Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Headbanger Chronicles

/back in the fall of 2010 I took it upon myself to publish The Headbanger Chronicles as an e-book on Amazon Kindle, and later Barnes and Noble Nook. U haven't done much with it in the way of promoting it or talking very much about it. Current advances in technology and the advent of better social media platform ms has led me to re-think how I should promote this e-book. A couple of months ago I turned on my webcam and got to work on a short promotional video.First of all, the book is available on Amazon.com on Barnes and Noble Nook  The video includes a reading from The Headbanger Chronicles and an explanation of the e-book's general plot. For those that want to join the discussion online, there is also a Facebook page for fans and readers..

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Memories of 9/11

A lot of people never forget where they were at a moment in history. Some of those moments for me included the death of Princess Diana, the Challenger and Columbia disasters, and the Boston Marathon bombings.
Of those moments in history, one that sticks with me are those events of September 11, 2001. The year had been rough so far.
Tropical Storm Allison struck in June, and the lingering effects caused damage campus wide at The University of St. Thomas. Guinan Hall, our dormitory, was shuttered due to structural damage. We were relocated to a neaeby hotel and shuttled back and forth by bus.
On the morning of Sept. 11, I woke up to my clock radio. Instead of music, the station switched over to the national news. Word came across the wire that a plane had struck a building in New York City.
I thought nothing of it at first, so I turned on the TV. As a reporter covered the first crash, a second plane blew up behind him. I had a class at 9:35 that I needed to get ready for.
My room mate was awake by then and was glued to the TV. As I was about to dash out the door, I watched in horrof as one of the towers collapsed.
On the shuttle to campus, we were all quiet. Some of us shared our shock at what we'd witnessed. I made it to class and our professor dismissed us so that we could go pray or be with our families. Eventually all classes were canceled.
I went to Crooker, the student center, and watched the events unfold on the television in the coffee shop upstairs.
I sat there in awe as I watched footage of the second tower collapsimg. Then there were the subsequent plane crashes at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. I spent the day shell shocked by the events I witnessed.
The events of that day still stick with me. Any time I see the footage, I can't help but shed a tear. When I read about alll the innocent lives lost, it upsets me.
Our University of St. Thomas community was affected by the events of 9/11. We were later informed that a fellow alumni Barbara Olsen was among those lost in the tragedy. She was on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

What's New

So many changes in my life recently. Not only have I moved into a new place, but I have a new store to work in. Both decisions were difficult ones, but I felt it was time to move ahead.
I have often railed both for and against urban renewal and gentrification. My apartment complex is a good example of urban renewal.
For many years the name Skylane Apartments was synonymous with crime. In recent months, three have been purchased and are now in the process of being renovated.
I'll admit I had my reservations about moving into a former Skylane. The owner reassured me most of the bad element was gone. After my experience at my last complex, I wondered what awaited me inside.
The apartment was airy and clean, no carpet in sight. Unfortunately the last tenants got color happy. When I moved in though, the apartment was bright and new again. Even then I still had my reservations.
I had to figure out a new route to work. Before I was a short 10-minute walk from my job. Now I was a bus ride and a walk up Montrose. I would also be further from the night life.
The latter was less of a drawback. I hadn't gone out much since the search for a new place began. To be honest I am growing tired of the scene, but I like to see my friends occasionally.

The other big change was in my job. For the last six years I've worked at the same grocery store. The buzz surrounding the new store had grown steadily as grand opening approached. I didn't give it a second thought until my department manger contacted me about possibly going to the new location. At first I thought it would be a temporary assignment and then I would go back to my regular post. However, there was some kind of miscommunication between my store manager and my department manager. What I understood would be temporary would actually be permanent. The store was across town in the burgeoning Memorial Heights area. Getting there would be a slight challenge, but my boss was willing to work with the bus schedule. Grand opening weekend at the new store arrived and I had my apprehensions. New store, new managers, new co-workers, and of course a different clientele. I put my fears aside and went into it like I would any other assignment. The first night was not so bad and I realized that the routine would be about the same as at my old store. After a busy opening weekend, I had finally adjusted. As much as I would miss my regular customers, business is business. My reasons for leaving my old post were many, but what it boiled down to was a new opportunity. The new store would be on the front lines of the battle for grocery customers. We were sandwiched between a Target which was already well established, and a new Walmart, the first ever inside the Loop. While many in the area were opposed to the new Walmart, it was built anyway. I went to both my store and the new Walmart for their opening and my store was better received. The opening of two new retailers in the area was a testament to the renewal that had occurred in the last decade. The Washington Avenue Corridor was in 2003 a place no one wanted to be after dark. Today the street is lined with bars, clubs, and restaurants. Swaths of rent houses were cleared to make way for apartment buildings, town houses, and strip malls. As Houston grows, the city will continue to change rapidly. Along Richmond Avenue, where I moved to, excavators scrape the land with extreme prejudice to make way for new developments. Where apartment complexes sprawled across entire city blocks will soon be replaced with mid-rise buildings. I'm a bit nervous because of how quickly they've moved, but I know for now my complex is safe. All I can do is roll with the changes both in my job and in my personal life.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Freedom for Vietnam protest August 26th, 2012

These are photos I captured with my phone this afternoon of Freedom for Vietnam protesters outside the Chinese Consulate Sunday afternoon. Vietnam has been under fire recently for human rights issues. In May a blogger was sentenced to five years in prison for ant-government posts on his web site. Makes me glad I live here in the United States.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Life in a big city

