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!

W3D0 The old switchelroo

I was debating whether to even write tonight, since I wrote quite lengthily this morning, but knowing how as you all would complain or worry about me if you didn’t have your morning read, here goes.

Sunday is laundry day here at the camp, so I knew a long adventure was out of the question. I also decided to leave Ellie in storage today, since the New York City Triathlon was going to occupy some of the trails I was interested in investigating, and I thought it was going to be hotter than it actually was.

The plan was to go to church, then continue from there to the 79th Street Farmers Market, which is right behind the American Museum of Natural History. I had no plan to hit the museum today – I’m saving that for later in the summer, possibly when I have a visitor or two who enjoy taxidermy.

Amazingly, everything went according to plan, mostly. The only bump was the 1 line again, but this time I was prepared, and headed straight to the A line. Soon, I was at the market, which is a fairly large one (by my standards) with fifty or so vendors. It stretched in a single line for two full city blocks. I got a mess of stuff, but central to my plan was dinner tonight – I was cooking in for a change.

First, I made a pass through the entire market one way, north to south, keeping my eyes open for interesting ingredients. I only bought one thing on the way south. Any guesses? Yes, you, in the back wearing a sweater and hat even though it’s 85 degrees out. That’s right! Cheese! It was ugly and it was calling me. It had bluish mold in it for heaven’s sake. Clearly stinky, and again separated from the herd of other, tamer, cheeses. It is called trioche and is made by Valley Shepherd Creamery. Its claim to fame it that it is made from raw cow, sheep, and goat milk. All the best cheeses are made from raw milk. Raw milk is awesome – try it if you can find a purveyor; you can even taste a hint of grass in it.

On the second pass, I got three things which I used for dinner:

  1. Bacon from Roaming Acres. It was thick cut; three slices comprised the half pound package I got. That is about twice as thick as Oscar Mayer Thick Cut Bacon. (No link here – I actually did the research for that in an incognito window because I don’t want Oscar Mayer ads following me all over the internet, thank you. We’ll see if it works.) That is just plain old good bacon. Probably the second best I’ve had. (The best was on an outing at a computational chemistry meeting in Montreal about 24 years ago. We went to this maple syrup place, and the bacon was unreal. It is the bacon by which I benchmark all bacons. It cracked when you bit it, then just melted over your tongue. Unbelievable. I’m still trying to figure out how they did that. I got close today with this bacon. I bet if I had a cast iron pan instead of stainless steel, I’d be there. Cast iron for the win. Always. If I had one pan, it would be cast iron, and sometimes it has been when I’ve gone camping. Firecakes are legendary in our family.) Here’s a picture of the bacon to whet your appetite.

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  1. German Butterball Potatoes – “Unrivaled in creamy, buttery flavor and superb dense texture.” They are not kidding. I made (sort of) hash browned potatoes out of these. It was actually an accident of sorts. I cut up the potatoes and tossed them in the pan (again, missing my cast Fe). I soon realized that they weren’t going to cook well, because the pan didn’t have a lid. The bottoms were browning fine, but it was going to take forever to get them fully cooked, so I improvised. I added some water and let them boil a while, then poured the remaining water out and added more bacon grease and let them cook. A little salt and pepper and they were delish.
  2. These little tiny baby zucchinis. I chopped them up without remorse (okay, maybe a little; they were really cute), a little water to soften them then more bacon grease. Since the bacon was uncured, it was not very salty, and neither was the grease.

I chopped up the bacon, sprinkled it over the potatoes and zucchini and ate up. I managed to save some leftovers for tomorrow, knowing I’ll be in Stamford for the day, and likely get home too late to prepare dinner. The trick to saving enough for leftovers was the cheese and Sungold tomato fest I had before preparing dinner.

Oh, one other thing. I bought a 12 ounce bottle of switchel which looks like a whisky bottle. In fact, it is non-alcoholic. The vendor ask if I knew what it was when I bought it. I said “Nope”, so he gave me some tips on serving it. My version, made by Berkshire Berries (Hi, people in the Berkshires!), is made from water, raspberry vinegar, sugar, ginger root and lemon juice. You add it to water or seltzer, or pour it over ice. It is very refreshing and thirst quenching, and not too sweet. It may be my new favorite drink. It is pretty easy to make yourself, too. If you like lemon in your water, you’ll likely like switchel.

That’s it for today. So much for a short post.

