Saturday, July 21, 2007

An Affordable Place to Stay in New York

I took the Amtrak to Penn Station early Tuesday morning for a quick two-day visit to what I call The City. The idea was to do some job-related networking, see some old friends, and buy some Coach bags. I am happy to say I was quite successful in all of those quests. Not to mention, my expectations were exceeded when I landed a Gucci watch for 10 bucks on Canal Street.

Being unemployed, I had to cut corners on this trip wherever possible. A train ticket from Baltimore is always cheaper than air fare (unless you take the Acela Express, of course). And the train is a much faster and more pleasant trip than doing the whole stressful airport thing.

There was no staying at the Hilton for me this time, either. I tried out a place called Riverside Tower Hotel on the upper west side. It's in a great location - 80th and Riverside Drive, which puts it exactly three blocks from the 1 train at 79th. You can go one stop (to 72nd) and hop on the 2/3 express train to get anywhere on the west side of Manhattan in a jiffy.

With prices starting at $104, Riverside Tower is probably the only hotel in Manhattan where you can sleep for under $150 a night. Even the $150-a-night hotels are usually flea bags. This place wasn't. At least, there were no bugs - with the exception of one flying insect that I locked in the bathroom for my second night there.

Granted, it is a pre-war building, and the plumbing looked historic, but everything worked fine and the place was pretty clean. The only thing you have to get used to is the small size. As I went up in the old, small elevator after checking in, I said to myself, "Remember, it's going to be small."

Nonetheless, when I opened the unpainted door to my room on the 8th floor, I busted out laughing and had to call my sister-in-law Judy immediately on my cell to tell her just how small "small" is in this hotel.

I had reserved a "suite" but didn't realize until after my trip that what I'd gotten in error was just a "single." Fortunately I was only charged for the single, which is about $121 a night (after massive tax is tacked on). So the error saved me about 35 bucks.
When I entered my room I saw a small twin bed shoved against the left wall. No headboard. The bed took up nearly half of the main room, which was carpeted in bright red. To the right of the bed, not four feet away, was an old floor lamp and a windowed wall with a small A/C unit.

There was a small TV across from the end of the bed on top of a three-drawer dresser, a phone sitting on a phone book, and a closet about 4' wide. On a shelf above the dresser was a mini-fridge and an unplugged microwave (with no outlet in sight). The bathroom was a hoot. The sink was miniature, as were the soaps. The front of the toilet was so close to the wall that an average-height person would have to turn their knees to the left in order to sit down. The entire bathroom probably measured 4' x 6'. In fact, I estimate that the hotel room was just under 125 square feet in total.

But it was clean enough (and, believe it or not), quiet enough to sleep in. Unfortunately, I can't sleep in a twin bed. With my cubital tunnel syndrome, my folded arms fall asleep. So I didn't get much sleep while I was in New York this week. But who sleeps when they go to NY??

I gotta say, even though the maintenace guy was having a bad day because he was waiting forever for an empty elevator that he could get into with his steam cleaner, the front desk staff was friendly throughout my stay there. That reminds me, the elevators are so small that you can fit either one person and their luggage or two people sans luggage. And when you are on your floor and press the down button, the elevator stops for you even if it is going up. My advice: if the elevator comes, just get on it no matter which direction it's headed.

Also, the owner (or manager?) Don is quite responsive over email if you have questions about your stay at Riverside Tower.

So, if you need an inexpensive hotel in NY in a good location, this is the place. Just try to avoid getting the "single" room. Their web site shows the exact layout of each floor. I recommend you try a suite. Looking at the floorplan, the double isn't any bigger than the single, so I wouldn't recommend that room either. Plus, if you get a suite on the Riverside Drive side, you can have a nice view of the Hudson.

Just know ahead of time that there is no bedside table, no alarm clock, no cable TV, no Internet access (except apparently Wi-fi in the lobby area), no bath soap (just tiny hand soaps), and no shampoo, conditioner, or hair dryer. It's just a place to sleep and shower.

Zabar's is right around the corner where you can go to buy groceries and beverages to stock your little fridge. Across from Zabar's is an H&H Bagel, too. You're also close to lots of shopping on Broadway - there's a Filene's Basement on your way to the subway. And Riverside Park is a great place to walk (something I didn't have time for this trip).

