Category Archives: New York City

Penn Station NYC

images-4February 20, 2013…..I love Penn Station. it’s one of the few places in the world where people of different social classes really integrate legitimately and effortlessly.

imagesOriginally built in 1910, Penn Station is the busiest train station in North America. It has twice as many passengers as its sexier neighbor Grand Central Station but everybody knows that Penn Station is where it’s at as far as interactive zoos.

I’m sitting in the back of Charlie’s Philly steak joint by the New Jersey Transit tracks waiting for a train. I sat in the back by the tv and took a look around. To the left of me is a homeless black man sipping on a free water and periodically checking the trash can for his lost “black bag.” He does this for thirty minutes.

images-1Next to him is a well dressed college kid in smart-framed glasses heading back upstate to wherever his campus is. In the corner is a homeless white lady with no teeth and slippers. Behind her is a middle-aged Jewish man in a very expensive pea coat. He’s talking to a potential business partner about how their Photo app is coming along. We’re all sitting here, eating food which I’m sure has been touched my some sort of vermin at some point today, watching SportsCenter.

Unknown-1You’d never see this collection of people sit so comfortably together anywhere else in the world. On the streets, the homeless people would be asking for food or money or, why lie, alcohol. Most of us would probably put on our blinders as we passed by and barely utter, “no, sorry” as we scurry past. I wouldn’t pay attention to the homeless guy, I wouldn’t even notice the business man with his Rolex and fancy cufflinks,not in the real world anyways.

Unknown-2Out in the terminal there are loads of Bridge and Tunnel kids making a jaunt into the city for a bit of fun and mischief. There are also droves of young professionals leaving the city for an excursion back to wherever they came from. All types are heading to the airports and then on to who knows where. Some are coming in for the big Knicks game that’ll start in a couple of hours.

Some practically live in this massive station and will never even have to venture above ground for anything. All of their needs are met underground. They can get any kind of food known to man as well as drinks, clothing, electronics, furniture, books, computers, or whatever else a person could possibly want right here in this station. There’s even a medical facility and police station down here. The people living down here would have no idea it’s freezing outside if the outsiders weren’t descending the stairs or coming off of trains all bundled up.

images-2These people I’m surrounded by have their prejudices and judgements I’m sure, but when you’re crammed into a filthy train station fast food place, everyone puts it on hold and takes a break from all of that. The homeless lady brushes past the Jewish gentlemen and knocks a cap onto the floor. The man apologizes for being in the way (which he wasn’t), smiles, picks it up, and goes back to the conversation. He treated her with complete respect.

I listen just as closely to the Jewish men discussing apps as I do to one of the homeless guys telling the other (obviously on heroin) his predictions for tonight’s college basketball triple header on ESPN. He picks Syracuse to lose, Kansas to win, and then Arizona to win the night-cap, a bold pick since Syracuse is on fire and they’re playing at home. The other guy nods and asks if they’re already up to the Sweet Sixteen. Point of fact, March Madness hasn’t started yet and the Sweet 16 is a month away. Doesn’t matter though, people are bonding over their surroundings and I love it.

images-3I used to think that I could spend a year in one of these train stations if I had to do it. I used to think that about the World Trade Center because not only did they have dozens of food options, they also had a full on mall down there. Then 9-11 happened and it wasn’t as much to think about being trapped under the World Trade Center anymore. Though in the days after the attacks I did cling to the hopes that some of the people trapped in the rubble might be able to somehow get to some food or water just because of how much of it was down there. In the end I doubt that made any difference at all but it gave some of us hope.

images-5As good as the WTC complex would’ve been for living underground, Penn Station in NYC is infinitely better. There’s an entire KMart in here! I showed up too early for my train so I happily spent the time walking around the store. I ended up buying discounted Valentine’s and a Just Dance game for my friend I’m visiting in New Jersey. his birthday is in a few days. I tried to get him an ironic Tim Tebow or Justin Bieber poster but they were sold out of both. Instead I got a supplemental gift of Children of the Corn 4 on DVD. Like I said, you can get anything underground.

