Saturday, September 29, 2012

Busy Gal

If you're wondering why I haven't been around much lately and why I'm rewarding myself with a trip to Burma at Christmas, there are a few reasons.

Teaching, working, and oh yeah, this. I've got another six weeks to write it. If I had six months, I'm pretty sure I'd get it. Six weeks...? Ack.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I've been calling the United Airlines frequent flyer call center a lot the last few days. I didn't even mean to end up with United. I'm a Continental frequent flyer—Newark is my home airport, so this makes sense as Newark is a Continental hub. But airlines become other airlines as corporations merge and change. And so I found myself a United customer, with enough miles to go to Burma over the Christmas holiday, which is no longer under the shadow of a tourism boycott.

Of course, it's one thing to have the miles. It's an entirely different thing to get the empty seats over the holiday season, when everyone else wants them too. 

But not being able to do something only makes me want it more. So there are no seats from the East Coast to Burma. Big deal! I'll just fly the wrong way around the world. 

I am now flying from Dulles (near my mother's) on Christmas Eve, via Paris to Bangkok to Burma. Silly, but hey, it works. 

The return was a lot tougher. I need to be back to teach class on January 8th. If I taught on Thursday or Friday, this would have been much easier as there are seats available after the 8th. But that isn't an option.

I'll be starting my trip in Bangkok on the return. I'm stopping over to get my teeth cleaned and buying some more zebra T-shirts. And getting lots of Thai massages. 

But the only return I could find across either the Pacific or Atlantic was via Tokyo. Tokyo! That's a long way from Bangkok. A long expensive way. 

I relentlessly pieced together options for a few days. I annoyed people at the MileagePlus center. I hung up on one slower specialist who simply couldn't keep up with what I pieced together. The computer wouldn't do it—it needed someone to input it manually. See if you can figure out why.

I have it now. 

Crazy, yes. But considering I traveled from Tahiti to Newark via Auckland and Japan last year, this seems almost reasonable. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Don't Ask

I spotted this in Millville, New Jersey. Hmmm, what? I think it was a junk shop.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Down South

After walking the Triborough Bridge last weekend, I raced home on the train to get my car and drive south. My mother and her husband were on a short holiday to the beach and had made the trip as far north as Millville, which isn't too far from the Cape May ferry to Delaware. I was around there a few years ago when I went to Wildwood.

My 1990 Ford caused me no problems, though we hadn't driven farther than South Orange, NJ, for a couple of years, but the thing that hooks the cigarette lighter into the speaker system seems to have come undone (probably during aggressive vacuuming at the car wash). I was too lazy to crawl around and look, so it was radio-only on the drive.

I stayed overnight on the pull-out sofa bed at the Holiday Inn, and we went for a hike in the morning. Driving around, I missed the days when I had to cover nearly every inch of the state, while researching Best in Tent Camping: New Jersey.

I was home by three on Sunday, ready to prepare for teaching on Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Walking the Triborough Bridge

I joined the MTA Transit Museum for 2012. My point was originally to surprise a photographer I knew with a trip to the abandoned City Hall subway station...but that didn't work out as planned, or rather, it would definitely have been a surprise at the point at which the trips became available. Nevertheless, it's been completely rewarding. Michael Kraiger and I went on the City Hall tour, and I went alone on the trip to the old trolley terminal under Delancey Street.

On Saturday, I went with a group of 22 pedestrians across the Triborough Bridge, which is now officially RFK Bridge (rolls eyes, whatever). This was great. I took the PATH to 14th Street and walked over to Union Square to catch the 4 train to 125th Street. The group met at Second Avenue, at a corner I'd never been to on foot. Our guide from the Greater Astoria Historical Society led us up over the Harlem River, while two interns and the coordinator wrangled us.

We walked across the first section, the Harlem River lift bridge, then onto Randalls Island, which is also Wards Island due to the miracle of landfill. From there, we walked under the Bronx Kill bridge section, then finally crossed the East River to Astoria on the suspension bridge, oogling railway trains of Hells Gate in the distance.

The rest of the group headed to a beer hall at that point, but I walked two blocks to the subway and headed back to Herald Square, to catch the PATH home. A BBQ festival was going on across the street from my apartment building, but the lines were too long, and I had to get in my car to head to South Jersey.

I loved the bridge hike! The guide was knowledgeable and informative, and I can't say that it ever occurred to me to walk over the Triborough Bridge before.

The guide is leading a trip across Marine Parkway Bridge out in the Rockaways in a few week. That I can guarantee I never thought of doing before. I'm pretty busy right now, but I hope I can go on that.

I've put up more photos here. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Please, No Photos

I went on an official tour of the Triborough Bridge yesterday, which was fantastic. I'll share some photos tomorrow.

But I found this kind of startling, on the Astoria side.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

For Sale

Remember my old condo, the one I renovated and sold from 2002-2006 with Turbo the Aussie, Al my contractor friend, and Michael Kraiger?

Turbo did the lion's share of the work. He'd built two homes in Australia and just couldn't sit still.

I sold it in December of 2006, squeaking in just under the wire before winter set in, before the new season would bring a slow market followed by mortgage meltdowns.

I cut it close. Real close. Had I sold a year earlier, I'd have gotten twenty-thousand more dollars. But inertia had hold of me. I wouldn't have sold at all if the other owners in my building had been less keen to tear off the roof and bill me thousands of dollars rather than re-doing the flashing.

