Custer State Park in South Dakota

Custer State Park in South Dakota
We saw a LOT of these guys at Custer State Park in South Dakota!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Adventures in New York City Part 10- The 9/11 Memorial Museum- NYC


I almost hate to do this...  but let me start with my own 9/11 memory.

 I was working in Cleveland at that time as a social worker.  I was downtown with a client, helping them apply for some benefits on that day.  I overheard some people in the welfare office talking about a plane crashing.  There was some excitement among these individuals.  I heard someone say something about a second plane crashing.

I was focused on helping my client with the situation at hand, and wasn't paying too much attention, but after a bit, I asked someone working at the office what was going on.  He told me that a couple of planes had crashed in New York.  I remember hearing something about military jets too.  I assumed that the military screwed something up, and accidentally crashed a couple of their planes.

Before we left the building, we had heard about the hijacked planes crashing in New York.  We had a rough idea about what was going on.

I would find out later that Flight 93 was in contact with Cleveland Air Traffic Control (and it was definitely in the area of Cleveland).  AND, another plane that left Boston (NOT hijacked) landed in Cleveland over concerns that it may have been taken over too.

But..... man do I remember that day.

I think if you are old enough to REALLY remember that day, it STILL hits you hard.

So, while we were in New York, we had to visit the new 9/11 Memorial Museum.

We went through security, and it was similar to that at the airport, but the guy doing the screening was funny.  He told a couple of young guys in front of me to take their belts off but to leave their pants on.  The guys did not catch his remark but I told the Security guy I thought it was party time.  It was a funny exchange.  I thought it was nice that the guy doing security was trying to lighten the mood.
The museum itself was, as to be expected, very sad.  I remember the events of 9/11 so well I skimmed some of the time lines.  The relics were what got to me.  Personal items from the planes and buildings that were found at the sites.  There is a huge rock art piece that is literally 5 floors of debris compressed and burned into a large rock looking thing.  They think there are no human remains in it, but the description said that they really couldn't be sure.  Pieces of the planes were displayed too.  The Ladder 3 fire engine was there, and a guy gave a talk on it (it was pretty damaged, AND the entire crew died- I saw a lady crying as we left the brief talk about it).  There was a room of photos (and a few personal items) from the people who died.  There were sections on the Pentagon crash, and the Pennsylvania one too.  There was video from the airport of the hijackers going through security.  You could listen to the phone machine messages for a fireman who died.  There were over 50 calls from friends asking if he was OK.
The most moving thing to me was the phone message from Brian Sweeney.  The entire message to his wife, less than 30 seconds, was printed on a wall... and then you could pick up a phone and listen to the actual message.  He told his wife that he loved her and told her and his parents to have fun.  I just looked up the quote-
Jules, this is Brian listen, I’m on an airplane that’s been hijacked. If things don’t go well, and it’s not looking good, I just want you to know I absolutely love you, I want you to do good, go have good times, same to my parents and everybody, and I just totally love you, and I’ll see you when you get there. Bye, babe. I hope I call you.
People came by and read that and you could see them breaking down.
I know we were in the museum for a while.
We went outside and tried to find the one tree that survived (it was in a cemetery and was pretty much untouched).  A guy selling 9/11 books was helpful with info and was selling packs of books for $25 I think.  We told him we were good, but he kept lowering his price and we finally bought a couple from him (they were interesting, with good photos).  He said he was a first response volunteer during 9/11.  His picture was in one of the books.  

The church (St. Paul's) was there, which was very important during 9/11, it is now a museum kind of set up.  That was interesting to see too.

I would have liked to have spent more time just exploring the area.  The new One World Tower is beautiful, and the 9/11 memorial pools are very special.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Adventures in New York City Part 9- The Today Show

We passed the area where they film the Today Show a few times.  We passed by once when Bernie Sanders was there- we didn't see him, but we did see a crowd.

I DID take one photo of inside of the studio, while they were filming.  That blurry guy standing up is Matt Lauer, and the blurry girl in the green dress I THINK is Savannah Guthrie.  Yes, I know it is flawed, but it is one of my favorites I took on the trip.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Adventures in New York City Part 8- Hop On Hop Off Bus

We used the City Sightseeing "Hop On Hop Off" bus for a couple of days on this trip.  I am usually very big on these type of busses on a trip.  We have had success, and great experiences with them in Savannah, St. Augustine, New Orleans, San Antonio, and other places....