I joke that the reason I keep up with real estate news in Houston is because I want to know when the bulldozers come my way. Today I noticed that may very well be a reality soon.
I came home from the gym and found a Post-It note frrom my landlord stuck to my door. On it was his phone number and a note asking me to call him. I hated these little note from him.
Monday before last he came around with memos informing us fire insurance inspections would be Wednesday. I scrambled to tidy up, but I was too busy working to do anything major.
The inspection went ok I guess. Then last Monday I was informed that my apartment
failed its inspection. This time I had more free time to clean the place up.
The inspectors returned Friday armed with a camera and a clipboard. Rumors swirled that my landlord planned to sell the place. I figured as much, but I wanted confirmation before I jumped to conclusions.
I called my landlord this afternoon to see what he wanted. Normally I would have waited, but I needed to talk to him. My window unit has leaked all over and it no longer cools the apartment.
I'll admit I'm not the best at keeping house, but I try my damndest to keep this place tidy. My landlord and I have been at odds over the cleanliness of the apartment. That was, at least to him, part of the reason the inspection failed.
My landlord informed me that he planned to sell the building. According to him the new owner had some concerns about the unit. Mainly the mildew and mold in my bathroom. As much as tried to keep my calm, but I lost it.
I explained that I couldn't afford to rent a Rug Doctor or that I couldn't afford a can of Killz to paint over the mold. In so many words I told him that I have done my part by keeping the place neat and clean. I told him it was his turn to do his part.
We also discussed how long I had before I had to get out. My landlord said that I should stay put because it would be a while before he closed the deal on the property. He also openly admitted in a round about way he was taking advantage of my paying weekly.
Since I started getting paid weekly, I made an arrangement to send a rent check weekly. In hindsight I realize what a bad idea this was. My landlord thinks this will look good to the new owner so that I can go on staying here. After seven years, I think maybe it's time to go.
I moved in here in July of 2005 after looking at some less desirable locations. My job at the time afforded me the luxury of an efficiency apartment. Commuting from my parents' house was no longer feasible and the location was ideal. I  could walk to the light rail platform and several bus stops were in close proximity.
Having shops, clubs, and restaurants in walking distance was an added bonus. I love my apartment don't get me wrong, but living inside The Loop has its drawbacks. There are dozens of apartments like mine and they all have their problems. Some nowhere near as bad as mine.
My air conditioner has leaked every summer. The first I knew of it was when my downstairs neighbor complained to the landlord. Each time the weather gets really cold, my closets sweat. The bathroom and living areas do too, but not as bad as the closets. Damp Rid has helped alleviate this problem somewhat.
My landlord asked me to clean the bathroom ceiling, but it hasn't worked in the past. Bleach can only do so much. Getting a new floor sounds like something that may not happen for a while or not at all. My problem now is where do I go?
Rent inside The Loop has crept up considerably since I've moved here. My job is currently walking distance from home, but I know if I want to change careers I'll need transportation.
It's so frustrating not knowing what's going to happen next. Honestly I don't want to stick around to find out. Ideally I'd like to get out of here, but I don't know that I can afford a new place.
My goal was to get a vehicle, change careers, and find another place. That may have to change though if I want to move out. I hate change, but if it's for my personal well being, I have to start soon. Follow up: I came home from work Thursday afternoon to find a note taped to my door that I had 30 days to vacate my apartment.

















Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Goodbye to an Old Friend

Over the last couple of years, there was speculation that HEB would build a Montrose location. With the opening of Buffalo Market on Bissonet, it was almost inevitable a Montrose could be next.
The location in question was directly across from Fiesta on Dunlavy and West Alabama. I read real eatate blogs and kept up with the latest develooments.
Many people apeculated what the fate of Fiesta across the street would be. I knew they would probably stay in business. No one store has ever really closed because its competition opened across the street.
After all this was the Fieata I shopped at when I lived in the dorms at the University of St. Thomas. It was my home grocery store, even after we were moved into alternate housing in the wake of teopical srorm Allison.
To think that my favorite grocery store would be gone for good was unfathomable. Fiesta had been an integral part of the community for more than 20 years. Before that it had been an Apple Tree and had started out as a Weingartens some 50 years ago.
My first trip to Fiesta was when I moved into the dorms. I was in need of something to eat and the cafeteria was closed for the weekend. I remembered seeing the store on my way to move in.
The August heat was unbearable, but I needed to eat. The walk there wasn't as long as I thought it might be. I walked in the front door and did a double take. The interior of the store looked a lot like the Food King in Texas City.
In fact the layout was eerily similar. I wandered the store and familiarized myself with it. The place i finally found muself was the deli counter. I remember how helpful the staff were. They were kind enough to sell me half of a cooked chicken. I grabbed a tub of potato salad and a soda and ate it back at the dorms.
Later on when I moved into an on-campus apartment, I bought my groceries at that Fieata. Everyone was always helpful and friendly. After college I moved home, but when I moved back I shopped there occasionally.
I got busy with work and found myself ahopping at a Kroger closer to home. Sometimes I'd get things I couldn't find at other stores, but I got away from shopping there.
The store had its own unique character as do most grocery stores in Montrose. There was almost a mom and pop feel to that Fieata. I couldn't think of any other place I could grocery shop to the oldies. The produce and international departments always had aomething exotic. I think that was the first place I ever saw fava beans and treacle tart.
HEB bought the historic apartment complex across the street, but I held out hope for Fiesta. If other grocery chains could stand up to their threat, they could too. I kept up  with all the coverage and even attended the grand opening at HEB.
Then I read that developers had their eye on the Fiesta property. My heart sank because I knew how much that store meant to the neighborhood. I hoped it was another ugly rumor, but I soon found  that it was not.
Firsr came news that the property had been sold. Then came word that a mixed-use decelopment would replace my favorite Fiesta. I felt like I'd been punched in the gut, but the news they would close really hurt.
I missed my chance to say goodbye, but I recently stopped by to take post mortem photos. The rumors are that Party City will open for the holidays and the shopping center and Fiesta will come down in February.
The one ray of hope is that Fiesta will return to Montroae again some day. Rumor has it that they would open where Randalls Flagship  store sits now at th corner of South Shepherd and Westheimer. I am hopeful theae rumors will come true.










