i decided last year that the best parade in these here parts is the annual mermaid parade down at coney island, new york. the amount of eye candy is unmatched and the lack of corporate interference is refreshing. the new york halloween parade is a close second, but makes for difficult photography since it happens at night. a forecast of severe rainstorms in the NYC area almost made me cancel the trip however, but i'd been waiting for this parade since the end of last year's parade, and decided to go regardless of the bad weather.
first there were some logistical matters to take care of. a day trip down to new york requires at least 8 hours roundtrip on the bus, plus many more hours of waiting and spectating. i can't say it anymore delicately but i needed to make sure my insides were clear so i wouldn't be inconvenienced by bathroom needs (especially considering how filthy public bathrooms can be). this was particularly significant because last night i ate a big bowl of leftover spaghetti (i'm talking big, like i was running a marathon tomorrow) and i knew it'd come back to haunt me (the ghost of carbohydrate past). so i tried going last night with no success (i did manage to read the latest issue of EW cover to cover however, the one with ryan reynolds), then woke up at 4:30 to the hollow sounds of failure yet again. there was nothing i could really do at that point as i headed down to porter square to catch the first train of the morning (5:16 departing alewife).
i packed light, taking with me just the wide angle and telephoto lens (when would i need the macro on this trip? and ever since i got the wide angle, i haven't been using my 17-50mm f2.8 tamron lens), as well as some spare batteries and memory cards. i brought along my foldable waterproof windbreaker (the same one i wear when i go naturing) and an umbrella. i didn't bring any food not unless you count a few hard candy and some cough drops. i also took my NFT NYC map booklet in case i got lost.
my last trip to new york was back in october, and since then fung wah has changed the way you buy tickets. in the past you purchase directly at the bus terminal (which was always a little weird, since none of the other carriers did that), but now the makeshift kiosks are no more and fung wah has an official looking counter space out in front, along with the likes of greyhound and peter pan, with even a big snazzy logo sign to go along with the upgrade. i got my ticket ($15) and proceeded to wait. even though i arrived before 6:00, apparently the earliest bus is 6:30. the crowd was light enough that everyone had a spare empty seat to themselves, with just a few unlucky individuals having to share (usually the pretty girls traveling alone).
even though i had two seats, it was still an uncomfortable ride. i was hoping i'd be asleep the whole way (i went to bed last night before 3:00, so i slept no more than 2 hours) but i kept changing from one uncomfortable position to another. if it wasn't my back then the ache would be in my foot. plus i was bit gassy from last night's pasta meal but fortunately it was of the odorless variety. car traffic was very light, and we made it to the manhattan chinatown faster than normal (3 hours 40 minutes). i was expecting to encounter some rainstorms but the weather was clear throughout, although there were some instances of thick fog in a few areas.
twice within the past two new york visits i've eaten at the same vietnamese pho shop while looking for a good chinese noodle place. there used to be a marco polo restaurant but it's since gone out of business. i was prepared this time around and did some research beforehand, compiling a list of possible noodle places to try out. i've been to the manhattan chinatown many times but i still get disoriented trying to find my way around. i decided to check out a place behind confucius plaza on 21 division street called lan zhou hand pulled noodles restaurant. i love restaurants with literal names; takes the confusion out of figuring out what kind of food they serve. the place was empty when i arrived but open (marco polo didn't open until 11:00, back when it was still around). i ordered the house special, the standard spicy lan zhou beef noodle soup ($4.95). i asked if they had a bathroom and finally managed to take care of business, although i still wasn't 100% evacuated. when my order arrived, it came in a disposable plastic bowl. at that price though, i wasn't really complaining. it was pretty delicious, the broth had a complex flavor, had the aura of authenticity. the noodles were definitely homemade although to the untrained eye, they look perfect enough to be machine produced. while i was eating, people started showing up. none of them were here for noodles, but instead were getting vietnamese sandwiches to go. besides banh mi, they also sold various flavors of boba ice tea (is this the perfect restaurant?). when i asked for the check, the waitress came around and just told me the price (apparently there's no sales tax and i guess she wasn't expecting a tip). i gave her $7 and told her to keep the change. i used the bathroom one more time before i left.
