Monthly Archives: August 2011

Young Man On The Road #17: And The Southern Girls With The Way They Talk, They Knock Me Out When I’m Down There

July 30-August 5

Folly Beach, Charleston, and Columbia, SOUTH CAROLINA; Atlanta and Savannah, GEORGIA

In an effort to get caught up to speed, I’m combining several destinations into a single post and driving the stories by photos.

Photo Mash-up No. 2: The South

Folly Beach and Charleston (July 30-August 2)

I was feeling less than ecstatic about our trip ever since leaving New York, and worried that the remaining month-and-a-half—that wasn’t going to be spent in New Orleans or California—would be a drag.  Ian felt the same.  Throughout the East Coast, we traded (mostly) joking remarks about calling it quits and flying back.  The Big Apple was just too sweet.

If we weren’t enthusiastic about the progressive big cities of the East, how would Ian and I–two minorities–feel about a region steeped in a history of prevalent racism?  I felt a tinge of paranoia about my driving speed as we crossed into South Carolina.  Didn’t want to see if stereotypes about racist Southern cops held up.

We stopped for gas at a dinky gas station somewhere in South Carolina after nightfall.  I was a bit wary of running into a shotgun-toting redneck with a distaste for brown folks, but I paid those prejudice thoughts no heed.  I had to go inside after filling up to get a receipt, and there I found an old, black gentleman congenially carrying a conversation with the counter boy, a meek-looking white high schooler.  The older man, if I recall, was informing the counter boy of the importance of higher education, and the young kid ended each response with, “sir.”  My wariness of prevalent racism relaxed.  When it was my turn at the counter, the young kid kept calling me “sir,” too.  Southern hospitality: not all stereotypes are negative.  It was comforting to know which ones I found to be true.

I made it a point to refer to every person thereafter as “sir” or “ma’am.”

We made it to Charleston in the dark of night. . . and then kept going, following the robot voice of our GPS unit over a bridge and to the island of Folly Beach.  I learned three things on that drive: 1) Charleston is on the coast of South Carolina, 2) there are many islands right off that coast, and 3) our island destination was a beach town with a drinking problem.  No, not problem.  That would suggest that drinking is detrimental to the town.  Folly Beach thrives on it.  It’s a beach town with a drinking infatuation.  We met up with my friend and former Bubba Gump coworker Kylene at her work.  Quite appropriately, she is a bartender at her dad’s restaurant Loggerhead’s Beach Grill.

When Kylene said she lived only two minutes away from her bar, she wasn’t exaggerating.  We found her at her bar and, after a few free drinks and socializing with some friendly strangers, followed Kylene to her place. . . about half a block away.  I found out the next morning that the beach—an actual beach!—was just behind the bar in the other direction.  I never considered myself much of a beach person.  Even though I live in Hawaii, I rarely felt inclined to take the ten-minute bike trek from my place to the ocean.  However, after a month of long drives and city-hopping, I was surprised by how much I missed the beach.  The waves were cloudy and brown, but nonetheless refreshing.

We couldn’t lounge around Folly Beach the whole time, however.  Despite Kylene’s relaxing porch, her air-conditioned house, and the nearby beach, we owed it to ourselves to drive back over the bridge and explore Charleston.  Visually, it was just as refreshing as the feel of the ocean.

The buildings were straight out of the French Quarter in Disneyland, gorgeous and grandiose.  A cobblestone path led us from the Battery into the heart of Downtown Charleston.  The huge, colorful houses with their balconies and porches were giving me a tease of what I knew I’d find in New Orleans.

South Carolina definitely looked like how I imagined the Old South.  But even more so, I felt a vibe of care and pride emanating from the city.  The smiles and friendly small talk we received from the locals was a welcome change from the tight lips and rolled eyes of the East.

We spent our last night in Downtown Charleston with Kylene and her coterie of friends.  I remember mircobrewed beer, delicious fried green tomatoes, and ping-pong in the back.  But more than that, I will not forget how welcoming Kylene’s friends were, how interested they were in our adventure and how willing they were to share their stories with us.  Folly Beach, and Charleston to an extent, may be removed from the “true South,” but Southern hospitality spread out far beyond those borders.

Columbia (August 2)

On the drive from Charleston to Atlanta, we stopped by Columbia, SC, to peak around the University of South Carolina, the other USC.  In the merchandise shop where I bought my obligatory keychain, the folks inside were quite engaging, expressing their interested remarks with the thickest Southern accents I’d yet heard.  They spent a while excitedly telling us where to eat and giving us directions.  My initial apprehension about the South had all but dissipated.