Monday, August 15, 2011

On the Bubble

My trip may have been over, but I extended my vacation by at least a few hours. The flight home stopped in Chicago and New Orleans before it reached Houston. I chose it because I didn’t want to stop and change planes although I may try that next time. As much as I enjoyed my flight, I wasn’t looking forward to being back in Houston. The weather on the East Coast was at least bearable in spite of the heat. I’d heard rumors that there’d been a bad heat wave while I was gone, and they were confirmed when I stepped out to the curb.
My family had come to the airport to greet me. After eating mostly junk food and drinking soda all day, I was starved. I wanted to go to the Greek diner back in my neighborhood, or even the latest Tex Mex restaurant that opened before I left. No, my mom insisted on Katz’s. I was disappointed because the one in Houston was more or less a TGI Friday marauding as a delicatessen. Not only that, I’d eaten the real thing in Manhattan, and this was the last place I wanted to go. Sadly the food had hardly ever been inconsistent, and the service was great if you travel in a large pack, which I do not.
I noticed as I recovered from my vacation that maybe, just maybe, I’d outgrown Houston, or vice versa. Here I am in my mid thirties and I’m still stuck in retail hell. The job was only meant to hold me over until I found something in the broadcast field. The only problem is I didn’t really know where to begin to look. I tried one place, but they demanded that I have transportation so that I could move freely between downtown and the Woodlands. It also didn’t really pay as much as what I’d been making slinging sausage.
Travel was my incentive for working, but what did I have to show for time in retail hell? The catalog I received from my job listed jewelry and a clock radio among the items for those who’d worked five years for the company. I chose the flashlight. Really? All I have to show for efforts is a flashlight? Sure I’m content with the fact that I have a decent apartment and the bare essentials, but there’s times that I want more.
Traveling made me realize there’s more to the world than the four walls that surround me. I could see why so many people flocked to New York, and why a friend of mine thought it was the best place in the world. Four o’ clock last call at the bars, a 24/7 transit system, and sidewalks that ran for miles. A person could get used to that quickly and I know I did.
When I was a younger more idealistic person, I pictured myself living in a big city like New York. Houston has been a great training ground for that, but I realize that I have a lot more to learn. Before I left like I said I was content, but that’s changed since I’ve been back. If anything I feel restless and I’m ready to travel again. Had I been more irresponsible, I quite possibly might have stayed in New York.
The thing is that I doubt myself too much. I questioned my ability to maintain a steady job meanwhile keeping up with the rent and the utilities in a larger city. If I can’t, the last thing I want to do is tuck tail and run back to Houston or god forbid, Texas City. Houston has been a great stepping stone, but the question is where do I go next? What do I do now that I’ve seen a little bit of the world?
My ultimate goal is to get that broadcast job, but resources down here are limited as far as I can tell. I could start in a smaller market and work my way up, but let’s face it. I’m old in terms of what employers want. Even at work I realize if I stay with the company, I don’t know that I can keep up with the pace. Working in a meat market is a young man’s game. There’s only so much my body can take from lifting heavy boxes and standing on my feet all day long.
Even though I reached my breaking point, before I went on vacation, I feel like I’m on the bubble. There’s been a lot of BS since I’ve gotten back, and I don’t know how much longer I hang. I get tired of childish drama like punishing the whole group for the mistakes of a few. Hell I was on vacation and they still punished me by pushing my shift up an hour. Every year they make me fill out this survey and every year I respond the same way to that same question about whether or not I often think about working for another company.
I get the feeling that no matter what I do will ever be enough to satisfy the people I work for. These people are under tremendous pressure from the corporate office down, and it feels like I’m their damn it doll for them to take all their frustrations out on. Going through a remodel hasn’t helped the situation either. I’m still catching hell from the customers, people who’ve shopped here daily if not weekly since I’ve been there. Even regular customers who are always glad to see me grumble when they look around at the new digs.
I’ve tried every way of looking at the situation, and for the first time, I feel like there’s no way out. If I jump ship now, where do I go, what do I do? My only other problem is if I stay, how much longer before my managers have had enough? Another dilemma at work is if I speak up, I get yelled at, and if I don’t say anything, I still get yelled at. Enough is enough and I’m ready to take that next step, whatever it is, to find a better station in life. Not sure how to go about it, but I know I’ll find a way out of it.

Where I ate in New York

Gramercy Café 184 3rd Ave. New York, NY 10003 www.gramercycafenyc.com
The first place I ate in New York. The menu has everything from soup to salad, burgers to sandwiches, and pasta entrees. There was dessert too, but I passed on my visit. I chose the pasta which came with a complimentary glass of wine. A sign in the window also advertised a draft beer and hamburger special, something I’ll definitely look into next time I go.

Katz’s Delicatessen 205 East Houston New York, NY 10002 katzsdelicatessen.com
I’ve seen it on dozens of travel shows and it was even featured in the film When Harry Met Sally. My original destination was Russ and Daughters, a couple of doors before, but somehow I found myself here. Grab a ticket and either have a seat to be waited on, or belly up to the counter. With each order comes a free sample of the sandwich filling. None of that slimy luncheon meat here. All their meats are cured in house. The pickles were the best, but probably not such a good idea so early in the morning.

Mumbles Bistro 179 3rd Ave. New York, NY 10003 www.mumblesnyc.com
Great little bistro on the corner of 17th Street and 3rd Ave. There’s patio seating and bar service, but I chose a seat by the window. Lots of great options on the menu. I hadn’t had fish, and I went with the sea bass with lobster fricassee. Food was perfect, the wine was great, and the service wasn’t bad either. I hadn’t dined by candlelight in a long time and that was nice.

Minetta Tavern 113 McDougal St. New York, NY 10012 www.minettatavernny.com
A step through the curtain is a step into a different time. The service was top notch and the food was excellent. Definitely going to try their dinner. I went for brunch and had the ham in hay. According to their website, Minetta was originally opened in 1927, and I’m glad they didn’t change a thing. Remember to dress to impress and tip well.

