Archive for the ‘New York City’ Category

25 Events That Helped Shape the Past 25 Years

October 3, 2010

Now that I’ve hit a quarter century, I’ve decided to look back and pick a few turning points in my life that helped shape where I am today. Rather than go year-by-year (because I can’t remember anything before 1990), I just picked 25 things that stand out in my mind. Here you go!

    Baby Kleeb and Daddy Kleeb

    Baby Kleeb and Daddy Kleeb at Christmas

    1. 100 Warsaw Street: My Childhood
    You can’t make a list of influential things without parents, and without mine drilling things like education and success into my brain, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. Since my mom was a teacher, school was always at the forefront of my life. I was forced to do homework and wouldn’t settle for anything less than an A in every class. They pushed me to start reading at an early age, and before Kindergarten I was able to read a few books cover to cover without any help. They love family vacations to the beach, theme parks, and cruises, and I was able to see a lot of different places when I was very young. My dad volunteered to coach my baseball and soccer team when I was young, and also showed me how to use tools when I was young. I remember working on a club house in my backyard when I was around 7 years old with a set of mini tools. Because of their motivation and high expectations, I excelled in high school and finished in the top of my class. They also didn’t mind having the band practice in their basement, which says a lot for their level of patience compared to most people. Now with an empty nest, they just got a puppy to keep them company. You’d think they’d want to relax a little bit now.

    Super Nintendo

    Super Nintendo, 1991

    2. Super Nintendo
    Okay, I admit, I was a huge video game geek when I was a kid and it started around age 8 when the Super NES was released. Street Fighter, Zelda, Mario Bros, I played them all. I eventually graduated to a Nintendo 64 and a Playstation, and it wasn’t until recently that I shut out video games to try and be a little bit more productive. Of course, now and then something will creep up and pull me back to those good old days when I just played Zelda all day long and didn’t care about the world. There’s a reason we have a Wii set up in the living room. Every so often, you just need some Mario Kart.

    Matt Pinfield

    Matt Pinfield, host of 120 Minutes

    3. Matt Pinfield and 120 Minutes
    Every weekend before soccer practice or whatever my 11-year-old self had planned, I would wake up and watch the episode of 120 Minutes that I had taped the night before. I was so obsessed with music videos in those days that I would make lists of my top 20 songs for the week and hope that they’d make it on to MTV’s top 20 list. Through this show, I was introduced to Radiohead, Green Day, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and most of the other mid-90’s alt-rock bands that I loved. Unfortunately, music videos would soon cease to exist on the Music Television channel, and the end of 120 Minutes signaled the end of my relationship with MTV.

    Playing Sax with Electric Lemonade Stand

    Playing Sax with Electric Lemonade Stand

    4. Learning to Play the Saxophone
    My first musical instrument stuck with me to the present day. At age 25 now, I’ve been playing the saxophone on and off for about ten years. The most indispensable aspect of this was learning to read sheet music and understanding music theory behind scales, major and minor keys, and tempo. I played one-on-one until I was in the 7th grade, and also took private lessons on the side. Then I joined the marching band where I lasted for 3 years until the parades and football games almost drove me crazy. Concert band was a different story, and was much more relaxed, and when the jazz band was created in my junior year, I learned to appreciate the instrument all over again, as well as explore the genre of jazz, something I had never really listened to before. After high school, I didn’t play the saxophone for a while, until my last semester of college when I started writing sax parts for a friend’s band. Though it was short lived, I learned how much I loved the horn, and wish I could get back to the level I was at in high school.

    Rehearsal for Rumors

    Rehearsal for Neil Simon's Rumors

    5. Mrs. Bullions and the WA Drama Club
    The most time-intensive extra curricular activity in high school had to be the Drama Club. I had roles in the school play from 8th grade to 11th grade, and also had an active role in set building. Our high school had some of the biggest productions in the Wyoming Valley, and musicals like Bye Bye Birdie and South Pacific had giant casts of over 50 people, as well as elaborate sets that all rotated on moving platforms. I learned a lot about carpentry in those days, and often spent my weekends building, painting, or just helping with whatever needed to be done at the school. As an actor, my favorite roles were in Rumors by Neil Simon and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I still keep in touch with many of the people I met in the Drama Club, and they came to be my closest friends throughout high school. Mrs. Bullions, the former director, was a great teacher, and I still see her time to time when I visit my parents.

    An Albatross

    An Albatross plays Cafe Metropolis in 2007, photo courtesy of Elliott Elliott

    6. My First Show at Cafe Metropolis
    Almost every day of my high school life was spent at Cafe Metropolis, Homebase, the Church, the Zoo, or any of the other live music venues that popped up around Wilkes-Barre, PA. When I was younger, local bands like Bedford, Wonderdog, True Identity, and 8 oz. Joe were some of my favorites, and I remember carpooling to go see their shows in minivans. When I got older, these venues provided places for us to play shows, and supported the local musicians immensely. I watched Homebase and the Zoo shut their doors as the Murry Complex was bought out. I remember when Mike had to stop hosting shows at the Church. Finally, Cafe Metro shut its doors on September 18th, 2010 after 14 years of live music. It was by far the most important place in my adolescent life, and I hope someone else opens a venue to keep live music alive in that destitute town.

