Sunday, November 24, 2013

Urban Wilderness Adventuring - Part II

So the Book of Mormon - our first-ever Broadway play - did not disappoint.  We got ourselves in the celebratory mood by loudly declaring to the ticket takers, the ushers, and random other play-goers that were unfortunate enough to be near us that WE ARE FROM UTAH! which we figured would give us a bit of credibility, or at least crack ourselves up.

The scene that greeted us upon entering was worthy:

with the angel Moroni overseeing all, and then of course the play was great with incredible singing, dancing, and acting.  To be fair, while they made an awful lot of fun of the church and it was pretty bawdy, I think that liberal-minded LDS-ers who don't take themselves too seriously would get a big kick out of it (the premise is that a golden boy and a pudgy misfit are "companions" on their mission to Uganda, where they try to convert people that are otherwise dealing with AIDs, famine, poverty, despotic military leaders, etc, and the trials and tribulations of such).  But I could be wrong; it might be really offensive!

No trip to NYC is complete without a visit to Central Park, which we decided to hit it mid-morning on a beautiful fall Saturday to get the full effect. We were not disappointed; there were throngs of people running, riding, dundering, etc. including a slew of folks running a 60km Ultra marathon on a 4 mile paved loop.
Steppin' out with aplomb

Only in NYC is there a traffic light for trails crossing car-less roads! 
You can see the number on his leg; he was plodding out the 36 mile race.....glad my interest in ultra running doesn't extend this far.....
We also made the gratuitous pilgramage to the MOMA, which had its moments; there was a fair bit of esoteric art and a little bit of actual design, which I definitely liked a bit more; the practical side of me sees design as really art applied to utility, which is more appealing, but clearly "art" resonates with other folks.
A bunch of lines.....scintillating!  
A riveting display of.....luggage?  
This was actually really cool:  an crush-proof table for schools in earthquake-prone areas; it will withstand incredible forces.   
This bowl was created by solar power sintering sand ala a 3D printer in the Sahara desert.  
In the meantime, it's worth mentioning food. Any major city has an abundance of great food, but given the diversity of NYC's population and iconic foods we expected a lot, and were not disappointed.  If there wasn't an interesting ethnic place nearby there were killer bagels:

what's NYC without lox and cream cheese on a pumpernickle bagel at Zuckerman's?  
and you're never more than a stone's throw from a middle-eastern food cart, and there were tons of cool little esoteric grocery stores (and a few Whole Foods), and of Plenty o' pizza.  I had no idea that so many guys named Ray started their own pizza place!   I felt like I needed to be a dual-stomached ruminant to fully appreciate the food.

And despite the relative lack of "real" exercise, our walk walk walking gave us not only a pretty good appetite, but was also a bit hard; we were pretty stiff getting out of bed after 3 days of serious midtown walking!  It gave me new respect for serious urban peds.

Another highlight was our second-ever Broadway play:  Kinky Boots. We'd seen the movie (about a shoe factory in England facing closure and the young owner  - who just inherited it from his dead father - meeting a flamboyant drag queen who complained about "her" lack of ability to find killer knee-high boots in a size 12 that would stand up to 200 pounds of burning love in them, so the shoe factory takes advantage of the new business opportunity) and loved it, and of course the play was ever-so-much-moreso with yet-again astounding singing (the movie was not a musical; the play's score was done by the 80's icon Cyndi Lauper), and acting.  And again, we were treated to the brilliant house seats thanks to John.

Each night we'd stumble out into the street pretty late, walk a block, grab a Citibike - that are equipped with flashing lights - roll east towards the river, and spin back home on a great bike path.  Cheaper than a taxi and almost certainly faster in the all-hours traffic, those bikes seemed to us to be a godsend.

