We’re back from New York. It may take a while for My Darling B to adjust. “It’s so quiet here! No car horns, no rumbling as the trains go by, and there’s nobody walking down the street!”

First thing she asked for when we got back was coffee. No matter where we went in New York City, we got really crappy coffee that tasted like cardboard.

It was much the same story with beer. We stopped in just one bar that served decent beer. Everywhere else, the beer was bland and ordinary. You’d think that, in one of the biggest cities in the world, we would’ve been able to get a decent cup of coffee and a decent mug of beer, but no. We had to come back to Madison, Wisconsin, to get both.

Even so, we had a great time and we miss it already.

Abingdon Square

image of Abingdon Square in NYCIf you’re a pigeon in the Chelsea area of New York City (because so many pigeons read this blog, right?), don’t trust the guy with a box who throws bread crumbs to you in Abingdon Square!

While I was sitting on a park bench with My Darling B Wednesday morning, a man passed by us carrying a cardboard box and several plastic bags. He went round the corner to sit at an empty bench not twenty feet from us, set the cardboard box beside him on the bench and began digging around in one of the plastic bags.

“There aren’t any signs in this park asking people not to feed the pigeons,” B remarked, referring to a sign we saw in Central Park the day before, a sign that virtually everyone there was ignoring.

Just as she finished saying that, the man stood up from his bench and began scattering bread crumbs on the ground around his feet. Pigeons flew from as far as a block away to gather in a busy, fluttering knot around him, pecking at the crumbs. While we watched him feed the birds he looked over at us, smiled, and pointed down at them while he said something, but we couldn’t make out his words over the noise of so many beating wings and busily pecking beaks.

Eventually, he took a seat on the bench as he continued to scatter crumbs across the ground around him. Then he paused, I presumed because he’d thrown out so many crumbs that the pigeons were crawling over each other trying to pick it all up, but no: He suddenly lunged forward, reaching into the teeming throng with his hands. The whole mass of them to exploded into flight all at once. When the air cleared, the guy was standing with his hands straight out in front of him, holding a pigeon which he quickly shoved through the flaps of the cardboard box beside him.

Smiling at us again to take his leave, he packed up his things, grabbed the box and sauntered off. Looked like someone had a dinner of squab planned for that night.


<img src="" align="left" width="300" B jumped a subway turnstile yesterday! Can you get a more authentic New York experience than that? And it only happened because we weren’t paying attention.

We had to catch the train at the Christopher Street station and went down the wrong set of stairs, ending up on the platform for the train that was headed uptown instead of downtown, so we had to leave the platform, climb up the stairs, cross the street and go back down the other set of stairs to the platform where the downtown train would meet us, if our Metro cards had let us in when we got there. They didn’t. Apparently, if you swipe your card at any given station, it won’t work there again, at least not for while. We don’t know how long, exactly, because there was no attendant to ask, and no matter how thoroughly we searched the station, we couldn’t find a helpful sign or informational poster to tell us.

So we did what any reasonable people would do in our situation: We uselessly swiped our Metro cards a couple dozen times each, getting the same stupid error message over and over again, until finally I caved and bought a couple of one-way tickets from the machine, handed one to B, swiped mine in the turnstile and stepped through. Once on the platform I turned to say something to B, only to discover she wasn’t there. Given our luck up to that point, I can hardly say I was surprised. Turned out she was still back on the other side of the turnstile, swiping her card.

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” I said.

“It says, ‘See attendant,'” she told me, reading the error message.

There was, as I have already noted, no attendant at the station, so I told her, “Screw it! Jump the turnstile!”

That didn’t go over very well with her. “There are cameras everywhere!” she protested. “I’ll get in trouble!”

“How will you get in trouble?” I asked. “We paid for the ticket. Jump the damned thing.”

She wasn’t quite up to jumping it – we’re not twenty years old any more – so she ducked under the bar and joined me on the platform, nervously glancing over her shoulder at every person who walked past us. When we got off at the next station she was sure there would be a transit cop waiting for her, which would have been the perfect ending to this story, but there wasn’t. She got away scott-free.

