Monthly Archives: August 2009

Leaving New York

Posted by daniel.j.gallagher on August 21, 2009
Discoveries, Ranting and Raving, Yours Truly / No Comments

Thanks to Bolt, I’ve got about five hours with slow but working Internet, with nothing much to do other than get caught up on mail and sort out my thoughts.

I didn’t come here with any mission, or any questions in mind, just the thought of being away from work and responsibilities for a little while. And maybe of giving the City a fair, open-ended look now that I’ve acclimatized to living near a major city.

When I was younger I couldn’t imagine life anywhere other than a medium-sized suburb of a medium-sized city like Albany, with safe, quiet streets, and entertainment options within a half-hour drive. I don’t know to what to attribute that smallness of vision–complacency?–but I know it influenced me against applying to MIT and some of the California schools.

I’d been to NYC several times, of course, usually day trips, so my opinion of city life was largely informed by midtown Manhattan. Tourist-ey midtown Manhattan, awash in traffic noise, swarming with people and overlooked by the gigantic Macy’s and JCPenny and the towering office buildings beyond. That is no place for a child who gets vertigo standing in the state legislative chambers in Albany, who wants to flee the picnic table whenever honeybees take interest in his soda.

Subsequent impressions have been more favorable, though the circumstances have been strange: fumbling with maps en route to a Halo 2 preview event on FDR Drive, racing through the night in the company of a panicked classmate, meeting a professor outside her second home in midtown.

The most “normal” trips I’ve made there are probably the visits to my relatives in Brooklyn. These have always been short stays; the Park Slope brownstones may be roomy, but they’re not that roomy.

So it was good to find myself back there again, in an under-explored borough of the city with time to kill. I only wish the August heat could have eased up a little. Boston is spoiled on air-conditioning compared to NYC, and the more extensive New York subway routes are balanced by the extent of the city itself, and it’s a discouraging surprise to have to walk 1-3 miles a day in that.

I was reminded too of how freaking practical smart-phones are. Nikki has one, and I don’t. What she can do on the fly, on unfamiliar routes, requires me to spend a half hour planning at home or the Internet cafe, and can easily become a day-trip. TV commercials may prefer to highlight Twitter and games, but for navigating New York, Google Maps and Hopstop are indispensable. Not to mention mobile IM, so you can compare notes with friends wise in the ways of public transit.

That said, I’m happy with what I managed to accomplish this week, especially when you consider that we spent a couple nights partying (New Yorkers are crazy like that). I got to enjoy some of the local cooking and produce, hung out with Roy at his and Judy’s place, got in some work hours, did karaoke, visited the Stonewall Inn, and went clothes shopping in SoHo.

I saw some amusing things, including the weird graffiti for which Williamsburg is known (pics when I get the chance), and a magician in the subway platform. I took my breakfast at a place that makes vegan egg sandwiches a la Uncanny Valley. And I derived some amusement from the tragic hipness still abundant in New York advertising, particularly for movies and TV shows.

I leave knowing there’s a lot more that I might have made time for, if I wasn’t preoccupied with the sweaty heat or worried about worrying about how much time I should leave as cushioning. But that’s life, innit? So as a result I will think about my schedule back home, maybe think about donating the extra clothes that are keeping me from putting away all my laundry, start budgeting for new shoes and a new phone with a data plan.

And then put on my underarmour and my new sneaks and run all over the place :D

For every job, a tool. You want to live in the city that never sleeps, you have to know where your towel is. I now know I can holiday there, which is saying something. Beyond that, I dunno. I have unanswered anthropological questions about this city and its population. They seem awfully stressed. Olin’s “choose two” principle might apply here, with last call at 4AM and controlled substances easy enough to find, although some of the yuppies mitigate it by sleeping late and working late. For myself I’d worry about that. And it makes the residents a bit… tetchy sometimes.

But I see the charm that the place has, too. Stuffed in there somewhere between the misfunctioning AC that turned the 1 train into a sauna, the pervasive smoke of hand-rolled tobacco and the skeezy shop owners on Christopher St. It’s a sincere kind of place, in its way, where you can strike up conversations with passersby and not be treated with suspicion. Or content yourself with people-watching: there’s as many shapes and skin tones as people, many of them sporting cool body-art. It’s a place where you can feel alone, or not, as desired, as simply as if you were adjusting your sunglasses.

Just try not to think about the garbage, or about being covered in sweat, and you’ll be fine.

Brooklyn Brooklyn Take Me In

Posted by daniel.j.gallagher on August 19, 2009
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Found a better work spot today: http://www.brooklynboneshakers.com/

It’s a vegan coffee/sandwich shop that caters to cyclists. The food’s priced on par, which is to say it’s expensive, but the coffee is reasonable. I was able to access an electrical outlet, so I went back and fetched my power chord (unfortunately at the hottest hour of the day, so I came back dripping wet).