W2D6 Queens for a day

A lot of local media (and some national media) have been referring to this summer as the “Summer of Hell”, because of the construction going on at Penn Station. This week was the kick-off week for the worst of it. All kinds of extra buses were brought into Penn Station on Monday, but things went pretty smoothly, and gradually the number of buses was decreased over the course of the week. This hasn’t really affected me, because my travels have not brought me into the vicinity of that area. What hass been less publicized is all the other track maintenance going on all around the city, and how that has left people feeling.

Let me illustrate with my journey today. Note, I am not in anyway saying I experienced hell. I am lucky that I am not travelling with anyone who depends on me, nor do I have to be anywhere at a given time, nor do I actually have to go to my destination at all, so delays and schedule changes are part of my fun, even if it can be a bit exhausting.

Once again, we start with a simple plan. I was running an errand for a friend near the end of the N train line out in Queens. I thought, “Hey, I’ve never been to Queens (other than LaGuardia) – I’ll go to the Queens Zoo and explore around while I’m out there.” I went to the zoo web site and looked at a map, to get an idea of how big it was. I noticed an arrow at the top labeled “New York Hall of Science”. I googled it, and discovered that it was right next door to the zoo. Both are on the site of the 1964 World’s Fair. A two-fer!

I googled directions and set the plan. Walk down to the 231st Street station (I wanted to drop something off at the post office near by), hop on the 1 train, take it down to Times Square (42nd Street) hop on a 7 train out to the zoo and Science Hall, hop back on, transfer to the N train, walk 12 minutes to run the errand, then walk back, hop on the N back to 42nd then the 1 train home. I planned to be home by 6, and even set a reminder at that time for do open my umbrella, which was at home, and dry it out.

So it boils down to this: 1, 7, 7, N, 1. This is how it actually went.

1 Train

As I mentioned, I needed to drop something off at the post office, so I headed toward the 231st Street stop. I didn’t actually get to the post office, because they have something here called mailboxes, and they aren’t only in front of post offices. This was great, because it saved me the two blocks of walking down to 230th and back. Pyrrhic victory.

I climbed the stairs up to the 231st platform only to discover (literal) red tape across the turnstiles. Oh yeah, same deal as Thursday – trains are running express to 242nd to 215th. If you want to be a hero in NYC, you can simply tell people that as they are climbing up the stairs that there is no train service. They are truly appreciative, and no one does it. So, a decision: 11 blocks north, or 14 south? I chose 14 south, mostly because I hadn’t yet walked down that section of Broadway, and I knew it would take me over the Harlem River, and I kind of like looking over bridge rails at the water flowing underneath. If I am walking over a bridge, I always stop and look down. You can see a lot of fish that way. But not in the Harlem River – too murky. You can see a fair number of boats, though.

Finally, I climbed the stairs to the 215th Street station, where there were kind of a lot of people waiting. This would be a good time to mention that the rails overhead while I was walking were eerily quiet. I had noticed this. Blocks are about a tenth of a mile long and take about two minutes to walk. I hadn’t heard any trains overhead for about half an hour – they should be about every 8 minutes. I thought I must’ve missed a couple in my reverie.

So, we, the people, waited. And waited. After about 10 minutes, a voice came over the loudspeaker and said “Due to construction, trains are not stopping at the 215th street station” and then a whole bunch of blurry stuff where I heard the word “bus”, but not the number, and “207th street”. The groans from the other passengers were audible. These people had already paid their fares. I have a monthly pass, which is kind of like having infinite lives in a video game – if you lose a life, or a fare, it’s no big deal, you just try again.

Off I go to 207th. What’s another eight blocks at this point? Plus, the neighborhood was not bad. I will say, though, that on a nice day, there are a lot of ad hoc car washes businesses set up all over the place.

When I got there, there was a woman coming down the stairs, looking disappointed. Several of us had just made the trek from 215th when we met her. There was a conversation in mixed Spanish and English, the gist of which was that the trains were not running at 207th, either. “Broken.”

There was this guy with red hair and a backpack that I had been a few steps behind for a while. While I was deciding whether to continue on to the next 1 train stop or try something else, he disappeared off to the right somewhere, no longer following the tracks. In retrospect, it became clear that he knew something I didn’t.

