i hardly slept by the time i woke up at 4:00. departure time was 5:00 and i told LJ to wake up around 4:30 but i got up earlier so there wouldn't be a fight to use the bathroom. i almost expected my roommate to do the same but not surprised when she woke up half an hour later. about to leave, LJ asked if she should her house key behind. "no, you should take it, in case we get separated and you have to come back on your own," i told her, still kind of scratching my head over why she'd even ask such a question.
the weather was cool and cloudy. it looked like rain which worried me a little because i didn't bother bringing my umbrella since the weather in new york was supposed to be sunny 80's. we caught the 5:16 train departing alewife from porter square. i gave LJ one of my spare empty charlie cards and she added $10. arriving at the south station bus terminal, we purchased tickets from the fung wah counter for their first bus of the morning (6:15).
the first bus is always packed to capacity. somewhere on the turnpike in newton it began to rain. fortunately it soon stopped and the clouds cleared away to reveal some blue sky. LJ looked out the window onto an unfamiliar american landscape. she was impressed by the number of trees and was surprised there wasn't any farm lands. the scenery wasn't enough to keep her awake since she fell asleep 30 minutes later.
i woke LJ up as we entered bronx and about to arrive in manhattan, so she could see the skyline of skyscrapers. she took out her camera for the very first time (i didn't see the make and model, a canon maybe?). we made it to chinatown at 10:00. i took LJ to my usual eating spot, king of casserole on division street. unfortunately it looked like the place went out of business, with a for sale sign written on chinese on the steel curtain door. so we went wandering through the streets of chinatown, looking for a restaurant that was opened for business so early in the morning. there's always dim sum, but greasy cantonese food might backfire. we ended up going to a vietnamese restaurant. LJ had never had vietnamese food before, so i introduced her to pho. after the waitress took our order, LJ asked me if we had to tip. when our plate of bean sprouts arrived, LJ asked me to identify the thai basil which she'd never seen before. when our pho finally arrived, i asked her what she thought. she said it was similar to the foods of guizhou (southern china).
with our stomach full and bladder relieved, we began to make our way to coney island from the canal street MTA station. LJ still couldn't get over tipping. "do the wait staff not have a salary?" she asked. i said yes, but not very much, and tips constitutes a key component of their overall income. "maybe it creates better service," LJ theorized.
we grabbed the N train, which was faster (at least fewer stops, approximately 11 because we skipped a few) than the Q train i normally take to coney island. the only bad thing is it's not very scenic. onboard were a few ladies dressed as mermaids. we sat across from 2 girls with unidentifiable ethnicity (hispanic? they both had big reddish brown afros) taking photos of one another. next to us was a young middle eastern looking couple (woman was wearing a white fedora) speaking a language i couldn't understand. later i realized they were all together. i asked the guy what language he was speaking, guessing it might've been egyptian arabic from the king tut t-shirt he was wearing. he didn't seem to understand until the girl next to him answered, "french." maybe it was moroccan french because it didn't sound like the french i know.
we arrived at coney island at 12:00. the police were putting up the final stretch of metal and wooden barricades and already people were lined up for choice viewing spots, banks of empty reserved lawn chairs edging the sidewalk. the parade wouldn't be until another 2 hours.
since we had a lot of time on our hands, we wandered through the amusement park area and to the beach. LJ walked knee deep into the ocean, seemingly lost until i realized she was combing the beach for souvenirs. unfortunately coney island is mostly sand, but she did manage to find a broken piece of crab shell. i followed her on shore as she walked down a short stretch of coastline.
"let me guess, you like photography," a young life guard said to me. we chatted a bit, he told me he's a russian jew from moscow, came to new york when he was 14. he admitted his summer mission (when not keeping people off of the rocky shoals) is to talk to as many girls as possible, and his favorite line is, "were you girls talking about me?"
i actually lost LJ for a bit but found her further up the beach. i don't know why i should be so concerned about losing her when it should be the other way around: i can find my way back home just fine, but LJ would be a little screwed if she lost me (i mean, she didn't even want to bring her house key, what's up with that?).
at 1:00 we went back out to the street to find a good viewing spot. pretty much every place was taken. we managed to find separate spots on either side of a group of flamboyant puerto ricans. after chatting with them briefly ("are you local?" "no, we're from the bronx." "oh. i'm from boston. is this your first parade?" "no, this is my 3rd time. it gets crazy." "it sure does.") i managed to persuade them to scooch over so i could stand next to LJ.