And that concludes my unofficial review of the Riverside Tower Hotel in NY. If any of my readers out there have stayed in hotels in NY, please post any recommendations you might have (for or against) in the comments section.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Before and After

Missy and Chris
July, 1981
Ocean Isle, NC

Missy and Chris
July, 2007
Baltimore, MD

Best Friends Reunion 2007

Friday, July 13th, 2007

The events of July 10 and 11 were surreal. On Tuesday morning, my friend Missy showed up at my home at 7:13AM. That was the first time I'd seen her since July, 1981. As she put it later, "It's like we blinked and here we are."

We drove to BWI airport to pick up Chris, who was due to arrive about 45 minutes later.

At the airport, we checked the arrivals board and then went our separate ways. I waited outside of the security area for Chris to show up while Missy waited by AirTran baggage carousel #13 downstairs.

As soon as Chris got off the plane, I snapped a (blurry) photo and we hugged. As we walked downstairs we were both saying we couldn't wait to see Missy later in the day. Chris had no idea that Missy had come with me. As we got closer to baggage, I could see Missy sitting on a bench facing away from us. I was talking and laughing loudly to make sure she heard us. Chris started to head toward the carousel on the side Missy was facing, and I said, "Let's go this way instead." I saw her ogling the back of Missy's head.

On the bench, just opposite Missy's back, I suggested we sit. Again, Chris was looking at the back of Missy's head. (Later, we came to find out she was thinking, "I'll bet that's how Missy's hair looks now.") She just wouldn't turn away, even though I tried to divert her attention. Missy had a line about a moped all set to say to Chris, but she never got a chance. She gave up and turned around. Chris screamed (of course) and they hugged for a long, long time. When they parted, both were in tears. Surprise!

Chris had the infamous Chris Book with her and pulled it out right there in the airport--she didn't trust checking this priceless work of literature in her baggage. (See post for an explanation of The Chris Book.)

After everyone stopped crying and Chris retrieved her luggage, we went back to my house and got caught up on our lives. On the way out of airport parking I stopped to pay the attendant. Chris leaned over me in the car and proclaimed loudly to the attendant, "We haven't seen each other in 26 years!!!" I've never seen a parking attendant smile as big as this guy did. She probably made his day.

Missy was the only one of the three of us who had led a fairly normal life after high school - she graduated from college, dated a guy she met in college, went to work as a Science teacher, got married, had three kids, and now spends her spare time making props and costumes for her daughters' dance troups, going to little league games and dance recitals, and taking a family vacation to Sunset Beach every other year.

Chris and I both led much more spastic lives. (Missy was like, "How does someone stay married for only 10 months??") But we won't go into all the sordid details here. :) Let's just say that both Chris and Missy hadn't changed a bit in my eyes, and I'm very happy to say that both are quite content with their lives. Each has had a wonderful family of their own and a happy marriage for the past 18-22 years, and that is the best news of all.

We stayed up late that night talking. All three of us had been up since long before dawn that day, so we were exhausted. Plus it was a pretty emotional day, which made us even more tired.

On Wednesday Missy had to leave around lunchtime for a job interview, so Chris and I decided to go into Baltimore's Inner Harbor. (She got the job - yay!) Missy's husband had taken the day off work and was also at the harbor with the kids and their cousins. We still hadn't met her family yet.
Chris and I went to the aquarium, which was awesome. I especially loved the dolphin show, entitled "Play!" I could easily go back and see that again. It's amazing what those animals can do - and they were having fun doing it. Dolphins are so playful - they are such a joy to observe.

After that we got a hold of Missy and decided we'd have dinner at the Cheesecake Factory downtown instead of the one in Columbia near my house. Missy mentioned that the rest of her family was still at the harbor, in the Science Center.

Chris and I had to walk back to the car first and move it from 2-hour parking. As we headed around the harbor, we had planned on stopping in at the gift shop at the Science Center to see if Missy's family was still there, although we figured they were probably long gone by then. As we were walking across the red brick pavement along the harbor, a man and five children passed us on our left. I looked over at the man and thought it might be Missy's husband, Rich (who went by "Simon" in college - don't ask). It was tough to tell if it was him because he had sunglasses on, and I'd only seen a photo of him. I told Chris I thought that was him. She was like, "No way, man." But I didn't want to miss the chance in case it was him, so I took the risk of calling to him: "Simon?" He kept walking. I stopped, turned back and yelled more firmly, "Simon!" but the man kept walking. His son Derek heard me, though, and called, "Dad!"

It was Missy's husband! Sure enough, we'd bumped into Missy's family. What a small world! It was a hoot. Rich wanted to take our picture, but his camera battery had died, so he offered to take one with my camera. So before Missy even knew it, we were photographed with her family.