The buses were starting to become a more attractive option. What held me back is lack of knowledge about where the buses actually go. You will remember that the MTA is nothing like the Chicago Transit Authority – you may need to get on a northbound bus to go south in NYC. I asked Google to map me a route to Queens by bus: four unfamiliar buses and a bunch of walking. That was not an attractive option. Then I saw a Bx12 bus go by. I know that bus – it takes you to the Bronx Zoo! There are two Bx12 buses, the regular one, and the SBS (Select Bus Service). I have gradually come to understand that SBS buses are like regular buses, but with some efficiency improvements, like bus lanes, limited stops and off board fare payment, which is a fancy way of saying “you pay before you get on” (also, you only learn this fact by doing it wrong, although you could learn it by reading the signs all over the fare payment terminals, which I ignored because I have an unlimited pass – you still need to use it to get a receipt so you can board.) I was pretty sure that I could take the bus to the 4 train and continue from there. A SBS bus was just pulling away as I got there, so I bought my fare, and proceeded to wait for the next one. While I was waiting, I googled around to find the new route. It was a little tricky, because Google kept telling me to take the 1 train, and if I told it to not use trains, I was back to the four bus solution. Then I scrolled down a little farther, and found “Other subway routes”. If I walked about 4 or five more blocks, to the west instead of south, I could catch the A train and then the 7, and I’d be back on track, so to speak. That’s what the guy with the red hair knew. He was almost certainly already on the A train at this point. The rest of the trip out to the Science Hall and the Queens Zoo went as planned. Shocked, aren’t you? Don’t despair, the day is not over yet!

After the science museum and zoo, I headed toward my errand. Google suggested I take the 7, and the 7 to Queensboro Plaza and then the N train, followed a twelve minute walk to my destination. Yes, two 7s. I still don’t know why. The 7 I got on was going to the Queensboro Plaza, so I stuck with it. I eventually got to SingleCut Beersmiths to buy a particular beer for a friend. Honestly. It was sold out. I must’ve looked tired, because the bartender actually shook my hand and said, “Sorry, friend.”

At this point, it was about 6pm, and I had been travelling for almost seven hours (my fitness app told me I hit 10,000 steps a long time ago), so I wanted to have a relaxing meal. Although they served food at SingleCut, I wasn’t really interested in beer, so I set out to explore Astoria and find some dinner. I settled on MP Taverna, ate outside, and had a pleasant meal of Cypriot lamb sausage, pork tenderloin, chicken, Greek pork sausage. So good. I had some leftovers, which I just ate while describing my 1 train adventure to you.

On the way back, I stopped at a Greek bakery, Lefkos Pyrgos (Λευκός Πύργος for those of you studying ancient Greek. Yes, some of my readers study ancient Greek. I have an erudite audience), which I now know is named after the White Tower of Thessaloniki which explains its white exterior, and got some baklava to go. Cuz when there’s Greek bakeries, you get something.

N to 1 to home, or something like that.

Google said to take the N train to 42nd Street, then the 1 train, then walk the 10 minutes home. Now, I had already had some experience with the 1 train which was still fresh in my mind. Add to that the thought of 187 stairs, and the fact that, at this point, I had 25,664 steps on my fitness app, and you’ll understand why, when the train stopped at 59th Street and the announcement said “connection to the 4 train”, I literally (I am literally using the word literally a lot in this post) leapt off the train. I sometimes take the 4 train when I have to get to the east side of Manhattan. I have come to think of it as my short cut commute, not because it takes less time (it almost always takes longer), but because it drops me off at the top of the hill, just outside my apartment complex, leaving me with only 63 stairs to climb. Spoiler: Pyrrhic victory.

I followed signs on the convoluted path deeper into the bowels of the 59th Street station. I commented to a woman going down the stairs one step at a time, “These stairs have got to go.” She agreed. On the very lowest level is the 4 train. Only not tonight. A sign down there said that the 4 train was running on the upper 6 train tracks at the top of the station. Back up I go.

Mercifully, I didn’t have to climb all the way to the top; there was a long escalator that made the job easier. Eventually, the 4 train arrived, and it was packed. Who knew there were so many people in Manhattan at 8pm on a Saturday night? And, the train is a local (Local 4 to 125th), which was kind of cool because I didn’t even know there was a local 4, having only ever been on express 4 trains. Did you know that there are just a lot of stops on a local, at least before you get to 125th. 125th? Didn’t catch that did you. Either did I. Either did a bunch of other people on the train. The last stop for this train was 125th. Remember, I am trying to get to 238th, where I live. We all had to get off at 125th, while the train headed back downtown. Fortunately, there was an MTA worker directing us down the stairs to where we could catch the train for the second half of the trip, north of 125th. Construction.

