shannon_a: (Default)
Italo Calvino said, "To know a city, you must walk its streets." (He didn't.) And, I walked almost 50 miles of New York's streets (and bridges) during my four and a half days there. I walked from Brooklyn to Central Park, from the Hudson to the East River (not a river), from the UN to the Upper East Side.

I don't know the city. That'd be impossible for a city that big and for that limited of a time. But I learned about it a little. And there were quite a few things that surprised me.

1. Everyone in Manhattan Ignores Everyone Else. No one makes eye contact in Manhattan. There's a purposeful and constant attempt to avoid anyone's gaze. No one makes idle comments to each other in the streets. No one wishes each other a good day. I found this very disconcerting at first, because it felt like hostility, but as the days went on, I realized that the average denizen of NYC actually felt less hostile than the average person from the Bay Area. Because on the flipside, you had no yelling at people in the streets and no angry confrontations.

2. The Drivers are Aggressive Jerks. The drivers are totally obnoxious about invading the personal space of pedestrians. Even when they have red lights and you have a green, they're happy to pull right into you or cut you off as you try to cross the street.

3. The Pedestrians Ignore the Aggressive Drivers. But keeping with precept #1, the pedestrians totally ignore the drivers' misbehavior. In the Bay Area, if a driver acted liked, there's a 1 in 10 chance they'd get yelled at or their car would be keyed or their hood smacked. There's a non-negligible chance that their car would be surrounded, rocked, or overturned. Instead,the pedestrians in NYC just keep walking (enabling the bad behavior).

4. The People Live in the Public Spaces. In the Bay Area, we have some unsuccessful parks and some parks that people like to visit. In Manhattan, parks were literally the city commons. People were going there not just to visit the park, but to engage in their life. They ate in the parks, talked in the parks, and did yoga in the parks. The parks created communities (or would have, if the people didn't ignore each other).

5. People Read. Maybe it was just an effect of the parks-as-public-commons, but I have never in my life seen so many people sitting out on benches, reading.

6. People Love. Similarly, I have never seen so many people being couples out in public. I don't mean PDAs, but on every fifth bench there was a couple with their arms around each other. It made me thing "Manhattan is for Lovers".

7. The Parks are All in Jail. There's another way those parks were different from ours: almost every park had a fence around it. Then in the parks, the lawns often had fences around them. Then the shrubs had fences around them too. There were gates through most of the fences, which really made me not understand their purpose: to prevent access from being too easy, perhaps, in a time when the city was more crime-ridden?

8. There are Entertainers and Hucksters, not Beggars. After too long living in Berkeley (and near San Francisco), whose streets are filled with the homeless, I expected New York to be horrible. I expected beggars to be absolutely lining the streets. Instead, I saw almost none.

However, there were people trying every way to make a buck. Twice, two or three young black men hopped on a subway car just to sing or dance, then ask for money. (The dancer was quite impressive, using the pole and the metal handrails on the car to flip and spin; nearby signs told him not to.) And out in Times Square there were any number of people trying to earn whatever money they could. The superheroes were the most noticeable. I'd read about them before, and how they offered to take pictures with tourists for a fee. However, I never realized that they hunted in packs, like dogs. It was very disconcerting to see Spider-Man taking a picture of a tourist with Batman.

9. There are Lots of Dogs. Everyone in New York seemed to be walking a dog, and every ten feet there seemed to be a sign that said, "Please Curb Your Dog." How those dogs don't expire in teeny New York apartments, I do not know.

10. The City is Many Cities. New York City is a whole Bay Area. I don't just mean population counts, though the numbers for the five boroughs of New York and the larger nine counties of the Bay Area are very similar. But, New York City is also many cities. Manhattan is like a larger-scale San Francisco, with a Fisherman's Wharf (Times Square), a financial district (lower Manhattan), a Golden Gate Park (Central Park), and many different flavors of residential areas. It was vibrant and crowded and busy and alive. But when I briefly stopped in Queens, it felt more like Oakland: tired and old. Brooklyn, which I also visited briefly, had a very different feel too. It was still clearly a big, busy city, but it wasn't as crowded or new as Manhattan. It had more of an old-time city feel of a sort that doesn't have an equivalent in the Bay Area. (Mind you, my small impressions aren't necessarily correct, e.g., the crime stats say that Brooklyn is more dangerous than Queens; I just saw bits and pieces ... but they were definitely different.)

11. The City is Constantly Being Rebuilt. I noted in some of my photos and journals that Manhattan was under constant reconstruction. However, what I found particularly impressive was how much of that was public reconstruction. The Queensboro Bridge was having heavy work done. A new waste facility was being built on the shore of the East River. (Not a river.) A new subway line was being built on Second Avenue. In a variety of parks, any number of lawns were being reseeded and rested. New York City (or at the least Manhattan) was clearly a city that reinvests in itself, not letting itself run down like so many cities in America seem to.

12. The City Feels Safe and Clean. For people of my generation, New York City has a bad reputation as being a filthy, crime-ridden place. And in the '10s, that's totally not the case. It was just as clean as most suburbs I've visited: no litter, almost no graffiti, and no unpleasant smells. I also felt almost totally safe when I was there. Mind you, I didn't visit the Lowest East Side, or Alphabet City, or Harlem, but from what I've read gentrification has impacted those areas for the best too. The only place I felt somewhat wary was Times Square, and that was concern about snatch-and-grab or conmen in the crowded streets, not violent crime.

Overall, New York City was a very pleasant place to visit. It's too crowded and busy and hot for me to want to live there, but I wouldn't mind a few months to explore it more fully.
shannon_a: (Default)
I sit between sneezy and coughy. I've cleansed my hands a few times, but oh do I hate sitting in the middle seat of a plane with two sickly sounding strangers surrounding me.