Atlanta (August 2-5)

I once heard of a girl who would tell people she was from the South.  When other Southerners asked where exactly, they scoffed when she said Atlanta.

Georgia is definitely a Southern state.  Atlanta, Georgia, on the other hand, is a widespread metropolitan city that has moved past its Southern roots to embrace modern city-planning and architecture.  In the vein of LA, there is no true center of the city; neighborhoods are spread out and linked by freeways.

Even our hosts for the first two nights were far from Southern.  Michael (from somewhere in Canada) and Halef (from somewhere in Asia) are a middle-aged gay couple that have hosted over two hundred Couch Surfers in an effort to expand their cultural understanding whenever they aren’t traveling themselves.  Needless to say, they were amazingly caring and interesting hosts.

We spent most of our time in the ENTERTAINMENT? District, home of the Centennial Olympic Park, the CNN Center, and—most notably—the World of Coke.  Ian and I seriously had a fantastic time in the World of Coke.

The building is divided into multiple rooms featuring interactive museum displays, theaters, and a tasting area where you can try 64 different sodas from around the world!

I might not be a soda-drinker, but the World of Coke is definitely worth the price of admission.

No one told us to go to the World of Coke, and we had a blast.  On the other hand, everybody told us to go to The Varsity, a fast food restaurant and staple of Atlanta.  Boy, were we disappointed.

I don’t know what I’m more confused about: how this disgusting excuse for a restaurant became so popular, or how their product passes for acceptable food in the minds of the locals.  The burger I ate doesn’t even pass for acceptable fast food.  White Castle tastes like gourmet deli cuisine compared to this pile of flavorless crap!

We were fortunate enough to be in Atlanta when my buddy Harry—another former Bubba Gump’s coworker—came back from his own adventure: a two-month trip around Europe.   Although he hadn’t been home for more than a couple of days, he was willing to show us other parts of Atlanta, a younger, hipper, more diverse neighborhood.  Basically, where all the college kids live.

We even got to stay with Harry in his childhood home on our third and final night.

It was a freakin’ huge house.

A trip to the Sweetwater Brewery and Mellow Mushroom pizzeria with Harry rounded out our trip to Atlanta.  We had a great time, but I felt like we barely tapped the South.  It was a good thing we stopped by Savannah, GA, on the way to Florida. . .

Savannah (August 5)

I will admit, the initial draw of Savannah was its place in cinematic history: the bus stop bench from Forrest Gump was set in Downtown Savannah.  Although the bench has been removed from Chippewa Square, I was hoping the setting itself would bring me into one of my favorite movies.

The secondary draw of Savannah was its purported beauty.  Whenever I’d mention how beautiful I found Charleston to be, the usual response was, “You should go to Savannah!”  Now, I’ve never called a city beautiful and literally meant it.  Rather, when I said San Francisco or New York were beautiful cities, I really meant that the idea of such exciting metropolitans was beautiful.  Savannah was, simply, aesthetically beautiful.  It were as though somebody stole the charm of Rainbow Row in Charleston and spread it out over an entire downtown area in Georgia.

Gallant statues stood proud in the centers of numerous squares that proliferated the town.

Colorful buildings lined streets older than the country itself.

People in the streets would excitedly exclaim, “Hi!  How are y’all doing today?” as though they were waiting all day for us to pass by.

The Riverwalk, with its cobblestone paths and centuries-old storefronts, brought me to a place and time as foreign to be as the cities I saw on the British Isles.

Savannah was truly a sight to behold, but honestly not much more than that.  A sight.  We were not spending the night and had no inclination to do so, but I was glad to have caught a glimpse of the old South.

Conclusion

I’m accutely aware that our destinations in the South might not have been exactly representative of “the South.”  Rather, Folly Beach and Atlanta live on the periphery of the culture that claims “will rise again.”  Florida is not a Southern state, and we would be hightailing it through Alabama and Mississippi to get to New Orleans, which has a subculture of its own.

At first, this seemed like a lost opportunity, a missed chance to spend quality time in the United States’ most distinct subculture.  And then I remember certain facts, like 46% of Mississippi Republicans believe interracial marriage should be banned, and feel content with the Southern spots we hit.

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Young Man On The Road #16: East Coast Girls Are Hip, I Really Dig Those Styles They Wear

July 24-30

Philadelphia, PENNSYLVANIA; Atlantic City, NEW JERSEY; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, MARYLAND

It’s not news that I’ve gotten behind on these blogs.  As I write this, I’m in the car on the way to Houston and it’s mid-August.  I apologize for falling so far behind, but I do have my reasons (read: excuses).  It takes me a long time to write these things.  My style is less “stream of consciousness” and more “write a paragraph, reread, revise, Internet break, continue, reread, revise, food break, etc.”  It’s hard to settle down after a day of exploring and rack my brain for a few hours.  Honestly, I’d rather watch TV shows and fool around on Facebook until I fall asleep.