Unknown-3I love the variety. I love how the place is a massive Benetton ad but not just with skin color. Some of the most destitute human beings I’ve ever seen are in this back room along side multi-millionaires and it’s like this all the time, every day. True, the rich are usually just here for an hour before their trains to Westchester or Long Island come rolling in, but it’s a major part of their lives, just as it is for the smelly junkies, rabid Rangers and Knicks super fans, and orange Jersey teenie-boppers. What else are all these people going to have in common other than Penn Station?

I could people watch here for hours. I’m shocked that no one has done a documentary on this place, there is a wealth of material.

images-6The best thing I saw was a black guy around my age with his little four-year old daughter. She saw some on duty cops and ran over to them to say Hi and get a free sticker. The dad did not approve and gave the cops the eye. She didn’t care though, she acted like she was talking to two Princes. As he dragged her away she screamed back, “Thank you policemen, have a good day!” The cops, two white guys of Irish descent, were visibly touched and blew her kisses. I don’t know what it is, but this crowded, dirty, smelly, dilapidated train station seems to bring out the best in people.

If you ever have a few hours to kill in New York City and want to examine the human experience in all of its forms and socio-economic conditions, go to Penn Station, take a stroll from one side to the other, and prepare for your education.

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Locations: NYC

I was landing in Austin at sundown, staring out the window and thinking about nothing in particular. That’s when, for some reason, I started thinking about how cool it’d be if there was an app that one could use in NYC that would point out all the random cool places that are out there. Not sure what the trailer parks in southeast Austin have to do with Manhattan but who am I to question the creative process?

When I give first timers my NYC tour I always make sure to point out certain things, like the building on St. Marks that served as the cover to Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti album and Allen Ginsberg’s old apartment building in Alphabet City. I make sure we go to one of my favorite bars ever, Vazac’s Horseshoe bar on 7th and B. Famous scenes from Sex and the City, Crocodile Dundee, and The Godfather 2 were shot right there.

If we’re on the west side I’ll point out the Friends’ apartment and tell them the story about Dylan Thomas and the White Horse Saloon and mention the bathroom graffiti directed towards Jack Kerouac in the same bar. Of course we’d spend alot of time talking about all the history of the Chelsea Hotel on W. 23rd and if Sid really killed Nancy.

In Soho it’s always fun to point out the Sam and Molly’s loft from Ghost, the fake orgasm location from When Harry Met Sally, and the Ghostbuster’s headquarters.

From there my tour includes the subway grate where Marilyn Monroe’s dress blew up in The Seven Year Itch and the intersection where Ratso Rizzo gives his famous, “I’m walkin’ here!” line in Midnight Cowboy. Nearby is the infamous Studio 54’s former location.

Since it’s directly across the street from my ex-girlfriend’s place on W. 69th, I know all about where Meg Ryan’s The Shop around the Corner bookstore from You’ve Got Mail. From there it was a short trip further up the Upper West Side to Tom’s Diner, which served as the facade for Monk’s from the Seinfeld Series.

Everyone knows all about John Lennon’s murder outside his residence at the Dakota, but it surprises me how many people didn’t know that building was also used in Rosemary’s Baby. The dude that was executed for kidnapping and killing the Lindbergh baby helped build the building across the street from the Dakota!

Near my old apartment on the Upper East Side is a bar that I knew served as the bar where Tom Cruise served drinks in Cocktail. Serendipity 3 was very close by on 225 E. 60th Street and Holly Golightly resided around the corner and down the street in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

That’s where my personal tour of trivial things would start and people seemed interested. I was thinking about all of this when I landed in Austin that fateful day and that’s when the plan was hatched. How cool would it be if every semi-interesting spot and hidden gem in Manhattan was all in one place in an app that would tell you when you were walking by one of the spots?

