Thursday, November 18, 2010

Newark to NYC 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I made my annual trip to (officially) Newark, NJ with a couple of (unofficial) side trips to NYC. My plans were to get to Newark early enough in the afternoon so I'd have time to drop my bags at the hotel, train over to Penn Station in New York, and do a bit of sight-seeing before meeting someone for dinner. I'm not all that familiar with New York and wanted all the daylight I could muster for touring.

As it turns out, we landed more than 90 minutes late. Officially, we were told landings were postponed or stretched because of the heavy cloud cover and rain in the area. I do wonder, however, if perhaps we were delayed because a TSA agent was patting down the junk of the air traffic controller responsible for coaxing our aircraft in safely.

I've enjoyed my previous trips to New York. Its just that I haven't strayed too far. I've walked along Broadway and other streets and avenues from Central Park to Times Square to the Empire State Building. I've been to the Upper West Side around Riverside Church, Columbia University, and Grant's Tomb. I've had dinner one time in Little Italy, and I was driven to the World Trade Center site in 2002 where I stood in the rain...and stared...and contemplated...

On this trip, I had hoped to cover more ground and indeed did so. Once I realized the window of daytime touring had closed, I focused instead on simply getting to the Newark Penn Station so I could ride the train to New York.

While riding to Penn Station aboard the Hampton Inn van shuttle, I chatted up Tony, my driver. I asked him where I could get Schaefer beer in Newark. He said he hadn't had Schaefer in years, but he knew the old ad jingle! Schaefer, Schaefer. The one beer to have when you're having more than one. He suggested a package store a short walk from the Hampton as a good place to begin my search.

Once I hit Penn Station under Madison Square Garden, I quickly sought out the subway to get to the Upper East Side to meet my friend for dinner. He wanted to meet at the Peking Duck House on East 53rd St.

The idea was to share a duck; however, the restaurant required a minimum of four people to serve it. Why? I don't know - maybe its part of some international treaty. Instead - well let's just say the sizzling rice soup, orange chicken and Shezuan shrimp more than made up for lacking a quacker.

One of the places I had wanted to go before dinner was an East Village bar I found on-line serving Schaefer beer - the Spring Lounge. The Village was one of those places I'd never been but felt it was time to try. Fortunately, my friend was willing to seek it out as well. So we headed for the 6 train which dropped us off just a couple of blocks away.

After my experience with only a handful of locals at Schaefer's Bar in Baltimore, I wasn't sure what to expect at Spring Lounge. When we got there though, it was packed. Truly a thriving, community bar that turns out to have been there for a long, long time. And sure enough - there it was. The Schaefer.

I really liked their logo on the wall too: Life Is Short, Drink Early. The Spring Lounge opens at 8AM Monday through Saturday. I left wishing I could return and be in line the next morning at 7:45 to enjoy a bit more of the atmosphere.

After quaffing a couple of Schaefers (and Brooklyn lager for my friend), we headed for the train to Newark to get ready for 2 days of presentations - the official reason for my visit.

The symposium I attended isn't a traditional sort of training conference. Some of the presentations include information for the here and now. But others are strictly recaps of academic research that don't have a lot of practical application in the near term. Coefficients, law of anomalous numbers, belief functions, kurtosis, domain specific language, Zzzzz. Drool. Thank goodness for wireless internet and Twitter during those sessions.

The subject matter of the two days is somewhat of a "cottage industry" in the area in which I work. A fairly small group of us return each year to discuss progress in the area. Getting reacquainted with several pleasant and fun folks I get to see only once a year is an enjoyable part of the trip. But you also tend to run into several others who you just never really connect with - mainly because they're just...duds. Many are about as much fun as the clap. (tip to Ozzy Nelson's old man for that succinct simile)

As I blogged a year ago, the tradition for Friday night dinner at the symposium is to go to the Spanish Pavilion. Because of something going on there this year, we went to Rio Rodizio instead.

