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Posts Tagged ‘new york city’

Grand Central Terminal Tour

I’ve talked about how my job has some nice perks before, but today I got to do one of the coolest things yet; go on a tour of Grand Central Terminal.

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Did you notice how I called it a “terminal” and not a “station?” That’s because it isn’t a station. No trains pass through, it’s just the beginning and end of the line, which makes it a terminus or a terminal. Our tour guide really stressed that point.

We started out in the main area pictured above (but on the floor) and spent a while there while he gave us some background on the Terminal. For instance, did you know that the whole Terminal used to be covered in black dirt? I remember the ceiling looking very different when I was a child, but I don’t remember it all being black. In the late-90s they restored the whole space. Guess what the dirt was? Not diesel fuel like they first suspected…it was tar from cigarettes! How awful is that?

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But it looks pretty great now. The Terminal actually extends all the way up to 95th St. in Manhattan and has 63 tracks and 45 platforms. There is a secret underground station in the Terminal that’s used for the president to make secret escapes (and was used regularly for the president in the days when train travel was more common). There’s also a secret staircase in the information booth that goes down to the second level. Plus the face of the clock on the top of the information booth is made of opal and is worth several million dollars.

Another cool thing is their recycling program. When they started having bins to recycle newspapers it immediately turned into one of the biggest recycling programs in the country. The first year they recycled several tons of newspapers, but then the next year the number went down. And they couldn’t figure out what was causing it. Then they realized that people were going into the recycling bins and taking out the newspapers to read! The New York Times got wind of this and provided Grand Central with different bins that are too tall and the opening is too small for people to reach into. Crazy, right?

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Another cool thing we got to see was the lost and found. They have an 80% return rate for items which is really impressive (obviously). They catalog everything with when it was found, what train it was on, etc. and they keep most items for 90 days before selling them. Stuff like jewelry or photo albums are never sold, they’re kept forever. The guide actually told us people coming to claim jewelry 15 years later is really common. I guess grandkids will be looking at old pictures with their grandmother and notice a ring or something and ask what happened to it and the grandmother will say she lost it in the City and never looked for it and then the grandkids will go back and track it down.

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They had a lot of phones and a lot of umbrellas. I don’t think I’d ever go back and look for an umbrella I lost.

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These were my favorite, George Bush and Ray Charles dolls. There were also a lot of artificial limbs and crutches which the guide said are from veterans going to hospitals and then forgetting their new limbs or their crutches on the way back.

Then we went to a few places that are top secret and I can’t share online. Which is a shame because they were really, really cool. And I conquered my fear of heights.

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But after that we went back to the top of the windows, where there are walkways, to take the pictures I put at the beginning of this post. It was an amazing view.

I knew a little bit about Grand Central prior to the tour (Jackie Kennedy being instrumental in saving it, etc.), but I learned so many interesting things. It was a VIP tour, but they also have audio tours and if you’re in NYC I would suggest doing those, it’s such an amazing place. Growing up on Long Island I always came and left NYC through Penn Station which is an absolute hell hole. They say that it was once more grand and beautiful than Grand Central but then it was torn down in the early-1960s to build Madison Square Garden and office buildings. Seriously, 1960s New Yorkers? What were you thinking?

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Vendy Awards 2012

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Another year, another Vendy Awards (see previous years recaps: 20092010, & 2011).

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First up we stopped at Phil’s Cheesesteaks which claimed to be authentic Philly cheesesteaks. I’ve never had an authentic Philly cheesesteak, but I thought this was pretty damn good. This was the provolone and mushroom one. We also tried the Wit Whiz which was good, but I liked this one better. Ultimately they won for rookie of the year, which I was more than ok with.

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My problem this year was my beer consumption. I had three of these boys and that was just way too much heavy beer. I haven’t made that mistake at the Vendy’s in a while (and usually I’m not a big drinker), I don’t know what got into me.

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Next was the most heroic vendor, a Halal cart from Bay Ridge.

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It was pretty phenomenal Halal food.

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Next was Baby Got Back Ribs. Best name ever. And pretty good ribs, apple coleslaw, and jalepeno cornbread.

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The Kelvin Slush truck which won best dessert finalist two years ago, was serving special slushie belinnis and slushie sangria. We didn’t get to try the bellini but the sangria was very good.

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Next was Chinese Mirch, the veggie and pork dumplings were good, but the black sesame noodles were really great.

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Next were Melt ice cream sandwiches. These were one of my favorite things that we tried. We had the regular chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream, a chocolate cookie with rum chocolate malt ice cream, and red velvet with cream cheese ice cream. The chocolate one was fantastic and the cream cheese ice cream was really different and really good. And they won for best dessert!