Coffee Shop 29 Union Square New York, NY 10003 thecoffeeshopnyc.com
I didn’t know what exactly I’d gotten myself into when I walked into this place, but I was glad I stopped in. Even though the brunch crowd was long gone, the restaurant was still fairly busy for a Sunday evening. The menu revealed that this is a Latin fusion restaurant with some diner favorites thrown in too. Brunch earlier that day included feijoada, a Brazilian stew. There was also the Media Noche, a pressed Cuban sandwich with fries. The Dijon mustard threw me off when they brought me my Media Noche, but it wasn’t half bad when I tried it on my sandwich.

Gray’s Papaya 402 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY100111 www.papayaking.com
Where better to eat after the bars let out than a hot dog joint, right? No frills, no hype here. Five bucks gets you two dogs and a drink. Skip the fountain and have an in house made fruit drink. The papaya drink was delicious and there’s several other tropical options available as well
.
Highliner Diner 210 10th Ave. New York, NY 10011
I figured if this place was open in what apparently had been a legendary dining spot at one time, it couldn’t be that bad. Turns out I was wrong, but I’ll be a little forgiving here. After I was served, one of the staff revealed to me that they’d only been open a week. Ok so they were working the kinks out of the menu. There came a point in my meal where I felt like I was a guinea pig and my dinner was some lab experiment gone horribly wrong. The chicken didn’t taste as slow roasted as had been touted, and the gravy was a big miss. Another disappointment is that there weren’t many options to choose from. I knew I should have walked out when I had the chance, but I’ll try anything once. Happy birthday to me, right?

Toasties 25 Union Square W. New York, NY 10003 toastiesny.com
My last meal in New York City. Hard for me to wrap that around my head still, but it was well worth a stop in. The pastries left a little to be desired, but other than that, I had no complaints. I had the House Special, a grilled pastrami and corned beef with Swiss, Russian dressing, and cole slaw. Like I said, the essence of New York between two slices of bread. There’s other options available, but this one stuck out at me. I read on their website they accept online orders and they deliver too, but I enjoyed my picnic on the steps of Union Square.

