A low-key Sunday birthday

A low-key Sunday birthday

I love Sunday mornings.

But they’re even better when it’s your birthday.

irvingfarm

On Sunday I woke up on the early side and spent the morning doing one of my favorite things: relaxing at a coffee shop. I’d been meaning for awhile to check out Irving Farm Coffee Roasters in the Upper West Side, a spot my roommate had recommended but I’d been reluctant to go to since they don’t have wifi.

But today was my birthday. Who needs work? Who needs wifi?

I took the 1 train uptown and the shop was just around the corner from the 79th Street stop. I could tell immediately it was popular from the line out the door. Irving Farm bustled with Upper West Siders getting their pre and post workout coffee fixes, young families gathering for quick breakfasts before church, and older couples quietly reading The New York Times.

I waited on line for nearly 15 minutes just to order coffee, something I typically wouldn’t have patience for–but time is one of the great luxuries of Sunday mornings.

And I have to say, the quality of the coffee and the ample seating space made it worth it.

They also serve all their cold drinks in mason jars (don’t ask me why but that’s a game changer).

coffee

After getting my dark roast I grabbed a seat in the back corner, opened my notebook, and did some writing. Irving Farm’s lively atmosphere made it a great place to people watch. I’ll definitely be going back!

Then, because I love coffee so much, I met my friend Grace for more coffee at Aroma a few blocks away. Aroma is an Israeli coffee chain that I discovered a few summers back while working at the Garden State Mall. One of Aroma’s first U.S. stores had opened up next to the Lord & Taylor where I was a sales associate, so each day I got my midday caffeine fix at the trendy new spot.

But having just returned from a trip to Israel where Aroma is as ubiquitous as Starbucks is in the U.S., Aroma now has a nostalgia factor for me. I immediately noticed Israeli accents when I walked in, and I overheard two women near us discussing the conflict in Gaza. Sitting on the covered rooftop, it was easy to believe I was back in Israel.

aroma

Grace and I spent about an hour at Aroma, chatting about our vacations and summer plans. After that I walked back to my apartment from the Upper West, then went for a run.

In the evening, my family came into the city and we ate at Rosa Mexicano near Lincoln Center. Margaritas, fresh-made guacamole, enchiladas, and family.

Perfect way to end the day.

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Given my ultra-caffeinated day, my sister’s birthday card to me was all too appropriate.

Say Yes To Pizza

Say Yes To Pizza
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.

SOURCE: http://lostatseanyc.blogspot.com
SOURCE: http://lostatseanyc.blogspot.com

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.

The Cell Phone Samaritan

The Cell Phone Samaritan

I was immersed in work one night at Starbucks when I heard a loud, raspy voice call out, “Excuse me, you dropped your phone!”

Instinctively, I looked to the floor for my pink case before I heard a woman say “thanks!” She reached under the table and picked up her iPhone. The man seemed to appreciate her appreciation and started chatting with her.

“Just today this guy dropped his phone outside. I called a number and got through to someone,” he said to the woman and the young man she was with, tone friendly as if they’d spoken before. “A $400 phone, and no thank you, nothing. I waited for an hour outside Rockefeller Center, too. Unbelievable.”

His anger became other customers’ anger, and soon four or five people in the store shook their heads in unison. It was the first time I’d seen everyone in Starbucks engaged in the same conversation.

“Next time it happens, I’ll throw the phone in the garbage can. I’ll throw it out!” The man was standing now.

“Do it!” cheered the young man with the woman who had dropped her phone. The woman smiled, offering her approval. Even the baristas momentarily abandoned their shop-closing duties to listen to what was going on.

Finally the man sat down, pleased with his good deed for the day.

I can only hope what goes around comes around for this Cell Phone Samaritan—even in a city where phones seem to evaporate the second they’re left alone.

Cover photo: “OR” by Thomas Leuthard/ http://thomas.leuthard.photography/

Scenes from the weekend

Scenes from the weekend

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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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The 42nd Street Hawker

The 42nd Street Hawker

mcdonalds

Author’s Note: This essay received honorable mention in Notre Dame Magazine’s 2013 Young Alumni Essay contest. It was first published at magazine.nd.edu.

I have walked past Geoff nearly every day for a year.

After getting off the bus in Midtown Manhattan, I need to cut two avenues east and seven blocks north. I always choose the path that goes down 42nd Street that passes Geoff.

Forty-second Street at 9 a.m. is one of the black diamonds of New York terrain. Commuters and tourists alike unload from buses at Port Authority — the busiest bus terminal in the world — and mix like oil and water on the streets. They mostly move in one direction, streaming through the city’s concrete arteries towards Times Square, its thumping heart.

I hit my stride as I walk down 42nd, expertly swimming through the crowds, spying then slipping into open pockets of space. I pass a glorified McDonald’s with a glittering golden arch, breakfast lines spilling onto the sidewalk. Pop music blasts from the “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!” museum and larger-than-life video screens compete with the morning sun.

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But as I approach the corner of 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue, a single man’s voice soars above the drone of music, cars and construction.

“Haaaave a great Monday! Enjoy that job!”

