Saturday, September 7, 2013

Shrug In The City Part VI - Underground & Into The Nexus

My last romp around town ended with my heading the wrong way up Lexington Boulevard on a bicycle at midnight.  New York offers a strangely sense of safety at night.  There are fewer cabs to run you over and there are many people out walking and riding bicycles.  While the City looks great awash in lighting, I really wanted to get out to see the sights in daylight.  My work schedule cooperated this week and offered me a rare chance to get out into the heart of the city with enough daylight to actually see it.  The irony here is that I headed straight into the subway.

There's an entire
sub (no pun intended) culture under the streets of Manhattan an for a few bucks, you can ride around and see it all. While I waited for the train, I listened to and watched two old black men and a woman playing congas and djembe drums.  From a distance, their drumming sounded muddy and random.  When I stood closer and listened, the number they were playing was clear and precise.  They finished that number, people applauded, and they started another one - which sounded exactly like the one they just finished.  Fortunately, my train was arriving.  I hopped on the E line and headed south to the line's end, at the former World Trade Center and current Freedom Tower site.  The ride down was uneventful.  I didn't expect any real excitement, but I remember it being more interesting years ago.

Prior to my IBM days, I was self employed and worked a project at Grand Central Station and at the Hyatt Regency next door.  During the Grand Central portion of the project, I had to fend for myself for lodging in Manhattan - among the most expensive hotel cities in the country.  Being self employed, I remembered the epiphany I experienced when I started traveling for my own company:  The less money I spent, the more I kept.  Simple, I know.  But to this point in time, I had lived a travel career wherein my expenses were covered by my employers and all I had to do was live within their somewhat liberal expense guidelines.  It was radically different when every penny I spent was one less that I could bank.  I learned that many apartment dwellers sublet rooms to travelers for much less than hotels cost.  For $120 a night, I had a fold out couch, access to the kitchen, and basic cable.  the left $30 per day for food to remain in my budget.  The apartment was pretty far south from Grand Central Station, so each morning, I took the subway in.  The first few trips underground were somewhat unnerving, but after a week or so, I was so accustomed to the routine that I could sleep on the train and automatically wake up at my stop.  That's how I knew I had been in the City too long.  When the pace, the noise, and the general chaos cease to get to you, it's time to leave.  Fortunately, when I started the Hyatt portion of the project, the hotel gave me a room for free, but without housekeeping services.  At $300 or more per night, housekeeping was absolutely inconsequential.

Freedom Tower
Flash forward eight years to present day and here I am again among the locals in the subway.  Honestly, the people underground are not much different than those above.  On the surface, nobody looks anyone in the eye - except me and to add insult to insanity, I smile.  On the subway nobody even looks up.  They just stare at their iPods, their iPads, their phones, and at floor.  On my trip to the World Trade Center, one crusty elderly man wore an disheveled ball cap embroidered with the America's Most Wanted TV show logo.  As I looked at him (which was easy because he certainly wasn't looking up), I wondered if the hat was a souvenir of a fan or if he was a subject of the show.  He got off the train before I got the balls to take his picture.

I got off the train myself at the World Trade Center stop near Fulton Street.  When you climb out of the subway to street level at the end of the E line, the new Freedom Tower is the first thing you see. It's an impressive structure, but it struck me odd that it stood singularly where the twin towers once stood.  I had the opportunity to visit the site back when it was still referred to as Ground Zero.  It was a moving place back then.  Today, it's a sterile construction site.  The new tower is pretty impressive nonetheless.


The tower stands directly across the street from St. Paul's Churchyard and cemetery, erected in 1766. 
The tombstones were so old and faded that the inscriptions were illegible.  While several buildings in the vicinity of the World Trade Center were damaged to the point they had to be leveled, St. Paul's church didn't even suffer a broken window.  Looking back and forth between the tower and the church really drove home the architectural contrast that is the essence of Manhattan.

Since I was this far south in the City with time to kill, I thought I'd make my way to a New York location that I had planned to see every time I've been in the City, but never took the time.  As much as my Throw Mommma trip taught me to regret not taking the time to take the pictures, my Alaskapade trip taught me just how much taking time is worth the time.  Of all the sights to see in the City, one I've had my eye on for years is the intersection of 1st Avenue and 1st Street.  In New York, the Avenues run north and south while the Streets run east and west.  Made famous by the Seinfeld show, the intersection of 1st & 1st was dubbed "the Nexus of the Universe" and has been a quirky tourist attraction ever since.  After getting my fill of the Freedom Tower area, I headed in what I thought was the right direction and took in the scenery as I walked.  Turns out, it wasn't the right direction.  In fact, I was southeast of Zucatti Park.  Eventually, I remembered I had a GPS receiver in my phone.  Here I was wandering (seemingly aimlessly) in New york City where I was hired to deploy a wireless network with embedded location intelligence and I failed to remember I had the ability to locate most anything in the civilized world - in my pocket.  I entered the famous intersection into my phone's Scout GPS application and apparently overlooked the fact that my walking route to the Nexus would be a hike that would exceeded three miles.  There were taxis everywhere and a bus stop or subway entry at almost every corner.  And yet, I walked.
The route, long and ponderous as it was, seemed short and almost deliberate because of all the scenery.  The district courthouse is an enormous and impressive structure.  What struck me most about it was the inscription at the top.