But I do like having a written account of this trip and, even more so, sharing it with all of you.  Furthermore, your responses make it all worthwhile.  What good is it to have an adventure if I can’t share it with the people I love?

So, in an effort to get caught up to speed, I’m combining several destinations into a single post and driving the stories by photos.  If all goes well, I should be up-to-date before I leave Texas.

I present to you. . .

Photoblog Mash-up No. 1: The East Coast

Philadelphia (July 24-27)

According to the Wikipedia article I read on the drive in, the city is filled with many historical sites, more public art than anywhere else, and a handful of local eats.  I was kind of excited for Philly, and that first full day did not disappoint.

We went to Independence Hall and learned about Congress and the birth of our nation from an amazingly entertaining guide.

Nothing he said was new to me, but he made it so interesting, it may as well have been.

We saw the Liberty Bell.  Apologies to fellow How I Met Your Mother fans, but we did not lick it.

Friggin' thing don't even ring!

We stood in awe of the many murals and public statues around the city.  This was a result of an initiative to reach out to street artists and turn their talent into benefits for the city.

We ate lunch in Reading Terminal Market.

Though there were many tantalizing sights and smells, I held off on the non-local fare and tried scrapple for the first time.

And I actually liked it.

We walked to the Philadelphia Art Museum and ran up the Rocky Steps.

We rewarded our spurt of athletic activity with a local sugary treat: waterice.  It’s like shave ice, but not at all.

After a long day of holding off, we finally got cheesesteaks from Philly’s two most prominent steak places: Pat’s and Geno’s.  I bought one “wit whiz” (that means “with onions and Cheese Whiz”) from Pat’s, Ian got his from Geno’s and we swapped halves and compared at the house.

Both were actually severely disappointing.  The meat was flavorless, the toppings were unimpressive, and the bread was sub-par.  I chose Geno’s over Pat’s because even though there was less meat, the bread wasn’t as chewy.  It’s sad that the “winner” was the one I disliked less.

We got the cheesesteaks super-late at night, and that less-than-stellar experience almost foreshadowed our eventual overall disappointment with  the city.

We trudged through the hot Philly sun to the U.S. Mint.  Even though it wasn’t as humid as New York, the heat still took a toll.  So, when I entered the building and discovered a giant fan cooling off the security guards, I tried to make small talk with one of the guards about how nice it was to be inside.  No response.  Then it dawned on me:  Philadelphians haven’t been that friendly.  Except for our hosts and the Independence Hall tour guide, locals dismissed our attempts at friendly interaction.  (I want to emphasize that our hosts were tremendously kind and caring, but even their awesomeness was overshadowed by our other interactions.)  The waitress/bartender and her patron friends at the place we ate dinner the night before ignored our efforts to socialize, electing to instead give us a dirty look and continue with their conversation.  The cashier at Pat’s acted like I wasted his time by asking what movie he and his buddies were watching on the TV behind them.  And now this guard couldn’t even acknowledge my observation that hot weather is hot!?  Ian and I discussed this revelation while walking through the most unimpressive tour we’ve yet encountered.  Even the U.S. Mint’s bland displays seemed to spew disdain at us.  The City of Brotherly Love seemed to come up short on exactly that.

Before we left, we tried one more cheesesteak place: Jim’s.

Eureka!

It was exactly what we expected from a Philly cheesesteak: high-quality meat surrounded in well-cooked toppings and stuffed into a soft roll.  It was delicious, but even Jim’s delightful sandwich didn’t assuage the bad taste left in my mouth from Philadelphia’s unwelcoming natives.

Atlantic City (July 27)

We took a day trip to AC “on the way” to Washington, D.C. (there was some backtracking involved).  Not to gamble, mind you, just to see the “East Coast Vegas.”

It wasn’t Vegas at all.  It was more like an amalgamation of Reno (with the limited size and spectacle of its casinos), Santa Cruz (with its brightly colored, amusement park-strewn boardwalk), and any suburban middle class shopping plaza you can think of (located meer blocks from the beach and casinos).

I liked the boardwalk the best.  Partly because I’m not a gambler and therefore hold no interest in casinos, but mostly because I’m a fan of most things HBO.  Apparently, so are they.

Ironically, it wasn’t until after we left Philly did we come across good waterice.  I mean, really good.  Better than, *gasp!* Hawaiian shave ice!  Before you get angry at my blaspheming, take a trip to the East Coast and try some.  It’s like an ice-based gelato.

