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.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Fun and Games Circa 2015

While we were in Atlanta, we got a chance to visit a bowling alley and arcade.

That's where I was introduced to this thing.

After the bowling alley's employees saw our kids, they asked if we wanted bumpers and "the ramp." I knew what bumpers were, but the ramp was new to me.

Maybe this existed when we were growing up, but I certainly never saw one. It makes you wonder if it's contributing to the younger generation's sense of entitlement — bowling is easy! (Actually, it's still hard to get a strike with the ramp.)

I made more discoveries as I entered the arcade. There is now a game that teaches kids how to play beer pong.

I'm in favor of young people becoming comfortable around alcohol so they don't overimbibe later, but this takes early education to an extreme degree.

I think I would prefer a game that teaches you how to play "Cups." That would be a little more wholesome (even if it risks introducing kids to a capella, a far more dangerous influence on college campuses).

After that, I was pleased to see the arcade had one of my old favorites — Connect 4 — just on a much later scale.

Some games never go out of style.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

When Your Baby Name Becomes Racist

You have to feel for all the parents who named their kids Atticus over the past decade. The name has surged in popularity since 2004 (before then, it never even ranked in the top 1,000) because of good feelings surrounding the Atticus Finch character in Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Now, the book's sequel depicts him as a racist.

From the New York Times:
Shockingly, in Ms. Lee’s long-awaited novel, “Go Set a Watchman” (due out Tuesday), Atticus is a racist who once attended a Klan meeting, who says things like “The Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people.” Or asks his daughter: “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?” 
In “Mockingbird,” a book once described by Oprah Winfrey as “our national novel,” Atticus praised American courts as “the great levelers,” dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.” In “Watchman,” set in the 1950s in the era of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, he denounces the Supreme Court, says he wants his home state “to be left alone to keep house without advice from the N.A.A.C.P.” and describes N.A.A.C.P.-paid lawyers as “standing around like buzzards.”
This is bad news for the 5,159 kids named Atticus since 2004 (including 34 girls). There were 855 babies called Atticus in 2014 alone. The name has never been more popular in recorded U.S. history — we are at peak Atticus.

Knowing that, it seems cruel that Harper Lee would do this to America's parents (assuming she actually wanted this book to come out at all).

Harper, of course, is an even more trendy name right now. And I have to think that star will continue to rise, even if people feel betrayed by the author.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Water Balloons of Mass Destruction

We tried the Bunch of Balloons water-balloon filler, and it worked pretty well. The product, which was funded with a Kickstarter campaign, lets you fill 100 balloons in one minute.

The balloons themselves are small, and many of them bounced right off my torso. But that was blamed on me having an extra-cushioned dadbod.

I guess the main question is whether kids should have it this easy?

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

A Fourth of July Snapshot

We had another Norman Rockwell-esque Fourth of July in Georgia.

Even Lucy, the hardened New Yorker, couldn't resist the allure of dogs, boat rides, grassy lawns and fishing (no one got so much as a nibble, which was just as well).

It's going to be hard to go home.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Does the Car-Free Lifestyle Give Kids Motion Sickness?

We flew into Atlanta last week for a family vacation, and the trip did not go smoothly.

Nothing will ever match the Worst Flight of All Time, but this one came close. All three kids got motion sickness, and two of them threw up (one threw up twice!).

The plane was in its descent when Alice vomited for a second time. Lucy took one look at her and then threw up too (one of those times I wish she didn't copy everything her big sister does).

Let's just say we weren't very popular with our fellow travelers. And I'm not sure this is something that giving out those goody bags can make up for.

Things haven't gotten much better since we've been on solid ground. The kids aren't used to riding in cars, and the girls have been sick twice in the rented SUV.

We're now putting them all on a dose of Dramamine, reminding me of the haiku I penned last summer.
Take the drama-mine
Or we'll have a drama-yours
With tummy trouble.
Lots of kids get carsick, but all this has me wondering: Does the car-free lifestyle make children more vulnerable to nausea?

Other than getting into an occasional cab, our kids hardly ever see the inside of a car. In fact, they hardly travel at all. This Atlanta trip was the first time any of them ventured beyond a narrow band of Manhattan (and western Queens) since last November.

Perhaps they're not building up the iron stomachs that suburban children do. They're not piling in to the minivan for a trip to soccer or Target. They're never using an iPad in the back of a station wagon.

The kids ride in subways and buses aplenty, but that doesn't seem to trigger the same nausea. (I've never seen anyone throw up on transit who wasn't fall-down drunk — usually not a problem for children.)

I'll have to conduct more research before I declare New York City to be a cause of motion sickness, but the early evidence seems compelling.