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These lassi pops were fine, nothing really special, in my opinion. They did have very funny signage though.

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Next came a vegan truck. The savory dishes didn’t taste bad, but they were so heavy. And the desserts kind of tasted bad and were so heavy. I don’t understand how they won the people’s choice award.

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Next was Pestle and Mortar which serves lobster ceviche. It was good, but you’re not going to win with ceviche.

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Next came these kebabs which were really well seasoned, but the meat was just so, so, so fatty.

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These Italian ices were great. Less creamy than some of the fancier Italian ices, they were super traditional.

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Next were these tacos which ended up winning the Vendy Cup (the third Red Hook vendor in five years to win). They were pork, goat, and carne asada. I thought the carne asada was great, but they were all pretty good.

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Next were these New Orleans-style sno-balls. I had the king cake, which was great, and we also tried the tiger’s blood and the blackberry. Plus they were serving those delicious dill and ranch oyster crackers I loved as a kid.

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This was a really good prime rib sandwich from Mayhem and Stout.

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This was an ok chicken and egg dish from Morocho, I also had one of the tacos, but I guess I didn’t get a picture of it.

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Next was Uncle Gussy’s Greek food. This guy was really funny and the food was good, but it didn’t really distinguish itself from the other similar food. The french fries were pretty great.

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Cannoli and chocolate cookie from a La Bella Torte Dessert Truck.

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These Lumpia springrolls were good, especially the mushroom one.

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More Halal food. I felt bad for this guy because no one was waiting on line for his food, but it wasn’t very good. The falafel had a very odd consistency and the Halal food from the heroic vendor (who was at the front so probably where most people stopped first) blew this stuff out of the water.

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The only thing we got from this Japanese cart was this piece of fried chicken. It was good, sweet, which isn’t my favorite, but still good.

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Next was a torta place where we got this fried sandwich thing. It was ok.

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I guess I didn’t get a picture of this Indian food? It was good. The chicken roti was definitely better. I also liked that they had hand sanitizer.

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Next was Coolhaus, I had had their ice cream sandwiches before, but it was nice to end on a sweet note.

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More drinks.

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And finally there was the awards ceremony. I noted who won above. The only bad thing about the awards cermony was the MC, he was so annoying. He dragged everything out and made lots of stupid jokes. I kept yelling for him to get on with it.

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Pretty ferry ride back to Brooklyn.

This was my fifth year attending the Vendy’s. I really love the event. I’ve watched it grow so much, the first year I went there were only five finalists and then three dessert people. It was also like half the price it is now. It’s great how much it’s grown, but it’s a daunting event. There is a lot of food (obviously) and a lot of pressure to try everything. If you go to the NY one, or the ones that have started up in cities like Philly and LA, I recommend going with people you’re comfortable sharing food with. We just one plate between the three of us I was with and all took pretty much one or two bites of everything. I was still really full, but I didn’t feel sick and it was manageable. I don’t feel so great today, but I think that has to do more with the beer.

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Flash Floods

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My friend Laura and I were on our way home from kickboxing yesterday morning when we encountered what might be described as a little bit of water. Or a lot of water. There were a long line of buses when we got to the stop, so we got on the one with the most people and waited for it to leave. We waited a little while when a little girl got on talking about how much water was in the street. I asked her where and she pointed and I asked her if you could walk through it and she said no. So Laura and I went to investigate.

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And that little girl was very right. When we first got to the flooded area there was just the white Mercedes stuck. Then that van drove in to try to pump water out of the store it’s park in front of. And, as you can see in the picture above, some moron in an SUV most likely ended up ruining their brakes/engine thinking they could drive through. An SUV doesn’t make you invincible, people.

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It had rained pretty hard (duh) while we were in the kickboxing class, but I don’t think it rained any harder than  other times and I had never seen this area flood before.

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Who just has sandbags sitting around?

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Eventually a tow truck came to get the car out of the water. He towed the people into a nearby parking lot and the passenger immediately got out and lit up a cigarette. #klassy

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The fire trucks showed up towards the end of the ordeal. Along with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection. The area where this flooded is right next to the Gowanus Canal, which is a Superfund site. #comforting

One of the firefighters told us that we could walk through a nearby parking lot to get to another road, which is what we ended up doing, but the whole thing was pretty nuts.

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NYC was supposed to get some crazy weather later in the day yesterday, too. But that didn’t happen, at least by me, all we got was this creepy sky and some rain.

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(Image from here)

You’ve probably heard that Mayor Bloomberg wants to ban sugary drinks here in New York City. As a closet soda lover (although I have maybe one/week and mostly stick to local/”all natural” sodas) I have some pretty strong feelings about this.

