Spring Break – Now With Photos!

Here is a huge journal update from my spring break trip to New York City with my sister and one of her friends. It was an excellent vacation, and I had a lot of fun. I wrote most of these entries the evening of the relevant day. Day 1 is Saturday, March 6th.


Day 1

Woke up. Got out of bed. Dragged a comb across my head… well, actually, that last bit isn’t really necessary, seeing as how I have a general lack of hair, but it’s all for the sake of the song lyric. I did start the day off with the beginnings of a cowlick, which is impressive, considering that I got a haircut down to a half-inch only a week ago.

I then began my exceedingly cheap 4-hour trek to Allenhurt, NJ from Swarthmore, PA. My favorite thing about the east coast is the easy access to public transportation. I took SEPTA from Swat through 30th St. up to Trenton. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go due east to Allenhurst because no lines run there. I took NJT up to Rahway from Trenton, transferred to head down the coast to Long Branch, and then switched again for a 6 minute jaunt south to Allenhurst, where the tracks aren’t electrified.

I had about a 45 minute wait in Rahway. I wanted to get some food, but the café in the train station was closed, and the deli across the street had stopped selling sandwiches for the afternoon. I then had a lovely wait at the station while drinking a Mountain Dew for lunch. When it comes down to it, it’s all I need. At the station, I had a choice between sitting inside with the smokers, or sitting outside on the platform in the heavy winds accompanied by occasional driving rain. Because the rain was almost horizontal, I was able to set up my umbrella behind me to block most of the elements and sit and read, while passive-aggressively glaring at all of the smokers.

As it turned out, I got on the same train that my sister and her friend from ballet school Hadley were riding on down from New York Penn Station. We didn’t realize this until we got to Long Branch, but oh well. We got to the Allenhurst station and gave Aunt Joan (actually my first-cousin once removed, but aunt usually works in place of “older female relative”) a call. She took us to their house in Allenhurst, which is a very nice place. I vaguely remember staying there and playing Sega with my second cousin when we visited in 1997. The house is now well-suited to guests, since all three of their kids are grown up.

We spent the evening hanging out, eating, and making plans for our day trips into New York City. We watched a bit of TV, namely Saturday Night Live, after I tried to help them fix their surround sound setup. As it turns out, after a month in the repair shop, their DVD player’s composite video out is still broken. It also has S-Video and component out, but their older TV only has composite in. I guess they’ll need to get it looked at again, or grab an S-Video to composite adapter.

I had a midnight snack of a very granola cereal. There’s something wrong with raisins in cereal, in my opinion; the taste is fine, but the chewy texture completely and utterly throws off the crunchiness inherent in each spoon full. Call me a purist, but give me grains… graaaaains… GRAAAAAAAINS!!!


Day 2

The only problem with our free-lodging-at-relatives plan is that it requires roughly 3.5 hours round trip on trains each day. Not a huge deal, but it does take a dent out of what we can do in the city. Armed with newly bought NJT and MetroCard weekly passes, we set out on our little adventure.

Our first stop was the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Jo had looked at some stuff online, and wanted to see the New York Ballet. Some Ballanchine piece called Jewels. I was meh on the idea, but if I went to the ballet, then I could go to the Intrepid Sea, Air, Space museum, which is even cooler now that they have the Concorde. Unfortunately, it turns out that my dear sister was somewhat confused, and had been looking for the February schedule. There won’t be any shows while we are in New York. I’m sure you can tell that I consider this to be a great loss.

We then decided that we should try to get tickets to a Broadway show, so we went down to Times Square to check out the central ticket stand there. The lines were huge, so we gave up on that enterprise before it had began. Jo had seen a sign for Rent that mentioned the theater where it was playing, so we went over there to check out their actual box office. We caught the tail end of a discount lottery for their 2 pm show, so we decided to come back in time for the 7 pm show’s lottery at around 5. They were raffling off 34 $20 tickets in the first couple of rows – how cool is that?

Since it was a clear day, we decided to do the Empire State Building (by now, you are probably aware of the sheer immensity of our planning). We got there only to discover that there was a 45 minute line for tickets, with an additional 45 minute wait to get up to the observation deck. We were all very hungry, so we looked around for a place to eat, and settled on Pete’s Pizza. I had an excellent slice of New York-style Hawaiian.

I should mention that Jo and Hadley dragged me into two clothing stores for some shopping: H&M and Mystique. Boy, those were some fun times right there! I won’t go into my rant about how much I detest browse-style shopping here, but bleah. Soooo boring!

