W4D3 Dog days of summer

Wow, we’re really on week 4 already?

The scene: I am listening to In the Heights, Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit before Hamilton. Why? Cuz I was in the aforementioned heights last week. That, and I like it. I am eating (Do I do anything else here?) some mixed fruit salad from some place in Chelsea. It’s just getting that slightly fuzzy taste fruit gets as it starts to ferment, which I prefer to unripened fruit. That may explain why it was twenty percent off, and if I don’t write anything tomorrow, it may explain that, too.

I had never been to Chelsea before Sunday, but now I’ve been there three of the last four days. Girls Who Code headquarters is there. Okay, not technically. Technically it is in the Flatiron District, but it is only half a block away from Chelsea.

There is a pet shop on 7th avenue, about a block from my train stop, which has lots of cute little puppies in the window. I woke up to a news report this morning that store has been mistreating their dogs. Don’t click on that link if you are sensitive to that sort of thing (aren’t we all?) In the article they mention that some of the dogs sell for up to $4,000 (not a typo).

As a family that has only rescue pets (and rescue kids, and rescue each other, and I have a rescue bike (Hi, Ellie!))), I am taken aback by that. (Did you know that taken aback originally was used for ships, when the wind took a sudden turn and blew the sails back against the mast? That’s a little tidbit for those of you finding yourselves interested in nautical science.)

At one of Meet and Greet events earlier this summer, one family brought such a dog with them. (I was taken aback by that as well. You brought a dog?) Although the dog was just a puppy (seven months, I think), he was well behaved. He sat in the GWC student’s older sister’s lap quietly while the event went on.

The father of the family talked to me afterwards, asking “Isn’t the dog well behaved?” His daughters were well behaved, too, but he didn’t ask about them. I agreed that it was, and he proceeded to tell me all about the dog, though I remember very little of the details other than the dog cost $3,100. I kept thinking you could rescue a lot of good dogs for that much. I’ll admit to being distracted by those thoughts, and not really paying attention to what he was saying. Something about the dog never messing the house or something.

The family stayed for a long time after others had left. The dog started barking at the older sister, who kept asking it why it was barking. I was thinking that maybe it had to go to the bathroom.

Just as we were leaving, the father said something about hoping that the GWC program would increase his daughter’s confidence. I said that it could well, and that that was a goal of the program. He said, “I don’t know why she can’t be more like her sister. She gets great grades in school, is in the honors program at [some college], can speak confidently in front of large groups…” and so on. He said all of this right in front of the younger sister.

I’m thinking, “Dude, you just answered your own question.” I don’t know that the Summer Immersion Program is long enough to undo 16 years of living in your sister’s shadow, but it’ll be a good start. If she can begin to discover some of her gifts and how amazing they’ll make her, she’ll be on a good track.

I suppose the fact that this incident is stuck in my craw almost two weeks later means something. I have a feeling I should do something about it, but I’m not sure what.

W4D2 …and now you know the rest of the story.

OK, please tell me you didn’t think the story from Sunday was over when I went to the museum. People, I have to milk this thing! It’s not that stuff hasn’t happened since Sunday, it’s just that, well, it hasn’t come together into some kind of cohesive whole, yet.

You’re probably thinking, “He’s gonna write about the mani/pedi now.” Nope. It was remarkably unremarkable. I did watch more NASCAR than I’ve seen in a long time. Do they alway kiss the track before a race, or is that only some teams? There was quite a montage of that. Also, the pit crews are damn fast. Wow.

I left the salon, and headed uptown to go to the farmers market, which was located just outside of Columbia University. It was scheduled to be 2 blocks long, like the 79th street market I went to a week or two ago. Plus, it was rate five(!) stars on Google (only 4 votes though). I was pumped! I got there about ten after four, which should’ve been OK, since the market is listed as taking place from 8am to 5pm. Plenty of time. Imagine my chagrin when I got there, and many of the booths were packing up (to be fair, 9 hours is a long day). More than half the booths were already gone. I quickly purchased some potatoes (patriotic red, white and blue), grape tomatoes and a couple of zucchini. Eventually, these were part of a delicious dinner, but I digress.

I decided to head home. Only one problem: the 1 train, which literally passes under the farmers market, was only running up to 137th. I knew that both the A train and the 1 train stop at 125th. I also knew that I was only a few blocks away from the Hudson River (to the west of me), and that I boarded the A train up at 207th to the west of the the 1 line. I figured, all I needed to do was walk a few blocks west, and I could pick up an A train headed home. I googled it, and Google said 18 minutes of walking to 125th.

Bathrooms are really hard to find in New York, though I think there’s an app for that. Before I started out, knowing that it would be almost an hour before I got home, I decided to look for a bathroom. I will say that I am willing to become a customer of a place in order to use the bathroom. Seems fair, although I realize that’s a privileged position on my part. Many people can’t afford to become customers, and businesses don’t want to become public restrooms. Tough call there.

First stop in the bathroom search – Columbia University Book Store. I can become a bookstore customer easily. I didn’t, because they had no bathroom. So I headed up Broadway toward 125th, hoping to find a restaurant or something with a restroom. No luck.