Though we didn’t gamble, we nonetheless lost a small fortune in AC.  We spent upwards of $18 on toll booths alone going there and back.  The house still won.

Washington, D.C. (July 27-30)

Ten years ago, Ian and I went on our 8th grade class field trip to Washington, D.C.  I thought I’d have gained a greater appreciation of the historical significance of the sites in the span of a decade.  Truth is, ten years ago, I did understand and appreciate said significance.  This time around, they were just buildings I’d seen before, but now without the added entertainment of tour guides and classmates.  This trip didn’t expand my appreciation of the city.

Case in point: Ford’s Theater.

Ten years ago, we went inside the theater and an animated guide told the tragic tale of Lincoln’s assassination.  On this trip, we just grabbed breakfast at Lincoln’s Waffle Shop across the street.

We did go to the Washington Monument this time around, though.

And we got to go up, too.  For free.  Good thing it didn’t cost anything, because it was the worst observation deck I’ve been to.

At least you get a view of the Lincoln Memorial.  But wait. . .

. . . where did the Reflecting Pool go?

In an effort to compound the stifling effects of the heat, the humidity, and the lack of shade, the District of Columbia tore up its most refreshing-looking landmark just in time for our arrival.

The trip wasn’t a total let-down.  We did go to the National Air and Space Museum, something we didn’t do ten years ago.  I’m an Apollo nut, so I was completely geeking out over the Apollo spacecrafts.  Come to think about it, that would have been the only thing I’d be more excited to see now than ten years ago.

I don’t know what we were expecting to gain from Washington, D.C.  Once you take away the aura of seeing famous buildings and monuments for the first time, all that’s left is an oversized financial district with few restaurants and many pretentious locals.  Ian and I spent most of the time complaining about the humidity, searching for water, and reminiscing about our 8th grade trip.  We were ready to just keep moving on to the next city.  On our way out, however, we stopped by the Jefferson Memorial.

I knew I liked Jefferson–mainly based on his portrayal in the HBO series John Adams–but I never realized how forward-thinking and practical the man was.  

The quotes that graced the walls of his memorial were at the same time inspiring (he had rational views of the important issues of his day) and frustrating (those views are still relevant to many of today’s issues).  Like Jim’s cheesesteak in Philly, the Jefferson Memorial was an uplifting end to an otherwise disappointing destination.

Baltimore and College Park (July 29)

Baltimore isn’t too far from D.C., so we used one of our D.C. days to explore the city that set the stage for David Simon’s The Corner and The Wire.

But first, the University of Maryland in College Park:

It was too humid to explore much of the campus, so after a keychain and a quick stroll, we took off for the Inner Harbor of Baltimore.

I was surprised by how nice and clean and tourist-centric this part of “Bloody-More” was.  I guess you didn’t see too much of it in The Wire, aside from quick meetings with The Greek in Season 2.  The architecture was a sight to behold, especially how it formed around the harbor.

I made sure to eat some crab cakes and hush pups in the beautifully air conditioned indoor shopping center before taking off for West Baltimore.

I was surprised once again, this time by how close the slums of city is to the friendly Inner Harbor.  More than Deadwood and Atlantic City, West Baltimore seemed the spitting image of its respective HBO series.

Rowhouses everywhere, many empty and boarded up.

The car windows were up, the doors were locked, and I was as inconspicuous as I could be taking pictures.  While I was playing tourist in TV land, I had to keep reminding myself that this was a real place filled with dangerous people.

I was not about to hop out and take pictures with these real slingers. . .

"Git yo' red tops!"

. . . nor these real rollers.

It's Bobby Brown!

Conclusion

After the wonder that was New York City, every city that followed simply paled in comparison.  And, I know it’s not fair to compare a city to the mecca of Western culture, but the disappointing factors we found with each of the following East Cost locales would have still had a negative impact on our experience, even if New York had followed.  Philly would still have been the City Without Brotherly Love; Washington, D.C. would still have lacked shade and flavor; and both Atlantic City and Baltimore would still have too few attractions to keep us overnight.

Ian and I were just burnt out on cities.  No urban locale was going to compare with New York, and we didn’t want to keep pretending like they could.

Surprisingly, the South came to our rescue.

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Young Man On The Road #15 Detour: New York City

This is for the stray observations, story details, and drawn-out discussion that couldn’t fit in the other NYC post, thematically or otherwise.

The cheap lamination of my Hawaii State ID did not fare so well in Manhattan.  Once I was refused entrance until I showed them my expired California Driver’s License, once I was refused entrance even though I showed them my California Driver’s License, and once my Hawaiian State ID was actually taken away from me.  When the bouncer saw I was serious about getting my valid ID back, he let me in, but with much hesitation.