In our Nation's Capitol

I still remember my first visit to Washington, DC back in high school. How in awe I was of seeing our nation’s capitol and actually seeing the monuments in person. My second visit I got a chance to see some of the city on my own, and there were still monuments that were either proposed or under construction. I hoped to go back and see what the final product was, but a lot happened in that nearly twenty-year span since I last visited.
My goal for this visit was to see what I missed last time, and to visit those places that were now complete. I had an itinerary for this visit and I intended to stick to it. Four days was plenty of time to get everything checked off. On my last visit I spent much of my time at the Smithsonian Institution museums and the monuments. I stuck to Union Station for shopping and food, and the Metro red line because it got me where I needed to go.
About the only thing I stuck to this time was the Metro red line. That carried me from my hotel into downtown DC. This time I started at the Post Office Pavilion I went mostly to get a feel for the lay of the land and to see if it had changed any. Since there wasn’t a lot that had changed, I took the elevator up to the clock tower observatory. On the way up, I stopped and saw the bells that once hung in the tower.
From the tower I could see the Capitol, most of the monuments, the National Mall, and most of the surrounding area. I walked first to the Natural History Museum because I wanted to see the Hope Diamond again. This time the large blue stone had a new temporary setting and was now on display instead of in its vault. I walked toward the Washington Monument on my way to the World War II Memorial.
The first thing that struck me is that the reflecting pool had been dug up for restoration. I expected to see the Washington and Lincoln monuments shimmering in the pool, but not this time. The WWII Memorial was a fitting tribute not only the people fought and died in battle, but to those states and territories those brave men and women came from. Each side commemorated both theaters of battle. The one thing that disconcerted me about the monument were some of the tourists who soaked their feet in the fountain in the middle.
Washington, DC had changed a lot. I never saw anyone soaking their feet let alone wading in the Reflecting Pool. Before I’d only heard about the double decker bus tours in New York. Now they’d expanded their business to the District of Columbia. The last time I was here, the only company I saw was Tourmobile, the open-air tram that ran between Capitol Hill, National Mall, the monuments, and Arlington Cemetery.
There were more changes too. Metro, the subway system, was larger than I remember. Color coded lines ran between downtown into the surrounding suburbs. As much as I walked around the city, I still hadn’t grasped the concept of which direction streets ran. Traffic circles also didn’t help to ease my confusion either. I made it as far as DuPont Circle before I tucked tail and ran back to Chinatown for dinner.
Back at my hotel I planned out my next day. I started with the Smithsonian Castle to get my bearings This was part of the collection I don’t remember seeing before, and inside it was interesting to say the least. The first thing I did is I paid my respects to James Smithson who is entombed just inside the front door. I wandered around the castle and marveled at its collections. In the back garden, I wandered downstairs into the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, which housed artwork, pottery, and other artifacts from across Asia.
Next door was the National Gallery of African Art, and then upstairs was the Freer Museum. I wandered through the galleries and took in the artwork before I moved on. Just up the mall was the National Museum of the American Indian. This was one of the galleries proposed, but not yet built on my last visit. I’d always been fascinated by Native American lore and their rituals.
The museum was a comprehensive look at the various tribes of the United States. Included were their rituals, their artifacts, their origins, and their struggles. What I liked about the museum is that it also included the tribes that once lived in the Chesapeake Bay region as well. For an added bonus, the program director stood in the middle of the rotunda and demonstrated on his drum the various chants and beats used in different rituals and ceremonies. I wanted to see it all over again, but there were other things I wanted to see.
The last time I was here I got caught up in the Museum of American History. I saw it top to bottom, but this time there was one new exhibit I wanted to see. Before I went, I stopped at the third floor and saw the pop culture exhibits. I saw Edith and Archie Bunker’s chairs, and the ruby slippers last time.
Part of the exhibit was a car from the Dumbo ride at Disneyland in California, Michael Jackson’s, hat, and the original Muppets from the Henson’s first TV show. I saw Charlie McCarthy, and original the Cat Woman suit. New this visit were Tony Hawk’s skateboard, Farrah Fawcett’s orange bikini, and one of Eddie Van Halen’s guitars. I rushed through the exhibit in order to get downstairs to see something I’d recently read about.
Down on the first floor in the science exhibits sits Julia Child’s kitchen. Growing up I remember her warbling voice explaining how to make different kinds of French dishes. Video clips of some of her cooking shows played in a continuous loop. Part of the exhibit were all the kitchen gadgets, utensils, and cooking vessels she’d acquired over the years. The one artifact that stood out most was the large mortar and pestle her husband bought her when they lived in France.
I marveled at how many utensils and gadgets she’d acquired. To think that before me sat the kitchen where Julia Child entertained her friends and family. I was curious about the three-legged chairs they brought back with them from Norway. The kitchen was designed by Paul Child to compliment his wife’s height so that she could work comfortably. I found myself rapt by Child’s cooking demonstrations that I had to force myself to step away.
Back out on the street I got away from the Mall and went in search of the Spy Museum. I always liked movies about espionage and international intrigue. In high school I remember vividly the Aldrich Ames case and what a big story that was when it broke. On my way I passed Ford’s Theater, where Lincoln was shot. Close by was the house where he died from his injuries.
I found the Spy Museum across the street from the National Portrait Gallery up the road from Madame Tussaud’s. The place screamed tourist trap, but I couldn’t resist. There was a short wait, but it was worth it. My favorite aspect of the whole espionage game is the technology involved. Everything from listening devices right down to the cameras.
Before I knew it I was caught up in the museum and found myself looking at not only the technology, but the history. Espionage was an important tool in war time to gather information on the enemy. Spies were employed to infiltrate the other side and retrieve important information.
The museum ended with espionage in popular culture and before I knew it, I was in the gift shop. I avoided buying anything and hit the street again. Tonight I went out for dinner and took in the DC nightlife. In spite of a little rain, I made the best of the evening.
Thursday I started at the Smithsonian Postal Museum. This is something I completely overlooked the last time I was here. Even though the exhibition area was small, there was a lot of history and information packed into those galleries. I walked back across the street to Union Station and took the red line to the National Zoo.
When I first planned my trip to New York, I wanted to go to the Bronx Zoo to see the panda bears. Ever since I was a kid, I was always fascinated by China and its ancient culture. I remember I saw the pandas on TV, but I never thought that I’d actually see one up close. The National Zoo I knew had pandas, so I waited until I got to DC to see them. Getting there was as always, an adventure.
The zoo was on the far side of DC, and I soon found out it rested on a hill. I didn’t care how far or how much I had to climb. This was something I’d been wanting to see for a long time. The zoo was at the top of the hill and I was never happier to see it. Because of the heat, not many of the animals were out. About the only ones enjoying the heat were the elephants, who had a large area where they could roam.
The outdoor panda enclose was empty, but I knew there had to be an indoor observation area. After seeing the other exhibits, I finally found the indoor panda exhibit. They looked to be as exhausted as me and the other tourists. Still this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I didn’t mind the journey getting here. Someday I’d like to go to China and see these animals in a more natural setting. Despite all the minor setbacks I’d had on this trip, this made it worth all the while here.
I had one day left in DC and I planned to make the most of it. In the morning, I set out again for Union Station and boarded the Tourmobile tram there. For the price it was well worth it not having to walk to all those monuments. When I was here last time, the FDR and Korean War Veterans’ Memorials were still in one stage or another of development. I remembered the tour guides pointed out their future locations on my last visit.
Tourmobile is the most bang for your buck in DC. Two days for $32 and hop on/hop off anywhere is worth it. The trams pick up at Union Station, circle around the Capitol, and then from there they stop at the Smithsonian museums. One goes to Arlington Cemetery while another goes to the opposite side of the National Mall. I found the tour guides entertaining as they brought their own unique spin to the narration.
My first stop was the FDR Memorial, and that covered the span of his unprecedented three terms in office. It was Roosevelt who carried the nation out of the Great Depression and saw them through World War II. Pullout quotes and bronze sculptures highlighted each of his terms from the creation of the Works Progress Administration to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
I was here more for my grandma, who grew up during the Roosevelt administration. She remembered hearing FDR on the radio and seeing him in person in Galveston as a little girl. I knew that if she were here she’d be soaking it all in just as I was. The one part of the memorial that stuck out at me was FDR in a wheelchair, something that had been for the most part, covered up during his presidency. Roosevelt was crippled by polio and had been unable to walk for many years.
I walked along the Tidal Basin path up to the bookstore where a crudely made wheelchair was on display. It was fashioned from a kitchen chair that had been mounted on wheels. I bought a couple of postcards and boarded the tram to the Korean War Veterans’ Memorial. When I visited last, I went to the Vietnam War Memorial, and I found this just as if not more moving than that one.
Stainless steel sculptures of soldiers as they trod across the junipers appear as if they are coming out of the forest. They have on raincoats, a testament to the conditions in which they fought. The black granite walls are engraved with the faces of the soldiers and the men they fought against in order to keep Korea free from communism. Above the fountain is a wall with the raised words Freedom is Not Free on it. I took a moment to reflect on the sacrifice these men made in order to keep both Koreans and Americans free.
I moved on from there and took a moment to visit the Lincoln Monument, another one I’d seen the last time. The place teemed with tourists, and I decided if I wanted to go, I could wait until later. I got back on the tram and headed back toward the Mall because I wanted to see the Newseum next. That was the last thing on my itinerary, but again the journey there was more than the destination.
As the tour made its way up Pennsylvania Avenue, Metro PD had the intersection blocked. Here I was in DC and stuck in traffic for the first time ever. I didn’t know what was going on until the driver announced that it was a motorcade. All of us on the tram readied our cameras as the motorcade whizzed by us. Seeing that completed my trip.
I got off the tram at the National Gallery of Art and walked across the street to the Newseum. In college I majored in communications with a concentration in radio and TV. I didn’t care what its detractors said, I wanted to see the Newseum and judge for myself.
The tour started on the lower level and then from there went up to the eighth floor in a glass elevator. I soaked up the history of what I had hoped would someday be my profession. The award winning photography and the correlation between the media, the government, and the public’s mistrust of both at times was a good starting point.
I knew the place was a bit touristy, but the expanse of the building and its collections were noteworthy. There’s the mangled broadcast tower from atop the World Trade Center, which encompasses reporters accounts of being there as it happened, and the headlines from papers around the world on that fateful day a decade ago. There’s also an exhibit on Hurricane Katrina, the other big story of the last decade. Again reporters recount their experiences as they covered the emerging tragedy.
From there the museum covers the history of the news from the invention of the printing press to advances in technology. From radio to TV and now social media, the Newseum makes an effort to cover all aspects of reporting. Included are several theaters that cover different aspects of history and how the media played a role in each.
As I made my way downstairs through the exhibits, my afternoon was almost gone. In a matter of hours, I’d be back on a plane to Houston. Back to reality, back to the daily grind. As much as I wanted to experience the 4D theater, I skipped it in favor of going back to my room where I packed up and got ready to go. If I come back to DC, I’d like to bring my family along so that they can experience it for themselves.
I have to say that my travels have no doubt left an indelible impression on me. One week wasn’t enough to see the East Coast, but I did my best. I eased my way back into reality on the plane ride home the next day. My flight stopped in Chicago and New Orleans on the way home, and by the time I reached Houston, I was as ready as I could be to get back to life as I knew it before my vacation.

