You’ve Got Mail

I hardly think it’s been a well kept secret that recently the weather has been arctic with polar vortexes, manitoba maulers and all those closely packed isobars.  Since I have a low tolerance for temperatures below 20 degrees, I haven’t been getting out as much as I would like.

So, with the snow and wind whipping up outside my window, it has become a great time to watch movies.  One Saturday afternoon, while snuggled under our faux grey chinchilla throw, Keith and I stumbled across the movie You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.  We watched the first few minutes and quickly realized it was filmed on the Upper West Side.  Our new little neighborhood was in a 15 year old cinematic time capsule.  I knew we had to watch the entire movie.  It became a treasure hunt to see how many places we could identify in each scene.  Yes, it’s totally a dorky thing to do, and I completely love it and own it.

The plot of You’ve Got Mail involves an adorable, spunky Meg Ryan who is the owner a small children’s bookstore and Tom Hanks who is building a big box book store nearby.  Tom’s big box spells out certain doom for Meg’s tiny establishment.  The romantic plot revolves around an anonymous, flirtatious  friendship that the two strike up via email.  The time period is during the infancy of email when aol ruled the dial-up world and we all longed for the infamous voice to announce “you’ve got mail”.  Anyhow, the entire movie was filmed in the UWS and watching it made me realized why I love my new little neighborhood.

So, without further ado, here’s a virtual tour of some of my favorite spots on the Upper West Side courtesy of You’ve Got Mail…

Verdi Square
It’s called Verdi Square, but, I call it Paris.  It’s a small triangular patch of cobblestone with trees, benches, street vendors and the 72nd & Broadway subway stop.  It reminds me of a Parisian street corner.  Before moving to NYC, Chelsea and I sat here for about an hour while waiting for our next apartment appointment.  We perched on a bench and whiled away our time people watching.  I bought a bottle of water from the street vendor.  I struck up a conversation with an eccentric woman.  Chelsea shared her water with an elderly man’s dog.  A hipster crushed on Chelsea.  Everyone we encountered that hour was local and friendly.  And, I remember feeling comfortable and at home in that little triangle of a square.

PS – Verdi Square can also be seen in the opening of the Michael J. Fox Show.  Now we see groups of families and tourists recreating the opening shot.





Gray’s Papaya
This little hot dog stand is just a few blocks from our apartment.  It looks like the type of dive that results in post-meal alternating swigs of pepto bismol and alka seltzer.  But, New Yorkers have stomachs of steel.  After all, a lot of New York cuisine originates from street carts.  So, I’m thinking a permanent structure is always a safer bet.  Sadly, I still need to try a Papaya dog to properly compare it to a Chicago dog.


West End Avenue
West End Avenue is one block west of our apartment on Broadway.   It’s a beautiful tree lined residential street.  The wide sidewalks are prime real estate for walking Chelsea through the neighborhood.


Starbuck’s Coffee at 81st & Broadway
Yes, this is a Starbuck’s like any other Starbuck’s in the world.  I prefer it because it’s not as crowded as the one on 75th and Broadway where all the tourists from the Beacon Hotel seem to head.


I’m still trying to figure out Zabar’s as a grocery destination.  I’ve pretty much mastered Fairway Market.  I have Westside Market down cold.  And Whole Foods is my go-to spot for anything organic.  But, Zabar’s still eludes me.  I think it’s more of a specialty shoppe than grocery store. But, their second floor house ware department rocks and gives Williams Sonoma a run for their money.


Ocean Grill
Purely by coincidence, Keith and I made dinner reservations for Ocean Grill the day we watched You’ve Got Mail.  They have a beautiful interior and wonderful food.  Now I just have to wait for Spring to try their outdoor dining.


Riverside Park
This little gem of a park is just two blocks from our apartment.  We alternate weekend walks with Chelsea between here and Central Park.  Riverside Park runs just along the Hudson River.  It’s narrow and long and according to Chelsea it has better squirrel chasing than Central Park.


So, there it is.  My little neighborhood all wrapped up in a happily ever after, rom-com bow.  :)

Inflation in Manhattan


The great thing about being a child is that everything in the world is a new experience.  Unfortunately, as adults we seem to take a laissez faire attitude of “been there, done that”. But last week, Keith and I got to experience a small sliver of childhood wonderment right in our own Manhattan neighborhood.

Last week was our first Thanksgiving in New York. It was all so brand new to me and I attacked it with the vigor of a 5 year old gobbling down an ice cream cone.  Our Thanksgiving Eve started with the New York tradition of watching the balloons be blown up for the Thanksgiving Day parade.

