Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Accident-Free Tourist

A Commodious Tour of The Bathrooms of New York

For a woman of a certain age, such as I, the difference between a delightful and a disastrous travel experience often comes down to the availability of an adequate bathroom at just the moment when it is needed.  The word “adequate” here means reasonably clean, with an actual toilet seat, and running water and soap to wash up with afterwards. 
 
This bathroom is not only adequate, but green.
In my younger years, I did not let the threat of inadequate bathrooms stop me from traveling.  Some of my destinations did not have Western style toilets but I was agile and learned how not to fall in. 

The worst bathroom I ever encountered in my life was not in a foreign country, but stateside, at the Roosevelt Hospital emergency room in New York City in 1992.  Even 22 years later, as this year’s vacation to NYC approached, I remembered that experience with trepidation.

After our arrival in Manhattan on a Sunday evening in August, we hopped on the subway down to Canal Street and wandered around Chinatown.  I saw many signs that said, “Restrooms for patrons only.”  This struck fear into the heart of my bladder.  I realized that I would have to take advantage of every adequate bathroom available to me, because it might be many hours until another acceptable toileting facility could be found.

The first New York bathroom I visited was in the small Chinatown restaurant where we ate dinner.  This bathroom was so narrow that I had to insert myself into it sideways to squeeze past the sink, Lilliputian though it was.  The walls were nearly touching the toilet on each side. This mini-bathroom did meet my Adequate criteria, though.


The following evening we went to a restaurant called Trattoria Trecolori.  I had beet and goat cheese salad and potato soup, Youngest Daughter had chicken parmigiana, and my husband had frutti di mare with black squid ink pasta.  Delicioso! But let me not waste time telling you about the food.  The bathroom was fine, and had a clever poster on the wall.  It was here that my husband suggested that since I obviously was just in NYC to tour the bathrooms, I should take photos of them.
 
The more-than-adequate bathroom at
Trattoria Trecolori on 47th Street
Not all Manhattan bathrooms are squeezed for space.  Our hotel bathroom was spacious and clean, and included both a hair dryer and a mysterious phone thing on the wall.  Maybe it is like the call button at the nursing home.    
Hotel bathroom: plenty of counter space for
three people's things

Other end of hotel bathroom.
If that bag is the hair dryer, what is that thing on the wall?
Maybe it is a Soviet listening device.

Of course, The World’s Largest Store is bound to have a large bathroom.  After a glorious visit to the Empire State Building (getting there early is key – no big lines!), we just had to stop off at Macy’s in Herald Square.  The cavernous facilities were appropriate for such a bastion of swanky capitalism.  In a nod to American individualism, in the sink area each spot had its own separate soap, water, and hand dryer. 
 
Largest Store; Nice Bathroom

I really TRIED to take photos in the bathroom without
anyone noticing.  This lady in Macy's was quite surprised
when she came out of her stall!  I have cropped the photo to
hide her image. Fortunately I was not arrested for
taking bathroom photos.


I am happy to say that not once did I experience a bathroom without toilet paper.  In fact, supplies seemed to be plentiful.  One evening, we met some friends at a Turkish restaurant called Beyoglu (delicious and reasonably priced).  The bathroom had enough room for this very large supply of toilet paper.



In New York, many important functions occur underground, and toileting is no exception.  The facilities at many restaurants are down the stairs in the basement. God help people who are wheelchair bound or who have bad knees in New York.  No bathroom for you! 
After breakfast at Lindy's, I trudged down the stairs to the bathroom.


When traveling in NYC, you should be aware that some tourist locations are integrally related to water.  For instance, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are both on actual islands, and can only be reached by tourist boat, which can only be reached by standing in line for two hours in the hot sun, which can only be survived by drinking a gallon of water.  My advice to you is:  as soon as you set foot on that boat, forget finding a seat with a great view, and instead go directly into the bathroom (it is to the left of the entrance ramp).  There will not be a line, and you might even finish your business before the boat leaves the dock.  My further advice to you is:  buy your ticket for the Statue of Liberty boat ahead of time!
Lady Liberty is HOLLOW inside, so she never
needs to find a bathroom.