A lot of people are turned away from New York because of the “rude New Yorker” stereotype.  I’ll admit, I was, too.  However, having interacted with New York natives first-hand, I can say that this is not entirely accurate.  They’re not outright rude, just. . . honest.  They might be short or curt in interaction because they have somewhere to go, but I wouldn’t call this rudeness because rudeness implies malice.  If anything, they’re indifferent, and I much prefer someone honest about their indifference than one putting on airs with fake smiles and feigned interest.  In a way, New Yorkers have the same self-serving mindset of LA natives, but they’re not fake about it, and I respect that.

List of places we ate at because TV/movies told us to: H&H Bagels (as mentioned in Entourage), Gray’s Papaya (as seen on How I Met Your Mother and No Reservations), Katz’s Deli (as seen in When Harry Met Sally), White Castle (you know where that’s from).

List of places we ate at because New Yorkers told us to: Shake Shack (high-brow fast food burgers and shakes), Carmine’s (gigantic family style Italian dishes), Russ & Daughters (bagels and smoked salmon), Lombardi’s (sit-down pizzeria), Brick Oven Pizza 33 (classic order-at-the-counter pizza), Halal Guys (popular gyro food cart)

By the way, everything in New York is delicious.  That’s a fact.

About the pizza: Lombardi’s was good, but it wasn’t what we wanted from our first New York pizza experience.  When Ian and I thought “New York pizza,” we envisioned oversized and greasy yet delicious slices to fold and devour.  Lombardi’s was a sit-down restaurant-quality pizza with fresh ingredients that, while tasty, wasn’t the quintessential New York slice we sought.

And then we discovered Brick Oven Pizza 33.  A block from our place in Chelsea, Brick Oven Pizza 33 was a walk-up-to-the-counter type place, open late, and run by hard-working men in messy aprons.  We picked out our slices from behind the glass window and–after a few minutes of waiting for our pizza to warm up in the titular brick oven–chomped down on swarm of wonderful flavors, coated in grease but not overwhelmingly so, resting upon a blissfully crispy crust.  I went there three times in two days.

Now, is it better than Chicago’s deep-dish pizza?  That depends on two things: 1) what you want from pizza at the moment, and 2) how you define pizza.  First, Chicago pizza is what you should eat if you want to fill up with a meal at a restaurant.  It takes a long time for it to come out and requires a fork and knife, but the fresh ingredients piled in a deep and flaky crust is worth all the hullabaloo.  If you want a quick and delicious bite to hold you over through the day, New York pizza is the way to go.  The right ingredients folded between a thin crust will satisfy your mind, body, and soul.  To address the second point, the biggest argument I’ve heard from diehard New Yorkers against Chicago deep-dish is that, basically, it’s not pizza.  “You’re not supposed to eat it with a fork and knife!  You’re supposed to pick it up!  You can’t fold this!”  Basically, their argument comes down to semantics, how they define what a pizza “is.”  However, you rarely hear them address the quality of the food item.  Based on their narrow definition, New York pizza wins by virtue of being pizza.  If you were to expand your definition of the dish, though, and compare overall quality, Chicago pizza wins hands down.

Our first 24 hours in New York: We had been in Rigo’s place not five minutes when he invited us to his buddy’s rooftop barbecue in Queens.  The host and majority of the guests happened to be Filipino.  Go figure.  A few hours after grilled meat, curious liquor, drinking games, and fireworks, Ian and I found ourselves in a cab to the Lower East Side with Rigo and his buddy Eugene.  We arrived around midnight and the streets were swarming with dolled-up young New Yorkers.  Donning shorts and sandals, none of us fit in, but that didn’t stop us from bar-hopping ‘til the early morning.  We eventually ended up crashing in Eugene’s Brooklyn apartment.

The following day was the most impromptu adventure we’ve had.  You see, Ian and I were planning on returning to Rigo’s house after the barbecue before going out.  Instead, we woke up at an apartment near the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge and took off from there.  I had a nearly dead phone, yesterday’s clothes, no camera, and no protection from the beating sun.  It was the best outing yet!

Since Grimaldi’s Pizzeria had a long line, we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, through Chinatown and Little Italy, and to another well-established pizzeria: Lombardi’s.  Eugene wasn’t used to walking so much, and the added factors of the previous night’s alcohol and that morning’s heat did not help him through this new activity.  We eventually crashed in Washington Square Park.  Well, the other three did; I was too excited to sit still and instead wandered around the park taking pictures until my phone died.

