New York, New York

Foreword: Nick, Brian, Craig, and I took a trip to New York City on August 1-3. The reason why I have not written about the trip is because there was an incident I am quite embarrassed to share, but I think I have gotten over it enough to the point where I am comfortable sharing it, and it may not be what you think it is.

While planning a trip to New York City, I felt intimidated. I enjoy planning trips and am an experienced planner, but I knew that New York City is a different animal. I have been to most of the major cities in the United States, including an extremely brief trip to Queens on the way back from Cape Cod years ago, and the stop turned out very bad as the driver could not navigate and we ended up going over the same bridge several times, surrendering many dollars in tolls and eventually giving up on seeing much of anything other than a neighborhood in Queens. The only thing about New York City that I remembered about that trip were tolls and the fact that New Yorkers ignored red lights if no other cars were coming, essentially treating the lights as a two-way stop. I thought that was awesome.

On Friday, August 1, 2008 we met in Walton Hills at my father’s house to go on our trip. We were deciding which car to take, knowing that there were problems with many of the options. I decided to give my newly acquired Infiniti G20 the drive to New York, despite knowing that a needing a new clutch was imminent.

We went on our drive. We did make one big planned stop along the way to Centralia, Pennsylvania. In case you do not know, Centralia has been on fire since 1962. It was a coal mining town in the eastern central part of the state. The coal industry began to die, and residents began incinerating garbage in the old coal mines. The coal caught on fire, and in a nutshell, despite millions of dollars spent by the EPA and other
government organizations in an attempt to stop the fire that has ensued of burning coal in the mines, it’s still doing strong since ’62. In fact, it is getting worse.

Centralia is almost completely abandoned know, the government paid most of the residents to relocate, but a few opted to stick around.

BELOW: Some of the steaming holes and a pipe system
installed by the EPA to help put out the fire (this did not work)

Centralia is a ghost town with streets filled with empty plots of land. A walk on a trail through the forest revealed a lot of trash, presumably from parties. Perhaps people from adjacent areas use Centralia as a party stomping ground where anything goes, because I do not think anyone cares. We arrived, searching for steam rising out of the ground and roads buckled from the heat. We searched around and arrived at an area where we saw a few cars parked. We talked to a man who did not divulge much information but he seemed to be a Centralia native who relocated, and he was returning to survey the damage. He said to be careful as we explored and directed us to the holes in the ground with hot steam bellowing. The government does not exactly want you to visit Centralia. It’s dangerous. The ground could fall out. We looked at the holes and felt the heat. Our feet were hot from the ground as well. It was not quite the vista I had hoped for, but the place was still intriguing, and I wish we would have had more time to explore. We hiked some trails, and brought some coal as souvenirs. Since we were pressed for time because we were on our way to New York, we were not able to find the buckled roads that I have seen pictures of on the internet. We all seemed to find the place intriguing and would have definitely liked to spend more time exploring.  Some of the surrounding areas were also boasted some beautiful, quaint mountain towns.

BELOW: Ashland, Pennsylvania

We traveled along nearby I-78 to avoid the turnpike tolls while compromising only a few minutes of time. We entered New Jersey and finally New York, spending hours waiting for traffic in the Holland Tunnel. Maybe we should have listened to Craig’s GPS that offered a route into the city with less traffic, but we let Brian Tomko decide against it. The Holland Tunnel was neat though, and seemed to be part of the experience. I do not always mind traffic jams too much, as sometimes it makes you feel like a
part of something big.

As we entered the city, we were in Chinatown. This was probably the filthiest place I have ever seen. The streets were lined with trash. There were quite a few people walking around, however. We eventually made it to our hotel near LaGuardia Airport in northern Queens. We deciding to find a restaurant I wanted to go to on Park Ave. in Manhattan. We had a few drinks at the hotel and tried to figure out the public transportation system, mainly the extensive
subway system. We ventured out and learned about the subway system the hard way: experiencing failure. We never ended up finding the restaurant, and by the time we did figure out its location, it was too late to go because it was closed. We ended up getting to Times Square around midnight. Even at that hour,
the place was packed with people. We got some New York City pizza, which wasn’t that good. Chicago pizza is much better, but Cleveland has the most pizza places per capita in the world.

BELOW: Chinatown and the Times Square NYPD, Craig on the
subway, and a Jewish law firm advertising marketing to Mexicans with phone
number 1-800-MARGARITA

We did not get much sleep after returning to the hotel.  We rose early to get in line for the ferry ride to Liberty Island and Ellis Island, but we still had to wait an hour to get on a boat.  Seeing the Statue of Liberty close and in person was much more amazing than I expected. It really is a majestic icon of America.  Ironically, it was a gift from the only first-world country we have never gone to war with, so maybe it does represent something.  It was neat to be on Ellis Island, but despite being a lover of history, a lot of museums bore me.  Some of the artifacts were interesting to see, especially the documents listing the origins and occupations of immigrants, as well as many advertisements they had on display.  Maybe if the museum was in small town I would want to spend more time there, but when I’m in the city that never sleeps, I wanted to get out and see more.

We ate lunch at Brasserie Les Halles, a French restaurant owned by Anthony Bourdain, who has a good show on the Travel Channel called No Reservations.  We tried some French foods like the esgargot which everyone loved, and we convinced Nick to order steak tartare (see the photo above), which is raw ground beef mixed with onions, various sauces and spices, and raw egg. The dish tasted good and actually had a refreshing taste, although I don’t think I would order it.  The place is also known for having amazing french fries, and they were good.

The restaurant was pretty close to the New York Stock Exchange, where we shot the photograph below in my “Andy for president” series.  We walked Wall Street and also saw where George Washington was inaugurated as President of the United States of America.