Immediately I started to collect as many books about significant spots in the city as I could, from Black History in New York, to Movie Locations, to books about specific neighborhoods. My girlfriend Amanda and I would take walking tours of places like Chinatown, the Lower East Side and Five Points, take meticulous notes from our young guide, secretly knowing that our ultimate goal was to make his tour obsolete.

I got my friend Colin involved since he has made an app or two and knows how these things get done. Almost overnight we were set up and I just needed to input the locations into the database which would immediately be turned into a pin for our GPS-based map. I love that the map also includes bus and subway stops, that was a nice bonus I wasn’t counting on.

Not only did we get every tv and movie spot as we could, we also found historical spots, like the oldest bar in NYC, the birthplace of the gay rights movement, the first speakeasy in Harlem back in the Prohibition days, where Edgar Allen Poe once lived and hung out, and where the world’s largest cast iron bell resides (Riverside Church).

By the time I had my list, I had over 200 notable spots. Amanda did some research on her own and came up with even more. Colin came up with the brilliant idea of having “haunted” locations so I got to work researching those. Now we’re over 300 locations and there are still some walking tours we plan on taking.

I’ve learned so much about NYC in the last two months, it’s ridiculous. It’s impossible for me to walk down any Manhattan street without wondering if there’s anything significant nearby. I wish to God this app existed when I lived in New York full time and walked the streets every single day.

I have a list of dozens of buildings I want to see again for the first time and haunted places I want to check out. Now I know the locations of: the Cosby Show brownstone, where James Dean lived before he left for LA,  where Humphrey Bogart grew up, where Marilyn Monroe supposedly contemplated jumping out of a window on the Upper East Side, the bar that inspired The Lost Weekend, the original factory for Nabisco, Count Basie’s lounge, where Malcolm X was shot, where the Titanic was supposed to arrive, where Andy Warhol’s factory was, the narrowest building in the city, where the Marx Brothers were brought up, the first skyscraper, where Joey Gallo was shot, where Jack Kerouac met Neal Cassady, where Robert DeNiro contemplated murdering Palatine in Taxi Driver, the apartment from The Apartment, Winkie and Blinkie’s flat in The Basketball Diaries, and just about anything that every happened in a Woody Allen movie.

As of two days ago the app is now available from Apple App Store. As much as I think New Yorkers and tourists will love it as much as I do, I have absolutely no idea how to get the word out on a large scale other than taking out a billboard in Times Square or having Ashton Kutcher tweet about it. And so this is where I’m at.

The Prodigal Son Returns February 29, 2012

After 82 days of being off of work, I finally got the call to come back. Medical said I was good to go, healthy as an ox. Well, they said to come up to New York and then maybe in a day or so they’d put me back in the mix. Of course none of the departments know what the other one is doing so for the past five days Scheduling has thought I’ve been back and has put me in the pool of flight attendants subject to receiving top-secret orders to God knows where.

Luckily they never assigned me anything on those days when I was still at home. That would’ve been a problem, especially if they would’ve called last night when my friends were throwing me an impromptu Goodbye Party at a seedy strip club in North Central Austin. I would’ve been excused from the missed assignment, but them not calling saved me even more annoying paper work and calls to my Supervisor.

She’s been my Supervisor for over 8 years now and until December, I never knew what she looked like, or what her first name was. She didn’t know me from Adam and we liked it that way. I didn’t bother her and she didn’t bother me. Now I have her on speed dial and know everything about her. I’m pretty sure I have her menstrual cycle down at this point.

I was hoping I’d come back to work with a spring in my step and a fresh sense of willingness to please, or at least not to be so quick to get annoyed with people. Whenever I catch myself getting annoyed by absolutely everyone I come into contact with, I know it’s time to take a few days off and get back to Neutral. After a week I’m recharged and ready for anything. After 82 days, I figured it’d be weeks before I roll my eyes or snap at a stranger. That’s what I was praying for at least.

The first test was passed with much ease. I made it through the Austin airport with no problem, most likely because I was still asleep and I don’t remember even being there. It wasn’t until we pushed back that the sun even came up. That was 11 hours ago. I honestly cannot remember a single detail of my hour I spent at the airport other than looking into Earl Campbell’s restaurant and wanting the signed Oilers jersey on the wall.

