Street Finds: Brooklyn Christmas edition

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IMG_65855th Ave, South Park Slope and 7th Ave., Park Slope

Here’s the best thing about these little gems: I found them both on the same day. Also note the carolers in the background of the first photo. I suspect that casual observers will like the first photo best; a bike in wrapping paper is undeniably festive. But the second find is full of nuance that perhaps only New Yorkers will fully appreciate.

The second photo begs so many questions:

  1. Is this for real? As in, did someone actually lock up their tree stand so it wouldn’t be stolen while they ran errands?
  2. Did it originally contain a tree? There is a tiny tree stump that you can barely make out in this photo. Locked bikes with parts missing (I call them cannibalized bikes, although clearly other bikes aren’t doing the damage) are a common site in New York. A bike without a front wheel, a bike without handlebars, only handlebars. That’s how this reads to me: A cannibalized Christmas tree.
  3. If this is a joke, who is the genius who understood all of the above and installed this little piece of art?
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NYC anniversary: Four years

July42013_3IMG_5954photoDSC_0123AugustBlogDSC_0034IMG_1309Today is the fourth anniversary of my arrival in New York City. As Jeff pointed out, it’s like we’ve done a whole undergrad degree in NYC. Or a presidential term. So in that spirit, I’ve been asking myself, what have I learned? What have I accomplished? Is the world (or at least my world) a better place? An incomplete list, in no particular order:

  • I made some friends, and I found them in places as unexpected as my own building and a gingerbread building session in a bar.
  • I told three stories live at The Moth, one of them a StorySlam winner and one at a GrandSlam championship.
  • I’ve made decent progress studying to become a certified NYC tour guide. I could talk your ear off about the significance of DeWitt Clinton’s street grid and the Battle of Brooklyn (which, contrary to popular belief, has nothing to do with long brunch lines).
  • I’ve fallen in love with New York City’s randomness and it’s commissioned and “uncommissioned” public art. I’ve chronicled dozens of Street Finds, although many of them are still on my camera, waiting to be shared.
  • I got a new job advocating for young farmers on a national level.
  • I’ve written more than half a dozen stories for Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn, but my first story is probably still my favorite.
  • We’ve explored our new corner of the country: Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; Bar Harbor, Maine; the Hudson Valley; Fire Island; Boston; the Berkshires; and New Jersey.
  • We’ve seen and even met a few celebrities, most thrillingly Sir. Patrick Stewart, but also Tina Fey, Steve Buscemi, and others.
  • I’ve been to Governor’s Island, Staten Island and Roosevelt Island. But thankfully not Rikers Island.
  • I rode a bike for the first time as an adult and rowed a boat in the Harlem River.
  • I carried a Christmas tree home on a bus.
  • I’ve been to every stop on the F.
  • We’ve been to the MoMA, the Met, the Museum of Natural History, and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
  • We made room for overnight guests on at least a dozen occasions.
  • I’ve bought local fish and learned how to cook it. I know what a ramp is, how a sour cherry differs from a regular cherry (it’s sour) and who sells the best apples.
  • I’ve been to one Broadways show (and got to go behind stage after), but I’ve also seen Shakespeare performed on the street and enjoyed a fire breather, a burlesque performance and a brass band from the comfort of my own block.

I’m not sure what I expected from New York City. It was and remains both an unknowable place and the most infamous, legendary, iconic city of all time. I’ve never stopped feeling grateful. Okay, maybe there was that one time, when it was cold. But I still think it’s worth it.

Street finds: Where churros go to die

IMG_46847th Ave and 22nd St, Brooklyn

I haven’t taken many photos that sum up my immediate neighborhood better than this one. I have never bought a churro from any of the street vendors who sell them from carts near the school and the playground (and in subway stations all over the city), but I really want to. I have always wondered where they are baked and how safe they are. Here’s a little story about the people who sell them.