12 Hours Earlier.

I wake up to susurrus of the wind rushing through the branches outside. It takes me long moments to realize it's actually the rushing thrum of the FDR outside the window. It's faded so far into the background that I now have to concentrate to hear individual cars.

Ah, how the extraordinary so quickly becomes the ordinary.

I take my time leaving the apartment, so it's a little past 9am when I head out. My goal is Randall's Island, which lies a bit to our north. I have about an hour and a half to get there and partway back, before I have my first appointment of the day.

I'm amazed to discover that the FDR goes into a tunnel just north of us. I sorta remember that, as I drove through it on my first night here. It's amazing how much of that has faded, despite it being only 9pm or so California time when I arrived.

Anyhow, a few blocks up I'm able to walk over to a nice, wide stone walkway that runs directly along the East River. (Not a river.) It's pretty high up, so I can't really enjoy the water, but I can enjoy the sight of Queens across the river, and the RFK bridge ahead of me and the Queensboro bridge behind.

(By the sixth day of my NYC trip, I've learned that borough is sometimes spelled boro. And not just by the texting kids.)

As I walk I'm constantly getting spit at from the sky. It's another gloomy, gray morning in NYC. I've got my umbrella and my raincoat, but I never use the umbrella.

Perhaps more amazing, I don't have my backpack. It's the only time I've been out in the wild in NYC without either backpack or the smaller iPad bag I brought for the UN day.

Randall's Island is one of the islands that the RFK Bridge (formerly the Triboro Bridge) crosses over. There's an impressive pedestrian bridge that also leads out to it, and the island is almost all parkland.

Mind you, as with northern Central Park, it's not very impressive park land. It's soccer fields and tennis courts and baseball fields and other such silliness. But, it's got nice views. I walk along the south edge of the island, from the pedestrian bridge to the shadow of the RFK Bridge, and I enjoy it all.

What impresses me the most is that from here a pedestrian (or bicyclist!) can go over additional bridges to Queens or to the Bronx. I'd love to be able to, but time is short.


The 11am appointment is a reservation for a tour of Gracie Mansion. That's the home of the mayor of New York. It's a tour that Chris suggested I take, and I'm glad he did (and that the tour day of Tuesdays coincided with my brief free time in the city).

Gracie Mansion is a Federalist-era House (late 1700s), and that's a real treat because we don't have a Federalist era on the left coast. Most of our buildings postdate 1906 with a very few notable exceptions. So, that's the first cool part of the tour, because I'm seeing pretty unfamiliar styles. I like the symmetry of all the rooms the best. I also love the mirrors set across from chandeliers, designed to help reflect the light.

But, it's the docent that really makes the tour shine, because she's very knowledgeable. She's constantly talking about all the mayors of New York who have lived in this house in the last 75 years or so and how each one of them had their own impact on it. Particularly notable is Bloomberg, who did a lot of renovation as he turned it into the "people's house", because he actually had a house of his own over on 79th. However, Gracie Mansion has since reverted to being a mayoral residence, because not all NY mayors can afford to have a big 'ole 12,500 square foot house in the Upper East Side. ("Unfortunately", says the docent, who regrets not getting to tour the upstairs rooms where the family lives, but then she corrects herself and says, "But fortunately we get a mayor who lives in the residence!")

And, I apparently have Gracie Manor to thank for the nice river walkway I enjoyed earlier, because Robert Moses purposefully built the tunnel for the FDR to preserve Gracie Manor.

Overall, the tour was a wonderful bit of history, something that I'm very fond of.

I return to the apartment one last time, gather my stuff, which I'd packed in the morning, then head out.

I walk up to McDonalds for lunch, then hop on the "6" at 86th. At 1.30pm it's still very crowded. I take it down to 51st, where I do my first transfer between lines running on different tracks. It reminds me a lot of similar transfers in London: I walk a couple of blocks, changing levels in between, and then I'm at a different subway line.

I love first-class subway systems! I wish the Bay Area had one!

I take the "E" almost to the end of the line, where I hop off at the station right next to the JFK AirTram.

As in Oakland and San Francisco, the transport system in New York has been built specifically to bilk air travelers of dollars. It costs $2.75 to travel anywhere in New York on the subway system. It's amazing! I take a total of four subway rides during my trip: from Upper East Side to Brooklyn; from the Garment District to Upper Manhattan; from Upper Manhattan to Central Park; and from the Upper East Side to Queens. My total cost is $11.

But to get to the airport, I have to get off in Queens and take a 4.4 mile tramway for a total cost of $5.

It's ridiculous. I don't understand why Oakland did the same thing. (San Francisco did too, but they hide it in a gross BART fee to get to the airport, $9 for me to get there from Berkeley, as opposed to a separate fee.)

Anywho, I have to exit the subway system in Queens.

My luggage and I decide to tour Queens a little bit, because when am I going to be in Queens again? So I walk up the main strip connected ot the subway and tram stations.

It's kind of seedy. Where Manhattan often reminded me of the good parts of San Francisco, Queens instead reminds me of Oakland. There's a tired feel to it, like everyone is just barely holding on. There's also a grungier feel to the people living here.

Meanwhile, t's hot and humid and the rain keeps threatening. I turn back just a couple of short blocks on.

I stop in at a bakery on my way back and am largely ignored for a few minutes. Then the cashier can barely be bothered to take my money. I get three small cookies with chocolate sprinkles for a dollar.

When I eat the first one, it's hard and tasteless.

That's Queens.

I board the tram and see some nicer neighborhoods on the way to the airport, houses all carefully painted and cultivated.