Last night we ate at King’s Feast, one of the many Polish restaurants in Greenpoint. I found out what real goulash is like (hint: it’s a stew, not a noodle casserole). The staff didn’t seem to know much about their selection of Polish beers, which was a shame. But the food was yummy and quite cheap.

Tonight I think maybe we’ll wander Manhattan a bit, if Nikki is feeling up to it. I’d like to find a cheap lawn chair for my room, so I don’t have to lie on the bed while using the laptop, and possibly some undershirts and a pair of headphones.

Time (and Space) to Breathe

Posted by daniel.j.gallagher on August 18, 2009
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This is day two of five of my short summer vacation in Brooklyn, and I must say, the place is growing on me.

I still don’t know if I could live in such a place, but the possibility doesn’t seem as crazy as it used to. It definitely meets my needs of the moment. I had little idea how worn down I was before I passed out last night around 1. But I feel immensely better today.

The place where I’m staying is in Greenpoint, about halfway between McGolrick Park and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. It’s at least as warm and sticky as Boston was, and while I count myself very lucky to have a room with a window unit, I’m surprised to find the weather isn’t really that oppressive after spending a day in it. You’re just forced to acquiesce to walking around sweaty all day. And there’s a corner store with deli, sport drinks and an impressive beer selection.

Working out of the nearest wi-fi cafe was a failure, no thanks to my flaky wireless card, but it would have been extremely convenient for its proximity otherwise. I returned to the apartment, where the connection is stable, and found a seat in the common space.

New york is full of talkative, bright young people. I thought this was true of Boston, and maybe it is, but it’s very true here. The sheer variety of opportunities for work and leisure seems to more than offset the city’s quirks for them–the stink of garbage, which is put out daily rather than weekly; the complex and shifting behavior of subway routes, which despite their spread often leave you with many blocks to travel on foot. These oddities become nothing more than individual threads in the weave that shapes the city’s lifestyle.

Some make for interesting comparisons with other cities. For instance (and let me say in advance this is anecdotal and probably biased), New Yorkers still smoke like chimneys. I know few people in Boston who do, and of those, most either smoke cigars on occasion, or are in the process of quitting. New York and Massachusetts both had early bans on smoking in bars and restaurants (respectively in early 2003 and mid 2004), but modest differences in the laws and their enforcement have added up to major differences in the trajectory of tobacco culture. In NYC, where you can still find public places to smoke with friends, the sense of legitimacy and in particular the popularity of rolling your own seems to be higher.

More on that later. I need to cut this short and check my work queue before Nikki gets back and asks me what we’re doing for the evening. Lots of exploring to do these next few days.

Revelation

Posted by daniel.j.gallagher on August 03, 2009
Discoveries, Yours Truly / 2 Comments

Last night, Dan and Matt and Nikki and I drove to western MA to see one of her favorite Sony bands, The Avett Brothers. The intimacy of the venue surprised me–the Avetts have toured with the likes of Dave Matthews, but as a solo act they play locations roughly the size of my middle school’s theater.

It’s like she said, the fan base is small. Small and rabid. They didn’t all come timely for the opening act–a suitable opener for such as them is hard to find–but they filtered in to fill all the seats by 9PM, and when the curtains came back the crowd’s enthusiasm was immediate. After a weekend of walking the city I was reluctant to stand up for their set, but there wasn’t much of a choice to it.

The Avett Brothers are a bluegrass band; Nikki says “grunge-grass” is the label sometimes applied, in attempt to describe what it is that makes them so unique. I tried to explain to Ginneh that while I’ve got nothing against bluegrass, the genre as a whole doesn’t captivate me this way. If I had an inkling then, I’m sure now.

What differentiates them isn’t their crisply intelligible Carolina speech or their occasional use of distortion in the studio, it’s the talent and the love they bring to their act. “Honest”, “energetic” and “beautiful” are the adjectives people use for their music. In terms of live performance this translates to music played twice as forcefully as written, though just as sweetly, by four sweating handsome men, and a hall filled with people–most in their 20s and 30s–singing and stomping and yelling in time. Sometimes, the crowd greets a particularly elegant quatrain with cheers I might interpret as “amen”.

In that energy, as well as the sporadic piano work, I was reminded of Muse at Avalon back in 2004. They (the Avetts) go farther, though, making head-bangers out of songs I’d never have ascribed that quality when I was listening to the CD, songs I’d not have expected to be crowd favorites. They didn’t play many of the selections we were expecting, so that was just as well. Probably the best things they did do were At the Beach and the set-closing Colorshow (some example videos). They did some new material from their upcoming CD as well, which had an interesting and somewhat different sound to it, and that was also met with enthusiasm.

Have to send a note to the cousins in NC to keep an eye out for their shows.

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