The Rookie At Bat

LIFE, MISCELLANEOUS

I remember first hearing the term “rookie” when I was five years old at a Yankees game with my dad.

Derek Jeter was at bat and the late Bob Sheppard’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker. For the most part I didn’t pay much attention to what Sheppard was saying, but when I heard him say “rookie” I perked up.

“Dad, what does ‘rookie’ mean?”

“It means it’s his first year playing baseball here. He’s the new guy on the team.”

A future Hall of Famer with just days left in his career, the Yankees captain is a long way from being the new guy on the team. But to this day whenever I hear the word “rookie” I think of the 21-year-old Derek Jeter. Even though 19 years and five World Series championships later, he’s become a legend. Even though Jeter’s entire career passed during the time I grew up, went to college and got my first job, he’s still immortalized as that guy at bat the summer of ’95.

It’s a good reminder that even the best of the best were rookies, once.

Watch Jeter’s touching tribute to fans in this Gatorade ad.

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Little Girl, Big City

LIFE, PHOTOGRAPHY, QUOTES

Sweet moment overheard on 5th Avenue last week.

A little girl holds her mother’s hand, jogging every few steps to keep up. She looks up at the tall buildings and says, “Mom, how long does it take to make a city?”

little girl/ big city by jessicalsmyers

An Unlikely Moment At Trader Joe’s

FOOD & DRINK, LIFE, NYC

Anyone who’s shopped at a New York City Trader Joe’s knows the checkout line can be a nightmare.

Such was the case last Sunday around 2 p.m. I had gathered up my usual TJ items and took my place among the long line of groaning New Yorkers waiting to get on with their days.

A cheery sign assured us: “Thinking twice about waiting in this line? Well with 29 registers…You’ll be in front of them in no time!” But “no time” seems like hours when a sunny Sunday waits just beyond the doors.

Then I saw a little old lady move up through the line. She was led by a Trader Joe’s associate who looked like a college student—there had to be 70 years between them but they talked like good friends.

“April 21st, 1922 I was born,” the lady said proudly as she walked past me, her voice much stronger than her body.

This statement caught the attention of some other people on the line. What’s happening? Where is she going? Curiosity got the better of us and we craned our heads to see what was going on. We watched as the associate led the lady around the snaking line and brought her right up to the first open cash register.

Then something happened that I rarely see on checkout lines: people smiled. Not just to their friends and spouses but to strangers, too. We admired the good deed and the lady’s vitality, sharing a moment before returning to the pressing needs of our iPhones.

I wondered why the old lady shops here as opposed to the less crowded stores of the Upper West Side. She appeared to only be buying for one, after all. But then I imagined her, in her younger days, rushing around a market or going from butcher shop to dairy shop in a crowded neighborhood of Brooklyn. I could see her haggling, yelling her order, pushing through crowds.

Maybe, to her, the chaos is home.

Ninety-two and still kickin’. I wanted to know this woman’s story, to find out her name, but alas she was on her way up the escalators with a bag in each hand as I stood there surrounded by produce, stuck in time.

Waldorf A-story-a?

LIFE, NYC

That’s right, the place where “stories begin” is apparently The Waldorf.

The phrase I mentioned in my previous post is the tagline of the hotel’s current global advertising campaign, “The Stories Begin Here.” The campaign involves a creative collaboration between British author Simon Van Booy, fashion photographer Bruno Dayanand, and actress Olga Kyrlyenko.

The Waldorf commissioned Van Booy to compose a short story that would inspire a photo shoot. In the story Krylyenko plays a character named Alexandra, a well-traveled couturier who experiences the various amenities Waldorf hotels have to offer (while engaging with attractive and distinguished men along the way, of course). The tale is told through photography, written vignettes, videos and soundbites.

H. Stuart Foster, vice president of marketing at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, said the multimedia campaign “brings to life” the unforgettable experiences” guests can have at any of the 24 worldwide locations.

“We have brought together a writer, an actor and a photographer – three creative minds – to develop an integrated multi-platform campaign that embodies the Waldorf Astoria guest experience,” he said when the campaign launched in November.

When I initially saw the phrase “The Stories Begin Here” on a building in Midtown East, I thought I was looking at a nice bookshop, the side of a museum cafe or possibly the lobby of a publishing company. But The Waldorf?

Doesn’t quite fit.

I love photography and fiction, but this marketing campaign seems stretched. Yes, many stories happen within the rooms and restaurants of a high-end hotel. But stories happen wherever there are people. And are Waldorf guests really looking to create stories, necessarily, or just looking for the luxurious experience that a five-star hotel offers?