And then I'm at JFK. I barely remember it from last Thursday. I thought it would be hugely intimidating but it's not, perhaps because it's broken up into multiple terminals.

They're numbered 1-8, though I find it odd that two of them, 3 and 6 I think, don't exist. Anywho, I get off at 5 and head to the JetBlue desks.

There's a long line to drop off my bag, then a long line to get through security. It takes about 40 minutes all told, including a personal patdown since I refuse to use the cancer machines.

Such service!

as I walk up to my gate, I notice that right next door is the previous jet to SF, which gets in two hours earlier. The sign says, "Closing".

I am fearless due to years of watching The Amazing Race. I step up to the desk and ask if I can switch to the two hours' earlier flight.

The attendant checks and it's obvious that the answer is yes, but he says, "You know that means you'll have to come back for your luggage, yes?"

"I guess I didn't think that through very carefully," I say.

"If you don't have luggage it would have been fine," he replies.

I think him very nicely for looking into the possibility, then slink off to the gate next door. I figure that I have plenty of research, writing, and reading to do anyway.

That plane was totally sour.

Amazing Racers don't have luggage.
shannon_a: (Default)
The third time I end up back at Central Park West, I realize it's harder to cross Central Park than I thought.

I start looking for a map so I can reorient myself, and attempt to set out west again.

Nine Hours Earlier.

I hit the subway for the first time on my fourth full day in New York. I hope that it won't be too crowded because it's already a bit after 9am ... but not so much.

When the "6" pulls up just after I descend into the station, it's entirely jammed. I start walking to the front of the train, hoping that the front cars will be emptier, and it looks like they have at least some tight standing room, but then the doors closed.

I'm not too upset.

A few minutes later the "4" pulls up, and it's almost as packed, but I'm at the front of the train now, so I manage to squeeze on.

This turns out to be a very fortuitous thing. I hadn't understood why the "4", "5", and "6" all ran on the same line. It turns out that the "6" is a local and the "4" is an express — meaning it goes faster because it skips stations. Since I'm going all the way to Brooklyn this is great.

The trip apparently takes longer than usual because the express train is running on the local tracks for the first several stations, which is how I was actually able to catch it. The operator says this is because "several people were sick on our trains".

As we approach lower Manhattan, I finally am able to sit down.

Meanwhile, the "4" has switched back to the express tracks and we're speeding along.

When I land in Brooklyn, I feel like I should look around, because when am I ever going to be in Brooklyn again?

(Maybe tomorrow; plans are undecided.)

I do walk through a few veteran's parks, but I make continual progress toward my destination: the Brooklyn Bridge.

It is a totally awesome walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. You have the Lower Manhattan skyline ahead, growing ever closer. The Manhattan Bridge is off to the right. And off to the left, somewhat in the distance, is the Statue of Liberty.

The whole walk is on a wood-plank walkway, which feels old and archaic. The path is divided between pedestrians and bicyclists, but often the pedestrians spill out into the bicyclist side (sometimes because the route is blocked, sometimes because the other pedestrians are slow, sometimes just because). The bicyclists are clearly used to navigating this because they're constantly ringing their bells as they're approaching and/or screaming at the top of their lungs, "BIKE!!!"

The whole way across the Bridge the One World Trade Center is growing bigger. I decide I'll regret it if I don't visit Ground Zero, even though I feel ghoulishly touristy for doing so. But, it was an important, shocking moment in my life too.

I'm glad I do. Ground Zero has one of the most moving monuments I've seen. The Vietnam Memorial is the only one that compares.

There are two great square pools, representing the twin towers. Each is set into the ground, with water cascading down the sides to gather in a pool far below ground level. Then they plunge down an even deeper shaft in the middle, to who knows where. Along the sides of the pool is a dark, deep metal railing with the names of the lost carved into it.

The cascading water reminds me of the people jumping from the buildings on that terrible day, of the towers suddenly cascading down like waterfalls themselves. The further drop down the shaft feels like a dive into the abyss, like something lost forever. And lest we lose the human perspective, there are the names.

It's almost horrifying, this monument, but it's one of the most moving and brilliant pieces of art I've ever seen. It's a falling tower, an inverse tower, and purifying water all at once.

I have tears running down my face when I turn away from the pool (and again while I write).

(Pictures don't do it justice, but this is the best I see.)

It almost seems impossible to transition away from that. I successful do so this morning by using my feet. I plan to take the subway to the High Line Park, but Google maps says taking the subway will take almost as much time as walking. Since I don't consider my footsteps a finite resource, I walk.

Happily this brings me to the Hudson River Greenway. This is what I hoped for when I walked further up the Hudson, but did not find. It's a beautiful walk right along the river, with plenty of seating and all kinds of sports and lots of playgrounds. It's beautiful.

I eat lunch at Brookfield Place. It's the the complex formerly known as the World Financial Center. Lots of financial buildings, connected to an upscale mall. I totally splurge for this one meal, and have some tacos with guacamole and some chips and then a dark chocolate cupcake. Total damage of $19 is ridiculously cheap for the upscaleness of the place.

It's all pretty tasty too.

It's a long walk, but I eventually make it to the Highline Park. It's exactly what I hoped for, a really beautiful linear park, cutting through the city skyline. It literally goes through some buildings, presumably because they were built around the original railway.

I'd never considered what a great pathway this is through the city, but it totally is. If I was walking from one place to another connected by the Park, I'd totally take it rather than city streets.

I'm also surprised by how crowded it is. It's only a few years old, but it's come under heavy use for walking and sitting alike.