    Tama Swingstar Drum Set

    My kit, after stripping the shells and clear-coating

    7. Getting a Drum Set
    When the time came for me to take on a second instrument, I realized it had to be the drums. I found myself to be more rhythmic than melodic, and after learning on Jeff Brown’s backup kit for a few months, I went to pick out a kit of my own. In 2001, I settled on a Tama Swingstar, and I’ve been playing it ever since. It played in my first two bands, Subject to Change and Courage is for Cowards. It somehow survived the destruction of Kill The Lights! even after a guitar burst through the bass drum at the last show. Making it to State College, my drums looked like they’d been through a war zone. Finally, when I got to New York, I stripped the shells, clear coated the natural wood finish, and tuned them with new heads and hardware. After 8 years, they sound better than they ever have before. The drum kit is still my favorite instrument, and I look forward to playing with groups well into the future.

    8. The Of All Days DVD: Learning to Edit Video

    It came as a surprise to everyone that I would be doing my senior high school project in video editing. I had never really owned a video camera before, but I started bringing one with me almost everywhere I went and taping my friend’s band Of All Days at all of their shows. I spent a majority of my senior year learning Adobe Premiere, and I owe a lot of thanks to Mark Favata and Jerry Zezza for showing me the ropes. Subsequently, I kept that camera when I played in Kill The Lights! and taped every one of our shows as well. I still have boxes and boxes of Mini DV tapes with all of my footage from high school, but that camera (and the Mini DV technology) died a few years back. Judging from the fidelity of the video compared to what’s out there today, that’s probably a good thing. I recently acquired Adobe Premiere again, as well as a decent Sony camcorder, and have been planning to get back into some video work. It’s a fun, but expensive hobby.

    The Vista

    Drew, Nogic, and I at the Vista, 2004

    9. The Vista
    Taking a 45 minute drive on Suscon Road and turning down an unlabeled dirt road, then parking and walking another two miles down a path leads to one of the most beautiful locations in northeast Pennsylvania. What we called “The Vista” in high school was the end of a trail in the Lackawanna State Park. The place we discovered was a raised platform at the top of a clearing that overlooked the mountains and suburbia of the Wyoming Valley. Underneath the structure was a fire pit, and the whole area was basically unmonitored. There were countless nights we would carpool to Wendy’s, park, and just hike that trail for the hell of it. Some nights we would camp up there, or just have a fire pit. One night, we had a few bands play by dragging some generators to the top and powering the amps from a car battery. The notion that my high school life was filled with random exploratory journeys, whether through nature or abandoned industrial wasteland, and not filled with parties, alcohol, and drugs, is a unique experience that can only be fulfilled by a dead city like Wilkes-Barre. I came to regard my adolescence with a sort of nostalgia that I may never experience again, now that I’ve been absorbed into the free-flowing bar scene of urban nightlife.

    Eternal Sunshine

    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

    10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    Though I wanted to exclude any type of media from this list like music, books, and films, the implications of this specific film resonated with recent events in my high school life. The relationship between the two characters in Eternal Sunshine were almost identical to my first relationship, and to say this didn’t have an impact on my life is just ignorant. Without getting into details, I’ll simply say that I’m glad I learned what I did, and it changed the course of my life drastically. This film, on the other hand, has been one of my favorite films ever since, and every time I watch it, it brings back a wave of nostalgia that brings me back to 2004.

    11. Playing in Kill The Lights!

    I’d been playing in bands long before Kill The Lights! was conceived in 2003. However, nothing could match the insanity, the destruction, and mayhem that this band would incur. Playing this renegade show out of our van was the most memorable show, as we were escorted away by security. Also selling sno-cones at Ted Leo, flipping tables at Club HP, and going to the hospital because I punched my cymbal too hard were other pretty notable events. We were punk kids, and we just wanted to play loud music and break shit. So we did.

    Hotel Sterling

    Hotel Sterling, before it was demolished

    12. Exploring the Abandoned Hotel Sterling
    Every night I drove into center city Wilkes-Barre, the Hotel Sterling loomed on the other side of the bridge. It was a dark, abandoned edifice that embodied the former prosperity of the old coal mining city. For a group of underage high school kids without any place to go at night, it was just asking to be explored. Climbing into a second story window, we entered the hotel from the backside and into the huge lobby, complete with all of the abandoned furniture, television sets, and mattresses that couldn’t be hauled out when everyone was evicted. Every floor was covered with graffiti, and REDRUM was written all over the creepy walls of the kitchen. The roof was one of the best vantage points in the city, and I remember sitting inside the “O” on the sign and looking out over Wilkes-Barre. It was truly one of the best memories I have of the city, which is why I’m making screen-printed shirts as a memorial of this landmark.