Once we got back to the Empire State Building, we decided to add the Skyride motion-simulator helicopter tour onto our observatory ticket. Since I would also be doing the Intrepid museum, it became worthwhile to buy the CityPass, to get admission to several different things, including the Guggenheim, which we will probably be going to tomorrow.

The Skyride was very, very cheesy, and probably wasn’t worth the extra $8 a head. I think that it may have gotten us into a shorter line for the observatory elevators, so if that is the case, then it was probably worth it. One funny thing to note: in the line leading to the Skyride, they had a plastic model of the tour craft that we would supposedly be riding it. The geek in me had a big problem with it, since it was obviously a combination of an Enterprise model and an Imperial shuttle model. They had taken the basic body of a Lambda-class Imperial Shuttle, and removed the central vertical fin. the wings were attached angling upwards (not in their folded position, just angling the other way), and on the ends of each wing were the nacelles from the Sovereign-class Enterprise NCC-1701-E. The nacelle booms from the Enterprise were attached to the shuttle body as twin vertical stabilizers. The whole thing was painted to match the Skyride logo, but still, even having Scotty (James Doohan) in the ride doesn’t justify what they did.

The view from the top is always cool, and I love knowing about all of the engineering that went into building it (read David Macaulay’s Unbuilding – it’s awesome). It is weird that the Empire State is now the tallest building on Manhattan again (the last time we went up was on our 1997 trip), and there’s definitely an absent spot on the skyline. The memorial sentiment seems less intense than it was at Thanksgiving in 2002, but we haven’t been to Ground Zero yet.

We went back to Times Square to get in line for the ticket lottery. We got there a bit earlier than expected, so we hung out in a ubiquitous Starbucks. Jo and Hadley called their friend Elizabeth to wish her a happy birthday. I was forced to say hello as well.

We went back to the theater, and put our names in the raffle. At 5:30, they started calling names, and Jo won! I was fine with sitting by myself, so I bought a fairly cheap ticket up in the mezzanine. Meanwhile, Jo and Hadley had second row seats for only $20 each. I’m not complaining; I’m sure that we had very different viewing angles, and I don’t really need to see every glob of spittle…

We grabbed dinner across the street at a very glitzy Times Square McDonald’s, and then went back to the theater to see Rent. I can definitely understand why it was so popular when it first came out; the musical style is nice and modern, and it’s a good love story. I really liked it, and I even caved and bought a souvenir T-shirt. It’s not like I need anymore T-shirts, but it’s a nice black one, so… I also bought Jo a long-sleeve T as her birthday present, since she wanted it. I may come up with something small but more creative on her actual birthday. But yeah… Rent = very good.

We rushed to make it back to Penn Station to catch the 10:08 NJT train instead of the 11:08, because it would get us back to the Browns’ more quickly. Unfortunately, we didn’t know that the Allenhurst local trains didn’t run for every train from New York, so we found ourselves somewhat stuck in Long Branch. We shouldn’t have called Joan, but Jo wanted to get back. It turns out that there is (very expensive) 24-hour taxi service from the train station. It’s amazing how much farther you can go per dollar on public transportation than you can with a taxi.

The final experience of the night does count against NJT, but it is our own fault for not checking if the local trains ran consistently; we just assumed that they would be there. Also, I should have taken care of paying the taxi, since I was sorely tempted not to tip him due to the lack of seat belts in the back seat. A kind of bad end to an otherwise great day. I am now tired and sore, and we have another day ahead of us, so good night.


Day 3

Our plan for today was to visit several museums, mostly of the art variety, because the forecast called for rain, with the possibility of snow. As it turns out, that plan completely backfired, mostly because practically every museum in New York is closed on Monday. Would have been good to know beforehand, but I guess we didn’t do very in depth research. The Guggenheim also tricked us.

Our first stop was the Guggenheim museum. Their current exhibit consisted of Minimalist art. I’ll give a rant on Minimalism in a minute, but suffice it to say that I was focusing much more of the artful architecture of the building than on the “art” contained within. The annexes also had some nice paintings and sculpture from the early 20th century, featuring Picasso, Degas, and their contemporaries.

I absolutely loved the design of the building, particularly the contrasts between circles and triangles (e.g. the spiral ramp and the triangular staircase). Of course, I was already a Frank Lloyd Wright fanboy, so it’s no big surprise that I was impressed. I definitely need to see more of his buildings; some of the cooler ones I’ve seen are his own home in Oak Park, IL, and the Marin County Courthouse.