It’s Geoff, standing there in his usual spot beside the 42nd Street subway entrance. He’s handing out AM New York, a free daily newspaper popular with commuters. Geoff is a hawker, stationed at this high-traffic location and paid to deliver the paper to anyone who walks by.

“Enjoy your work, young lady! Have a great morning on your job!”

Geoff is different from other hawkers, though. He’s never aggressive, never thrusts the paper at your face, and always tells you to have a good day.

Geoff puts his entire body into the greeting, first making eye contact, then smiling and bouncing on his feet before shaking his fist in a way that says go tackle that day.Sometimes, I wonder if he thinks his job is getting New Yorkers to smile.

“Happy hump day! Knock out your work!”

Geoff looks to be in his mid-forties. He wears a red vest and baseball cap and sets his eyeglasses perched precariously on his forehead. He’s never fazed by the swarms of people coming out of the subway or the pounding music from nearby tourist traps. For hours he yells over it all.

subway
Photo by HelveticaFanatic http://www.flickr.com/photos/helveticafanatic/

“Only eighteen hours till Friday! Come on, you know it. That’s all we got.”

The smiles Geoff gives often go unrequited. Once in a while, someone will emerge from the subway and greet him. How ya doin’, my man? How bout them Giants? But many ignore him — absorbed in phone conversations — or take a paper without saying anything at all.

Months after I started passing “the man who hands out the papers,” I finally asked his name. It was one morning in August when the clouds hung thickly overhead but the crowds on the street were thin. People anxiously gripped their umbrellas, prepared for the oncoming downpour. It seemed like the right time to approach him, but I felt nervous for some reason, nervous to go from just another young lady to an acquaintance.

He handed me the paper.

“Thanks,” I said. “Excuse me, what’s your name?”

“Geoff,” he replied, a slight questioning tone in his voice.

“Geoff, thanks for being so…” I didn’t immediately have words to describe what I was thanking him for, but he understood. He smiled and fist-bumped me. After a few moments I turned around and looked back through the bustling crowds, catching Geoff’s eye. He was still smiling and waving at me from 50 yards away.

The scene is so absurd. It’s 9 a.m. in New York City and thousands of people rush, straight faced, to wherever they need to be. And then there’s Geoff, relentlessly happy, sending sparks of enthusiasm to anyone who walks by. For the most part, those greetings fall short of passersby, evaporating quickly on the hot, hostile concrete. But every once in a while, someone turns and smiled.

One day, a little old man, no taller than five foot four, struggled to make his way east down 42nd Street. Surrounded by Times Square lights, this man’s life just seemed dim. Briefcases, heels and tourists in matching T-Shirts rushed by him — yet he and his wobbling cane seemed to exist alone in the crowd.

“Have a great day, young man!” Geoff called out from beneath the subway awning.“Have a great day!” The man didn’t look up. He didn’t react. He just kept pushing forward, step by step by step.

I waited to see if he would turn around. He was likely a veteran New Yorker who had long ago learned to ignore the white noise of hawkers.

New Yorkers like him don’t believe in acknowledging hawkers. Street salesmen are everywhere, calling the same things, blending into the drone of the city. Maybe he feared letting in one hawker meant letting in them all, and he was too old, too weak to fend off these intruders of personal space.

He never turned.

I wondered how many people like Geoff I pass each day, but disregard in my hurry — how many faces and voices get lost among the city’s sights and sounds.

City girl

City girl
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?

A Sign or a Sign?

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.”

“Give my regards to Broadway”

I met my grandfather (Papa) in New York City last Saturday for a couch-shopping excursion followed by lunch.

I noticed he blended in so nicely with the city in his handsome trench coat and hat. He looked like someone right out of Humans of New York, and I knew he’d have a quote sufficiently poignant if ever stopped. Or a song lyric.

Papa has a song for everything, and as we were walking he began singing “Give My Regards To Broadway.”

Give my regards to Broadway
Remember me to Herald Square
Tell all the gang at Forty Second Street
That I will soon be there.

We went to the Macy’s in Herald Square. He told me how my great-grandfather (his father-in-law) was a carpet salesman there in the 30s and 40s. I love spending time in the city with Papa because he’s full of old stories about the places I pass every day. The buildings and streets glow with history. Even the not-so-pretty, not-so-famous sites transform through Papa’s memories, flickering for a moment in the form they once were. 

Mother’s Day and Last-Minute Gifting

Mother’s Day and Last-Minute Gifting

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.

Metropolitan Diary: A Silhouette in the Rain

Metropolitan Diary: A Silhouette in the Rain

Exciting news- a story and photo of mine, about a fleeting moment I experienced in New York City one night, were published today on the NYTimes.com Metropolitan Diary page! (Check out the article here or click the image above.)

The Metropolitan Diary has existed for over 30 years as a place for New Yorkers to share odd or inspiring moments. Recently, the collective diary has taken to the online sphere, and one entry is published each weekday on The Times’ website. For those still in favor of the printed word, some entries appear in the newspaper on Mondays.

In the old days, according to the site, the Diary mailbag weighed 20 pounds, and published contributors were rewarded with a champagne delivery.

While storytellers no longer receive champagne, “today’s reward is a bylined entry into New York’s story canon, an ingredient of ‘this elegant cocktail of the city.'”

I’ll take that.