    Bullet Parade plays on Halloween

    The Bullet Parade plays at the Hookah Lounge on Halloween

    13. Roustabout, The Bullet Parade, and the Hookah Lounge
    I was a punk kid when I started college. I wasn’t playing music, and I was pretty much convinced that bands weren’t good unless they threw drums off the stage and punched bouncers in the face. When I met Jeff Van Fossan and Eric Myers and was absorbed into the local Roustabout scene in State College, I matured quickly. Playing music with more seasoned musicians helped me to expand my taste and stop being so narrow-minded. Drumming in the Bullet Parade offered the opportunity to play shows all over the northeast, from Baltimore, to DC, to Pittsburgh. I met a lot of great people, and it’s the closest thing to a touring band that I’ve ever had. In addition, having the Hookah Lounge nearby gave me a place to hangout that was quiet, full of friends, and was one of the few places in State College that wasn’t a bar. Jeff was also an indirect influence on the following few points in my life, and was a great mentor to have around during my college life.

    Cooking with Kleeb

    Tofu with a mushroom sauce over rice and roasted potatoes - my own recipe

    14. Turning Vegetarian
    Halting the intake of meat didn’t shape my life as much as the new awareness caused by my limited diet. I decided to stop eating meat after I read an article in Rolling Stone about the ecological problems caused by industrial pig farms, including groundwater and air pollution. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about the food industry from books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and documentaries like Super Size Me. I started cooking a lot, and developed a sort of affinity for the kitchen. I started gardening (something I had to abandon recently) and buying from farmer’s markets instead of supermarkets. Next season, I plan to enroll in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and getting my produce from local farmers outside of NYC. While my diet is still less than ideal, and I still enjoy indulging time to time, I’ve made great improvements from where I was five years ago.

    Breadboard, Amp, and Power Supply

    My breadboard, amplifier, and power supply, 2010

    15. Changing Majors to Electrical Engineering
    Coming into college as a Chemical Engineering major had mostly to do with my grades in high school and what I thought I’d be successful with. While I loved chemistry on paper, I found myself discontent with lab work. Combined with my acquisition of an old analog Moog synthesizer, meeting Sean Byrne, and opening myself up to the world of DIY circuit design and Maker culture, I decided Electrical Engineering was where I belonged. I concentrated in Digital Signal Processing and focused mainly on audio, a recurring theme of my life. I figured, why not be a professional in the field I love the most? Now I find myself looking into a graduate program at NYU that combines electronic design with art and new media technologies. It’s the perfect combination of art and science that I’ve been looking for my whole life.

    ALT Magazine

    ALT Magazine, 2008

    16. ALT Magazine
    When I looked for a writing outlet at Penn State, I didn’t expect to inherit the Editor-in-Chief position after one semester. That is exactly what happened at ALT Magazine, a zine about politics, culture, art, and music. With only Jen, the graphic designer, left from the previous year, we attempted to rebuild the staff in time to put out an issue for the next year. This proved to be more difficult than I imagined, and it was more work that I ever thought it would be. After putting out two issues, I felt relieved to hand over my position, and proud of the work we had done. I had always toyed with the idea of releasing a zine, and after this trial run in college, I now know how much time, money, and work is involved. It was a great experience, and I’m glad the magazine is still running to this day.

    DJing at Christmastime

    Marko and I DJ at a formal Christmas soiree

    17. Kleeb Parties: How I Became a DJ
    Throwing parties in college went from being a fun weekend activity to a refined art. I remember looking up to some of the other State College DJs that played good music and following them around as a freshman. When I got my own place, I started hosting parties of my own. They became more and more elaborate, the sound systems got bigger, we got lighting and fog machines, and eventually I started offering my DJ services out to other people, and throwing parties all over town. Though I never got into DJing using anything more than an iPod, it made my setup quite compact and easy to setup and break down. Halloween 2008 signaled the end of my DJ career as my Macbook and iPod were both ripped off after the party. However, I’ve been toying with the idea of starting up again in New York. I wonder where I put that 2 channel iPod mixer…

    My Panasonic Beater Bike, 2009

    18. Getting a Road Bike and Freeze/Thaw Cycle Clinics
    Before 2007, I was not a bike rider. I knew how to ride a bike, and a shitty Huffy mountain bike collected dust in my parents’ garage, but the prospect of a bike as transportation hadn’t yet crossed my mind. When Alex Katos called me and asked if I wanted his old Panasonic road bike because he wasn’t using it, it opened up a world that I hardly knew existed: bike commuting. I rode that bike to class every day, and over the next two years, visited Freeze/Thaw cycles to modify the bike and upgrade the brakes, gears, wheels, and pedals. From their clinics, I learned to true a wheel, replace brake cables, pack the bearings in a hub, remove a crank, and the basics of a bike tune up. As my NYC beater bike, the Panasonic still rides to this day, and I continue to tune it up often, because I have a certain attachment to my first road bike.

