Seasonal Creep and Back-to-School Shopping Season

Remember how upset I was when breweries started offering pumpkin beers in August last year?

Well, starting today, Monday, July 6, Amazon is launching its back-to-school sale.


Although public schools here in New York City just started their summer recess ten days ago, you might as well stock up now before the Christmas shopping season starts after Labor Day.

But seriously, buy stuff through the banner because I get a commission.

Bikes and Trains, Independence Day 2015 Edition

My favorite convergence of two nineteenth century technologies is that of bicycles and trains because they work well together. In fact, they complement each other much more than the two quintessential twentieth-century transportation technologies: airplanes and automobiles. Don’t believe me? Think about how onerous it is to pick up or drop off someone at the airport, let alone park a car there.

One of the great things about bicycling in the New York City area is that there are trains that can assist with planning your long bike rides. Having a train enables you to do a long ride that isn’t a loop. Thanks to the tireless work of bicycling advocates throughout the region, it is possible to ride for a whole day and catch a train—and an attendant nap—to whisk you back home.

Although we still have a long way to go compared to the west coast, where you can reserve a space and roll your bike onto many Amtrak trains, the New York City–area does have some excellent infrastructure to carry a bike on a train.

Except, perhaps, for holiday weekends…such as this coming Independence Day weekend.

The patchwork of separate railroads have implemented an array of restrictions:

These restrictions put a damper what seemed like a nice idea: an Independence Day bike ride to Philadelphia, our nation’s former capital city. Instead, it looks like I’ll be riding with some friends north through Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess counties this Friday. The ride will end in Beacon, but we plan to take a very scenic and hilly route by way of Amenia for a day-long double metric century.

And, yes, we’ll be taking a late Metro North train back to NYC.

Heat Wave Envy

Apparently, there’s a heatwave afflicting Western Europe, bringing the hottest July day ever in Britain. I’m a little jealous.

With daytime temperatures in New York hovering in the low eighties all week, it hardly feels like summer, despite Independence Day weekend starting in two days.

As a fellow academic put it, I almost feel like I should be assembling my course packets for the fall.

Four Weeks with the Apple Watch

My first Apple Watch Sport, in all its Space Black glory.

My first Apple Watch Sport, in all its Space Black glory.

After kvetching about its purpose, my need for one, and its place in the personal computing ecosystem, I recognized that having an Apple Watch could serve a very important purpose: it would free me from retrieving my iPhone in specific situations, such as when riding a bicycle. Like other commenters, I saw its primary function as the computer-you-have-on-you so you can stay off your computer.

The smartphone exploded because, like its built-in camera, it was always with you, and because it was always there, you used even more than a computer and in ways you never used a personal computer. The watch isn’t there yet, and who knows if it will ever approach that level of utility. But in the last four weeks, I’ve really appreciated some of the things Apple Watch does that a smartphone, such as my iPhone, does not do.

The following are not revolutionary differences, but instead are minor tweaks to my own personal computing.

The Unappreciated Architecture of the New York’s World’s Fairs at the Godwin-Ternbach Museum

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Last year marked the fiftieth and seventy-fifth anniversaries, respectively, of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. I wrote about these two fairs with regards to the 1939 introduction of television by RCA and the 1964 New York State Pavilion, designed by celebrated modern architect Phillip Johnson.

Starting today, June 29, the Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College is hosting a photographic exhibit on the “ignored” and “ridiculed” architecture of the World’s Fairs. The exhibition, Persuasive Images: Architecture of the 1939–40 & 1964–65 New York World’s Fairs, will run until July 27, and there’s an opening reception on July 9, two weeks after the exhibit opens.

Persuasive Images: Architecture of the 1939–40 & 1964–65 New York World’s Fairs

  • June 29 – July 27, 2015
  • Museum open Monday–Saturdays,
  • Godwin-Ternbach Museum, 65-30 Kissena Blvd, 405 Klapper Hall, Queens, NY 11367
  • Free

No More United at Kennedy Airport

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Sixty-eight years ago yesterday, on June 17, 1947, Pan Am launched the first round-the-world flight, Flight 001, between San Francisco, Honolulu, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Delhi, Beirut, Istanbul, Frankfurt, London, and finally New York. Flight 002 originated in New York and would transit through those same cities on an eastbound course. Over time, the particular routing and destinations would change, but it remained a route until Pan Am ceased operations in the early 1990s. The last airline to fly this route was United Airlines, in the late 1990s, and the last segment of this route to survive is United flying between JFK and LAX.