I did, however, overtake a man walking in the same direction as I was as I neared the 125th Street 1 line station. This wasn’t too great a feat, since the man was rather older than I am and was walking hunched over, pushing a kick scooter. You may be thinking, as you picture this in your head that he was hunched over because he was leaning on the scooter. Let me provide a few more details to clarify things. The man was wearing dark jeans that looked unwashed – they get this kind of brownish color and look permanently damp. He had on a dark blue pullover sweater with a brown button down shirt underneath. His hair was dark and wavy with a few grey strands, and his skin was deeply tanned and wrinkled. There was a large white cockatoo with a white screw-on type bottle cap in its mouth perched on his shoulder. Oh, did I forget to mention that? I think that may have been why he was hunched over. He spoke incessantly to the bird, and gently scolded it when it dropped the bottle cap to the sidewalk. It seemed as though the bird had dropped it several times, and this was the last straw, because the man looked at the bottle cap and said “You broke it.” (There was a chunk out of the side of it, which goes to show how strong their beaks are – I couldn’t have replicated the damage to the cap with a pair of pliers.) He continued to walk along, talking to the bird, reaching up and trying to extract the small bit of plastic from the bird’s beak.
I got to the 125th street 1 train station, and looked off to the west to see if I could find the A line station. There’s a clear view down to the Hudson at that vantage point, but no sign of the A line. Back to Google. The A line station at 125th is several blocks (and about 10 minutes walking) to the east of the A line. Who knew it passed under the 1 line?

I walked down 125th, rather than taking the bus, because I was still looking for a restroom. Traveller tip: No restrooms on 125th.

When I finally got to the station, I had to wait for a while for the train, so I started a conversations with the person standing next to me. She was wearing a grownyc.org T-shirt, carrying a ton of produce and some fresh flowers, so I asked her what market she had been to. It turns out that she is the manager of the Columbia market I was just at. The produce was a perc of the job – she gets the stuff vendors don’t want to take back with them. She also told me that some of the vendors start packing up as early as 3pm. Duly noted.

Eventually, I made it home, but not until after helping out a woman at the 207th Street station. She was the mom of four children under five years old, one of whom was still in a stroller. When I first spied her, she was climbing a set of stairs with a toddler in one hand, the stroller hoisted on her opposite hip, somehow corralling the other two kids with just her voice, and doing all this in high heels. Typical mom, right? She was not familiar with the station or the free shuttle replacing the 1 line. When she saw the number of stairs we had to climb to get out of the station, she agreed to let me lift the stroller. We just missed a shuttle, and had to wait a while for the next one. When it came, it stopped at an intersection about half a block away from us. I was determined that she was not going to miss that bus, so I stood in front of it until she got on. I did eventually to the bathroom when I got home.

I apologize for grammar and typos in this post. I just got an email that a teacher is out sick today, so I’m going to go help out in that room, so I am not going to have time to reread this before I post. Cavil as you will. *winky face*

W4D1 Om on the range.

OK, if things seem a little different today, it is because I am typing this at a remote location. Yes, indeed, rather than sit at my somewhat uncomfortable desk chair (even with two pillows on it), I am typing this from the comfort of my bed, where I am propped up against the wall with, you guessed it, two pillows. I am a full two and a half feet from my laptop. This is what wireless keyboards were made for, although, I am sensing an unusual warmth in my nether regions. Can BlueTooth do that?

I am going to pick up where I left off yesterday which was with “Godspeed, Ed.” I felt like it should just end there, but of course, there is so much more to tell you. That whole thing didn’t even get me to 11:30am.

First though, a word from our sponsor, Alice Ochterski, who informed me that Godspeed has nothing to do with speed at all. See for yourself.

Now, back to our story. The reason I didn’t need a ride from Ed is that I was headed in the other direction (as I so often am). I was aimed downtown for an appointment. Actually, it went like this. I found a place that does men’s pedicures, and after a long couple of weeks where I have spent mucho quantities of time on my feet, I decided they need a little TLC. I called the place, and asked what kind of services they include with a pedicure, being a relative neophyte to this activity. The person on the other end of the line and I did not speak the same version of English. I asked my question. The response “Pedicure? You want an appointment?”. I had no idea who I was speaking to, but the closest I can come to his accent is Serge from Beverly Hills Cop.

“Um, yes?”

“What time?

I looked at my phone for the current time. 11:40. I knew the 1 train wasn’t running except below 13th (I was at 230th), but there was a free (yes, free) shuttle running down to the A train station at 207th. I had noticed it on Saturday, when I went for my bike ride. On Saturday, the traffic was extremely congested, and walking would’ve probably been the best option. On Sunday, though, the traffic was a lot lighter, so I thought I’d give it a try. I also wanted to go to a farmers market I hadn’t been to yet. Surprised? You shouldn’t be at this point in the summer.

I guessed that I could make it down to the salon in about an hour, but I added some time, just to be safe. “1:30?”

“No, he as an appointment at 1:30.”

“Um,2?”

“No, a mani pedi takes about an hour.”

“Ok, 2:30?”

“OK see you at 2:30 for a mani pedi.” *click*

Wait, what? Ok, the adventure begins.

That left me a lot of time before my appointment, so I decided to go to the farmers market first. The market was at Columbia University, which is around the 116th Street stop. I figured I’d hop on the A train, get off at the closest stop, and just walk over. After the market, I could hop the 1 train (which was running below 137th Street) and take it down to 23rd street station, about half a block from my destination.

I hopped on the A as planned, and we took off. There were the usual perfunctory stops uptown so I settled in for the ride. I perked up when we stopped at 125th, knowing that 116 would likely be next. The subway sped up and carried us on. I’m pretty sure it was going top speed as we passed through the 116th Street station, and 110th, and 103rd, until we got to 86th. Apparently, the A train is an express.