 

Lately

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Aside from moving, here’s what’s been going on around here the past few weeks:

1) A couple weekends ago, Jeff had to take pictures at a poetry event on Governor’s Island, a strange former military base that is just a 10-minute ferry ride from Brooklyn or Manhattan. Most of the buildings and houses are still there but now empty and surrounded by rolling lawns and big trees, so it feels like stepping into a small, sleepy town or a college campus.

2) Edible Manhattan sent me to the Berkshires for a travel piece, and I came home Goggling real-estate. Jeff couldn’t go, so I posted on Facebook asking for a companion and ended up spending two slightly awkward nights in the bridal suite of a B&B with the lovely Lea, a friend of Jeff’s who I had previously met on only one occasion. By day, we talked non-stop, ate lots of local cheese and met amazing people, like the woman who just launched this CSA farm on the site of Herman Melville’s former home, Arrowhead.

3) I finally told my Moth GrandSLAM story! It went really well, and I had a great time even though I didn’t win (my score was a respectable 9.0) Ignore my forced smile—I was happy but dreading the awkward, on-stage small talk that I knew would follow the curtain call.

4) On our way home from Manhattan one Friday eventing, Tobia and I caught the last half of a production of Romeo and Juliet that was being staged on 5th Ave. Even though we caught the death scenes instead of the love scenes, I left feeling like the high rent and the hassle of the city are all worth it for moments like this.

The F (mostly) underground

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Our adventure last week on the F was mostly about seeing what was on street level since we usually spend so much time below ground, but we also visited stations that we had never been to at all, and we encounter a lot of interesting spaces, so we tried to document the stations themselves as well as the view up above. We started strong, pulling out our little signs at ever stop, but as we grew tired and rush hour closed in around us, we slacked a little. Plus, all of the above-ground stops in Brooklyn look similar.

I’m a huge fan of subway art. I can’t help but appreciate the fact that even simple bands of colored tile took time to build and required decisions that could have just as easily been rubber-stamped into uniformity. And the real art − it just makes me love New York City so hard. Art in public places is just such a decent thing to do.Plus, many of the subway art projects are full of history and whimsy, two of my favorite things. The MTA has a website and even an app dedicated to art throughout their system, but I have purposely avoided it because I much prefer to stumble upon things and be amazing in the middle of a boring day. I did consult the website briefly today, however, and realized that we missed seeing some great work at a few of the stations we visited. Oh well – next time.

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Notes:

  • Queens, what the heck is going on with your cavernous subway stations? You will never fill that space. It isn’t even walkway space, it is just there. I really want an answer to this. Why?
  • We only encountered three or four escalators, but we relished them. Elevators = time sucks.
  • I love the underground shops, especially at Jackson Heights. I like the fact that flower shops are a popular underground choice — apparently people still like to arrive at their destination with a nice bouquet.
  • I think the hallway at 7th Ave. might be infinite.

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  • Least impressive art: The strange circles at Kew Gardens. I don’t think they are even listed on MTA’s website. I would like to believe that this is some form of really boring community improvement project or graffiti.
  • Most impressive art (that we saw): Delancey. I have never seen the cherry trees on the opposite platform up close, but I love them, and seeing them gives me a visceral desire to hold these little cherries in my hand again.
  • Most icky station award goes to Lexington Ave, of all places, thanks to a construction project.

 

You can see all of our underground photos below. Click on any of them to open a slideshow. 

The whole F-ing thing

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We were actually riding the R when Loes first told me about her idea for a big adventure. She wondered what it would be like to ride one subway line from beginning to end, getting off at every stop to see what there was to see above ground. I loved it imediatly: It was a challenge, a grand adventure, a way to grab this massive city and put your arms around it. I was in. Right there on the R, we decided that the F would be the best choice for a maiden voyage, not only because it runs thorough three of the five boroughs, but because it is one of our two neighborhood trains. We were having this conversation in a subway car, so Loes’s husband, Eli, immediately went to the wall map to help us grasp the logistics. He reported that the F has 45 stations. We did some quick math, allowing for travel time to our starting point in Queens and allowing for about 12 minutes between trains as well as some downtime for lunch.