Yesterday, I learned that United Airlines will be ceasing flights on my most frequently travelled route— between JFK and LAX— and moving those flights to its “New York” hub in Newark, New Jersey.

We have made the decision to move our p.s. service from New York JFK to Newark Liberty International Airport. Effective October 25, all of our p.s. flights between New York and both Los Angeles and San Francisco will operate out of our hub at Newark, and we’ll discontinue our service out of JFK.

This ends United’s presence at JFK airport and moves these venerable transcontinental flights to New Jersey. This is personally inconvenient for me because I live on the same landmass as JFK airport: crossing two rivers to get to Newark can take hours. But it is also a bit sad because of nostalgia. My first flight to New York, in 1998, was on United’s LAX to JFK route. Unlike the other United flights I had taken—especially the short-haul flights between California cities— this was a much different experience.

  • United flew the JFK to LAX route on a dedicated fleet of wide-body Boeing 767 jets.
  • The flights to and from LAX and SFO at JFK arrived and departed from a dedicated area at Terminal 6, while the flights to other destinations, such as London, Chicago, Hong Kong, etc. departed from Terminal 7.
  • There were three classes of service: basic Economy class, what United called Connoisseur class (equivalent to today’s business class), and an even more luxurious First class.
  • The flight numbers were low, like a prestigious Manhattan address. My first outbound to JFK was on UA 10 and my return was on UA 1.

Over the years, the flights changed. They were downgauged to single-aisle 757 aircraft in 2004, which made for a more fuel-efficient operation, and inaugurated the dedicated Premium Service (p.s.) fleet. Some time after 9/11, United moved its California-bound flights to Terminal 7 at JFK, which consolidated all of its flights to that terminal.

Then the merger happened, and there were more changes. United eliminated its First and consolidated its premium seats into a single BusinessFirst cabin. Then the flight numbers changed.

Flight numbers might seem meaningless to most passengers, but if an airline assigns a particular flight a low number, it suggests its importance to the carrier. The early evening flight to LAX was UA 25, the early morning flight to SFO was UA 3, and the redeye from LAX was UA 18 for many years. And my first flight from JFK to LAX was a segment of a round-the-world flight that United inherited from Pan Am. Flight 1 passed through New York-JFK, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Bangkok, New Delhi, London, and finally back to JFK, and Flight 2 did the same in reverse. But in recent years, JFK-LAX/SFO flights were assigned three-digit numbers. The only references to their distinct character was that some recent JFK-SFO flights were numbered 415—the area code of San Francisco—and some eastbound LAX-JFK flights were numbered 212—the area code for Manhattan. As an affront to my Angeleno pride, there was no flight 213.

But starting in late October, there will be no more flights to JFK. Flying to New York from Los Angeles or San Francisco will require a connection in Chicago, Denver, Houston or Washington to arrive at LaGuardia airport. Or it will require, what LaGuardia airport’s namesake hated more than anything: landing in New Jersey.

Chilled Coffee Wars

We’re about a week away from solstice, but in New York City, it’s finally hot and muggy enough to stop craving hot coffee in favor of something chilled. I’ve written in the past that I much prefer making cold brew to brewing hot coffee over ice cubes. About a week ago, I noticed that two very prominent third-wave coffee roasters have chosen sides in this debate.

Counter Culture Coffee, out of Durham, North Carolina, favors pouring hot coffee over iced cubes to make their iced coffee. They insist that the immediate cooling process “locks in flavors and aromatics that other iced coffee processes allow to escape.” You can see their method in this video.

I’ve used this method several times, but as I’ve noted in the past, I generally only do this when I am pressed for time.

Portland, Oregon’s Stumptown, on the other hand, is a big proponent of cold brewing and discourages their customers from pouring coffee over ice cubes. In a recent blog post, they advise against brewing drip coffee over ice. They warn that “it will taste watery and bitter, and you’ll lose clarity and sweetness.” Instead, they recommend cold brewing: “making true cold brew takes time – about 16 hours, in fact – but it’s well worth the effort.” Their support of this method is likely due to their offering cold brew in bottles and nitrogen-propelled cans. If you can’t wait, they, of course, offer ready-to-drink bottles and cans.

However, they’re not entirely against the diluting hot coffee over ice. One method they recommend is using an Aeropress.

Brew Guide Aeropress Hero

That makes sense because it allows for longer brewing time, and the pressure used to brew with an Aeropress seems to extract more flavor than pour over alone.

At any rate, the fact that two first-rate, third-wave coffee roasters suggest competing methods for brewing iced coffee seems to confirm something I learned from touring bourbon distilleries over the past eight years.