I walked away wishing someone would explain this concept to Eric Holder.  But I digress.

I eventually stumbled into Chinatown on Canal Street.  Canal Street is famous for its knockoff copies of fashion and accessories, both of which are about as necessary to me as reputation and cooth are to Miley Cyrus.  In just a few blocks, I was offered Rolex watches, exotic colognes, purses and clutches from designers I've never heard of, and pot.  I popped into a closet sized shop fronted by an energetic and friendly Asian kid who knew how to spin a deal.  Inside, I found a cool black scarf with white skulls that would look awesome in a band photo, but realistically stands as much a chance of me actually wearing it as Obama disclosing his college transcripts.  I did buy a cute purse for Brooke because even a three year old girl can't have too many purses and she isn't concerned with a designer name.  All she needs is a place to stash the things she deems important at the start of her day.  I could write endlessly about Brooke and the contents of her purses.


Heading north on Mulberry Street led me from Chinatown into Little Italy.  I don't recall Italy being so close to any Asian country on any of my globes, or even on a Mercator map for that matter.  As scenic as Little Italy is, the scenery can't hold a candle to the smell.  It seemed like every other door on both sides of Mulberry were restaurants or bakeries.  I think I gained three pounds just sniffing the air there.  Little Italy feels like the real deal, or at least it does to me as a casual tourist.  Most of the buildings and art work were Italian in decor and in their messages.  Then I ran across this odd alien piece of work on the side of a building that belonged in the neighborhood about as much as I belong in the City.

This graffiti notwithstanding, entering ethnic areas like this really drives home the fact that you're in the melting pot of the universe.  I was that much closer to my goal of standing in the Nexus.

After the thrill of Little Italy wore off, I was back on track on my hunt for the Nexus.  My feet were starting to hurt and the arthritis in my right knee was flaring up, but the still the environment offered plenty of distractions.  I walked on, turning left and right as the mood struck me.  Eventually, I grew weary of meandering and decided to follow the lights and make as straight as possible path to 1st St.  I was stuck by the number of unattended kids on the streets.  Granted, it was after school hours, but some of these kids were barely teens and there were a few young children alone on the subway. Most were on skateboards; a few on bicycles.  Apparently, nobody roller blades in New York.  Come to think of it, does anyone roller blade anywhere anymore?  I suppose letting kids learn their way around the big City is common for City kids.  I know I was reticent to let my boys cross the street in Rowlett, much less cross a city like Manhattan. 
Walking eastward on 1st St, I counted down the street names with considerably less interest in the architecture and other surroundings.  4th Ave, 3rd Ave, 2nd, Ave…I could see the next intersection ahead and pulled my camera out in anticipation.  As I approached, I strained to read the street sign at the corner on the opposite side of the street from me.  Peretz?!  What the fuck is Peretz Street?!  Where is 1st?  I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at my GPS, which clearly indicated that the intersection of 1st and 1st was directly ahead.  New York has a knack for renaming streets in certain parts of town.  Sixth Avenue is known as Avenue of the Americas in some intersections and then it goes back to being called 6th.  They also occasionally interrupt the numbering sequence for noun names.  In mid town, there’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Lexington, Madison, Park, and then 4th.  Remembering these two facts, I continued to the intersection with cautions optimism.

As I approached the corner, I saw what I was looking for; a pole adorned with signs for 1st Ave and 1st St.  1st and 1st – the Nexus of the Universe!  There are no other markings or any fanfare whatsoever.  The locals probably don’t even get the fascination with it.  In fact, I was speaking with the owner of a small shop I stopped into that had really cool one-of-a-kind colored custom glass pieces and mentioned I was heading to 1st and 1st.  She looked at me puzzled and asked “Why would you go there?” My attempted explanation made about as much sense to her as liberalism makes to me.  Again I digress.  As I stood at the corner, I figured I was probably the only one there who actually gave a damn about the sign.  I figured wrong.  As I was contemplating how to climb on top of the trash barrel next to the signpost for a photo, I was approached by an unshaven, casually dressed man who committed the unpardonable sin (in Manhattan) of making eye contact.  In New York, I usually wear my don’t fuck with me scowl to ward off the panhandlers.  Around home, they just call it my face.  Anyway, I suppose I let my guard down because this guy spoke up (albeit hesitantly) and said “excuse me” with a thick foreign accent.  Forgetting my scowl, we struck up a conversation about the famous intersection. 
Nick from Australia
He told me that he was from Australia and had been taking the Jerry Seinfeld tour across New York, getting photos at all of the known Seinfeld fan spots.  The Nexus of the Universe was his last stop and his iPhone battery died.  I offered to take his photo and email it to him.  He was genuinely grateful and added his friends would be envious as he showed me his Manhattan map with all the spots marked.  The map was scribbled with circles around the locations for Jerry’s apartment, the dry cleaners, Monk’s Diner, the Soup Nazi’s kitchen, and many more that I can’t recall.  Here I was all proud of myself for finding this one spot and this guy had got them all.  I took his email address, we shook hands and parted ways, and I headed north towards mid town and my hotel.  After I left, I thought about it and it pissed me off that he did all that and I didn’t.  So, I trashed his email address and deleted the pictures.  I’m kidding.  I emailed his photos that evening and he replied with the ones posted at the end of this entry.  If you read this Nick, it was a pleasure making your acquaintance.

