NEW YORK: Weekend Report
Photo of the Brighton Beach boardwalk at sunset on Saturday.
METUCHEN, N.J., 8:30 a.m., Sunday -- Good morning. A few hours ago, I was gazing over Central Park from the penthouse terrace of an apartment building on Central Park West (apparently, the same building where the late Peter Jennings had lived). Now, I’m sitting on an Amtrak train headed back to Washington so I can make it to work on time. (Monday’s paper awaits.)
My weekend away from Washington was made possible by Amtrak and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, sponsored by primarily by the letters G and A, with additional support from a few other subway lines, including the C, the F, the Q and the W, in addition to my gracious hosts in Harlem and Brooklyn who supplied either a couch or a futon for crashing on.
1.) Happy birthday to Jeff. A fellow journalist and friend who I’ve known since kindergarten was celebrating his birthday high above Central Park West, where we had perhaps the most beautiful view of the park and the Midtown skyline. Across Central Park, the lights from a taller Fifth Avenue apartment building (I think around 90th Street) were reflected in the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. If you cranked your head just right in the direction of Seventh Avenue, you could see the lights of Times Square.
2.) I’m not sure whether Brooklyn is known for its burritos, or should be known for its burritos, but I did eat more than my fair share. If you find yourself on Myrtle Avenue between Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, be sure to look for Castro’s, a cheap Mexican place that makes a pretty mean camarones burrito. Be sure to order some special hot sauce on the side. Then on Saturday afternoon during half-time of the Michigan-Michigan State game, I had my second and final burrito of the weekend, at a place that I can’t remember, but it’s on Court Street just north of Atlantic Avenue (see here for map). Much of the steak in my steak burrito ended up crammed in the bottom, but for less than $5, I’m not making any complaints.
3.) Beer in New York can be either really cheap, or really expensive. Purchasing a six pack of Brooklyn Pilsner to watch the Michigan game with friends cost me $12 at a grocery store on Smith Street, Brooklyn. Purchasing a six pack of Czechvar for Jeff’s birthday cost the same at a grocery store on Columbus Avenue, Manhattan. But elsewhere I was able to find a draught pint of Magic Hat No. 9 for $3 at the Columbia University waterhole Toast, on Broadway just south of 125th Street; way down on the Brighton Beach boardwalk at Moscow Cafe Bar, $5 is what it cost for a 22 oz. bottle of Baltika No. 3. Well, not quite $5. There is the “Sch” charge, which we think is the non-Russian patronage tax at this Russian bar. Friends who frequent this establishment on summer weekends advise that you not pay the Sch and take it out of the waitress’ tip. I was informed that when you challenge the waitress on the Sch charge, she’ll say it’s for bussing the table. But yet we bussed our own table. From the Journal News:
The Moscow Cafe is the least expensive -- the cappuccino is $4 -- though with a bar that opens at 8 a.m., two hours before the restaurant, it is also the least peaceful.4.) If I were a freelance journalist, I would seriously consider joining the Freelancers Union, probably just because of its ad campaign. The union’s symbol is a beehive with a few bees flying around, busily working. I think it’s clever and works quite well. I think the main attraction of such a union for freelancers is the health insurance option because, after all, "Echinacea is not health insurance." If the United States is indeed turning into a "Freelance Nation" as some observers have predicted, then it will be interesting to track this union’s growth.
5.) In a DCist post I wrote earlier in the year, I detailed the scene in Penn Station waiting for your train to be called. One thing that always fills Amtrak’s subterranean home is the classical music pumped into the sterile space to give it a more dignified air. Usually, the music skews more toward the Baroque end of the classical spectrum. But this morning, a piece from (what I thought was) Rimsky-Korsakov was playing right as I climbed the stairs with all my bags from the lower concourse that leads from the A/C/E subway passage. The refreshingly quick pace of the selection highlighted one fact: I was running late to make my train. But I made it with a a couple spare moments to spare. I think Union Station could stand to benefit if classical music were used to enhance the audio environment of Amtrak’s concourse.
1.) There is no place more frustrating, lonely and alienating as the Hoyt-Schermerhorn St. station in Brooklyn. It is a massive station, with six tracks and four platforms (two of which are actually in service. The other two sit and collect dust, matching the rest of the station, which is quite dirty. Hoyt-Schermerhorn is where the A and G trains come together in downtown Brooklyn’s tangled web of subway lines. But whenever there is weekend track work on the F or G trains, which there can be quite often tensions can mount.
This weekend, the G train, the only subway line not to run into Manhattan and therefore is known for its spotty service, was severely impacted by track work. First, the G train wasn’t running to Smith-9 St.; second, it was running as a shuttle on the rest of the route, the first section being between Hoyt-Schermerhorn St. and Bedford-Nostrand; at Bedford-Nostrand you could cross the platform for continuing service to Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn and Long Island City, Queens. I had to deal with much of the G train mess, much to the laughter of more savvy Manhattan-centric folks who have heard of the G train, probably have never been on it, but know of its notorious weekend service (or normal service for that matter). It’s a lonely train line, as is the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station, especially at 2 a.m. when you’re trying to interpret tunnel winds and fine tune your hearing, all in an effort to figure out where the “G-ee, where is it?” train might be.