They did me a favor, in the end. Shortly thereafter, they voted to double the monthly fee, and then after they were done with the new roof, Jersey City walloped them with a hugely increased tax bill. I scooted out and moved to Cairo in the nick of time. The couple that had spearheaded the new roof sold and moved at a loss of about $100,000. To which I adopt Schadenfreude and say: Genius. 

My old condo came on the market a few days ago. I was amused to read that the pressed steel that I'd ordered from, that Al had hammered up and Turbo had carefully glued the seams of and then painted, is being advertised as original tin. The "original medallions" are original all right, right from Home Depot.

But yes, the ceilings are high, the heart pine floors are original (carefully preserved under lead paint that I had sanded up in 2002), and the picture rails are original. The "stone" mantel might be stone--it's actually slate, but maybe stone and slate are the same thing. I'm not sure about the terminology. The gray of the mantel is paint. I'd tried taking off the top white layer to get at the marble underneath, and was surprised when the oil-based hand marbling came off in my hands.

We renovated some here, on this blog, over the years, piece by piece. Maybe the new buyers will find us one day. And if they do, I hope they don't mind that I think it's currently overpriced given the comps of recently sold units past Coles Street. But it is unique and lovely, and there's not much like it in condos since most people gut-renovated rather than restored—maybe someone will fall in love with it and won't mind the cost.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Guilty of Not Serving

I had to do jury duty last week, and so I traipsed up the hill to the courthouse, dreading getting picked for something that dragged on for weeks. I was selected as an alternate for a jury in a civil suit in Manhattan in the nineties, but back then, I was paid by my job (Marvel) for every day I was on jury duty. Now, as a freelancer, if I don't work, I don't get paid.

And if don't work, my schedule goes to hell.

I thought I could work while waiting in the jury pool room, but we were up and down, up and down, constantly taking the escalator, walking across the parking lot, and going through the metal detectors into the old courthouse for potential service. Then you answer questions or listen to something, and then head back down the stairs, across the parking lot, through the metal detector, up the escalator, sign back in.

I was lucky—I was called over to two trials, but was released from both. And at the end of the day, the service was over. They were not selecting new juries the next day. We were all free to go home.


In the ladies room at the jury pool center
Spotted this on the walk home

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Signs of the Times

Sales have picked where I live—I'm starting to worry I waited too long to buy again—and rents have recently skyrocketed.

Things have turned a corner this time, and they aren't going back. There's a giant apartment building and a Starbucks where Nancy shot film of me under a church's "Jesus died for our sins" sign in 1990. Puerto Rican bars are now craft beer bars. Young white people fill the restaurants on Friday and Saturday nights. People still get mugged occasionally, but we have a Barcade and an actual nice gym that I go to for the pilates and yoga. We even have food trucks that win prizes over in the Big City!

I'm not sure if that makes it all "over" or somehow better. I don't know. I do know that JC isn't hideous like the East Village became by the time I left, and there's still a lot of local characters and a lot of heart here in JC along with the new craft beer spots. Possibly by the very nature of us being the outsiders, the Jersey of the auxiliary boroughs, we can't be but so cool. We have Jersey in our name, even. Here's one sign things have changed. PBR on a bicycle, safely locked to an iron gate in front of a brownstone.

And this, fancy food at the Cuban joint that's been around since before I first got here in 1988.

But this is somewhat heartening. In 2008, I looked at an $850 a month rental over by my garage, and that no longer exists downtown. But rents aren't totally insane. $1200 a month including heat just outside Manhattan is still pretty great. Maybe not if you live in Detroit or Dayton, but here, it's a bargain.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Online Without Being Online

An article about tech "off-the-grid" went up today on Ars Technica. I'm quoted on page 2.

Cool, right?

And then I read the comments. My god, why do I do this to myself? I nearly wrote back a long-winded explanation of just how common mobile phone signals are in Africa, Asia, near Pacific Islands, and how not everyone is driving a vehicle that can carry a chainsaw, but of course, there's no point. Why get into arguments with strangers on the Internet? I can talk to my office from the back of a taxi in Congo with a goat on my lap even when there's no data on my SIM. Do I really need to prove that to a random stranger who went somewhere for a holiday and felt that qualified him to challenge people's use of Kindles in small towns in Nicaragua?

Probably not. 

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Looking Forward to the Next Incarnation

My favorite neighborhood restaurant is gone now. It was on the corner behind BASIC, by my house, and I'd call from the PATH train in the evenings, place an order for a cauliflower and potato dish in spicy tomato mixture, and pick it up with rice ten minutes later to eat at home.

The proprietor hadn't let on that they might suddenly close, and I'd been in just a few days before. I'd seen the business for sale on a website, but pretty much all restaurants in JC are for sale, so I didn't take that too seriously.

Rumor on the street is that the owner of the space and the owner of the restaurant had a falling-out, which isn't entirely surprising as the other rumor over the years has been that the owner of the space has had a lot of falling outs, and wasn't well liked by his staff when he ran his own restaurant there some years back. Several restaurants had tried out the space before Parkside was there for several years. All failed—I think it's that the rent is obscenely high—but the highlight was the one that tried hilariously awful dinner theater. The waiters were also the actors. Yancey, Roberta, and I went once, had a good laugh, and never mustered up the energy to try again.

I'm sad to see Parkside Bistro go, especially because the other reliable stand-by, Embankment, went at the same time. Plus, I was the mayor on Foursquare. I guess I'll be the mayor forever now.