A trip to Queens and a bit Queeny

Got to take a trip to quite possibly the greatest American city, New York. All of the provincial posturing aside (especially here in Chicago) no other city in the US is as worldly as New York, has as much to offer, and is just plain cool. Sadly, every time I go to New York a little bit more of what makes it so grand is gone. I think the biggest blow to this was the Wal-Martization of Macy’s. I loved, LOVED going to the flagship store every time I made the trip and I would buy something as a kind of tradition each time. Now, I’ve got a Macy’s credit card, I go there all the time and the merchandise here is the same as there and aesthetically speaking, the downtown locale of Chicago is much more impressive than the one in New York.* Also, as odd as it might sound, there was something fun about going to New York and planning on spending more money than usual. Not any more. With the largest sales tax in the US, Chicago is every bit as expensive than New York, and on some items like clothing it is actually cheaper. Nope, the idea of the big prices in the big city is going the way of the local department store and hole in the wall sandwich shop.

*No, this isn’t local boosterism. I had no sympathy for Marshall Fields going away, all the stores I grew up with have been gone about twenty years. So long Higbee’s and May Company.

This trip was definitely a whirlwind, in on Friday out on Sunday with a whole bunch of fun and food in between. The company was fantastic as well, my brother and sister. I can’t remember if, as adults, the three of us ever spent time together, just us; no spouses, kids, or parents. It was a treat to say the very least. Our first major stop was a trip to the new home of the New York Mets, Citi Field. I haven’t been to a lot of the newer ballparks, but I must say Citi got most of it right. First and foremost, it was easy to get to, a relatively short train ride from midtown dropped us off right in front of the stadium, which offered the best outside view of the structure. As one leaves the train station, the stadium’s greatest feature, the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, dominates the view. It makes for a very impressive entry way as well. Inside the rotunda, concrete, marble and glass come together almost like a cathedral. What make it welcoming and not a feeling of overwrought “church of baseball” crap is the scenes from Robinson’s career pictured on the walls and just to make sure this doesn’t get taken too seriously, the MegaMets Store. Hey, it’s still a business after all.

We had great seats, third base side, ninth row, maybe ten feet down the foul line (Thanks Sis and Bro for the early birthday present). I didn’t think we were that early, but batting practice was still finishing up for the Giants. It was at this point that the Mets and a player really impressed me. First, as BP was wrapping up an announcement came over the PA letting fans know that the time for seeking autographs was over and would they kindly return to their assigned seats. Say what? Treating customers like rational, responsible people who can enjoy BP from behind the plate and then understand that they can’t stay in seats they didn’t pay for? How revolutionary. My team could really take a look at this and realize that it isn’t organizational Armageddon to get people in the right seats for game time. The second thing that really impressed me was Tim Lincecum, easily the most sought after player of the night. As the Giants were leaving the field, he walked over to the stands and signed for a good fifteen minutes before saying he had to go. I’m sure the guy who didn’t get his signature thinks he’s a jerk, but after working at Wrigley and seeing how so many players are just complete tools*, the fact that Lincecum took some time was just great. Too bad we didn’t get to see him pitch.

*I still find it hilarious that the only player that gave me, verbatim, the “don’t you know who I am?” line was Steve Traschel. Yeah, dude I know who you are; a complete jag who blamed the air and water show for your shitty performance one time.

The rest of the stadium has quite a bit going for it as well. From what I could tell, and definitely the case on the lower deck, there are no obstructed views of the field. I have no idea why in so many new ball parks this is considered charming. Even US Cellular ADDED poles to the upper deck and people think it’s an improvement. Citi, like US Celluar, has the great design feature of being able to see the entire field as you walk around the lower deck, except for center field, but that isn’t a bad thing. Center field at Citi Field is, basically a place to hang out during the game. Now, why one would go to a game to then basically stand around a bar is beyond me, but to each his own. Also, it does have two things going for it that most hang-outs within stadiums lack; interesting (looking anyway) food options and a HUGE-ASS television that makes sure you don’t miss any of the on field action.

I said interesting looking food options because one of the problems I had with Citi was the food. First, the lines were long no matter where you went and most of the stations had exactly the same thing. The line for the center field food stand, the Shake Shack was absolutely insane however. No wonder they had the television back there. A visit to the Shake Shack means at least missing three innings. Second, all things considered the food was quite average, or even below (I’m talking about you nachos!!)

Easily the highlight of the visit to Citi was the foul ball caught by my brother. (I told you they were good seats.) Not only was it an impressive snag, but it was the closest I think I’ve ever been to a foul ball which just brings home how fast the game really is. Also very cool is the ball itself. Not only can you see where the bat hit the ball, but stamped on the ball is “inaugural season 2009” with the Citi Field logo, an awesome way to make the foul ball souvenir unique. My brother being the good uncle gave the ball to my son, who was ecstatic.

The next was a good city day. We got up late, especially me, but there was no real plan so it felt good to be lazy. The better part of the day was spent in Soho and the Village, shopping at stores that I normally wouldn’t even notice. My brother and sister know considerably more about fashion and style than I ever will, but hey, twentieth century American cultural history, I’m on it! There was a street fair right around NYU which is much more my speed and I managed to find a non-sports related gift for my wife. I think we’re all happy about that.

After a decent Mexican lunch, we went back to my sister’s apartment where they decided to chill out and I opted for a run through Central Park. It has been in countless movies and tv shows, but I’m still blown away by Central Park, especially when it’s so alive on a summer Saturday. All told I cruised about 5 ½-6 miles pretty much all within the park, up the eastside and down the west. I always forget how hilly New York is in general and the Park in particular, my knees were really feeling it by the 3rd mile. It was also fun passing the roller-bladers and cyclists going up hill. Sure, they passed me on the way down, but what challenge is that? The only bummer about the run was a) getting passed by an old lady and b) almost vomiting. I just didn’t have enough fluid/food for such a hard run and it did not feel good. Still, nothing beats cruising down West Park Drive in and out of the shade of the trees.

Saturday’s big event was a Broadway musical, Rock of Ages. My sister was very excited because she had seen the show about a week ago and insisted that my brother and I see it. A recommendation to my fellow children of the 80s, you must see this show. So much bad music, that somehow is imprinted in my mind. If I were in the cast I would have been off book in about a week. It is an incredibly light, funny show, but what could possibly be expected of a show based on hair metal of the 1980s? Anyway, the cast is relatively small, but I think that added to the fun. Multiple people playing multiple roles affirmed the whole atmosphere that the performers were having fun, so we should have fun. I also sure that selling drinks in the seats during the show added to the fun and looseness of the crowd, but drunken audience members get annoying really fast. One other thing that I love about Broadway is how close the performers are, not just the stage but before and after the show. Almost invariably I will see some members of the cast entering the theatre, or dashing out for a smoke, what have you. It’s an intimacy I rarely get at shows in Chicago and of course movies offer nothing in comparison.

Sunday was get away day, but not until I got to watch some of the NYC ½ Marathon scoot by my sister’s place. After looking at the route, and quite literally running half of it, I’m in for next year. I think the half is my top distance and what better way to see Manhattan than to run from Harlem to Battery Park. After the inspiration, Sister and I had breakfast and off I went to the airport to sit on the runway for about three hours, definitely the low point of the trip, if not the entire week. But hey, I was in New York for a weekend, and you can’t beat that.

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