One Man’s… Is A New Yorker’s…

I am in Downtown NY, a portion of Manhattan I have been to rarely. Most of my time has been in Midtown. This portion of the island is the financial district and most notable for Ground Zero, the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge.

I walked about upon my arrival at my hotel given a need to stretch the legs after a day of travel. The skies were overcast and cold wind was howling. I strolled along the water, stared at the Statue of Liberty awhile and then headed back.

On the way back I saw two things that were very NY. The type of things spawned by having far too many people packed into far too little space.

Liberty Freedom Garden. What passes as a garden in NY is a slab of concrete. On top of the concrete are large rectangular metal containers filled with soil and things growing out of the soil. On top of concrete.

Even more amazing was that I passed through a walkway between two buildings. the walkway was wide for a walkway and the ground was a patchwork of stone tile. Half way through this walkway was a large sign about four feet high and two feet wide. The sign said “No Dogs Allowed in the Park”. THE PARK!!!!  There was no grass, playground equipment, or any other signal to anyone outside of NY that you were in a park. I was 20 steps from the street with tall buildings on either side of me. A park?

Only in NY.

Where’s Waldorf?

I stayed in two Waldorf Astoria hotels on consecutive nights in two different cities.

The Waldorf=Astoria Hotel in NY is famous.  But did you know the following (taken from the WA website):

William Waldorf Astor, heir to John Jacob Astor III, built the original 13-story Waldorf Hotel on the site of his Fifth Avenue mansion. Opened in 1893, the Waldorf immediately became the gathering place for the world’s wealthy and society’s elite.

Four years later, Waldorf’s cousin, John Jacob Astor IV built the adjacent 17-story Astoria Hotel. Separate, yet equivalent in grandeur and prestige, both The Waldorf and The Astoria were designed by acclaimed architect, Henry Hardenbergh, who in an act of great foresight added a three-hundred-foot-long marble corridor connecting the two hotels. This corridor, built to connect the two buildings, became an enduring symbol of the combined Waldorf and Astoria hotels – it is represented by the “=” in The Waldorf=Astoria.

For years I had the privilege to stay at the Waldorf 2-4 times per year because it was close to the NY headquarters of the company I worked for. It has been awhile.

For those who have not been there let me share a picture. It defines old world elegance, not opulence. Not that it does not have a feel of opulence but it is also understated in its show of riches. Toward the Park Ave. side of the lobby frescos grace the walls just below the incredibly high ceilings. Marble,  dark woods luxurious carpet surround you. The main floor lobby is enormous.

I arrived Monday night. As I walked the lobby it felt as if the Waldorf was its own little world. The bustle of well dressed people was palpable. By well dressed I mean both dressy and casual chic. The service staff was friendly without being intrusive and was everywhere. They make you feel as if you are one of society’s elite even if you are just a guy from Chicago.

Check out the picture gallery for the Waldorf=Astoria here.

Tuesday I flew to Orlando, Florida. (Two planes, 8 hours but that is a story for another time).  The Waldorf Astoria website lists 20 properties under the Waldorf Astoria corporate umbrella. Only one other uses the Waldorf Astoria name. It is located minutes from Disney World. Go figure. After over 100 years I cannot fathom why the only place beyond NY would be Orlando.

Having said that the hotel is beautiful. It is new world elegance but elegance nonetheless. The decor is more modern but not modern in that W Hotel kind orf way. The colors, the artwork, the wood trim all let you know that this is a Waldorf.  The hotel is new having opened about 6 weeks ago.

I had a two room suite with a small kitchen area as well as a living room and bedroom. There was one flaw. While the two closets in the living room were spacious and had an umbrella as well as the usual iron and ironing board, there were no hangers. None. A quick call and more hangers than I needed were rushed to the room. The bellhop rang the doorbell. Each room has one of course.

While the design of the two Waldorf Astorias differed the feel was similar. Still one must continue to question why the second Waldorf Astoria in the history of the world is  down the road from Disney. One would think that the answer to the question “Where’s Waldorf ?” would be a more urbane city.

NY State Of Mind

Kingsport, TN. NYC.  This week is Kingsport but last week was NYC. NYC is always an adventure to me. So much to observe. Last week I had two days.

The trip actually started in Stamford Connecticut. The flight into the Westchester County airport was routine. However once we landed the weather moved in. A brilliant lightning display. Unfortunately the rain could not wait until after we picked up our plane side luggage.