Any visit to NYC now also needs to include a stop at Ground Zero.  We went through the small but poignant museum that tells a lot of the tales of survivors, and really brings home the magnitude of loss on 9/11.
the 375 firefighters who died
Where the twin towers stood are now too huge fountains, with water dropping down one tier and then plunging off into a second abyss.

with the names of all the victims around the perimeter:

The first of the "replacement towers is now completed

All in all a grand, short adventure.  After 3.5 days we were ready to come home and we likely won't do it again for at least a while or two, but an absolutely worthy  -if a bit unlikely - adventure.  Here are some additional random pics.
Selling cookies for the Philippine typhoon victims
As indicated by the crass humor of Book of Mormon, pretty much everyone loves immature stuff like (almost!?!) touching the Wall Street Bull's balls
a cool sculpture, a tough ride
the infamous Zucotti Park plague posted during the Occupy Wall St movement that specifically bans sleeping bags, tents, etc
There were lots of good shoe stores too.  "I'm a footwear industry professional!  Really, I am!" I think they thought I was from.....Utah, or something...... 
On times square I got to hang out with the Smurfs a little....
But who was I kidding; I'd rather hang with the Naked Cowgirls!
thanks again to Bec and John for the great hospitality!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

an Urban Wilderness Adventure - part 1

We have had the good fortune to go on many amazing trips to really fun places, and of course meet fascinating people (just this week I got a phone call from Lama Tsephel, a Tibetan Monk we met in Ladakh - in northern India - in 1999!  He's doing fine).  Virtually all of the trips are centered around some activity:  mountain biking, skiing, kayaking, bike touring, etc to generally fulfill not only our wanderlust but also our obsessive need to "do something".  Many of those trips involve travel through big cities; in recent times we've been in Paris, Milan, Delhi, Mexico City, Oslo, Havana, Bangkok, Lima, Tokyo, Washington DC, Boston, San Fran, Seoul, etc.  But we've never really gone on a vacation "to" a big city, simply to go to the city.  But New York is not just another city; it kinda seems like THE city, and as such we recently went to THE city for a 4 day jaunt, simply to be there.

Our trip to NYC actually started about 8 years ago, when someone who knew us well told us we absolutely HAD to see the movie "Team America: World Police".  It is a hilarious movie and was our first exposure to Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys who made it (somehow "South Park" has sort of eluded us all these years, and we have since seen Orgazmo, which is equally hilarious).  I think we watched Team America two or three nights in a row.  Then in 2011 they debuted the Broadway play "Book of Mormon" and of course we HAD to go!  We assumed that it would - like Wicked, Rock of Ages, Mama Mia, and other Broadway plays - come to SLC soonish, but to our chagrin once it finally started touring it went to LA, Chicago, Denver, and even England, but not Salt Lake. What up?  Perhaps his indignance at this snub is what has prompted mayor Ralph Becker to pursue building a Broadway style theater in SLC.  In any case, Ash decided that if BOM wasn't going to come to SLC, then we'd go to it, and hence our New York Urban Wilderness tour was born.  And if we could get into a taping of The Daily Show....well, then we'd have arriven!

We had several other incentives to go:  there's a vibrant urban gardens scene there for Ash to appreciate, it's the world HQ for cool footwear for me to appreciate, of course there are tons of great museums and historical stuff to see, and we have a great friend who lives right downtown who was a gracious host. And when he told us that not only could he get us "house seats" for not only Book Of Mormon but also Kinky Boots, we were in.  And the fact that New York just implemented a great new Citibike program meant that we could at least get a little wind in our hair (not that there's much of either!) by riding bikes around town:

New York is famous as a pedestrian-oriented city, but since the 90's there's been a strong push to accommodate bicyclists as well as peds, and Ash found out that there's actually a bikeway that does a full 30 mile circumnavigation of Manhattan.  So partly to get a broad overview of the city and partly to shake out the cobwebs of our redeye flight, we got on the citibikes in lower Manhattan and started our tour.  We made it about a mile before our first stop:  Battery Park, which was created from the excavations from the original World Trade Center excavations, and sported the city's biggest urban garden.  But alas, it was closed, so on to the next stop:  the Brooklyn Bridge. I didn't realize that going across this bridge is apparently a BIG deal; above the road is great walk/bikeway

and these guys were there doing a street performance, happily giving the tourists yet another way to part with their money:
I was surprised I was able to get the pic of this guy mid-flight.....
After successfully negotiating that, and anticipating that we might have to actually "ride" our bikes, we fueled up in Chinatown

 and headed north along the Hudson River.