The flight was jam-packed, but that didn’t bother me, at least I got on the plane. I love flying for free. I slept through the entire flight. I love having the window seat. I couldn’t pick out the lady who sat next to me if you paid me a million dollars. I was in my own little world. So far so good. I love floating through non revving.

When we landed, I patiently waited for all the other passengers to get off the plane. I didn’t stand and stare at the front of the line while huffing or puffing. I sat there with my seat beat buckled and stared out the window at the bundled up baggage handlers doing their thing in the freezing rain.

Once the coast was clear and all the other non-revs were helping the crew clean the cabin, I snuck out and headed down to collect the bag I checked. Again, I was a little Fonzie, even when the bratty little kids kept riding the baggage carousel and kicking me as they went by.

Things started to fall apart a little bit when I was walking to the Air Train. An Indian man was racing to get to that terminal’s station which was about 1000 meters away. On moving sidewalk 4 in a series of 6, he decided to look for his wife, who was somewhere behind him. When he turned and saw that I was right on his heels and his wife was nowhere to be found, that was somehow my fault. He glared and of course I took it personally and went into defensive mode.

I thought he was going to say something to me and I was ready to reply, “Who runs off and leaves their wife and doesn’t turn around to check on her every minute or so? Prick!”

He never said anything to me, but I had already played out the entire fight in my mind and lived through all the emotions.  It was exhausting. I wasn’t in a good place. It was just as detrimental as if I had actually had the fight with the man.

On the Air Train a young, dirty Spanish couple annoyed me because they got on the train, plopped down their massive backpacks, and blocked the entrance from anyone else to get on. I was on and had a seat already, so it shouldn’t have concerned me, but I felt the aggravation of everyone else trying to get on the train. I took their ire upon my own shoulders, even though they didn’t seem to be bothered that much at all. They simply stepped over the obstacle and kept on with their lives.

I was feeling myself getting into the red and I was only on that train for three minutes before I got off at my terminal. I didn’t like where this was going. All of that time in Texas decompressing and within an hour in New York and we’re back in the dark place.

It was unbelievable, but I made it through security with no fuss at all. If anything, I was the one who slowed the process down. I perfectly fine being the weakest link and I’m very quick to apologize to everyone waiting on my ass. Getting past that potentially hellish encounter got me feeling optimistic again.

The last test of the kinder/gentler Brian was going through the Flight Attendant Operations area. Once I get to Ops I’m officially back into the world of working flight attendants. I usually try to walk through there with my blinders on and ears off. I don’t want to hear any of the inane babble the flight attendants are usually engaged in or hear their fights about whose stuff is on “my chair.”

Shockingly, it went very well too. No one was fighting over what to watch on the television and the dinosaurs who just transferred into New York from other cities weren’t complaining about what they held and how they thought they’d be able to fly better trips. No, make that they weren’t complaining about how they have all “paid their dues” and DESERVE to be flying better schedules. I honestly want to kill those people.

I guess what I’m saying is that the jury is still out on whether or not I’m going to be nice to the passengers and my coworkers. I didn’t miss the job at all during the last three months, but as far as jobs go, I have a very good one. I still know that. At the same time though, on the way to the crash pad I stopped by the bodega to buy a lottery ticket. The Mega Millions is now over 100 million. Let’s make that happen.

July 19, 2011 Madrid, Spain

Just got back from the obligatory outing for food.  I was out of my hotel room for only half an hour, then right back in and I don’t feel bad about that.  I need to rest.  I need to recover.  I’m on Day 8 of 12 in a row of flying and I was very sick on Day 1.  I blame the Charlie Sheen/Amy Winehouse weekend we had on the Guadalupe as to why I was sick to begin with.  I’m not a teenager anymore and I really need days to recover from things like that, not working a stretch of 12 days starting the very next day.  It was the absolute worst time to be sick but there was nothing to do about it.  I need money.