Taking a bite out of the Big Apple

So much has been written and said about New York that I really don’t know where to begin. I was apprehensive as I waited to check in for my flight. There was no turning back now. My flight had been booked, and my hotel room awaited me in New York. Getting there was a journey in itself. After checking my over packed bag at the front, there was the TSA screening process. I thought almost three hours was too soon, but the lines were long at Hobby, an airport I hadn’t flown from in ten years.
Surprisingly the lines moved fast and the process wasn’t really all that bad. As I sat and waited for my flight, I cracked open The Lost City of Z, David Gramm’s account of his quest to find what happened to Fawcett, who disappeared into the Amazon never to return again. I didn’t expect to find any lost cities, but I hoped to at least return in order to tell everyone of my adventures or lack there of in New York.
Time passed quickly and the waiting area filled with others on their way to Newark or points beyond. I could have flown into La Guardia, but Southwest had no direct flights there. For now I planned to fly in at Liberty International and hop a shuttle into Manhattan. On the trip to the airport that morning, I remember commenting to my mom about how big the thunderheads were. As I lined up for my flight, they had become ominous dark clouds.
As our plane taxied into the gate, the skies opened up and delayed us further. Finally we were able to board our flight and after another delay, I was on my way. I napped a little, read some more, listened to my MP3 player and made small talk with my fellow passengers. Before long, I had arrived in Newark and it was time to kick this adventure into high gear.
I grabbed my suitcase, still damp from sitting out on the tarmac during the rain delay. In spite of that, I dragged it out to the front where I found my way to a waiting shuttle. The first thing I noticed is I’d arrived during rush hour, but traffic wasn’t so bad until the Holland Tunnel. I stepped off the shuttle at Bryant Park because it was closest to Midtown East, where I’d be staying.
The second thing I learned is that I’d arrived in the city during the cab driver shift change. Getting a taxi would be impossible I thought, but I walked up to Park Avenue and got a car to take me to my hotel. Surprisingly, my mouth wasn’t agape in awe that I was in New York City. It was just like being in any other city that I’d visited.
I looked around online for a good hotel to stay in New York. Somewhere that was affordable, but still close to everything. More or less a place to lay my head because I knew I probably wouldn’t be in my room very much. I looked at places near the airports, in the boroughs, but nothing stuck out at me. Then I looked at rooms in Manhattan and I found some rates a little outrageous.
As I narrowed down my choices, I looked into hostels and even the YMCA. Finally I found a good compromise in the tourist hotel. What it amounted to is I had a room to myself and there was a shared bathroom down the hall. I looked further into the concept and found it was something I could live with. Finally I booked my room at the Hotel 17 in Midtown East. It appeared from the pictures to be on a quiet street.
Nearby were Gramercy, the Villages, SoHo, Hell’s Kitchen, and the Lower East Side. Union Square was a short walk away and there was a major subway hub there. I could go to uptown, downtown, Brooklyn, or Queens. When I finally arrived at my hotel, it was everything that I expected from reviews I read on the internet.
The unassuming building stood eight stories high and very narrow. Inside the lobby was small, just big enough to access the elevator and the stairwell. I checked in and found my way to my room on the sixth floor. The elevator was barely big enough for two people, but it served its purpose. I found my room down the hall to the left. Sure enough there were two bathrooms on the left and all the rooms were to the left.
My room was small enough that I could have fit it into my efficiency apartment back home. It was deep and narrow with a bed, a window unit, and a wall unit that included a desk, shelves, and a place to hang garments. I put down my bags and decided that I would visit the Rubin Museum of Art, which housed Tibetan and Buddhist artifacts. The added bonus is that Friday nights were free, and it was only a short walk from my hotel.
What I didn’t realize until later is that the streets that run east to west usually change direction between Broadway and Fifth. I walked up and down East 17th Street looking for an address that was actually on West 17th. Luckily a waiter at the nearby Gramercy Café were able to point me in the right direction.
While I was there I sat and had something to eat since all I’d had were cheese crackers and a soda on the plane. Not only did I get a great pasta dish for a reasonable amount of money, I also got a complimentary glass of wine with my meal. I was about to set out again when the skies above opened and unleashed a torrent of rain.
As I sat and finished my meal, I watched as water filled the gutters. I wanted badly to leave, but the wait staff were kind enough to let me ride the storm out there. Finally I was on my way and this time in the right direction. I found the museum near 7th Ave. Luckily they were open late on Fridays and I was able to see the collection.
The best way to see the collection was to take the elevator up to the sixth floor and follow the spiral staircases down from there. Each floor was dedicated to different aspects of Buddhism, but I also found other religions represented there as well. One exhibit was dedicated to pilgrimages in different religions from Christianity to Islam. I was fascinated by the collection and I found it hard to pull myself away from there.
Finally I found myself back on the ground floor. The café was busy with those having cocktails or waiting to see the film that was about to start. That theme was pilgrimages, and that night’s selection was The Razor’s Edge. I chose to skip it this time and move on to the next thing. Walking out to 7th Ave., I looked to my right and I could see bright lights ahead of me. I headed in that direction and soon found myself at Madison Square Garden and Penn Plaza.
Before long I’d reached the bright lights and found myself in the middle of Times Square. The atmosphere was carnival like is the best I can describe it. Restaurants and shops surrounded the perimeter of the square. In the middle were pedestrian plazas with the streets crisscrossing in different directions. I found every chain restaurant and store imaginable in one place. Electronic billboards turned the night sky into broad daylight, and the smells from the various street vendors wafted through the air.
I wanted badly to turn and run the other direction. My goal here was to avoid doing too many touristy things. Then I stopped myself and I realized I was at the Crossroads of the World. I chose not to go into any of the stores because I wasn’t here to shop. My goal was to explore the city and get a feel for it so that I knew what do expect for the next time I visited. I ducked into the Toys ‘R’ Us to get a glimpse of the Ferris Wheel, and while I was there I snapped a couple of photographs.
Back on the street I found the smell from the food vendors permeated every corner of the square. Barkers on the street hocked tickets for an upcoming comedy show, and each of them had a unique way to get people’s attention. Some gave out passes for the topless bars while others handed out different forms of literature. I strolled along and took it all in as I walked around the square.
In the restaurants lines formed for tables, and tourists were weighted down from goods they’d found at the various stores. What I found hard to believe is that it was eleven o’ clock at night and this place was still crowded. I snapped a few photos, but I didn’t make myself obvious by carrying a camera around my neck. Instead I had a digital point and shoot tucked into my bag, and I could stick that in my front pocket. After wandering around for a couple of hours, I hopped on the subway back to Union Square and walked back to my room.