We continued our journey and visited Ground Zero and witnessed the new World Trade Center being built.  We then continued to Central Park.  We only made it through a small part of the park, but what we saw was great.  There were many activities inside of the park like paddle boating and watching plays in a theater.  We also saw Strawberry Fields, with a man playing “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” on guitar.  I imagine there is someone there with a guitar at all times with Beatles and Lennon tunes perpetually being sung.  The park makes up a very large portion of Manhattan.  We then made it over to Tom’s Restaurant, which you should recognize from Seinfeld.  That’s the thing about visiting New York, you understand the world a little better after going.  For example, we took subway ride to Coney Island and thought it was taking quite a long time to get there.  We later were reminded that there is a Seinfeld episode about the time it takes to get to Coney Island via subway.  We eventually made it to the Land of Kobayashi and the first thing I saw was several people getting arrested by the NYPD.  I don’t think Coney Island has maintained its glory of yesteryear.  The famous Cyclone roller coaster was an astounding $8 for one ride, and the place looked run down.  Nick did eat a Chili Cheese Dog to honor the Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest and pay tribute to Kobayashi for changing the game of competitive eating.  They actually do not call the Chili Cheese Dog a “coney” on Coney Island; maybe that is implied.

BELOW: Nathan’s Famous, the countdown to the Hot Dog
contest with Kobayashi center right, Tom’s Restaurant, a man playing classical
music with a wife beater on, Central Park, Strawberry Fields

We ate our dinner a little earlier at a stop in Little Italy, which was a bustling town that was spotless right next to filthy Chinatown.  I think the Italians just know how to keep things under control using the mob.  That is why Little Italy is currently one of the nicest
areas in the city of Cleveland.  We enjoyed some pizza at an Italian restaurant.  One thing about New York that is amazing is that there are just tons of people everywhere at one time.  Little Italy is extremely packed with Chinatown and Greenwich Village filled with people at the same time.

We finally made it to the hotel after a crash course of New York City.  The next day was our planned trip to Yankee Stadium, which really sparked the trip as it was the last year of the stadium.  The only problem was that we did not have tickets yet.  We made it over to The Bronx and saw the stadium.  We searched for tickets, and the going rate seemed to
be $150 per ticket. This is when we were embarrassed.  This is when I was scammed for the first time in my life, despite many warning signs, and despite my reputation as an expert scammer.  This is when I became what I always try to avoid being: a typical, vulnerable tourist.  If there’s any place that can happen, it is New York City.  We walked to a Burger King near the stadium for lunch and a man realized we needed tickets and looked like we were from out of town.  He asked how much we were willing to spend for tickets, and offered us four tickets at $90 each.  We made the transaction inside of Burger King, and he kept warning to keep away from any authorities because they would take the tickets.  Well, your damn right they would take them, because they were counterfeit!  The print job looked bad, but we had
never seen Yankees tickets before.  The bar codes were the same.  We observed that but still bought the tickets.  I don’t even wish to divulge that much detail.  The bottom line is that we were out $360 as a group.  If you buy scalper tickets in New York, look at a real ticket first to make sure you know what they look like.  I’m sure you can get some legitimate tickets.  We were just the perfect victim.  I consoled myself and said, if I had really went to the game, I would have been out that money anyway, so it wasn’t really a loss of money.  We just didn’t see theinside of the Stadium.

We went home shortly after this, and rode the subway with a somber attitude as a result of the humbling experience.  We decided to take another side trip on the way back.  We went to Philadelphia, mainly to try some legitimate cheesesteaks.  We went to two of the most respected cheesesteak restaurants in Philadelphia, Geno’s and Pat’s.  Geno’s had hot sauce that was so hot it was stupid.  I do not recommend that.  I found the sandwiches fairly underwhelming.  I expected a greasy sandwich.  We got dry sandwiches that did not have a whole lot of flavor.  They were good, and I like cheesesteaks, but they were not amazing.  We also looked at some of historic Philadelphia and visited the Liberty Bell, and took another photo in the “Andy for President” series.

At this point, you might think the story is winding down.  But this is where another story begins.  We went home on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  This is when the clutch on the car completely gave out.  I smelled it burning in Centralia, and I smelled it at other points on the trips.  The hills of Pennsylvania were just too much.  I could not drive my car anymore.  I had to pull over and stop.  My stomach turned thinking about what kind of financial hit this would be.  We also needed to be home on Monday.  My roommates consoled me and we started brainstorming.  We came up with a plan that seemed plausible, but if it all actually worked, would be amazing.  We were about 240 miles from home.  We decided we would enlist our friends that were AAA Gold Members.  I would like to issue a special thanks to Mitch Laing and Dan Haney for their role in saving us.  With AAA Gold, you got 100 free miles of towing from roadside assistance.  We called AAA, and they said they could not help us because we were on the turnpike.  We were very discouraged after that, but thought it seemed fishy and called again.  We had a tow truck come out.  The plan was this: get dropped off at a repair shop about 100 miles away near Pittsburgh.  We would then call again and get towed the rest of the way home. After the first driver dropped us off, we tried to call AAA again several times and could not get through. Eventually we did, and there were complications because we had 4 people, and some tow trucks would not be able to hold all of us.  We eventually got a truck to come after waiting what was probably about 2-3 hours, but we had a blast while waiting! We listened to tunes, had good conversations, and had a few drinks together (well, at least Craig and I, anyway). We patiently waited and finally our truck came. He towed us all the way from a town east of Pittsburgh to Walton Hills. We finally made it. I think it was around 6am Monday morning, with everyone having to report to work that day. I think we slept for about an hour. It was pretty amazing that everything worked out!

So, is New York City a different animal? Yes. My worst fears were realized. Does it take special planning? Yes. But is is worth it, and I want to go back to see more. I think I could handle it better with some experience under my belt.

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