I hadn't planned to stop at Mood Fabrics, but I realize it's just three short blocks from my subway stop. So I stop in. I'm somewhat surprised to discover it's not at street level. Project Runway implies otherwise, but you actually go into a building lobby and a lift attendant takes you up to the third floor, and then you emerge into Mood, which covers the second, third, and fourth floors.

I enjoy looking around a bit, to put Project Runway's many visits there into context, but I do feel like an intruder since the majority of the visitors actually seem to be buying fabric.

I also get the context of the area. It's in the Garment District, and there are couture dress stores all around. Even the near restaurants are clothing themed.

Finally, I get back on the train, having walked from Brooklyn to the Garment District via the Civic Center, West Chelsea, the Meatpacking District, the Hudson Yards and probably a few others.

Using my newfound subway skills I take the express "A" instead of the local "C". This actually takes some effort because you have to go under the local tracks to find the express tracks, but I figure it out.

I was a bit worried about the length of time it'd take to get to the Cloisters, where I'm going, but it's about 20 minutes from the Garments District there. It really helps that the express train skips the entirety of Central Park, going from 59th to 125th with no stops.

The Cloisters are in Fort Tryon, and it's beautiful. It's a gorgeous green and wooded area, overlooking the Hudson. There is also weird, medieval-looking stonework and buildings here and there. And there's more wildlife than I've seen anywhere else in New York. Faded-out gray squirrels, an ominous black squirrel that threatens to charge me a few times, a ground hog, and tons of birds.

If I was going to live in New York, I'd want to live somewhere up here, because it takes a similar amount of time to get downtown from here on the Express as it did on the tight, cramped train I took this morning.

The Cloisters itself is a Met museum focused on medieval art. I was less than enthused coming in, because I thought that meant paintings, and medieval paintings are pretty bleh. But it turns out to mean everything. I love the stained glass. I love the jewelry. I love the gardens they have set up, filled with medieval stonework. (It's all imported from various places in Europe and is all genuinely medieval.) But I'm most awed by the unicorn tapestry room. I just turn a corner and I'd suddenly in a room with all these original medieval tapestries that I've seen before. I look at them all carefully for quite a while, then just sit and stare some more.

I'm feeling increasingly comfortable with the trains. (I hope that statement doesn't bite me in the butt when I take them back to JFK tomorrow.) I easily hop on the express, then transfer over to the local several stops down, so I can actually get off at Central Park.

I get off at 103rd with the goal being to cut across the park, and see a bit of the northern park that I hadn't seen before.

Unfortunately I keep getting turned around and ending up back at Central Park West, which of course runs along the west side of the park. (Part of the problem is that I've run out my iPhone battery, so can't use Google Maps to navigate; the other part of the problem is that I'm not familiar enough with the skylines to easily say which direction is which.)

At one point I end up on a running track around the reservoir. I'm forced to go counterclockwise "for my safety". And I of course end up back at Central Park West.

I finally make it across the Park by paralleling one of the streets that cuts across the park.

Sadly, I'm not too impressed by the north side of the park. The Pool and the Reservoir were pretty enough. I couldn't figure out what The Loch was supposed to be, the Ravine was closed off, and everything else was very pragmatic: tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and runner's tracks.

When I get home I walk back and forth an extra block, to hit 40,000 steps for the day. Almost 18 miles.
shannon_a: (Default)
I'm talking to the wife on Skype like I have every evening since I've been in New York. I even read her a bit of our read-aloud book, The Aeronaut's Windlass.

But as I do, I'm fading quickly. It's been a long four days.

13 hours earlier.

It's another night of bad sleep, or rather another night when I wasn't able to fall asleep for over an hour. Apparently I slept easily on Friday because I was so tired, and now after a day to bounce back, my body insists I'm still on Pacific Time again.

Chris and I make it out the door a little later than we did yesterday, which was a little later than Friday.

The design shop is exhausting.

That's largely because I have a constant series of tasks. I need to capture some of the work from yesterday. Then I need to scribe a talk. Then I need to store that data I was capturing. Then there's a paper I want to help on. Then I'm asked to give comments on another paper. Then there's more scribing to do.

I also talk to several different people, distracting me from my work. But they're good talks.

I'm of two minds on the way the workshop's being led. I find it too chaotic, but it does a good job of bowing to what the participants want. I get frustrated by it at one point, but at the end I think it could have the potential to produce good results.

The proof is going to be in the pudding. I feel like we have less final content than we did at the end of the previous design workshop. But maybe there's more enthusiasm to complete that work out-of-band? The next few weeks will tell the story.

And then I walk home one more time.

I walk the pedestrian-only blocks of Broadway, and they're mass chaos too. Tons of people. Street performers in furry costumes. Neon signs. vendors. Everything you would expect.

And I find the heart of Times Square this time. There is a little open space, basically a wide sidewalk where Broadway crosses 7th at a very acute angle (with Broadway briefly turning into that sidewalk). It's maybe not as crazy as those blocks of Broadway, but there are certainly huge displays everywhere.

It's all a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

Right at Times Square there's a big vendor that sells Broadway tickets for that night at half-price. I see Finding Neverland which I would have liked to see is showing in 40 minutes and I could get tickets for half-price. I'm very tempted, but I'm so very tired that I decide I just wouldn't enjoy it.

And might even fall asleep.

I walk Broadway all the way to the corner of Central Park, and it's uneventful other than a trip into a three-story M&M story. It mostly has crap like M&M pillows. I imagine they must be chocolate scented. There aren't even any bags of M&Ms, just big M&M feeders offering milk chocolate M&Ms in weird colors. What a waste. It's all vastly overpriced (like $12.99 a pound for Chewbacca colored M&Ms), so I leave after a tour all the way up and down.