So, I formulated a new plan. Why is it that I always formulate new plans? I mean, what’s the likelihood that they’ll work out? Not very good by my experience. Still, I do it anyways. New plan: Go downtown first (I was already more than halfway there), hang out for a while, then head to my appointment. That is, of course, if the A train stopped anywhere near my destination.

It did, sort of. I got off at 14th street ( I was headed toward 22nd), and began to look for something to do. I had about an hour and fortyfive minutes before my appointment. I did what any true blooded tourist would do. I googled “museums near me”. And even before the results came up, decided to go to the closest museum that was open.

Fortunately, the closest open museum was the Rubin Museum of Art, which I had never been to before. It had 4.5 stars on Google, so that was promising. I went in, paid my admission fee, declined a map (naturally) and began to wander. Oh yeah, did I mention that I had to go to the bathroom this whole time? I forgot to go at the diner, so the first thing I found at the museum was the men’s room. (Hmmm, I bet mens room doesn’t need an apostrophe, just like farmers market doesn’t).(Penn State agrees.) I did briefly regret not taking a map, but soon found the bathroom on the lowest level, but not without first noticing the unusual sounds coming from the large spiral staircase in the center of the museum, and the concave mirrored bowl underneath it.

Having found myself (and the bathroom) on the lower level, I decide to begin my tour there.

There was exactly one exhibit down there. It looked like two large cloth covered rectangles. Brown. Well, really more of a burnt sienna. Who remembers that crayon? Still one of the best, because, what even is sienna?

I read the description beside it (having decided that I wanted to “do” this museum carefully, and get the full experience, at least for the time I was there. It’s like when I went to the zoo. I tried to get the full experience of each exhibit.)

I was doing it all wrong. The two rectangular blocks were sets of speakers, and the exhibit was a soundscape, which was “best experienced by approaching it”. So I did. It was OK, but I was really more interested in the weird, noisy stairs.

I climbed back up to the first floor, and learned that the sounds were another (this time three dimensional soundscape, and that the sounds changed as you moved through it (by climbing the stairs), so I did.

I’m going to pause here, and move away from the details a bit to my overall experience at the Rubin. I have never been to an art museum where the bulk of the time I spent with my eyes closed. Nearly every exhibit was integrated with sound, much of it (at least the top three floors) was from Buddhist and Tibetan monasteries. There were many explanations about different kinds of chants and what they are used for. Each was accompanied by one or several artworks from the same regions.

My favorite room, by far, was the “Collective Om” room. Past patrons (and maybe current ones as well) recorded themselves chanting Om, and they were put together into an hour and forty minute continuous overlapping Om chant.

One time, about two years ago, I did a sort of yoga triathlon, consisting of a bike ride, a run and 108 sun salutations at the end. I had done 108 sun salutations before, and though it is difficult, I felt prepared for this experience. Wrong. When I had done them previously, we had gone a moderate pace, even pausing in some positions to catch our breath. Not so at this 108. They went crazy fast. Body parts were flying all over.

The best part of that experience was right at the end. There were over 100 people in the room, and we all participated in a flowing Om. We were each asked to chant om three times at our own pace. We all started together, but since each person’s om is a different length, the room soon started to reverberate with the mixed collective oms.

The experience in the room at the museum was similar. You could, if you wished, join in with the recorded oms. I did not. Too chicken. Maybe on a subsequent visit.

Subsequent visit? Oh yes. I did not get to experience the whole museum. I turned my admission fee into part of my membership fee, I think I’ve found a new oasis away from home.

W4D0 People plan, God laughs.

This morning, after yoga, I headed over to Tibbett Diner for breakfast. I’ve been there twice so far – the only restaurant I can say that about. It’s about a block from the studio, the wait staff is friendly, the food is good, and service is pretty fast. Today, though, they made a mistake, and it fell in my favor.

I ordered the western omelette special, which comes with homefries, coffee, juice and, in my case rye toast. I always order rye because it’s a sourdough bread, and we don’t usually keep sourdough at home. My breakfast came just as I ordered it, though if it hadn’t, I’d have eaten it anyway – it would be what I was meant to get. The gentleman sitting next to me, also a solo diner, did not feel the same way. Apparently, he ordered white, but also received rye. When he saw his order, he pointed to my toast and said to the waiter, “It looks like our toast orders have been switched, I ordered white, but got rye, and he ordered rye.” I said “I’m pretty sure I got rye.” The waiter took the errant toast and went to replace it.

I was sitting pretty close to this gentleman. There were three small tables built for two lined up next to each other, booth on one side, and three individual chairs on the other. They use this configuration flexibly to seat groups. It can hold up to six, but they leave the center table empty to sit two small groups. Thus I found myself an empty booth seat away from him, and why he could see my toast (almost) so well.

In order to lighten the mood, I turned to him (he seemed to have a sense of humor) and said, “I can’t believe that you still accuse me of stealing your toast after all the time we’ve been together.”

He laughed and proceeded to explain why he likes white toast. He likes to put jelly on his toast, and finds that the flavor of rye overpowers the jelly. Then he said, “Ha! People plan, God laughs” which could be the tagline of this blog, quite frankly.

I learned a lot about him over the course of our breakfasts. He just lost his wife of 59 years on July 5th. She had been terribly sick for the last two months, and in a sense he seemed relieved that it was over. I found out later that she had been ill, though not as seriously, for the past two years. He is still getting used to doing things, like shopping and eating out, on his own.

