Sandy Lurks in the Background Three Years Later

Santicipation. The wind is howling. The windows are whistling. Sirens blaring. The sky is grey. Whitecaps dance on the Hudson, the water is blowing toward the harbor at this point. Streets are deserted except for the Yellow cabs and the occasional walker. I did not sleep well.

Sandy still taunts us here on the east coast three years after the now infamous storm roared ashore. Each and every single day.

For many here, life is divided into two parts: Before Sandy and After Sandy.

The calm before the storm on the West Side of Manhattan: the wind has kicked up considerably, the temp has dropped, there’s a mist in the air and people are scurrying home with shopping bags full of groceries. I’m out for the last of my supplies now.

Ready to Run? I thought not at the time.

Ready to Run? I thought not at the time.

Here’s how I was feeling the night before, after I’d gone to the Food Emporium to find empty shelves and long lines:

West side of Manhattan is a Ghost town. Presumably because everybody’s inside preparing french toast. Seriously. No bread. No milk. No eggs. That’s gotta be it, right? Oh yeah, and it’s gotten colder and the wind is starting to howl here a bit, but as I gaze at the mighty Hudson outside my window…it’s still quite calm on the water.

No food. Long lines.

No food. Long lines.

Some of us have minor inconvenience — like we have to use the “old” South Ferry station for the 1 train to catch the Staten Island Ferry. The train that never makes it to the station on time and we constantly and consistently miss the boat by one minute after sprinting from the train through the ferry terminal only to have the glass doors closed in our face. The “new” South Ferry station had opened in 2009. But Sandy’s salty flood waters drowned it and ongoing repairs are likely to take another year or more. That’s minor. Especially when you consider people mourn the people they lost because of Sandy.

Others have lost their homes or are dealing with structural and mold problems on the homes and businesses that were saved. Some are still dealing with their insurance companies or FEMA.

In some areas, Sandy brought us new life, like on Rockaway Beach, where new businesses have replaced the old and there’s a feeling of renewal.

Beached. At Rockaway.

Beached. At Rockaway.

I look back on that scary night three years ago with a certain sense of awe. I was working at CBS, and like covering any big story, there was a feeling of excitement in our newsroom. But we didn’t really have time to take it all in — as what often happens while huge news stories unfold. Instead we dug in and worked the details of the story while we were in the cross hairs of it.

10:08pm: I am glad I am working and don’t have too much time to THINK about what’s facing us other than to react and do my job. If I weren’t I think I’d be freaking out about now.

We watched what seemed like unbelievable pictures pour into our newsroom. The Battery Tunnel submerged. People walking through waist-high water. Boats banging into each other. Fires. It was surreal.

Facebook reminded me this morning of how I was feeling on October 29, 2012. I posted there as I worked to get the story out while tamping down the rising personal fear I was feeling:

5:21pm: Letterman sends audience home, tapes show anyway with Denzel Washington.

5:21pm: AMTRAK suspends all service along NorthEast corridor for Tuesday.

5:35pm: OK. now it’s official: NYC’s Parker Meridien hotel being evacuated due to impending possible danger caused by snapped crane on W. 57th St.

5:51pm: ConEd will shut off power in lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn over next several hours. Several NYC bridges will close. Mayor urges everyone to stay inside. Use stairs, not elevators. Stay away from windows.

5:55pm: NYC subway/buses remain out of service through tomorrow morning…so far. Could change depending on storm surge and whether it affects subways. Worst is still yet to come to NYC.

7:08pm: 4 story apartment building collapses in Chelsea section of Manhattan (14th St. at 8th Ave)

7:43pm: Parts of Manhattan losing power. We just had a short outage/surge here. The building “thumped.”

8:07pm: Hiya Sandy:
…Post-tropical cyclone Sandy makes landfall along the coast of southern New Jersey…Summary of 800 PM EDT…0000 UTC…information———————————————-

location…39.4n 74.5w – about 5 mi…10 km SW of Atlantic City New Jersey – about 40 mi…65 km NE of Cape May New Jersey -maximum sustained winds…80 mph..

9:17pm: Water is gushing into lower Manhattan. Serious water. Battery tunnel is flooded.

9:33pm: 5 deaths in NYC attributed to Sandy.

9:44pm: RT @miller_stephen: Andrea Bernstein on @WNYC: Bowling Green 4/5 subway tunnel under 4 feet of water. Others TBD. Cops yelling on megaphones to folks on LES to get back inside to their apartments.

10pm: Queens Midtown tunnel flooded. Mayor asking all cabs and livery drivers to get off the roads.


10:07pm: More than 600,000 without power on Long Island. Mayor Bloomberg urging people to not call 911 unless it’s a real emergency. 5 confirmed deaths in NY state due to Sandy. And the water keeps pouring in.

11:09pm: It’s getting closer. All Nassau County roads (on Long Island) closed per County Executive. Water rushing down 25th street. It’s getting closer.

Done with work for tonight – Now I have to stop and think about reality…so I am heading back “out” into it. Hoping I can find a cab. Hoping I have electricity. Hoping I can sleep in my own bed. I hear there’s lots of water in my neighborhood. If it’s flooded or the power is out, I’m back at work to sleep here, hoping that’s just not the case. It’s been one heck of a day here in New York City. This is a story we’ll be covering for weeks and months to come. Thanks everybody for your kind words. They help. It’s been a scary, busy day.

Clicking my heels three times. Toto greeted me at the door. The lights are on. The elevators are out (ha ha hauled it all up 18 floors, but that’s no big deal considering what others are dealing with). Home to my own bed. Yay. Best of luck to my coworkers doing the hard work in the field Alan Suhonen Randall Pinkston Jane Chick Susan McGinnis Maria Ines Ferre Frank LoBuono Ken Kerbs Stephen Kanicka Phil Doyle Duarte Geraldino Vinita Nair … you guys are our heroes! Stay safe.

Power is out beginning only 9 blocks to my south…so I’m grateful. Mayor Bloomberg says NYC’s 911 was getting 10,000 calls per every half hour earlier tonight. Wow. The worst – the rainy, blowy part – is over. Now the cleanup begins and we have at least one more dangerous high tide to go. It’ll be interesting to see just how bad this all was in the light of day tomorrow.

Of course, we all know what we discovered in the light of that next day. Devastation in many places. Breezy Point was on fire. People were missing. Water was everywhere. And life as we knew it was changed forever. I like to think Sandy helped me become better prepared in the face of disaster. I’m honestly not sure I am.

Rockaway Beach

Rockaway Beach

Three years ago today Sandy roared into our lives to remind us we’re not in charge.




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A Floating Prison on New York Harbor

What a time for my stupid smartphone to run out of battery juice, because unless I have visual proof, you likely won’t believe my ferry ride home last night.

It was an awesome evening. Warm, just a hint of a breeze. An amazing moon — the kind you see on the Internet and are sure they’re Photo-shopped — hung low in the sky. Bright red. A perfect half, looking like a slice of a blood red tangerine right next to the Statue of Liberty. An iconic photo op if one ever existed. Except not for me on this night.

It was just after midnight. I whipped out my phone only to find it had lost its charge. Typical. I’m sure one day I will witness an Earth shattering, history making, amazing news event and I will find that whatever electronic device I have on me is out of battery power. I need Mr. Tesla. Or at least Elon Musk. Or a solar powered battery pack. Something.

Anyhow, back to this magnificent moon. On the ferry. Next to Lady Liberty. Amazing. I nudged the kid sitting next to me. He took off his headphones. He was excited by what I pointed out to him.

THEN…this roly poly guy with bleached red hair plops himself down right there in front of us. Hoists himself onto the ledge. Right in our direct line of sight of the moon. No, we couldn’t move to a better vantage point because the ferry was packed and I wasn’t about to go sit on a stranger’s lap.

The guys two rows back wanted to know what we were looking at. I said, “It’s the moon, take a look,” whereby one of the geniuses told me that it could not be the moon because the moon should be a lot higher in the sky and it shouldn’t be red. I told him the moon was setting (because, Dang it, it was — and it eventually did.)

The headphone kid next to me started to agree with the guy two rows back. He says “You know, it must be Mars because it’s red.”  Huh? Um. No. I told him the day we see Mars that close up is the day we’d all better hide.

