New York Holiday Lights

New York City can be a magical place at times and the winter holidays are one of those. Last week we visited the shopping district on Fifth Avenue and walked to the Rockefeller Center to view the large Christmas Tree that, according to the ever reliable Wikipedia, a tradition dating to 1933. The same source says that about 125 million people visit the tree every year. A large percentage of them were there the night we dropped by. You can see some of them in the photos that follow.

We also viewed many of the decorated windows and exterior decor in some of New York’s “finest” stores..Those picture follow as well last set of photos are the illuminated “stars” that hand in the atrium of the Time Warner Shops at Columbus Circle and periodically change color. I hope that in these troubled times these photos will spread a bit of joy.

The last photo is of the socks that I absolutely do not want to own and will not wear under any circumstances so fuggedabowdit.

 

Mystery Mandarin Duck in Central Park

Some time back a Mandarin Duck mysteriously appeared in Central Park, joining the other ducks in the Duck Pond and attracting hordes of photographers and others crowding the shore to see him. He is an extraordinary creature and my wife and I were fortunate to see him up close today. At first he was far away under a bridge but then swam straight to the gaggle of photographers near us and then swam right up to where we were standing. No one knows how he came to be in the park but he/she is likely the most popular visitor this year and maybe ever.

A Trip to the Zoo

Central Park has a zoo of its own. It’s not the largest zoo around these parts, but it’s pretty interesting that such a place exists in the center of New York City. Last week we visited the place, camera in hand. The bird house and the snow leopards were probably the most interesting, the place was fun throughout. You can do the whole thing in an hour easily with time for a snack in the shop on the premises. Here are some photos. If you go, be aware that the birds in particular are very active so don’t stand around under them for long. If you know what I mean, and I’m sure you do.

PS- the bird in the featured photo at the top is a pidgeon.

 

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade – Part 2: Parade

As reported in the previous post, and against all reason, we went into the cold night air to look at a bunch of balloons moored with giant nets, in anticipation of one of the world’s most famous and enduring public spectacles: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

So, with the temperature hovering around 20 degrees F and winds of unknown but predicted seriously dangerous to people and possibly the balloons, we left home with high hopes. Our apartment building is almost exactly .25 miles from Columbus Circle around which the parade was reputed to pass on its way from the Upper West Side at West 77th Street to its destination at 6th Avenue and West 34th Street where sits … Macy’s Department Store. More about Macy’s in a future post.

Understand that the Macy’s website should be/must be the most precise and authoritative place to find information about the parade. It said that there was “no public viewing” of the parade at Columbus Circle. Yet, when we arrived there, hundreds or thousands of people were arrayed around the police barricades set up to keep viewers from interacting with the parade. Concerned that the police might clear the area at any time (“no public viewing”), we set out to find a place from which to watch and take some photos.

Aha! You can’t cross most of the streets in the area. They are blocked up with more barricades. The City of New York must hold an inventory of literally thousands of these gray aluminum contraptions that they haul out for every disruptive event in the city (they occur on average every week somewhere – street fairs, parades, protest marches, etc.). Anyway, keep walking away from the parade route to find a place to cross the street to find a place to watch the parade. We arrive finally in the middle of a crowd stacked up on 7th Avenue with a view of sorts of West 59th Street, the path of the parade after its circumnavigation of Columbus Circle.

From this place we could indeed see the giant balloons as they passed, although the band members (biggest bands in the world, comprised of seemingly hundreds of performers) could only be seen only if they were wearing tall hats or playing tubas. We also encountered my favorite kinds of people with whom to watch a parade. Some of them had camped out there since well before the parade started and left their folding chairs open so as to prevent other people from standing there. Others, including a particularly tall young man to my right, believed they could not be out on the streets of New York without a full backpack of … something. Every time this young man turned to speak to his friends behind him, his backpack collided with me. He never noticed this until I decided to stop being pushed aside and stood my ground. Still, he did not seem to notice that now he could not just swing around whenever he pleased. He actually had to turn his head. Victory was mine!

Meanwhile, the parade continued and we saw a lot of wonderful, gigantic balloons being pulled/handled/managed by teams of many people holding cables/ropes as best they could. The predicted wind did not seem to be a major factor and the crowd was so packed together after a while that their collective body heat effectively fought off the 21-degree air.

After more than an hour of this, we decided that coffee was in order, so we left to find same at one of the ubiquitous Dunkin’ Donuts shops on West 57th, then repaired toward Columbus Circle to return home. However, by now, for reasons not clear, a large percentage of the crowd had left the Circle and we were able to watch the last quarter of the parade there. This included the Grinch balloon, the Singing Christmas Tree and, of course, Santa Claus and his reindeer at the end. So, below is a gallery of photos that I hope you, who had more sense than we, will enjoy from the warmth of your post-Thanksgiving holiday.

I actually do recommend that anyone in New York City at this time of year should make the effort, and it will be an effort, to see the parade. Once may well be enough, but it is indeed a spectacle to remember.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade – Part 1: Balloons

Who is it that does not love a parade?

