Sunday, February 8, 2009

New York City Trip with Keepers

Things to remember day 1:

The hostel is a wild place. When we checked in we weren't expecting much, and this room is on the ground floor, directly behind the main lounge. Everything happening in the lounge is quite audible from our room, and the main door into the room section of the hostel slams shut very loudly every time someone enters. Another bonus is the very loud gushing sound in the pipes in the wall every time the toilet is flushed next door. Speaking of toilets, there is no ladies bathroom on the first floor, so I have to climb a flight of stairs to the nearest one – but twice already the toilet has been broken with a sign to use the restroom on the third floor.

There is one set of tiny little lockers in the room, but the top two were taken already by own mysterious roommates. These best we can tell, they are foreign, at least all their toiletries are written in another language we are guessing to be German. The tiny locker isn't big enough to hold much, but it will hold our computers and I doubt anyone wants our clothes.

We tried to find a restaurant for dinner, but only delis and Mexican places were open because it is Thanksgiving. We travelled 20 or so blocks, and finally settled on a Mexican place because we had Quizznos in the airport earlier and didn't want sandwiches again. After dinner, we wanted something warm to drink and came across a Dunkin' Donuts, where a sad little old man gave us a ½ price deal for coffee, hot chocolate and donuts.

When we got back to the hostel it was way too hot to stay in our room, although our mystery roommates were still gone. We went to the hostel lounge, but there were no seats so we sat on the bench by the door. It was very loud, and filled with drunk guys singing, threatening to dance, talking really loud, and swearing. After a group got up we were lucky to get a table, although it was covered with food and a bunch of toasters. There was a weird guy at the next table in the hostel that kept interrupting me to help him learn how to use his computer. He also had a suspicious baggie of cookies that he was offering to everyone. Somehow no one wanted any.

When we couldn't take the lounge anymore, we went back to our room, which was thankfully a little cooler. We got on our bunks typing away on our computers, just waiting to see who our roommates could be. Every time the door slammed in the hall we thought it would be them, then we hoped it wasn't because there were farting people and people stumbling around drunk.

Sometime very late at night, or more accurately very early in the morning, our roommates came in quite intoxicated. They tried to be quiet, though, and only woke me up - Keepers slept right through it. I realized I had to visit the toilet, and climbed up to the second floor where I found it was flooded, so I went to the third floor where I found that one toilet was completely full and unflushed and the other was covered in vomit. Charming. I went up to the fourth floor and found a clean, working stall - thank goodness! This might be the reason I got raised eyebrows when I said we were planning on staying in a hostel.

Things to remember day 2:
We woke up to obnoxious banging on pipes at 7:00 a.m. There was water in the hallway, apparently the ladies restroom on the 2nd floor had major damages during the night. Our roommates had come in during the wee hours of the morning, and were now asleep while we tried to get dressed without waking them more. We were right in guessing their ethnicity, they are German. Names? David and David. We got dressed and went to the lounge for the free breakfast – an expansive buffet of choices (bagels and coffee – yes, that was it).

We headed to Battery Park on the subway and had no problems – it helped that Rachid, one of the guys that I thought worked at the hostel (but later I found out that he didn't actually), got us going on the right train. At the castle, we breezed through the ticket line, but stood for over an hour and a half to get through security to go out to the Statue of Liberty. There were performers trying to win our change – a crazy African man with a rainbow wig that sang us a song especially about San Diego liberals – a Jamaican man that played island songs on his bowl drum – and a fiddler that scared the little kids in line (I think it was the black and missing teeth). We got yelled at in line because we didn't know how to line up in security properly, “stay with your bucket!”

The statue was great, but I can't say the same for the Mystery Meat burgers we got at the Refreshment building. We ate outside, amid the crazy pigeons, and signs everywhere telling us not to feed them. The corn muffin was good, though.

Ellis Island was great. We acted really confused and got the audio tour for free, I think the woman just took pity on us because she thought we were retarded.

We braved the third floor of the ferry on the way back and Chris was bragging about how hot it was and not wearing his jacket. We came around a corner and BAM it was cold. We got off the boat and walked past lots of nice salesmen with suitcases that wanted to sell us quality watches. Some of them just asked for money, but we walked right past them.