We waited for a fairly long time (15 minutes) for the 4 train to enter the station from the north, stop, load, and head back north again. I told a guy carrying a Blue Apron box that I was going to stick with him, since he had food in case we didn’t make it home, and I offered to share my baklava should that happen.

I got off the train at Mosholu, and waited for the bus with about twenty other people. Two buses came nose to tail. About eighteen people went to board the first bus, Bx1, but I held back and got on the second bus, Bx2. Either would’ve taken me to my destination, but I had a plan. And it worked!

The Bx2 bus loaded faster than Bx1 because only about three people boarded – everyone else went for the first bus. Bx2 was able to leapfrog Bx1 and we were on our way. Also, because we had fewer riders, we made fewer stops, and we were speeding along. I made it to my stop a whole 35 seconds faster than Bx1, ten and a half hours after I started out, which is why I’m a little late posting this.

W2D5 I think it was all you can eat

Ibuprofen and Malbec, a relaxing combination. The ibuprofen was for my knees – I had literally been on my feet for more than for five hours straight, mostly standing still, which is hard on my knees. The Malbec (a small glass) was to reset my frame of mind. I was very annoyed. It does happen folks. I had just received a 425 word text (not from any of you or from anything linked with GWC) and the content annoyed the heck out of me. I felt unjustly accused.

To reset my frame of mind, I decided to simply enjoy myself. I took the advice of a colleague’s recommendation (#), and took myself out to dinner on Restaurant Row. There were several reasons behind this.

  1. I wanted to relax. It’s been a long (but good) week and I was tired.
  2. I don’t know what was up with New York today, but apparently at 5:45pm, everybody decided to drive their vehicle south. Gridlock everywhere. It was as if the Lincoln Tunnel was the only way out and Manhattan was sinking. Toot toot people of New York. Bronk bronk just doesn’t help. Those are horn noises.
  3. Having just taken the 5 and 6 trains, I knew the people who didn’t have cars were all escaping north on trains. I decided to wait them out. And maybe keep my eyes out for a life jacket.
  4. I just wanted to sit down for a while.
  5. It is pay day.
  6. It is also second half of bonus day, because I re-upped with GWC early. It saves recruiting costs for them.
  7. Restaurant Row was not far away from me – a couple of blocks.

I had already pre-decided where to go a couple of days before when I was looking at the Restaurant Row website: Brazil Brazil. It’s Brazilian, and has Brazilian food. And doesn’t cost a Brazillion dollars.

I sat outside. I’ve been wanting to do that a lot. I like watching people go by – cheap entertainment.

I ordered the paella and the waiter asked if I wanted a salad. Without much thought I said yes, and ordered something called the Brazil Brazil salad, not really having read the description, except I saw it had strawberries in it. I guess I figured that if they named it after the restaurant, it must be something they are proud of, so I tried it. I just looked it up, and now I know what’s in it: Organic greens, mango, strawberries, heart of palm and oranges topped with sautéed shrimps and Brazilian sausage in a cachaça sauce. Here’s a picture:

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I didn’t know about the cachaça sauce. Stolen from Wikipedia: Cachaça is a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice. [I]t is the most popular distilled alcoholic beverage in Brazil.

The sauce they made was out of this world. I couldn’t figure out what it was – not so tangy as vinegar, a little sweet, but so good on the greens. The sausages were a complete surprise, too. (Order first, figure out what you got later – the corollary to this is that I always accept whatever I’m given, even if it’s not what I ordered – it’s what I’m meant to have (unless it belongs to another person at the table, then I’ll give it to its rightful owner.)

All in all, I enjoyed the meal. At one point, one of the waiters asked me if I wanted a coaster over my wine glass to keep the fruit flies out. I said, “No, they don’t drink much.” (an old, old joke I probably got from Bazooka Joe (whose website actually says “HEY KIDS! THIS IS ADVERTISING!”) or Boy’s Life (Joke of the Day: RYEN: What is the difference between a cat and a comma? BILL: Tell me. RYEN: One has claws at the end of its paws, and the other is a pause at the end of a clause.) He said, “I’m going to have to charge you thirty cents extra for the protein.” We laughed, and later I asked if that was per fruit fly, or was it all you can eat. He said it is all you can drink.