Eugene split shortly afterwards to catch up on sleep while Rigo, Ian, and I kept exploring.  We got some MetroCards, watched the Women’s World Cup at a pub near Union Square, wandered around the Rockefeller Center, and eventually met up with his girlfriend, Sara, at the Halal Guys food cart.

That was just the first day, and the week just kept getting better.

We chose going to the top of the Rockefeller Center (advertised as the “Top of the Rock”) instead of the Empire State Building because it has views of both Central Park and the Empire State Building.  Also, while the admission price for the Top of the Rock was a bit steep, there was a package deal that paired admission with the NBC Studio Tour that made paying a bit more justifiable.

Of all the observation decks we’ve visited (Seattle Space Needle, Chicago’s Willis Tower—formerly known as the Sears Tower, and the CN Tower in Toronto), the Top of the Rock was the best.  Three levels of spacious decks, open-air views of the entire city, unobtrusive freestanding glass panels as barriers instead of wire cages or dirty windows, and no long lines.  I don’t know how the Empire State Building observation deck compares, but I can’t imagine it could be better.

Of all the tours we’ve been on (Coors Brewery, Motown Museum, Steamwhistle Brewery), this was the worst.  Well, “worst” sounds too negative, and it wasn’t bad, it was just really uninspired.  It was as if they were banking on the fact that they were an internationally recognized studio in a famous building.  The pages were just young interns doing their time until they could climb to the top.  Sure, they were easy-going and entertaining at times, but they mostly just lead us to empty studio sets and spouted the obligatory info.  In contrast, our tour guide for the Motown Museum had a warm personality, vast knowledge of all things Motown, and a natural ability to involve the crowd without making it feel like a pop quiz.  Plus, you could tell he was passionate about the place, working there because he wanted to be a tour guide and not because it was a stepping stone to something greater.

During our first tourist day with Meghan, we meet a Dutch man and his daughter.  He needed help figuring out which station got him closest to Little Italy.  Ian and I were actually oriented well enough to help him out.  We were excited to learn that he’d be taking his daughter to San Francisco afterwards.

A few days later, we ran into them again!  What were the chances that they’d be in the same car of the same train on the same line at the same time several days later and in a different part of the City?!

Speaking of subway awesomeness, this one time, a group of dancers performed breakdancing stunts on a crowded train while it was moving!  I don’t know how they could have possibly practiced those tumbles, jumps, and flips without kicking anybody or running into the center pole.  I was thoroughly impressed and tipped them a buck without hesitation.  The native New Yorkers were less impressed, but I imagine they were just pretending to be to keep up their tough personas.  Losers.

In line for the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, we came across a happy old man playing a steel drum.  We enjoyed his rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” so much, I was inclined to tip him.  The man asked where I was from and I said, “Hawaii” (or “California,” I can’t remember–it depends on my mood).

He replied with, “No, I mean, where are your parents from?”

“Oh, the Philippines.”

Without a moment’s hesitation, the old man busted out with the Filipino National Anthem.  All I could do was laugh and smile.  Really, that’s all I could do because I don’t know the words!

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Young Man On The Road #15: I<3NY

July 16 – 24

Queens and Manhattan, NEW YORK

I love New York.  Simply put.  No gushing profusion of admiration needed, nor lengthy laundry lists of attributes.  It has all been said before and there is no way I can spin my love for this city in an original or adequate way.  Nothing will suffice save for this blunt, stark-naked, trademarked statement that needs neither flourish nor emphasis: I love New York.

Out of many, one factor in the beauty of the City lies within its subway system.  Yes, that subway system.  The crowded, stuffy, noisy, grimy, urine-scented subway system.  It’s magnanimous.  It connects the Upper West Side to the Lower East Side, the townhouses of Harlem to the bright lights of Midtown, all of those neighborhoods in Manhattan to all of the boroughs outside of it.  It is all connected.  It is all one.  It was all mine for the low, low cost of a $29 seven-day, unlimited metro card.

New York thrives on connections, though not just from place to place, but also from people to people.  Ian and I had many friends in New York, some I hadn’t seen in months, others I hadn’t seen in years, some from the Bay, others from “da island,” but all of them, fortunately, in New York when we were.

Like stations along the subway lines that connect different parts of the City, these friends are points along time that connect different parts of my life.

It’s about time I write about other people for a change.

The Hawaii Line
Station: Rigo

Transfers to: Eugene (his friend that lives in Brooklyn), Sara (his girlfriend)

I met Rigo only a few times before the trip, though he has that type of warm personality that makes you feel like old friends.  I met him during the free Saturday Morning Beach Bootcamp classes in Hawaii (at least, the ones I could wake up for).  It was during one of those classes that I found out he was born and raised in New York. . . and that he’d be moving back this summer.  When I told him about this trip, he immediately offered me a place to crash.  He hadn’t even moved back yet and he was letting me stay with him!