So after a bit of discussing all of this, this other guy who’ve I’ve seen before on the boat sidles up to us and tries to sell us his self-published book about his life. No harm there. I’m all for writers and entrepeneurs. But this guy wouldn’t quit. I told him, “sorry, no cash-ola.” Yet he persisted. And persisted. And wouldn’t quit.

THEN, the gentleman who perched himself between my seatmate and the moon started singing. And singing and singing. Like a wounded animal. “I only want to love youuuuu.”

You could practically hear the eyes rolling back in the other passengers’ heads. Then he started praising the Lord, Allelujia (not Hallelujia, mind you). So far this wailing had gone on for a good five minutes.

So before you say I’m judging, really I’m not. I’m all for free speech. I am all for freedom of religion. If you want to praise the Lord, be my guest. Just please don’t do it right in my face when I can’t escape and don’t do it at maximum volume. I am all for having good manners.

I’m thinking to this guy: if you REALLY want to love me, you’ll stop singing. Like right now.

Then we got the message over the PA — garbled a bit through the singing because the kid would not stop. “The ferry couldn’t dock due to a technical problem. Sorry for the inconvenience.”


So there we floated. On New York Harbor. Serenaded by a man whose singing sounded more like an animal trying to chew its foot off to escape a metal trap.

I only want to love youuuuu… Allelujia. Praise God!

For the love of God, please stop singing. Like right now.

The attorney sitting on the other side of me was drinking a Coors out of a paper bag. He said he dreaded finally closing his eyes for the night because he’d hear and see the wailing man.

I only want to love youuuuu… Allelujia. Praise God!

And on we floated.

Apparently the folks in the terminal couldn’t get the pedestrian bridges down to meet the boat.

What is it about this boat? Just today another man was preaching the word of the Lord at the top of his lungs inside the ferry terminal while another guy wearing a New York Mets jersey and leggings was twirling? Yes. Twirling.

I only want to love youuuuu… Allelujia. Praise God!

And on we floated some more. Til they finally decided to just dock the boat and let us all off on the lower level. I mean, what else could they do? Send us back to Manhattan? Make us float around in the harbor all night? I think more than a few of us would have taken our chances and jumped overboard.

Finally we were all off the boat. Many actually ran away from it.

In the end, the delay probably wasn’t as long as it felt. It was just a little painful on the ears.

I was quite glad it was over.

Praise God.


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Getting lost on the side roads

I found myself in Buttzville.

On purpose.

I first got there by mistake when I was making my way back to Michigan a few weeks ago. It was early in the morning and I took a wrong turn in New Jersey because my GPS directed me over the Bayonne Bridge, which is always closed due to construction. I ended up on the Goethals. My GPS was confused. It took me to I-80 via 78 via 287 via 31 via 46.

Through Buttzville.

Buttzville, New Jersey.

Take me to Buttzville!

Take me to Buttzville!

I wonder how often the people who live here get teased. I know I did when I mentioned I not only visited this place but wanted to come back.

BUT…before you laugh, check it out for yourself. I happened to be in the area (that first time, by mistake) very early on a misty, foggy, pretty autumn morning while the little lazy New Jersey towns were still asleep. I didn’t fight the urge to find my way back to the “right” route because it was so peaceful right where I was.

I saw farm stands featuring Shoo-Fly pies, New Jersey tomatoes (yum), pumpkins, mums. Antique stores. Pretty bridges. Rocky brooks. Roads with names like Manukachunk (or Manuka Chunk, depending on which sign you read…I think I’m going to develop a “Manukachunk” cookie). I vowed to go back.

I ventured back this past Saturday. A solo road trip to Buttzville and beyond into nearby Pennsylvania. I wasn’t disappointed.

Buttzville is at the intersection of NJ-31 and US-46 near the Pequest River. I passed through towns called Glen Gardner, Oxford and Hampton. Spruce Run Recreation Area is along this route. I’d love to come back here to go camping.

Stop one: Hot Dog Johnny, where the locals laughed at me for asking what “birch” beer” is; for lamenting I only had $13 in cash for lunch; for asking why people drink straight buttermilk. Excuse me. I’m from New York. I live a sheltered life! Ha ha…but still WHY do people drink straight buttermilk?!

Hot Dog Johnny's. A great place to stop on a back-roads trip.

Hot Dog Johnny. A great place to stop on a back-roads trip.

Yep, people drink straight buttermilk. I can't imagine why though.

Yep, people drink straight buttermilk. I can’t imagine why though.

This man is

This man is “Hot Dog Johnny.”

I needn’t have worried. Lunch came out to a whopping $6.80, which included my two hot dogs — served with onions, mustard and a dill pickle spear, the way the locals like it — great crispy fries and a frosty mug of birch beer, which, to me at least, tastes an awful lot like root beer. I passed on the buttermilk. Maybe next time. No, I didn’t get a T-shirt.

That birch beer was pretty good. The frosty mug made it all the better.

That birch beer was pretty good. The frosty mug made it all the better.

Lots of people were here on this day because it was splendid weather for a road trip.

Next, I headed west, I think (I say I think because I am directionally challenged and I know when I go to Michigan I am heading west) toward the Delaware Water Gap. I’ve always wondered about this place. It’s a national recreation area.

Great little farm market just outside of Buttzville on the way to the Gap.

Great little farm market just outside of Buttzville on the way to the Gap.

Just outside Buttzville, I hit because it advertised “Shoo Fly” pies. I’ve never had that kind of pie. I was rather disappointed they only sold whole ones, as I wanted to give it a try. But from reading online, I learned its main ingredient is molasses.

As I continued along 46 toward the Gap, I found one of the areas to enter the famed Appalachian Trail. This renowned walking trail extends from Georgia to Maine and I’d love to walk it some day, albeit with years of conditioning to prepare because hiking this trail is not for the faint of heart. A lot of people were here.

The Appalacian Trail near the Delaware Water Gap. This is right off I-80.

The Appalachian Trail near the Delaware Water Gap. This is right off I-80.


The day I was here I noticed all the cool kids had walking sticks. What’s nice about the AT is that you can enter and hike as much or as little as you wish. I did not see any “through hikers” — the ones who hike straight through end to end.


Info center on the trail, the Gap, the local hiking trails. Free coffee, courtesy of the Cub Scouts.

Info center on the trail, the Gap, the local hiking trails. Free coffee, courtesy of the Cub Scouts.

The Kittaninny Point Information Center was closed on this day. But I did learn that there is actually a historic town called “Delaware Water Gap.” It’s off Exit 310 of I-80 just over the border in Pennsylvania. I decided to check it out.

Hobo Chic - a shop that has just about everything...

Hobo Chic – a shop that has just about everything…

It’s a tiny town but so quaint. On the main street in the Gap is this cool shop called Hobo Chic Curious Goods. I immediately traveled back in time to first grade because I saw my red plaid lunch box for sale.

...including an Indy car.

…including an Indy car.

Hobo Chic's nifty bottle collection.

Hobo Chic’s nifty bottle collection.

The Hobo is Chic!

The Hobo is Chic!

I had a nice chat with the owner of Hobo Chic, who said his store grows every year. He said every single person who walks through his doors is immediately transported back to childhood…and that most everyone gets this dreamy look on their face. There was SO much cool stuff. But all that browsing got me hungry. So…

The Village Farmer

The Village Farmer

…I ended up here at the The Village Farmer — a neat farm stand down the street with the usual cool stuff, like pies, jellies, knick knacks and produce. They were having a barbecue. I can’t even begin to tell you how good it smelled. The scent of roasting BBQ, burning leaves, camp fires, baking apple pies. Seriously.

One of their claims to fame is the “True Love” special. The pairing of a hot dog and a slice of homemade apple pie for $2.95.

True Love Special. Only $2.95.

True Love Special. Only $2.95.

I had half of the special, then some. (I had two hot dogs already. That was enough.)

Of course I did. You would too. Admit it.

Of course I did. You would too. Admit it.

That’s a pumpkin doughnut there, by the way.

This nattily attired young man served up my special. I have the impression he's not dressed for Halloween, either.

This nattily attired young man served up my special. I have the impression he’s not dressed for Halloween, either.