We walked up a street until we got to Wall Street, where we ducked into a Borders bookstore, where there were no seats. We finally shared a table with another couple, who basically ignored us. We continued up that street and went to see Ground Zero. There are some big cranes there, but it doesn't look they've done much in the way of building. It is supposed to be finished by 2012. Four new buildings and a memorial are going up in the place of the twin towers.

We jumped on a train and didn't realize it was an express and so we couldn't get off where we needed to, which actually worked out fine because the next stop was Grand Central Station. We wandered around gaping at the ceiling and all the beautiful walls and giant rooms.

We walked from Grand Central Station to the Empire State building. It was dark and the sidewalks were crowded – no one was obeying the streetlights and crazy drivers barely slowed down. I don't know why, but there was lots of honking over every little thing. More standing and waiting in security lines at the ESB, but we eventually got our tickets to the viewing deck and to this thing called the New York Sky Ride. We did the sky ride first, which was too bad because it made both of us sort of nauseous and it was hot in there. We stood in more lines and rode the elevator to the 80th floor, and stood in some more lines and rode up to the top. The view was amazing and completely worth the wait. We could see for miles and would have stayed up there a lot longer but it was pretty windy and cold.

Now at this point my feet hurt so much I could cry and I was really hungry. We walked for blocks and blocks and couldn't find a restaurant that wasn't either:
McDonald's or something cheesy like that or full with long waits (again, standing).
So we ducked into a subway station to ride up to our hostel area. The train didn't come and didn't come and didn't come and the station was getting more and more crowded. They kept making announcements about slow trains. When it finally came everyone tried to get on at once. We were okay until these three rather large black women forced themselves on, too. The door kept bouncing open and shut and open because they weren't able to get all the way in. Finally, the door shut and Keepers and I were so crowded we didn't even need to hold on to the rails to stand up because the press of people was so tight.

We found a really sweet French restaurant, and our table was fine – and the bread was good, but I was scared to eat the green herby butter. Unfortunately the table next to us wasn't securely fastened and the man and woman at that table almost ended up with their drinks in their laps. The Indian waiters were instantly under the table trying to fix it. Now, that doesn't sound too weird except all the tables are really close together. The Indian waiters refilled our water cups at least 20 times, this is because our water cups weren't much bigger than thimbles.

This man and woman seemed to hate each other and had long drawn out arguments with each other – and we were treated to such favorites as “I think your father hates me”, “the Mary Ann incident”, and “you're so rude – no you are – no you are”.

Our food was delicious.

We came back to the hostel and our friend Rachid was standing outside on the phone. He reached out and gave me a kiss on the cheek. How nice. We went to the counter and asked for a better room. Our friend from the night before (the cookie offerer-computer learner) found us and asked which room we were in. We said we didn't know yet, so he offered up his room #105 if Chris or I wanted to sleep with him. That is right after he hugged me and pressed at least 15 kisses on my cheek.

Hooray, they moved us up to the 3rd floor where there is a woman's toilet and no slamming door and we are in a room all alone so we both get bottom bunks. The only bad thing is that the Internet doesn't work in the room so we spent the whole rest of the night down in the lounge. We were offered free beer downstairs (despite the fact that Keepers is only 16), and the cookie offerer-computer learner-kissie guy asked us about oxymorons.

Things to remember – day 3
We woke up and went down for our “free” breakfast – only there were no coffee cups. There was plenty of coffee, though, so I used a plastic cup. I got my bagel, but they started charging for cream cheese, apparently a new policy is in place since yesterday. By the time Keepers came down, the person working the counter had left (ostensibly for cups) and put up a “back in 5” sign out. The lounge started filling up with people looking for breakfast. After waiting for 45 minutes, the counter guy ran in with cups, but then oops there were only four bagels left and so we gave up.

We walked across Central Park to the Guggenheim Museum, and went to the cafe there to get a muffin and coffee. More than half the Guggenheim exhibition space was empty, but the collection being shown was all about genderbending; Keepers liked the tattooed man with the pearls hanging out of his butt (or was that a she?).

