didn't get to see all of the beautiful neon lit up — I guess I'll just have to go back at nighttime and try one of their "famous" burgers.

I'm very excited about continuing my diner adventures and exploring new-to-me parts of this wonderful city. I'm going to try to go to one new diner each weekend whenever I can — I have no idea where the next one will be but that's all part of the adventure.