After eating, I had to decide between Brazilian flan at the restaurant or finding ice cream somewhere. (What’s behind door number 2, Bob? Hmmm… am I referencing Let’s Make a Deal or Dexter’s Laboratory? In German, LMaD is called “Geh aufs Ganze!” So catchy.)

This is where the closeted English teacher in me pauses and says, “OK boys and girls, let’s make a prediction about what might happen.” Really, if you’ve read any of this, you know I went for the unknown behind door number two. Duh.

In this case, that meant pulling out my phone and Googling “best ice cream in Manhattan” and going to the closet legitimate place (it came up with some schlock chain places near Times Square.) One does NOT put chain restaurant ice cream on top of really good Brazilian food. There have to be standards in this world sheeple! My ice cream probity led me to Ample Hill Creamery in Hell’s Kitchen. (While technically, with three stores, it is a chain, small chains are OK. It’s the big corporate ones I eschew.) It is actually located in this mini food mall, Gotham West Market, (they have some good press) with all kinds of restaurants (except chains). The one I immediately noticed that will bring me back there was one that served sushi burritos, though I found several others with equal allure, like the one where I didn’t know what just about anything on the menu was (El Colmado).

I ordered a small “Hell’s Kitchen Sink” ice cream before I read what was in it (I knew it had chocolate, simply by looking). I’m not a big chocolate ice cream fan (except I can polish off a pint of Haagen Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter without hesitating at all), but this was really good. I couldn’t read the ingredients because the writing on the sign was too small. I have a blurry picture to prove that, but I’ll spare you. From their description:

“The Irish heritage of Hell’s Kitchen resulted in a Guinness dark chocolate ice cream, chock full of mix-ins: brown butter cookie dough, toffee pieces and spiced brownies. An explosion of flavor! We call it Hell’s Kitchen Sink!”

Spot on.

It was already about quarter after 8 at this point, so I headed home.

W2D5 Life has its ups and downs.

In our quest for accuracy, I must correct what I said yesterday. I was wrong. The Viacom building does not have 18 elevators. I missed a bank. There are, in fact 26 elevators. I know this because in the process of obtaining an ID and visiting the classroom there today, I rode an elevator in three of the four banks (with 6, 6, 6 and 8 elevators each – the math is homework).

First, of course, I had to get to the building (you might remember that it is in TImes Square). It typically takes about 50 minutes to get there by train. I didn’t want to risk being late (I had a 1pm appointment to get my ID) so I left with an hour and twenty minutes to get there, you know, because things don’t always go as planned. I walked down to the 238th Street stop as usual, except it was 93 degrees. I climbed up to the station, noted that all the turnstiles said “No entry”, and then heard the voice of the station attendant yell, “No service at this station. All trains are running express to the 215th Street station.” You see, I had forgotten about the planned change in service, which I had read about many times. Here is tomorrow’s notice, because today’s has already expired (that is also why there is not a link. However, if you are interested in finding planned service changes in the future, you can use this link)

Planned Service Changes for: Friday, July 14, 2017

South Ferry-bound trains skip 238 St, 231 St and 225 St

Days, 10:45 AM to 3 PM, Wed to Fri, until Aug 11

For service to these stations, take the Bx9 bus instead.

For service from 238 St, walk or take an uptown Bx9 bus to 242 St and transfer to a South Ferry-bound .

For service from 231 and 225 Sts, take the to 242 St and transfer to a South Ferry-bound .

You see, I read the notice (it’s posted about 30 times in the station), thought about it, then disregarded it because between 10:45am and 3pm on a weekday, I’m usually downtown. Today, however, I decided to do my early morning stuff (like attendance) from home, because I didn’t have a particular site to be at, and I knew I’d be downtown until after 8pm (another Meet and Greet). It’s just plain old easier to do that stuff at my desk here rather than at a site, where I have to try to get WiFi up and running, and may not necessarily have a flat space to work. There was no table space in the classroom yesterday, so I had to actually use my laptop ON MY LAP!

All this meant that I had to go back down the station stairs, walk up to 242nd Street and climb back up again. Having gotten up there, I realized the cause of a phenomenon I noticed yesterday. When I boarded the train at 238th (the second stop on the line), I moved down the platform toward the rear end of the train hoping to find an emptier car, so I could sit all the way downtown, only to discover that the last two cars of the train were packed almost to standing room only. That struck me as odd, because most trains fill from the middle – people don’t like to walk down the platform to board the ends of the train. So, why would the last two cars be full, and the rest of the train mainly empty. Press pause here, and see if you can come up with the answer.