We rode the subway to the Port Authority. A man with a cane was standing waiting for the train, but them he crashed down right on the platform. It was surreal the way he fell and then the cane slowly fell down after him. We were worried that he was dead, but he was okay and a nice man stopped to help him up. On the train, a man (actually we thought he was a woman at first from the sound of his voice) was preaching to the riders about the hardships of living homeless with AIDS in the city. He went on to recite really bad poetry in hopes of getting donations.

We were starting to get hungry again, but wanted to get our boat tour tickets first. We got to the pier for the Circle Line Cruises just in time. The 12:30 cruise was boarding and there was still room – hurry, hurry – the next one didn't leave until 4:00. We had to practically run to catch the boat. Then...we realized, we had no cash. The boat was leaving for a 3-hour tour, circling the island of Manhattan. There was a snack bar, but it was cash only – we pled our case to the unsympathetic ears of the snack bar staff – but they were out of credit card receipt paper and too bad for us. We enjoyed the tour, but Keepers kept moaning about how hungry he was. I finally found $1.87 in change in one of my pockets and Keepers went down to get some chips or something. I don't know how he did it, but he came back upstairs with two bagels and cream cheese! He said something about the counter person thinking he was there a pattern here?

When we got off the boat, we pulled some cash out of the ATM and tried to get change to ride the bus waiting right in front of the pier. It was going exactly where we wanted to go, but the food cart guy wouldn't give us change, even though we bought coffee. So we walked 16 blocks instead.

We ate at a restaurant called Mars 2112; we had to ride a space ship to get there first. Our waitress called us earthlings and all the Martian waiters stopped what they were doing at one point to dance in the aisle. We were V.I.P.s and got free ice cream sundaes! I was worried about getting sick on the space ship ride home to Earth, but we got beamed back in less than 60 seconds – I wonder why we couldn't have just gotten there that way.

We left Mars 2112 and walked down Broadway through Times Square. We went to Madame Tussaud's wax museum and saw Madonna, Britney Spears, Leonardo DiCapprio, Johnny Depp, Oprah Winfrey, the Beatles, George W. Bush, and Morgan Freeman (among hundreds of others). We took the Scream walk, where I got scared by a guy with a Jason mask. It was only 6:00, but I felt like it was midnight and we decided to call it a night.

We got onto an express train by mistake and went way past our exit. We had to get off and backtrack 23 streets. A girl was sitting across from us, eating fried chicken and wiping her fork on her jacket. She was obsessed with combing her hair, so she had to take frequent breaks from her meal to complete her grooming.

The hostel looked great to us because we were so tired. Chris took a shower and I went down to use the computer in the lounge. The lounge was crowded and loud. There was a party downstairs (in the basement) with Spanish music. There was a group of guys with several tables pulled together. The tables were covered with bottles of vodka and rum and soda and orange juice and beer. The snack bar was closed and I was so thirsty that I went upstairs (a feat considering how tired I was) to get my shoes and walked across the street to the liquor store to get us chocolate milk and Cranberry juice.

Rachid joined us with his ½ pint of Jose Cuervo, but I was too tired and went to bed before 10:00.

Things to remember day 4:
We woke up late and it was raining. We got a tip from a local girl walking her dog about a good place for breakfast. Our waitress had lots of tattoos and scars from cutting.

We walked from there to St. John the Divine Cathedral. There was a rededication service going on, so we weren't supposed to go in, but we snuck in through another door. We stayed for about ½ hour of the service, but it was really long so we decided we couldn't wait to take the tour. We were well down the block when we realized that I left my hat, scarf, and gloves on the bench, so we had to backtrack.

We jumped on a train and went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was too big and we kept getting lost inside. We wanted to get to the American Room, but it was like an impossible puzzle.

When we left the Met, it was dark and raining hard and Keepers had a feeling that someone was going to trip and fall. After he said that, we had to ride three trains to get down to Little Italy (because of all the problems with the trains), but we had a nice conversation with a lady who gave us ideas for dinner. We got turned around on Canal St. and then I tripped and almost fell into the street, like Keepers predicted. We had great pizza at Lombardi's. We grabbed another train to Union Square and caught a movie. “Rachel getting married” was about … well, it was a very interesting movie.