For weeks I had been begging Keith to take me to see the balloons being blown up.  As the date approached closer, I pretty much just told him that this was what we were going to do.  Luckily he was game, because by Wednesday afternoon, he really had no say in the matter.

So, it was the night before Thanksgiving, and with a misty rain over our heads, we walked 2 blocks east of our apartment to watch the Macy’s parade balloons be inflated. We left our little C-dog at home for the event.  We really didn’t know what kind of mayhem we might be bringing her into and we couldn’t risk the Snoopy balloon trying to take liberties with her.  Chelsea’s a little lady after all!

The mayhem was actually a highly organized sea of humanity.  The queues were so efficient it would have brought a tear to any Brit’s eye. They had little metal fences that created a zigzag maze that people weaved through until they reached the front of the museum. It was truly a very British and very easy experience.

So, I hate to admit it because I’m going to sound like a total dork. But, as we got closer to the American Museum of Natural History I could start to see some very large shapes swaying in the wind. I was as excited as a 13 year old at a Justin Beiber concert.

So what behind the scenes magic does Macy’s and NYC conjure up to get ready for the big day?  Well, all the balloons are laid out in the middle of closed streets (can’t risk a cab side swiping Spiderman) that surround the perimeter of the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side.  There are stereo speakers set up along the way.  I expected Christmas tunes but instead it was a variety of pop music from Coldplay to Katy Perry.  I thought it a little odd that they weren’t playing Christmas music. Maybe, they didn’t want to turn Thanksgiving into Christmas?  I can respect that.  Now, as a spectator, you just shuffle around the entire perimeter of the museum looking for great photo ops with your favorite characters.

The first balloon I saw was SpongeBob SquarePants. There he was in all his goofiness just dancing in the breeze.  Okay, it was bigger than a breeze it was a gusty wind. And it became a city-wide worry that the high winds would ground the big balloons on Thursday.  Seriously, it was the lead story on the news that night.

Next, I saw Ronald McDonald being inflated. Well, I kind of saw him.  He looked like he’d face planted right in the middle of 77th Street. Maybe he had a little too much holiday cheer in his eggnog shake.  I make no judgments.
“Oh Yeah”, next it was the Kool-Aid man. After that, was this unknown giant purple hippo. I have no idea who this hippo is but she was just so adorable.  I immediately chose as my favorite balloon to cheer for in the parade.

Snoopy with Woodstock riding on his back was one of the new balloons for 2013.  Both looking as cute as ever!  I didn’t take a picture of the balloon after Snoopy.  It was the Macy’s star.  If I had a Red Rider BB gun I would have turned it into a “shooting” star.  After all, Macy’s did kill Marshall Field’s.  But, I don’t want to taint my holiday capitalist cheer with bad thoughts.  Santa just might read this post.


After completing the hour long shuffle, we had seen every balloon that would float down the parade route the next morning. Oh, and one last note, however big you think these balloons are, well trust me, they’re bigger.

The next day we were lucky enough to be invited to a Thanksgiving breakfast in an apartment on Central Park West.  As I watched the parade go by from the 4th floor window with a mimosa in hand, I found it all so lovely and warm and sophisticated.  But, the true magic of the holiday was what I had seen just 10 blocks north the night before.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Sometimes life is stranger than fiction.  I’m realizing this more and more in New York.  As the weeks begin to pile up and I’m becoming more familiar with my new surroundings, I have realized that Manhattan sometimes does exist as an island.  Think about it, It’s not really attached to any other land masses…except by a few bridges…and because of that I believe certain events occur here that may be exclusive to this little piece of real estate.

It was the day our furniture was being delivered that we “met” our first neighbor.  Crate & Barrel was the first to arrive on our doorstep.  That was fortuitous because they had our couch…and our bed.  Now, we could at least sit and sleep.  So, there we sat on our new indigo couch watching paint dry.  No kidding, we had the slowest painter in the world and nothing else to do but watch him. Then, Keith peered out our 9th floor window and casually observed the scene in the building across the street.   “Hey, there’s a fat naked guy sitting in the window and smoking a cigarette”.  My mind immediately leapt to the classic Friends episodes, where they too, were grossly transfixed by their own naked, fat guy.  I assumed he was kidding, but, nope there he was in all his naked big belly glory just puffing away and enjoying the fresh morning air.