He was a teacher in the Bronx, drama and physical education, for 35 years, after which he retired into writing. He wrote some episodes of Ryan’s Hope (a soap opera from the mid seventies until the late eighties). He used to sit in on the bar scene in the show every St. Patrick’s Day (he is half Polish (from Białystok) – half Irish, and looks Irish), when they switched the cheat beer and cheat whisky for real beer and real whiskey and had a good time. He also wrote some plays, at least one of which was performed in Toronto, a city he likes a lot. He has also been to Buffalo a couple of times. He was arrested there once. He came back from a trip to Canada, and walked over the Peace Bridge. He had apparently forgotten that he had four Cuban cigars in his shirt pocket. The judge let him go.

His favorite Canadian city is Windsor, Ontario (across the river from Detroit), which he claims is the cleanest city he’s ever been to. He relayed the story of one of the greatest moments in his life, which happened there.

He used to work for the writer’s union with a guy named Maury (or something like that). He didn’t really like Maury much – Maury was always voting against his proposals for the union and the like. However, Maury was a great logistics man, and would plan trips down to the last detail, which made him handy to have around.

There was a convention in Windsor, and Maury had made reservations at a restaurant known for two things, a flowing trout stream in the restaurant from which you could pick the fish that you wanted for dinner, and a great lobster special: $17.99 for a lobster, fried clams, and fries or corn on the cob. Maury made reservations for six: three gentlemen (including Maury), Maury’s wife, and two extra for girls two of the gentlemen met at the conference. However, Maury brought two other gentlemen he met at the conference with him to dinner. The restaurant was unable to take eight people on a reservation for six. It was too busy.

My new friend started to bargain with the maitre’d: “What if we squeezed into the table for six, and all ordered the same thing, so it won’t be any trouble for anyone in the kitchen.” The maitre’d acquiesced. So they all sat down, and proceeded to decide what to order. When the waiter came, they ordered one by one. “I’ll have the lobster special with fried clams and corn on the cob.” The waiter took the order and left, but soon returned, “Would any of you like beer?” They all agreed to have beer. “Domestic or imported?” One by one, “Domestic.” “Domestic.” “Domestic.” Maury was the last to order, “I’ll have imported.” Soon the dinner and beer arrived. Labatt’s, Labatt’s, Labatt’s, and a Schaefer for Maury, who had forgotten he was in Canada. From then on, every trip, “Hey Maury – want a Schaefer’s?”

I learned other things about him as well, like that his son is the golf pro at Van Cortlandt Golf Course, which is the only fact I could verify with Google. Still, it was an entertaining meal with a very nice (and talkative) man. At the end of the meal, I learned that his name was Ed Silva. Out in the parking lot, he offered me a ride, but I was good.

Godspeed, Ed.

W3D6 Quality time in the 34th Precinct

The plan today was dead simple: Hop on Ellie, ride 31 minutes to the farmers market, get some stuff, ride back. I certainly did not expect to be spending any quality time in the 34th Precinct Station (Washington Heights – Inwood). I should just stop now. The rest will be in next week’s installment. Just kidding.

First off, a tip: if you are riding around upper Manhattan or the Bronx, and there is a place with the word “fort” in it along your path, avoid that place. It is a hill. I know this from experience. Today I passed by the former sites of Fort Independence, Fort George, Fort Washington, Fort Lee, and Fort Tryon. All of them are on the tops of hills. As a matter of fact, I think I hit nearly all the hills around here.

The target farmers market was just 3.8 miles down Broadway. However, if you take the somewhat straighter route Google suggests (Google favors bike lanes and quieter parallel roads), it is only 3.5 miles. What you don’t see on the phone app is that it is a 210 foot rise to get to the market, and almost all of it comes in about a quarter mile section of Fort George Hill Road. Instead of taking you down St Nicholas Street, Google suggests you go down the quieter parallel street Wadsworth. Made sense to me. I had to avoid a spraying fire hydrant – they’re open all over the place in this heat. They have spray caps on them so the water squirts out in an arc about halfway across the street. I must’ve seen twenty today.

As I crossed 178th street headed toward 175th, I saw something lying in the street that looked like it might be a wallet. There was a car coming up quickly behind me, so I kept going. I got to the market and discovered that it was more flea market than farmers market. There was only one food vendor, and they had mainly produce, which does not transport well by bike. I turned around to head back.

I stopped back at 178th, saw that it was indeed a wallet, picked it up, checked Google for the closest police station and headed over to the 34th Precinct, though I have since discovered that 178th is actually in the 33rd Precinct (179th is the dividing line). I don’t think people turn in wallets very often, because it took them a while to get all the paperwork together. They knew who it belonged to in about 5 minutes, and if I’m not mistaken, judging by the snippets of conversation I heard, that person has a criminal record for cocaine. There were two other snippets I overheard (I was there for about 15 or 20 minutes, but I was enjoying the air conditioning, so I didn’t mind):

  • When a woman who was waiting for a cab (I don’t know why she had the police officer give the location of the station to the cab driver. Either did the officer. Afterward he asked her,”What was that for?”) asked if anyone had a lighter. No one did. One enterprising police officer joked as he looked at some stuff on the counter, “Hey, maybe the guy we just arrested has one!”
  • As several officers were looking at a video monitor of a tow truck impounding a car in the station lot, one said “If he touches my car, I’m gonna…”. No forget that one. It’s not in keeping with the family friendly tone of this blog.