    Music Mart

    Music Mart, 2008

    19. Working at the Music Mart
    In my junior year of college, I landed my first job that didn’t involve the food industry. The Music Mart was a small musical instrument shop on the main drag of downtown State College. When I first started working, I knew about drums and sheet music, but had little knowledge about the inner workings of guitars or amplifiers, let alone sound systems. Combined with my major, my weekend stints DJing, and a young guitar phenom named Taylor, I learned everything there is to know about guitars, microphones, speakers, cables, mixers, tubes, strings, recording interfaces, and even lighting to an extent. A few times, Tom even hired me to work with him running sound at large concert events, and I learned how to run a sound board and EQ a mix. At the time I was building my own home recording studio, and got a lot of my gear from the Music Mart. When I left, Tom had just hired a new manager to whip the store into shape, and now they have a pretty great web presence that didn’t exist when I was there.

    Roof Above the Army/Navy

    The roof above the Army/Navy

    20. Living Above the Army/Navy
    Most of my collegiate career was spent living in bland, cookie-cutter dorms or apartments. It wasn’t until I ventured out to a party in a decrepit old place above an Army/Navy surplus store that I discovered my appreciation for urban decay and a rustic living atmosphere. No, my apartment above the Army/Navy was not glamorous, but I discovered that it had a personality and a history, and many of the former tenants would come back and share their stories and experiences about living there. Climb through one of the bedroom windows, and you find yourself on a vast rooftop, as big as the apartment itself. Over the winter, I built my first home recording studio. I bought a Macbook, learned Logic Pro, and started recording music for film students. In the summer, I would DJ late nights after the bar closed in the same living room. I was sure after I moved out, the slumlord that owned the building would have some incentive to enforce a set of rules to encourage people to be quiet and stay off the roof. However, one night I wandered past and noticed a few people peering over the edge of my old apartment rooftop. I called up to them and they invited me up to share the stories of what life was like when I lived in that place. There aren’t many living spaces that invite that kind of history with the tenants.

    Sorority House

    Halloween at the Cat House

    21. The Sorority House
    Little did I know my last 4 months in State College would be one of the greatest and weirdest times of my life. Looking for a fall sublet, my good friend Rich and I stumbled upon a large house with three floors, a basement, a back yard, and a porch. When we went to look at it, we were surprised to find that many of the tenants were part of the same sorority, and we’d be living in, pretty much, a female frat house. When I first entered the dingy basement, I was sold. I spent most of my time down there, cleaning up and making it into my recording/practice space. I first started giving drum lessons in the basement, and hosting house shows with a few local State College and Scranton bands. Living with 14 other people also took some getting used to, but it was a great experience and brought me close to people I probably would not have otherwise known. Of course, the craziness didn’t stop after I left. When I returned, I found a chicken farm in the backyard, and a ritualistic slaughter was conducted that night – something I never thought I’d experience. At this point in my life, I was ready to leave that town and get on with my life, but I’m glad my last semester was spent in the company of such a diverse group.

    Sequencer Using Doorbells

    Sequencer Using Doorbells

    22. Bent Festival
    In April 2009, I attended the Bent Festival in New York City for the first time. In a tiny Midtown performance space called The Tank, circuit-benders, tweakers, musicians, and electronic artists crammed together to show off their work. I saw noise-making robots, infrared hand sensors wired to speakers, sequencers that used various doorbells, and musicians that played on switchboxes and motion sensors. I purchased the book Handmade Electronic Music and started playing around with sequencer chips, piezo sensors, and small handmade amps. This single book would launch me on a fascination with handmade amps and guitar pedals that was only accelerated by the event that happened to me one month later…

    Hanging out above Death By Audio

    23. Moving Into Death By Audio
    Trying to figure out my post-college life in a jobless world and wondering why the hell I moved to New York City in the first place brought me a world of confusion in 2009. With my best friends moving home, I was hopelessly alone in the big city. With a stroke of luck, I found the artists’ collective I’ve always dreamed of building for myself. They were into diy electronics, had a live music venue, and a huge warehouse space where almost anything could be built, from almost any material, and then subsequently destroyed if it suited your fancy. After almost two years living here, I feel like I’ve learned so much about myself and my ambitions, and it’s time to take the next step.

    Roland SPD-S

    Roland SPD-S Sample Pad

    24. Sample Pads and Electronic Drums
    Something I had dreamed of doing, long before moving into DBA, was an electric drum sample triggered by hitting the bass drum. Had I known that these had existed for decades, I may have acted on it sooner. I learned how to install a Piezo transducer in my bass drum, and was soon playing with trigger inputs on synths and guitar pedals. When I learned about the Roland SPD-S sample pad, and found one on eBay, my world of drumming was turned upside down. I could record samples, download samples, alter them on my computer, and load them on to a memory card to be used live. I could also wire my bass drum to hit these samples as well. The possibilities were now endless. I downloaded Ableton Live and started building drum kits out of Battery. Next stop: Max For Live and light triggers

    The DBA Ventilation Pipe

    What remained of the pipe, the day we cut it out

    25. Broken Ankle Summer: Cutting Out the Pipe
    One event that is still in process is one that began at the beginning of June, 2010. After my west coast adventure in San Francisco, I came home and promptly stepped in a pothole, breaking my ankle and rendering me pretty much immobile for the entire summer. With lots of time on my hands, and lots of help from my roommate Alex, I decided to remove the ventilation pipe from my bedroom, something that had been in my way since I moved into Death By Audio and represented a huge obstacle against my comfortable living environment, as well as my indecisiveness about staying in the warehouse space. Removing the pipe cemented my stay in New York, and prompted me to apply for grad school. It also sparked a summer of building, which involved making a closet out of the remaining pipe, building a bed, building a large workspace and soldering station, learning to wire electrical outlets, dry wall, and insulate a room, and transform my door into a hidden bookcase. With one last obstacle in my path – installing a window in the hole where the pipe had been – my room will be completely finished. It’s been a really motivating experience, and I’ve been stimulated both creatively and emotionally from the whole ordeal.