Above: The scene of the fat, naked guy sighting. You can’t see him, but, he’s there. A little like a perverted Where’s Waldo?

But wait, there’s more.  Fat, naked guy is just the first in the cast of characters that make up our neighborhood.
-   There’s the transvestite that works at Sephora.
-   There’s the crazy woman who sits and sings on the bench of Broadway’s landscaped median.
-   There’s the guy who walks around in lime green pants, a fur coat and either cowboy boots or pink shoes.  (One day I saw him puffing away on a cigarette.  His rotund belly forcing the sides of his fur coat open.  Hmmm, it looked oddly familiar.)


The green panted dude enjoying Saturday afternoon on the median strip of Broadway.

But it’s not all looney tunes here.  And that’s what makes New York so very special.  They might look crazy, eccentric or both, and then, bam, you find out they’re a brilliant artist.

One mild, fall Sunday morning Keith and I were walking to Starbuck’s.  We saw an older slender man with his long gray hair combed back.  His fitted sports jacket and bright green shoes was a look that he comfortably and completely owned.  He reminded me of Leopold from the Bugs Bunny cartoons.  And I thought, who knows, maybe he’s a conductor.  It’s New York, it’s very possible.leopold-300x225

Keith ducked into Starbuck’s while I waited outside with Chelsea.  I chatted with a few other neighbors and their dogs and waited.  Keith came back with two steaming hot ventis and one very juicy story.  He had eavesdropped on a spontaneous conversation between two strangers behind him.

Guy 1: “Hey you’ve taken some great pictures.”
Guy 2: “Yeah? Thanks.”
Guy 1: “Hey, that guy looks just like Paul McCartney”
Guy 2: “Yeah, it is Paul McCartney.”
Guy 1: “You know Paul McCartney?”
Guy 2: “Yeah, I’ve shot him a few times.  I’ve also worked with Boz Scaggs, Tom Petty and a bunch of other bands.  I’m here now to shoot the Dalai Lama.”
Guy 1: “Wow, you sure do name drop a lot.”
Guy 2: “Yeah, that’s what the Queen told me.”

Guy 2 was Clive Arrowsmith a famous rock photographer.  And, he was just waiting in line for coffee and some shameless self-promotion.

Later that afternoon, we took Chelsea for a walk in Central Park.  It was a beautiful October day.  The sun was shining and the air was crisp.  We stopped for a hot dog.  As we sat on the park bench there was a father and his son sitting on the grass.  The dad was beautifully playing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star on the flute.  I looked at Keith and said “This guy plays in the New York Philharmonic”.

And the truly crazy thing is that he probably does.

Got Lama?

So, as I walked outside my apartment building the other day I was surprised to see a hari krishna.  As I continued  walking toward the grocery store, I noticed a group of them.  Yep, there they were in their orange or yellow robes and shaved heads just milling about the streets of the Upper West Side.  I thought it odd.  I mean, didn’t hari krishnas go out of vogue in the 80s?  And, I thought they had tiny little pony tails sprouting from their bald heads.  And didn’t they exclusively hang out in airports?  As I walked toward Fairway Market, I glanced at the Beacon Theater.  It’s high-tech, colored multi-thousand light bulbed marquee tipped me off.  The Dalai Lama was speaking at the Beacon Theater this week.  “Hey dumb ass” I said to myself, “these guys aren’t krishnas, they’re lamas.”.  Okay, mystery solved.  I was already feeling a little enlightened.

The sweet lamas were truly everywhere. Sometimes wandering solo, nodding, smiling and bestowing a silent blessing to those they passed.  And sometimes they loitered in groups of 3-5 on the street corner sipping Starbucks.  It was lunch time and I guess they were hungry because they were swarming the Fairway Market.

I took few deep calming  breaths and headed in to attack the masses that is grocery shopping in Manhattan.  It’s common for the rest of the world to hear the stories of New Yorkers and their eating habits.  Things like they never cook; they always go out to eat; they order in; they store sweaters in their ovens.  I always thought these myths might be true because New York apartments and kitchens are so tiny.  But, I quickly discovered the real reason New Yorkers don’t cook.  It is the chaos that is grocery shopping here.  An insane asylum with inmates all hopped up on Mountain Dew is more serene than heading into Fairway Market or Zabar’s.

Now, New Yorkers have told me that  the Fairway Market on the Upper West Side is one of the best grocery stores in the city.  It is in an old building and I’m assuming it started as a small store-front mom and pop shop about a hundred years ago.  Slowly or quickly, I have no idea, it appears the store started to expand. From one building  they just knocked through the wall into the next building.  The finished product is a unique and narrow little maze of grocery aisles.