First, let me say that I think many of the other health initiatives Mayor Bloomberg has enacted have been great. As noted in the New York Times article above he has banned smoking in restaurants and public parks (AMAZING!), has banned artificial trans fats (I assume this is good for me, although I don’t think food tastes any differently), required calorie counts to be posted in restaurants (love/hate this), and he’s required health inspection grades to be posted in restaurant windows (which I mostly ignore, but it does sometimes make me think twice).

In my mind all of those things are things are for a common good. Banning smoking makes life harder for smokers, but makes life so much better for everyone who doesn’t smoke (aka those who aren’t deciding to kill ourselves). Banning trans fats doesn’t seem to affect anyone except the restaurants who are making the purchases; can anyone tell the difference? And the restaurant grades and calorie counts are a way to encourage restaurants to follow proper health standards and empower restaurant-goers to make their own choices.

But the soda ban is different in my mind. Yes, obesity is a huge problem in our society and has consequences for those who aren’t obese (higher health premiums, fewer seats on the subway), but, in my mind, if you want to drink 64oz of soda, you should be able to. I’m all for encouraging people to make healthier choices, but ultimately I don’t think the government should be prohibiting us from making choices that have no ill effect on other people (but this is a fine line and I’m sure I’m contradicting myself here).

With that said, a few other thoughts:

Why not just ban sales to children? Obesity is a huge problem for children and I’m sure sugary drinks are a big cause of that obesity. Why not ban sales of sugary drinks to people under 18 years old? The NYT article mentions how soda is not sold in many schools and I wonder, why was soda ever sold in schools? (There was a soda machine in my high school but you couldn’t use it until after school hours.) Not only for health reasons, but what teacher wants a kid in their class who’s hopped up on sugar and caffeine?

Why isn’t diet soda included? If we’re really concerned about health why not ban large diet sodas, too? I get that they’re not a direct cause of obesity (although I believe they’re an indirect cause), but all those fake sugars (meaning chemicals like aspartame, not high fructose corn syrup which is also really a fake sugar) aren’t healthy either.

I have two solutions (I’m sure Mayor Bloomberg will greatly appreciate my opinion…). First, why not tax soda like we tax cigarettes? I know this has been proposed and shot down before, but I’m a big fan of this idea. Although, I suppose by making people buy another 16oz soda to get to their regular 32oz soda it is a tax of sorts because it’s greatly increasing the price. But if a 16oz soda costs $5 and a 32oz soda costs $8 people will be discouraged from consuming a large amount of soda.

Second, why not force manufactures to make the calorie count on the bottle huge? I know it’s already bigger than it once was and it now includes calorie information for the whole bottle, not just serving size, but it’s still pretty easy to ignore. Or why not include how many sugar cubes are in each soda? That image of the sugar cubes in a 64oz drink is terrifying.

I know it’s politics and that’s how these things work, but this seems ridiculous: “Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal requires the approval of the Board of Health, a step that is considered likely because the members are all appointed by him, and the board’s chairman is the city’s health commissioner, who joined the mayor in supporting the measure on Wednesday.” I guess it’s like the President’s cabinet, but it seems like there should be some sort of checks and balances system, too.

And I think it’s insane not to include bodegas. They’re only included, acording to the NYT, if they’re “food service establishments” meaning they get a letter grade from the city. I’ve been trying to picture most of the bodegas that I go into and I don’t think the majority have a letter grade on them. I would imagine those are where a lot of people buy sugary drinks.

Anyone was to share their own thoughts? Do you think this will pass in NYC? Would it fly elsewhere?

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Yesterday was a fun day. It was a Wednesday, so I was at work, but at lunchtime we threw a bridal shower for a good friend at work.

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We had cute decorations.

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Very good food (from the Hummus and Pita Co., I’ve been there many times to pick up my own lunch, this was the first time we ordered catering. It was a really nice spread, but they were 30 minutes late so (luckily I had told them to be there 30 minutes before the party started) I can’t imagine ordering from them again.

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And we had a pinata. The bride has always joked that she wants a pinata for her birthday at work so I thought this was the perfect opportunity.

The party went off very well (we delayed it 15 minutes due to the food being late), she was surprised, everyone loved the food (which by that point I didn’t care about, so much drama with what to order), the cake (from Whole Foods) was delicious, and she loved the gift.

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After work I headed out to CitiField with my friend Maria to see the Mets play the Phillies. She’s a Phillies fan and I’m a Mets fan (not that I really care, but I grew up as a Mets fan) so we had a nice rivalry going.

