Monthly Archives: April 2011

Straight Guy Lesson #15- New York City

My inexpensive, off-the-beaten-path, Must-See spots for food, drink, and entertainment for visitors to New York City.  You know the big landmarks and sites, so here are twenty-one things you should do after you cross those staples off your list.

1)  Museum of the Moving Image- Astoria Queens.  Interactive museum with a ton of movie and television memorabilia and props including Freddy Krueger’s glove and some Huxtable sweaters (the show was filmed next door.) There’s even a room that traces the history of video games, and you get to play with everything from Pong to Dance Dance Revolution!

2)  The major sporting events are obvious and all fantastic but US Open tennis shouldn’t be missed. Staten Island and Coney Island offer great minor league baseball experiences as well.  Catching basketball games at Rucker Park in Harlem is a one of a kind experience.  Before they went to the NBA, guys like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Vince Carter, Dr. J, Stephon Marbury, Lamar Odom, and Ron Artest played picked up games at Rucker.  Some even come back to play at the height of their careers as NBA all-stars like Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant.

3) Rock-n-Roll Karaoke at Arlene’s Grocery.  Lower East Side.  They certainly have their favorites so it’s hard to get on, but it’s still fun to be there.  Karaoke with a full band to back you up and a very energetic audience. You can live our your dream of being a God Rock for five minutes.  Celebs are seen there often.

4)  High Bar rooftop bar- great midtown views.  I usually nurse one drink for as long as I can and then head to somewhere cheaper.  Great for photos.  Also good rooftops- Hudson Terrace and Gramercy Park Hotel.

5)  Vazac’s Horseshoe Bar (7B)- indie dive bar in Alphabet City with a great jukebox and film/tv history (Godfather 2 and Sex and the City scenes.)  If the photo booth in the back is working, that’s must, if you can get past the hipsters playing Big Buck Hunter.

6)  Grimaldi’s Pizzeria-  It’s not just the pizza that’s fantastic.  Enjoy it after a nice walk/bike over the Brooklyn Bridge.  You can tell your friends that you left the city and you’ll seem edgy.

7)  The Frying Pan- outside on the water at Chelsea Piers.  Great place for drinks, first dates, meeting hundreds of young people, sunsets, and views of Manhattan. Oh yeah, you’re on a huge ship and the drinks are very reasonable.

8 )  Hudson RiverFlicks-  Forget Bryant Park.  Real New Yorkers know the best place to go for outdoor movies in the summer.  At Pier 54 they play better movies and have chairs. Show up on 14th Street before the sun goes down on  the Hudson River.

9)  Barcade- yes, just like it sounds.  It’s a bar and it’s an arcade with classic 80s games.  And yes, it is right where you thought it’d be, right in the middle of Williamsburg.

10) McSorley’s- Abe Lincoln and John Lennon had a beer here so you think you’re better than them?!?  Drinks come in pairs (both filled half way) in either light or dark but don’t hesitate when ordering, they run an efficient operation and don’t have time for questions or delays.  Get the cheese and crackers but breathe through your mouth in the bathroom.

11) White Horse Tavern- 11th Street and Hudson.  Famous in the 1950s and 60s for writers and musicians.  Dylan Thomas famously drank himself to death here and Jack Kerouac spent many alcoholic nights here as well. Other notable patrons: Bob Dylan, Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, Jim Morrison, and Allen Ginsberg (who once got thrown out for circling the room and chanting Hare Krishna.)

12) Tom’s Diner on 112th Street and Broadway near Columbia University.  First popular in Suzanne Vega’s song “Tom’s Diner” then immortalized as the facade for Monk’s Diner in Seinfeld.  The interior looks completely different from that used in the show so don’t get your hopes up.  Still though, you’ll be surprised how excited you get when you turn the corner and see that familiar neon sign. It’s a good random thing to check out and very close to the amazing cathedral of St. John the Divine.

13) If you’re a Led Zeppelin fan check out the Physical Graffiti buildings on 96 and 98 St. Marks Place near First Avenue.  It’s the facade they used for that album’s cover.  Even if you’re not a fan of the band you’ll recognized the building, there’s a second-hand clothing store called Physical Graffiti on the ground floor.  The song “Stairway to Heaven” was supposedly written about the apartment on the top floor, where their heroin dealer lived.  I’m not sure if that’s true but it makes sense.  Have a kick ass outdoor brunch across the street at Yaffa’s, but expect to be judged by your uber-cool, 22-year-old Israeli hipster waiter.

14) Astoria’s Bohemian Hall Beer Garden.  Traditional Bavarian beer garden just over the bridge in Queens, very near La Guardia.  It only seats 800 so get there early on a warm weekend afternoon.  If you’re still too scared to leave Manhattan then just go to Zum Schneider on Avenue C for a watered-down, indoor experience.

15) Fourth of July, spend the afternoon eating hot dogs and watching the freak show at Coney Island (if it’s still open) and then get yourself to a rooftop in the city for the fireworks.  Now they’re shot off on the West side of Manhattan so kiss up to your Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen friends to get that party invite. Warning: every other firework experience the rest of your life will seem somewhat lame after a rooftop party in NYC.

16) Art galleries in Chelsea. Yes, of course the Straight Guy loves Chelsea!  This is an obscenely cheap way to kill an afternoon and see some great art in every medium imaginable.  Often times the stuff you see in the cluster of galleries between 20th-27th Streets/10th-12th Avenue is better than what they have in the museums.  Try to go when the new cycle of exhibits are opening all over the neighborhood, lots of free drinks and food.  En route walk the High Line and stop by the Chelsea Hotel and try to figure out where exactly Sid killed Nancy.