OK, I know you didn’t press pause. Man, are you ever into instant gratification. You know, there is benefit to trying to actually work through these things. You know that, right? Hereis the answer, lazybones: since 242nd is the first (or last) stop, the platform makes kind of a giant E shape. The trains go in the empty spaces outlined by the E. The stairs are connected to the vertical part of the E, so everyone boards that end, because they don’t like to walk down to the end of the platform. Same people rule, different station configuration. I hadn’t considered that it might be a dead end station. The trainyard swings out to the west around 240th. I walked by it this morning. I could hear the train cars gently snoring.

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OK, back to the elevator banks. So, I entered the building, made it through security smoothly this time, and headed up to the 50th floor to meet my host. This is when I found the extra bank of elevators. There are 8 going to the really high floors (31 and 45-54). Once we met, we needed to go to the security badge office on the 35th floor. That meant going down to 31, then changing elevator banks and going back up to 35. After I got my badge, I wanted to go to the 12th floor, so I got back on, took the elevator to the lobby, switched banks again, then back up to 12. I’m glad I don’t have to do that everyday. Some people do – the cafeteria is on the 7th floor, so if you work on 50, you go down to the lobby, then back up to 7, and back again to get back to work. I’d take a five day supply of lunches on Monday, and eat in the office for the rest of the week.

I left the building around 2:30 and headed to my next site. I got about half a block away, and stopped. I didn’t need to be at the next site until four, though I wanted to be there sooner so I could observe the class. Observing the class actually means finding girls who look disengaged and re-engaging them if it’s hands-on coding time. Disengaged usually means stuck. So, we unstick them.

I thought, “You know what, you forgot to go to the Marriott Marquis yesterday to ride the elevator, and you’ve got a little time now, and you’ll probably forget again and again, so just do it.” You’ll remember, of course, that the Marriott Marquis was the first place in the world (update, North America. I’m so disappointed) to have destination dispatch elevators. Of course, if you are in Times Square, that is your highest priority, right? Ride the elevators! OK, really, it was the only thing in Times Square I was interested in doing. I will say though, that there were quite a few street characters today, and I bet it was HOT in those costumes – except for the two enterprising young women in very small red, white, and blue bikinis (I just typed blur instead of blue), large red, white and blue feather headdresses, and very little else except some patriotic bodypaint, N on one cheek, Y on the other. I’ll let you choose the meaning of cheek. Not that I was paying that no nevermind.

Not knowing what I’d face in terms of security in the hotel, I will admit to spending quite a lot of time in the past few days coming up with some plausible reason I would want to ride the elevator to a high floor in a hotel I’m not booked in, don’t know anybody booked in, and have never even been in. My solution was essentially to repeat the geeky story I’ve already told you about them being the first destination dispatch elevators, wearing a goofy smile, and hoping for the best. I’m a shrewd planner, I am.

So in I went. I pretended that I belonged there (half the battle, right?) and walked right to the elevator bank. A gentleman was right behind me, and he pressed 43, so I followed him on. Two other people got on, going to 7 (restaurant) and 8 (lobby). Up we went. The people got off at 7 and 8, then the gentleman and I rode up to 43. Here’s a picture of me riding the elevator. It is poor quality, because I didn’t want to raise suspicion by photographing inside the hotel, so I pretended I was just texting. That explains the awesome angle of the shot.

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That’s what I look like to my phone when I text.

So, up we went. He got off on the 43rd floor, I stayed on. Clearly he wasn’t paying attention, or he’d have noticed that no other floors were pushed. There is an indicator panel inside the elevator door which shows its destinations (makes sense, right?). So the doors closed behind him. The elevator does nothing. It doesn’t have a destination, so it just sits there on the 43rd floor.

I thought “Ah, it needs a destination. I will simply get out, request the ground floor, and hop back on the elevator which is already waiting for me.” Then I pressed the “Open doors” button. Nothing. Again. Nothing. Once more. Nothing. I’m trapped. Hmmm.