When Missy met up with us at the restaurant, we were telling her about how cool the dolphin show was at the aquarium. I pulled out my camera and offered to show her a really neat photo from the show - what I showed her was the photo of Chris and I standing there with her kids! She died laughing. Chris asked our waitress to take our picture (after, of course, animatedly exclaiming, "We haven't seen each other in 26 years!!!"), and that photo came out just great - so good that I posted it at the top of this blog entry.

We were all full of cheesecake and dinner, so we just strolled around the mall there at Inner Harbor. The moment I laid eyes on a photo booth I screamed, "Oh my god - we have to do this!!" The last time we'd been in a photo booth was 1980 - it was when we were at the beach together. Man those things have shrunk. The seat was only big enough for two (small) people, so Chris had to sit on my lap. Then the camera looked like it was pointed up too high as the machine told us to maneuver ourselves into an oval outline that we just couldn't reach from our seated positions. Not to mention, the image we were looking at was backwards, so if you thought you needed to move your head left to fit in the picture, you really needed to move it to the right.

So the whole thing was a struggle. Every time the machine would count down to snap the next shot, we weren't ready, and that made us laugh. The problem was, we couldn't stop laughing. Missy grabbed my head and tried to push it into the correct position, but I kept moving it the wrong way based on the mirror image on the screen in front of us. We laughed so hard that our stomachs (already hurting from the cheesecake) were in severe pain. When we tumbled out of there, tears in our eyes from laughing so hard, this small girl was staring up at us wondering what was wrong with these old women. We just couldn't stop laughing. It was hysterical - so much fun that we got back in and did it again.

One neat store, called "Fire and Ice," had tons of glass items and some gorgeous jewelry. Chris walked up to the lady behind the counter and screamed, "We haven't seen each other in 26 years!!!" She proceeded to tell this kindly woman that Missy hadn't changed a bit and, "Oh my god, I have photos - want to see them?!" Next thing you know, Chris pulled a stack of very old photos out of her purse and this poor woman was being forced to look at our "before" photos. (I honestly think it was probably the most fun she had all day.)

We spent the rest of the evening on the big sectional sofa at Missy's house, the whole family watching videos of her two daughters (Natalie and Kendall) dancing. It was really fun. Missy's family is obviously a close-knit bunch. They laugh a lot together. And her teenage son Derek never complained once about watching the videos. In fact, he enjoyed it with the rest of us.

With so much love in that house, it was hard to leave. But it was after 11pm and we were still going on little sleep, so Chris and I went home to my place. The next morning I drove her to BWI and hugged her for a long time before letting her go check in at ticketing. We both cried.

What a wonderful reunion that was. A good friend is a forever friend, they say. And it's true. I've made a lot of friends over the years, but there are few that are as special as these two. And I know in my heart that they'll always be there for me. One of the things Missy and I wrote in The Chris Book in 1980 was that we'd always be friends--a promise we've officially kept.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Lasik and the Life of the Unemployed

Well, my one-week post-lay-off vacation is over. I'm actually unemployed. Soon I'll be shopping at the Homeless Depot that my [employed] friend Ed referred me to. Very funny, Eddie!

When my dad asked me why I was only "kinda" on vacation last week, I had to explain to him that on real vacations you can spend money. On unemployed vacations the only luxury you can afford is relaxation (that is, if you can get the job-hunting worries out of your mind long enough to relax). So basically I did yard work, got caught up on chores, went to the gym, took walks, washed the car, increased my contacts ten-fold (I got caught up with dozens of old colleagues online!), and looked at job postings.

Then today I drove to Rockville to see another TLC Lasik surgeon regarding my botched Lasik eye surgery of February 2nd. This guy is both a doctor and the Director, whom I was sent to by a TLC Vice President--finally, after all these months of blurred vision. This Director is the first doctor at TLC who actually showed tremendous concern and a willingness to diagnose and determine a correction for the problem that TLC created.

Sure enough, my left eye has a de-centered ablation. The Director confirmed that for me today. This means that the laser machine was off-center when the laser surgery was performed. The odds of this happening with today's Lasik procedures are virtually nil. It was much more common 15 years ago with the older methods of corrective surgery.

The Director was honest with me, he doesn't understand how this could have happened--not to mention, why it only happened in one eye, and why none of the other patients that day suffered the same outcome.

So it's a big mystery. I'm a medical mystery. It's just one thing after another. But this Director-doctor has a brain and a willingness to investigate. I was impressed with his genuine concern and effort. A number of tests were performed on me today, and this guy spent more time with me in one visit than all the other TLC doctors have spent with me combined (since February).