  • Very short people
  • People who cannot stand the coldest parade day since 1901
  • People who can’t stand crowds
  • People who hate other people who wear large backpacks in crowded spaces
  • People who can’t stand being pleasantly told by hundreds of police “no, you can’t cross here”

Well, ignore them. It’s a parade. A special parade that’s been going on since 1924 when Macy’s transferred the parade from Newark, NJ where it had been conducted by Louis Bamberger. Mr. Bamberger was an interesting figure in his own right, though he gets only a brief mention in the Macy’s Parade legend. According to Wikipedia (what else?), Bamberger was Newark’s leading citizen from the early 1990s. With his sister, he founded the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. When he passed away in 1944, Newark’s flags were lowered to half-staff for three days and his department store closed for a day.

But, I digress. Now back to the present. We decided we had to experience this in full. This meant that the first step was to attend the balloon inflation on the Upper West Side the night before the parade. These balloons are enormous and, therefore, cannot simply be inflated the morning of the parade that steps off at 9:00 am. The Macy’s website said to take the 1 train to West 78th Street and enter the queue to see the balloons.

The website did not, however, explain that the “queue” started on West 73rd Street and to get to the “queue,” it was necessary to walk, with about a million other people, down Central Park West from 79th to 73rd. Except, and there is always an ‘except’ when a million people choose to do the same thing at the same time, you can’t just walk down there. If that were the case, you would have exited the subway at West 72nd and just walked to 73rd.

No, it was actually like queuing up for a Disneyland ride. We shuffled (you can’t call it walking) from 79th toward 73rd, but were turned around at around 75th (?) to shuffle back in the direction we came from, then turned again to repeat the process, all the while jammed between metal barricades the police had installed to keep the crowd together and moving in the right direction(s).

So, after zigzagging back and forth for some time, we heard an announcement that the “viewing will end at 8:00 pm” which also contradicted the website. It was now 7:45 and there was no balloon in sight. And, to quote Jean Paul Sartre, there was “no exit.” So, ever hopeful, we continued shuffling until we reached a crossing street. We had reversed course so many times by then, that I didn’t know what street we were on. The snow/sleet/mixed precipitation had stopped (did I mention that when we exited the subway, it was snowing/sleeting/mixed precipitating?)

n any case, on the crossing street, the objects of our hearts desire came into view. The crowd went into a frenzy, taking group photos with iPhones in front of the balloons that were encased in netting to keep them from blowing away before the parade even started. There were big balloons, very big balloons and gigantic balloons. One was leaking and being repaired by a crew.

I, of course, took some pictures too, set out below, and we headed home to prepare for the actual parade on Thanksgiving Day. More about that in the next post.

Sign of the Times, Just Rude … or Both?

I have played Mr. Nice Guy about New York City for almost a year now, and that has been genuine. I actually do enjoy living here. At times though, it’s like being a menhaden or other schooling fish. You go where the other fish go and try to stay out of their way when they, driven by mysterious forces, suddenly decide to change direction. If you prefer a flocking bird metaphor, that’s fine too.

So, it’s time to unload a few frustrations. I’m pretty sure these are not unique to New York. I am reliably advised that Washington DC has similar issues but, having lived in the Virginia suburbs for several decades, I mostly steered clear of DC.

There are four things: blocking the sidewalk, wearing giant backpacks on the subway, removing shoes at the ballet and, last but certainly not least, making out during a Broadway show.

First, the sidewalks. Even people who’ve never been here have seen enough movies to know that NYC is crowded. There are people everywhere, often in large numbers, and they are usually in a hurry. Yesterday, a Sunday, the area around Macy’s and Herald Square was mobbed. I have written about the rushing before, but this issue is about … not rushing. It’s about people who are walking along and suddenly stop to look at a life-changing text message … or to send one they just thought of – or to catch up on the news, or, more likely, to check again since the last time five minutes ago to see if a friend has posted anything new on Facebook or Instagram. These people seem to be oblivious to the fact that there are other people trying to use the same sidewalk to which they have now staked an adverse possession (legal term, sorry) claim. Another variation occurs at the city’s numerous hotels when departing guests, waiting for their rides, park their suitcases in the middle of the sidewalk while they chat, smoke or, yet again, check their phones for incoming messages of earth-shattering importance while ignoring the other pedestrians just trying to get somewhere. There oughta be a law.

Second, I get the idea that people want to carry a lot of stuff when moving around the city. People need their work papers and, of course, laptops, iPads and other “devices.” I also see a lot of water bottles (in case there is a water shortage) and enough “stuff” to support a Himalayan expedition. If you have to carry all that stuff, take the damn thing off and place it between your feet or clutch it to your chest. Anything but occupying the space of two people when, as is often the case, there is only room for one-half a person in the first place. I think the city should revise its passenger counts for subway usage to include an extra person for every large backpack. The data would then show that more people used the subway than could possibly fit in the total available space unless they were stacked in their like logs. Well, they often are.