The bikeway thing is great in theory and in places actually quite good, but isn't yet quite the magical bicycle carpet ride circumnav.  We didn't realize it 'til we got there, but the United Nations extends right onto the river, and so it forced us not only into town but onto a highway, where we were first "pulled over" by a cop telling us to get off the highway, but he caught us right about the time that he got stopped by traffic, so I simply waved merrily and cruised on up the shoulder, leaving him in a virtual parking lot.  However, it was apparent that route was not going to work out so well, so we heaved the unusually-heavy citibikes up over a brick wall onto a sidewalk, up and over a bridge, up some more steps, and into the fray of Harlem's surface streets.
Lamenting the bike path to nowhere
We were able to cut east over towards Columbia University and it's adjacent long, skinny Riverside Park (former stomping grounds of New York's first-ever Rollerblader:  Dr. Michael Elovitz) that had a great bike path that continued along the East River all the way to our new home in the Lower East Side.  So we didn't quite do the whole island lap, but we were close, and got enough riding in that I got a pretty healthy chub-rub from the phatty seat!

At one point as we were negotiating some traffic I slipped through an intersection and Ash and I got slightly separated, and suddenly I heard her hollering, which is pretty unusual since being across and intersection from each other was not a big deal. I looked back and she's waving her hands at me and I couldn't figure it out for a second until all of a sudden I looked up and......I was standing right under a big awning that boldly declared "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart!"  OMG, we were there!  And people were lining up to get tickets for the evening show.  But not surprisingly, popular shows are not kind to the unprepared so our odds of getting in on standby were low and we had already planned to take our hosts to dinner, so regretfully we moved on.

Knowing that we were both cycling geeks, John and his pro-triathlete wife Bec took us to a place called "Cannibal" for dinner.  I thought it an odd name for a restaurant - particularly one that specialized in esoteric meats and sausages, such as this one - but as I walked in and saw the waiters wearing Mavic bike mechanic aprons and saw an huge poster of Eddy "The Cannibal" Merckx" crushing his opponents mercilessly on some epic climb in the 1960-something Tour De France, I got it.  And we also "got" the fact that we needed to drink a lot of beer; on both sides of the entrance way were huge coolers stuffed with hundreds of esoteric craft beers that we'd never heard of, though upon further inspection we were proud to see a couple of Uinta Brewing's finest!
tucked in the vast case.....some Utah brew

  John and Bec chose well, and we feasted accordingly.

Museums are of course a big part of New York, and while the Museum of Modern Art ("MOMA" to sound cool) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the "Met", of course) are the most notable, Ash of course snooped out the more esoteric museums.  The Tenement Museum is on a nondescript block in midtown and is a bit of a monument to the immigration populations that have been such a backbone of NYC since the beginning.  The buildings - which were apparently decrepit not too long ago - have been restored and the "museum" is a series of guided tours through the buildings that are very effective at bringing you back in time to the lives of the immigrants.  Our guide pointed out that there were something like 30 layers of wallpaper, paint, paneling, etc on the walls of what started out as a German beer stube (one of over 700 in the several-block radius!) then became a Jewish market and is now in a Puerto Rican neighborhood.

The next museum we visited was the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Spaces, or - as I shortened it to - The Anarchy Museum.  It's approximately 1/2865th the size of MOMA, and is devoted to the history of squatting in abandoned buildings (and the associated struggles - both virtual and literal/physical - between the City and the squatters), the fights to create open spaces/gardens and save them from demolition, the history of urban cycling in the city:
the curator's bike out front...

 and is the de facto chronicler/champion of the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011.

For the latter they developed an exercycle-based generator to help keep Zucotti Park "charged", and the charger was brought back to critical life in the aftermath of last year's Hurricane Sandy when it was the only power game in town.  
I love the fact that they used pretty much the worst exercycle I've ever seen, straight out of the 70's
The Anarchy Museum was definitely a bit out there, but we actually did find out about it here:
Fodors is not known for promoting anarchy museums
speaking of reclaiming urban was nice to see an (unattended?) outdoor bike repair/rental shop in one of the highest rent 'hoods in the country!
We had heard about the "Highline" as a new, must-see place in the city, and it's pretty extraordinary.   In order to move the meat out of the Meatpacking District the city built a rail line in from the river but to keep it from affecting traffic they put the rail line up 100 feet above the street.  As the meatpacking business declined the rail line was abandoned and it became a blighted area.  But in the late '90s a couple of guys decided that it had a lot of potential, so they basically spearheaded an effort to create a beautifully-landscaped - and very skinny, since it's along a rail line - park along the rail bed 100 feet above the bustling streets of town, and only a couple of sites in NYC are as popular a tourist destination as the Highline.  Here are a few shots:
The walkway is on the old rail bed
here are the old tracks
A new spin on the iconic sailor-kissing-girl shot
some quirky art; this is a bit of Greek goddess meets Devo
watching traffic flow must be the urban equivalent of watching planes take off?
some pretty random art
It stretches almost a mile
Old and new juxtaposed together. 
The construction adjacent to the park is going at a mad pace to put up cool lofts, condos, retail stores, brew pubs, etc.