There are countless ways to enjoy your coffee, and it’s your call on how to enjoy it. Even if you’re adding booze.

It’s Only Fair Use

Last week, in time for Manhattanhenge, I received a request to use one of my photographs to illustrate an article about what the kids today are calling LICHenge.

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I often read DNA Info’s coverage of Long Island City and environs so I let them use my photograph free of charge. Also, since I use a browser plug-in to block ads and tracking software, meaning they can’t easily monetize me, I figured it was only fair to give something back for all that content I’ve read for “free” over the years.

A few days later, I ran into a former student around NYU. He informed me that he had shared an article about the Four Seasons restaurant with another former student of mine. He reported that they both did a double-take when they noticed that it was my photo illustrating that article.

Pool Room

Unlike DNA Info, Curbed didn’t ask for permission to use it. In all fairness, they didn’t need to ask for permission. Many of my photos, including the one of the Four Seasons, are available for use through Creative Commons. They’re free to use them just as I am free to use other’s content for this website and whatever other original work I create. Old fogies and enfants terribles call this sort of thing fair use.

Besides, I didn’t even take the photo. Sarah took my camera on the OHNY tour while I went to a softball playoff game. It’s really her work, anyway.

That Time I Rode a Bike Eighty Miles from a Wedding

Last month, I travelled to California to attend two weddings—one for Nicole and Tom, and another for Jason and Jamie. Both couples are friends who live in Southern California.

The first wedding, though a worthwhile affair, involved driving from Los Angeles for about 230 miles each way to the Central Coast–town of Paso Robles. As someone who doesn’t care for driving much anymore, it was difficult to pilot a car for two four-hour one-way drives.

For the second wedding, I changed my approach. I would do no driving. Instead, I took Amtrak from Burbank to Santa Barbara on the day of the wedding with my California-road bike in tow. After spending the night on a friend’s couch, I would return to the LA area by bicycle. The morning following the wedding, I sucked down some coffee, a calorie-rich breakfast, and a couple of Ibuprofen tablets before riding eighty miles to Santa Clarita. From there, I planned to catch a direct Metrolink train back to the Antelope Valley.

Trip 4503358 map full

This would match the longest ride I had done on the west coast. It’s not NYC-to-Montauk, but it’s still a long ride, especially after partying at a friend’s wedding.

From the Sea to the Desert

The first thing about traveling from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita is that the entire trip is actually along an easterly heading. Most everyone who drives a car thinks that Ventura is south of Santa Barbara because one takes US-101 South to get there. But between Point Conception and Point Mugu, the Pacific Ocean is mostly south—not west—of the California coastline, thus the trip is just as much east-west, as it is north-south.

The second thing about this trip is that there are two possible routes to take to Santa Clarita.

  1. Via Ojai. This route is about 90 miles and is very hilly with about a mile of vertical gain. It includes a long eleven-mile, thousand-foot ascent before descending, almost as long and as steep, into the Santa Clara River valley just east of Santa Paula. When I mentioned this route to a friend, he referenced Greg LeMond, which turned me off to this option because of the requisite effort. Had I not been at a wedding the night before and carrying about 15 pounds of stuff in a backpack, I would have taken this route.

    Instead, I went…

  2. Via Ventura. This route is about 80 miles and is very flat. The route more or less follows “southbound” US-101 and then continues along eastbound CA-126. Taking this route gives a rider a taste of several Southern California terrains, including the sea, the desert, and the ‘burbs.

This route starts along the section of US-101 named “Pacific Coast Highway” and, because it is along the seashore, also appears to be one of the most popular bike routes in the region.

Apres Hallows Wedding Ride to Santa Clarita

This stretch of the route ends in downtown Ventura, where you will come upon a quaint main street, appropriately called “Main Street.”

Apres Hallows Wedding Ride to Santa Clarita

After downtown Ventura, I stopped by a little burger spot to get some lunch. I hear you can get things “animal style,” which isn’t as gross as it might sound.

Apres Hallows Wedding Ride to Santa Clarita

As I waited for my food at In ‘n’ Out, I found two other cyclists who were more or less riding the same route—in reverse, from Chatsworth to Santa Barbara. They had some mishaps in that they were fighting a headwind the entire way—which was my tailwind gently pushing me east—and even had to escort a friend whose tire blew out back to a train station. I pitied them at first, but then I reminded them that the story of cycling is a lot better when someone asks, “how are you two holding up on this ride?” and respond with, “Great, but there were three of us when we started.”

After Ventura, the route traverses through some quintessential Southern California terrain: citrus groves, oil fields, and the banks of the desiccated Santa Clara River.