Then I walk through Central Park, taking a different route than last time. I gaze at the Sheep Meadow. I take Bow Bridge over The Lake. I Ramble. I wish Belvedere Castle were open.

Then I make the long east walk home.

A bagel sandwich comes with me up to the apartment.

After eating, I call Kimberly. We talk. I read. I fade.

Now it's time to rest up, because I have one day to see the whole city.
shannon_a: (Default)
The raindrops are occasional at first, as I walk along the Hudson River. But then, as I turn toward Central Park, they become more determined.

It's raining in New York.

Eleven Hours Earlier.

I wake up from a blessedly good night of sleep. Fitbit says that my sleep was still pretty disturbed, which I have to attribute to the FDR parkway thrumming away a hundred feet from my bedroom window, but I fell asleep within minutes of going to bed at 11.30 last night, and so when I wake up a few minutes before my Fitbit vibrates at 7am I've had a pretty full night's sleep.

Then it's up and very quickly out the door. And once again we're cabbing across the city.

Microsoft is hosting the ID2020 Design Workshop in the Microsoft building. The security here is better than the UN. There, we told someone a name, got an ID, then walked in. Here they actually require picture ID.

We're each issued a visitor's pass, much like at the UN. This time, though it's a functional pass. We insert it into a gate to get further into the building.

Just past the gate, we walk into an elevator. The door closes behind us, and we realize there are no buttons.

Which isn't ominous at all.

Our badges are magic, you see. When we went through the security gate, our badges told the elevator what floor we were going to. It then went straight to that floor.


This is my second design shop, and I'm pleased to find that I feel totally at home. I've been working with computer security since college, and in the last couple of years I've done considerable research (alongside writing and editing) about the current state of the industry.

I also know a number of the people at the workshop, because they were at the one in November. And I also know Chris' style for running this.

In the early parts of the day, I do a few report-outs — on the paper I lead-authored, on how we've been accomplishing our plans, on the editing process, and on the interesting lessons for programmers from ID2020.

I get a few compliments on the last bit, which pleases me, because I wrote it up late last night after a long day. The cleverness and ingenuity came from the ID2020 speakers, but I'm happy I was able to cull out seven notes of particular interest.

We start the core of the day with a fun exercise: everyone writes about where identity will be in 15 years. I later feel unimaginative because I take a pragmatic view of how I think a global identity could really be constructed. Many other people take imaginative flights of fancy which are in some cases awe-inspiring.

We then gather in groups and each group tries to consolidate what we have into a coherent vision, while simultaneously noting disagreements.

The results are too abstract, but the results aren't really the purpose. The point is in some ways an ice breaker: we learn who our fellows are. But the bigger point is probably to think imaginatively about identity, to map out the breakpoints, to define our terms, and generally to come to terms with the entire space. And here I think it was quite successful.

And it was kind of fun too.

I'm out helping to arrange lunch when the discussion starts about what topics people are going to be working on today and tomorrow. The idea is that everyone is going to break up into groups and each group is going to produce either a white paper or a spec. That's the design part of the design workshop.

Things seem a little chaotic. Some people are standing to the sides of the rooms with signs listing potential topics. Some people are milling around, then heading to those groups. Others are sitting around.

Still, it mostly seems to work. Several groups come together and seem enthusiastic. Some are a little too big and some are a little too small, but maybe it's better to have everyone into their groups so quickly.

The one problem is M., who no one picked.

However his problem is my solution, because I worry what I'll do during the group work part of these sessions. I offer to help him work on his project, and he agrees. So for the next few hours in the afternoon I talk with him about ideas, offer several of my own, and we fill out an outline while also writing down a lot of brainstorming ideas.

I have some concerns about if we'll get far enough tomorrow, but I'm hopeful.

When we clear the space up in the evening, the concern is making sure that our piles of paper don't get thrown out by a janitor. Because they look like trash, but they're actually something we want to record.

S., our great graphic facilitator, asks if I speak Spanish, because she wants to make a sign that says, "Don't throw this away." I tell her my Spanish is about 25 years rusty, but then I go to Google translate and look it up.

If I'm ever using Google translate for anything real, I then translate it backward, to make sure I have something halfway decent. This time I reverse my first translation and get, "Don't shoot this". Not exactly what I was planning.

Second try gets "no lo coloque en la basura, por favor", which I can tell isn't very good Spanish. (I think "lo" is the wrong word to use.)

But it's close enough.

Afterward, I walk the city a bit. The plan was just to walk three miles home, but I end up doing about twice that.

First I walk toward the center of Times Square. I hadn't realized it was a whole neighborhood. As I go, the neon lights increase, as do the number of theaters. I also hadn't realized that Broadway and Times Square intersected.

From afar, I've just seen New York in little bite-sized bits, and never known how they all went together. Now I'm starting to learn.

As it turns out I never make it to quite the center of Times Square. I'm actually confused by the lack of squares, as I expected a big open space, like Union Square in SF. When I get back to the apartment I see that the center of things is really where Broadway crosses 7th Ave, so I'm going to try again, after walking Broadway from 42nd to 47th Street, which is apparently now a Pedestrian Plaza.

(Maybe tomorrow; I may or may not be carrying a bunch of those identity stories we wrote today.)

Then I walk out toward the Hudson. There's a path alongside it, and it's OK. Too often, it's quite far from the water, blocked by fences. But I have a nice walk out to the river at Pier 84 and can look up and down the waterway.

I'm actually more impressed by the cycleway that runs alongside the pedestrian path. It's fully protected (by a median) and two-directional.

The bicyclists that I saw heading up the east side of Manhattan yesterday seemed like daredevils, weaving in and out of traffic. This instead seems like the sort of route I'd enjoy.