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This was the first time I’ve been to CitiField and I thought it was nice. Certainly nicer than Shea Stadium. Maria bought these $25 tickets that came with a burger/veggie burger, fries, and a medium soda. I thought that was a great deal.

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This was the first time I’ve been to a stadium where they list the calorie counts for food. Let’s just say after seeing my burger and fries was 995 calories I ate the burger (which was gross) and about 5 of my fries (which were also not that good).

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Here we are. Not knowing where to look at the camera.

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The game was tied early, then the Mets took the lead, then it was tied again, then at the end the Mets completely fell apart and the Phillies scored 7 runs in one inning. The Mets tried to rally during the bottom of the 9th (they scored 3 runs) but it was not enough! Still a fun night though. And it was so cheap I need to take advantage more often. I even had a relatively quick trip home, door to door I was home in about an hour and fifteen minutes which isn’t bad considering I had to get out of the stadium, take 2 trains through 3 boroughs, and walk home (about 3/4 of a mile)!

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I’m going to start this post by saying anyone who knows me knows that I hate the following things: the heat, people, crowds of people, people encroaching on my own personal space, waiting, and port-a-potties. This didn’t make me feel particularly optimistic about attending The Great Googa Mooga today. I knew a few people that went yesterday and they all left after about half an hour because it was so crowded and awful.

Well, my experience couldn’t have been more different. I seriously loved every single minute of it.

First, this is what Googa Mooga is:

“Approximately 75 food vendors, 35 brewers, 30 winemakers and 20 live music performances will be on hand to help us relish some of life’s greatest pleasures—gathering with friends and neighbors to eat, drink, talk, laugh, dance, linger and just . . . be together.

We envision a place where the best chefs and purveyors can serve their food and bring about instant elation. Where everyday food lovers can discover and share amazing new tastes, and where the right slice of pizza can be as treasured/praiseworthy as four-star fois-gras.”

It was a free event, you just had to quickly get tickets online before they were snatched up. I missed them the first time but managed to get them the second time. You could also buy $250 tickets which included food, drink, and a access to a few extra things.

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I met my friend at about 11:30 and we walked up to Prospect Park. We probably got there around noon, there was no line to show our tickets (you had to show them twice) and no line for security.

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Our first stop was the ID check and beverage tent. My friends who went yesterday said this was the worst part since you had to wait on one line to get a bracelet saying you’re over 21 and a separate line to actually buy the alcohol. I’d say we waited less than five minutes for our bracelets and there was no line for the actual booze.

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At this point there weren’t a ton of people there, which I think definitely made the experience more pleasant.

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We checked out all the food stands and I decided I wanted a burger from The Spotted Pig (which was in the “Hamburger Experience,” could there be anything better?). The line was pretty long, maybe 20 people ahead of me, but we waited 10 minutes tops. It was supposed to be $12 for a burger with roquefort and fries, but they weren’t making fries so just the burger was $10, which I thought was a great deal.

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They had these narrow tables where you could stand so we picked a spot by the stage and settled in to eat.

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I thought my burger was good, I wasn’t blown away, I’ve certainly had much better burgers. The bun was delicious though, very buttery.

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I also got an Empire IPA, which I didn’t love. It kind of had a coffee taste to it, which isn’t my thing.

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I liked the recycled tables.

The whole reason I got Sunday tickets (the event was Saturday and Sunday and there were separate tickets for each day) was because I wanted to hear Charles Bradley. I LOVE him and I was so happy I got to see him. Plus he opened with my favorite song (above)!

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After we ate we settled down on my blanket to listen to the rest of Charles Bradley’s set.

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Once Charles Bradley finished we decided to do some more exploring. This was the chandelier in the craft beer tent which I really liked.

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I got a sample of the Blind Faith IPA from Magic Hat, again, it was kind of coffee-tasting. Also, the way you got beer and wine was one of my few dislikes about the event. The sample was $3, but you had to pay $2 to get the glass, that you then reused. I guess if you were drinking a lot it would be worth it, but it was just a cheap, plastic glass.

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Cheap plastic glass

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This was the wine tent, it was much less crowded than the beer tent.

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They built their counters with old wine crates, which I thought was cool.

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More exploring then happened, this was Hamageddon. I loved him.

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Fruit sculpture

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I LOVE Wooly’s Ice and I was so excited to see them here. I had their ice at the Vendy’s last year for the first time and I’m kind of obsessed.

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It’s an Hawaiian (and another country, I can’t remember) shaved ice. I got the OG, which was the original ice, leche sauce (pretty much condensed milk), strawberries, and brownies.

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It was damn good.

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We then picked a spot on the grass, put our blanket down, and stayed there the rest of the afternoon.