Obviously, I took him up on his offer and when Ian and I arrived in New York in mid-July, we were staying in a house blocks away from Queens Boulevard!  Being huge Entourage fans, we were super psyched about the highly touted location.

Ian and I hit the ground running in New York.  Within the first 24 hours, we:

  • attended a rooftop barbecue in Queens
  • bar-hopped in the Lower East Side
  • crashed at Rigo’s friend Eugene’s apartment in Brooklyn
  • walked across the Brooklyn Bridge
  • explored Chinatown, Little Italy, Washington Square Park, Union Square, the Rockefeller Center, and Grand Central Station
  • had our first food experience with Lombardi’s Pizza, cannolis from Little Italy, and Halal Guys.

(For a more detailed, more interesting, and longer account of that first adventure, see the following post.)

Rigo on the Brooklyn Bridge. Manhattan in the back.

Without Rigo as our knowledgeable guide and benevolent host, I don’t know if Ian and I would have covered that much ground in a week, much less in one day.  Rigo was busy the next day, but his girlfriend, Sara, was able to escort us to the 7 line that morning to start another full day of Big Apple adventures.

Station: Meghan

Transfers to: Lindsay (her cousin), Candace (her friend)

Meghan is one of those people who exits your life just as quickly as they entered it, but manages to make an impression on the way through.  That tends to happen when you work in a high-turnover establishment like a chain restaurant: awesome people in small doses.

She was born and raised in upstate New York, but decided to do a year of college at UH Manoa.  It was then that she became my Bubba Gump’s coworker and new after-work buddy.  Though I had left Honolulu before her last day in Hawaii, I was able to rendezvous with her shortly afterwards in Grand Central Station.  From there, and for the next two days, she played tourist with us.

Meghan and Me on a ferry to the Statue of Liberty.

That’s right, tourist.  Apparently, there are parts of the state that exist outside of the City!  Even crazier, some people choose to live in those parts!  Having grown up hours from the City, Meghan was less familiar with NYC than I am with SF, so she—along with me and Ian—did the touristy things native city-dwellers avoid: Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Museum of Natural History, and more.  It was refreshing to explore with another friend, not that I’m sick of Ian—nowhere near it—but different perspectives are enriching.  Also, with Meghan I could reminisce about Hawaii and Bubba’s.  With Ian, I can’t.

We met up with Meghan’s cousin, Lindsay, and her friend, Candace at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park.  After devouring one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten (it’s all about the bun!), we wracked our brains trying to find some late-night hangout spot.  It doesn’t seem like a difficult task in Manhattan, but Meghan was the only one under the drinking age, so that threw a wrench into our brainstorming.  We eventually came across a hookah lounge that turned out to be the laid-back night we all wanted.  Nothing is impossible to find in New York.

The Grade School Line

Station: Mary-Grace

Transfers to: Robert (her boyfriend)

Mary-Grace and I go way back, before I even knew Ian.  We went to the same elementary and middle schools and our parents knew each other.  The two of us very well might have been the only Filipinos in the school.  (Ian expanded our number to three in sixth grade.)  We took all the same classes and even played in the school orchestra together.  And even though Mary-Grace went to a private high school instead of continuing on to Livermore High like everybody we grew up with did, it didn’t feel like she “left.”  But when she did leave, she really left.  To New York.  To study at the Culinary Institute of America.  So baller.

The three Filipinos of Livermore, reunited in New York.

We reunited with Mary-Grace at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.  Meghan was still with us then, and it was weirdly awesome to see people from completely different times and places of my life meet.  It had been maybe eight years since I’d seen Mary-Grace last (damn, I sound old!), and she’d been a true New Yorker for six of those years.  When asked if the City has changed her at all, she said her friends and family noticed she was more aggressive and less patient.  Not in a bad way, but in a New York way.  (See my following post for my explanation of this.)  She loves New York, and it’s where she wants to be right now, but she admits that she’d like to move back to California eventually.  Don’t we all.

Mary-Grace led us around Central Park for a bit—including to the Strawberry Fields and the John Lennon tribute—through the Rockefeller Center, and eventually ending up at Katz’s Dinner.  Two things happened at Katz’s: I said goodbye to Meghan, and I discovered what  pastrami should taste like.  The sadness of parting with Meghan was pretty much overshadowed but the gustatory party in my mouth.

