Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Being Bicoastal

New York City Skyline Sunset

Image by mikeleeorg via Flickr

Greetings from New Jersey! Last Thursday, I flew from Seattle to Newark in order to enjoy a nearly three week vacation in the beautiful Edison, NJ area. While I realize that this is not usually considered a highly desirable vacation destination, it serves as a fantastic home base while I hit five states in my 19 days out here.

I love Seattle, but I truly miss the East Coast. I lived in PA for 9 years, NJ for two, and NYC for two.  Seattle will always be my hometown, but there are a lot of things that I miss about the mid-Atlantic region:

Seasons:

Seattle has two seasons – cold rain (November to April) and warmer rain (May to October). While growing up, I was used to this, but when I moved to PA, I became accustomed to have four distinct seasons. I loved the warmth of the summer, the cool crispness and changing leaves of the fall, the snow in the winter, and the actual spring.  Seattle doesn’t get much snow and has a very mild climate due to its proximity to the ocean. We also have a lot of evergreen trees (thus the name the Evergreen State), so we don’t have the amazing color changing leaves. I truly miss the seasonal differences that I grew to love out East.

Food:

I think the reason that I have had success with my weight loss in the past several months is because there is nothing to eat out west. Maybe if you have a lot of money and can afford fancy or cutting edge restaurants, food in Seattle is great. However, especially living in New York, I loved being able to walk in some little hole in the wall and having a fantastic meal.  The pizza is fantastic (all we have in Seattle is chains), the best Italian restaurant I’ve ever been to is a little family owned place just north of Times Square, and even at your little corner deli, you knew you could get a great sandwich (Seattle loves its Subway!). If I still lived here, I don’t know that I would have lost the weight I did, but I think I would be much more gastronomically satisfied.

Getting Around:

I know I’ve discussed this before, but Seattle has horrid transportation. It’s only been in the last year or so that I have been able to get to the airport without utilizing the services of a airport shuttle company of a taxi. We finally have one light rail line that goes between downtown and the airport. Of course, this still means that I need to get downtown, which I do via commuter bus. Once I arrived in Newark, however, I got on the monorail at the airport which took me to the NJ Transit station. Four stops down the line I was at my sister’s place. Easy Peasy. Why can’t Seattle figure this out??

I do love Seattle – on a sunny day in July or August, there is no place like it. It’s great when I want to go running in the summer – none of this 90+ degree temps with 60%+ humidity. The access to the water and the mountains make it ideal for the outdoorsperson. I just wish there was a way we could take a few of the really great things about the East Coast and add them to what we’ve got in the West. Maybe I’ll just continue to be bicoastal – spend the school year in the west and the summers in the east.

Now to end the week with a little Muppet goodness…

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Next week, the Our View From Here bloggers will be taking a well-deserved break. We’ll be back Monday, July 25th with our usual posting schedule. We thank you for your continued readership!

 

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Moving to the Big City (or in a New York State of Mind)

Broadway show billboards at the corner of 7th ...

Image via Wikipedia

Like many of my blogging colleagues, I have moved many times in my life. I moved from the Seattle area to central PA when I was 16, which was quite a culture shock. It was the mid 90s and to go from the center of grunge culture to the Grange Fair was a bit jarring. But nothing prepared me for the experience of moving to New York City.

I have been living in central Pennsylvania for nine years when I decided to go to grad school at NYU. The choice was as much for the specific program as it was for the location. I knew I needed to get out of PA – I’ve always been more of a city girl and the country was getting to me. I arrived in the NYC metro area during the first week of September 2003, and I’ll admit, I was overwhelmed. It was the first time in my life that I got to choose where I lived. The moves prior to this one had been dictated by my family or necessity.

I spent the first few months there trying to figure out my way around. I actually lived in Jersey City, just across the Hudson from Manhattan.  I had to learn both the PATH train and the subways. I had to learn a new way of shopping – different stores for fruit and veggies, bread, meats. The grocery stores, for the most part, were totally different than I was used to. The aisles were barely wide enough for the mini shopping carts that they had.