I could’ve taken it easy on the layovers but I had plans for three of the four and they were set in stone.  This Madrid one is the only one I had free for R and R.  I have it highlighted on my calendar with a big smiley face and exclamation marks.

The first trip was to London the same night that I left Austin. That was when I was really hurting.  I ached all over with a fever and sore throat.  But I had a date to go to Ghost the Musical in the West End with two lovely co-workers followed by an after party with the cast and crew.  That day included way too much champagne before, during, and after the performance and not enough food, but it was fun talking with the actor that played Willy Lopez, the thug-life killer.

I don’t even remember what I did when I got back to New York but the night probably started and ended with NyQuil, again with no food. I can’t remember if I’m supposed to be starving or feeding this damn thing!

Next day was Paris and I was surprised to find that I was starting to feel a little better. I really thought the London layover would take its toll and send me back to Square One. We were a bit delayed getting to the hotel because of a flight attendant and an asshole passenger getting into a fight and having the police meet us at the gate, but I still got a decent nap in before meeting my Aussie friend and her mom at their hotel just off the Champs Elysees.

I blame the stew just as much as the passenger for that whole mess. The drunk girls in the row behind the PAX didn’t help matters at all.  Everyone even the least bit involved made it so much worse. I didn’t think it was worth it to get the police involved; nothing was going to happen to the guy. Sure enough, they scared him a bit and then let him go on his way like nothing ever happened.

I got to the Hotel Powers just after 2pm and at around 8pm we finally left the room, but only to go back to the liquor store because our three bottles of wine were gone. This time we got champagne and some random drink called Desperado that infused beer and tequila and red.  I think red may have been the healthiest thing in there. It’s the sort of purchase you make only after drinking three bottles of wine without any food.  We did think about food when we were getting reinforcements but it was all for show, God knew it didn’t matter at that point if I ate or not.  By the time I left the hotel after midnight I had only eaten 7 little pickles and about 30 crackers with hummus on it.

Again, I was hoping to finally get some rest but plans get in the way.  My Swedish friend is getting kicked out of our country in two weeks so I’m making sure I hang out with her and her boyfriend as much as possible when I’m in New York.  I got in from Paris, watched the World Cup final, and then headed straight out to the Brooklyn Bridge to meet my friends.  We walked across the bridge, took some pictures, stood in line at Grimaldi’s for an hour, ate a ton of pizza, and then called it a night. I resisted the urge to stay out and watch a movie.  I knew I needed the rest. I promised we could have a big night very soon, just not that night. I was proud of making the right decisions regarding my health.

So now I’m in Madrid and the weather is beautiful out there.  People are having amazing, memorable days in Spain and I could not care less.  I don’t feel bad at all about not doing anything.  I have a stack of Netflix I’ve been carrying around for three weeks and now more than ever I need to be good about getting those things watched and back to whence they came.  I think I’m going to cancel my membership.

An hour or so ago I washed the jeans I’ve been wearing everyday for the last week in the sink with shampoo. They needed it, though I’m not sure they’ll be dry by the time I need to leave in nine hours.  I didn’t think of that.

Tomorrow night in New York there are more plans to hang out with my soon to be Departed Friends and I’m hoping we can keep it substance free.  The big night out I promised will NOT be happening tomorrow night if I can help it.

My final trip of this ungodly stretch is back to London and there are more plans with my favorite people there. Even though I intend to sleep before going out, it doesn’t really happen there for some reason, too many distractions.  Then finally, FINALLY when I get back to New York from that London trip I can head over to Blue Jet and take the last flight out of New York back to Austin.  Just thinking about being in my own bed sounds heavenly.

The pillows here in Madrid are horrible, as they were in Paris.  I don’t get why they’d make pillows like that, all long and skinny and hard. In Paris they’re just way too fluffy.  When they sit on the bed they look so big and full but when you put your head on them they deflate so that your head is practically touching the mattress, no support at all. They look like tortillas when you microwave them.