We ended the night in the Lower East Side where Mary-Grace took us to upscale bar where her boyfriend, Robert, worked.  The couple offered to let us crash at their place in Queens.  Since we had our first three nights covered by Rigo and our next three covered by Ian’s friends, we denied their offer.  However, when we decided to stay just one day longer in New York, we called up Mary-Grace and took them up on that offer.  It’s good to have multiple friends in a city you don’t want to leave.

Station: Devin

While reminiscing about our elementary school days, Mary-Grace revealed to me and Ian that she ran into our old friend Devin!  She had no idea that we was moving to New York; they just happened to be on the same train at the same time, several weeks after he’d moved to New York.

I went to school with Devin from elementary school to high school.  We were even in the same Cub Scout group.  He was always an eccentric kid, very expressive and a joy to be around.  Although we did not hang out much in high school, our social circles often overlapped.  I hadn’t seen him since graduation and was not keen on what he’d be doing in California all these years.

Turns out he was living in Sacramento, working random jobs to support his improv acting career.  It’s no surprise that Sacramento did not offer enough to rein in this free spirit.  One day, he had enough of California’s tame capital and bought a one-way ticket to New York City: a place he’d never been to but always belonged.  He crashed with a friend until he found his own place in Brooklyn and a job as a bartender in the Lower East Side.

Imagine that!  What kind of crazy person would buy a one-way ticket to another state with nowhere to live and no job prospects. . .

When Ian and I learned of our old friend’s new life, we made plans to meet up with him.  We found him at his work, a small and dark yet upscale bar tucked away in the Lower East Side.  Devin entertained us with his odyssey tale and we returned the favor with our travel stories.  He also kindly had us try various specialty beers.  Ever have a watermelon lager?  They’re delicious.

I’m glad Devin is doing well.  He is definitely in his element in New York.  I can’t wait to revisit the City and see his name in lights.

 

The Cal Spirit Line.  Station: Jordan & David and Nikki

Station: Jordan & David

Not everyone we met up with in New York was my friend.  Ian had a few of his own.  Despite my four years in the University of California Rally Committee (a spirit group), Ian’s position as a Cal Mic Man (a yell leader) meant he had closer contact with members of the other Cal Spirit organizations.  His friend and former Drum Major, David, had moved to the City with his girlfriend, Jordan, a former Cal Dance Team member.  David had originally offered us a place to crash, but by the time we arrived, he happened to be in between places and was staying with Jordan in Chelsea.  Luckily, Jordan was friends with Ian, too, and let us crash in her living room.  Even luckily-er, her place was a building away from a subway station, and a block away from the best pizza I had in New York.

While Jordan was attending grad school in Columbia, David was busy applying to med school when he wasn’t at work.  In short, we didn’t get to go out with them.  They were busy being responsible and whatnot.  It was a bummer because they were super-friendly people and I enjoyed hanging out with them and talking about Cal for those few short hours in Jordan’s apartment.  And I actually recognized both of them from my college days; we did go to all the same rallies and sporting events, afterall.

We stayed with Jordan and David for three nights and even though we wanted to stay another day, they had other guests coming in.  That’s when we called up Mary-Grace.

Station: Nikki

Transfers to: Elissa (her friend)

Ian and I weren’t the only Cal alumni traveling around the States this summer.  Our friend Nikki was on an adventure of her own.  Nikki graduated a year before us, but during our three overlapping years, she was a co-member of Rally Comm.  We had all taken a sip from the proverbial punchbowl that was Cal Spirit and formed a solidarity that only a borderline cult could provide.  Of course, we’ve all since mellowed out on our hoo-rah attitude (but never on our love for Cal!) and Nikki has been spending her post-graduate years working and living in San Francisco whenever she’s not trotting the globe.  For shorter, less narcissistic traveling stories, you can read about Nikki’s adventures on her own blog: MyOneNewThingAWeek.com.

As with Devin, we were only able to hang out with Nikki and her friend, Elissa, for one night, but that included essential New York taxi cab rides.  Nikki is a very spirited, positive person with a fever for exploration and catching up on each other’s lives was pretty entertaining.  Also, her friend Elissa double-majored in Film and something else, so it was refreshing to have conversations about Italian neorealsim and Hitchcock again.

Not a very attractive of me or Ian.

Nikki’s first day in New York coincided with our last one, so even though she was heading down to Washington, D.C., afterwards like us, she missed our stay by a day.  I guess we’ll just have to rendezvous in San Francisco!

Although a lot of Ian’s and my positive experiences in New York City were due to our interactions with old friends, the majority of our time spent in the City was just the two of us newbies, taking in all the sights and sounds and smells and energy of the epicenter of Western society.  Is it a coincidence that so many people from my past have ended up in this one city?  Or is it a sign?

I can’t stay in Hawaii forever.

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