The pie was excellent. So was that pumpkin doughnut. They also have other wonderful pastries and homemade pies in a variety of flavors, including pumpkin, chocolate cream and lemon meringue. I also wanted to try one of their hot pot pies. This place really is a “must stop” if you find yourself in the town of Delaware Water Gap.

An abandoned bridge of Warren County, NJ.

An abandoned bridge in Warren County, NJ.

I took my time making my way back to NYC from the Gap along 46 — stopping off in “New Jersey’s Best Kept Secret” — the town of Belvedere, where I saw a convent — all the way into Denville then onto the Interstate. Before I reached the hustle and bustle of suburban surroundings I passed through the towns of Great Meadows, Hackettstown, Budd Lake, Rockaway, Mine Hill, Kenvil and Dover. Each had its own character. Lots of neat little restaurants, shops and ice cream places, too. The nice thing about this little jaunt is that the final destination was not more than two hours away from New York City, yet I felt like I was a million miles away.

I think New Jersey gets a bad rap. Parts of the “Garden State” are amazing. Too many people only know Jersey as the grimy, stinky, industrial crime ridden place they see on TV.

It was a splendid day to hit the road. I think I get my love of road tripping from my Dad, who always finds an excuse or a shortcut through the back roads. Granted, many of these side trips happened because we were lost, although my Dad would never admit it. But somehow they were always enjoyable because you never knew what you’d see or find…or where you’d end up.

I’m glad I inherited this sense of wanderlust. My Dad comes from a small town, so maybe he was always looking for something more interesting. I know I’m never alone out there. There are always nice people along the way. Plus, I really enjoy my own company.

Next trip, next semi-local adventure, I probably will explore the back roads in the Hudson Valley…or take a day trip to Philly via New Hope, PA…or wherever the road leads me.

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The Love Boat on New York Harbor

Love makes an appearance in the oddest of places.

She wore a black and white polka dot dress.  He wore navy blue slacks and a polo shirt, the uniform of the New York City Department of Transportation.  He seemed tall and lean.  She had long black hair.

Were they a couple? My mind wandered.

I found myself observing their romance play out on the midnight ferry to Staten Island one beautiful August night.

On this night, I decided to ride outside, on the back bench of the ferry John F. Kennedy watching the spectacular New York City skyline shrink into the distance. The breeze was warm, the sky was clear and it was, all in all, a splendid night for a boat ride.

Manhattan's beautiful skyline

Manhattan’s beautiful skyline

Leaving the terminal

As I sat on the bench, the woman plopped down next to me with her Smart phone. I figured, “oh, just another tourist taking pictures.” She was aiming toward the ferry slip that we were leaving. Then she waved. I thought, who is she waving to? There’s nobody left, we’re all on the boat. Then I saw. The man in navy blue. The DOT guy waving back. He was in a restricted area, so he was alone.

She took a photograph. He posed with his arms over his head. She took a few more. They waved some more as the boat drifted further and further away and the man became a tiny dot in the light.

He was in the slip on the far left

He was in the slip on the far left

She watched him and waved until it was impossible for them to see each other. Then she texted him and smiled. She gazed at the ferry terminal with a glazed look. I thought, this is what romantic love looks like.

I don’t know why I was caught up in their drama. My mind meandered. Do they really know each other? Was it just a “love at first sight” thing? Are they having an affair? Are they two people who just got used to seeing each other every day at the same time on the commute?

I once watched this great movie with Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro called “Falling in Love.” It was about two people married to others who found themselves in the throes of romance on the daily commute on the Metro North train into New York City. They ended up falling in love. It was a beautiful movie.

I look for this pair when I’m on the late ferry…and I wonder.



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My NYC Adventures with Dave

It’s with such a heavy heart and complete and stunned disbelief and deep sadness that I have to bid farewell to my good friend Dave Barber. I don’t want to. Because doing so makes me acknowledge that my “pally” is gone. It’s taken me several days and thousands of tears to process all of this. I’m not sure I ever will.

The part that gets me is that he was only 60. He had so much more to offer, so much more to live for. I know he was with friends when he had his medical crisis. I can only hope he was laughing just before it happened. Part of me thinks he was. He was posting on FaceBook that very morning about his trip back “home” to Flint (you can take the boy out of Flint, but you can’t take Flint out of the boy) and how happy and anticipatory he was to see all his old cronies again.

For whatever reason, I really thought Dave would somehow find a way out of his coma and come back to us. He couldn’t. I know he’s in a better place, hopefully singing with Frank Sinatra, eating good food, chasing the ladies, zipping around on a Vespa, catching up with his parents and getting some good beach time.

Davis (Swank’s name for David), our friend Dee (Swank – that’s Dave’s nickname for “Swanky Dee”) and I had agreed sometime back we’d meet at least quarterly, either in New York City or Providence, to tear up the town. Sadly, work and life and crazy schedules got in the way for all of us and we were never able to follow through.

We did it at least twice though. And we made the most of the time we spent together.

Our first adventure took us to night court in New York City: a combination of comedy, tragedy and bizarre reality. I took David and Dee because I knew they’d love the spectacle. I wasn’t wrong. Dave enjoyed himself so much we nearly got arrested for contempt of court because he couldn’t stop laughing, commenting and sneaking in photos.  All major no-no’s in the court of law. The bailiff warned and yelled at him a few times. I figured, though, if we did get busted, there was nobody better than Dave to talk our way out of it.

Dave LOVED night court, so much so we almost became

Dave LOVED night court, so much so we almost became “perps” in contempt of court.

why me

Dave saw this on the bench next to us. Of course, it set him off in a fit of laughter. The bailiff was not pleased.

Of course, Dave, who makes friends with everybody everywhere he went, shucked and jived with the court’s heavily armed guards. He had everybody laughing when I hit the door late, letting them know that his “very important friend and CBS News producer” was now joining his party.

After not getting kicked out of night court (there are miracles in this world, because seriously, we were this close) we made our way to a local bar where Dave immediately made friends with an unusual couple sitting at the next table. The guy claimed he was a very wealthy Long Islander. The woman, we surmised, was his mistress. She went by the name “Lucky.” In true Dave form, he started to basically interrogate them after the guy got boastful and arrogant. We all left as friends when the night was over.

Next morning, we went to church at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  As Dave would say, “you know the joint,” THE St. Pat’s. Dave conducted himself as a complete gentleman. Let’s just say I was a little nervous going in. I mean Dave Barber in church? I could only imagine. I could see he was bursting with pride at simply worshiping there. Church probably wouldn’t have be in the itinerary, except that Swanky Dee sings in the St. Pat’s choir. So we get into our church pew and first things first: Dave whips out his camera phone and starts snapping pictures. Yes, we prayed a little in between, too. As I look back, I’m surprised Dave didn’t try to corner Bishop Dolan for some chitchat (they have similar personalities). I think Fr. Tim would have loved that.

Getting to church was…a trip. I had Dave screaming and yelling in my little red Smart Car the whole way as I wove through NYC traffic to get us to the church on time. You can’t really drive like Mario Andretti in a 3-cylinder Smart Car, but I made my best effort. We made it to church just in time, but not without a lot of passenger-side driving advice (ahem, lectures) and admonishments from Mr. Barber.

Another time, we strolled through Bergdorf Goodman, a place none of us could afford. Yet Dave being Dave engaged himself with the various clerks. Quizzing them about this or that. Asking if certain cologne combinations would make him more attractive to women, etc.  Posing bizarre questions just to see how they’d respond. And I remember lots of laughter. Dee and I just kind of stood back and watched with amused silence.

From there, to the Plaza Hotel, where we dropped in for some hot chocolate and to sort of crash someone’s wedding. What a nice afternoon we had. All three of us were just enjoying being together and hanging out in such beautiful surroundings. Then Dave decided we should start “touring” the premises. So of course, he’s making friends with the staff. Trading business cards, asking a million questions, getting them to sneak us into ballrooms and other places in the hotel that were closed to the public.deeand me

Then we’re off to one of those tourist electronics stores you see all over New York City, mostly near Times Square. Dave immediately engages with the sales clerk about this audio PA system that would allow him to sing at home. He’s crooning full blast in the store, talking a mile a minute, persuading this guy into thinking that he’s got a sure sale. Except he didn’t. But, quite honestly, these few years later, the guy is still probably waiting for Dave to come back.