Nothing to do but wait. After a few seconds, maybe 15, though it felt like forever, the elevator started to descend, and wound up stopping at the lobby level on the eighth floor. It just stopped. “Door open”. Nope. Nothing. Still trapped. Finally, it started to move again, and the door opened on 7, so I leapt out.

Once the elevator of doom had continues on its mission of scaring the bejeezus out of people, I requested the ground floor. It said to go to Elevator O. I didn’t even know there were that many. I hopped on, rode it down, and exited, gleeful in my new found freedom.

W2D4 Fresh Air! Times Square!

Times Square is a busy place. I know that for sure because I went through there four different times today: 8:20am, 1:35pm, 5:30pm and 8:10pm. Each time, I felt nearly overwhelmed by the lights and signs and sheer the number of people, walking, milling, working, posing, and directing others to do the same. “If it’s so busy and horrible, then why did you go there so many times, my friend?” you ask. Well, it was rather unavoidable today. I went to visit the last of my classrooms, the only one I hadn’t seen yet because their Week 0 meeting took place at the same time I was in a Week 0 meeting at another site, almost exactly a mile away. I think most of my sites would fit on a circle about a mile in diameter. I’m getting my steps in, that’s for sure. The classroom itself is located in the Viacom building in Times Square, twelfth floor, nice view to the west (away from the Square).

Once you get past the revolving doors, the environment gets a lot quieter.
You take an escalator (or the stairs if you prefer) to the second floor lobby and security. Today, I got stuck at security – my name wasn’t on the list. If you’re not on the list, you’re not getting in, at least until someone comes and vouches for you. This has happened to me at a number of sites. I kind of expect it now. First, the phone calls start, usually from the security desk. When those don’t work I try email. I usually “reply all” to the most recent email response to my request to get on the list. When I can, I make the request 24 hours in advance. Frequently the job of getting me on the list is delegated, so the email CC list flows downhill scooping people up along the way. If I had stuck to my original plan, getting there at 9am, emailing probably would’ve worked – people are in their offices around 9. But nope. Plan, what plan?

In my request, I said I’d be there around 9 am, but later in the day, this happened:

Teacher: Hey Joe! Just wanted to ask when we should be expecting you tomorrow?

Me: Anytime and all the time. I move like the wind. Uh, a little before 9?

Teacher: Yea before students get there would be ideal. Like 8:30ish

Me: Will do. I’ll have to get up early to do my hair.

Teacher: Lol.

The key phrase in there is this: “before students get there would be ideal”, which I took to mean “we need to talk”. It’s teacherese. (I try to make up at least one word in every post. See if you can find them. Just kidding. I don’t really do that, but it kind of works out that way. Shakespeare did it. Just saying.) So, I found myself going through Time Square at 8:20, rather than 8:50. That half hour made a difference, because no one was in their office yet. On to plan C: texting. I texted the teacher, and she came down to get me.

In order to avoid this problem in the future, and, secretly to reserve the possibility of popping in on a class should I need to, I am getting a security badge for that building tomorrow. That will make four security badges for six sites. If I need to, I can lean on the other two sites – they’ve already said yes, but we haven’t arranged to get the badges made. I must say, I feel like a spy with all these IDs. It’s actually kind of tricky to keep them straight. Eef dees eez sixt avenue, den I moost be in Paris. (Google had only two spell check errors in that sentence. WordPress flags five. )

Once I got upstairs, I discovered that the staid lobby belied the colorful interior. When you step off the elevator (These are still the old-fashioned kind with buttons in the car, not destination dispatch. They don’t need DD because they have banks of six elevators for about every 15 floors – like eighteen elevators in all.), it’s all color. The twelfth floor had glass doors with huge decals showing scenes from Viacom movies. I recognized Grease, and I think Trading Places. A movie buff would do better. Anyway, the inside was the closest I’ve seen of a large corporation looking like a start up.

You are going to want to know, so their concerns were nothing too serious – they wanted to know how to deal with a student who is pretty distracted. There are some other things going on there that I will keep my eye on, though. My spidey-senses said “Hmmmm…” I need to see if there are patterns. Today may have been an off day, since was a bunch of planning going on for the Meet and Greet tonight that may have thrown things off a bit.

After lunch, I went to another site in its Week 1 to see how they are doing, which is quite well. Then I headed back to Viacom for the Meet and Greet. It was really nice. The girls are going to get a behind the scenes tour of “The Daily Show” on Friday. I, on the other hand, will be with a different class, where one of the girls will ring the bell to close the New York Stock Exchange for the week. Field trips are one of the percs. 🙂

W2D3 Get ready to RUMBLE!

