Sunday, May 9, 2010

I heart NY

The past few weeks I have had the opportunity to do some traveling for work which has been pretty fun since it has been mostly to worthwhile cities: two weeks ago I went to San Francisco for a day to give a presentation to a client, last week I went to San Jose (this is why the “mostly” qualifier accompanies the “worthwhile cities” descriptor) for a trade show, and this week I had the chance to go to New York to present to another client. The client presentations were pretty fun, I like presenting things where I feel like I have a good handle on the material and can explain it well. The trade show was just medium, it probably would have been better if I was more excited about hanging out with dorks (the other attendees of course, not me and my Synapse colleagues, we employ only the hippest engineers).

I had been to San Francisco a number of times before (usually for the IEEE solid-state circuit conference that is held there every year) as well as to San Jose (I lived there one summer for an internship during undergrad), but I had never been to the Big Apple so that is the one I was most excited about. Dylan and I flew out Wednesday morning and arrived in time to have some delicious dinner at a Venezuelan restaurant before spending the rest of the night working on our presentation for the next day. Thursday was spent at the office of our client doing top secret stuff (everything we do is top secret) which I can't talk about, and after finishing up we headed back to the apartment we were staying at. We had taken a cab there but chose to walk on the way home and it was fun to experience the feel of the city a bit more, walking by some interesting buildings such as the one below:

The biggest thing I noticed about the city was how vibrant it felt, there were tons of people walking everywhere (and no shortage of unusual characters), lots of people sitting out on street-side patios, people playing outdoor speed chess in parks, and lots of cyclists (though I think Seattle just might have a higher hipster:normal cyclist ratio, though New York definitely has more people on folding bikes).

I had decided to spend my evening checking out a local climbing gym, and I invited Dylan to join me but he had some more work to do so he declined the invitation. After unsuccessfully trying to convince him that his priorities were backwards I gave up and boarded the metro, headed for the Manhattan Plaza Club, which from what I could glean from the internet had the most extensive bouldering in Manhattan. Manhattan has a strange phenomenon of having climbing gyms associated with health clubs, my gut instinct about this is to be skeptical about how good the gyms could possibly be if they are targeted at health club clientelle, but then I was under the impression that everything in New York is top shelf quality so they must be good despite the health club association. Well, it turns out that my initial reaction was correct, and the verdict on Manhattan health club climbing gyms is .,. WEAK! The gym was super small, not very high, and almost all of the bouldering was vertical. A vertical bouldering wall is just wasted space, nobody wants to get strong by climbing vertical finger tweaker problems. The only explanation I can think of is that property costs in Manhattan are too high to build a worthwhile climbing gym, maybe there are better gyms in the outlying areas of New York City.

I still had some fun on the one section of overhung wall, and after the gym closed at 10pm I made my way back to the apartment via Times Square, where I was blown away by all the giant LED advertising screens. There were lots of people (and lots of police, the police:civilians ratio seemed to be almost as high as the ratio of cabs:normal cars on the streets during the day) milling around so it was pretty fun to soak in some of the energy as I made my way back to the apartment.

I wanted to get out for a run in Central Park at some point, I had made a half-hearted effort to wake up early enough to do this on Thursday but the time change was too much for me to surmount. I had better success on Friday, waking up at 7am and riding the metro north to run a loop around the perimeter of the park. This was pretty fun, as it was another beautiful day, all the trees were green with their new leaves, and there were lots of runners, walkers, and cyclists out. One strange thing is that all the runners seem to run in the bike lane, despite the presence of dedicating running/waking paths that are adjacent to the road. I would be bothered by this if I was a cyclist in New York, but maybe this isn't a problem because all the cyclists soon switch to running due to the lack of decent riding in the city (this is just speculation, maybe NY is actually a great city in which to be a cyclist).

After completing my loop I made my way back to the apartment where I showered and grabbed a coffee before heading back to our clients office for more secret activities. We ran out of secret stuff to work on around 3pm, at which point I was left with a few hours to explore the city before my flight departed JFK Airport at 7pm. My friend Chris used to live in NY and the top of his recommended to-do list of activities while visiting the city had been to go to Wall Street and feel the money and power in the air. Also high on the list was to check out the headquarters of Goldman-Sachs, the “Kings of Thieves”. I was tempted to do this, but it would take me in the opposite direction of the airport so I decided to save it for another trip (I will be back in early June on another work-related trip) and instead go check out the Guggenheim Museum. My walk there took me through Central Park again, it was nice to enjoy it again at a more leisurely pace:

While I knew I didn't have enough time to make a visit to the interior of the Guggenheim worthwhile, I had been under the impression that the collection was housed in an impressive building that would be worthwhile checking out in itself. This was not the case. As a non-architecture enthusiast I was pretty underwhelmed by the building, I have seen parking structures that have a similar look and are a lot bigger (the one at the Salt Lake City Airport comes to mind, it also has the added bonus of being near some really good mountains). Maybe I was missing something, but next time I will have to go inside and maybe that will be more stimulating.

I was able to get a really good deal on a “I heart NY” t-shirt ($4) from a vendor just outside the museum, so at least my Guggenheim adventure wasn't a total write-off. By this point it was time to head to the airport, so I made my way back to JFK and boarded the plane that I am sitting on as I am writing this (though I won't be able to post it until I am back in Seattle on the weekend). One other thing I learned on this trip (much to my dismay), is that it is apparently okay to bring annoying little dogs on planes. I used to thing it was bad to sit near a screaming baby, it is even worse to have to sit near a whining and barking dog. Babies might be annoying when they yell and scream, but at least they are little people. I think the only way someone should be allowed to bring their dog on board is if they sign a waiver saying that the first time the dog barks the stewardess will then confiscate it and throw it out the emergency exit (owners would be free to equip their dogs with parachutes before they board the plane).

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