Day one in New York was in the books, and I had a couple of places in mind that I wanted to see, but I wasn’t sure how this would work. After I took care of my morning routine when I woke up the next day, I hit the street again. I went in search of a place that specialized in smoked salmon for breakfast, but instead found myself at the front door of Katz’s Delicatessen.
Back in Houston there is a Katz Deli, but this was the real deal. This place had been open for over a hundred twenty years. I already knew what I wanted before I walked in. The door person handed me a ticket and I walked up to the sandwich counter to start my order. If I wanted to, I could have gotten waiter service, but this was more convenient. At each station my ticket was marked and then I found a seat. The temptation was there to sit at the table where Harry met Sally, but I chose to sit at the back of the room and observe.
Saturday morning business was brisk and already I felt like a local. The food was great and it was perfect for the day I had planned. Originally I wanted to see the galleries at Dumbo in Brooklyn and visit the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. My plans went awry somewhere and I ended up where I wanted to, but nowhere near the galleries.
I scoped out the area and found myself between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. Since I’d messed up, I made the best of it. I climbed the stairs to the walkway and trekked across the Brooklyn Bridge. The weather was still nice out since it was about midmorning. The first thing I learned is if the pathway is marked for pedestrians on one side and the other is marked for bicycles, stay in the pedestrian lane no matter what.
I enjoyed my walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. To my right was uptown Manhattan and to my left was downtown. I stopped and snapped pictures of the towers and took in the sights. The green speck to my left I soon realized was the Statue of Liberty, and the building under construction ahead of me was the Freedom Tower.
Finally I reached the terminus of the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade and landed at City Hall Park. Queens was a ways away, and I wasn’t sure if I would make it in time to see the exhibits at the Museum of the Moving Image. Instead I looked up Central Park to see how far the train was to get there. A couple of blocks up was where I could grab the C train to my destination. As I wandered around, I realized that I was on Church Street, and then I looked up again and realized Ground Zero wasn’t that far away.
I had already shot my itinerary for the day, so I walked ahead and soon reached the Freedom Tower. As I approached the site, I heard the roar of a crowd about a block away. The streets were lined with charter buses from around the state and the number of people in red shirts increased. As I walked around the perimeter of the Freedom Tower, I realized that these were members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. They’d gathered to rally for a new contract.
I was about to go through the Financial District and see Wall Street, but then I turned around. Central Park is where I wanted to go because I knew at least there I’d find some shade. I also knew that I could find water there seeing as how my bottle was almost empty. The subway station was hot and I was never happier to be on the train, which was at least air conditioned. I realized at 14th Street I’d jumped on the wrong train and transferred to the one that would take me to my destination.
The one thing I enjoyed about the subway were the mosaics in the stations. At the stop where I got off there were dinosaurs and other creatures indicating I was at the American Museum of Natural History stop. From there the park was just across the street. A jazz trio played as I walked through the park and tipped them a couple of bucks. Mostly I wandered through the park and took in the different attractions.
My favorite was the Belvedere Castle, which resembled something out of a fairy tale. I also enjoyed walking through the Ramble and seeing the sailboats on the Conservatory Water. The best view of the city was from around the reservoir. The Bethesda Fountain I didn’t see until the next day, but I loved it. It was nothing to see people there posing for their wedding pictures. One thing I’ll say about Central Park is that most of the water fountains worked, and I was able to stay hydrated throughout my visit.
Saturday night I hit the town, starting with dinner close to my hotel. I wandered down 7th Ave. until I reached Christopher Street. My first stop was the Stonewall Inn, to see where the gay rights movement was born. On the paneled walls hung pictures from that night some forty years ago. I soaked up the atmosphere a little and wandered around the village and took in the nightlife while I was there.
Sunday I wanted to see Washington Square Park as I knew it was close by. I mostly wanted to get pictures of the arch, but on the way I wandered through the campus of New York University. Chess players gathered at the game tables and engaged in a friendly game or two. I regret that I didn’t stop and learn a few moves. For sure I’ll pack a lunch next time and sit down to learn about the game.
I walked through Greenwich Village and searched for a place to eat. There were lots of different places, but for some reason, one place in particular stuck out to me. There was a restaurant on the corner that looked like it had been there for quite some time. Inside I got top notch service and a wonderful meal.
I went back to my room later and freshened up for another night on the town. That night I dined at a place on Union Square. Then I went back to the West Village and took in more of the nightlife. I wandered out of the bars sometime after last call, my stomach grumbling. Luckily I’d spotted a Gray’s earlier on 6th Ave. that was open all night. For about five bucks, my hunger was satisfied and I walked back to my room.
For my birthday the next day, I wanted to see the Empire State Building. I figured I’m here and I should at least do one touristy thing while I’m here. For about twenty bucks, I rode to the 86th floor observatory and looked out over the city. From here I could see almost entirely around the city. This made the trip here worth it, and I hoped that someday I would get to return.
I shopped at Macy’s Herald Square just to say I went. Then I decided I’d have dinner someplace simple. I chose a diner in Chelsea that I’d heard about once before, but I found that it recently closed and then opened under a new name. Sadly the food was a big disappointment, but hopefully that will change in the future.
I soon found myself back at my hotel and reluctantly packed my bags. My last night in town and I wanted to do something a little different. I stopped in at one place that I wanted look into and found a dance club in the basement, and a piano bar up on the street level. My last night in New York was spent sitting around the piano enjoying the music and the camaraderie with the locals.
I wandered back to my hotel and took in New York one last time. Back at Union Square, I ducked into an all-night deli and grabbed a bite. I carried my spoils back to the steps of the square and looked around one last time. The steaming sculpture in front of me intrigued me as I ate my sandwich. I didn’t know what it meant exactly, but I found myself looking at the filling. Inside was the essence of New York between two slices of bread. Pastrami, corned beef, and slaw pressed together in one sandwich.
Here were all these people sandwiched together on this island and they somehow managed to get along. At least from what I could tell while I was there. On the square people skateboarded, they raced their gas powered remote controlled cars, or they just took in the city as I’d been doing. I made my way back to my room, checked out, and got a cab. As the driver made his way to Penn Station, I hated to leave the city. I had a feeling though that I’d be back again soon.