17) The Bronx Zoo.  It’s a cliché and everyone knows about it but no one ever goes, same with the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Hit the gardens in April when the cherry blossoms are out. Yes, flowers and trees really do grow and thrive in NYC.

18) Shakespeare in the Parking Lot.  Lower East Side.  The most culture you can get on asphalt.  Admission is free.  Intermissions occur when someone needs to get their car out.  Only in New York.

19) Steinway and Sons Tour.  Astoria.  The manufacturer of arguably the best modern pianos in the world, offers a tour of its headquarters and factory, showing how the treasured instruments are made. Tours take place on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon from September through June. I actually haven’t done this one yet, but it sounds really cool.

20) East River Park- Lower East Side.  Fifty-seven acres along the East River for biking, soccer, tennis, jogging, baseball, football, barbecues, picnics, and general laziness.  The tennis courts are right on the water, in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge. Live music is performed at the amphitheater. The crowds go to Central Park for unnatural nature, you can come here and watch the dead bodies float by.

21) Marathon Day.  Don’t run it, it’s much more fun to attend a marathon party hosted by someone who lives on the race route.  Popular spots include balconies and fire escapes in the Upper East Side along First Avenue, though there are many options in Queens and Brooklyn as well.  If you’re banking on a photo finish get to Central Park and wait patiently.  I lived on Mile 19 for a while so I didn’t have to get up early to see all the action.  If you’re an early riser, get up and watch the start on the Verrazano Bridge, it’s amazing.


Straight Lesson #14- Commuting

Whether you like it or not, if you’re based in NYC like 99% of all new hires are based, eventually you’re going to be a commuter. This is true for almost all major airlines.  New York is almost always the junior base.  I just read that over 70% of all New York City flight attendants are commuters.

I never heard the term “Commuter” growing up in Texas.  I may have seen a movie where some guy in Westchester was “commuting” on a train into Manhattan every day but I didn’t really get it, nor did i care.  Once I got this job and got sent to New York City though, I had my crash course on what this commuting thing is all about.

There is only so much you can take of New York City and then you want out. Sometimes it’s your age that causes the exodus, sometimes it’s just getting sick of the weather, or the people, or the expensive, yet claustrophobic rentals.  It may be the filth, or the rodents, or the fact that you are no longer shocked when you see someone masturbating on the A train during rush hour.

Some people reach this breaking point within days.  They just never give New York a chance and I feel sorry for those people.  Others give it a chance and go with it as long as possible. Eventually you’ll hit that tipping point and want out.  I loved being in New York in my 20s, I had the time of my life.  By the time I was 30 though, I’d been in New York for 7 years and it was already too long.  It took another three years to pull the trigger but I knew I was done with it.

It’s such a wonderful feeling living in the city you’re based.  It’s so easy.  When those silly commuters are rushing to catch a flight and stabbing each other in the back to be the first one on the list for the jumpseat, you’re on the subway and within an hour you’ll be on your sofa watching your DVR-ed shows with a cocktail in your hand.  Commuting sucks, in theory and in practice.

Eventually your priorities will change and the cons of living in New York will outweigh the pros and you move away and start the life of a Commuter.  Since you fly for free it’s not really a matter of money that makes it such a pain in the ass.  It’s a waste of time and can be incredibly stressful. When you get off a plane the last thing you want to do is deal with airports and more planes.

Airline people can be very creative when it comes to getting home.  You wouldn’t think that flying from New York to Nashville to Dallas back up to Chicago is the best way to get home, but sometimes that’s the only way to get home, so you do it.  I’ve flown from Dallas to Los Angeles in order to get to New York.  I know some people who will fly to London from NYC just to get to Texas.  To successfully be a commuter you need to think outside the box.  This also includes Amtrak, Greyhound, and selling your body for a ride to a random airport where there just might be an open seat.

Some commuters like to stay at home as long as possible and will pick flights to get them back to NYC just minutes before they need to sign in for the trips they need to be working.  That’s cutting it close and there’s absolutely no margin for error.  Other people are Chicken Littles and come up a day early to make sure they’re at base in plenty of time.

When you become a commuter all of a sudden you can’t fly half the trips available.  They either sign in way too early to fly up in time or they get back to New York way too late to fly home.  The trips that leave in the evening and get back in the morning are the most wanted trips for commuters. You don’t even think about that when you live in the city you’re based.  That’s so nice.

Some commuters go home after every trip, even if they only have one night at home.  Others like to back up their trips so they only have to commute up once or twice a month.  Personally I like to have a week off, then work three trips in a row (usually nine days), go home for another week, and then work another three trips.  That’s what I’ll do until I win the lottery.

The backstabbing that goes on between crew members trying to commute is simply vicious.  It’s really entertaining when you’re not involved but sucks when you’re one of the horses in the race.  It’s hilarious when two people who have just worked together for the last five days are fighting for the one jumpseat on the same flight. They’ll play nice working together but it’s always present, hanging over their heads, the elephant in the room.

They know the second they land back in New York it’s a race to get listed for that flight.  Technically you’re not supposed to check in for your commuter flight until you get to the gate but no one ever waits that long.  Most people call and list as soon as the wheels touch the ground.  It’s understood amongst crew members that this is proper protocol.  What’s not kosher, however, is having a spouse or friend check you in for the flight before you actually land in New York.  That’s a huge no-no and people get in a lot of trouble for that.  Not only will you be a social pariah, you can get your flight benefits taken away from you by the company.

As soon as you touch down, the race is on and the fun begins.