Monday, September 29, 2008

Feeling Groovy

Weekend sports is a staple of autumn in New York. I used to play AYSO soccer in Central and Riverside Parks, and on Saturdays and Sundays my dad and I would trek out to one field or another, in the rain and through the leaves, to kick a ball around with the West Side Soccer League. I was on the Tornadoes - we rocked. It was important to me, and to all the other girls I knew who played soccer. And then it was important to my brother. And now it's important to hundreds of other kids all over Manhattan - I still own my father's manager's sweatshirt and wear it frequently.

I had never really considered that adults in New York also take advantage of the city's multiple parks and playing fields to create their own teams - but they do! Of course a city as competitive and well organized as New York would be filled with people who would like nothing more but to fill up all their free time with more activities. This is not derogatory; I think it's great. I'm among them, ready to spend every waking moment busy - I'm just not athletic at all, so sports are kind of out. But that doesn't mean I can't take advantage of them as a spectator.

I got the opportunity this past weekend. One of my friends, Emma, is a rugby player. She's been sending emails to all her friends from her artistic life to come out and support her, but, true New Yorkers all, we've been busy. I found myself, however, with a Saturday to kill and decided to attend her game out on Wards Island.

Wards Island is small area of land off the coast of Manhattan on the Upper East Side, above Roosevelt Island, filled with playing fields and insane asylums. It is connected via landfill (thank you, NFT) to Randall's Island, which has more playing fields and more asylums. It's not very big, maybe three miles around, but big enough to fit the bases of three bridges and plenty of green.

I have a special place in my heart for Wards. Back in the days when I played softball (7th and 8th grade), we used to have some practices and games out under the big beautiful bridges. The grass was sparse and infected with glass, and the water usually smelled like pollution, but it was kind of wonderful playing out in the middle of the East River. And of course, Field Day was there every year, and therefore when I think of Wards, I think of Brearley and the red and the white teams, and school spirit and really ugly red baseball uniforms.

I grabbed my friend Justin (another hard working New Yorker recently transplanted from SF), and we meandered over there. The only ways onto the island are via bus, car, or walking across a foot bridge at 102nd Street. We took the bridge, and it is the first time I have ever walked across one of those skinny tall passages which dot the East River. It was rainy and humid and cool and warm - ideal rugby weather if I know anything about rugby (and I don't).

It was wonderful.
It was an absolutely lovely way to spend a Saturday. Emma came off the field for a bit, and taught me all about the sport (which, by the way, makes no sense and is as violent as you think it is, but is thrilling to watch). Then, there was a barbeque and lots of beer, and Justin and Emma and I sat on the ground and ate burgers and watched the men's team play (which is more brutal).

They are clearly redoing Wards and Randalls. The fields where rugby teams were playing had been converted into turf, which was disappointing until I realized that by now the fields would probably have turned to mud and turf was actually preferable to the needle scattered alternative. Of course, the turf sheds, which is weird and synthetic and gross, but it seems to really be the best alternative so who am I to argue. When Justin and I walked around the island, we saw all these beautiful wrought iron lamps put up along a new pathway. It looks like it's going to be a nice place when it's finished - well landscaped and well used.

Of course, t
hey're not done yet, so our walk was marred by vast stretches of construction and I was saddened to realize that the fields where we used to play were all under construction, fenced off and covered in concrete. It was disheartening, to say the least - both Randall's and Wards are pretty barren at the moment, and not a little sketchy in parts. I had Cat Steven's song "Where Do the Children Play?" stuck in my head for most of the walk, and despite the very nice job they've done fixing up the fields where my friend played, I was nostalgic for the old New York, the New York of broken glass and sparse glass and bridges with graffiti where private school kids played next door to unemployment offices. It was New York - a melting pot, rich and poor and everything in between and there was no effort to pretend that the city was anything but a dirty and utilitarian city, and we played where we found space and a patch of green.

Of course, I'm being a brat. The island will be beautiful. It was just another example of the changing landscape of my hometown.

And the game was great, and the footbridge was awesome. I highly recommend weekend games, if you can get away from your own free time activities.

As If We Needed Another Reason Why Gray's Papaya is Awesome

"Fools Rush In" may have captured it best - Matthew Perry, sitting on the side of a desert canyon, eating Gray's Papaya hot dogs air mailed to him by his mother and exclaiming "These are the best hot dogs in the world" or something to that effect. That's how I feel about Gray's Papaya; I get genuinely excited to introduce visitors to what is, without peer, the best and cheapest hot dogs in the whole world. I have been obsessed since high school, and make a point of going to the 72nd Street Papaya whenever I can. I really actually didn't need another reason to love them. But they gave it to me anyway.

The Only Vibrant Coffee Shop on the Upper West Side

Georgia's, the last coffee shop within thirty blocks of my apartment, happens to be on the next corner up from my very own door. I love it there. It started out as a small bakery with no chairs and very little elbow room, squished between the displaced barber shop and a t-mobile (another one). Slowly, through dedicated patronage from the remaining Upper West neighborhood set, it became incredibly successful, and when the symbol of the decline of my neighborhood closed, it valiantly and incredibly managed to take it over and become a real shop with a few small tables. Today, it sprawls over the whole corner of Broadway, and its quaint tables spill out onto the street. There a couple of truly wonderful things about Georgia's:

1) it is a coffee shop
2) it has decent coffee
3) the waiters w
ill let you sit there for hours - it can be, at times, near impossible to actually get your check, which is an anomaly most definitely

Unfortunately, like all things good in my once deli-filled neighborhood, Georgia's too is slowly losing that which makes it truly unique: it is becoming a restaurant.