One thing that I didn’t understand about the Guggenheim was why they didn’t allow even non-flash photography on the ramp. A docent stopped me from taking a picture down into the atrium! I wasn’t even photographing the art, even though I think the building itself is a piece of art. I asked another less ornery docent about it, and he didn’t even know why it is forbidden. He even thought it seemed like a stupid idea. I really hope it isn’t something annoying like wanting to sell pictures of the art in the museum store, or some weird copyright thing regarding the art pieces. Grarr.

And now, Nick presents an opinionated rant on Minimalist art. First, art critics are obviously incredibly pretentious. Based on the descriptions of exhibits and individual pieces, they have their own technical jargon that tries to explain what a piece is supposed to invoke, or something like that. Second, as someone with minimal visual art skills, if I can reproduce a piece with no extra training, or with mass-produced elements, etc. it’s probably not art. I’m sure this offends someone out there, but how is a painted plank against a wall art? Do you consider it art when you repaint a room in a house? Because some of the pieces were exactly that. Third, I note that I have never heard of any of these artists, some of whom date back to the 50s. I freely admit to being an uncultured swine, but I have heard of the Modernist painters and sculptors of the early 20th century, like Picasso and Degas. I have heard of a selection of more modern “pop” artists like Andy Warhol. I’m pretty sure that if I set up a string of lights dangling from the ceiling, no museum would accept it, and even if they did, no one would hear of me. Fourth, I’m not sure how I feel about the context-dependence of some of the pieces that were on display. A piece of scrim in front of a wall, or a neon lit room, would look different in different museum rooms. I think I’m just too used to the idea of a painting or sculpture that will look pretty much the same no matter where it is, barring some slight changes in lighting (note that our brain is very good at filtering out unusual colorings and so forth due to illumination). This fourth bit is probably something I could come to terms with.

That said, the “art” obviously invoked an emotional response in me, even if it was one of incredulity. Still, the only thing that made a lot of these pieces art was the fact that they were in an art museum. Anywhere else, they would have been junk, a part, a sign, food, dead flies, etc. ::sigh:: I guess I just don’t get it.

One interesting thing I noticed at the Guggenheim was that the majority of the patrons were European (I heard lots of Spanish, Italian, German, and French, all of the continental varieties). I guess this just demonstrates the general American lack of respect for the arts, in any form.

My favorite piece was actually a neat optical illusion involving intrasurface and illumination edges. A light was shone through an irregular hexagonal hole into the corner of a room. The square corner looked like one edge of a cube, so the lighted area in the shadowy corner appeared to jump out from the wall. As you moved back and forth, the illusory cube appeared to rotate around its vertical axis, because the change in viewing angle would foreshorten one wall of the room, making it look like that face of the cube was rotating away from you. The illusion was broken if you got too close to one of the two walls, however. I will definitely have to read some perception papers to see if I can find out how things like this work. If I were ever to create art, it would probably be exclusively geeky, with optical illusions, robots, and so forth.

As it turned out, the Guggenheim would be our only real attraction for the day. We spent a lot of time walking around in the rain in the exceedingly posh Upper East Side (I think that’s the neighborhood – Central Park & 80th St.?) looking for a remotely cheap place to eat. We also discovered that both the Met and the Frick Collection, our two other planned museums for the day, were closed on Mondays. Eventually, we found some food in the form of Famous Ray Bono’s Pizza. Arguably the best pizza crust I have ever had.

After our late lunch, we spent some time browsing in a book store, and then headed to Grand Central Station to check out the main hall there. It really is huge. There was a Cirque du Soleil demonstration going on in one of the side halls, so we also checked that out. They really are freaks, but in a way that allows them to perform practically superhuman tricks, like doing multiple flips and pikes 20 feet into the air in a train station.

We decided to try the New York Public Library, to hang out and perhaps to get internet access, but guess what – closed on Mondays! I suppose that normal New Yorkers don’t have to worry about all of this tourist stuff being closed on Mondays, but geez… it’s frustrating. After that final failure of the day, we chose from one of three visible Starbucks to use up more of my sister’s gift card. We read the Times, Jo and Hadley attempted to do the crossword puzzle (I had to finish it up for them), and drank our hot beverages which were very necessary on such a cold and rainy day. I for one relished the seating, just because we had been on our feet walking for most of the day.