The whole process of learning the city was exacerbated by the fact that I spent most of my time in Greenwich Village, a part of the city that is not on the grid system that New York is known for.  Where else does 3rd Street cross 10th Street? Anything above 14th Street was easy, but that’s not where I spent much time.

I moved into Manhattan when I was done with school.  I chose to live in the slightly more affordable Washington Heights (almost to Inwood.) I became very familiar with the A train, as well as the buses that went East and West across the Bronx (where I worked).  I learned to love public transportation and became very good at it.

I was told once that you need to live in NYC for ten years before you can really call yourself a New Yorker. I was only there for four years, but I feel I knew my way around better than a lot of people. For example, a couple of friends were in town for a Daly Chihuly exhibit at the NY Botanical Gardens. Being a volunteer at the Gardens, I got in for free and could bring up to four friends. We spent the day at the garden and then decided to go out for dinner and drinks that evening.  We headed down to the Times Square area – not my favorite, but there are a lot of options there.  We then found a great Scottish bar where the waiters were in kilts. After a few rounds, I was rather inebriated. We left the bar and were heading back to my place when my companions realized they didn’t know how to get home.  As not sober as I was, I was easily able to navigate us to the 42nd Street subway station, get us on the northbound A train, and got us off at the Dyckman Street station.

There are some days I really miss New York. I left almost four years ago, but I truly believe that there is no place like that city.

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Mass Transit Adjacent

I live in suburbia. We are not known for our public transportation. If I want to go into Philadelphia, I can drive 5 minutes to the train station and hop on the regional rail into the city. They are relatively nice trains that simplify the trip. If I worked in the city this would be handy commuting tool that would let me read more, calmly listen to music, maybe even watch a move if I toted such technology but I don’t work in the city so I’m rarely on it.

We do have buses that travel around the local borough and take people to various places. Based on where I’ve seen people gather you can take a bus to the mall/library (yes they are in the same spot) , the county courthouse, and, back when we still had one, the Dennys. In the last few years they seemed to have expanded the local bus routes and increased the number of stops. Now I can pick up a bus at the end of my street or if I needed to,  on the random hill side by a nearby self storage facility. I’m sure overall some of these random stops make sense but it is confusing when you’re driving along and there’s a guy sitting on a grassy knoll just hanging out, sometimes he’s in a suit.  Even though they have expanded where the buses go they still don’t run down to the middle of po-dunkville where I work. In all fairness there does seem to be some suburbian sprawl creeping into the area so I’m sure they’ll have buses running there eventually. For now, the only buses near my workplace are the big yellow ones that try to make me late. (Honestly kid I know you don’t want to go to school but moving as slow as molasses to the bus isn’t going to change anything).

Although they can’t take me to work the local public transit does help me with my commute whether it knows it or not. As I mentioned before, there’s now a stop at the end of my street. It just so happens the bus rolls through right when I should start my commute in the morning, This has become my gauge to see if I’m running late. If the man who works at Dunkin Donuts is still waiting at the bus stop I’m golden. (On a side note I used to feel bad for this guy because he was always standing there by himself but recently he’s been joined by a couple other people who don’t have uniforms so I don’t know where they work.) If the Dunkin Donuts man is being picked up I’m still ok but could be in trouble down the road. ( The added bonus of catching the bus at this stage is it will usually force someone to let me out so I don’t have to floor it when I finally find a gap in traffic. Except for this morning when no one gave a crap that I was trying to get to work or that the bus had stopped and they should let me out. Jerks.) If the Dunkin Donuts man is gone and off to make the donuts I am officially running late and need to make up time where ever I can. Which never works.

This ends any impact public transportation has on my commute. I don’t have some of the fun interaction with humanity that Amanda and Nicole get to see everyday but the morning commute always lends its fair share of routines. I tend to run with the same pack of cars. Some stand out most don’t. My particular favorite is a certain soccer mom SUV that I see from time to time with a license plate that says “4ever L8.” The first time I saw this vehicle I gave it a clear path and plenty of space for fear that its 4ever L8-ness  would result in dangerous swerving and such. I then discovered a fun coincidence. If I encounter the 4ever L8 SUV I am, in fact, L8 for work. It’s become a handy heads up.