Apres Hallows Wedding Ride to Santa Clarita

The terrain completes its transition to desert as the elevation increases and approaches Castaic Junction, where CA-126 connects with I-5, north of Valencia.

Apres Hallows Wedding Ride to Santa Clarita

Apres Hallows Wedding Ride to Santa Clarita

As I approached the last ten miles of the route, I came upon two stretches of CA-126, just west of Castaic Junction, that had no shoulder for me to ride.

Apres Hallows Wedding Ride to Santa Clarita

I bypassed the first stretch by jumping over the barricade and riding on hard pack. But the second stretch was just a ravine: I had to “take the lane” on a road where cars regularly speed at 60-70 MPH. It reminded me of riding on Tyburn Road in Morrisville, Pennsylvania during my inaugural Cheesesteak Century where I had to sprint and merge onto a highway with big trucks barreling towards me.

Tyburn Road in Morrisville, Pennsylvania is an awful place to ride a bike.

Tyburn Road in Morrisville, Pennsylvania is an awful, awful place to ride a bike because it’s a heavily potholed highway. Yikes!

East of Castaic Junction, the route heads south and is essentially suburban as you ride through California’s eighteenth largest city. For seven miles you’ll ride past industrial parks, shopping centers, and overly planned subdivisions to ultimately arrive at the Metrolink station at Santa Clarita.

Apres Hallows Wedding Ride to Santa Clarita

This might not be the most arduous ride, and judging from the Strava heat maps, it’s not the most unexplored route to take. But if you’re looking for a direct way, low-traffic route to get between Santa Barbara and Santa Clarita, this will do just fine.

They’re Calling it LICHenge

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Midsummer is still about a month away, but twice every year—once around Memorial Day and again around Bastille Day—New Yorkers point their cameras at the setting sun to capture it as it lines up with the Manhattan street grid. Because of the similarity of how the sun lines up with the rocks at Stonehenge on the summer solstice, this specifically New York City–phenomenon has been called “Manhattanhenge.”

I first learned about Manhattanhenge back around 2002 or 2003, when a friend forwarded me a link to Neil Degrasse-Tyson’s article explaining the event, which was written not too long after People named him the sexiest astrophysicist alive. I believe he is also credited with concocting the portmanteau “Manhattanhenge.”

Almost every year since then, I missed it. For most of my early years in New York City, I lived in Greenwich Village, and I would invariably feel discouraged to take my camera and tripod to 14th Street, where I would have to dodge pedestrian and vehicular traffic at a busy time of the day. As budding New Yorker, my cynicism didn’t judge it worth the trouble.

However, after moving to Long Island City in 2008, I realized that I had the perfect spot to view the sunset on any given night, and starting in 2011, I got over my reservations over photographing Manhattanhenge and headed for Gantry State Park, where Long Island City meets the East River at Hunters Point. There, I found that I was in good company of other curious photographers, including one guy who used his girlfriend’s head as an improvised tripod.

Shooting the Shooters

And, of course, the photographic results were pretty stunning.

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Much like Long Island City itself, watching Manhattanhenge from Long Island City is “blowing up.” I hate to say that because it seems silly to brag about watching a particular sunset longer than anybody else. That same sun has been “setting” beyond our horizon for over a billion years, and it has been lining up with the Manhattan street grid since about 1811. I’m old, but not that old.

However, two events came to my attention this week that suggest the growing popularity of watching Manhattanhenge from Long Island City:

  1. On Thursday, May 28, the Hunters Point Parks Conservancy, the non-profit organization that advocates for Gantry State Park and Hunters Point South Park, is hosting a viewing party. The name for it is a portmanteau of a portmanteau: LICHenge. Members of the organization get some vittles and a beverage while they watch the sun set in line with 42nd Street.

  2. Jeanmarie Evelly, the DNA Info reporter who covers the “Brooklyn parts” of Queens, posted a story about viewing Manhattanhenge from LIC. I had actually completely forgotten about Manhattanhenge until she emailed me yesterday, asking permission to use one of my photos of the 2011 LIC-Manhattanhenge. The photograph now illustrates her story about “soaking” in views of Manhattanhenge from the LIC waterfront.

As an exile from Long Island City, I doubt that I will return to the Queens waterfront to view Manhattanhenge. Perhaps, instead, I will head to Transmitter Park in Greenpoint to watch it from a new vantage point. In either case, I would hate to miss it. Even if it’s more popular than ever before, watching Manhattanhenge from here is still a great experience.

What’s not to like about a sunset?