On our way to our selected dinner location, a Mexican restaurant that Jo and my parental units had gone to on our last trip to NYC, we wandered around Rockefeller Center briefly so Jo and Hadley could see the skating rink. I think that they’re a wee bit obsessed with the sites of scenes from romantic movies set in New York. Dinner at Mama Mexico’s was excellent, although my Mole Poblano was (surprise, surprise) not up to the quality of the Mole Oaxaqueño that I had in Acapulco. I was surprised that they didn’t card me for the beer I ordered, and worse still, they accidentally gave Jo an Hadley alcoholic drinks when they had specifically requested the virgin versions. They did eventually get it right, however. I would guess that our waitress failed to communicate things properly to the bartender.

Once again we ended our night with transportation woes in Long Branch. The train that we caught at Penn Station turned out to not have an associated train waiting in Long Branch for the local run, so we decided to wait the 30 minutes for the next train. We grabbed some donuts at Dunkin Donuts, and waited. We finally got on our diesel train for Allenhurst, and then proceded to miss our stop!! I can swear up and down that the train did not come to a complete halt at Allenhurst, because the “This station…” message didn’t sound, and we certainly didn’t feel the train stop. The next thing we knew, we were on our way to Asbury Park. I would guess that, since we didn’t stand up before the station, and since there wasn’t anyone waiting there, the conductor didn’t bother to tell the engineer to stop. Apparently NJT just assumes that everyone knows that this is the protocol; I would certainly expect a train to make every scheduled stop, even if it is an off-peak train. We were able to get a taxi back to Allenhurst from the next station for $6, but we already paid NJT $85 for the week to get us between New York and Allenhurst. The conductor even saw our tickets when we got on the local train!! Grarr.

I ended the night by watching a bit of the Fox News Channel, out of morbid curiosity, while checking my e-mail. Unsurprisingly, all of my assumptions about Pat O’Reilley being a jerk were completely true. Also, the SCCS is going to try to make a final push to get our new RAID array set up over Spring Break. Hopefully you will have more storage space by the time I post this…

<tmi>
I just clogged their toilet, and I don’t know where their plunger is. Hopefully I can unplug it in the morning. Damn these old low-pressure toilets…
</tmi>


Day 4

I got to start off my day unplugging a toilet. I win!! Our trip into New York was uneventful as usual, and reminded me that public transportation does work the vast majority of the time. I will once again extoll the virtues of the weekly pass.

We went to the UN first, since we knew that that would be a finite time commitment. While waiting for our tour to start, we looked at some of the exhibits in the lobby. It is really incredibly depressing what human beings do to each other. Land mines, hunger, human rights violations. Scary stuff, and am I doing anything about it? Nope. Drat.

The tour was pretty much the same as our visit in 2002, but this time we were able to get into the General Assembly. I think that there was a meeting currently going on the last time. It really is an impressive place, more because of what has happened there than because of the building itself. The color schemes are really, really dated, for one thing. I doubt they’d ever remodel.

We grabbed lunch in Grand Central Station’s Dining Concourse, hoping that it would be relatively cheap. We were wrong, at least compared to the pizza places we’ve frequented thus far. At least they had a good selection…

The next stop was to head back to the Met (on a day that they’re actually open). We only spent a couple of hours there, but I felt I got a good surface view of their collection. I spent most of my time in the Egyptian collection, because I really like egyptology and archaeology. It’s also nice to not see the same classical art over and over again. I like classical art; it’s just that a ton of it was produced, and until recently, most museums focused on it a lot. After I finished up the Egyptian galleries, I spent some time zipping around and seeing as many different types of art as possible. I wish that there Arms & Armor section had had more older stuff (i.e. pre-renaissance). In particular, since I’m in Historical-Comparative Linguistics, I would love to see a collection of Brittonic or early Germanic weaponry. I suppose most of that would reside in European museums.

We decided to check out the New York Public Library, partly to see it inside, and partly to try and get an internet connection so we could check e-mail. The building is quite nice inside, and certainly like no library I’ve ever been in. Security guards! In a library! Is New York really that bad? When we finally got to the computer floor, we found that all of the internet computers were busy. We grabbed one as it freed up, but it turns out that you’re supposed to take a number; you can’t just grab an open computer. I guess that makes sense, but it’s certainly a lot less open than any library I’ve ever been to.