After a typical business meeting and lunch in a nice restaurant the adventure began. Here were the highlights:

  • Trainspotting. A four block walk to the commuter train heading from Stamford to Grand Central Station. I used to take a similar train when I worked in downtown Chicago. This was a little weird because the train crossed state lines. Is all of Connecticut really just a suburb of NYC?
  • Parlez Vous Francais? On the train there was a loud group of teens. Not unusual. What set this group apart is that for the entire 45 minute train ride they chattered nonstop in French.
  • Old School. As I walked out of Grand Central I noticed a man with a determined look and even a more determined walk. He was hunched over, carrying a brief case. Thinned out hair. Not expensive, not cheap suit that was neat and clean. Worn out look on his seventy something face. Bulbous nose giving his face real character. He has probably been doing his work, making his commute, for almost a half century. Few young people today can understand what it takes to go and do for so long.
  • One-in-a-million shot. Shortly after I arrived I decided to take a walk around mid-town. Within moments a man walked toward me and asked for directions. From the way he had been looking around with that “where am I” look I suspected that this was why he was approaching me. “Good luck mister” went through my head. I was in a part of Midtown I was not familiar with. He asked aboutthe one street I knew. The woman asking me about a bus 15 minutes later was not so lucky.
  • See me, feel me. Walking around Manhattan is not that different than downtown Chicago. Lots of tall buildings, lots of people. Two differences. The streets of NCY seem even more densely packed and the manners are generally worse. Maybe not worse but people seem immune to the jostling and incidental contact that occurs as one makes their way down the avenue. In Chicago, a bump is more than likely to lead to an “excuse me”. In NYC it does not seem expected or necessary…most of the time. I witnesses a guy yacking on the phone and walking with purpose. As he neared a street corner he bumped into another guy, harder than most casual bumps, but kept yacking and stopped at the corner. The other guy grew agitated. He tried to get to the other guy but the crowd had closed in. He had to make a circle around the crowd to get to his target. With typical NY attitude he got into the face of the man who bumped him and demanded an apology from the clearly clueless guy. After all several moments had passed since the incident. No punches were thrown.
  • Rain, rain go away. I walked for at least a mile just enjoying Midtown when the heavens opened up. I ducked into the nearest entrance way which unfortunately was for a woman’s clothing store. I did not feel like walking in. I stood there for over 20 minutes sharing space with an ever changing group of locals. I should have just bought a $5 umbrella from one of the guys with the cartfull of $5 umbrella who seem to magically appear when it rains in NYC.
  • In the Hood. A hotel on 57th between 6th and 7th Avenues will be my family’s hood for 6 days later this month. After dozens of business trips to NYC over the years this will be my first vacation. I checked out the place we will be during a break in the rain. It is a smal luxury hotel. Not much lobby to see so I spent time with the two 20 somethings that were working the door. I hung out with Jose and Edward for awhile getting the lay of the hood. I think this will be fun.

The next day I did the business I was there to do and headed for the airport. Another NY adventure. M

A Glorious Stroll Through the Upper East Side, NYC

Sun shining, blue skies and a cool, clean breeze. Making my way early Thursday morning up 62nd Street from York to Park Ave. York is about as east as you can be as a pedestrian and still be in Manhattan. 62nd at that point is just north of the Queensborough bridge.

It was a great morning to walk from my hotel to my meeting. Only a few people on the streets at 8 am. which is early for NY. Very different than Chicago where people are on the streets by 7.

I am rarely in this little section of NY. One block and I discover Dangerfield’s.  Rodney was one of my favorite comics and comic actors. Great facial expressions and knew how to deliver a punch line.

On to rows and rows of row houses. Not as scenic as the multicolored ones in Charleston, SC. but nice.  A treasure. (More than just an aesthetic treasure, I am sure they cost a small fortune.)

Just as I thought how nice it was to see something other than high rise apartment buildings in NY, I next came across Trump Plaza. This building puts the U in ugly. I know that  There are other and greater Trump buildings but if I were the Donald, I would do whatever I could to get my name off this monstrosity.  Fortunately, more townhouses and other attractive buildings as I continued.

Then you get to Park Ave. What a beautiful, wide boulevard. Filled with attractive buildings both north and south as far as the eye could see. Some of the best of NYC.

I arrived early for my meeting and realized I was within spitting distance of Central Park. I made my way to the south end of the park. The horse drawn carriages were already lined up in the early morning. If only I had enough time to walk through the Park.  Next trip.

Taking a different route on my way back, I came across a crowd of people with signs in their hands. At first I thought this was some form of protest. However, clowns and jugglers are not a normal sight at a protest march. Turns out that I was outside the CBS building and this was the usual crowd outside the Early Show studios. A definite smile.

Three more blocks back to where I needed to be. Ready to take on the business world for one more day. Some Bill Evans solo piano music in the background and the morning would have been perfect. Pretty darn close anyway.