Writer Larry Post details his issues with the campaign in a MediaPost column:

I suspect that few luxe-hotel regulars, excepting the ones who turn over their imaginations to the more extreme options on the hotel pay-per-view menu, have daydreamed about an experience of this sort, and that such experiences don’t rank especially high on their hospitality bucket lists. As a result, “The Stories Begin Here” plays out as self-idealizing farce, an attempt to sell a fantasy so magnificently specific as to verge on the ludicrous.

Post is right; they are most definitely selling a fantasy. A link on the website even prompts guests to “BOOK A STORY” instead of “BOOK A ROOM.”

Seems to me a little pretentious. But then again, I’m not booking rooms at The Waldorf.

–Read all the stories here.

stories

Say Yes To Pizza

LIFE, NYC
SOURCE: nevinmartell.com

SOURCE: nevinmartell.com

What does it take to have a good conversation with strangers in New York?

Apparently it’s not necessarily going to bars but getting the late-night pizza afterward.

After spending last Saturday night at a bar in Union Square, I sauntered outside with a couple of friends, John and Katherine. It was that critical point in the night when a decision must be made–get food or go home? As we walked down 14th Street we each silently weighed our options: Is there anything at all in the fridge? What about that gyro place next to my apartment…does it close at 3 or 4? Am I really that hungry or can I wait till tomorrow’s bacon egg and cheese?

We were all heading in our separate directions–me to Hell’s Kitchen, Katherine to the Upper East Side and John back to Hoboken, so a decision needed to be made soon.

John was the first to speak. “OK, it’s late, I’m going home.” Before I knew it he’d disappeared into the subway station.

Taking his cue, I said a quick good-bye to Katherine and continued west. But then my stomach starting growling, and the thought of actually having to prepare food when I got home settled in.

“WAIT!” I said to Katherine. “I’ll get pizza with you.”

She smiled, as if she’d known I would change my mind. “OK let’s do this,” she said.

And so we walked back the way we had come, returning to the only crowded pizza place on the block.

SOURCE: thedailymeal.com

SOURCE: thedailymeal.com

We each ordered a slice–Katherine basic pepperoni and me this onion/mushroom/garlic/pepperoni concoction that looked incredibly appetizing at that late hour (and really was delicious).

We dumped some parmesan and oregano on our slices, grabbed two seats at table, and began eating our pizza in total silence, the way two hungry and tired friends can do without feeling awkward.

But we weren’t silent for long, because two guys asked if they could grab the empty seats across the table.

“Sure!” we said. One of them in particular was pretty attractive.

After introducing themselves, they started asking us some questions that seemed a little too formulated for random conversation.

“So,” one asked. “Do you guys use apps to determine what bar you go to on the weekends?”

“Um, I use Yelp to find restaurants and sometimes bars,” I said.

“I use Yelp and Foursquare,” Katherine said.

“What if you could find out LIVE information about a place, before you even get there,” the guy said. “What if you could know how many people are in a bar, what the atmosphere is like, what the ratio of male to female is, before you even walk in the door.”

“Ummm…” We looked at each other. We both work in the media world and could sense what he was on to.

“Are you creating an app?” Katherine asked. ” I work in consumer insights, this is what I do for my job.”

“You caught us,” he responded.

They weren’t just two guys asking to sit down and chat with two girls. They were two guys pitching their product to girls in their target demographic, and getting to know us at the same time–which made the experience even cooler.

And so we discussed the merits of knowing too much versus too little information about a place. We talked about the limitations of such an app–if it didn’t immediately have hundreds or thousands of users, like Yelp and Foursquare do, how could we trust the opinions of a user base that may not be like us?

Katherine and I agreed that the only real way to determine atmosphere is to be there in person. Or maybe we’re just old.

I don’t know what time it was when I called quits on the conversation. Maybe 3:20, maybe 3:30, maybe 3:45. But it was late, and I had the sense these guys could go on for hours, or as long as we let them. (They were sober, and possibly caffeinated.)

I’m not an app creator and I need my sleep, but it was an awesome, intelligent conversation and an interesting experience. The kind of thing that I wanted, and expected, to happen when I moved to New York.

Lesson learned: ALWAYS say yes to pizza.

A Weekend in West Virginia

LIFE, TRAVEL
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Me in downtown Morgantown

When I told friends and coworkers in New York I was spending Memorial Day weekend in West Virginia, the response was invariably, “WHY?”