There are the random issues that can unnecessarily extend my commute such as The Great Bus Convergence (GBC) at 7:05ish. In order to beat traffic one morning, I left 10 minutes early and got to work at the same time because of the GBC. There is a portion of my drive that has a rail road crossing just after a traffic light. Somehow with the mapping of the bus routes the local school district timed it so that at 7:05 each day 3 buses arrive at this point at the exact same time. As you know, school buses stop at all railroad crossings. When you combine this pause with a traffic light it will allow 2 maybe 3 vehicles through the light at a time delaying the poor saps behind them for 5-10 minutes by the time all 3 buses have gone through (depending on the bus driver). Once past the light these buses go in different directions so the traffic clears up. It is quite the anomaly that justifies sleeping in another 5 minutes because in the end it won’t make a difference. At least that’s how I look at it.

My commute isn’t so bad. Most of the traffic is going in the opposite direction. There are some days where I’ve happened upon the bus convergence or am chasing down 4ever L8 and wish I could just sit, read, listen to my music and let someone else get me where I need to go. At least I have my 6-disc cd player to keep me sane and I can sing along to my heart’s content. Hmm. I wonder if anyone ever keeps an eye out for the crazy Matrix singing chick on their way to work? Probably not. I hope not.

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The Busbillies

I ride the bus to work and back almost every day.  And, almost every day, the same cast of characters rides with me.  They are the busbillies. (a word, coined by my friend Smokey, to describe the people indigenous to the 86 bus.  Hillbillies live in the hills, so of course, busbillies live–or exist–on the bus) 

The busbillies all have names of their own of course, but we don’t know those, so we’ve given them each a unique and descriptive moniker.  These names describe their personalities, appearances or public transportation tendencies.  A few notable busbillies:

1. Cro Magnon Hipster (not to be confused with Ye Olde Hipster a busbilly identified by Jessica and indigenous to her evening bus, rather than mine).  Cro Magnon Hipster is a semi-regular rider on the 5:30pm bus.  He wears skinny jeans, tight shirts and Converse All-Stars and he has a hairstyle befitting a 20 year-old emo kid.  He appears to be approximately 56 years old, making his dress something of an anachronism.  He talks loudly on his iPhone for the whole ride, either because he is suffering from age-induced hearing loss, or because he wants the rest of the bus to know that he’s just that cool. 

2. Roid Rage is one of the less-pleasant busbillies.  Roid Rage is a tall, muscular ‘billy with a rather startling tendency to scream at other commuters.  His bile is directed particularly at the people who do not immediately “MOVE BACK!” when the bus starts to fill.  Roid Rage has been known to engage in screaming matches with his fellow ‘billies and their loved ones. 

3. Hand Knit is a quiet and unassuming busbilly (lest you think they are all loud and obnoxious).  Hand Knit is always wearing some item of clothing obviously knit by hand.  I have a very keen eye for such things and my observations of busbillies tend to be skewed by my observations of homemade items.  Hand Knit has been observed in hats, scarves and socks (which were a particular coup to have noticed) made by either herself, or someone who loves her a whole awful lot.  In addition to being friendly and quiet, Hand Knit also lives in my building and is nice to my dog, earning her a place in the Pantheon of Awesome Busbillies.

4. Fred Bieber.  This busbilly is one of my favorites, if only because the following description is so very, very apt:  Fred Bieber is the obvious love child of Fred Armisen from Saturday Night Live and Justin Bieber, (horrendous) teen sensation. 

via hubpages.com

this guy

via Wikipedia

....and him.

 Fred Bieber has  Justin’s hair, Armisen’s face and glasses: an unlikely and odd combination.  FB is rarely seen without his pink cell phone in hand. 

When riding solo, FB is a visual anomaly, but otherwise, not notable; if seen in combination with #5, he’s horrible. 

5. Cousin It is named for her long reddish-brown hair, over which she has little to no control.  Her locks sometimes make their way onto the shoulders and books of those around her, which is both strange and disgusting.  She is friendly with Fred Bieber, and when they ride together they speak loudly and  animatedly about their love lives to the dismay and discomfort of those around them.