For New York City.......  I will say that these busses were an OK experience...  for the most part.

I will start with the cons- We got on a bus at 8am, when the first ones were loading for the day.  Well, that one got a flat tire before it got going.  They did have another for us to get onto, and we were on the road by 8:25.  Still, that's 25 minutes of vacation time.

One day it was raining, and the bus was full of people on the 1st floor of the bus (these are double decker busses with open tops).  The tour guide/announcer basically gave up on narrating, and stressed out about fitting people on the bus.

Speaking of guides.....  the guides were hit or miss.  Some were great and really made the experience pleasant.  Others were straight up bad.  One told a lot of jokes, and pointed out just a couple of buildings of interest.

On the flip side, there were some advantages.  We were able to get around VERY easily, while seeing all of the sites of New York.  We drove through all of the cool neighborhoods.

AND, we had some great guides...  one being Victor.  Victor was a younger guide who knew a LOT of history, and was full of facts.  Victor is the kind of guide I always want on a tour.

Also, even with some of the issues- this added to our New York experience.  Riding in an over crowded bus with a guide who stops trying to narrate, and just starts loudly mumbling to himself, "I can't fit all these people on this bus" had some value to it.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Adventures in New York City Part 7- Top of the RockTop Of The Rock

I took a ton of photos from the "Top of the Rock"- the top of Rockefeller Center.    The view from this point, and the town itself, are so photogenic.

It is a deceptively easy process to get to the observation decks.  There is a timed entry ticket process, which helps a lot.  There is security which wasn't much of a hassle.  Then, they snake line you through a short film, and you are then directed to go up on an elevator.  Before you know it you are looking out over the city.

And, I THINK in an effort to keep the crowds moving, there are a few levels of the deck, so there are plenty of uncrowded, nice photo ops.  Plus, the final level is literally on top of Rockefeller Center.  You can't get any higher here!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Adventures in New York City Part 6- Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center was another one of those places we hoped to visit while in New York.

We ended up spending a good amount of time there.  In fact, we probably stopped by at some point on each day of our trip.

We went in one day to check out the shops and to see about tour tickets.  I did find some really cool postcards in one shop.  I asked the lady running the place if she ever saw any of the SNL cast come by.  She mentioned that Fred Armisen has been in several times.  She said that he was always very friendly and nice.  I told her I was glad to hear that because I really like him.

We went to get tickets for "Top of the Rock"- access to Rockefeller Center's observation deck area.  On the day we asked about tickets, we were told that there was 0 visibility, so they weren't selling tickets at that moment, though they oddly offered to sell us tickets for the next day.  We did come back on a different day and we were able to make it to the top (more on that later).

Rockefeller Center is one of those buildings that everyone knows, and you realize the moment you see it that you have seen it many times before.  It reminded me of the first time I saw the Capitol in DC, and the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.  The place is so iconic.

AND there are several spots that you recognize pretty immediately.  The ice skating rink area is something we are all familiar with....  the very front of the building, and the statue of Atlas all seemed so familiar.

We actually took a tour of the building (mostly outside and in lobbies) with a tour guide named Pete.  Pete was full of energy, and must have snorted Red Bull before the tour.  He was awesome and knew everything about 30 Rockefeller, it's history, and a lot of the history associated with the building and the area.

This was one of those, "what the heck" kind of tours, it looked like it might be somewhat interesting, and it ended up being a real high point of our trip.

Pete mentioned that some of the actors have interrupted his tours to try out material (unfortunately this did not happen to us).  He mentioned Jimmy Fallon doing this a week or two before our tour.

Anyway, a big focus of the tour was on art.  Much of the art on and around the building had a theme of getting information to people through TV and radio.  Pete explained some of the imagery, telling us about the artists, and what the Rockefeller's wanted to communicate and do with their building.  With Pete's enthusiasm as he described the truly epic art work, I felt that the art was coming through in an almost spiritual level.  Sure, this tour was entertaining, but it was also very deep.

I cannot express how exciting it was to view the Josep Maria Sert work "American Progress" which pleasantly overwhelms anyone entering the building through the main entrance.  Painted giants appear to be standing on the physical columns in the lobby, dealing with elements of the future and the past.  This is such a spectacular piece, I would love to see it exploited more.  Prints and postcards showing scenes from this work should be readily available in the gift shop!