I can sleep really well in the beds in London, when I’m given the time to sleep.

When I went out for food I forgot which city I was in until I saw a juggler in the middle of the intersection, working for tips from the people stopped at the red light.  I saw some very pretty girls with horrible bangs and ugly frames around their glasses, then it was obvious that I was in Spain. I think I’m going to see if the pant presser can do anything about drying these jeans.

Straight Guy Lesson #18- Plane Crash Dreams

When you think about how your life is going to change when you get a flight attendant job you think of the normal adjustments.  You know you’ll be more nomadic, always in transit, living out of a suitcase. You’ll travel more on your days off and develop friendships with people in many different cities/countries. You’ll learn a whole new vocabulary full of airline jargon. You’ll forget the days of the week and only know dates.  The term “weekend” will lose all meaning. You’ll be able to read military time as quickly as normal time and layovers will be in terms of hours, not days.  Even if your layover is exactly two days, you’ll say “forty-eight hours” and not “two days.”

I knew all of those things would happen.  I was ready for it. What I was not expecting or even warned about was all the plane crash dreams I’d have and they start almost immediately.  I think my first one came during the first week of flight attendant training.  When all you hear all day and all night for seven weeks is about mechanicals, crashes, evacuations, medical emergencies, emergency equipment locations, terrorists, hijackers, and general airplane safety, it really is no wonder your brain keeps it going even while you slumber.

I had several dreams a week during training and I prayed once I was on the line and had a life again, it’d calm down.  I thought getting out of the airline bubble and exposing myself to non-airline things would do me a world of good. The frequency of the dreams did calm down, but never went away.  For my first few years of flying I’d still have plane crash dreams once a week.  Then it slowed to once a month.  Thirteen years ago today I was in flight attendant training and I can say that now I still have these dreams once a month, at least once a month.  I have more dreams about planes crashing than about sex, which is a damn shame.  Can we at least mix the two?  Please?

It took me awhile to mention this to my other classmates during training but once the topic was on the table, we were all in agreement.  I wasn’t the only one suffering from this nocturnal hell. My classmates and I even noticed several prominent, repeating themes in these dreams.  One was this recurring thing where we’d be flying over water at a very low altitude, so low that the tops of waves would lick the bottom of the plane.  Eventually a big wave would come over and just drag the plane down into the murky depths.

Another universal theme was flying under things like power lines or bridges, sometimes through tunnels as well.  I’d say at least half of my plane crash dreams have to do with power lines or bridges.  We usually make it under but our wings clip something and we go down.

I wasn’t really that shocked when I learned that other flight attendants had plane crash dreams but I was fascinated by the fact that skimming the ocean and flying under things was something shared by most of my colleagues.  Even some flight attendants from airlines in other continents have said the same thing. I’d really like someone to explain that one to me!  Thoughts people?

I think the strangest part of these dreams is that I always survive. Sometimes we all do, but usually I’m the only one.  I think when it happens for real I won’t even panic.  I’ve seen it played out hundreds of times before and I know what to expect. I’ve kinda known from the day I started this job that I’m going to die in a plane crash. I’m not pessimistic or scared, it’s just a feeling I have.

On May 22, 2008 I had an interesting twist on the usual  ho-hum plane crash dream.   This is my journal entry from that day…

I had the most disturbing dream today.  It was a plane crash dream- which I’ve kinda gotten used to.  When I first wake up they disturb me just as much as ever but the staying power doesn’t last that long anymore, just a moment of terror then right back to sleep. 

Today though, for the very first time, I had one of these dreams while I was sleeping on the plane inflight. 

In my dream we had just taken off from LGA and after a couple of minutes the Captain made a frantic announcement as the plane started struggling and flying erratically.  Unfortunately the PA system was really bad and I couldn’t understand a word he said, it sounded like on the subway, or Charlie Brown’s teacher, or Kenny from South Park. 

I could tell we were going down but also turning around, trying to make it back to LGA.  I didn’t care.  I didn’t even look out the window to see what was going on; I just knew it wasn’t going to end well.  People were screaming and we kept going down and turning sharply.  I just stared forward and tried to go to sleep. 