6. 9-11 Truth Now. This billy, who frequented my old bus, the #89,  is strange and famous (or at least famous to me).  He wears a nice leather satchel completely covered by a huge laminated sign promoting his website: 9-11 Truth Now.  Occasionally, the sign is adorned by computer printouts reading: “Ask me” or “And NO it was not Dick Cheney”.  Sometimes, he has small American Flags draped over his bag.  And on September 11, he carries a 6’x3′ banner to display at his ultimate destination. 

I asked Smokey to supplement this list.  Below are notable busbillies that she felt needed representation:

7. Chivalrous Metro.  He’s never on my morning bus, but I sometimes see him on the afternoon commute.  He always has the Metro in hand and lets everyone else on the bus before he gets on (regardless of how long he’s been waiting).  A true busbilly gentleman.
 
8. Professor Annoying. This guy is the antithesis of Chivalrous Metro.  He will do anything to get on the bus first.  He looks a little bit like an absent-minded professor, but he’s really a security guard (found out after he was christened ‘professor’), always has a discman on him, and weird anachronistic tote bags/t-shirts with kittens on them.  Typical weirdo busbilly.
 
9. Fake Alexis. One of the most awesome busbillies ever.  She looked just like my friend Alexis and she would often rock out on the bus in a totally non-intrusive way while listening to her headphones.  No small feat.  She moved away to California a couple of years ago, but I still remember her fondly.  A rockin’ busbilly.

10. Hogwarts Dandy. I haven’t seen him in a while, but this Harry Potter fan (has been seen reading the books, as well as in possession of HP-related pins on his messenger bag) dresses like an old-fashioned dandy, i.e. pink pants, bow ties, etc, yet he’s in his twenties.  His arrival on the bus was always a welcome sight.  A delightful busbilly.

I’m pretty sure everyone has busbillies, if they only take the time to look around, notice others and then give them wierd names.  Happy Busbilly Hunting!

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Longing for the Subway

Light rail vehicle, East (northbound) platform...

Image via Wikipedia

I never thought I would miss the New York City Subway.  I spent four years standing on the smelly platforms in often sweltering heat or freezing cold, squishing into overcrowded cars, and dealing with guys who felt the need to sprawl (trust me guys, there is nothing down there requires you to spread your legs out across two seats. You aren’t fooling anyone.)  However, three years out of the city and I find myself longing for the time when public transportation was easy.

When I was a child in the early 80s, Seattle and Portland (Oregon) seriously studied the idea of light rail and other ways of moving people in and out of the downtown areas. They looked at other cities’ systems, drew up plans, and got community input. Portland went ahead and built their MAX, an ever expanding system of light rail trains that reach well into the suburbs and opened in the mid 80s.  Seattle continued to “study” the issue.

Flash-forward nearly 30 years.  Seattle finally celebrates the opening of their first Link Light Rail line which goes from near the airport to downtown (the completed part to the airport would take another year).  I’ve been on the train a few times and it’s nice. However, with such a limited run, most people never use it.

During that time, Seattle also decided to build a bus tunnel underneath the city. It opened in 1990.  I always questioned this decision. I mean really, was it a good idea to build a big tunnel underneath the downtown section of one of the most earthquake prone cities in the world? The idea was to decrease surface traffic, but I think all that happened was they added more buses. In 2005, the closed the tunnel to retrofit it for the forthcoming light rail trains. It reopened in Sept. 2007 and the trains started in July 2009.

However, this is all fine and dandy if you live within the downtown area. Outside that small area, you are left to buses.  The city buses aren’t too bad – there are plenty of routes and a good number of buses.  I live about twenty miles north, though, and the options are significantly less. There are a few buses downtown and a few to the University. When I was in grad school, I had to go down to school three hours early because that was the last southbound bus for the day.

Long term plans include extending the light rail trains to the East Side and to the North. There is a few commuter trains to the south and one to the north, and that may expand in the future.  I never thought I would find myself missing the NYC subway, but the convenience and relative reliability were actually quite nice.

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