Most city folk spend their long weekends in the Hamptons, or the Jersey Shore, or various other locales about an hour or two outside of Midtown, so West Virginia is certainly out of the ordinary. But I had good reason to head out to the Mountain State. One of my best friends, Jolene, lives there and I wanted to see her and get a sense of her new life.

I also wanted to go far, far from the city, somewhere totally new.

It wouldn’t be my first time to West Virginia. Sophomore year of college I spent a week in the southern part of the state, picking up litter in the Appalachian Mountains as part of a university service trip. Then, my senior year, a few friends and I drove through on our way to Hilton Head Island for spring break (yes, we blasted “Country Roads”).

From my 2009 trip to Appalachia

Taken on my 2009 trip to Appalachia

But I’d never been up north to Morgantown.

My other good friend, Laura, and I left from New Jersey early Friday morning, grabbing Dunkin’ Donuts coffees on our way. I was nervous about the drive, since I rarely get behind the wheel any more now that I live in the city. But my nerves calmed pretty quickly–I forgot how exhilarating highway driving can be.

The land rose and fell beneath us we moved into Pennsylvania and then West Virginia. We passed cows, horses and farmland. Over and over we marveled at how expansive and breathtakingly beautiful our country is, things one easily forgets when living in such a densely populated area.

The ride was pretty smooth, and aside from two Jersey girls trying to pump gas at a small country store (Billie’s was the name) with a single pump (what do you mean you don’t take credit cards?!) we made good time and arrived in Morgantown at around 3 p.m.

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After hanging out with Jolene’s boyfriend Will and cat Gilligan, the three girls went to a concert in downtown Morgantown. Saturday morning we checked out the shops and had a leisurely breakfast at an eclectic coffee shop called Blue Moose Cafe. It was a perfect setting for girl talk and catching up. We missed Jolene!  Growing up, you don’t think about your good friends moving far away. Even when you’re separated for college, you assume you’ll all be back together again eventually. But that’s not how real life works.

The sign of true friends, though, is when after months and months of being physically separated, things are exactly the same when you’re all together again.

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Laura’s breakfast at Blue Moose Cafe

Will’s parents own a lake house in Maryland, so we finished off the weekend in the idyllic setting of Deep Creek Lake. We arrived early in the evening on Saturday, ate sandwiches, and then sipped beers on the dock as we waited for the sun to set. It was incredibly relaxing–I’d forgotten what that kind of relaxation feels like. Since cell phone reception was spotty, I didn’t even feel compelled to check my phone, instead just enjoying a good book and good conversation.

The three of us out on the dock at Deep Creek Lake

The three of us out on the dock at Deep Creek Lake (Laura, me, Jolene)

Sunday morning we brewed coffee and espresso and walked down to the lake, watching the picturesque sailboats go by. Later, we sat around on their porch and drank white wine. Will’s parents were incredibly generous throughout the trip, putting together gourmet meals and making sure we all felt at home.

It was a wonderful trip–so great to see Jolene and experience her life in West Virginia. And as Laura said on the way back, we “broke the ice” with this one. More road trips are definitely  in store for us!

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Farmland in Maryland

As sweet as vacations are, it’s always a great feeling to be home. Coming back to Hell’s Kitchen Monday night, I was happy to smell the $1 pizza, feel the pounding music from nearby bars, and hear the sound of hundreds of rolling suitcases hitting the streets.

My own suitcase slung over my shoulder, I walked the flight of stairs up to my apartment, the sunset over Deep Creek Lake  still tangible but fading rapidly into my imagination.

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Scenes from the weekend

EXPLORING, LIFE, NYC, PHOTOGRAPHY

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Saturday morning run through Central Park. It was my first time visiting as a resident, not just a tourist, and jogging up the path to 81st Street without any agenda was glorious.

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Sunday afternoon I wandered around the West Village, checking out the cafés (I have yet to find my go-to place.) It was cold, but I managed to take off my gloves to capture a few shots.

The Village is full of rich reds, browns and greens, and noticed how yellow taxis stick out here more than other places in the city.

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This West Village fountain is a refuge for the city’s weary pigeons.

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Our Lady of Pompeii Church on Carmine Street, framed by trees still looking bare and wintery. Hopefully spring is coming soon!
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City girl

LIFE, NYC
Source: michaelminn.net

Ninth Avenue. Source: michaelminn.net

I signed my first New York City lease about three weeks ago.