We were all tired, and not very hungry (having had a late lunch), so we decided to head back to Allenhurst early. We grabbed the next available NJT express train, and everything went successfully. I guess we’ve finally figured out how to use this train-thing. Hopefully we’ll keep that up for the rest of the week.

The girls convinced me to watch the Disney movie remake of Freaky Friday. It was actually pretty funny, and I always have a hard time watching movies where the characters are constantly embarrassing themselves.. I imagine it’s much harder for Jamie-Lee Curtis to act like a punk teen than it is for Lindsay Lohman to act like a mature adult and mother of two. Also, for a Disney singer/actress product, Ms. Lohman can actually sing decently, so she gets points for that. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, she played twins in the Disney remake of the Parent Trap from a few years ago.


Day 5

Today we left the Midtown tourist sites we had been visiting thus far to see Downtown Manhattan and the harbor. We started off by taking the subway to near City Hall, so we could grab pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge. I don’t know why my sister is obsessed with it, but with our weekly MetroCards, the trip had already been paid for. We snapped our pictures, and then took the subway to see Ground Zero.

The site of the World Trade Center doesn’t look much different from when we visited as a family in 2002. The only major difference that I noticed was the addition of the PATH WTC station entrance, and that they’re building a new structure on the site of Building 11 (the building off to one side that collapsed). It really does look like any other construction site, but then you realize how many people died there two and a half years ago. I look forward to watching the progress of the rebuilding, particularly seeing the final form of the memorial to the tragedy.

Speaking of memorials, our next stop was Battery Park, where the globe from the WTC plaza currently resides. The damage that was done to it during the collapse of the two towers gives you an idea of how big the cataclysm was. I like that they have this temporary memorial set up, with an eternal flame. Hopefully the final memorial will be just as simple and powerful. There was a bouquet of dead flowers sitting in front of the flame; a powerful image.

Before hitting Battery Park, we grabbed lunch at yet another pizza place on the edge of the financial district. It was no Famous Ray Bono’s, but the crust was quite good. I propose that all pizzas be rated on a scale normalized to Famous Ray Bono’s pizza. A pizza of 100Bo (one hundred Bono) would be exactly equivalent to Famous Ray’s pizza. Obviously, most pizzas rate much lower. For example, I’d give Renato’s about 10Bo, but I’m not a fan. Papa John’s and most other national chains probably rate around 50Bo, and frozen pizzas can come in anywhere from 5 to 95Bo. I am a huge fan of Red Baron’s frozen thin crust pizzas :o). Yum!

After our pizza analysis, we went to Castle Clinton in Battery Park to grab a ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands. The squirrels there were very brave, but much thinner than Swarthmore squirrels. They would eat food straight from tourists’ hands. The cruise through the harbor was nice, and we took some good shots of the city and of the Statue of Liberty. It’s really too bad that she isn’t open, but I guess some of the safety/security issues need to be ironed out first, and that takes time and money.

The visit to Ellis Island was nice. Their museum was decent, although fairly repetitive. I saw exact quotes repeated on multiple displays. I paid $5 for the privilege of spending 30 minutes with their genealogical database, which was pretty cool. They waste some of your time with an intro video, and a period at the end where they encourage you to buy framed ship pictures. The nice thing is, I now have an account to access their database online for free, albeit more slowly.

I found that one of my great-grandmother’s cousins traveled to Europe before WWI, but I didn’t find any actual immigrations. I’ll probably be spending some time with their online database trying to find any ancestors on both sides of the family that may have come over in the late 1800s or early 1900s. After my research, I explored the museum a bit. They had a neat exhibit on the history of the island itself; I had no idea that it is almost entirely fill, and that it started out as a sandbar with good oyster banks.

After we got off the ferry back in Manhattan, we decided to grab dinner in Chinatown, since it was fairly close. We wandered around a bit, looking for a cheaper, decently-rated restaurant that would take credit cards. We found a decent place (definitely better than Cheng Hing, at any rate). They had excellent scallion pancakes, and pretty good General Tso’s Chicken that was fried more like the sweet & sour chicken I’ve had at other places.

We paid, and rushed back to the nearest subway station, because we only had about 40 minutes until the next NJT train back to Allenhurst. We could have waited an hour, but it’s nice to get back once the day is done. Hadley insisted on buying some shoes from a vendor for one of her friends, but we got to the station quickly enough. That was when the Anonymous New York Jerk struck. When I swiped my MetroCard, said Anonymous New York Jerk went out the turnstile I was about to go in, thus using my swipe. Since I have an unlimited use card, that means that I couldn’t use it again for something on the order of 15 minutes. I decided to go back up to street level and try getting into the station on the other side, but that didn’t work either. I suppose the reader is just looking at the timestamp on the card. Thankfully the attendant in the booth on that side of the station bought my story and let me through the gate entrance.