By the time we were all ascending the escalators at Jay Street-MetroTech, I had reached this conclusion: In the time it would take us to ride the F from Queens to Coney Island, we could drive all the way to Indiana. I was still in.

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Let me be clear: We weren’t just riding the F. Riding the F from one end point to another would only take about one hour and 45 minutes, plus travel time to and from home. But staying underground is what we do all the time; we wanted to know what was above ground. Does Avenue X have an air of mystery? Is Forrest Hills a verdant oasis? (Spoiler alert: no and no.) To be efficient, we would have to get off the train, get above ground, take a photo, and get back to the platform in time to catch the very next train. As it turns out, efficiency is hard.

After a few weeks of discussion and two postponements, Loes and I left our building (she is my upstairs neighbor) at about 8:30 last Wednesday morning and headed for the F. We returned just before 11 p.m., victorious, with sand from Coney Island clinging to our calves. A few notes and takeaways:

  • We thought about coming up with rules about how and where we took the photos, but we decided that might be too limiting, so the only consistent factors are Loes and/or I and our little station signs, which really helped us remember where we were when we reviewed the pictures later.
  • Our main goal was to make sure that every photo said something about the area around the station. Most of the photos were taken within about 30 feet of the station entrance, but a few times we ventured further to include a landmark or get a better feel for the block.
  • Wednesday was the hottest day of the year so far.

  • The hardest part (which I didn’t anticipate) was the temptation to linger in the really neat and inviting places, like Roosevelt Island, Bryant Park and Carroll Gardens. The photo above was taken from the Roosevelt Island Tramway.
  • The most surprisingly easy part was the train itself: Almost all of the trains arrived at 4-8 minute intervals. In fact, we missed a number of them because we couldn’t get back to the platform in time.
  • Rats: ZERO!
  • Like any quest, we had our ups and downs. We stayed on Roosevelt Island for two hours and seriously considered staying all day. It was 2 p.m., and we were only a quarter of the way through our journey. And it was so nice there. But we pressed on. By lower Manhattan our energy was way low, and we did the math and estimated that we were unlikely to reach Coney Island before 9 p.m. We almost threw in the towel but decided to go at least as far as our “home” station at 15th St.-Prospect Park. Then we hit the above-ground stations, and it was much easier to get a photo of the streetscape below without missing trains, so we made up time and kept going.
  • We also took photos inside most of the stations, but I think that deserves another post.

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  • Almost every New Yorker I’ve told about this project reacted with some level of revulsion. Apparently this is the last thing most people ever want to do.
  • Favorite stations: Parson’s Blvd., in part because of a nice pizza vendor; Jackson Heights; Roosevelt Island; 42nd St. (Bryant Park); West 4th (we found a little farm stand!); Carroll St.; and 18th Ave.

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  • Biggest letdown: Neptune Ave. Don’t you want it to be fantastic? It isn’t.
  • Only time we felt unsafe: Walking barefoot on the beach at Coney Island. I was doing the math on my last tetanus shot.
  • We did reach the beach just in time to see the last light of sunset. We spread out a blanket and watched the stars come out.

Life in New York City has a way of making me feel a bit caged – I spend most of my time within a 15-block radius of my apartment, and when I do venture out, I usually disappear into a tunnel and emerge on the other side while the points in-between remain deeply other, shrouded. Putting a place with a name made everything from Kew Gardens to King’s Highway feel just a little bit more my own. My city, the whole F-ing thing.

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You can check out all of our photos below. Click on any of them to open a slideshow. I only labeled the ones in which the sign was hard to read. In a few of them, like West 8th St., “you can see the train coming in our eyes,” as Loes put it. We became increasingly focused on not missing trains as the day wore on.