 It was an impressive display of the potential economic impacts of the vision of renewal - and gentrification - that only a couple of people have.  Here's the full tale:

It's pretty inspiring.

Looking down from the Highline I saw this, and said "hey buddy, check out that gas station".  She said, yeah, whatever, then did a double take:
are those sheep?
Yep, those are sheep alright.  The minimart's neon sign says "open", and the gas prices are updated.....
More wandering for the day, which of course included additional urban gardens:
complete with some cool lamps:

And as the light started to wane, we began to anticipate why we were there:  The Book of Mormon!

To be continued......

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

TSO - a remembrance

Yesterday as I was dundering around town in the car I grew weary of hearing about Syria, Iran sanctions, and rigid congressional idealogues on NPR and started flipping around the regular radio stations.  The DJ on one of our seemingly-ubiquitous classic rock stations said something about "TSO Tuesday" where they were giving away tickets to tonight's Trans Siberian Orchestra concert.  It reminded me of a tale of many moons ago.....(cue weird harp music and a fuzzy, twisting screen as time warps backward)

Some years ago we went to a fall fundraiser for Splore, a great organization in SLC that takes disabled folks on outdoor adventures and that our great friend Tricia was driving.  As with any nonprofit fundraisers there was an auction, and one of the things that came up was a dinner at a local restaurant and 4 tickets to something called the "Trans Siberian Orchestra".  Ash was pretty keen:  "That sounds cool!  I bet it's a bunch of monks in saffron robes singing songs from Kazakhstan or something."  Sure, whatever, I'm in.  We didn't care too much; it was a fundraiser after all, we were going to donate money anyway, and we always prefer to get an "experience" in lieu of stuff at those events.  Little did we know.....

Some amount of time then passed and then my calendar pops up reminding us of the concert that weekend.  I took a closer look at the tickets and saw that it was in the Ford Theater at the E-center; the E-center is a big concert venue, so we figured that the Ford Theater was some smaller "room" off the main arena.  We were a bit chagrined to realize that our tickets were for a matinee, since it was good skiing that day, and while we were out we talked about blowing off the concert and continuing to ski.  But we had the tickets, we ski a lot, it could be a good cultural experience, and we had invited some friends to join us, so we left untracked powder for others and headed for the E-center.

Our first clue that something might not be quite what we expected was when we were pulling off the exit to go to the E-center and the traffic was quite backed up, and the traffic continued all the way into the parking lot.  "Huh. Must be some other big event going on in the main part of the E-center today?"  We walked in and asked the ticket taker "Where's the Ford Theater?"  She gave us a blank look and just gestured behind her.  We walked in and realized that the little side-room Ford Theater was actually the huge arena, and we were streaming in with all 20,000 of our fellow TSO fans, and the stage was huge.  Whoa, this is not quite what we were expecting.

As it turns out, we had great seats; on the floor, only 20 or so rows back. We waited expectantly, and soon enough the lights dropped, and......OMG.....there they were, Trans Siberian Orchestra!  The smoke machines started blasting, the lights and lasers started arcing and flashing, and as a couple of rockers leapt onto the stage and started wailing on their guitars I realized that all the huge Van Halen, Def Leppard, Who, Stones, Styx, and Poison concerts I had ever seen were about to be upstaged!  It was a very impressive visual and audio barrage with guitar slayin' that would make Tommy Lee blush with envy.  Wait a minute! What about the monks in their saffron robes singing cool traditional songs from their homeland?  Ash and I looked at each other in amazement; apparently we should have done about 2 minutes of research on this TSO thing on the interweb before we committed to it.