We literally had to run from the red line entrance of Madison Square Garden/Penn Station to the first track of the NJT platforms. Since it was also rush hour, I would have to guess that we probably passed somewhere on the order of 30,000 people in a very short period of time. Mass transit is truly an amazing thing. No wonder so many of you are transportation fanboys…


Day 6

Today was the day I was finally free of the girls and their… well… girliness. Not to mention their constant mockery of my lack of style. I started off by going up to Times Square, both to grab a subway map at the information center that is on Broadway, and to walk towards the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum. While I was there, I stepped inside the Toys-R-Us. The place is huge; they have a ferris wheel inside of the atrium! One comment: whatever happened to the good old days of Lego?

I walked six blocks through a random non-touristy area of Manhattan, heading towards the Hudson. They have this really fancy bridge crossing 12th Avenue to reach the museum building. It’s neat from an architectural standpoint, but not entirely necessary. Along with using my CityPass to get in, I bought a ride in one of their flight simulators. It seemed like it would be a fun thing to do, and it was only $5 extra.

My first stop in the museum was the U.S.S. Growler, a guided missile submarine from the 50s. It could launch large nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to hit the USSR. There was a bit of a wait, since they must have had some regulations regarding how many people could be in the sub at one time. That, or they only want to run one tour at a time. At any rate, I’m glad I had my puzzle book along with me; it also helped me survive all of the train rides. The submarine itself was moderately interesting; as usual, it was very cramped, and there are a lot of dials and pipes all over the place. Also, you can’t touch anything, even though it would be so much fun to start turning and pushing and…

The Intrepid has the Concorde on a barge at their pier, but they don’t have it open as an exhibit yet. I’ll have to go back in a couple of years to check it out. Out of all of the airplanes that they have, it is probably in the best condition, simply because it just came out of service. A lot of their planes are rustbuckets that haven’t been fully restored yet.

They’ve really improved the exhibits on the hangar deck. They had some cool info about the history of the Intrepid itself, and some general stuff on submarines, the early space program, that sort of thing. My favorite exhibit, unsurprisingly, was the one on the future of military technology, sponsored by Raytheon and Lockheed-Martin. I had no idea how behind I was in weapon trivia! I completely missed out on the Sea Shadow stealth ship, the Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle, and many others. At the same time it was funny to see videos extolling now-defunct programs like the Comanche, Crusader, and Osprey. They had a very cool display on the future U.S.S. New York, a new amphibious assault ship that was named in honor of the victims of 9-11.

The flight simulator stunk, because the two projectors that are supposed to give a 3-D image were out of alignment. To be honest, the simulation itself wasn’t that great, but because of the hardware problems, I had sufficient grounds to request a refund. They made me fill out and sign two different forms just to get my five bucks back.

After exploring the hangar deck, I headed up to the flight deck to see the main airplane exhibit. I also went up to the bridge, where I talked to an odd old navy guy who was a gunnery officer on one of Intrepid’s sister ships. I wandered around the ship for a bit before heading back to the museum building and finally grabbing some lunch at about 3:30 at their McDonald’s. I was amazed by the sheer amount of cheap plastic military toys that they had for sale in the museum store.

At around 4 pm, my sister called to inform me that she and Hadley had failed to get tickets to the opera for tonight. I was fine with that, because even an 8 hour day in New York gets long, especially when it’s your fifth one in a row.

My next stop was on a pilgrimage to the Soho Apple Store. It is a beautiful building; the store is in an old post office. It doesn’t have big lit up apple logos like the other two stores I’ve been to (Southdale and the Mall of America, both in Minneapolis). The store is huge, however, with an aesthetically pleasing yet complete unnecessary glass staircase leading up to the second floor. It reminded me of some of the delicious eye-candy of OS X.

I browsed around the store for a bit, used an eMac to surf the web and check my e-mail, and played around with GarageBand on a PowerBook. I had a dickens of a time getting the file I created off of the computer; It wouldn’t copy onto my phone’s flash memory over Bluetooth, I couldn’t mount my iDisk for some reason, I couldn’t mount any AppleTalk server at Swat, I couldn’t use SCP because they had Terminal disabled (probably a smart move security-wise), and when I e-mailed it to myself, it corrupted the file. I suppose my silly little mix song wasn’t that great, anyway.