Now, sprinkle about 1,000 people inside and you’re done.  My first time in the store, I tried to stay out everyone’s way and not take up too much space, I moved about 6 inches in 5 minutes.  I started to look around and noticed everyone was in everyone else’s way.  People were cutting each other off and pushing their way through and around situations.  It appears this is what the natural rhythm of the store’s flow has evolved into.  I’m a newbie here and I’m still learning the layout of Fairway.  And trust me, knowing the floor plan is critical.  For example, if you don’t know that toilet paper is in aisle 4 and you’re now in aisle 10, you really need to evaluate how vital that modern luxury is to persuade yourself to make the trek back 6 rows.  But, I’m proud to say that I am quickly learning to force my way through almost any situation in the grocery store.  The one exception was back by the meat counter.  On my right was a frail little old lady walking toward me.  She was bent over her shopping cart using it like a makeshift walker.  And, to my left, and an adorable little girl dancing in place next to her mother.  I waited until the little old lady shuffled past me at a snail’s pace to cut back into the flow of traffic.  I’m not sure why I didn’t barge through them.  Maybe, I couldn’t decide which one was the easier mark or maybe I still possess a shred of humanity in my soul.

And I think because of that, the Dalai Lama should at least give me a little something for the effort.

24 hour trip to our new place…

September 5, 2013

I went to New York last week to get a first glimpse of our new New York apartment on the Upper West Side.  It’s new construction and is scheduled to be ready in a few weeks.  I wanted to make some measurements of the space so I could order all the furniture.  Like all my recent trips to the city, I couldn’t wait to get there and see more of it.

I dropped Chelsea off at Pooch Hotel early Thursday morning.  Since this was a quick overnight excursion I didn’t see the point in bringing her.  My flight was uneventful, which is my favorite kind of flight.  I cabbed over to the Hilton Midtown and met up with my hubby, Keith.  We took the subway uptown.  I’ve only ridden the New York subway a few times and my biggest worry is I haven’t memorized the subway map yet.  I hate pulling out maps in public.  I think it’s the best way to silently scream “Hey, I’m a tourist!  Maybe you should think about mugging me!”.  Luckily, I have the NYC subway map app on my phone.  This way it just looks like I’m reading emails while silently screaming “Hey, I have an iPhone.  Maybe you should think about mugging me!”.

The trains were running late and some were being diverted to different tracks and stops.  I later learned that this was due to some stray kittens playing on the tracks way, way uptown somewhere.  Animal Control was sent out on the tracks, with the 3rd rail shut off, to wrangle the scampering little bundles of fluffy cuteness.  Meanwhile, my trusty app assured me the 3 train would get me to our stop just as well as the 1 train would.

Our apartment is coming along swimmingly except for the table saw in the living room and about an inch of sawdust everywhere else. I took all the measurements I needed to satiate my HGTV decorating obsession.  I can now comfortably style our little bit of real estate in the Big Apple.

Strolling down Amsterdam Ave to 74th Street we soaked in our new neighborhood.  We found prime al fresco seating at Wine and Roses and decided to stop for a glass of rosè.  It was a lovely late summer evening and  the people watching was top notch.  People coming home from work, people going to workout and people walking their dogs.

While we were enjoying our glass of wine, an older women was walking her tiny little brown dog.  We commented on how cute her little pup was and she stopped to chat.  Her dog’s name was Ginger. The lady explained that Ginger flies for free because she is a registered service dog.  To prove her point, she took out her wallet and opened it to show us the registration card.  Yep, right there in front of two complete strangers was her money, credit cards and Ginger’s card. I was shocked!  Why wasn’t she thinking “I’ll just show these two strangers my open wallet.  Maybe they’ll think about mugging me!”.

After she left us to finish our drinks, a woman in a Pucci top strolled past me.   She was back a moment later with a centerpiece from one of the empty tables.  “I noticed you didn’t have one” as she placed it in the middle of the table and poof she was gone.

They say new yorkers are self-absorbed, rude and pushy but, I think the rest of the country just has it plain wrong.  But then again, maybe that’s just my infatuation with the city talking.  Right now, New York City is like a great new guy you just started dating.  He’s really gorgeous and cool and interesting and you’re never bored when you’re with him.  I just hope that after a year of dating he doesn’t turn into an asshole.