Now don't get me wrong, I am an old school rocker, as is Ash, and since this show we've also hit up Def Leppard and spent many road trip hours keeping ourselves awake singing along with classic rock, so I'm totally good on some good hair metal with the requisite visuals. But after a bit of this suddenly it toned down, and a lone spotlight shone on a James Earl Jones wannabe, who started intoning in a deep, sonorous voice about Christmas and its deep meanings and such, and it actually went on for quite a while.  Which was apparently a good lead in to more serious rockin', which recommenced.  And then back to Darth Vader again.  And yet more rockin.  Weird!

To add to the weirdness, there was the audience.  Usually when there's some sick rock n rollin like that going on people are kind of loosing it in a music-fired frenzy; but literally everyone stayed in their seats - even on the floor - and clapped politely at the appropriate times.  It was so odd to not really hear screams from the audience as the ferocious guitar solos ended after long, drawn out finales (followed by more sermonizing), just (admittedly, enthusiastic) clapping.

We stuck it out for maybe 30 or 40 minutes, and then decided that it was time to roll.  As we got up to leave, we felt quite conspicuous because - as noted above - we were the only people in the crowd of 20,000 to be standing, and since it was clear that we were grabbing our coats and leaving, our fellow fans gave us these looks that seemed to say "where are you going?  IT'S TSO!!!"  We felt like we were escaping.
I don't know..... clearly the Trans Siberian Orchestra resonates with some folks; tonight's show is at the Energy Solutions arena downtown, which I think is about 50% bigger than the E-center, and it'll be packed as people will undoubtedly go on their annual pilgrimage to get the full meal TSO experience that apparently is known and loved.  And good on them.  But needless to say, as I listened to the classic rock station yesterday, I wasn't grabbing my phone to call in for the free tickets!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

More Desert Adventures

After a ferocious trip to the desert with Ma Diegel - where she finally got to see Zion:

I needed a bit of a break in the intensity, so brother Paul, Colter Leys, and Tom Macfarlane hopped into Tom's Landcruiser for a blast back down south for some high quality slot-groveling.

We beelined for Ticaboo Mesa, which - like a lot of areas - sports a bunch of awesome slots.  I had done Hard Day Harvey with the New England and Cincinnati professional canyoneering teams, but I had missed out on HDH's adjacent brother, Good Day Jim.  And very close by lies the sorta-new-to-the-scene Dantes (or "Dante's", as the plural/posessive-challenged beta we had labeled it); a series of 5 or 6 canyons accessed by one trailhead.

Hard Day fully delivered.  It's actually not hard or scary, but it's grovelling of the first degree, and is super scenic.  Here's Tom in the heart of Hard Day:
and again, catching some nice light:

.  Until he made the leap into what actually looked pretty solid:

Here's Colter and Paul:
I'm not quite sure what Colter is signaling there!
And after several hours in the slot came the slickrock sea hike out, with Reservoir Powell looming far below:

Good Day Jim was not quite as tight, but surprised us a little bit by having no anchors in place; it appeared that no one had been in there since the September floods (no footsteps, and the "anchors" were all washed into weeds downstream of where they should be) so we got to feel like "real" intrepid canyoneers by establishing our own rappel anchors, including a fairly exciting one where there was no natural anchor spot (we filled a pack with sand, used it as an anchor, tied a line to the bottom, and after the last man rapped we pulled that line to dump the sand and pull the now-empty pack over the lip).

We tried a different exit this time, again for another brilliant sandstone hike:

We drove a few miles over to what we agreed was The Best Campsite in the World:

Overlooking what seemed like most of the Utah desert, where Tom celebrated in fine style by pouring himself a cooking pot of fine wine:

We then dropped into Limbo (the others are fittingly:  Inferno, Purgatory, etc) which dropped precipitously downward with some grand groveling
Colter waving goodbye as he backs down a hole
and stellar clambering:

Limbo is notable for an unprotected stem across an unusually-deep pothole:
Paul's breathing hard here because he's hoping his test shoes hold enough to keep him from plunging into the abyss below
With what appeared to be some pothole challenges:

and finishing off with a beautiful, dramatic rappel into a nice spring:

and once again, a beautiful hike out over awesome sandstone. 

If for no other reason canyoneering is great because it "forces" hikes over some incredible sandstone terrain that we'd otherwise never do.  

Incredible area, literally no other folks out there, plenty of yuks with the boys; hard to beat. 

It'll be different than the next few days; Ash and I are headed off to an urban wilderness class 5 adventure in New York City for her 45th birthday!  That will definitely result in some nutty blawgable tales.