An unexpected problem was where to put my stuff in the bathrooms of New York.  NYC does not seem to be fond of hooks in stalls.  In Greenwich Village, at a Panera’s type eating establishment, the bathroom was adequate if industrial-looking, but got bonus points for having a hook for my bags. 
+20 points for sturdy hooks


Part of our travels took us to the East Side neighborhood where we lived in the years BC (Before Children).   We had a snack in the diner where my husband proposed some twenty-five years ago!  The current version of this diner included an ancient man who spent the whole time swabbing the floors with a greasy mop.  He applied this mop to the bathroom floor, which meant that when I entered, it was all I could do to keep from slipping and falling.  The bathroom was too small to permit falling far.  Nevertheless, this bathroom rated Adequate.
Not the exact spot where my husband proposed to me, but close.


A trip to New York is enhanced if you have the opportunity to take in a theater performance.  We went to the Gershwin Theater to see Wicked.  I have unadulterated loathing for spending the entire intermission waiting in line “to go,” but it had to be done.  It was there that I experienced the militarized ladies-room line.  The theater had actually hired a bathroom coordinator who stood just inside the door and directed each of us to the next free stall.  It was a very smooth operation.   

Given this tour’s focus on waste, I thought it would be appropriate to show you that we were right behind a garbage truck as we headed down into the Lincoln Tunnel for our trip home. 
Homeward bound



Friday, August 15, 2014

NYC Answers: Where is Neil deGrasse Tyson?


I thought Neil deGrasse Tyson might be at the American Museum of Natural History.  Apparently he was on the subway, at least according to this photo.  

We rode the subway, too.  What an amazing coincidence!  Maybe at some point in our space-time continuums we were even on the same train!

I doubt I would have recognized him if I had seen him.  We don’t get TV, so I haven’t seen his series.

On the day we went seeking NdGT we walked from our hotel on 47th Street, through the southwest corner of Central Park, to the museum on 77th Street.  I cannot say that I recommend walking thirty blocks just before you intend to walk through a giant museum.  

In the past, when I went to a museum, I was always prevented from learning anything because the kids always wanted to just run through and push all buttons - no reading allowed.  This time, I was so exhausted that I just sat there watching a movie, and I learned something!  I learned that there are seismologists who are constructing an array of seismic instruments across the US, in the hopes of measuring ‘background’ movements in the earth’s crust. The movie showed scientists putting their seismic instruments in a cement hole in the middle of a cornfield near Syracuse, NY.  To see if their instruments were working, they stomped on the hole, a method which seemed completely unscientific to me.  The data from this effort are all sent to the Transportable Array Coordinating Office.  TACO.  Those scientists with their names of things!

Now I am going to do a photo dump of a few things we saw at the museum.  Once again I have to delay further tales of New York, because we have to leave town for a few days to move Oldest Daughter back to college and to attend to an elderly relative.  

Teddy Roosevelt statue outside the museum.
I have to tell you that the horse in this statue is  anatomically correct.
My husband named this dinosaur Binkie.





By the time we got to this display about
the Big Bang, we felt like we had been walking
for a billion light-years.

I think they need a more imaginative name for
 "Globular Clusters."  Like tacos, maybe.



Sunday, August 10, 2014

Our Biennial Holiday

Tales of New York will have to wait.  First I must bring you a word of sca-ripture.  (When Christians say, “a word” they usually mean “many words.”)

* * * * * * * *

For lo, when the sky promises to be blue, and the floodgates of the heavens close, and the seers foretell that the rains will cease for at least two days, then shall a holiday be declared at the Common Household.  You shall don all manner of festive clothing and celebrate this Special Day. 

Festive clothing indeed


It is the commandment of the master of the Common Household that this holiday shall occur every two years whether you like it or not.  You shall celebrate with the ritual of the covering of the deck with a substance that is very like pitch.  The stink of this substance shall reach your nostrils with a smell more powerful than the Nile River full of dead fish.

You shall gather all the male progeny of your tribe, of which there is one in the Common Household.  At the hour when the sun is still low in the sky, you shall say to your son, “Awake, awake! Take up paintbrush and ladder; arise and come to my aid.” 

And when your son has completed painting the outside slats of the deck, you shall say unto him, “You also need to paint between the slats.”  And he shall say to you, “But I don’t want to use the ladder any more.  Can I use that pole?”  And you shall reply, “O, my son, there is no way to attach the paintbrush to this pole.”   He will answer with a firm and sure voice, “I shall use lashings.”  And you shall stand in awe at how the Boy Scouts have filled your son with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills, including rope lashings.
Thank you, Boy Scouts, for teaching my son the skill of lashings.


The husband takes his turn with the new implement.