After communing with Apple product big and small (Apple akbar!), I hopped subways back to Penn Station. I had a few minutes to burn, so I browsed the magazine rack. With the exception of nerdy computer and science magazines, I don’t read any of the hundreds of magazines that get printed each month. I got on the train, and then called Jo to tell her I was on board, figuring that they had been waiting for me. It turns out that they just barely made the train! I guess they spent a little too much time shopping, or perhaps obsessing over some cute guy. ;o)

Since I had had lunch so late, we didn’t get any dinner until we got back to Allenhurst. We didn’t want to impose, so we went to a nice mexican place in the town, near the train station. It was expensive, but not terribly so. The portions were so large, my sister and her friend were able to share one entree, and I brought back leftovers. I definitely felt sated after my delicious taco salad.


Day 7

Today Jo and Hadley went back into the city as usual, but I headed back to Swat. They both get kicked out of their dorms for the duration of spring break, so they have to wait until Sunday before they can go back to school. I wanted to have a nice lazy weekend, and maybe try to get a little work done.

The plan for this morning was to call Joan so she could stop by the house (after I had gotten ready, eaten breakfast, and packed my bags) and take me to visit my Uncle Bud, her father. He was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer last year, and my mom wanted me to visit to say hello for her.

I was surprised when my older second cousin Jen stopped by the house. She still lives in the area, working as a reporter for the newspaper in Asbury Park, and she still gets mail at her parents’ house. It was nice talking to her; I’m sure we’d met before at a family reunion, although there is a good possibility that the last one we were both at was in 1994 when I was 11. Needless to say, I didn’t remember her. Still, it was nice to meet her… again.

Jen took me a few towns south to the nursing home where Uncle Bud is currently staying. He’s in a very different situation from most of the other residents; the vast majority of them seemed to be not all together upstairs, whereas my great-uncle is still sharp. Unfortunately, his body is literally giving out. While we were there, he had low blood pressure, so he couldn’t talk very much, and then he had to lie down. It is hard to see anyone like this. I can’t imagine what it’s been like for Joan and her family the last several months.

Jen drove me up to Long Branch so I could catch the train, and on the way gave me a tour of the sad decay that is Asbury Park, NJ. You can tell that it used to be a very nice area, but the place is completely run down, and the boardwalk is like a ghost town. I got up to Rahway with no problems, but then I had to wait an hour for a Northeast Corridor train, because the first scheduled train was cancelled due to mechanical problems. This also meant that the next train was completely packed, so I was standing for a bit. The funny thing was, the train was so busy that no one actually checked my ticket. I was worried that my weekly Allenhurst-New York pass wouldn’t get me all the way to Trenton, but as it turned out, it didn’t matter.

The SEPTA machines in Trenton refused to take my twenty, so I got 19 sacajaweas and 1 susan b from the change machine. Other people had gotten in the line for the ticket machines, so I had to wait again. I was a nice guy and made change for a woman whose ten wouldn’t go into the machine either, and I got my ticket and ran only to have the door literally close in my face. I know you’re not supposed to run for trains, but I was so close! The conductor ignored me when I knocked on the window. ::sigh:: I don’t understand why the machines say they take up to $20 bills, when they actually don’t.

I had a 30 minute wait in Trenton, during which time I bought the classic geek lunch of Fritos and Mountain Dew from vending machines. As it turns out, waiting in Trenton was somewhat better than waiting at 30th street, because the timing was just about perfect for transferring from the R7 to the R3. During the ride from Trenton, I talked to my Grandma on the phone for a while. She loves hearing what we’re up to, and she’s pretty interested in the genealogical research I’ve been doing. The ride to Swat was standing-room only, and I imagine that it will be even worse if the SEPTA bus drivers strike. It doesn’t matter now though, because I am back safe and sound in my dorm room.

And after a wonderful seven day trip, I’m ready to get back into the Swarthmore swing of things.

Here’s a link to all of the pictures I took on the trip; I’m too lazy to link from each description to the appropriate image. Waaay too lazy.

http://www.sccs.swarthmore.edu/~nward/nurd_central/iphoto/springbreak/springbreak.html

Beauty And The Beast” from Beauty and the Beast by Walt Disney

Nurd Up!