by then it was still 10:30 and i had plenty of time to kill, with the parade not starting until 2:00 (it'd probably take me an hour to get down to coney island). unfortunately a little drizzle had started by that point. i wandered chinatown some more (checking out a few more noodle shops on my list for next time) before deciding to head down to the parade. for some reason i got it into my head that i needed to take the F train to coney island (maybe because i always take the F train to get to john and deanna's place, force of habit; even if i did, it was easier walking to east broadway and catching the F directly). i grabbed the uptown 6 from canal street and got off at bleecker, thinking i could transfer to the F that way. apparently that only works in the other direction (downtown), so i ended up waiting for the next 6. that's when i realized from looking at a map that i could also take the N or Q train, which both stop at coney island. ironically, i could've also taken the N/Q from canal street, which would've saved me all this hassle. i rode uptown a few stations to union square and then transfered to a Q train. i then sat back and waited for the end of the line.
i got to coney island at noon. i used the public bathroom (urine on the floor, try not to look) once before i left the station as a safety precaution. it was still raining, now at a faster pace. barricades on the commercial side of the street had already been set up and there was a sizable police presence in anticipation of the crowd later. i walked through the amusement park and down the boardwalk. there were no beachgoers except for the few curiosity seekers (sporting lovely ponchos) and the flocks of seagulls (yeah, that was an 80's reference). that took less than 30 minutes. with nothing else to do, i decided to find my spot along the parade route. this being my 4th year, i knew exactly where to stand: directly opposite the entrance of the subway station. this way, when parade participants got off the trains, i could get a sneak preview of what's in store (since most of them arrive in costume, which can make for an interesting subway ride).
i made friends with an old italian lady from queens who turned out to be spanish (from spain). she was there by herself as well, and came just with a hat and a handkerchief to put as an armrest on the wet metal barricade. she'd never seen the mermaid parade before wanted to experience it for herself. so was an independent spirit and was telling me how her daughter wanted to take her on vacations but she preferred to go by herself because her family would slow her down. i told her i was from boston and she said she would like to visit there one of these days, to see all the history. the more i talked with her, the more i realized she was a little old hater, which didn't make her any less endearing. after watching a few near topless women walk by, she was telling how there's a lot of bad people around. she singled out vietnam veterans in particular, "they're all crazy" in her thick accent. she also didn't like how "orientals" come to the country without knowing how to speak english, although to her credit she had a theory that their writing was far too different from english (unlike, say, the difference between english and spanish). some other old ladies were jockeying for viewing position next to us, and one of them casually asked what time the parade started. after a brief pause, i blurted out, "2:00." they left soon afterwards for a better spot, but my new friend told me, "i don't like rude people, that's why i don't tell them the time."
apparently we had some pretty good real estate because everybody wanted to be where we were. 2 coeds stuffing their face with nathan's hot dogs ended up taking the last remaining spots, their umbrellas dripping onto us. my spanish friend was not happy, and she wasn't very talkative after that, just hemming and hawing her displeasure. there was a brief pause in the rain before it picked up again, this time at an almost downpour speed. even though little spanish lady was safe underneath the combined canopy of umbrellas, she couldn't wait anymore and decided to leave, suddenly disappearing without even saying good bye. this was a horrible day to have a parade. it rained one other time, in 2006 (my first mermaid parade), but just a slight drizzle, nothing like this. in comparison, last year's weather was so much better, hot and dry with temperature in the 80's. at least i wouldn't get sunburnt.