I was walking up Ninth Avenue before work, around 8:45 a.m. It was a slight detour from my usual walk east from Port Authority towards Sixth Avenue, and I loved the change of pace. Instead of passing flashing screens and packs of tourists like most mornings, I passed cafés, bars and bakeries with unique storefronts. Restaurant staff carefully etched the day’s specials into street-side chalkboards. People walked out of nearby apartment buildings, coffee in hand, keys jangling.

Clearly I wasn’t a New Yorker yet, because I broke out smiling.

I probably looked like an idiot, but I couldn’t help it. I was happy, exhilarated. I’ve been coming into the city every day for over a year and a half, and on occasion for my whole life, but today was different. Signing this lease would mean formally crossing over into a new phase.

University of Pennsylvania's Locust Walk. Source: Alan Turkus.

University of Pennsylvania’s Locust Walk. Source: Alan Turkus.

The moment reminded me of another time in my life, about eight years ago, when I took a tour at the University of Pennsylvania with my parents. It was the very first college visit I made, the very first time I crossed a campus and thought in a few years I could be part of this. I remember loving the fast-paced campus where professors and students filed in and out of buildings, talking. I loved the intellectualism and sense of opportunity. The university had an energy I’d never experienced before, one that I’d go on to find at a number of other campuses.

After we finished the tour I said to my parents, “Let me go ahead for a minute. I want to feel like I’m in college.”

So I walked briskly and blissfully down Locust Walk, the main campus pathway, acting like I was a student. (I’m sure my wide grin and calculated stride gave my age away.) After a few seconds I turned and looked back at my parents, who were also smiling.

“You look like a real college student,” they said.

“Thanks,” I said, wanting to believe it but knowing I had a few years to go.

I felt the same excitement walking down Ninth Avenue a few weeks ago. But while Locust Walk spans a few hundred yards, New York City avenues go for miles. And this time, there were no parents to look back on. I was totally and completely on my own.

I smiled because I’d soon be part of this city full of lights and people and endless stories. I’d soon be part of this city I’ve loved since I was a kid, finally opening up to me, no longer just out of reach.

A Sign or a Sign?

LIFE, NYC

I was walking down Ninth Avenue, somewhere between 45th and 50th Street, when pain overtook my left foot. Within seconds my quick stride halted, the couple I’d just breezed past gained 20 yards on me, and I was in danger of missing my bus from Port Authority back to New Jersey.

My toes curled and twisted, every muscle in my left foot erupting in mutiny of the heels I’d been wearing all day.

I didn’t stop. For a block and a half I walked, dragging my left foot behind me, careful not to catalyze any further spasms. I expected confused looks (or sympathy, maybe) but no one seemed to notice. After all, a limp is hardly the strangest of sights in New York.

Too far from the A-C-E lines to take the subway, I finally just stopped to wait for the pain to subside. Leaning against a storefront in the eight-degree cold, I watched couples holding hands, friends leaving dinner and suits stumbling out of happy hours. I felt awkward standing by myself while watching all these people pass, and realized my fingers were too cold to even distract myself with my phone.

After a few minutes I turned around to look inside the closed store. A glowing neon sign faced me, reading: “BACK AND FOOT RUB.” I laughed out loud.

Some would say it was coincidence, but I believe the city has a way transforming into exactly what you need it to be, at any given moment. By the time my smile faded, so had the pain, and I continued on.

I knew this was the New York’s way of telling me, “I got you.”

Mother’s Day and Last-Minute Gifting

LIFE, NYC, OPINION

It’s Mother’s Day morning and young men and women emerge from apartments all over the city, dreary-eyed and caffeine-deprived, on the quest for that perfect last-minute gift.

Many of us were excused from present-buying duties during our college years. In those days, a simple phone call and card sufficed.

But ever since we’ve become “real people,” our mothers have begun expecting “real presents.” And rightly so.

The hard thing about Mother’s Day, though, is that it’s on a Sunday. Sundays are right before Saturdays, which are right before long workweeks. Long workweeks come before other long workweeks, when Mother’s Day is still just an embryo of a reminder on our iPhones.

But then—suddenly—the day arrives. The iPhone alarm rings and rings. Early risers post Instagram collages and poetic Facebook statuses in their mothers’ honor, while the rest of us still lie in bed, fighting off Saturday night.

My mom and I in Stone Harbor celebrating her 50th birthday.

My mom and I in Stone Harbor celebrating her 50th birthday.

When the clock strikes 12 noon, the pressure’s on.

Now, the amount of love we have for our mothers and the amount of time left till Mother’s Day dinner do not correlate.  In fact, some of the latest gift-buyers are the most dedicated, roaming the streets of New York during the wee hours of brunch.