Eventually I looked out the window right when we were about ten feet from the water, though we were also right by land.  You could tell the pilot was trying to go down in the water but close enough where you wouldn’t have to swim very far to get to shore.  That made a lot of sense to me.  He did a great job with the dying aircraft and splashed it down with minimal damage on the edge of the bay.  The top of the aircraft was blown off but that only made it easier to get out. 

When the plane settled, no one moved.  I didn’t understand why so I jumped up from my seat, climbed out the gaping hole, ran down the wing toward the shore, and jumped out into the shallow water.  I knew we weren’t supposed to bring anything with us but I also knew no one was going to run me down and stop me so I grabbed all my stuff. 

When I finally got off the plane and to safety, I looked back and saw that the wreck was actually worse than I thought.  There was a very good chance the people in the front may have been badly hurt or killed.  My photojournalism training kicked in and I started taking pictures of this “spot news.”  Funny how my need to help the other people didn’t really enter into it.

I woke up right about then, right when our plane started it’s descent for landing at LGA.  I woke up in a fright, I mean it really fucked with me.  Was it just one of those things or was this some kind of premonition?  I can’t explain how different it was having a plane crash dream while flying, but it definitely added an extra layer of terror.  I guess because the best part of a nightmare is that you wake up and realize you’re safe at home and so far removed from whatever you were experiencing, but this time I woke up and I was in the exact situation as in my nightmare.

Straight Guy Lesson #17- Worldwide Good Times

If you’re a new hire flight attendant you’re going to have to work all major holidays.  Even if you’ve been flying for several years, you’re going to have to work on them. Just get used to that fact right now. Tell your family to schedule Christmas a few days before or after.

Sometimes it’s not that bad though.  Some hotels really go all out to give crew members a good time on important days.  The New Year’s Eve party at our layover hotel in London has become legendary.  July 4th is a pretty big deal there as well and they don’t even celebrate the damn holiday.  In fact they’re helping us celebrate the fact that we don’t belong to them anymore.  Hmmm, maybe they’re happy about that?

I don’t mind working some holidays because I know I’m going to have a good time.  That got me thinking about certain dates I like to be in other foreign cities throughout the year.  Here is a list of events and festivals to shoot for in all twelve months.  I threw a few American ones in there too for good measure.

January

  1. Chinese New Year in any city in China though a watered down version can be experienced in many large cities world-wide.
  2. Australia Day in any major city in Australia.  As if the Aussies needed an excuse to go crazy and drink a lot of beer. Lots of great beach parties.
  3. Republic Day in India.  Why not?
  4. Big Day Out music festivals in Adelaide, Sydney, Perth, Gold Coast, and Melbourne
  5. The featured weekend of Camel Wrestling in Selcuk, Turkey.  Haven’t done it/seen it, but apparently the best matches are in January.

February

  1. Mardi Gras or Carnival parties in New Orleans, Trinidad, Rio, or Venice.  Try them all!
  2. The Naked Festival in Saidai-Ji, Japan though it’s more loin clothes than naked people
  3. Tango Festival in Buenos Aires.  Nearly 100 free shows and concerts and the perfect place to be in late February/early March
  4. Late February- early March is the ten-day Rondy celebration of Alaskan life in Anchorage.  Dog-sled races, human-sled races, elk hot dogs, frost bite foot races, snow ball fights, mobile outhouse races, and more fur than you can possibly imagine.  PETA hasn’t heard about this one yet I guess.  Just check out the website athttp://www.furrondy.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=207:lets-rondy1&catid=80:rondy-rokfeature

March

  1. St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin.  do it.  DO IT!!!
  2. SXSW Music or Film Festivals in Austin, Texas.  Lots of free events and the atmosphere spreads over the entire city.
  3. March Madness in Las Vegas.  Gambling at its finest and most tragic.
  4. Holi or Doul Jatra Hindu celebrations of color in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. You get bonfires as well adults throwing colored powder and water all over each other.