We capped the evening with dinner at Patsy’s. THE Patsy’s, where Frank Sinatra held court. Dave had a special friendship with the owner, Sal Scognamillo, who is one hell of a chef. (Inserting a recommendation here: DAVE (and of course I) would encourage you to go to Patsy’s when you visit NYC. For the atmosphere, for the food and of course, for Sal and his family. You will NOT be disappointed. Patsy’s is on West 56th Street in NYC). Sal arranged for us to sit at Frank Sinatra’s favorite table. Dave was over the moon about it. Sal, as he always does, treated us very well and we had quite a night there. A several-hours long dinner interrupted by lots of laughter.

David wanted to see New York from high above, so he suggested we go to the top of the Empire State Building. It was his first time there, he was like a little kid. As I recall, the day was full of bright sunshine and a biting cold wind. Still, Dave was thrilled just to be there.

We ended the weekend with me driving Dave to Penn Station where he took the Amtrak home to Providence. We hugged and vowed to keep getting together because every time we did, we had a blast. I’m sorry we didn’t follow through, because hanging out with Dave was absolutely the best fun.

Dinner at Patsy's NYC. From left: Sal Scognamillo, Dave, Me, Dee and Sal's father. Oh what a night!

Dinner at Patsy’s NYC. From left: Sal Scognamillo, Dave, Me, Dee and Sal’s father. Oh what a night!

The guy always showed up dressed to the nines. No matter what the occasion. Calling Dave a snazzy dresser was like admitting Frank Sinatra sang a bit. No matter where we’d go, Dave would show up in a suit and tie and a starched white shirt. Perfect hair (like the Werewolf of London), beautifully manicured nails. The folks at night court thought he was one of the attorneys. I was afraid to encourage him, figuring he’d start to play the role right there in the courtroom to see how much he could get away with. One of the places we went people thought he was famous, seeing how he was dressed and how he carried himself. We played along and Dave ate it up.

I absolutely loved the guy, but it didn’t start out that way.

I knew OF Dave Barber beginning in high school in Grand Blanc when I’d babysit and he hosted some kind of late night public affairs show on Channel 25. I remember watching the show. Then fast forward several years later (I had moved away, then back to the market many years later) there was Dave on WFDF. Interviewing, yelling and challenging people on the radio. He terrified me (and I don’t scare that easily). I thought, “I never want to be on that guy’s bad side.”

But that was Dave. Always questioning, always challenging. He was an instigator extraordinaire and he got me going a time or two. He knew how to push my buttons to get me yelling at him at times. I think he did it just to see if he could. I didn’t know him really until just before I moved to New York in 2004. I ran into him at a few parties and had some nice, respectful conversations. I figured he couldn’t be all THAT bad. Time proved he definitely wasn’t.

Fast forward to 2006 or 2007 and Dave is calling me from Flint asking whether it was hard to go to a new city to start a new job at an advanced age in a place where you didn’t know anybody at all. He was considering a job at WPRO, Providence (and one of the northeast’s) most prolific talk radio stations. I had moved from Flushing, Michigan  to New York City. He was considering a move from Flint to Providence. I assured him it was a good move. He was worried about his age. I told him not to sweat it. If I could pull it off, so could he.

We had a few more heartfelt and emotional phone calls. I remember one specifically where he confided he needed my help and I reminded him I was always there for him. Always.

He took the job. I sent him a “congratulations” card at his new place of work and it apparently floored him because he called the day he got it to profusely thank me for thinking about him and to confide that he was on top of the world and “scared to death” at the same time. He said that he was “just a Flint kid” who didn’t belong with the big boys. I told him he was WAY wrong about that and, again, not to sweat it.

The job didn’t last, but it true Dave fashion, this man bounced back and better than ever into his last job at the Rhode Island legislature.

Always dapper.

Always dapper.

THIS is where he hit his stride, made the big time in his (and our) estimation. Dave told me about  a thousand times how much he absolutely loved his job interviewing the politicians and policymakers of Rhode Island. How much he enjoyed rubbing elbows with the famous folks who strolled through the halls of the state capitol building. Dave, at least as I knew and observed him, was never happier and I’m grateful that he had such loving, respectful and fun coworkers. His coworkers should know (and I’m sure they already do) that he had the utmost respect for them and that he appreciated and deeply loved them. He always talked about how honored he was to be allowed to work with them.

I am grateful to have had the privilege of spending time with Dave and getting to know him as I did. I’m thrilled he introduced me to Dee, who’s also a fellow transplant here in New York and we will always remain friends. All because of Dave.

Every year I’d receive a Christmas card from Dave with the envelope addressed in his exquisite handwriting and a little note. Boy will I miss that, too.

I have a big regret in that I was passing through Providence three weeks ago and I didn’t call him. Again, the schedule didn’t permit it. I figured I’d have a chance to catch up with him later this summer at his beach club at Bonnet Shores. Sadly, that won’t happen and I am deeply sorry about that.

That incident alone makes me reevaluate who I spend my time with and how I will relate to them in the future. Life is short. Dave drove that point home.

I loved Dave because he was so much fun and larger than life. We never had a dull moment together. He called ’em as he saw ’em and you always knew where you stood. Dave also could BS with the best of them. He was funny, gregarious, passionate, intelligent, respectful and just a thoroughly good person inside and out. The man had an enormous heart and soul. I’m glad I got past the intimidation I felt and let the true friendship flood in. I’m a very lucky woman. I wish I had more friends like Dave. True blue ones. The kind where you pick up right where you left off, regardless of your communication in between.

Dave was a character. He was like the goofy big brother I never had. He was a Teddy bear. He was self-deprecating. At times he was terribly insecure.

This Earth was better for having had Dave Barber as part of it.

I will miss him. I already do.

I still can’t believe it.

Thank you for being my friend.

Godspeed David.

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Bittersweet parting…One chapter ends, a new one begins.

Here I am in my tiny apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, getting all weepy about finally moving.

You see, I’ve lived here for nine years. One place, nine years. Leaving is difficult. I know. I stayed here way too long. It always was too easy to not leave. The old velvet handcuffs. I had no compelling reason to go.

I never tire of this view

I never tire of this view

I have never lived in any one spot this long in my life. I got quite attached to my humble little abode. I don’t think I’ve ever simply had time to get attached to anything ever before. Due to the transient nature of my upbringing and, later, my occupation, I’ve never stayed in one place for very long. So nine years is a LONG time.

photo 4

I love the layout of this tiny space that the rental agent assured me was 476 square feet. It seems so much smaller. And, like most people, I’ve acquired a lot of stuff over nine years. I decided three months ago to leave and the move has been looming large and heavy over my head like a big black cloud. It’s almost over.

photo 5

I adore my neighborhood. Hell’s Kitchen was still on the gritty side when I moved in here, nine years ago, on Halloween. Now it’s all gentrified, a dozen high rises have gone up around me, bringing thousands of new people into my neighborhood. It’s definitely not the same place it was when I moved here. But I’ve been fortunate to watch it grow up. On the downside, all of this new building took away my distant and twinkly view of the George Washington Bridge and the cruise port along the Hudson. Still, I never tired of the view.

In case you didn’t know, Hell’s Kitchen was once home of the The Westies, the notorious New York City Irish Gang. “West Side Story” is based on this very neighborhood. So there’s lots of history here. It’s always been known for its tough reputation. Hookers. Drugs. Homeless. Weirdos. There was a grisly murder in the high rise down the street long before I moved in. The guy who coined the “Club Kids” recently got out of prison for chopping up his roomate and leaving him to dissolve in acid in their bathtub during a frenzied, drug crazed crime spree. There was a heroin manufacturing factory in a brownstone a half block away a few years back.

My apartment is 14 short blocks away from work, 20 minutes on foot, including elevators. I love the convenience. I am so spoiled. I am about to become a commuter. Adding at least an hour to each direction of my daily commute. Am I crazy? Maybe.

So many sounds make up this place. Interestingly, I always needed the white noise of a fan to sleep before I moved to New York. Here, I have the sounds of the city to lull me into slumber. I have a hard time sleeping when it’s too quiet.