Rockin Raw

June 26, 2010

Rockin Raw

On my return trip to NYC from the great city of Wilkes-Barre, I was graced with the presence of my former roommate April, and my far-too-distant cousin Christi, who happens to be a freakin EXPERT on nutrition. After an educational car ride, we finally made it to Brooklyn where our ultimate destination was the Rockin Raw cafe, a vegan restaurant using live, raw organic food.

Though I had eaten fake vegan food before (Foodswings?), I was completely taken aback by the amount of flavor in my raw dinner, as well as how full I felt after a seemingly small portion. My Bloody Mary used fresh tomatoes and saki, and was more refreshing than spicy. Christi’s Mojito was the best drink – a mixture of cucumber, apple, lemon, and mint. My entree was “live pasta,” which were julienned strips of zucchini tossed with red pepper and mushrooms. The sauce was the kicker – though it tasted like cheese, it was made solely from nuts and aji pepper.

In addition to dinner, Rockin Raw also serves Brunch on the weekends. I think I’ll check that out in the near future.

Kleeb Versus The Pothole

June 14, 2010

Broken Ankle Summer in New York

Before I even unpacked my bags from my wonderful west coast vacation to Portland and San Francisco (videos coming soon), I found out the hard way why Brooklyn is in desperate need for some infrastructure repair. Walking down the sidewalk in Park Slope, my ankle met with an unlucky turn in a pothole, and I’ll be immobile for 6-8 weeks.

Of course, being cooped up at Death By Audio isn’t so bad. Despite the cabin fever, I can still play drums, work on circuitry, and even pick up some shifts in the show space. Ironically, my intended destination before this accident was NYC Resistors, where I intended to work on some Arduino and Max/MSP projects with my newly constructed mobile circuit rig:

Mounting a breadboard, power supply, amplifier, Arduino, and hookup jacks to this box now makes it possible for me to move my entire project down to the workshop in Park Slope. Of course, it will be mid-July before I’ll attempt this trip again.

How can I carry this huge rig easily? Luckily, my friend Mike in Philly makes good quality hand-made messenger bags and backpacks. During my trip, he dropped off a Norman Porter bag at DBA, and it can hold this box plus a laptop and still have extra room.

Norman Porter Messenger Bag Company

So I’ve been hanging around the house, playing drums, learning Max/MSP, editing my vacation videos, and trying to find some work at the venue or elsewhere.

I managed to make it up to NYCeWheels on my crutches, and came out with a pretty sweet electric bike. Although probably a bit dangerous, at least I can get out of the house once in a while. Just strap crutches to my back and I’m good to go.

Mark rides an electric bike to work

Freak show on wheels

One week down, five more to go. Hopefully I can use this time to be productive. Probably going to start posting regular updates, so check back. This blog is back in action.

Worst Idea Ever

March 18, 2010

Green Day just created new levels to stoop to:

The Mole People

March 9, 2010

Mole People by Jennifer Toth

The Mole People is a fascinating look at a subculture living beneath the subway tunnels of New York City. Written in 1993 by Jennifer Toth, an intern for the L.A. Times, this exploratory semi-nonfiction uncovers a community that most social works and law enforcement officials knew about, but refused to acknowledge publicly for fear of a mass repeal of the subway system.

Toth’s book has been criticized as unverifiable and inaccurate, since it is based on the accounts of the unnamed homeless, as well as unpublished figures by the Transit Authority and the NYPD. Still, it is an interesting story about an alternate lifestyle, better than living on the streets and more tightly-knit than most above-ground communities. True or false, the people exist, and they’ve been making their home in the dark recesses of New York’s underground labyrinth for decades. Pretty great read.

Second Avenue Bike Lane

March 5, 2010
Second Avenue Bike Lane

The best design, with a separated bike lane

After a year of near-death experiences riding in the shadows of buses and taxis on First and Second Avenue, we’re finally getting separated bike lanes on the east side. From Houston to 125th street, the entire infrastructure of the east side is being rebuilt, and the bright green comfort zones will be protected by a treeline, with parking on the street side of the lane.

Though I have no real complains with First Avenue (except maybe the United Nations Funnel of Death, where cars tend to merge spontaneously to the FDR exit), Second Avenue is perhaps the most dangerous avenue in Manhattan. With the never-ending subway project, there is construction constantly, multiple entrances to the Queensboro Bridge, and generally no regard or respect for bikes north of 14th street. Even the painted bike lane in the Lower East Side does little to stop taxis or loading vans from parking there, so it’s usually more dangerous riding in the bike lane than on the street.

