Monday, August 31, 2015

New York Is Getting More Expensive (for Baseball Fans)

Ever since we moved to New York, I've taken Elliot to a Mets game once a year. And every year, I've had a strategy: Wait until September — when the team's prospects are hopeless — and then buy tickets on the cheap.

Well, that strategy failed miserably this season. The team is in first place, and getting tickets to a weekend game is no easy feat. I had to pay three times as much as normal to see them play on Sunday (it didn't help that they were hosting the Red Sox, which drew a larger-than-typical crowd).

Our tickets were in the last row at the very top of the right-field seats. But I learned a couple things from sitting in the nosebleeds: (a.) Like AT&T Park and other modern baseball stadiums, Citi Field really has no bad seats. (b.) A nice breeze blows through when you're sitting with your back to the open air.

Alice joined us this time, and she was excited to get her first taste of professional baseball ("taste" is the operative word here since mostly it was the food she was excited about).

We started off with a bag of peanuts. I told the kids this was the only time they were allowed to litter, which made it seem pretty thrilling. But Alice couldn't manage to crack the shells without help. Soon she realized that the shells were salted and began licking them without actually eating the nuts (this sort of thing is a running theme in our family).

Later on, the kids moved on to another venerable tradition: eating ice cream out of mini batting helmets.

Alice did her best, but she couldn't manage to consume the ice cream fast enough to keep it from overflowing. Helmets may not be the most practical container for a 4-year-old.

Finally, Alice wanted a baseball cap. At this point, I've made peace with the kids sporting Mets merchandise (even though I'm still a loyal Giants supporter). But I at least tried to steer Alice away from the pink section.

I was unsuccessful.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

I Guess This Shouldn't Surprise Me, But...

I was at the library with the kids, and we were trying to remember the title of a book that we previously checked out.

So I strode up to one of the librarians with my NYPL card and asked her to check my transaction history.

"We don't keep a record of that," she said, "for privacy reasons."

I was briefly annoyed, though I understand the rationale of not having a government entity track your reading habits. (Even if it feels very antiquated in the age of Amazon, the NSA and social media.)

But all was not lost. Elliot gave her a vague sense of what the book was about, and she scoured the library looking for it.

After 15 minutes, the librarian found the book!

The message: Librarians are awesome...and I guess it's good that we still have some vestige of privacy in this world. (Even if we don't always appreciate it.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

R.I.P, Mac Dre (for a Second Time)

The upsetting part of our visit to Langton Street was discovering that the Mac Dre mural is no more.

The artwork had honored a murdered Bay Area rapper, who died in 2004, and it was used as the backdrop for at least a couple music videos.

This one, Mistah Fab's "Ghost Ride It," was my favorite:

My bookclub also shot an epic photo in front of it. I believe we used the picture in an unsuccessful attempt to challenge another bookclub to a dance-off.

The mural's destruction is a big loss for the neighborhood, but probably an inevitable result of SoMa's gentrification.

Still, it's sad that the next generation of bookclubs will have to look elsewhere for their promotional images.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Trip to the Old Neighborhood

Elliot, circa 2010
We took a brief excursion to San Francisco last week, letting Elliot see the neighborhood where he spent his first two years.

Back then, he was the only kid on the street. And in fact, he was known as "the Langton Street baby" until another couple had a child.

These days, Elliot has no recollection of our time on Langton Street. But we have talked enough about the neighborhood — and its gigantic mural — for him to become curious.

So when we passed through town last Monday, we stopped the car and everyone got out.

You can tell that some of the homes have been spruced up (and no wonder — they're worth a lot more now than when we left in 2010). But our place didn't look all that different.

And the mural, known as "Frisco's Wild Side," was in good shape. It served as the biggest conversation piece for our three young visitors.

We got a family shot in front of it (minus Kelly, since she took the picture).

After that, we surveyed the restaurant scene. The former Julie's Supper Club, which was known as Radius when he left in 2010, is now called El Capitan.

Here's what's funny: Out of a desire to preserve continuity — or save money — the restaurant still bears all three signs!

For a nostalgic visitor like me, that seemed perfect.

Lastly, we visited a neighborhood mainstay: Brainwash. It now has a parklet out front. (A couple parking places sacrificed their lives to make this possible.)

Inside, the laundromat/cafe is unchanged and still attracts an eclectic crowd (the one thing the clientele shared in common was being annoyed by our three children). Elliot saw all the flyers on the counter and asked, "Are these free?" before stuffing them in his pockets.

Despite being a native of SoMa, he doesn't know how to play it cool just yet.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

'Your Grandmother Has Creepy Dolls'

During our visit to Santa Cruz, I showed Elliot some of the marionettes that terrified me as a child.

The Pinocchio doll was particularly disturbing. It was hung from the ceiling in the room we shared as kids and would gently twist on its wires, casting spooky shadows on the wall.