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My friend went to get us soda from Brooklyn Soda Works and she got me the apple ginger. I was a little like WTF? But it grew on me. It was actually really refreshing and not sweet at all.

We listed to Escort and then Fitz and the Tantrums. I thought they were both great, really energetic and I liked their music (which I wasn’t familiar with).

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Around 4:30 I decided to do some exploring. I went to use the bathroom, my I walked away from the main arrangement of port-a-potties to a more remote location and didn’t have to wait and mine was clean and stocked with toilet paper and anti-bacterial stuff.

Then I went over to Dirty Bird to get some fried chicken.

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I got the 3 chicken fingers with BBQ sauce, they were very, very good. I don’t remember the last time I had chicken fingers.

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I also got a watermelon lemonade which was so refreshing.

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Then we waited for Hall and Oates to come on! As you can tell it was getting more crowded, but I never felt overwhelmed or nervous. It was a very happy, relaxed crowd.

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I took another walk around while we were waiting for Hall and Oates. This was the General Store where you could buy Googa Mooga merch. I didn’t look that closely.

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Finally it was time for Hall and Oates. It didn’t get as crowded as I expected, I thought we might be forced to stand or at least have a bigger crowd around our blanket.

They opened with Maneater, played about a million songs I’d never heard, played She’s Gone which I couldn’t even recognize, and then were done. For the encore they played Rich Girl (finally!) and the song above, which obviously I know but I’m not sure of the name. Then we left, as we were leaving they introduced some key people who organized the event, and then played Your Kiss. Maybe they played another song, but we were out of hearing range by then. I was disappointed with Hall and Oates, I thought the three other performers were much better.

I really can’t say enough nice stuff about Googa Mooga and the way it was organized. I’m so excited to go back next year and I’m sorry that my friends who went on Saturday had such a terrible time.

There are some things I could be improved: the line for beer/wine/soda/water was the same line. My friend just wanted water and had to wait in the long line with people who wanted beer and wine. There was no cell reception the entire time, I get that that can’t really be controlled, but still, it sucked. A place to refill your water bottle would also be nice, you could bring a bottle in and there was one water fountain (that’s normally in the park), but otherwise you were out of luck (and I imagine most people didn’t know the water fountain was there, it’s just part of my running route so I knew). And finally, the playing $2 for a cheap plastic glass to try beer and wine from the respective tents sucked.

But otherwise I really have no complaints. I think the fact that we got there early really helped (although my roommate showed up around 2pm and she also loved her experience). I also think you have to be smart about it, the Luke’s Lobster line was out of control, so if you don’t want to wait on line for an hour plus, just eat something else. Also, I wouldn’t go hungry. And if you’re from NYC, all the places that were there are based in NYC so you can go to them at any time, so don’t get all caught up in one thing. And remember, you’re outside at a food and music festival, do you really need to get back to your blanket/table that quickly? Relax! Have fun!

But I had a great time and I can’t wait to go again next year!

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Market Monday

I’ve written about the Union Square Greenmarket many times (here and here for example) and I was very excited this morning when I saw that they had strawberries. I bought myself a pint of strawberries and a container of the cutest little potatoes.

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They’re like nature’s french fries!

I had two defeating things happen to me at lunchtime. First, I went to Sephora to return the Bumble and Bumble beach spray I bought.

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I never return beauty products but this stuff was just awful. I wanted it to be like John Frieda’s Beach Blonde spray from like 1999. Anyone else remember that stuff?

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(Image from here)

John Frieda’s stuff was the real deal, I looked totally beachy. The Bumble and Bumble one was BS. Anyway, I couldn’t find my receipt, but I figured they could just look it up with my credit card. Well, the woman told me she could look it up with my credit card, but that they couldn’t put the money back on my credit card, that I’d just get store credit. So I said I’d look for my receipt at home. And I found it so I’ll go back to Sephora tomorrow.

The second bad thing was that I was unable to eat my salad for lunch because the spicy dressing made the burn on the roof of my mouth (from last night’s yucca tots) feel like my mouth was going to explode. I tried very hard to eat it, but in the end I just picked out the tomatoes, veggie burger, and feta.

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Two good things:

Fudge!

My co-worker’s dad sent her fudge. It was delicious.

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And when I went to buy a ginger ale the machine gave me two. (I don’t think I’ve ever discussed my love of soda on here, it’s becoming an issue again.)

Then, when I was walking to the subway after work part of 6th Ave. was closed and there were tons of police officers.

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I asked them what was happening and they said Obama was down the block. Pretty cool, but in typical NYer fashion I was annoyed that I had to walk across 6th Ave., down, and then back across to get to the subway :).

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