Category Archives: New York

‘New York Times’ is Taking a Road Trip

Many New Yorkers don’t own cars. Many more don’t even know how to drive — which is no handicap at all in a city where driving can be daunting and parking a nightmare or phenomenally expensive — but where it doesn’t matter because subways and buses go virtually everywhere, and cabs can sometimes be found when you want or need them. So it was with surprise that I read in today’s New York Times Travel Section that ‘Frugal Traveler’ columnist Matt Gross is embarking on a 12-week cross-country road trip and will be writing a series about every Wednesday.

The trip started with a New York glitch. Gross wrote, “As the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge faded in my rearview mirror last Thursday afternoon, I had only one thought in my head: Finally! I had woken up late, had spent way too long packing for this road trip and had been sitting in Brooklyn traffic. Typical. Now, however, my Volvo was zipping over what was once the world’s longest suspension bridge, heading west, and nothing could stop me. Nothing, that is, but the police officers at the toll plaza.

“’Don’t let him leave!’ shouted a transit officer. Was my 1989 station wagon in violation of some obscure regulation? Had my paying the $9 toll with a crisp $100 bill set off some alert?

“No, the officer said: I had a video camera on the roof of my car, and filming New York City’s bridges and tunnels was illegal. I pulled off to the side and bit my nails while the officers talked among themselves, deciding my fate. Another delay, I sighed. Typical.”

Starting out, Gross invoked the spirits of such American literary road-trippers as Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck and William Least Heat-Moon, but I was also reminded of Jane Wooldridge, Miami Herald travel editor, who made a similar trip last year — and won the Society of American Travel Writers’ Travel Writer of the Year honors for her efforts.

Like many New Yorkers, Gross didn’t own a car, so he bought a 1989 Volvo for $1,700 and had it tubed up with the hope that it will get him to Seattle. He wrote that he was setting off with a “budget of about $100 a day, including food, lodging, occasional splurges and gas. But unlike Kerouac (who hitchhiked) and Steinbeck and Heat-Moon (who slept in their vehicles), I’m out to prove that driving across America doesn’t have to mean roughing it. The Frugal Traveler is no backpacker; he seeks out affordable comfort, skimps when possible and splurges when he spots a relative bargain.”

His first report explains his strategy, describes the beginning of the road trip and asks for readers’ input and recommendations for great roads, places to sleep, eat and see. He’ll post reports and video, and we can all vicariously become his traveling companions.

New York Subway Musings

An interesting museum showcases underground New York

The New York Transit Authority has made great efforts to clean up and upgrade subway trains and stations — in Manhattan, at least. Stations’ new artwork includes replacement tiles in “subway white,” but new new graphics and designs relate to what’s above-ground now. Also, some platforms have been refloored, graffiti has been curtailed, elevators now make many underground train platforms accessible, and security issues have been addressed. Any improvements to this century-plus-old system that hauls millions of riders a day in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of subway cars and buses is to be applauded.

Still, it is difficult, as a rider, to ignore the considerable downside to the New York subway system experience. Peeling (and sometimes leaking) ceilings, chipped paint, ubiquitous litter, pools of standing water between the rails and the occasional rat do are dispiriting. So are squadrons of wary but bored-looking police officers (I counted 17 on Broadway line platform at 6:00 p.m. this evening) and glum riders who never make eye contact with one another.

The subway was not always a literal and figurative pit. It was once the pride of New York. It is still possible to see glimpses of the subway’s elegant past. The fancy brass token booth cages have given way to heavy Plexiglas booths and transit card vending machines. Yet some stations still boast elegant terra cotta signage and on some routes, trains rattle past ghostly, abandoned stations. Most spectacular of all are the Gustavino Vaulted Ceilings in the City Hall Station (right), fabricated by a company whose projects included work on the US Supreme Court Building.

The New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn Heights has opened a convenient gallery annex at Grand Central Station in midtown Manhattan. It’s open fromn 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on weekdays and 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekends. It’s worth a visit — and the price is right: free.

Until July 8, the gallery is showing an exhibition called “Architects of the NYC Subway, Part 1: Heins & LaFarge and the Tradition of Great Public Works.” Extensive captioning, historic photographs and diagrams tell the story of the subway, but what I liked best was the terra cotta, seen upclose and not high on a wall or through a grimy subway window. The terra cotta was cast and fired by the like of “Maker Unknown” (the Hay Street Station plaque) to Rookwood (Wall and Fulton Street stations).

Wireless Access Bait and Switch?

I am in New York at back-to-back conferences. I’ve had a weird couple of days, Internet-wise. I’ve been able to get on the Net and usually to receive E-mails — but not to send them. With more than a dozen messages stacked in my Outbox (including a couple or urgent ones), in desperation I went to Starbuck’s at 75th & Broadway in Manhattan. Starbuck’s boasts of its wireless access called t-Mobile Hotspots. A counter card offered 60 minutes for $6 or a 24-hour day pass for $9.99. I only needed to send and receive a day’s worth of messages, and perhaps answer a few of them, so 60 minutes was ample. When I connected to t-Mobile however, the cheaper option was not on the menu. It was urgent for me to get on-line today, so I was ready to pay more for the service I didn’t need. The crisis-level problem was that I could not get t-Mobile to take my credit card and connect me. I went to Kinko’s, used their high-speed cable connection at 10 cents a minute. The charge was $2.40. No atmosphere. No coffee at hand. But fast and hassle-free.

Cheers for the Melting Pot

I’m in New York right now, having arrived this afternoon for a Tourism Canada event. There are Francophone Canadians and Anglophone Canadians, and the entertainment during the opening reception was Tanya Tagaq, a throat singer from Nunavut whose primal voice and haunting songs evoke the tundra. Nunavut is a largely Inuit jurisdiction was created in 1999 from Canada’s Northwest Territories — dividing one vast sparsely populated region into two still vast, sparsely populated regions. Together with the Yukon Territory, their total populations well under 100,000. But, as Dave Barry often writes, I digress.

The opening event, whose theme was the Northern Lights, was a lovely melding of three Canadian cultures under the glittering chandeliers of the Waldorf-Astoria’s Starlight Roof, a wonderful hotel in the most crowded city in the Western Hemisphere. What a contrast between Nunavut and New York. But I’m still digressing. Tomorrow, I will plunge into the abundant travel opportunities provided by our neighbor to the north, but today, in just a brief period, I again was energized by New York’s role as the greatest melting pot on the planet.

I deplaned at crowded LaGuardia Airport , hearing snippets of English, Spanish and other languages — though LGA is the most domestic, least international of New York’s three major airports. Two friends who were on my flight and I got into the cab line. The dispatcher was an African-American. The cab diver was from South Asia. The bellman who unloaded our luggage from the trunk sounded Jamaican. The front desk person who checked me had a Hungarian accent.

One of my friends and I decided to run out for a bite to eat. We both had work to do and wanted only something quick to bring back to the hotel. We only had to cross the street to find cheap, fast steet food. At the corner of St. Bartholomew’s Church, an Byzantine-style Anglican church known for its ecumenical outreach, was a halal food cart run by two Arabs — if the name is accurate, according to Moslem dietary law. The menu board (right) listed gyros, falafel, kofta, hot dogs with sauerkraut or chili, Italian sausages and potato knishes. That first hour off the plane is what makes New York such a multi-cultural melting pot. It’s one of the things I love most about the city.