Yes, a restaurant - just like your average brunch place on Amsterdam Avenue, or the aptly retitled "Bloomingdale Road"(the once and well mourned Boulevard Restaurant of my youth, totally redone with a WASPy makeover - the mural of a diverse and slightly crude New York City subway platform long gone forever). This means that soon, it will lose all three of the above qualities which make it my monument to what the Upper West Side could be if it got rid of a few banks.

I realized I had never, as yet, really used Georgia's as a real coffee shop - I hadn't sat there reading or typing on my computer or sipping coffee leisurely by myself perusing the Times. I had certainly gone there for a cup of coffee and chatted for hours with friends, but never alone and never for writing. And ultimately, the reason I love coffee shops so much is that it is a chance to sit with my
laptop and get some writing done without forgoing human interaction - I can be solitary but not alone. Coffee shops were my great savior on my loneliest days out west - I'd grab my computer or my book and head over to Philz or Revolution or anywhere, really, and suddenly I'd be surrounded by people who loved the ambiance as much as I did. And we were connected, through coffee and work and folk music over the speakers.

So, I decided that before Georgia's goes the way of my deli, I should at least try to sit there with my computer.

I was confident that I wouldn't look totally bizarre, since I'd seen people by themselves at Georgia's before - the small coffee tables are perfectly conducive to singledom, but are more frequently occupied by multiple people, increasingly with food. But I went early, when I was sure I wouldn't take a table from a lunch customer, and brought my laptop and got to it.

I felt pretty weird at first - I sat down at a table outside, and realized that sitting outside in the West Village or in the East Village or really anywhere else is not like sitting outside on Broadway, with all of the morning traffic and rush hour madness passing at top speed. It's a weird feeling - watching
other people who are not prepared for you to be there looking askance and walking faster. Broadway, the street of theatrical energy, is not for idle coffee and computers.

On top of that, the early morning crowd was peopled with young mothers and their very young children, having a chocolate croissant and a chance to breath for a moment. I, a single 23 year old on my beat up laptop and sweatshirt about to head off to her low-paying theater job, don't exactly jive with the vibe.

But I got over it. It was lovely out. And my part of Broadway really is one of the most beautiful
in the whole city, with pre-war buildings and wide sidewalks - it's a pity there aren't open air cafes everywhere because it is a singular experience, watching the cars go by and all that space to stroll up and down. And my coffee was warm and my quiche was damn good and I'm not married or pregnant and that feels pretty fucking good too. And I got some work done. And I used Georgia's the way, in a perfect world, I would use it all the time. I don't think I'll go back there with the same purpose - I've found an early morning place close to work that I can go to that is actually a coffee shop, and I'd rather not make passersby any more nervous than they already are. But it felt good, like I was taking back a little piece of my neighborhood.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Better Than Sinatra, Even

There is nothing like September in the city.


I love fall in the city just as much if not more than I hate summer here. Even a comparably mild summer like the one we just had is like misery on a stick. The heat is awful, the humidity is worse, the city is disgustingly dirty, there are roaches everywhere, it smells, and everyone is seriously pissed off. Granted, I have never been to Coney Island, but I cannot find one worthwhile reason to be in NYC when the July and August heat is upon you.

But then comes Labor Day weekend. And like magic, the hot wet blanket is lifted. The muggy haze is swept away with a crisp breeze, and the air becomes clear and clean. The sun is bright and piercing, and the sky is bright bright blue. The architecture of the buildings really pops into a skyline, and the whole city comes alive.

Everyone who disappeared into the Hamptons or to Europe for the long hot August, returns reinvigorated after the long weekend, ready to hit the ground running. School starts, and fresh faced children walk jauntily to school. The park leaves turn a brighter green before they burst into reds and oranges, and the whole city feels like it's finally woken up from a groggy nightmare.

It seems like I'm describing a fantasy New York. But really, if I could tell you that unicorns gallop free along the Central Park horse path, I would because that is how joyful I feel. That is how much I hate summer, and how striking the contrast is for me. I'm putting away my fan and drinking some tea and going for a long long walk in jeans rolled all the way down.

God this a beautiful city. If you have never seen autumn in New York, then you have not seen New York.


I've been a little busy recently. My last post was in August I think. Wow, I suck.

But for good reason - I've been working. Working like a true New Yorker. And it feels great.

New York is a city of workers. Hard workers. People who love working, love their jobs, can't imagine life without the 9am rush hour. People come to New York to be around the people who are DOING IT, as my father likes to say - If you can think of a career, you can find it here, and you can probably find five hundred other people who are trying to succeed at it as well.

Most people I know who move to New York from somewhere else say the same thing: "I wanted to see if I could make it here." They come from all over because they want to be little fish in a big pond, and have the freedom to really swim.

After all, it's not just a drive to succeed, although that's part of it. It's a drive to be better than you are today. The environment is high stress, low attention, and no tolerance for failure. There are at least a hundred people behind you who want your job, and if you're lucky enough to be working in the field of your choosing, then you better step it up. And you can, because you are constantly surrounded by people who more accomplished, more experience, and more successful than you, so there is never a stopping point. There is no day when you wake up and think "Well, I'm pretty much the best at this, I guess I can just sleep in." You will never be the best, and that's what makes it worthwhile - there is no glass ceiling here, so you can always improve.

It's kind of marvelous, working in New York. It's not, ultimately, how I want to live, but there is something incredible about being surrounded every day by people who love what they do, who are fed by it; who come early and stay late, who care. They care desperately. The whole city is powered by love - it's not the love that powers San Francisco, but it's invigorating and stimulating none the less.

I've been caught up in it, because I, too, care about what I do. And I want to be the best that I can be. I'm eager to impress and to prove myself, and to grow and learn, and I feel infinitely lucky to be working in my field in the center of it all.

It is, however, nice to take a break.