On the way to the precinct, I noticed sign for a bike path headed toward the George Washington Bridge. One of my goals this summer was to ride over the bridge if I could, and today seemed like my best chance. I can’t imagine a reason I’d climb those hills again. But you never know. Here’s what I have to say about the GWB:

  • It is pretty long, about nine tenths of a mile.
  • The sidewalk is narrow – just enough for two bikes with riser handlebars, about the same width as the sidewalks on the Arrigoni Bridge (“Most Beautiful Steel Bridge”,1938).
  • There is a lot of pedestrian and bike traffic on the bridge. I probably passed thirty to forty cyclists.
  • Even though there was no traffic jam, biking is almost as fast as driving over the bridge, unless it is really empty
  • There’s not too much interesting on the Jersey side, at least in the direction I went. Ok, that’s not true, and would go against the spirit of this blog if it were. Some interesting things (I rode a mile or so north on the road next to the Palisades Parkway, were all the bikers seemed to be going. I turned around when I got to a sizable downhill because I didn’t want to have to climb back up it, not knowing what the trip home would entail):
    • You have to park your bike at a meter. It is not clear whether you have to pay.
    • There are a couple of places along the west side of the road where there are old stone lined ditches. I’m not sure how old. Not too, though. Maybe 30 years. Near one of them are two small, concrete statues that look like pagodas. I’m thinking this was someone’s front yard at one time. Update: I was close. It was the front of an office complex at one time. Right now, it is a level field of dirt. Here’s how it looked in April 2012. You can see the pagoda in the middle there.
    • There is a bike shop/cafe (Strictly Bicycles) with a ride up cafe window. Their seven layer bars are good. You can rent (rent) a bike there for a day for $200. Ellie cost $150. She is a rescue bike, and happy to have a (vacation) home (where the climate control is cooler than my room right now, and they play music for her all the time).

After that, I rode home.

W3D5 You could be anywhere. Why are you here?

There it was, written in white neon, right smack in front of me. “You could be anywhere. Why are you here?” I mean, I had to look across the garden and into the window wall up on the third floor in order to see it, and a couple of bars of the window frame were blocking some of it, but I swear that’s what it said. I’ve tried to confirm it, but the picture I took is blurry; Google street view was taken during daylight hours, so you can’t see in the windows; there are no interior photos of that space on the The Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York website; and googling the phrase and the location (or even parts of it) yielded no results. Without going all the way back to see it, I can’t prove that’s what it said. You’re just going to have to take my word for it.

Now, that’s a weird sign to read,

  • especially when you are sitting in a community garden, listening to readings of horror stories sponsored by the Horror Writers Association, and there are only about a dozen people there
  • especially when you found the event quite by accident because of all the streets that pass between 11th and 10th avenue, you chose 52nd for some reason, and about three quarters of the way down the block you heard a person reading out loud, so you crossed the street and the threshold of the garden gate to see what it was
  • especially when the whole reason you are on 11th Avenue in the first place is because you went back to Ample Hills Creamery to get more ice cream on account of it was so good last time
  • especially when the reason you were even in that neighborhood at seven thirty at night is because you stayed after work for a couple hours, and the last site you were at was in Times Square
  • especially when the reason you were there was because the girls had gone, and it was quiet and air conditioned and you had good cell signal and plenty of power strips to plug your phone in
  • especially when you are glad you picked that spot because you need all those things for all the careful communication that had to happen to all the involved parties
  • especially when you are waiting for a call back from HQ about what steps to take next for a student in distress in her life outside GWC
  • especially when while you were waiting and the girls were still there, more than thirty years of programming experience allowed you to look at the scrambled output of a picture of Sponge Bob a girl was trying to filter and in ten seconds suggest a one character change to her code that fixed it, and there were high fives and jazz hands all around
  • especially when you walked into that building knowing that you were going to have to escalate the email you just got, and it was late in the day on Friday and you hoped someone would still be around, and they were.

And when you read a weird sign like that, you get to thinking that there aren’t too many people who could do what you just did (I hope it was the right thing), and that you and your team each were the right person in the right place, at the right time. Then, you know exactly why you are here.

What if we are all exactly the right person, in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time? What would you do differently?

Proof of the blurry picture. You can just make out the white neon in the gold windows, right under the tree branches.

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Proof of the Horror Writers Association (less blurry):

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W3D4 No title

I had to go without a title, because the best title would give away the end of the story.

I ended the day with Mark O’Donnell, who came down for a visit. It took us a long time to find a place for dinner. We sort of set the bar (at a bar) last year with our visit to Kimski, the Polish Korean fusion restaurant in Chicago. Standard pub fare was not going to cut it this year. We had planned to meet near midtown, where my last site of the day was, but the selection of interesting restaurants, once filtered by affordability, was very low. We decided to meet in Hell’s Kitchen hoping for better luck. Mark was waiting for me at a bar. We googled for restaurants, but didn’t find any that seemed worthy in the area. Mark had some extra cash value on his Metro card, so we headed down to Greenwich Village, thinking “we’ve got to be able to find something interesting there.”

We people- and performer-watched in Washington Park until we were good and hungry, then struck out to the south in search of victuals. We wandered up and down the streets in a six block area, noting places that we could come back to, but no place called us loud enough to go in. After about half an hour, we had all but given up, and headed back in search of places we had noted on the first pass. We went down a street, looked at a menu for a place I can’t find even with Google street view, thought, “This looks OK” and went in. It wasn’t long before we came back out – the music loud and not conducive to conversation, so we continued on, in search of the first place we had noticed.