the rain was still coming down when the parade finally started. the crush of people behind me were compounded by the fact that everyone had umbrellas, which would occasionally get tangled up. everyone once in a while i'd get an umbrella tip poking me in the back of the neck. the rain from the umbrellas would also runoff on me, but fortunately i was wearing my waterproof windbreaker. it was hard to man the telephoto while holding the umbrella. a few times when it felt like it wasn't raining that hard, i closed by umbrella so i could better use my hands. after each series of shots (with or without umbrella) i'd inspect the camera, wiping off any water on the lens and the filter. fortunately for everyone, it stopped raining by the second half of the parade.
naturally, one of the attractions of the mermaid parade is the seemingly inexhaustible supply of breasts on display. though many still wear pasties to modestly cover up, it doesn't leave much to the imagination, and some just completely forgo such formality and go full topless. as much fun as it is to watch the people marching, it's just as interesting seeing the spectators' reactions. a lot of furtive and not-so-furtive looks happen thereabouts. i'm always surprised by the parents who bring their young children though. but i say fostering a healthy appreciate for boobage at a tender age is a good thing; certainly attending the mermaid parade will get you your daily recommended visual diet of boobies (natural and/or fortified).
i shot with my telephoto, which i now use pretty much for any parade events. i always hear that professional photographers prefer a grey sky for the neutral colors. a sunny bright day might be better for a parade, but not so much for photography as you get areas of deep shadows and overexposed bright areas. when everything is grey, you don't have that problem anymore, and subjects become evenly lit, albeit a few stops down compared to a bright day. i had my umbrella to keep the rain off the camera lens, but i saw people with other strategies, including custom camera ponchos for dSLR's and even makeshift ones made from plastic bags. i thought about making my own but since my lens extends outwards depending on the zoom, it'd still get wet. and raindrops would still collect on the front of the lens and would require constantly wiping.
when the end of the procession passing by, i left my position and walked further up near the judging platform, so i could see the tail end of the parade again. that was the final hurrah and i left soon afterwards. i used the station bathroom one last time (one for the road) and grabbed an N train leaving the station. in hindsight i should've gotten the Q (less stops it seems) but i was relieved to be just sitting down after more than 4 hours standing on my feet. i got off at canal street and made my way to the fung wah ticket kiosk (went the right direction this time), walking through the gauntlet of street vendors hawking knockoffs and pirated movies. a man shooting bubbles from a bubble gun caught my attention and i bought one ($5) for hailey. i managed to catch the 5:30 bus. as soon as i got on, it started to rain.
there were only a handful of people going to boston so there were empty seats galore. i listened to my lost on planet china audio book for a little while before trying to get some sleep. the rain was unrelenting and i assumed we'd be delayed in returning to boston. like the driver this morning, this driver was also a human machine, never needing to stop for a bathroom break. i was hoping he would because by then i was getting hungry and some mcdonald hamburgers seemed awfully good. i sucked on a piece of candy and eyeballed the complimentary can of new red bull soda i got from the parade. i didn't drink anything all day just to keep myself from having to use the bathroom. even though there was one on the bus, with all the jostling that was going on, i'd rather not use it. despite the rain (it'd stopped at some point), we managed to arrive in almost exactly 4 hours at 9:30.
on the mass turnpike minutes away from south station, i could see the bright lights of fenway park and a sea of fans leaving the stadium. fortunately the MBTA still wasn't that crowded by the time i rode it back to cambridge. i went to anna's tacqueria and got a lengua burrito before coming home. jesse was home, chilling out in the living room. seeing me with a burrito give her additional motivation to go out and get one of her own (had i known, i would've offered to get her one).
my total haul from this year's mermaid parade was a few photos shy of 3000. i was surprised myself, considering the foul weather. having an extra 8gb CF card definitely helps, although i found it really slow to save compared to my 4gb card, even though both are 133x speed. i ended up tossing about 400 images because they were either too blurry or somebody getting into my line of sight.
(i will continue to post parade photos for the next few days. given the amount of material i have to work with, i can probably post a different photo everyday and still not run out until the next parade!)