“Left, right, left, right, left, right”, all the way down the twenty or so stairs from the train platform to the ticketing landing, the 5 year old twin sisters belted out the cadence of their march. Not that their belting cadence had anything to do with the cadence of their feet.

New York is a fun city to listen to. Take the 1 train. I do. (There I go again, cracking myself up.) If my bedroom window is open, I can sometimes hear it pull into and out of the 238th Street station. It’s pretty loud when you are on it, but it gets really loud, for some reason, around 126th Street. I think there is an open grate to the surface there which might have something to do with it. Other times, it’s peacefully quiet, like the whisper of the wind. I forget which station that is on the 1 train, but I noticed it today pulling out of the 59th Street station on the 4 train. The 4 train was really crowded on the way home today – I didn’t get a seat until about three stops before I got off, which is at the second last stop on the line. Even then, other passengers were kind enough to squeeze in so there was room for me.

There is another sound I’ve noticed, and wasn’t sure if it was a thing until just now. It is a particular sound police cars make here that I haven’t hear before. It’s this really low pitched whoop. Upon further research, because I and my strike force of crack researchers here at Doc Och’s Box leave no box unturned, it is a thing. That thing is called a Rumbler siren. It is a low pitched sound that penetrates hard surfaces like car exteriors better than the high pitched wail does. It also gets people’s attention through earbuds, talking on the phone, loud music in their car, and the like. I found that all out in this article, which I read, so you don’t have to. A highlight from that article:

Some New Yorkers have already raised concerns that the Rumbler’s low-frequency vibration could be injurious to their health. The Police Department insists that there is nothing to worry about and invited me to experience the effect for myself. But when Officer Joe Gallagher, a department spokesman, considered the fact that I am in what used to be known as “a family way,” he suggested that I not actually ride in a Rumbler-equipped squad car. “I don’t want you sitting in the back and going into childbirth,” he said. “I’m not handy with that.”

I’m not so handy with it either, so I rode in Officer Gallagher’s car while Officers Jeff Donato and Matthew Powlett of the 10th Precinct drove ahead of us, Rumbling as they went.

Here’s a YouTube video of a police car using it downtown. I couldn’t hear the low frequency sound through my tinny laptop speakers, but I could hear it clearly through earbuds. Surprisingly, it is actually quieter than a regular siren – about 10 decibels quieter, which translates to about half as as much volume. The sound penetrates, though; it always gets my attention.

I have the window to my room open today, and it is quiet out there right now (at about 8:20pm). Earlier there was music playing, but it is off now. I can hear the steady hum of the traffic on the Major Deegan Highway – that’s constant, but fairly quiet. It is quiet enough, in fact, that I can hear an air conditioner across the street. I can hear the children playing in the park up the street, and some conversation closer by. I can hear the occasional beep of the horn. Here in New York, it is rarely a friendly toot-toot. It is almost always an angry blare. I can hear a plane climbing over head – probably taking off from LaGuardia. Now the music is back – it’s Latin – it might be those kids down the street who practice dancing. It sounds like their music, plus it keeps restarting. I can hear the occasional bus go by – the rev of the engine as it climbs the hill southbound, and the whoosh of the air brakes when it leaves the stop.

If I open my door, I can hear the mix of music Leo, my apartment mate, is playing. It is a mix of Latin, rap and other stuff. He likes to sing along. I’ve got to tell you a little bit about Leo. His 104 year old grandmother passed away the second day I was here, so I got to meet his mom. Leo is a super friendly guy, almost to a fault. One day, early on in my stay here – like maybe day four or five, I was walking home from the grocery store. I was just crossing the street when I hear a yell from behind me, “Joe!” I ignored it, because what are the chances it’s for me? “Joe!” OK, there are no male people in New York who know me. I work for Girls Who Code. “Hey, Joe!” Now I’m thinking, how could anyone know me? Did I leave my debit card at the grocery? I replayed my transaction, nope. Besides, the cashier was female. “Joe!” finally, I turned around, and there’s Leo hanging out the door of a retail store he works in. “Hey, Joe! How are you doing?” As I said, friendly. Almost to a fault, but not really even close.

That’s about all for now. I am getting up early to see a class at a site I haven’t been to yet, so off to bed a little early tonight.