First, there’s the white noise, the din of the city. Then there are the sirens and car horns and the sounds of boats on the Hudson: everything from cruise ship horn blasts and their muster drills to pleasure and tour boats, water taxis and tugs…the one long and three short blasts of their horns as they back away from their piers into the river. Fleet Week always was centered on the pier closest to me — my Pier 84. I always vowed to take a cruise leaving that port, even so I could just say “I walked here to the cruise ship from home.” I just never got around to it.

The World...right outside my window

The World…right outside my window

One Sunday morning a few years back I was awakened waaay too early to the sound of Oprah Winfrey’s voice bellowing and ricocheting off the high rises. She was doing some kind of event near the Intrepid. I saw Chicago, Lionel Richie and Earth, Wind and Fire perform on the Intrepid. Plus countless fireworks shows that launched there, usually without warning, but always a pleasant surprise. During Super Bowl weekend, the Bud Light Hotel was parked at my dock. I had almost a front row seat for the Foo Fighters concert, from my bed. I actually sang along, the sound was so clear and so loud. (It was a great show).

I’ll also miss the boys next door at FDNY Rescue 1, as they go screaming out of their fire house on runs. It’s always been comforting to have them so near. They’re the best neighbors you could ever have.

I’ll miss the rumble of the Amtrak train as it passed under my building, always wondering about the stories of the travelers on the thousands of trains I’ve watched entering and exiting New York over these last nine years. Yes, the train drove me crazy at times. I used to work the night shift. But every morning at 7:25, that train would stop in its tracks, waiting to roll into Penn Station and would blast its horns. Really loudly. Sometimes, seemingly, loud enough to blast me right out of my bed.

I could hear the roar of the crowds in Times Square from my apartment — I live two blocks away. The city would literally vibrate on New Year’s Eve. I walked over there on New Year’s Eve once, as a regular person and fought the crowds and had an awful time. I went twice as a news producer and had the time of my life. I generally avoid Times Square, unless company wants to see it. It’s too congested, too expensive, too commercial.

Andy's first photo as "Andy" in Times Square

Andy’s first photo as “Andy” in Times Square

Each night around 1:30am, I hear the clip-clop of horses’ hooves. There’s at least one carriage that goes down my street, back home to its nearby barn after a very long day ferrying tourists around Central Park. A sound you just wouldn’t normally associate with urban living.

Hansom cabs in Hell's Kitchen

Hansom cabs in Hell’s Kitchen

I will miss an incredible view of the city’s skyline, especially at night. I have never gotten tired of my view, as you’ve probably gathered over the years from my numerous postings of photos. I’ve seen rainbows and spectacular lightning through these windows. I once witnessed a shooting in a parking lot, where a high rise now stands.

Beauty after the storm

Beauty after the storm

Every year I got a free preview of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade the night before, as the floats traveled up Tenth Avenue to their assembly spot. For a couple of summers I watched the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks throw my window from the comfort of my sofa.

On nights I couldn’t sleep I’d gaze out the window from my bed and count the yellow taxicabs. I always told myself, once I hit 100 cabs, I should be well on my way to sleep. It usually worked. Not tonight. My last night here.

Other nights I’d watch the jetliners as they lined up, dots in the sky, either approaching Newark on the Jersey side of the Hudson, or I’d simply look up. On certain nights, the flight path to and from LaGuardia Airport goes directly over my building, along the Hudson. The planes fly quite low. Sometimes, I worried, too low. It was fun when I’d fly back to NYC when I could see my apartment roof and sometimes wondered if there’ll ever be a day we could just say “here” and parachute home.

The moon cast its own special glow over Manhattan from my point of view. I’d watch it rise, casting a surreal light over Midtown. On at least three occasions I watched the International Space Station fly over Manhattan under a clear, starry sky.

Lots of interesting things have happened to me over this last chapter, in this apartment, which in the truest sense, has been my haven. My last two precious dogs lived here with me. Their little nose prints still dot their favorite window. I never had the heart to clean those tiny prints off.

Little doggie nose prints. The dogs loved the view, too.

Little doggie nose prints. The dogs loved the view, too.

I was here when Superstorm Sandy hit two years ago. Feels like yesterday. The water rushed up my street, as I am in a flood/evacuation zone. But it didn’t get as far as my building, thankfully. I took my little dog Andy to look at the damage along the Hudson the next morning.  We checked out his dog park, it was okay. (Boy, I’ve missed that place, but since he passed, I can’t bear to go there. So many friends with dogs. Sometimes you know more dogs than people in your neighborhood through the friendships your dogs make). We were most fortunate. Just a few blocks to the south, Manhattan was shrouded in darkness for two weeks. Other places, as you know, were devastated.

I’ve seen TV shows and movies shot on my street. Actors wandering around. Photo shoots with models in front of some of the grittier buildings across the street. The President’s motorcade tore down my street once. Another time we were shut down because of a bomb threat. On September 10th of this year, THOUSANDS of motorcycles screamed down 43rd St. To honor those lost on 9/11. It was quite a site.

Stay inside or risk being on TV!

Stay inside or risk being on TV!

Back in January there was a horrific fire in the  high rise on the corner. One man died.

I witnessed the mighty New York Times move out of its building down my street to its new headquarters.

I’ve seen THREE (!!!???) bowling alleys pop up in my neighborhood, countless wine stores. I guess the new people moving here need to drink and bowl. I’ve watched restaurants and businesses come and go. Neighborhood characters, too. I’ve made quite a few friends in my apartment building.

For a while they shot “Project Runway” in my building. I just learned the other night that Patrick Ewing visits frequently, as he shares custody of his dog with his ex-wife. I’ll miss Ellen, the actress down the hall. She’s lived here longer than I have and she’s always been so nice. I also met a matchmaker who lived here, a medium, an agent for actors and an author. There’s a dog who’s lived down the hall longer than I’ve been here but I’ve never once seen. His owners never, ever take him out (that poor dog). Many of the people who work in this building have become friends who I will surely miss. So many interesting people. Lots of characters I’d see on the street, too. The homeless man who collects returnable bottles. I was startled to see him in another neighborhood once. The school crossing guard, Desiree, who always has a kind word. The man I nicknamed “Batman” because he had this miniature wooden bat he waves around in front of the corner bodega.

I’ve watched probably one hundred businesses turn over on Ninth Avenue over the past nine years. Again, the main reason, as I’ve spoken to business owners: The Rent is too Damn High. Seriously. My friend and former co-worker Matt once told me “you know you’re a real New Yorker when you can walk down a street and point to store fronts and say ‘this used to be…that used to be….'”

I’m going to have to reconfigure my routes to the airports. It was always so easy launching from the Port Authority two blocks away. The “A” train will always be my train. The M-11 is my bus. I have my favorite meat market and vegetable stand. My pizza joint. My Chinese place. The Little Pie Company.

So if it’s so great here, why am I going?

It’s time. Hard as it is. I stayed here way longer than I should have.

The rent is getting ridiculously high. The rent really is too damn high. I don’t know how people can afford to live here anymore. In fact, a new study came out today: NYC’s homeless population in every category — singles, families, children, blacks, whites — is on the rise. I’m not surprised. This city is becoming one of “haves.” I definitely can afford the $575 monthly rent hike, but why should I pay it? Enough is enough. I’m sad the neighborhood is changing so much, too. Change is a part of life. I get that. But this neighborhood is losing its character by the day.

I also haven’t slept too well for a few years due to all of the construction. Relentless jackhammering, yelling, blasting. I remember the day I moved in, I rushed to the warehouse across the street because the lettering on the building said “New York Public Library.” Voracious reader that I am, I was so excited. So I burst through the front door with my library card, only to be turned away. The building was owned by the library, but it was a central depository, meaning they brought books from all over the city to this warehouse, only to be redistributed among the libraries. So many books, yet none I could read. Two years ago they closed the depository and started tearing down walls and adding stories. That old warehouse now will house the new Beacon High School. That means, after all the construction and upheaval: teenagers! Yikes.

Yet another new building goes up in HK.

Yet another new building goes up in HK.

Not sure why I’m so sentimental over this place. I’d tell anyone else who wrote this tome that it’s time to grow up, to move on, to roll with the changes. Or as Taylor Swift would sing “Shake it Off.”