We never found it. We were headed down “one last street”, when I spied a small restaurant on the other side of the road called “Cuba”. It looked good, and Mark hadn’t yet had Cuban food. We crossed over and checked the last hurdle on the menu outside – was it affordable? Yep.

After some wavering at whether to eat at the bar or eat at a table downstairs, we ended up downstairs in a tiny room whose ceiling opened to the bar and restaurant upstairs, which allowed us to hear the Cuban music and murmur of conversation upstairs, and made the room feel larger than it was. We had a truly excellent meal, complemented by my excellent mojito and Mark’s excellent Cuban rum. I’ll sum it up by saying that the first half of the meal had scant conversation other than Mark saying “Oh, man” after each bite of his masitas de cerdo. You might remember I did the same thing back in Week 0. I’d tell you more about the meal, but my time is limited today, and I want to relate one other memorable incident earlier in the day, one that so clearly highlighted the fact that I work with teenage girls.

It is robotics week for three of my classes. And while the Accenture class was busy making their robots dance and play music, the class at BlackRock had a special guest. Michael Jamet is an BLK employee with an interest in robots. He brought smart circuit boards with multicolor LEDs on them that looked something like this (I can’t for the life of me find the ones he actually brought):

When you plug them in for the first time, the LEDs light up in a series going up either side of the circle. First one, then two, then three LEDs on each side, creating a rainbow of color. When hers turned on Sarah’s voice rang out like a bell across the room, “Hey, now all we need is glow sticks and skimpy outfits!” (which was going to be the title of this post).

W3D3 Stand clear of the closing doors, please.

“This is a 3 train, next stop 110th street.” That’s funny, I felt sure I saw the sign that said it was a 1 train, last stop 242nd. And it was a 1 train when it pulled into the 50th Street station, where I got on. “If you wish to continue on the Broadway Line, please step to the platform.”

You can sort of tell when people have been waiting for a train for a while, especially in the heat. They get this saggy look to them. They are plopped down on benches, leaning against poles, hunched over their cell phones. I looked up at the overhead digital sign, which indicated two trains were due in the next few minutes:

  1. (1) Van Cort Park 242nd – 2min
  2. (1) Van Cort Park 242nd – 3min

The first one rolled into the 50th Street station. It was packed – SRO, so I thought, “Ha! I’ll catch the second one, and maybe get a seat.” (My thoughts all have correct punctuation.) No such luck. The second one was SRO, too, but I hopped on anyway. I was tired, and ready to get home.

Now I found myself at 96th Street. The train stopped, and about three quarters of the people moved out onto the platform. I paused to take a picture of one of those poems they put in trains. I’ve seen it a number of times, and like it more each time I read it.

I was down to the critical two or three seconds. “Stand clear of the closing doors, please.” (Apparently, they tried to change that to the shorter “Please stand clear.” two years ago, but either it didn’t stick or they aren’t done yet.) I could still leap off as the doors close, or…

I mean, I’ve never been on a 3 train. I’m not even sure where it goes. I studied a map on the train in earlier this morning, but then I was interested in Queens/Brooklyn side of the map. There may be a reprise of the errand I unsuccessfully (by one measure) ran last week. I had a vague idea that the 3 line turned right and headed toward the eastern side of the Bronx.

So, I chose “or”, and thought to myself, “And now the adventure begins.”

I wasn’t too adventurous, I got out at the first stop, 110th. Still, I had no idea where that was in relation to anything else I knew. I made an intention – I’m not going to use a map. I knew if I headed west, I’d eventually hit Broadway and the 1 line, so it wasn’t too much of a risk. Plus, it was sunny out, so west was easy to find – just keep walking toward the sun.

Within half a block, I knew where I was. I peered down Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and saw the north end of Central Park. I walked along the northern edge of the park. Just about the moment I got to the northwest corner of the park, I looked up and saw the hugest (that is the best word to describe it) church dome I’d ever seen in my life. Dang. I gotta figure out what that is.

I’d have saved myself some walking if I’d had my wits about me, recalling that most cathedrals face to the east(ish), so the entrance would be on the west side. But no. I took the three quarters of the way around the two city blocks this edifice occupied. The steps up to the front were empty save for a woman sitting with her dog. The dark, knobby, wooden doors are set deep into the front of the building, so I could only see the first, and it was closed. I passed a sign identifying this a St. John the Divine Cathedral. The second door was closed too. “I’m getting in there somehow, even if I have to pull open one of those heavy doors.” I assumed, that like most churches, the doors would be unlocked during daylight hours. This place was just too big, and therefore interesting, to not go in. The third door was open, revealing a set of glass doors inside. “Ha! I’m in!”

I stopped at the visitor booth. The nice man in the booth told me where I was (St John the Divine (I knew that), largest cathedral in the world. (Score!)), when it closed (30 minutes), requested and accepted a donation, and offered a map, which I declined, because – no maps.

Inside, it was immense. You could just look up and up and up. Up at the arched ceiling, up the columns, up at the stained glass, up at the unfinished brick and stone work.  If you weren’t looking up, there was a sculpture exhibit – Blessing of the Animals, with many sculptures throughout much of the nave and aisles. Here’s one.

20170719_173148.jpg

Many of the chapels coming of the ambulatory (in which I was ambling) were “Closed for Deinstallation”. Of what, I didn’t know, though inside the first closed chapel I saw, there were three people very carefully rolling up what looked like large, pale green/grey rugs. As I continued my meandering tour, it became clear that the deinstallation was of the Barberini Tapestry Exhibit.