Third, and now we’re getting down to the serious stuff, there is removal of shoes at the ballet. Admittedly, I have only seen this once (at Lincoln Center, mind you; Lincoln Center!!), but it has stuck with me like a bad dream ever since:

I suspect this person was sending the message, “see my damaged feet? I’m a dancer too.” But, to quote Rhett Butler, frankly, madam, I don’t give a damn. I didn’t pay all that money to look at your bare feet during the performance.  Or during intermission, or any other time, for that matter. Keep your bare feet to yourself. Please!

Finally, and this one was probably more disturbing than the others combined because it went on, and on …  and on. We went to see the Broadway musical King Kong. I wrote a blog post about the show which was wonderful. The couple sitting in front of us, estimated to be in their late 20’s or early 30’s, could not keep their hands off of each other. They were snuggling, kissing and hugging, and whispering in each other’s ears, throughout the show. He repeatedly put his arm around her, then after a bout of whatever, made a big show of removing his arm, swinging it up in front of my face.

They were oblivious to everyone around them, implying that they behave this way in public all the time. Yet, every time Kong appeared or did something spectacular, the young man hooted and yelled like he was in a country bar. And the guy was incredibly tall so all the sideways movement as he and his lovely came together and separated left me constantly shifting in my seat to see around his moving head. The people behind me could not have been happy either. Then, at the end of the show and while the curtain was still descending, the pair was out of their seats like a shot, not willing to take even a minute to participate in the standing ovation so richly deserved by the cast.

So, there it is. I feel better. I think. Maybe not. Continuing the Gone With the Wind theme, Vivien Leigh famously said, “tomorrow is another day.” It is, but will it be better? It will. We have tickets to The Band’s Visit and the Nutcracker. And it’s a new ballet season. Does Amazon sell blinders for humans?

A Classic New York Tale – The Taxi Ride

I am headed out in mid-morning to a business meeting downtown on Broadway to which I am anxious to arrive as planned. I exit my apartment building and walk a few hundred feet down West 59th Street to 9th Avenue. A truck is sitting at the curb, so I move to the left, toward uptown, on 9th to hail a cab. There is one right there and I hop in.

He immediately turns right on West 59th. Taxis and Ubers often do this to go downtown on 11th Avenue that is often less congested than 9th, so the turn is not completely unexpected. I am a bit surprised when the driver stops on 59th to consult his phone regarding the route to take to Broadway, but maybe he’s just checking traffic flows.

I settle into the minimalist back seat area left to the passenger from the thick divider that separates the front and back of many New York City taxis and houses various electronics central to a modern taxi service. I pull out my trusty phone and, as often happens, fall into the magical reverie of news and other things that it delivers wherever I am.

Then, something tells me that we aren’t moving as I had expected. I look up. Instead of turning downtown on 11th Avenue, the taxi has turned right on 10th, right on 62nd and is back on 9th Avenue but further uptown than where he picked me up initially! We have been moving for about 10 minutes, there is $5.00 on the meter and I am further from my destination than when I got into the cab!

I ask the driver who at first seems oblivious to my presence but then acknowledges that, yes, we are back on 9th but he’s going to turn east on West 60th. Now I get it. We have circled around multiple blocks so he can enter Broadway at Columbus Circle that happens to house the subway station that I could have walked to and been at my destination by now. We drive through Columbus Circle. The meter now reads $9, just to get as far as West 58th and Broadway that is .2 miles from my apartment! We have driven .9 miles to get to Broadway!

Fortunately for me, the rest of the ride went fairly quickly with the usual dodging, swerving and mutual horn honking that accompanies a taxi in a hurry. The final tab turned out to be $10.80. I resisted the urge to leave a tip, something I hate to do. This was, however, too much to bear. Do I look that much like a tourist ready to be taken for a ride? I suppose it’s possible although I have been approached many times since arriving in this great city by people who were obviously lost or at a loss to navigate the street grid.

It happens even on the subway. I was really impressed the first few times that someone, anyone, would approach me to ask directions, often in a foreign language. A few days before I had taken the subway back to Columbus Circle from somewhere and observed a late-middle-aged couple in the belly of the Columbus Circle subway station clearly unclear as to how to get out and where to go. I offered to help, with a smile to assure them I wasn’t a hostile. They seemed to have German accents and said they were looking for the Plaza Hotel. I said, “You mean THE Plaza Hotel? That’s really a fancy place.” They looked at me like I was an idiot, with no apparent interest in a conversation about their taste in hotels. They just wanted directions. I gave them and left them to their fate. When I emerged from the elevator into the Circle, there they were stepping off in the direction I had indicated. The scales of injustice were balanced.

This story has no moral, though I think it helps explain the popularity of Uber, Lyft and the other ride-hailing services in this city. The cars are generally more comfortable and, in my experience, you don’t generally get the “drive around” because the fee is set before you start. Well, maybe there is a moral. Pay attention!