Hell’s Kitchen has a piece of me and I definitely have a piece of it in my heart and my psyche as I move forward. Starting a new chapter, a new adventure, a completely new and outside-my-comfort-zone living situation, a vastly different neighborhood, new people, new things to do, places to see.

Hell's Kitchen: Beautiful in all seasons!

Hell’s Kitchen: Beautiful in all seasons!

So November 1, I hit the reset button on my life in New York.

But for now, here on my very last night in my Hell’s Kitchen, I will listen to the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves as I do now at 1:44am and I count the taxi cabs, as a light mist seems to fall only over West 43rd Street, Hell’s Kitchen, NYC.




Posted in Apartment Living, How to Live in NYC, Manhattan, New York, Personal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Rent Rant

The rent.

It’s too damn high.

Jimmy McMillan said it first. You remember Jimmy McMillan. He’s the guy who was running for New York governor when, during the 2010 debate, he had a little outburst: “THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH!”

To be sure, that debate was bizarre, to say the least. Among the seven candidates, besides Jimmy, representing, of course “The Rent is Too Damn High Party,” we watched a convicted madam, a former Black Panther, and of course, current governor Andrew Cuomo, who, looking back, had to have been more than amused at the barbs flying back and forth. I must say, I was working that night and I’ve never been so entertained. McMillan has gone on to run for other various political offices. He is currently running for state comptroller, representing, of course, “The Rent is Too Damn High” party.Saturday Night Live did several parody sketches about him and his crusade. He always draws crowds wherever he goes. His mantra is catchy.

Crazy as it seems though, Jimmy McMillan had a point: the rent IS too damn high. I mean really, how can people afford to live in Manhattan anymore?

The rent is SO high that I’m moving. I have no idea where. Pains me to do so. I’ve happily lived in my Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood for nine years. The longest I’ve stayed in the same place ever. That’s saying a lot.

But it’s time to go. Plus, change is good, right?

I was thinking of going anyway. My apartment building owners gave me the nudge I needed to get moving. They’re raising my already-too-high rent by $325 a month for a one-year lease, $525 a month for a two-year lease.  Yeah, you read that correctly. Whoa. Really?

Oh, I can afford this, um, little blip, as my landlord put it. But why should I pay it? To get the same thing for so much more money? No way. I could downsize AND buy a place in Florida or wherever for what I pay in rent. I may just do that.

You’d gasp if you knew how much I shell out a year in rent. Recently a friend of mine from Michigan who has a pretty nice, big spread in Okemos told me he pays less for his mortgage and taxes a month than I pay in rent. Oh the price of living in the big city.

My neighborhood has drastically changed since I moved in. At least a dozen highrises have gone up around me, some obstructing my beautiful view. There’s a new high school under construction across the street. The noise level is ridiculous. Beginning at exactly at 7am, six days a week: banging, hammering, drilling, jackhammering, blasting, yelling. Consistent. Relentless. Deafening. And, for whatever reason, the construction workers have butterfingers. They can’t seem to hold onto their tools. So we hear loud clanging about every ten minutes. Dropped wrenches. Tipped-over dumpsters. Kicked-over buckets. Ugh. Yes, the noise is too damn loud. On top of that, once the school is completed, I’ll have teenagers lurking on my block. No thanks.

I never get tired of this view. I think I'll miss it more than anything else.

I never get tired of this view. I think I’ll miss it more than anything else.

My neighborhood is a changin’…the tourists are getting closer. Before, Hell’s Kitchen was just too far away from Times Square (two big city blocks). But since I’ve moved here, there are lots of new bars and great restaurants. Hence, more tourists.

I know I’ll miss the convenience of “The Kitchen.” My door-to-door-commute-including-elevators is 20 minutes. I’m spoiled. I’ll admit it. But I’m not crazy enough to pay ridiculously high rent anymore. My faucets need to be coated in gold to fetch what my landlord is asking. Ain’t gonna happen.

So…the search begins. And it’s not like searching for an apartment anywhere else. Where you live, you can search the want- pads, drive up to a complex and rent a space. Here, wheeling and dealing is involved. If I  use a broker — they seem to have the best buildings — I’ll pay a fee that feels like extortion — up to 15% of the year’s rent. This amounts to THOUSAND$ of dollars. I’ll have to do a lot of homework, but that’s okay too. It’s a great way to see the city. Do I have the gumption to look at the death notices to see who’s vacating their apartments? I don’t think so. But folks do do that. Do I have the desire to move to New Jersey? No way. This will be an interesting challenge for me and I have to have it figured out by October 1.

I have no idea where my search will take me. Gasp…maybe over a bridge or through a tunnel. A different borough. Yes, I admit it. I have Manhattan snobbery disease. Bad.


But…the rent is too damn high.

PS: the noise is too damn loud.


Posted in Apartment Living, How to Live in NYC, Manhattan, New York, Personal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Racing to bring up the rear…

I wish I could say I’m jumping for joy after finishing the Manhattan Half Marathon.

Instead, I’m just here to say I finished. Period.


Ok, maybe feeling joy a bit, since I did finish. Don’t get me wrong. I FINISHED!

Ready, I thought, to run.

Ready, I thought, to run.

But, dammit, I know I could have and should have done better.

Brought up the rear — hey, somebody has to do it, right? I wasn’t dead last, there were many behind me. But I was definitely in that last pack of stragglers. I prefer to look at my placement as a community service to the other runners.

I wanted to throw-up for the entire race. I wanted to quit after mile 2. I had to pee through most of the race (note to self: limit the amount of coffee before a major race).

I carried on an interior dialogue that went something like this: “What the Hell am I doing here?” You’re running a half marathon. Why? Because you set a goal. Well, so much for that. I want to quit. Why? You’re not a quitter. Why start being a quitter now? Good point. I don’t quit. I had this conversation with myself for about three and a half hours. Yeah, 3.5 hours. I was getting tired of hearing myself.

1/13th of the way there...little did I realize how hard this would be.

1/13th of the way there…little did I realize how hard this would be.

I couldn’t find my stride. I never did, the whole race. It’s as if my muscles never warmed up. I couldn’t even feel my butt. Imagine a globe and all of Asia disappears. I didn’t feel happy like I did when I was running the Long Island Half Marathon eight months ago. I don’t know why, either.

I questioned my training. Truth be told, I could have been better prepared had I been more conscientious. I found a solid six-week training plan. But I took days off when I shouldn’t have. I got lazy. I paid for it.

Off and running.

Off and running.

After awhile, my internal conversation turned to the physical. My feet hurt. My torso wanted to disconnect from my body. My knees felt like disconnecting from my legs. I was cold. I was restricted in my movement because I probably had on too many layers. I also was carrying a heck of a lot more “junk in the trunk” since my last race. (note to self: empty that $%#@&^* trunk). That extra, um, “baggage” made a big difference — my joints took a major and much heavier pounding this time than the last race.

I'm buried under layers. Four on top, two on bottom. Too much, I guess.

I’m buried under layers. Four on top, two on bottom. Too much, I guess.

Finally I told myself to forget about what’s hurting and to just move forward. So I did. I tried to remember that I was running on a beautiful sunny (but very cold) day in my favorite place in the world to run. And it really was spectacular. Central Park is amazing. But maybe 5 degrees warmer minus the 20-mph wind would have made a difference. Or not. I don’t know.

My favorite place to run.

My favorite place to run.

The volunteers really made it a little easier for those of us who needed an extra push. Cheering all the way. Some spectators held signs  with the phrase “You Can Do It!” and other inspirational messages. Some runners had the phrase “Run Like Hell” emblazoned on the back of their jackets. I trotted behind another woman with my last name for awhile (it was on her shirt).

I cheered my fellow runners.  A group of slow runners that was “praying on it” eventually shuffled past me. A couple of walkers passed me. But it was okay, I was racing against myself, I’d wanted to finish better than I had in the LI Half. When it was evident I wouldn’t, just finishing was all I wanted. By now I was dreaming of a nice fat bagel and a hot bath.

I drank frozen water. I slurped slushy Gatorade. I plodded on. I cursed. I sang. I ran.