Architecture tour

image of sailboat on East River, NYCOn Tuesday, we took a boating tour all the way around the island of Manhattan.

(That’s not the boat we did it in. It’s only a cool-looking boat that got in the snapshot I was taking of the Brooklyn Bridge. I took photos of the boat we went in, but they were really boring, so I used this one instead. Artistic license. Deal with it.)

About a month before we left for New York City, I was paging through The New York Times when I read about a guided tour of New York that focused on the architecture of the buildings making up the skyline. The advantage to doing it in a boat that sailed up the East River and down the Hudson was that you could see the skyline at a distance and gain an appreciation of how architecture tried, or sometimes failed, to design buildings that compliment their surroundings.

The boat we rode in was a replica of the kind of passenger boats that used to ferry people back and forth across the rivers around New York a hundred years ago. To catch it, we had to walk from our hotel in the heart of Chelsea to the piers along the shore of the Hudson. Most of the piers along this stretch of the river were demolished years ago, and the few that were still standing appeared to be derelict, except for Chelsea Piers. The piers used to be where the luxury liners of the White Star Line and Cunard Line docked in the 20s and 30s. Four of the piers have been rebuilt into a sort of community center where you can play golf, drop off your kids for gym class, stop by for a beer at the Chelsea Brewing Company, or catch a boat to sail around the island.

Our guide, an architect named John from the American Institute of Architects, sort of rocked my world when he referred to New York City as an archipelago city. I’ve known for years that Manhattan’s an island, but somehow it escaped me that, of the other four boroughs that make up the city of New York, only the Bronx is on the mainland. Brooklyn and Queens are on Long Island, and Staten Island is, duh, an island.

We sailed south from Chelsea Piers on the Hudson River into New York Harbor, far enough to take us past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. I hate to have to say something as cliched as this, but the statue looks so small! I’m surprised more than ten people can get into it at a time. And John pointed out an interesting fact about the pedestal the statue’s mounted on: it’s modeled after a fortress. America’s shining beacon of freedom is penned up within the stone walls of a reinforced battlement. The ironies of our country’s metaphors never cease to amaze.

The tour continued up the East River from the harbor. It was just about this time that it started to rain, but luckily the boat we were on was boxed in on all sides by plexiglass. We spent about three hours sailing all the way up the East River past Harlem and back down the Hudson, following the sites as we went. An interesting part of the tour (interesting to a nerd like me) was looking at all the different kinds of bridges we sailed under as we went. And the Palisades along the New Jersey shore looked strangely primeval after being surrounded by skyscrapers for the better part of two hours.

Grand Central Terminal

image of Grand Central TerminalWe went to Grand Central Station Tuesday night and, while we were there, ate supper at the Oyster Bar. Grand Central Terminal was one of those must-see tourist destinations we had to check off our list and, if I were here with a bunch of train nerds, I probably would’ve wanted to spend more time exploring the tunnels that branch off in all directions from the great hall but, being here as an ordinary tourist with My Darling B, we just went in, gawped up at the ceiling, took a couple of photos and left.

Luckily, Grand Central is not one of those places where they made us take off our shoes and belt and had to consent to a frisking just to get in and see it. This is only me talking but, if I were going to do the trip to New York City all over again, I would argue for not visiting any place like that. Grand Central’s still just a train station with thousands of people parading through it each day, so nobody’s getting frisked to get in, not yet, although there are soldiers with machine guns stationed in the hallways. I thought that was a little much.

Our guidebook says that the Oyster Bar has the best seafood in town. I hate to be a wet blanket, but if this is the best seafood in town, don’t even bother ordering seafood while you’re in New York. The Oyster Bar has seafood, and it’s not bad, but it’s not great. It’s not even pretty good. It’s good, and that’s about all it is. I’ve been served much better seafood in Madison, Wisconsin. No guidebook on earth has any business telling anybody that this is the best seafood in New York City.