It's also quite gloomy as I walk, and that turns into full rain as I turn toward Central Park.

No problem, I brought an umbrella.

I actually looked at the weather reports in Berkeley, and saw that rain was forecast for this Saturday. It was one of the things that reminded me how darned amazing the internet was.

Twenty years ago, you might have been able to get that information on the Weather Channel. Painfully as you waited for them to scroll through the whole country.

Thirty years ago: nada.

At the entrance to Central Park I get a chicken gyro from a street vendor. I've been seeing vendors all through the city, but most don't post their prices, and I'm not willing to get potentially bilked.

But this vendor does. I just have to wait a second for him to get into his food stand, because he's also running the hot dog stand next door.

I tell him not to make it spicy, and he agrees.

However, when I get the pita, it's not what I expect. I expect a really rich, creamy gyro sauce, and what I get instead is kind of an acrid sauce. It's yellow instead of white. It tastes very foreign.

I like it, mostly.

But I hope I don't regret it.

I eat the pita as I walk through Central Park.

And I love the Park.

Not far in, there's a playground with a huge rock looming over it, and I gleefully climb up it. This was perhaps not the best choice, because it's getting slick with the rain. But I manage not to kill myself on the way down.

I thought it was a unique landscape feature, but it turns out that the Park is full of big rocks. I really mean big rocks. There are people standing on them, walking around them, and sitting on. They're all over.

I am amused to discover that the lawns in Central Park are all in jail. They have fences around them. There are entrances, so that people can enjoy the lawns, but the Park keepers roll them closed at dusk.

They're all open when I enter the Park, and closed by the time I leave.

The walk is great. The landscape is very pedestrian friendly and very attractive.

There are trees all around but also plenty of walking space.

I get to the mall, and at the start find a statue of William Shakespeare. I want to take a selfie for K's amusement, but there's just no way in the rain.

I walk up the mall and see many other statues, alongside lines and lines of benches, all with shiny metal plagues on them — sometimes in memory of people, sometimes just listing names, sometimes just listing romances.

I finally turn east at 79th, to head out of the Park.

It's a bit of a walk to get there, but then I'm home.

Another long day in New York.

It's 8pm when I arrive home, 8.5 miles of walking under my belt (shoes) for the day.
shannon_a: (Default)
We wander up and down the open hallways of the third floor of the UN. The escalators we came up only go up. The stairs have all been blocked off. We can see the exit in the distance, through the big front windows that look out over Manhattan and through the open area that drops all the way down to the first floor.

We're just not sure how to get there!

19 Hours Earlier.

As I walk into the luggage claim area at JFK airport, I see a Dunkin' Donuts.

That's my first impression of New York City.

It's 11pm by the time I'm leaving the airport, thanks to the delays in the flight. On the road to Manhattan we avoid the obvious route, across the Queensboro Bridge, because it's apparently under construction and only has a single lane open.

Meanwhile, we see a gridlocked line of cars heading toward the airport.

We take the slightly longer route across the Triborough Bridge. (I can never figure out what the driver is saying when he names it for me. We just don't use the word "borough" on the west coast). Then we drive FDR Drive down along the East River. (Not a river.) Pretty soon it's bumper to bumper traffic too, because of yet more construction.

That's my second impression of New York City: rush hour at almost midnight.

The apartment Chris is renting has small bedrooms, a small bathroom, and a nice-sized living room. It's a real honest-to-goodness New York apartment.

(And so much nicer than a hotel, let alone the fact that it allows me to stay into next week to explore the city a bit while I'm here. So, yay.)

It takes me between an hour and two to get to sleep. Stupid time difference going the wrong way.

I finally manage, and I sleep pretty well from that point. The bed is surprisingly comfortable. It's rare that I sleep in a foreign bed and don't wake up sore the next morning.

In the morning we cab to the UN. We receive our access badges out front by stating our names.

This seems like very weird identity management for a conference all about identity.

The conference ("summit") is based on UN Sustainable Development Goal #16.9. The SDGs are a set of goals that were signed last September to make the world a better place by 2030. #16.9 called for getting everyone a legal identity by 2030. That's what ID2020 is all about.

No, I don't know why it's called ID2020 instead of ID2030.

I can't properly explain the sense of awe created by being at the UN to work on a global issue that's been committed to by many of the countries of the world. It's breath-taking. It's awe-inspiring. It's really, really cool.

I mean, I'm just a support player here. Come tomorrow I'm going to help Chris out at a design workshop that runs Saturday and Sunday, working with tech guys to produce white papers and specs that might make some of these ideas a reality.

But, it's pretty neat to be supporting something this big.

I'm shocked by how free a rein we have in the UN. I mean, if we wandered dramatically off course, the ubiquitous guards might have something to say about it. But we wander pretty freely.

The summit is in the Trusteeship Council room, which was once used to talk about trust territories. (There aren't any any more.) It's a beautiful room that looks exactly like a council room in the UN. It's got wooden long tables, some straight, some curved. They all have an array of buttons so you can turn on your microphone. It's pretty cool.

The Security Council room is right next door, and that's even cooler. I mean for gosh sake, matters of importance to the whole world occurred right there! I stick my head in at one point and soak in the majesty.

The summit is all about exchanging information between the bureaucrats who run the world and the techies who change the world. It's mostly panels, with a number of people each giving their opinions on various matters related to identity.

I continuously take notes of the high points, in part to sift through them for things to mention at the workshop tomorrow, in part to keep myself focused and listening to what people are saying.

It's generally pretty fascinating, and sometimes heartbreaking when we hear about the problems associated with lack of identity.