I finally had enough as I passed mile marker 13. That, my friends, is where the dam broke. I burst into tears, which froze on my face. Yeah, that freakin’ cold. I  headed for the finish line. Thank God.


The dam burst here.

Except it was gone.

Yes, the finish line was nowhere to be seen.

Gotta hand it to the New York Road Runners — they’re one efficient machine. They tore the whole shebang down. So as I’m running to where I think I should be going, I ask one of the guys loading up the finish line apparatus onto a truck “Where…the Hell…is the finish line?”

He pointed forward. Another guy said “you passed it. here’s your time 3:29:00, tell the people in that van.”

So I did. Officially — based on his watch — 3:29:00, though I was so far back in the pack, I didn’t pass the starting line until six minutes after the front of the pack. So my time was about 3:23:00 (ha ha, huge difference). Doesn’t matter anyway. I finished the race. The guy in the van told me because I completed, I can use the race as a marathon qualifier (as if).

But…no bagels. No bananas. No water. Nothing left at the end of the race. Nothing for the slow pokes, maybe the people who need it the most. Everything was gone, put away.

It’s okay. Run faster next time for the rewards at the end. I know now what I need to do to avoid this kind of disappointment in the future. Train better. Be more serious about it. Try harder. No problem.

But I can say I finished.

Yes, I finished the 2014 Manhattan Half Marathon.

I did it.

And I’m quite happy about that.

See you in May on Long Island.

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Happy Holidays NYC Style: Christmas on Steroids

I swear, the astronauts aboard the International Space Station can probably see Brooklyn, New York. Blazing in all its green, red and tinselly glory.

Clark Griswold, eat your heart out!

Clark Griswold, eat your heart out!

How could they not?

The good folks of Brooklyn celebrate Christmas like no place I’ve ever experienced. You know. New York-style.

I joined a group to take a walking tour of the Dyker Heights section — it’s between Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst — this past weekend.  Others arrived in buses for guided Christmas lights and Cannoli tours. Yes, that’s what we do here.

A spectacular display.

A spectacular display.

I kid you not. And why not?

These Brooklynites put Clark Griswold to shame. In a HUGE way.

I half expected Chevy Chase to emerge from somewhere behind all those glittery lights with a crazed look on his face, dragging miles upon miles of extension cords.

Some even hire professional companies to design, set-up, manage, take-down and store their motifs…to the tune of $30k a season. WHAT?

They do it all...plan, set up, take down, store...

They do it all…plan, set up, take down, store…

Displays range from tasteful and elegant to over-the-top and seizure-inducing. From the simple to the sublime. Something for every taste.

Blinking lights. Even an Eiffel Tower!

Blinking neon lights. Even an Eiffel Tower!

I seriously wonder what the combined wattage is beaming, or should I say BLASTING out of Dyker Heights. These people know how to do Christmas. And then some.

Baby Jesus in the spotlight. Santa is not far away, either.

Baby Jesus in the spotlight. Santa is not far away, either.

I remember as a kid we’d venture out in the car after Christmas dinner with my grandparents to see the pretty Christmas lights in our own neighborhood. Usually in Michigan. Sometimes in Wisconsin. But what we saw then couldn’t hold a candle to this. Wow. It’s like comparing birthday candles to sticks of dynamite.

Apparently Dyker Heights’ holiday-on-overloaded-circuits display got started about three decades ago when a woman decorated her house. Her neighbor tried to out-do her. (Surprise, surprise…) They engaged in that age-old suburban mine-is-better-than-yours warfare. Then others on the block got into the act. And before you knew it, the holiday decorating frenzy spread like, well, electrical current. And today’s modern-day spectacle is quite the sight to behold. Partly because it’s tradition. Partly because there are so many different choices for lighting. Strips. LEDs. Icicles. Traditional bulbs. Spotlights. And mostly because they got the professionals involved.

In fact, the original home where this all started — and is still going strong today — we are told, spends about $3,500 a month in electricity. Merry Christmas Consolidated Edison!

It all started right here, with this house, about 30 years ago. We're told the power bill is $3,500 a month.

It all started right here, with this house, about 30 years ago. We’re told the power bill is $3,500 a month.

The streets this past Saturday — the one right before Christmas — were crowded with hundreds, maybe thousands of people — don’t even try to drive through there — families, singles, people on dates spilled into the streets from the sidewalks. It is a festive atmosphere.  Electrifying. The NYPD directs traffic. It all gets underway right around Thanksgiving and continues until just after the New Year.

They come from near and far...

They come from near and far…

Everybody was on display: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Santa, nutcrackers, wise men, elves, dancing snowmen, sugarplum fairies, pink nightmares. You name it. We saw it. Themes from religious to whimsical and everything in between. In all of its shimmery, sparkly, highly-illuminated gaudiness. And I use gaudy in the best way possible here. I mean think about it: it’s New York City, where we do everything bigger, better, faster, brighter, flashier. And by God, are we competitive or what?

Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Frosty.

Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Frosty.

Hey Look! It's Ralphie, the "Pink Nightmare!"

Hey Look! It’s Ralphie, the “Pink Nightmare!” from “A Christmas Story.”

Some exhibits are quite "fragile."

Some exhibits are quite “fragile.” Notice the “major prize” is just above the Virgin Mary. It’s all about juxtaposition, people, Juxtaposition!

And some of us got to wondering: what motivates particular displays and specific color schemes? How much planning goes into these elaborate displays? Do we go spiritual or secular? Or do we combine the themes? Is it plotted out on paper? Is it budgeted? Does neighbor trash talk fellow neighbor? And what about the folks who refuse to participate? Do they scoff? Do they feel left out? Do they care? Do they hide? I mean, in a competitive atmosphere like this one, if you were not participating, would you even want to show your face? Huh, Scrooge?

Bright as day and beautiful.

Bright as day and beautiful.

OK, I know other NYC neighborhoods also go all-out like this. One that comes quickly to mind is the Broad Channel neighborhood of Queens. I know there are countless others. But this one? Dyker Heights? It takes the fruitcake. For sure.

This was the "Make A Wish" display, where kids of all ages could sit on Santa's lap.

This was the “Make A Wish” display, where kids of all ages could sit on Santa’s lap.

If you find yourself in our fantastic city during your Christmas vacation, a walking tour of Dyker Heights has to be on your list of things to do and see. You really won’t regret it. Just channel the Griswolds and enjoy yourself as you walk down that holiday road.


***If you go: take the “R” train to 86th Street in Bay Ridge (86th St. and 4th Ave.), proceed across 86th to about 13th Avenue and go around the blocks…85th, 84th, 83rd…and bring your camera. And then plan to hit a pastry shop afterward for some truly wonderful dessert after your beautiful walk. I can’t believe it took me this long to do this…it’s now going to be an annual tradition. And it’s a gorgeous neighborhood.  I think I’ll be coming back for daytime walkabout one of these days soon.

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See Forever…from the Top of the World Trade Center

Look out world, the so-called Yankee Stadium of observation decks is opening in 2015!

That’s what the creators and sponsors of One World Observatory say about the space which will occupy the 100th, 101st and 102nd floors of One World Trade Center —  formerly known as The Freedom Tower — as it soars proudly over New York City.

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And what a place it will be. It offers us a view that hasn’t been seen since September 11, 2001.

I got a chance to go to the media preview back in April to see the plans for construction of this soon-to-be magnificent place to view New York City from a 360-degree radius. Not only that, you can see Jersey, the Ocean and…well, forever, or what seems like forever.

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The perch offers spectacular and breathtaking views of the greatest city in the world. And that’s just what you get when you look out of the huge windows. (Unlike the Empire State Building, this observation deck will be fully enclosed.) Once completed, the three-floor “experience” (which should take at least an hour or two) as the Port Authority touts it, will be a multimedia interactive extravaganza from the second you walk up to the front door until the moment you leave. Everything from the views to the minute-long “Skypod” elevator rides, to the displays about the history of the building and of NYC to the theatrical program to the tour “ambassadors.”

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There also will be restaurants and a gift shop and space for special events. Can you imagine having a wedding or party up there?2013-04-02 08.07.26

The Port Authority calls it “the one and only place to see all of New York.” In fact, Scott Rechler, the Vice Chairman of the Port Authority, calls One World Observatory the Yankee Stadium of observation decks. It can’t get much better than that!