Then you shall see that the day that the Lord has made is good; indeed, the humidity is low and the sun does not burn hot on your back.  And in joyfulness you shall hum the opening bars of the Brahms’ piano concerto, the one that is disguised as a horn concerto at the beginning.  Then shall your son lay down his paintbrush and run in the house.  Fear not!  Your son has not abandoned you.  He shall remain faithful to the task you have set before him; he shall return with his iPod and speaker and shall provide the full piano concerto for you, for your family, and for the entire neighborhood.  Thus you shall know that classical music is not dead; this is an awesome wonder that a 19-year-old prefers music written before the year 1900. 

Still Life With Bird Nest, I-Pod, and Wireless Speaker


But lo, after the Brahms, your husband shall request opera, and your heart shall sink within you.  Dread not!  For the closest thing to opera on your son’s iPod is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  O Freude!  Your joy will be restored.


And then it shall come to pass that you have finished painting all the vertical slats, and it is time to paint the horizontal surface of the deck.  You shall look upon the feet of your son, and you shall ask, “Are those your only shoes?  They are going to get spattered with paint.”  And once again he shall arise and show wisdom, and shall wrap bags of plastic around his shoes. 


Soon and very soon you shall finish your labors, and lo, you will find that it only took 3 ½ hours.  And you will indeed be thankful to God that you have a husband, and a son, and a deck.  And you shall breathe free with gratitude that you don’t have to celebrate “Be Glad You Have a Deck” Day for another two years.

- The Book of Exertions 3: 25-57

 
My painting shoes.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

New York City questions

Tonight is the last night of our vacation in New York.  I am glad that for the past year, I have been walking for exercise at least once a week with my friend JJ.  It was excellent preparation for this trip. I walked more in the past four days than I did in the past four months.

Even though we are leaving tomorrow, we have amassed some questions that remain unanswered, partly because we have had limited internet access.  Instead of looking up the answers to my questions during this precious five minutes of internet service, I am going to tell you our burning questions and ask what questions you have about NYC or about life in general.

Our Questions about Manhattan/New York City
How many kilowatts of electricity are used daily in NYC?

Where does the electricity come from?

By how many square feet was Manhattan expanded through the use of landfill?

How many chickens are eaten in NYC every day and where do they come from?

How do the chickens get here?  (The most obvious answer is:  The Staten Island Ferry.)

Could our Son find new sandals in NYC when he could not find any in Western PA?

What is on the 81st to 85th floors of the Empire State Building, where we tourists were forbidden to go?

How many miles did we walk today?  (Feels like 500.)

In Central Park, do they fertilize the grass?  Do they have grub problems?

Are there moles living under Central Park?

To what degree are public conveniences, such as "Chess and Checkers in Central Park", supported by taxes?

Where is Neil de Grasse Tyson?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Misinformation


Some recent conversations in the Common Household, revealing how we are uninformed or misinformed...

Topic: Billy Graham

Netflix describes Star Trek: The Original Series as follows: “Led by unflappable Capt. Kirk, the crew of the starship Enterprise delves deep into the far reaches of space to explore new worlds and civilizations.”

We were all in the car, driving somewhere. A sign at a local church advertised a talk by Franklin Graham. 
Me:  “Franklin Graham is coming to that church?”

The Kids:  “Who is Franklin Graham?”

Me:  "He’s the son of Billy Graham.”

Kids: “Who is Billy Graham?”

Me:  (mental facepalm.  Could not do actual facepalm because I was driving.)

Husband:  “He’s the Captain Kirk of The Church.”

Son: “You mean, he’s unflappable?”

* * * * * * *

C.  Topic: The food of the French Revolution

On July 14, at dinner, I said, “Today is Bastille Day.”

Youngest Daughter:  Did anybody storm anything today?

Husband:  Is it ever Remington Steele Day?

YD:  Dad.  Bastille Day was the start of the French Revolution.

Husband: I thought it started when the baguettes went stale.

Me:   Lack of baguettes was part of it.

Son:   The French revolution started when Jean Valjean stole baguettes.

YD:  That was a different French revolution!

* * * * * * *

Topic: Reykjavik

Husband: I forgot to ask my friend how Reykjavik is. 

YD:  Who is Reykjavik?

Husband:  Reykjavik is a city in Iceland.

YD:  It’s not a Russian communist leader?

Me:   Your friend went to Reykjavik?

Husband: Yeah.  On her way to Israel.

Me:   Reykjavik is on the way to Israel?!

Husband:  Yes.  Iceland moves around a lot.  It depends on the season.