The Time Has Come

Summer has descended upon the city, this time with a vengeance. The heat is even unbearable for a veteran of many warm summers like myself. To compound the misery the store where I work has been under renovation for the last six months. I didn’t mind so much at first when it began. The scraping up of floors and demolition didn’t faze me. However, as the remodel ramped up, it became less and less bearable.
The customers grumbled at first, but they were ok with it. They understood that in order to stay competitive, the store had to change to meet changing consumer needs. I even joked with some customers that every diva needs a good facelift every ten years. As the remodel wore on, the joke quickly grew old.
Customers’ grumbling soon grew into a more vocal discord. Some even went so far as to place the blame on the employees, there were others who were less understanding. My poor co-manager took the brunt of a nearly twenty minute tirade from one customer. Most agreed that maybe the store should have closed during the remodel, but to do so would have been illogical.
I knew that I had vacation time coming up, and that my rich uncle would be giving me a fat check back for my hard work from the previous year. A week off from work in this city wasn’t enough to heal from the verbal assault and daily abuse I’d suffered at the hands of the customers. It was time to get away. The question remained where though? I’d seen enough of Texas to the point that I was burned out. I’d seen the Alamo and the state capitol enough times already.
My thirty-fifth birthday was around the corner and I wanted to do something special this year. Enough lazing around the apartment and exploring the city for a week. I’d done enough of that for the last four years. In the past I’d blogged about my survival skills that I’d acquired living in Houston. The time had come to put those skills to the test in another city.
One place I’d been wanting to go for years was New York. Most of what I’d learned about the city had been culled from movies, TV shows, magazine articles, and books. It was time to experience the city for myself. Nothing could really prepare me for what lay ahead, but I did what I could to at least know what I was up against.
I also wanted to go back to Washington, DC, a city I hadn’t visited in over fifteen years. The last time I went, Clinton was in the White House and I was just out of high school. There were monuments and museums that had been planned or were in the building process when I left, and I wanted to see what the final product looked like. I also wanted to see the city on my own without the constraints of having to meet back with my family at an appointed time.
There was a lot of uncertainty on my part because I wasn’t sure if I could do it or not. New York is a huge city and I wasn’t sure how to tackle it. DC wasn’t so much big as it was spread out. I studied maps and guide books for months ahead of my trip, but I knew that they weren’t enough to prepare me for what lay ahead.
At first I was reluctant to announce my plans. Everyone always has opinions or tips about where I should or shouldn’t go. I didn’t want to hear that because I wanted to do this on my own. The other reason is I didn’t want people to worry about me as much as I appreciated that they cared about me. As I prepared more for my trip, my excitement was too much to contain. I let it leak out to close friends, regular customers, and then as the time grew closer, I announced my plans to my family and friends.
There were many who were excited for me surprisingly enough. Some were glad that I was going to get away. The remodel grew more intense as the months dragged on. It wasn’t enough the hammering and sawing. The contractors really poured it on with jackhammers and concrete saws without so much as a concern for those who had to work in the conditions without comfort of ear or eye protection. The closer I got to my vacation time, the closer I got to my breaking point. Finally, the time came and I was never happier to be away from Houston and everything that I’d grown comfortable with.