After my tour, I found a pizza place across the street. I wasn’t very hungry, but knew I wouldn’t want to cook by the time I got home. I ordered a salad pizza (because I’d never heard of it), which turned out to be a pizza, cooked, with salad (lettuce, fresh tomatoes, black olives and vinaigrette dressing). I intended to take most of it home, and even had it boxed up. Unfortunately, I was three blocks and one and a half subway stops away before I realized I didn’t have it. Oops, too late to go back and get it.

And that is how I added another train line to my growing list. I have a loose goal for the summer to ride all the train lines, though not for their entire lengths; I want to leave time for adventures.

W3D2 Keep calm and keep Calm.

Sometimes, what to write about comes to me early in the day, and that is such a relief. Today was one of those days.

I wanted to get downtown and into a classroom just as the girls arrived – today they were going to be building their first robots. Not quite robots, but simple circuits using the robot chassis and learning how to use a breadboard to hook things together, how circuits work, how to translate what they built on a simulator yesterday into a real, physical operating thing today, and so forth. My favorite quote from the beginning of the day came when a girl told her group that they would have to do the activity because, “I am no good at robots.” And this was even before the teaching team finished distributing the robots and parts around the room. I made a beeline toward her and suggested that maybe today was the day she was going to get good at robots. She scoffed at me. Just before lunch, though, while the other group members looked helplessly on, I caught her fixing a circuit that someone else in her group had accidentally broken. As soon as she got the LED to light up I said, “Hey, look at you! Good at robots!”. She accused me of trying to deceive her, but she knew the truth. That’s how it works every day at Girls Who Code, and that’s why I love the program so much.

I walked down to the 238th Street station with idea of a single pit stop along the way: Mon Amour Coffee & Wine, to get a cup of coffee, not wine – too early for that. The coffee there is very good, but there is one, actually two, drawbacks to the place. The first, which is not too important for this story, but may be important in a future story, is that they have those peel-and-lock lids rather than the pucker lids (think Solo Travel lids – there’s a whole article about it here, but certain people might want to skip that link; I found an incorrect word, a then/than error, and a passive voice without even trying. Gizmodo need editors with more highly developed revulsion reflexes.) The second drawback is that the shop is only three doors, a cross street, and a staircase away from the train platform. For most, this would be a boon rather than a drawback, but I dislike eating or drinking on the train, which is odd, now that I think about it, because I have no problem drinking on the platform. Maybe it’s because on the platform, we are all facing the same way, whereas on the train, someone who doesn’t have food or coffee could be looking at me. It’s a mystery inside my head, folks, a complete mystery. Anyway, I adjust for my eccentricity by ordering the coffee with extra cream or milk, to cool it down, and then drink it as quickly as I can without permanently damaging my mouth. (An animal was indeed harmed in the making of this story. He is all right now, but his lower lip is rather tender.) I also skipped the first train that came through, just to buy myself an extra three minutes to finish the coffee. And finish I did, just as the next train rolled up.

I hopped on to the car with its door closest to me, then hopped right out again. This was a scene I saw played over and over the entire trip downtown. Someone would step in the car, say, “Ugh.” and step right out again and get in the next car. If the train had already started to move, they passed between cars to get out of that one. You see, the air conditioner was broken, and the car must have been sitting in the sun for a while, because the temperature inside was about 93 degrees, while the temperature outside was a much more pleasant 76. This prompted us all to move to the next, air-conditioned car, resulting in the cars to either side of the hot car having to carry half of its load. In other words, those other cars were starting to get pretty crowded, even by the second stop. It was SRO when I got on. Well, not quite, but nearly so. Enough that I knew I would give up my seat and end up standing for most of the fifty minute ride.

Then I had this other problem: I still had my empty coffee cup. There are no garbage cans on the 238th Street platform, and I’m not willing to leave my coffee cup on the ground. However, I know a (not too) secret, which is that there are garbage cans on the platform at 231st Street. (Don’t ask me how I know this – I told you, it’s a mess up there.) I made a bold decision – to hop off the train at 231, drop the coffee cup in the garbage, and hop back on. You can see where this is going, right? Joe misses his train. Nope, I got right back on as planned. Only, I had made one other decision just as the train pulling into the stop: when I re-boarded, I hopped into the hot car.

Two things were going through my mind. One, I could sit down – the car was utterly abandoned. Two, I was already hot, due to the combined effects of walking down the hill carrying my backpack and laptop case, and quickly downing sixteen ounces of still-pretty-hot coffee. I figured, if I could just accept the heat, I’d be OK.

You’re thinking “OK, Ochterski, you’ve really gone off the deep end now. Are you sure you didn’t get bumped in the head or something?” Well, no I’m not sure, but hear me out. I have a pretty regular daily meditation practice, for which I use the Calm app. They have a thing called “The Daily Calm”, which is a semi-guided meditation with a theme that is talked about at the end. The whole thing takes about 10 minutes or so. Last week, the theme was “Pain”, and they suggested accepting pain rather than fighting it. I was having a pretty good amount of muscle and joint pain, and fatigue at the time, especially going up and down stairs, so I thought, “Hey, what have I got to lose?” So I tried it. I tried accepting my pain. You know what, once I did that, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Instead of trudging up and down stairs, I try to keep my legs loose, no fighting, and dang if it’s not easier to go up and down. A lot easier. I’d say that about eighty five percent of my pain and fatigue is gone. When I feel it coming, I just loosen up and accept the pain that is coming, and most of it goes away. I think I have more energy, too, since I’m not using it to fight the discomfort.