Of course, the construction of this lane will most likely take another year, and add to the chaos of the commuting, but at least we’re finally catching up to the west side.

Vampire Weekend – Contra

January 16, 2010

When I first heard this band, I was both intrigued and disgusted. The first album was a blend of Paul Simon and light Afro-pop. It was catchy, but for my taste it lacked something that stuck out. It just seemed bland. Seeing them live confirmed my opinion, and I wrote them off for a while.

Now, their new album Contra is on the cusp of being released, and I’ve stumbled across this video for the song “Cousins.” This rhythm is interesting, and the drums don’t hold back. It may be accentuated by the constant motion in the video through a NYC alleyway. Though I haven’t heard the entire album, this track holds some promise for the future of Vampire Weekend:

The High Line

January 7, 2010


It has been about two months since I first heard about the High Line, an old railroad that runs above ground on the west side of Manhattan. Overgrown and unused, it has been converted into a public park running from Gansevoort St. in the Meatpacking District (around 11th St.) up to 20th St. in Chelsea. The park opened in June, 2009. I finally got to visit it this past Friday, and have since walked the entire length of the public park three times. The walking path was installed in the center of the raised rail, and the benches were built right on the tracks. In places where the rail overlooks 10th Avenue, you can actually sit right over the road in front of a glass window.

While this is definitely a tourist trap (we were prohibited from entering a few locations on Sunday since they reached capacity, and waited about 5-10 minutes when we found a legit entrance), this is definitely worth checking out. It’s an innovative idea, and transforms an unused industrial wasteland into a beautiful walking path with a great view of the Hudson River and most of lower Manhattan.

If you’re looking for a relaxing activity in New York that is both free and full of photo ops – definitely visit the High Line park.

10 Things People Love In New York

January 7, 2010


There are a few trends here in New York that are not particularly prominent in my previous residence of Pennsylvania. I’m just going to highlight a few things that everyone seems to love around here, more so than anywhere else.

1. Avocados

Avocado slices, avocado salad, guacamole, whatever. This stuff is everywhere. Since living in New York, I’ve had avocado on my sandwiches, on salads, and in guacamole at almost every party involving appetizers. Go to a restaurant in Brooklyn and I guarantee you’ll find avocado on at least 50% of the menu items. I’m sure this is more popular in a place like California (as I was informed while brainstorming this list) but there’s definitely much more avocado affinity in New York than Pennsylvania.

2. Bloody Marys

Until living in New York, I have never had a Bloody Mary. Now I’m practically a connoisseur. Hot sauce, horseradish, Worscheshire sauce, green olives, cilantro, celery, etc. The list goes on and on. This drink is practically a meal, and two of them will get you drunk and full. Of course, you’ll probably pay $10 a pop.

3. Brunch

A great way to combine #1 and #2. On the weekends, almost everyone in New York goes out to brunch. They can roll out of bed at 1 p.m. and get a huge breakfast complete with free coffee and a complimentary Bloody Mary or Mimosa. Harefield Road, on Metropolitan Ave in Brooklyn, has one of the best Bloody Marys I’ve had. They also put avocado on almost every entree. It’s a delicious hangover remedy.

4. PBR

Pabst Blue Ribbon. For some reason, PBR has a monopoly over cheap beer in New York. It’s cheaper than every other beer, and available at every single bar. They give this stuff away for free at art galleries, promotions, and Handmade Music Night. There’s even a free PBR night at the Lazy Catfish. Although Brooklyn Lager takes the cake as the prominent good beer, you can’t hide the fact that PBR is $2 a can.

5. Kickball

Every Sunday night at McCarren Park, you can find dozens of twenty-somethings clad in homemade uniforms competing in a three-month kickball league that spans the entire summer in Brooklyn. This is taken quite seriously, and I know some people that will practice a few nights a week in preparation of the big games on Sunday.

6. Grizzly Bear

The band Grizzly Bear, based out of Brooklyn, has been making a name for quite some time. Their album Yellow House blew up in 2006, resulting in tours with Radiohead and TV on the Radio. In 2009, they released Veckatimest and received lots of critical acclaim. This band is pretty much worshiped around New York, playing back-to-back sell-out nights.

7. The Dirty Projectors

Another Brooklyn-based band, the Dirty Projectors are hot off of the release of their new album Bitte Orca and collaborations with David Byrne at Radio City Music Hall. The eclectic mix of off-time rhythms and Dave Longstreth’s warbling make this band either really amazing or really annoying, you decide. I will say that people around here will drop whatever they’re doing to catch the Dirty Projectors live, especially if it’s free.

8. Fixed Gear Bikes

BikeSnobNYC refers to it as the “Fixed Gear Apocalypse.” It’s the “Zen feeling” of riding with no brakes or gears and feeling one with the bike and the road. Don’t get me wrong, I ride to work every day and I can understand the convenience of fixed gear bikes (total speed control, stopping on a dime without needing rim brakes, simplicity, etc), but many of these bikes are also ridiculously clean and/or stylish. It’s almost more of a contest than a lifestyle.