A Brazilian restaurant...and sushi house? WTH? I've been to Fogo de Chao in multiple cities and to Churrascos in Houston. Brazilian cuisine is great - meat on a sword! Our host, however, pulled an ol' switcheroo. We got the Spanish/Portuguese menu we normally get at Spanish Pavilion instead - paella, sauteed sausage, calamari, California roll "sushi", flan, rice pudding, sangria, etc. No meat from a spit. Once again, WTH? Don't get me wrong. It was good; however, it wasn't Pavilion-quality and at the risk of being redundant - no meat on a sword. Grrrr.

Once our sessions ended Saturday afternoon, I had time for a quick Schaefer search before returning to NYC for the evening. Sure enough, I found a 30 box at the package store near the hotel. I found Tony, the hotel shuttle driver, in the lobby, thanked him for the suggestion, and tipped him a sixer for the idea. Figured it was just a neat thing to do, but he seemed to be touched by my offering. What I never saw coming was the hug he gave me! That's not something I'm accustomed to getting with my Hilton Honors membership.

Saturday night, I ventured to an area of Manhattan called Chelsea. Again, it was another new area for me, and I really enjoyed walking a bit of it. Lots of restaurants, movie theater, grocery stores, barber shops, etc. Way different than Times Square (which I've now realized all of the city is way different than Times Square).

My target destination? The Trailer Park Lounge - the perfect place for toomuchcountry if there was one.

You just have to love a place that serves big ol' hamburgers, sweet potato fries, and moon pies. And their decorations are fantastic - including this box of White Trash detergent squirreled away in a display case.

What really caught my eye about the place when I sought it out was (likely to no surprise) they served Schaefer!

So I ordered one while waiting for a table. Unbelievable! They were out - zero, nada, zilch available. George isn't happy. But my planned good time was not going to be derailed. So I ordered one of the most uniquely named beers I've ever seen: Porkslap Farmhouse Pale Ale by Butternuts Brew & Ale.

Brian Doherty and I met for dinner at the Trailer Park. He and I met earlier this year through the wonders of social media such as blogs and Twitter. Brian is a fantastic drummer and has played with bands as varied as The Silos, They Might Be Giants, XTC, Freedy Johnston, and Ben Folds. We enjoyed a conversation about family, politics, music past and present, etc. He talked some interesting moments when auditioning to replace Bill Berry when he left R.E.M. What I found really interesting is how much he enjoyed the music and personality of John Prine and Todd Snider.

After gorging ourselves on burgers, tots, sweet potato fries, and several Sam Adams and even a Rheingold (my first), we pushed away from the table and decided it was time to part ways. He headed for home, but I wasn't ready to conclude my trip.

Now having a bit of confidence about my ability to navigate the NYC subway, I hopped a line to a station on Spring St. near Avenue of the Americas. According to my Google Maps app, the previously visited Spring Lounge was a short half-mile stroll from the stop. Perfect. Great evening weather. So off I strolled.

I walked several blocks, and I was pretty sure I'd covered at least a half-mile. But instead of hipster bars all around me, I was in the shadows a lot as I walked along Spring. When I could see the Hudson River, I realize something was wrong. Sure enough, I'd walked the half-mile in the wrong direction from the station. So I turned on my heel, retraced my steps to the station, and walked the half-mile in the correct direction. So my half-mile late night stroll to get a Schaefer turned into a 1.5 mile where-the-hell-am-I-going walk. My walk took me through SoHo - again an area I'd never visited - and before long the Spring Lounge was in sight. That cold Schaefer tasted so wonderful. I then headed for Penn Station to make my train back to Newark.

I awoke Sunday morning unsure what time it was. I was traveling on eastern time. My body and watch were still calibrated to central time. Sometime early Sunday morning, the time changed from daylight savings time back to standard time. And with my head processing remnants of Porkslap Farmhouse Ale, Rheingold, Sam Adams, and Schaefer, the only state I knew I was in was the state of confusion.

A late-morning french toast breakfast at the classy Top's Diner was enough to kickstart me again. As rough an area as Newark is, this little restaurant in East Newark and a short walk from the hotel where I was staying exudes class. Great food, attentive service, hot coffee, fair price. Ahhh.....

With that, this trip was done. Bags were packed - including about a case of Schaefer - and I was shuttled to EWR to return to the normal life.


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