But let me back up a little bit, if I may, and begin at the beginning, because The Oyster Bar’s problems don’t start with their inventory, they start with the service, which is bad in so many ways, the first way being that the host seemed to think it was his job to make us feel that we were about as significant to him as a couple of whiny kids, needing only to be shooed away so we wouldn’t sully the atmosphere for his better guests. As we approached his booth he stepped away to survey the dining room, so we waited a moment for him to return and, when he came back and I asked about a table for two, he pointed over my shoulder across the sandwich counter and gave me these instructions: “Through the doorway marked ‘Saloon.'” Not even a “please.” Just, Go away.

I was confused. I thought we were standing at the dining room and that he, the host, would seat us in the dining room, or at least tell me why he couldn’t serve us. A rude brush-off was not a response I expected, so I asked, rather reasonably, I thought, “Excuse me?”

“You wanted a table for two, right?”

“Yes, that’s right,” I answered.

“Go through the door marked ‘Saloon’ and ask for a table for two,” he said.

From his expression I could see that we were dismissed, so I turned and lead My Darling B across the room to the Saloon because she was hungry and wanted to eat at The Oyster Bar, even though I couldn’t understand for the life of me why she would want to at that point.

The Saloon was a bar with a dining room, and we were met at the door by a sullen teenager dressed in the all-white livery of a bus boy who asked whether we wanted to sit at a table and, when we said we did, waved his hand toward the tables along the wall and told us to sit wherever we wanted. And he threw a couple of menus at us. I can’t remember if he brought us water glasses or if the stink-eyed waiter did, but it doesn’t matter. Whoever it was filled our water glasses only once, and after that pretended we didn’t even have water glasses.

The waiter was the worst piece of work of all the staff. When he came to our table to take our drinks order, I was ready with mine but when he turned to B and she said she was still thinking and would like to order in a few minutes, he rolled his eyes at her and stalked off. When he brought my beer several minutes later, he avoided making any eye contact with B and rushed off before either of us could say anything. Ten minutes later he rushed back to our table and literally positioned himself with his back to B, pointedly addressing me and me alone when he asked if we were ready to order now. “I’ll have the calamari to start and the smoked North Atlantic salmon for my main course, and she would like the, ah, I’m sorry, darling, what did you want?” He was forced to twist his head over his shoulder to take B’s order because he refused to turn to face her.

When one of the kitchen staff brought the calamari about ten minutes later, B still didn’t have a beer and she’d already drunk all her water, but she managed to snag the kitchen runner before he could get away and asked him if he couldn’t check on it, please. He must have caught up with the waiter somewhere behind the scenes because Mister Stink Eye appeared another five minutes later with a foamy glass of beer that he left in a puddle on the table before he ran off. B wrinkled her nose at it when she brought it to her lips, took a tentative sip, thought about it for a second before passing it to me and asked, “Does that taste like a lager to you?” The smell alone told me it was an IPA. B doesn’t drink hoppy beers, so I offered her my Oktoberfest, which she accepted rather than wait another ten minutes for something to drink.

The smoked North Atlantic salmon I had was pretty good, but it was only pretty good, and it was served with a lame garnish of about half a dozen scallions on a limp leaf of lettuce. Maybe I’m asking for too much, but even back in Madison, where seafood has to be flown in from the coast, I expect a plate of smoked salmon that cost me nineteen ninety-five to make me want to get up on my chair and sing.

My Darling B ordered a lobster sandwich. They called it something a little more frou-frou than that, I can’t remember exactly what, but it was shredded lobster in mayo on a really cheap white bread hot dog bun. Looking at it, I could almost picture the plastic ice cream bucket they scooped it out of. B didn’t even want to finish it and offered about a scoop’s worth to me. There’s a good indication of how much she liked it: She ate some and threw the rest to her husband. I finished it off just to see what it was like and, again, it was okay. Not even pretty good, just okay.