We had troubles on the train getting home. We were so tired we didn't pay good attention and at one point Keepers had to force open the door before it closed so we could get off, he was just like the Hulk. We ended up on an Express again and had to backtrack to our hostel. It was after 11:00 p.m., but there was still a little deli open where we got hot chocolate. We were so tired that we just checked our e-mail, and of course Rachid was down in the lobby, this time he smelt.... well you can probably guess what he smelled like and be reminded of a certain leafy green plant.

Things to remember – Day 5
Hurray, sunshine today. We woke up at 9:00 and just barely missed the free bagel. We knew we wanted to go to MOMA, so we headed that way and found the Stage Deli. The wait staff looked like they came from the most cliché New York movie you've ever seen. The obviously-connected-to-the-mob guy that seated us told me I was looking at the wrong menu, and the rude waitress scornfully took our order. I had corned beef hash and eggs and Keepers had french toast. The food was surprisingly good. Everything was going great until we tried to pay the check with the Union Bank Card...which was denied. Of course, I had used the last of the cash at the theater. I had no money. Not even change. So...Keepers had to go back to the hostel by himself (just up the orange line a half dozen stops) to get my wallet with the rest of my credit cards. I waited patiently...for over an hour...for him to get back. He called me and told me that the hostel had locked us out of our room. Apparently our reservation had ended today and we didn't have a room for tonight. They finally gave him a key and let him go in and collect my wallet.

I was so happy to see Keepers when he came back to the deli. We paid the bill and walked over to MOMA. I'm not really sure how to describe most of the art we saw. We weren't able to get a timed ticket into the Van Gogh exhibit, which was one of the main reasons I'd gone, so that was a bummer. The main exhibit was Joan Miro, and there were some nice pieces, but mostly Keepers kept saying “this is art”? There were a few cool things...Matisse, Picasso, Polluck, Cezanne and Pissarro, and Jasper Johns.

On the second floor was a multimedia clip playing on three giant screens (25 feet high). We had to take off our shoes and lay down on this weird sculptured round donut thing with silly pillows. The video clip included weird sounds and pictures like a naked woman crawling through the grass, toes and feet weirdly shaped in water, and a field of flowers turning into red flowing blood-like liquid. Really strange stuff. I made the mistake of laughing out loud, and Keepers got upset saying, “Why are you laughing? It's not funny. You're embarrassing me. Stop it”. This will be the best quote of the trip and we've been repeating it at appropriate times during the whole rest of the day.

We went over to NBC studios in Rockefeller Center, and took the backstage tour. We got to see Studio 1A where the Today Show is filmed, Brian William's studio for the news, MSNBC's set, and the studio where they shoot Saturday Night Live. Somehow I managed to always be directly behind this woman with a massive behind while climbing each staircase.

We also had tickets to the Rockefeller Center backstage tour, but it didn't start until 5:00 and we were hungry. We wandered around the lower level of the mall, watched the ice skaters, and saw some little people. Since we had no cash, we decided to go to the cheapest closest restaurant we could find – McDonald's.

We decided to blow off the tour and go up to Dylan's Candy Bar to get our free ice cream cone. This store is fantastic, if you want any kind of's there...three stories of it! There was a child's party in the room partitioned off from the room where we ate on glass tables filled with gum balls. We kept hearing this ridiculous comedy/ventriloquist routine where the man was making a truck with a balloon and then making the truck talk. Every time Keepers laughed I told him, “Why are you laughing? It's not funny. You're embarrassing me. Stop it”.

We walked around Bloomingdale's to look at the window displays and then hopped on the train back to the hostel. We stupidly got on the Express again and had to backtrack just like last time. During our long wait to get the C train back, I remarked that if I had to ride the trains all the time I would probably learn to meditate. The woman next to me gave me a look like I was an alien.

When we got back to the hostel I had to register for a room and we were lucky to get to stay in the same room, which has been really nice, especially as we haven't had any roommates.