Seinfeld Tourists

One of Nick's Seinfeld Maps

Shrug at the Gates of Hell
My goal for the day satiated, my stomach suddenly reminded me that I had not eaten all day.  I decided to keep an eye out for someplace good to eat as I made my way north, zigzagging with the pedestrian lights.  I turned west on 3rd and came across another cultural icon, at least to an uncultured biker like myself.  I noticed several nice Harleys parked along the street and stopped to take a picture of one.  Then I saw it.  On the battery cover of this particular bike was a sticker that read Hells Angels New York Chapter.  I reconsidered taking the photo and immediately took two steps back from the bike.  Hells Angels members expect the same respect for their rides as they do for their members and I wouldn’t take a photo of a member without his permission.  I turned to the west again and looked up to see the sign on the door.  This was the NYC Hells Angles clubhouse.  Everything about the place said go away and yet I just stood there.  I walked across the street, snapped a few pictures, and waited to see if anyone cared before continuing on to forage for food.

I came to the intersection of 2nd St and 3rd Ave when my phone rang.  It was my friend
Scottie.  I told him where I was and what I had just seen and he was about as excited to hear about it as you probably are reading about it.  Unmoved, he said there was a great Ukrainian restaurant at 2nd Ave and 9th St. (Confusing, isn’t it?)  I was heading north on 2nd so it was on my route.  I looked at the menu and after determining that I couldn’t make sense of anything on it, I passed.  I am not a sophisticated guy and my pallet is especially simple.  There were several
colorful places along 2nd Ave.  One Mexican place caught my eye and I went in, but the odor was so strong I went right back out.  Mexican food is supposed to stink after you eat it, not before.  Why would a Texan eat Mexican food in New York City anyway?  A block down was a place called Dallas Bar B Que.  Hey, it’s Dallas!  It must be good.  The place had a good crowd, but I was in the mood for something lighter.  I stopped into a small bar and ordered a burger served on an English muffin, with bacon, provolone, and a fried egg.  Oh, and a side of fries.  So much for eating light.  This was one good, sloppy burger; worth every calorie.  Besides, I drank water to make it healthier.

Somehow, I made my way over to Fifth Ave and realized that I had been there before.  In
fact, I was close to another cultural icon that I had passed by on a previous outing; The Museum of Sex!  This time I decided to go in for a look.  I didn’t actually go into the museum itself.  The gift shop was pretty interesting on its own.  There, I met a pale skinny chick who didn’t seem to mind me staring at her boobs.  I took her lack of repulsion as a good sign until I realized she was a mannequin.  It figures because the only women in this town who view me as a piece of meat are vegetarian lesbians.

It was dark by the time I left the museum, so I decided to head back to the hotel for a beer, some arthritis pain relief tablets, and a Clorox shower.  My plan was to catch another subway back to 53rd St, but I was close enough to just walk the rest of the way.  As I walked, I passed several great photo opportunities and continued to play tourist.  All in all, I traversed, the financial district, Chinatown, Little Italy, SoHo, NoHo, Greenwich Village, the East Village, Lower East Side, the Bowery, Two Bridges, Gramercy Park, and Murray Hill.  In doing all this, I walked over six miles and it didn't feel like a foot over twenty.

I shot the photos posted below randomly throughout the day.  I'm glad I followed my own advice and took the time to take the time.

Coming soon: Shrug in the City - The Harlem Shuffle.

Old Good Things!

Interesting Looking Residence on 3rd St. - Next Photo Explains It
This Sign Was in the Window of the Camper

Clever Name!

The Answer is No.


Don't We All?!

So THIS is Where All the Taxis Get Their Gas!

Just a Cool Old Building

I Should Wear Socks More Often

This "Gallery" Consisted of Eight T-Shirts
The View Through a Peep Hole in a Twelve Foot High Iron Church Wall

Dusk in the City
Nightfall in the City That Never Sleeps