On a clear can see The Bronx!

On a clear day…you can see The Bronx!

Incidentally, the observatory will be run by Legends Hospitality, whose partners include the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys and Checketts Partners Investment Fund.

Ticket prices haven’t been set yet, however we were told they’ll be in line with what similar attractions in the city charge.

100th Floor

100th Floor

As we made our way up to the 100th floor, I got a chance to glance around a bit at the construction going on inside the building. It really is remarkable. And it — the construction — continued through the press conference…in fact the Port Authority officials occasionally referred to the noise, reminding us of all the work that goes on in this building day and night. I don’t know about you, but I’m always fascinated by construction sites and this one surely doesn’t disappoint.

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I’ve watched this spectacular building “grow up” from Ground Zero and it’s been a fascinating process to witness. You can see it from many points in the city as you look down the Avenues heading south. I run past it — in fact, last time I did, I had to stop and just gaze up and marvel at it.

Once completed, One World Trade Center will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It’s already the tallest building in the Big Apple.

2013-04-02 10.33.322013-04-02 10.19.532013-04-02 07.45.45I remember when I was a kid, standing on top of the World Trade Center observation deck on the south tower and seeing NYC on high for the first time ever. It was spectacular. I remember the building gently swayed, a sensation and view I’ll never forget. I got to see that view again today for the first time in decades and I can’t wait to come back.

One World Trade Center rises up...currently at 105 floors.

One World Trade Center rises up…currently at 105 floors.

Someone during the news conference referred to the building as “the most important building in the world.” David Checketts, the chairman and CEO of Legends Hospitality called it “the most significant destination in the world.” The press release referred to it as “a beacon of hope, a monumental icon of renewal and rebirth, an enduring testament to the resilience of the human spirit.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Stunning. Strong. Breathtaking. Soaring. Proud. New York.

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Rikers by Moonlight. Pollyanna goes back to Prison

The razor wire glistened in the moonlight, as a scrawny black cat skulked across the parking lot, lighted by a nearly-full moon.

I don’t make this stuff up. This was Rikers…in the moonlight. On a fall evening. Oh the mystery.

Rikers Island — New York City’s massive jail facility — takes on a whole different persona at night. It’s creepier and more shadowy than during the daytime, the bleak gray of day segues into a chilling black in the night. The dreariness that pervades the landscape seeps into one’s mind and mood. For nocturnal viewing think darker, more shadowy, desolate, desperate. It has an evil vibe. Not easy to describe, but definitely felt. Oh, and the air this fine evening smelled like raw sewage.

Oh, the ambience. Thankfully I don’t scare easily. However, admittedly, I wouldn’t want to find myself anywhere near here alone. Ever.

The night I was there, several months back, it was very cold. Very still. Very dark, save for that moon, its light casting dramatic shadows everywhere.

Again, this place isn’t for the faint of heart, yet I came back. To see a someone who’d been a “guest” of the facility since mid-September.

This was my second visit to Rikers. As I looked closer at the place, I saw things I’d missed before. Ironic little tidbits.

Like the fact that there are actual “smiley faces” on signs here. One reminding you to have a nice day and to buckle up, to enjoy your tour. Right. It’s almost as if those smiley faces are mocking you as you enter this no-man’s land.

Interestingly, back in Queens, there’s a guy selling underwear and socks on a table on the sidewalk near where the MTA bus comes to take visitors to Rikers Island. I never thought much about it, as you see people selling all kinds of stuff on the sidewalks all over New York City. Then on this night, I observed a man buying underwear before he got on the bus. He was taking it to an inmate. One stop shopping. On the way back from the lockup, I observed a woman carrying hundreds of pairs of Ralph Lauren “tighty whiteys” down the same street. I’m not sure if there’s any connection. I’m not even sure they were legitimate. They looked like knockoffs.

The good people of Rikers have a strict code as to what you can bring inside to the inmates. For instance, no black clothing. No navy blue. My mission on this evening was to bring this woman, this former friend who found herself in a bizarre situation, some clothes, as the seasons were changing and she was cold in there. I did not buy the sidewalk skivvies.

So it’s off the bus after about a 30-minute ride through outer Queens, past places where you could buy live chickens and goats and have them slaughtered for you, past car washes and various bodegas, convenience stores and other assorted “on the edge” shops. We get dropped off at the intake center, where the same guard I had encountered before, the one who looked like Denzel Washington, was on duty again.

It was a long line waiting to get into intake, the first stop through the metal detectors. Many of the people with whom I waited had tattoos. One young woman had the words “live, love, die” etched into the skin of her neck. There were also a lot, and I mean A LOT of babies and toddlers waiting in line with me. Most of them were dressed in very cute clothing, completely oblivious to their dreary surroundings. Happy babies on an adventure I hope they never remember.

Other signs — or should I say graffiti — are etched into various areas around the complex. At the bus stop at the Rikers gate someone etched “Kill all Thugs.” There also was the missive: “The Only Good Thug is a Dead Thug” scratched onto the wall. Perhaps a message for anyone with a criminal intent?

So after my initial wait in line and screening session at the intake building, once the bag I was carrying in full of clothing for my friend was completely torn apart, clothes I brought strewn around and sent through the metal detector, once I went to the window and interrupted a guard on a personal call to get clearance to come into the lockup, I boarded the renovated school bus for the Rose M. Singer Center, the place where my friend had set up temporary housekeeping, albeit against her will.

As I walk in, who’s walking out of the Singer Center but eye-patch guy, the “friend” I met last time (my first time) I was here. He had been visiting a lady friend. He remembered me, said hello and hustled himself onto the bus to go back, back to freedom.

So, after sharing a happy greeting in such a bleak place, it was back to business.

Oh, and speaking of criminal minds…the CBS show “Criminal Minds” was playing on the television set in the waiting room of the Singer Center before my visit, a visit I almost didn’t have because the guard stopped me as I walked through the metal detector and accused me of trying to carry contraband into the lockup. What? Contrband? Excuse me? ME? You talking to ME? Miss Straight and Narrow? Really?


She gave me a quick contact drug test. (no drugs here). So what was the contraband, I asked, as I didn’t fit the profile. I didn’t hide a file in any part of my anatomy.

No. I was chewing gum. Gum. Apparently chewing gum is considered contraband. I had no idea. I assured her I would never put myself in jeopardy of becoming a more extended-stay resident. The contra-, er, chewing gum, was a mistake. I said, as I spit out my contraband. She allowed me to continue my visit.

Ironically, I just saw an article about the stuff the guards have been caught smuggling into Rikers. Everything from illegal drugs and weapons to household items.

So after more waiting, I finally had my visit. The visitors room took on a drearier appearance at night. There were fewer people visiting — only three of us in the room on this night, except for about five corrections officers. It was quieter. My visit went well, considering. My friend was grateful she had some warmer clothes.

Speaking of clothes, inmates here, at least in this particular facility, are allowed to wear street clothes, as long as they conform to the rules. You don’t see gals in the orange scrubs like on that Netflix show “Orange is the New Black.” HOWEVER, I did see some trustees wearing orange and white striped get-ups around the intake building, where they were picking up trash. So yes, some in jail do wear stripes. And some wear orange.

After the 45-minutees or so conversing about prison life, what’s happening on the outside, what’s new, it was back to the bus for me, into the night. As we rode through the complex, I took in my surroundings and looked for detail at night I’d missed during my day trips. All I can say is that this whole experience, compared to my last visit, was literally and figuratively like night and day. I felt more uneasy than my first visit. I’m generally pretty brave. But for whatever reason, the surroundings, the smell, the darkness just left me with a very unsettled feeling. I couldn’t wait to get away from there.

The staff was rude on this night. I guess, because it was the end of a long day, they were tired and cranky.

Back safely on the subway I happened to get into a car that advertised my employer. I thought that was rather interesting, as we rode through the night, as a homeless man on the E-train advised me not to mess with him.

Not on this night, Sir, not on this night.

***I wrote this quite awhile back. I just found it as I was wading through my old drafts. I’ve lost contact with the person I was visiting in this God-awful place. It’s okay, too. I hope I never visit this place again.

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