At around 4pm, the guy running the show idly mentions there's coffee available back in the snack room. (I'm sure that's the official UN name. Or maybe it's the Snacular Council.) He clearly hopes that most people won't head out, because we're running late.

He apparently doesn't know how hungry and/or tired summit-goers are by 4pm.

Fifteen minutes later he finally starts the next panel, but the room is still half-filled.

And not long after that the UN2020 Identity Summit is over.

A number of us wander the halls for a while, unable to find our way down.

Which underlines my point that we really have amazing free rein.

I decide to walk home. It's about 2 miles from the UN to the apartment.

On the way I see another 4 Dunkin' Donuts and about a half-dozen bagel stores.

I've been feeling good all day, but by the time I get home some of my chronic symptoms are flaring up.

Darn it.

I get myself Burger King for dinner as comfort. Truly a quintessential New York meal.

But it's still been an amazing, good, interesting, enlightening, awe-inspiring day.
shannon_a: (Default)
"We're fixing a seat, a seat is broken. We have maintenance aboard and they're fixing the seat. We should get you on board in five minutes."

It's fifteen minutes after boarding should have started.

Five minutes later it still hasn't.

And it's not going to be the last seat-related problem of the day.

150 Hours Earlier.

I begin my training regimen for the trip on Saturday morning. I wake up at 8am. I roll out of bed, but I'm groggy and barely functional.

It takes me another day to realize it's the drugs. I've stopped taking my decongestant because that can apparently cause problems for the chronic issues I've been having. No, no doctor bothered to mention that, as usual. I've learned it from research.

I'm now just taking an antihistamine, in the hope of still warding off allergies and the crippling sinus headaches that come with them, but with fewer potential side effects.

But it's a new antihistamine, Zyrtec, and it's making me tired.

So I quit.

By Tuesday morning, I've rolled my schedule back to 7am, and I'm actually awake in the morning thanks to the lack of Zyrtec.

I do what I've been planning the whole time. I get out of the house by 7.15 and climb up the hill that lies above us.

Three days in a row, I do this. I make a loop between the Stonewall Trail that comes up from the south side of the Clark Kerr campus and the unnamed trail that runs to the north, moving between them along the Snakebite cutback.

(That's my own name; the encroaching brush and the overhanging branches make me wary of snakes.)

On the middle day I reverse the direction to maintain some variety.

It's invigorating. By Thursday morning I manage 5,000 steps and 50 flights of stairs before 8am.

Mind you, waking up at 7am isn't going to be enough. By Friday morning, I need to be at the UN by 5am, California time.

But at least it's a start.

I expect to be rushed on Thursday morning, but I actually have a luxurious amount of time. I'm up at 7am, out of the house by 7.15, hiked by 8.15, and showered by 9am.

Kimberly and I then make a brief sojourn to Subway, a necessary step for modern-day air flight.

The new Subway guy is there, the one who seemed afraid of the sandwiches (and the register and the oven) when we visited on Sunday before To Kill a Mockingbird. He's been given the run of the store today, and he does seem to be doing better.

I order up my turkey sandwich, and it's going swimmingly until we get to the sauces. I tell him to give me lite mayo, but just a little. Then for emphasis, I say, "I'm not going to eat it for a while, so I don't want it to get soggy".

Faster than I can gasp out "Stop!" he's dumped on a gallon of mayo.

I gasp out "Stop!"

It's going to be a soggy sandwich.

Funny story. I don't think I've flown on my own in a generation. I flew to St. Louis on my own when I was young, but my last trip was when I was 12 or 13, I think.

In the '90s I flew to Maryland, then Britain with Eric R., and all my recent flights have been with Kimberly. The only ones I'm not sure of are my two Gen Con trips, to Wisconsin and Indianapolis. I'm quite certain that I flew one of them with Chris. I don't remember which of the trips it was, but I know I read David Brin's book about clones and that he upgraded us to first class for one of the legs. (Chris, not David Brin.) I still remember the smell of fresh-baked cookies wafting through the first-class cabin. As for the other, I think I flew with Mike B. or Par, but I'm not certain.

Anywho, this is the first time I can remember flying on my own in 30 years, the first time I can remember landing on the other side, and having to find my own way to my destination.

It's a little exhilarating, a little freeing, and somewhat surprisingly not the least bit anxiety provoking.

SFO airport is mass chaos. I've apparently forgotten that it's so much bigger than Oakland. I haven't been out here since we stopped flying United several years ago.

I'm surprised to see that JetBlue flies out of the international terminal. It's a little hard to find on SFO's maps, because you have to look at the international terminal listing, and then off to the side where it reads "Domestic Carriers".

Yep, that makes sense.

If there's a map of where all the check-in desks are, I can't find it. So I just keep walking aimlessly down through the main international hall, looking down each row at the signs for the carriers, which really aren't that big or obvious.

I should have faith, because there it is in row 10, "JetBlue".

Check-in is quick. I'm in and out in 5 minutes.

It's relatively easy too, except when the clerk asks the very disturbing question, "What last name are you registered under?"

"A*********," I say. I don't say, "The same last name on both the boarding pass and the driver's license I handed you."

"Oh," he says. I think he's realized that it's the same last name on both the boarding pass and the driver's license that I handed him.

I hope that I don't end up trapped in New York by whatever reason caused this guy to ask me that weird-o question.

Security is absolute chaos. It's everyone running back and forth like rats in a maze.

There's a sign right next to the only entrance reading "Priority". A nearby sign says, "Plebian Scum" or something of the like, but there's no way to go in there. I shrug and go through the "Priority" entrance. As I move through the maze beyond I become convinced it was the only way in.