Go to Grand Central Terminal, I urge you. Look up at the ceiling and go, “Ahhhh.” Take those photos. But if you’re staying for dinner, get a sandwich in the food court. That’s affordable, and it’s just as tasty as anything they’ve got at the Oyster Bar.

caught in the act

SO! YOU HAVE DISCOVERED THE LOCATION OF MY SECRET LAIR, WHERE I PLOT MY NEFARIOUS SCHEMES TO ENSLAVE THE ENTIRE WORLD! You have learned too much, my nosy little friend. Prepare to meet your doom!

image of yours truly plotting world domination

Kidding. It’s just me in the lobby of the lobby of the News building on Lexington Avenue.

dressed for it

B was a bit concerned before we left for NYC about the way we looked. She worried that everyone would be able to identify us as rubes by the way were dressed, and suggested that we should go shopping for clothes that would let us blend in. She even suggested at one point that we buy black shirts and pants, or white shirts with black pants, or something equally generic so we wouldn’t stick out.

I volunteered the opinion that, no matter what we wore, practically anyone in NYC would be able to tell at a glance that we were from Cow Town, Wisconsin.

And I still think they probably can but, now that we’ve been here a couple days, I’m almost positive we could have worn just about any t-shirt and well-worn pair of pants we already owned and it wouldn’t have been our dress that made us obvious. In fact, we could both walk down the street wearing bear suits, or nothing but our underpants (a great many New Yorkers appear to be comfortable wearing little more than their underclothes in public), and we wouldn’t look out of place here.

It’s when we gape at the people dressed in bear suits and point, saying “Garsh! Lookit them fellers!” that makes it obvious we’re not from anywhere in NYC.


We went on a walking tour, sort of, of the lower east side of Manhattan on Sunday, and we also took part in a street show, sort of. I’m not sure what to call it. The people who organize the show call it Accomplice: New York and they describe it as a street performance that the audience participates in. Whatever it is, we had a great time at it, or doing it, or whatever.

After signing up, My Darling B received a message on her cell phone directing us to be at the South Point Seaport on the lower east side at one o’clock, when we would meet our first contact who would give us more information. “You don’t find him,” the message said, “he will find you. Write down this information and destroy this phone.” Well, she didn’t destroy her phone, so I suppose we’ll be in big trouble if they ever read this drivel.

We were waiting at the dock beside the Ambrose light ship, just as we were told to do, watching the various people who very suspiciously stopped to gaze over the rail at the ship. “Oh, that’s definitely our guy,” My Darling B said, pointing very discreetly at the guy in the Batman t-shirt. “Or that could be him,” she added, nodding toward the old man in the button-down cotton shirt. “Or it could even be her,” she said, watching the two ladies whisper to each other a few yards away as they watched the crowd, sort of like B was.

It wasn’t any of those people. A little after one o’clock, our contact showed: A guy in a black jacket, black shirt and black pants wearing dark sunglasses. “Did any of you get a message?” he asked. We nodded. “Come with me,” he said, and took off at a trot across the pier toward a three-masted clipper ship with the name Peking painted on the prow, “named after the duck, not the city,” our contact said, pointing. “As far as anybody else is concerned, I’m your tour guide,” he added, pointing toward other sights. “I’m a tour guide. You’re supposed to be looking at the sights, dummies,” he helpfully explained, pointing again. This time we all looked, ooohing and ahhhing. “Very good, dummies. Now, listen up.”

If I gave away too many details, you wouldn’t enjoy the game as much when you came to New York City to play along, so I’ll just say that our contact gave us a number of clues that we had to follow to meet the next contact near City Hall. I’ll also say that we were lucky enough to be in a big group: lucky, because we needed the brainpower. There were several clues that left me scratching my head, but somebody else in the group came up with the solution and we always kept moving along. We were also lucky enough to be in a group with six people from Brooklyn who knew the city pretty well, although we were flat-out amazed none of them had ever been to the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the places we had to meet a contact at.