I could go on and on about the art here.  Like I said, we figured this might be an OK tour, but with our guide Pete, the tour was over the top amazing.

There is a Lego store nearby that had several of the Rockefeller Center icons immortalized in Lego.  We thought that was cool.  Plus, who doesn't love Legos?

One morning, we relaxed and watched ice skaters through a window while inside of Rockefeller.

I will get some more photos up from our "Top of the Rock" experience in the next few days.....

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

RCA Building, Rockefeller Center at Night, New York City

Sent from NYC in 1941, the sender says they just saw "Tom, Dick, and Harry" at Radio City Music Hall.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Adventures in New York City Part 5- Trump Tower

We stopped by Trump Tower...  well, because we passed it, and it IS Trump Tower!

It was pretty rainy, and we were excited to get out of the rain at this point!  We noticed that the Trump Grill had a $23 lunch special.  Actually, for this neck of the woods, $23 isn't bad at all for a nice lunch.

We each had a tasty salad, burger, and dessert for our money!

There are some very high end shops here too, but we didn't bother going in to them.

We did explore a bit more of the building.  There is a busy Starbucks on an upper level that offered a nice view of the lower level of the Tower. 

The escalators reminded me of nightmares I have had.  The glass sides kind of give you an insecure feeling, like you could fall off at any moment!

Anyway, we liked hanging out at Trump Tower.  Its a pleasant place, and the Trump Grill was a excellent place to stop for a meal while out and about.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Adventures In New York City Part 4- Central Park and the Dakota

The Dakota was high on my list of places to see while in New York City.  Sure, it is a classy, high end apartment....  but it will forever be associated with John Lennon who lived there from 1973-1980, when he was assassinated there.

They obviously were doing work on the building, as scaffolding was everywhere.  We walked over to Strawberry Fields, the memorial dedicated to Lennon in Central Park, right across the street from the building.  There was a nice vibe going on there.  There was a kid singing and playing John Lennon songs on his guitar.

Central Park was just a nice place to be too.  It was very family friendly, and, like most of New York, we felt very comfortable as we explored.

Victor, one of our tour bus guides on this trip, told us a lot about how Central Park was simply not the place to go to a decade or two ago.  The crime stats were very high, but they have been greatly reduced.  I forget the exact statistics he gave us, but Central Park went from the place you never went to to being the place that is very family friendly now.  We saw it.  Old men and ladies were here and there, pushing strollers.  Kids played.  Young people walked dogs.

We did see some great street performers here too, and I wanted to mention one in particular.  We heard some flawless classical style singing coming from somewhere.  We followed it and found the amazing Shigemasa Nakano.

As we followed the music, I assumed we were hearing a physically large Italian opera singer.  When we found Mr. Nakano, he is a smaller man originally from Japan.  He simply did not look the part!  There was a LOT of incredible sound coming from this smaller fellow!  I eagerly bought one of his CDs, and he gave me a business card.  Check out his site!  he has had a diverse career!

We spent a lot of time just casually walking around the park.  Check out my photos!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Adventures In New York City Part 3- Time Square

Time Square was another area where we found ourselves several times during our visit.

I had read about the issues with various costumed characters in the area, and I thought it was interesting to actually see all of them there.  We had several wave at us and all, but none really approached us or anything.

You probably know the story- people wearing costumes of popular characters would hang out and try to get people to take their photos with them... and then ask for tips.  Some of the costumed characters also got into fights over territory.  Anyway, we saw a lot of those guys.

Another well represented group in the area is tour bus ticket salesmen.  We saw them all over the place.  We chatted with one who offered to make us a deal on some tickets.  We had already researched the "hop on-hop off" deals and knew we wanted to go with another group.

One thing about people selling things on the streets of New York is that it is easy to ignore them.

There is a ton of shopping available to do here too.  I wanted to mention one great souvenir shop we liked nearby.  Gifts & Souvenirs on 8th Inc (at 799 8th Ave) was a somewhat standard souvenir shop... in many ways like the others you see on each block.  We felt this one had better prices though, and the staff was more helpful.  I picked up a few things here and they gave me a nice price break.

This is a great place just to people watch too!