It was Comedy Night, which started at 8:30. Keepers really wanted to go, but I was worried about not having the $10 for the shuttle to the airport and Keepers was hungry and thirsty. I went across the street to the deli/grocery and tried to buy food with my VISA, but they wanted a $10 fee to take it and wouldn't give me cash back, so I walked down the block to a very scary place called Juana Grocery. The man behind the counter looked like he just escaped from jail. I asked him if I could use my VISA and he just said, “$10 minimum”. I walked around trying to find $10 worth of food that we could actually eat. Pork there wasn't anything there that we'd really want to eat. I finally walked out with a ½ gallon of milk, two croissants, two things of cereal, cheetos, chocolate milk, and a Snapple. When I went up to the counter I was afraid to ask if I could get cash back, but when I asked he looked around like we were being watched by the cops and said, “Wait a minute.” He reached up and turned something off, possibly a camera, and said, “Okay” and ran the card. When I got back to the hostel, Keepers was down at the comedy show with Rachid who was high as a kite. I sat upstairs and watched Heroes and talked with two of the guys working at the hostel Elmo and Charlie. Charlie looks just like Jason Lee – when he did Chasing Amy and Almost Famous. They were really funny and we had a very long conversation about how the environmental movement has gone out of control. I offered them our unused passes if they wanted to meet up at the Natural History Museum before we left. They were really excited about it and spent the rest of the night telling me stories about different places they'd been to in NYC and places they still hadn't seen that they'd be able to now. They gave me lots of free coffee and made me a bagel with FREE cream cheese. At 11:00 I gave up on Keepers ever getting done from the comedy show and I went up to bed to read. Keepers finally came up at midnight or so. He said the funniest guy in the comedy show was this guy that looked and laughed just like Grandpa Tom.

Things to remember Day 6 -
We woke up at 8:00 and started getting packed up. We went downstairs and ate our cereal. We said goodbye to the desk guy and took off for the Museum of Natural History. We got there too early to go in, and had to wait out front on the steps. We got sidetracked at the coat check, because we were carrying our backpacks and computer cases, but they wanted $2 per person and the only cash we had was the $10 we needed for the shuttle ride from the LIRR to the Airport. So I had to go find an ATM to see if I could pull out money. Hooray, there was money in the account, but the ATM was broken and couldn't dispense cash. That was okay, though, since we could use the $10 and get cash later. We went back to the coat check. The ladies working there were very unpleasant and refused to hold our computers, so we put both of them in one very heavy bag and had to tote it all over the museum.

That place was huge and we wandered around on the 2nd floor before we realized that what we really wanted to see was on the 4th and 1st floors. We looked at the dinosaurs, but we went backwards through the whole exhibit and then found ourselves at the introduction film last – duh.

We went to the Human evolution exhibit, which was really cool with naked humanoids that all the school children screamed and pointed at as they went through.

We left at 12:30 because we were meeting up with Elmo & Charlie, the two guys that worked at the hostel that I had promised our passes to. They were really thankful and happy to be able to do stuff around town – I think both of them were flat broke. In fact, Elmo offered us 45 cents or something when we told him we needed $4 for the shuttle. We talked to them for too long and realized we needed to get going or we'd be late for our train.

We hopped on the subway to Penn Station, and barely barely missed the LIRR train at 1:15. I mean, there was the train, sitting there, with the doors closed for at least 30 seconds, but the doors didn't reopen for us. We ate in the Tracks diner at Penn station, sharing nachos, salad, and a burger. We caught the 2:15 train...which was the longest 1 hour ride imaginable. An old man sat down across from me and then sort of freaked out about riding backwards so that I had to change seats with him. He kept staring at me and making weird noises.

We ran to the shuttle worried about missing our plane, but we actually had plenty of time. Going through security was a complete hassle – we had to take off our shoes, take out our plastic bags of toiletries, take off our coats, take our computers out of their bags, and this takes up 8 buckets and people behind us are grumbling, and then you have to put everything back on and together as quick as you can.

Our first flight was uneventful, but when we transferred in Baltimore we got on a fully packed flight. Getting on the plane we stood in line with a very talkative woman and Keepers kept telling me to, “Stop laughing, it's not funny, you're embarrassing me.” I think the lady was upset that Keepers was saying this to me because I started laughing and him saying that only made me laugh more.

We sat in the “House of Horrors” section, with all the little babies, kids, and families. There were children crying everywhere and one little boy stuffed himself behind his mother's back and wouldn't let her sit down. They settled in eventually, but it was a VERY long flight.

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