A dog runs in circles sniffing people about halfway through the line. This is a unique feature not found at Oakland.

Soon I'm up to all the machinery and I note two more features not present at Oakland.

First is a guy yelling at everyone to keep on their belts, keep on their shoes, and not take anything out of their bags. He says it again and again, and I have to smile because he's fighting against 15 years of fear-mongering.

Second is the almost total disuse of the cancer-causing microwave machines, which I usually opt out of. Only the guy with metal knees has to go through it.

I toss my backpack onto the x-ray belt, then walk through a metal detector with my hat, overshirt, shoes, and belt on.

A minute later I'm out of there.

For that minute, air travel doesn't suck.

JetBlue didn't know what gate it would be at when I checked in on Wednesday.

By the time I dropped off my luggage, they told me gate A-8.

By the time I get to my gate it's been changed to gate A-10.

JetBlue helpfully sends me an email notifying me of this, as I walk from the luggage dropoff to my gate.

I've still got an hour before boarding when I sit down at the gate.

I sit down to eat my sandwich.

It's very soggy.

It turns out I have an hour and a half before boarding, due to the broken seat. They eventually get it fixed, and we start loading the plane about 30 minutes late.

When everyone's on board the plane, another drama begins in the seat right ahead of me. The lady there can't pull her seat belt tight.

Yup, it's another broken seat!

Apparently it's contagious.

We had backed out of the gate before the seatbelt drama began, but now the flight crew starts talking about heading back.

Then the lady to my left comes to the rescue. She's a larger woman, and she says that she doesn't need any slack in her seat belt. So the problem is irrelevant if they switch seats. The steward has to get the OK from the captain, but he does, and soon the swap is made.

It seems to work fine.

By now we're running about 50 minutes late.

The 10.30 flight, that was probably going to get me to the Upper East Side by 11.30 is now looking … later.

Which seems to be the only way air travel works for me now.

By the time I get aboard the plane I've got a headache that I suspect is from my allergies reasserting themselves.

I do have the Zyrtec in my suitcase if I need it in the days to come, but I'm hoping that whatever I'm allergic to won't be around in New York. Because that's the experience I tend to have in Hawaii.

We're flying over Nevada now, with Utah just ahead.

I type on my laptop and prepare to upload the file using the plane's free wifi.

Plane travel may suck a lot more now than it did when I was flying to St. Louis 30 years ago, but that's all thanks to the government's fearmongering

The actual future, this place of a global internet that I can access from 35,000 feet.

That's *(#(ing amazing.
shannon_a: (Default)
A month ago, I was flying back from Hawaii after (yet another) delayed flight. In the morning,I'll be on a plane flying to New York.

Which I suppose is a way to say it's been a busy spring.

Life has been relatively good since I got back from Hawaii. I was stressed out of my mind and/or depressed by my ongoing health problems before the trip. Since then I've been feeling better.

I actually had one week of Skotos work where I got to put work into many of my ongoing projects instead of the crisis of the week, and It felt really freeing.

Since then I've been putting more work in on a couple of different security/writing/privacy projects for Chris, which had produced some good material (and prepped me for the trip). I wouldn't say it's less fulfilling, because I like what I'm doing, but it didn't have the same feel of openness as when I was bouncing between some long-neglected Skotos projects.

Meanwhile, my health problems haven't actually gone away. In fact, I've had an annoying flare-up the last three days, which I'm really hoping is receding, as I'll be on a plane tomorrow, then doing stuff steadily for the next four days. Longer term, maybe things are doing a little better. It's hard to say because every morning when I wake up I don't know if I'm going to have a good day or a bad day. Sometimes I'm feeling poor all day, sometimes my symptoms develop in the late afternoon, and sometimes I'm clear all day.

One of the frustrating bits is that I remain unable to determine any correlation between anything I do and the good (or bad) days. I mean, it's possible there isn't one I suppose. But when this newest flare-up started, I was unhappily trying to figure the culprit.

(If there was one or not.)

As usual, my main issue is worrying about whether we're actually doing something helpful (waiting), or if it's not going to do any good, and will just keep me miserable for longer.

I saw my doctor yesterday, and she does feel that we're not necessarily getting anywhere on the sitting around. So she's going to start work on getting some tests, so that we can see if any of a number of less likely possibilities might be going on. First up is a CT scan. We'll see how it goes from there.

I have my fingers crossed that things will be OK enough in New York.

Oh, the good-ish news. The doc says she's no longer seeing inflammation.

That goes hand in hand with not knowing what's going on and needing more tests. But it also suggests that the inflammation wasn't what was causing the problem (which was always my fear/suspicion).

But because of the lack of inflammation, she gave me the OK to bike. She said to start slowly and stop if I see any problems, but I've to date had zero problems that seemed to come directly from biking. So I'm quite hopeful.

(The starting slow will be the tricky bit; but I'll give it a shot after New York.)

So, New York.

I was going to write more, but I've been working on this journal for days … and now it's bedtime, and I'm leaving in the morning.

So, Short answer: Chris is doing another design workshop, like the one he did in November, except this time it's in New York, following a big identity-related conference at the UN. I told him that if he wanted to drag me out to the East Coast to continue with the facilitation, editing, and scribing duties I did here in SF, he was welcome to, because the topics are interesting, and I've never seen New York before.

Last Monday, he let me know it was a go, so I'm leaving for New York in the morning. Thursday is travel, Friday is the UN conference, Saturday and Sunday are the design workshop. Then on Monday I get to see New York. And again Tuesday morning before I head back Tuesday evening.

Should be a very busy, tough couple of days. But it'll be pretty cool to have it all in New York. At the UN, then Times Square. So, looking forward to it.

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