So, I tried that with the heat. I accepted that my ride was going to be hot, and it was, but I wasn’t miserable, because the heat was just part of the trip. It was rather fun to watch people step to the car, not even all the way in, and turn and move to another car. I had the whole thing to myself for about eight stops, when it gradually began to fill. At one point, I joked with the woman sitting next to me that we’d feel better when we went out into the hot stations, while all the air-conditioned people would feel worse.

As the subway went underground and neared downtown, I felt something unexpected – a cool breeze. Someone at the front of the car was holding the door open by placing the strap of his bag through the door handle and hanging onto it with his fingers. Curiously, someone at the other end of the car was doing the same thing, unbidden. The effect was creating a breeze of cool tunnel air through the whole car, and cooling everyone in it. The ride was long. The ride was hot. But I wasn’t miserable, though I could’ve been.

So the point is this: maybe, just maybe, if we are willing to accept a little discomfort, things might not turn out as bad as we think they will.

W3D1 Still be kind, and eke out our performance with your mind.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…

By which I am referring to the act of writing without any clear plan of what to write about.

I spent the day out at the class in Stamford today. Along comes the end of the day, and I asked them about their field trip last week. They had come into the city to visit Google and Spotify. I spoke with one girl, Simi, at lunch, asking her what the highlight of the trip was for her. She said that although Google was really cool, she liked Spotify better. Upon digging a little deeper, I discovered that it was because that, while Google had a tour and demo (which was cut short because the group had arrived from Stamford late due to traffic), Spotify had a panel of five women in technical roles. I think this is one of the best formats for the girls – they get to see people like them doing technical work, and sets the idea in their head, “Hey, I could do that.” When panelists talk about their backgrounds, the girls invariably find out that some or all of them did not start out in computer science. Simi spoke about a woman she heard who has majored in art history in college, and was now working for Spotify. I also spoke with one of teaching assistants, who said that one of the panelists designs the front web page for Spotify, which is a site many of the girls are familiar with. I suspect, but can’t prove that these two panelists might, in fact, be the same person.

So that’s one field trip. I went on a different one last week to the New York Stock Exchange, who pulled out all the stops for us. (That is just an awesome idiom right there, referring of course to pulling out all the organ stops making the instrument as loud as possible.) When we arrived, we went through security into a waiting room where there was an entire LED wall display welcoming Girls Who Code and BlackRock, and the theme continued throughout the entire building. We also each got engraved name badges with the date and ceremony listed on them as mementos. They really treated us like VIPs. To wit: there were refreshments (cookies and drinks) for us in a large gathering room where we waited before going onto the floor of the stock market itself. Naturally, given the group of 20 hungry teenagers, the cookies were gone almost immediately, and well before before we went down to the floor. When we got back, they had replenished the cookies! If that’s not VIP treatment, what is?

What interests me is not the two trips themselves – they are both great. What is striking is the difference in logistics between the two trips and how the students got to and from their respective destinations.

The trip to the NYSE was what I’d call a typical GWC field trip within a city, very similar to what we did last year in Chicago. The girls traveled by subway from BlackRock to the NYSE. We had about 9 chaperones (in Chitown, we did it with three, just saying, but I think a few BLK employees came along for the bucket list aspect, though they helped with the girls, too. Also, they are all arranging other activities for the girls this summer, one of which I definitely plan to go to because it sounds just so mind-blowingly cool. I’ll let you know.)

The trip consisted of a two and a half  block walk , followed by two subway trips. You haven’t experienced exciting until you wrangle 20 girls into two subway cars (because both cars are pretty full to begin with, and it’s clear we won’t all fit) in about 12 seconds. It’s a lot like those scenes you see in commercials of cowboys herding cats. The leader for the trip was Lisa Dallmer, a Chief Operating Officer for BlackRock who I mentioned back in Week 1. Man, can she lead. At one point a train pulled up, people exited, then she checked to make sure it was stopping where we needed it to (as opposed to an express), and said “This one. Go!” My role (I relish the role of second in command – I think I’m really good at it – I look out for anything that might make the leader’s plan fail, and fix it before it happens) was to hang back and make sure all the girls were on, then climb on myself. That way, if a girl didn’t make it on the train, I’d still be with her as a chaperone until the group met up again. The trip back was even more exciting, because the train cars were fuller with Friday rush hour commuters. Oh,yeah, all this took place in the rain.

Contrast that with the Synchrony field trip to Google and Spotify from Stamford. I found out about the logistics of that trip when I asked the teaching team if they needed an extra set of eyes on their field trip to Sony coming up on Friday. It seems as though they were thinking of handling this one differently. Last time they took a chartered bus into and back from the city, but they were looking into taking public transit on the way back this time because there was a traffic snarl that caused them to get back late last week. They weren’t sure if they needed more help, so I asked how many chaperones there were last week. There were the three from the teaching team and about six or seven from Synchrony. Oh yeah, and their security detail. I thought they were kidding, but nope – they had an ex-FBI agent as security for the trip. Apparently he’s six foot something. I asked if he seemed OK – they said yes, he didn’t bother the girls at all. I clarified, “What did he do?” They said, “Oh, he stayed behind the girls the whole time, kept and eye on them, and directed them as they crossed the street.” That’s what I’d do. They don’t need me. God speed!