It's possible that they can temporarily correct my left eye with a hard contact lens - which will feel strange, but if it helps me to see, I'll get used to the discomfort. The right eye needs further correction, but it's not as bad as the left. As to whether the left can be surgically corrected, that remains to be seen. We shall see.

Now, back to the job search. . . .

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Six Degrees of Separation

July 4, 2007 - Happy Independence Day! Thank you to our service men and women.

I move so often that I don't get invitations to any high school reunions. I'm sure Kempsville High School lost track of me many moons ago. So I've never been to a reunion. My family isn't into family reunions. Somehow, though, I've managed to create a very special reunion that is due to occur in just six days.

In my last post, I talked about my oldest friends, Chris and Missy. We were very close in 1980. Chris and I kept in touch, but we lost track of Missy after she went to school at James Madison University in 1982.

So, a month ago when I met up with Chris in New Bern for the first time since 2000, we left there vowing that we'd find Missy. She was one of us. We were like the Three Musketeers in the old days. I knew it wouldn't be an easy task locating Missy because, no doubt, she was married by now and probably using a different last name. A few days and a few Google searches later, I located a phone number and address of someone I thought might be Missy's mom. The street name looked familiar. I plugged the address into my Streets & Trips program, and Bingo! It was in my old neighborhood in Virginia Beach. This had to be the right number.

So I called the number, told the woman who answered who I was and said that I was looking for Missy. Sure enough, "You've got her mother!" she exclaimed. She told me that Missy had become a science teacher after college and married a guy she met at JMU her senior year. When I asked where she was now living, her mom told me, "Hampstead, Maryland." I was like, "Maryland?? You're kidding! I live in Maryland!" As fast as could, I typed in the city and located it on a map. To my surprise, I found out that Missy, my long lost friend, lives a mere smear 34 miles from me. It's just unbelievable how these things happen.

So, there had to be a good reason for me to land in this state. I had finally found it!

I called Missy almost immediately after hanging up with her mom. She freaked out when she realized that the "Susan Bernard" showing up on her caller ID was the real Susan Bernard that she knew in high school. We were both flipping out on the phone. It was surreal. I found out that she has three children--one of them a teenager! She told me about her former job as a science teacher. In the photograph that she eventually emailed to me, she hadn't changed a bit. Missy has always been a beautiful girl and still is!

So I didn't tell Chris (just yet) that I had located Missy. I gave Missy all the contact info for Chris and told her she had to call her. She said she would, but I think she was too freaked out to do it that same night. So when I emailed Chris at work the next day saying, "Did you get any phone calls last night?" she didn't have a clue what I was up to. Finally, I couldn't hold it in any longer. (I'm terrible at keeping secrets of this magnitude.) I called Chris at her home in Charlotte that night and screamed, "I found Missy!!!" We were both too excited for words. Both of us were freaking out. After all, it had been 25 or 26 years since we'd seen Missy.

Finally those two got on the phone together and talked for an hour and a half. Within a few days, Chris had purchased a plane ticket to come up to my place July 10-12 for a reunion. Missy will come down from Hampstead to join us. We are all so looking forward to this. Just six more days!

Somehow, finding Missy spurred me on to hook up with other folks I'd lost track of. In the past two or three weeks I've emailed and/or spoken to several people from my past that I'd lost track of, including my favorite boss from Entergy, Luis.

What a small world. Every year for about seven years (or more) I've tried to track down Luis. Well, this year I finally succeeded. If only I'd known that I didn't have to look any further than the Exchange global address list at SAIC where I work. Come to find out, Luis was outsourced from Entergy to SAIC in 2000, and he's been there ever since. So, for the past 18 months we've been at the same company and didn't know it. Granted, he's in Arkansas now, but it was wonderful just hearing his voice on the phone.

And there are others. If you don't know about LinkedIn, I suggest you go there now and start building up your contacts list. It's a huge network of people who are somehow linked to other members of the network, whether by work or school or what-have-you. I first joined LinkedIn several years ago but didn't put too much effort into it. By last week I still only had five contacts on my connections list. As of this evening I have 25 contacts, and the list is growing as more of my old colleagues check their emails and receive my invitation to get linked in.

Sometimes I think this world moves too fast and we are too accessible, thanks to modern technology. I hate cell phones, for example. I just don't feel a need to have a phone attached to my every movement, all day, every day. And the Internet can be frustrating due to all the security problems it creates. Sometimes it's just overwhelming, the amount of information out there. But I've got to admit, I love the Internet. And one of the great things about the Internet is this: You can find anyone if you try. Thanks to the Internet, I'm reconnecting with some of the most important people in my life.