April

  1. Queens Day in Amsterdam.  must see.  Must See.  MUST SEE!  Come early, be loud, stay late, wear orange.
  2. Hana Matsuri (flower festival) in Toei, Japan .  The highlight is the Dance of the Demon
  3. Cherry Blossoms in Japan.  If you can’t go to Japan, check out the Brooklyn Botanical gardens.
  4. Coachella Music Festival in southern California, still obscure enough to be respected, but go soon.

May

  1. Indianapolis 500 weekend in Indy.  Very underrated place to spend Memorial Day.
  2. Life Fest in Dublin.  Techno heaven and rated one of the Top Ten festivals in all of Europe.
  3. Cinco de Mayo in Mexico or anywhere with Mexicans.
  4. The International Clown Festival. Every year clowns from throughout the world congregate in Denmark for Svendborg’s International Clown Festival. I’ve got to see this before I die!
  5. Kentucky Derby.  Go all out, get yourself an outrageous hat and enjoy those mint juleps.

June

  1. Gotta see Wimbledon in London.  For cheap tickets wait in the long queue and get the afternoon pass.  Have some strawberries and cream.
  2. Portugal Day celebrations all over the country.  Off the hizzy.
  3. Bonaroo music festival in Tennessee.  There’s something there for everyone.
  4. Cheese rolling in Gloucestershire, England.  Again, why not?

July

  1. Get in Paris for the last leg of the Tour de France. I’ve never done it but I’ve been trying for years.
  2. Bastille Day- anywhere in France.  Especially fun right after the French win the World Cup but that probably won’t happen again in our lifetime.
  3. Roskilde Music Festival in Denmark.  there aren’t many times when it’s pleasant to be outside in Denmark, but this is surely one of them.
  4. Running of the Bulls AND Running of the Nudes in Pamplona, Spain.  Yeah, PETA has a protest that involves naked Spaniards.
  5. And of course any layover in the USA will be fun for July 4th

August

  1. Reading or Leeds music festival in England, though it’ll make you feel old
  2. Pukkelpop music festival in Belgium.  see note above about Reading/Leeds
  3. Fringe Arts Festival in Edinburgh.  Often duplicated, never replicated
  4. La Tomatina tomato festival in Bunol, Spain.  You’ve seen videos from this I promise. It’s kinda like a wet t-shirt contest but with tomatoes instead of buckets of water, and it’s co-ed.
  5. The Highland Games in Argyle, Scotland.  Where men are men.

September

  1. Burning Man in northern Nevada.  It now costs you over $200 to get in, but worth every penny.
  2. Oktoberfest in Bavaria, Germany.  The grandaddy of them all. Try to squeeze in the festival celebrating the onion in Griesheim as well.

October

  1. Anniversary of the “No!”  Greeks commemorate Prime Minister Metaxas’ rejection of the ultimatum made by Italian dictator Mussolini.  Celebrations all over Greece.
  2. Though not solely an American holiday, it may as well be.  Halloween in any city, town, village in the United States is a great night out.  The warmer the weather, the skimpier the costumes!

November

  1. El Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead in Mexico.  Grab your sugar skulls and Catrina dolls and suddenly realize Tim Burton isn’t as creative as you once thought.
  2. Monkey Worshipping Festival in Thailand.  I tried to have an NYC event in the Bronx Zoo for those who couldn’t make it all the way to Thailand but it wasn’t the same.

December

  1. Dickensian Christmas in Rochester, England.  Get your Oliver Twist on.
  2. These aren’t just in December but my list for this month was short so I’ll mention the Full Moon Parties in Thailand here.

Being able to work trips to different parts of the world and experience events like these and get paid at the same time is what it’s all about.  Seeing Japanese men in diapers might not be the best way to spend your day but it’s a pretty fun thing to do on the clock.  Think of what you’re usually doing during the work day, isn’t watching men roll wheels of cheese down a hill sound like more fun?

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.