Fortunately, my mother (known to Elliot as "BoMa") preserved them all. So now they can unnerve the next generation.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

'Game of Sandcastles'

We spent the last week in Santa Cruz, where it was unseasonably warm ("unseasonably" is probably not the right word for being hot during summer, but it didn't feel right for an area typically blessed with an aggressive marine layer).

Anyway, that gave us occasion to go to the beach several times (and even go in the water without a wet suit!) I also shot this video of sandcastles, mainly to show how much of a difference the right music can make.

As the tide made clear when it rolled in, all kingdoms must crumble eventually.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Trip Across Town...and 102 Floors Up

For my birthday, the family took me to the 1 World Trade Center observation deck (it's called the One World Observatory, which gives it a bit of a utopian vibe).

Now, I've written before about the Empire State Building and 30 Rock observation decks. I have to say, 1WTC is the most impressive of them all — largely because it was designed from scratch to use the latest technologies.

The elevator ride alone is reason to go. It acts as a time machine of sorts, providing a visual history of lower Manhattan as you soar up more than 100 stories.

At the top, you watch another video of New York. Then the screen lifts up and you realize you're staring out at the city from the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

For an extra $15, you get an iPad thingie that identifies all the landmarks you're looking it. If you tap on the screen, it will zoom in and describe the sight in more detail (the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building...even Roosevelt Island).

The device had a little bit of trouble pinpointing the direction we were looking at. (I wish it had a way to snap back to your current view.) Still, it was pretty cool. But if you prefer plain-old humans, there are guides on the floor who give information on the various landmarks visible behind them.

The tickets to get into the observatory are $32. That's not cheap, but it's exactly the same price as the Empire State Building. 30 Rock is currently $30, so I guess it's now positioning itself as the bargain observation deck. (When I wrote about this before, it was the more expensive option.)

The 1WTC building itself is more impressive close up than from a distance. On a clear day, the blue panels seem to fade into the firmament.

The street artist Banksy famously derided 1WTC as "vanilla" and "something they would build in Canada."

That may be true, but it has a certain grace to it. I feel like it's settling into the skyline quite nicely.

We also visited the site of the old towers, which is now a pair of reflecting pools. I've heard that tourists taking selfies in front of the memorial is a common occurrence, irking some New Yorkers. Sure enough, I saw quite a few people bust out their selfie sticks while we were there.

We took our family photo in front of 1WTC instead. (And we have no selfie stick, so Kelly had to suffice.)

We also encountered street vendors who were selling guidebooks about Sept. 11. To get people to buy their books, they would flip through the pages and tell you about the destruction and carnage of that day. Elliot listened with keen interest. I know many parents who deliberately haven't told their kids about Sept. 11, so this experience might have been a shock for them.

I understand the impulse to shield kids from this tragedy. But the act of coming down here to visit a gleaming new building — it gives the sense that healing has begun.

To these kids, Sept. 11 will always be history. Something that can't be forgotten, but also something fuzzy and distant. And maybe that's not such a bad thing.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Last Look at Atlanta

Before we left Atlanta, we got to go up in the SkyView — the city's equivalent of the London Eye.

The SkyView is basically just a big Ferris wheel, but it gives a nice view of downtown Atlanta. Here's a video of the experience.

There also are some perks: The cars are enclosed, and you can bring beer and wine on board. And given that it's Atlanta, there's climate control.

It even has an optional VIP experience that lets you take a longer ride. But I think I can safely speak on behalf of most Ferris wheel patrons in saying that few people wish their ride were longer (especially when you're stuck up top waiting for people to get off).

Our non-VIP trip was just right.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Pluto Is a Marketer's Dream

A planet with a heart on it? Could there be a more ideal situation for people looking to sell outer-space merchandise?

It's like the Care Bear of the solar system!

Pluto also could become one of the easiest planets for kids to identify — and draw pictures of. I mean, aside from Saturn and its rings, what's more recognizable than a giant heart. Even Earth is harder to draw than Pluto (damn you, non-heart-shaped continents).

Alice took a stab at it tonight and did pretty well.

My prediction: Get ready to see a whole lot of Heart Planet.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Atlanta Is Hot, But...: Part 2

On the topic of Atlanta's creative means of coping with an unpleasant climate, I present to you: this swimming pool.

It's public, and the cost of admittance is very low. (I think the girls were $1 each.)

It has a beach-like entrypoint where you basically just walk into the water. There's a "lazy river," with a current that pulls you along a curved channel. And a whirlpool area will swirl you around in a circle.

And most amazingly, it wasn't overrun with people, despite the fact that it's in the middle of Piedmont Park (Atlanta's equivalent of Central Park).

That wouldn't be the case here. It would be mobbed with humanity if it were in the Big Apple.

 This is why we can't have nice things.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Atlanta Is Hot, But...

It's difficult to imagine another city with as much fountain game as Atlanta.

Here are the Centennial Olympic Park fountains in slow motion...

It's hard to complain about 90-something degrees when you're having this much fun.