We ended up at a basement bar in Little Italy where we met Bunny, our last contact and a girlfriend of, shall we say, The Big Guy. We were there to deliver a special package to Bunny, only things didn’t turn out quite the way we thought they would, and there again is a turn of events I wouldn’t want to spoil by giving away too much. When the show ended they encouraged us to hang around to watch the next group come in, because “it’s almost as much fun watching from the outside when you know what’s going to happen,” and it really was.

After the show, as we were enjoying a beer and waiting for the next group, My Darling B let me in on a little secret she’d been keeping from me: She thought the group from Brooklyn was part of the show. “They’d been acting like they knew a little too much about it,” she explained. “They seemed to be solving the clues a little too easily, and a couple of the times that we were stumped by the clues, they got phone calls or text messages to help out.” So her biggest surprise was when we got to the end of the show and the others were just as surprised by the twist as we were. The phone calls were the way the tour worked, of course. The organizers had all our phone numbers and they’d call if you got stuck. B got a phone call, too, but she didn’t answer because her cell phone has a funny habit of not ringing when she gets a call.

We drifted out into the street when the show was over and tried to find The Pickle Guy. Remind me to tell you about that.

lost camera

Can you believe it? I came all the way to New York City and I forgot my camera. The one that can hold 600 photographs on the cheapest memory card they sell. The camera that I bought so I would be able to take snapshots of the sights of New York City. That camera.

I packed it in a knapsack that my son calls my man-purse and made sure to include the charger for it, as well as the charger for my cell phone. And I put the knapsack on top of my suitcase so I wouldn’t forget it. And then, at some point between the time I did that and I loaded everything into the car, I must have set the knapsack aside, probably because it was in the way and because I was sure I’d be coming back for it (because who wouldn’t, right?), something shiny must have distracted me. I never went back for it. It’s probably on my bed right now.

Luckily, My Darling B didn’t forget her camera, so we’ll still have some photos. And one of our hosts at the hotel we’re staying at lent me his phone charger, so we still have phones. Doesn’t make me any less of a dumbass, though.

Empire State Building

B and O on the Empire State Building!We paid a visit to the Empire State Building Saturday night. Glad we got that out of the way early.

The thing about the Empire State Building is, if it wasn’t one of those things you have to do when you visit New York, I’d tell you to chuck the whole thing. The view off the top is amazing, but getting there is a genuine pain in the ass.

The pain starts before you even get to the entrance. There’s a small army of guys with credit card machines deployed all over the streets around the building, selling express tickets to the top, and they’re not very good at it. They want yiou to guy their tickets, which are better than general admission tickets, but they can’t really tell you why, or at least the guys who tried to sell tickets to us couldn’t.

What they should have said was, “If you buy a ticket from me, you won’t have to stand in a line to get your bags x-rayed while bossy guys in jackets yell at you. You won’t have to stand in another line to buy tickets, and you won’t have to stand in a line after that to get your picture taken, which they’ll try to sell to you on the way out. You’ll be able to take an elevator straight to the 80th floor where you won’t have to stand in a line waiting to take the elevator to the observation deck, waiting for the people in line ahead of you to take their photo with the guy dressed up as King Kong. Your trip to the top will take about twenty minutes instead of an hour and twenty minutes. Don’t you think that’s worth an extra twenty bucks?”

It’s not worth it to me, because I’m a cheap bastard, but that’s how they should sell it.

The lobby of the Empire State Building looks exactly like it did in Sleepless In Seattle, but that’s the only part of the building that looks like it did in the movie. There isn’t any kindly old man working the elevator; they’re all run by remote control by liveried employees who look very, very tired. And the observation deck doesn’t have wide open terrace where a half-dozen or so sightseers take a leisurely stroll. The deck is maybe six feet wide, and it’s packed shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of people, several dozen of whom are carrying very unhappy children. This is not a place where you can spend a quiet, reflective moment.

That said, we had a pretty good time, except for the loudmouth yelling, “Belts and jacket off! Belts and jackets off!” at the people waiting to get x-rayed at the end of the first line. That guy’s gotta go.