9. Falafel

If you want to eat cheap and delicious, falafel is the meal of choice. A sandwich usually never costs more than $3, and depending on where you go, the toppings can vary from cabbage and pickles to cauliflower and eggplant. Oasis on N. 7th in Williamsburg is a convenient location, right across from the subway. Other notable locations include Mamoun’s (W. Village), Olive Valley (Bushwick), and Pita Joe (14th St.) The random falafel carts in Manhattan also provide a delicious and quick meal for someone on the go. I eat falafel about twice a week. It’s replaced pizza as my cheap meal.

10. iPhones

It didn’t take long for the iPhone phenomenon to sweep the country in much the same way as the iPod. However, it has almost absorbed EVERYONE in New York. I’m probably one of about five people that live in New York without one. With the maps feature and instant internet access, it’s perfect for a person that is constantly on the go. Bar specials, entertainment, directions, everything is at your fingertips. Which also means most people are looking at the palm of their hand 75% of the time. I’m going to hold off as long as I can, sacrificing the convenience for living in the real world.

Writing In The Rain

January 7, 2010


Summer 2009 has taken a rainy turn. I’ve begun to write a lot more, tying to capture life in New York in the moment, as it happens. Maybe try to compile all of these pieces into some sort of story down the line.

Here’s a recent piece I wrote last week about biking to work in the morning:

So I wake up covered in sweat, two feet from the arched ceiling of the Domino’s sugar factory. I stare at a dangling rusty chain hanging from the ceiling. The alarm clock beeps on a shelf that’s hanging from tacks in the wall. I trace the extension cord above my head to where it’s stapled to the wall over the doorframe. A maze of water and heating pipes weave through the air above me. I’m not sure which are still in use. I grab the red pipe directly above my head for leverage and search with my toes below the bed for the makeshift set of three steps used to climb into my loft bed. They’re not quite high enough to reach the bed, and not quite aligned at the right angle. One slip and it’s a six foot drop to the plywood floor. The pipe I am hanging from is actually in use, and if my force should break sealant inside, the sprinklers will turn on, ruining everything in the building.

I open the door and groggily stare out into the open space of the factory kitchen. I’m perched on the edge of a ten foot drop, with no railing or banister to prevent a fall to the cement floor. The cinder block walls stretch twenty feet up to the ceiling, a canopy of chains, pipes and beams extending across the open expanse. I descend the wooden staircase and enter the bathroom, a plywood room set off to the side of the kitchen. The shower is a giant round altar, set three feet above the ground and complete with mirrors along the far wall. It would be the most impressive and majestic structure in the entire living area if it weren’t for the thick mildew and dirt around the edge. I kick the broken tile scraps and dirt from around the toilet. No one walks around here barefoot. Four feet away from the toilet is a miniature toilet, complete with Blues Clues seat cover. Apparently, it still works.

Emerging from the bathroom is the cleanest part of the day. It’s all downhill after that. Sometimes I’ll carry deodorant with me from all the sweat and dirt.

I grab the ragged black backpack I carry everywhere. The straps are frayed and it’s splattered with white paint. It’s an essential rucksack, carrying the basic necessities of one day away from home. There are days I won’t be back until 2 A.M., and the extra apples are nice. A sweater and hat could come in handy if the weather gets back. The water bottle is nice, when I remember to refill it periodically. I like to pack a lunch as well. That peanut butter and jelly sandwich comes in handy if I work straight through my lunch break. It’s also nice when I find that bag full of bagels in the dumpster a few blocks away. Extra fuel for weeks. The rucksack also harbors my portable toolbox. Riding to work on a bike requires almost as much gear as an overnight camping trip. It’s safe to always have the following items:

Spare tubes
Tire lever
Hand pump
Set of allen keys
Spoke wrench
8 mm wrench
10 mm wrench
Pocket knife

I don the brimmed Bern skateboarding helmet I borrowed from Drew. Stick my mini Kryptonite U-Lock in my back pocket, and grab sunglasses. I’m ready.

I walk down the sticky tiled floor of the old sugar factory. The door on my left leads to another living space. The double doors on my right lead to the stage. Bands crowd this area almost every night of the week. I am often forced to step around synthesizers, drums, and guitar pedals when I go out at night. I push open the heavy front door and breathe in the warm Brooklyn air from the East River. A bulldozer sits in the middle of the street. Construction workers mill around me. I notice suspenders and curly locks dangling from the underside of the bright yellow hard hats. A few more blocks south and all the storefronts are completely Hebrew.

I walk my bike out to the middle of the street. I swing one leg over and lock my shoe into the toe clip. I take a deep breath, and then in one fluid motion, it starts.

Speed. The first thing you notice about a bike in the city. You’re as fast as a car, and much more efficient. There’s no stopping at stop signs, and most intersections can be bypassed with a quick glance left and right. You can weave through lanes and go down one-way streets in the opposite direction. Somehow, breaking traffic laws on a bike is allowed. Wythe Street, my first thorough way, is complete with a white painted bike lane. It’s a nice comfort zone, but ultimately useless. After one block I weave around a parked taxi in the bike lane.