They are driven by love, and they are driven by guilt. They are driven by an extra-large coffee from the local bagel shop.

And they won’t show up empty-handed.

Having stayed with some college friends in the city that Saturday night, I joined the pack of last-minute gift-buyers Sunday morning.

Luckily, New York City came through for me no fewer than five minutes after emerging from my friends’ apartment. As I crossed 71st street, I saw a table overflowing with flowers ranging from lilies to orchids to roses.

Tucked among the array of colors, I spotted the perfect bouquet of 12 roses—six red and six white. They were classic, beautiful and exactly what my mother would like. I fished a crumpled 20 out of my purse and handed it to the man behind the table.

I turned and made my way toward the 72nd street subway, pushed through the turnstile and hopped on the 1 train to 42nd Street.

As I left the subway and walked down 42nd towards Port Authority, I noticed the bouquets became more frequent. In fact, they were everywhere. New York City was now dotted with these colorful, tangible representations of love.

But what’s a bouquet without a card? I stopped in the Duane Reade at the corner of 42nd and 8th, not prepared to meet swarms of my fellow last-minute gift-buyers in the cards section. I had just 15 minutes till my bus embarked for Jersey. I waited on line for my chance to pick one out, borrowed a pen from the cashier, and made it to my bus just in time.

After 30 minutes, when the bus rolled to my stop, I turned to thank bus driver. In that moment, I saw a young man sitting in the front seat, holding a bouquet so large it would hardly stay in his lap. Roses. Orchids. Tulips. Lilies. Everything.

What does he do? How does he afford that? His flowers were bigger and better than mine—his smirk told me he knew that too—and my confidence with my gift plummeted.

Is it possible…I went wrong with the roses?

I stepped off the bus, took a deep breath, and knew.

The beauty of mothers is no matter which flowers you buy them, or how many they are, they’ll always be exactly the right ones.

A Saturday Spent with Wildlife

LIFE, MISCELLANEOUS

Zoos have never been my thing.

That’s what I told my sister, Genevieve, when she asked if I wanted to join her in the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Run for the Wild, a 5K to benefit elephants held at the Bronx Zoo.

“Absolutely not,” was my answer.

“But why?”

“Because.”

“Can you at least donate money?”

“Fine.”

Nothing about going to a zoo, or even just running through one, seemed appealing to me. Never mind that we’d have to leave the house in New Jersey around 6:30 a.m. to get there.

Decision: made.

And I didn’t regret that decision when race day came and my family rushed around at an hour no 22-year-old should ever see on a Saturday morning. I didn’t have plans for the day except to go for a run and get coffee with my friend Laura later in the afternoon. So while my family meandered around animal cages in the Bronx, I meandered around the house, drinking English Breakfast tea and enjoying the rare silence.

But despite the big to-do I made about “never in a million years waking up early to run through a zoo,” I ended up at a local wildlife conservation center later that afternoon.

How? It was too beautiful outside to sit in a coffee shop, so Laura and I decided to grab coffees to go and visit the Wyckoff Wildlife Center instead.

And–to my surprise–I loved it.

Now I wouldn’t say we engaged with the wild as well as we could have. Sunglasses set and ponytails high, we powerwalked around the paths the way we would powerwalk down a city street. We chatted, gossiped,  laughed, and made no effort to quell the constant clunking of ice in our Starbucks iced coffees.

But for all the time I spend inside buses and on city streets, this was a wonderful change of scenery.

We stopped to look at the Red Tail Hawk. We oohed and aahed at the peacocks. We basked in the 70-degrees-and-sunny weather. The day was beautiful, a spring breakthrough.

The more we walked, the more I remembered really loving this place as a kid. After all the birthday parties and field trips, why had I never thought to go back?

Our foray into the wild came to a close, though, when we’d lapped the same young family three times on the nature trail and filled our iPhones with daffodil photos.

Just me among the daffodils. Photo courtesy of Laura Herzog.

Also, I had some returns to Banana and H&M that needed to be taken care of.

Later that night I told my family how much I had enjoyed the wildlife center, that maybe I should do things like that more often. It’s a good way to slow down, enjoy the weekend,  and get away from the rush of the city.

“You should have come to the zoo with us, then. You should have run for the elephants.”

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far…”

I guess I put ideas in their heads, though, because tonight my sister approached me with another question.

“Are you going to do the run with us in October? I’m pretty sure there’s another Run For The Wild at the aquarium in Coney Island.”

A run for aquatic elephants?

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll consider it.