I reach the bridge and turn to ride under it. I can hear the cars above me. Old Hispanic men crowd the edge of the street, clad in wife beaters and smoking cigarettes. Two guys carry a refrigerator to the edge of the curb. After another block, I make the 180 degree turn to the base of the bridge. At the start of the turn, a white ghost bike sits chained to a sign. Tombstones littered all around New York.

The Williamsburg Bridge. The two mile barrier between the calm and the storm. The obstacle course featuring joggers, commuters, and Hasidic women pushing strollers. It’s a grueling one mile uphill, the best wake-up call. I push my legs to keep their speed, never allowing myself to slow down. At the crest of the bridge I see the skyline of Manhattan. Even from here, you can feel the energy. The city has no mercy. Slow down or show vulnerability and it will chew you up and spit you down on the trash-littered sidewalk. It’s every man for himself. Life or death. Paradise.

Downhill now. The descent plunges into the heart of the beast, dodging people left and right, picking up speed as the city invites you into its veins. Awareness peaks. Adrenaline rushes. I’ve just become a rabbit in a race of hounds. I burst from the crowd and hurdle off the curb into the nearest lane of traffic. This is my favorite part of the day.

I turn around the back of a minivan, narrowly squeezing in front of the front bumper of a sedan. Got to get to the other side of this five-lane road. The potholes on the sides of the road look like the surface of the moon. Sleek metal sheets litter the road, covering bigger holes. Sometimes they’re a few inches above the pavement. It’s a miracle my bike doesn’t fall to pieces every morning. First Avenue approaches and I hang a hard right, keeping up with the taxi on my left. If I slow down just a bit, he can cut in front of me to pick up pedestrians. Can’t let that happen. At the next red light, I leave him behind and power on into Chinatown.

Here, the delivery drivers don’t follow the rules. At least I ride with traffic most of the time. This Chinese guy is coming straight for me, riding the wrong way in the bike lane with two bags of delivery food hanging from his wobbly handlebars. There’s nowhere to go. I’m trapped between traffic and parked cars. I speed up to cut in front of the first moving car, swerving back into the bike lane and just missing a General Tso’s Collision.

As 14th Street approaches, pedestrians grow threateningly anxious. They step out further into the street to hail cabs. They cut across streets into oncoming traffic. They certainly don’t give a shit about bike lanes. From my point of view, they’re basically an intelligent obstacle. You never know what they’re going to do. I breeze inches away from the extended hand of a business man, standing in the center of the bike lane. He doesn’t flinch as he stares past me at the taxi approaching. People still don’t notice bikes, even inches in front of them.

The 14th Street intersection is lined with crowds of people. “Hello sir! Would you like to donate to the homeless?” Sitting at the light, I see a business man rush to get past the soliciting. The homeless man waves his brochure at him, but he turns his head and ignores it. Green light. Time to go.

The taxis start here, greedily seeking out any idling figures. They swerve across lanes, as if attracted by an invisible magnet pulling from someone’s waving hand. I see someone on my right hail a cab and immediately look to my left. Sure enough the cab speeds past me and cuts me off. I bank a hard left, cutting between the stopped cab and the oncoming bus. My bag hits the side view mirror as I pass. I think that’s retribution enough.

The hospital is on my right now. Cabs, patients, ambulances, and NYU buses line the side of the street. Cars double-park to drop patients off, and slow moving senior citizens meander across the street at red lights. This is a steep decline, and with all the obstacles I feel like a downhill slalom skier.

At the bottom of the hill, the buildings on my right cut off and the sun glares in my face. I can see the Interstate, cutting across to Queens. This will be one of the few times this morning I will see the sun. Here, the buses stop more frequently. I trail one and bear left as it pulls to the curb. You don’t want to get wedged between a bus and the curb. I ride the left edge of the bus lane, close to traffic. A limo is stopped up ahead, turning into the U.N. Headquarters. I snake around it, careful not to scratch the shiny finish with my bike. I glance right and see a half circle of flags. Hoards of people pour from a bus onto the cobblestone sidewalks and squint into the sun. They walk around with their necks craned upward, most of them wielding cameras. I could probably be seen somewhere wearing these dirty clothes, riding this makeshift bike, and carrying this ragged backpack in a photograph of a real Manhattan street.

Trump towers on my left. If I’m lucky, there will be a mass protest outside. The most effective protests are barricaded off into a one-block area and ignored by everyone. As long as you can designate a place for people to voice their opinion loudly, you can choose to ignore it. I cruise down the hill, gaining speed. Suddenly, a cab backs up into the middle of my lane. I brake hard and turn left. I pound on the side of the car as it drives me into traffic. The cab stops suddenly and I pop through the narrow gap between the cars.

As I cruise through the last twenty blocks of the Upper East Side, I can relax a bit. Only delivery trucks to hinder my route, parked in the center of the bike lane. I weave through women pushing strollers and walking small dogs with sweaters. Welcome to Yorkville. The food is expensive, the streets are clean, and the people are all pretty rich. I pull my dirty bike onto the curb and approach the door. I’m sweating and dirty already, and it’s only 10 A.M. I wouldn’t have it any other way.