the sun was out. sunny, but not too hot, with a cool breeze. earlier i'd borrowed some sunblock from LJ because i couldn't find mine last night. i was going to buy some from a chinatown duane reade but they didn't have a good selection and what they did have was unnecessarily expensive. LJ said she bought her sunblock in new mexico, as people rarely see the sun in hazy shanghai - and besides, she never leaves her office anyway. but chinese girls - even those who don't cater to the standards of beauty - are notoriously protective of their skin and prefer a pale complexion instead of a tanned one. LJ sat on the sidewalk with her hand bag on her head to shield herself from the sun.
the parade actually started on time for a change, beginning with a convoy of muscle cars, followed by the much awaited mermaids. the procession wasn't very orderly, and every once in a while everything would just stop (which wasn't bad for phototaking actually) or there'd be gaps where there wasn't anything happening. LJ seemed to be enjoying the parade, even collecting a few beads. she took a bunch of photos (it'd be nice if i could trade her my set for hers).
by 4:00 the parade was still going but had slowed to a crawl. looking at the time, i told LJ we should leave soon so we'd still have time to see manhattan. we left by 4:30, going over to the other side of the street during a brief police assisted crossing. we grabbed the N back into town. we got off at atlantic avenue-pacific street, and caught a 4 train to bowling green.
from bowling green it was the standard tour sights: the old custom house building with its statuaries, through battery park to see the statue of liberty, the charging bull statue, the gravesite of alexander hamilton, wall street, distant view of the woolworth building, and the world trade tower.
even on the N train back from coney island, i sensed LJ's lack of energy. when i told her our next destination was time square, she asked me, "what's there to see?" i tried to explain it, how there are all these billboards. "so it's like nanjing street in shanghai," she replied. i got the sense that maybe she didn't want to go. "when you come to new york for the first time, you have to see time square," i told her. so we grabbed the R train from cortlandt street to time square. when i told her she could have my subway map to keep as a souvenir, she told me that wasn't necessary because she wouldn't be returning to new york anytime soon. i really love it when people are appreciative of my generosity!
i made a mistake and took us on the S train shuttle between time square and grand central. only when we arrived in grand central did i realize we went the wrong way, so we got back on the S train to return to time square.
i couldn't quite gauge what LJ felt about time square. i didn't really feel she was impressed, but she could've just been tired. later i realized she'd used up her camera battery when i saw her taking a video with her ancient camera phone (i actually thought maybe she was calling somebody). i asked her if she wanted me to take a photo of her from the time square steps, but she said no. only afterwards when we were leaving time square did she see the point of a souvenir snapshot. so i took a few photos before we got back on the subway.
we got on the S train to grand central, then hopped on a local 6 train to canal street. it was a little slow and we only had 35 more minutes before our bus leaves at 8:00 (the latest we could go back with the MBTA still running). arriving at chinatown, we passed by some fruit vendors closing up shop and snagged some rainier cherries on sale. they weren't in the best condition but at $5 for a 7 lbs. bag (from 2 different vendors), it was worth it. we had 10 minutes left when we bought our bus tickets. we went next door to get some fried chicken to eat on the way back. LJ was speaking chinese to the asian cashier who didn't understand her (i had to help translate). when we were back outside everyone had already boarded the bus. normally the saturday evening bus to boston is pretty empty, but for some reason it was packed today. LJ and i found seats next to each other across the aisle. since it was so crowded, i wasn't in a mood to eat so i just sipped from my soda cup. LJ had no qualms about eating, working on her cherries after finishing her chicken.
leaving manhattan our bus ran into a traffic jam. we took a detour and crossed over the macombs dam bridge. the bus had some suspension issues and would hop up and down whenever we went too slow (which was often with all the traffic). there was also problems with the AC, which kept on turning off and on, alternating between hot and cold.
we pulled over to a rest stop midway through. everyone bought food so i joined in the moving feast with my still slightly warm fried chicken and fries. one person was missing during the head count; a group of vietnamese passengers had lost their mother. we waited 10 more minutes before somebody finally found her still in the rest stop.
we finally arrived in boston around 12:15. we caught the red line right as it pulled into the station and got off at harvard square. i wanted to show LJ how safe the neighborhood is at nights but the absolute lack of any other pedestrians just made her more fearful that something bad might happen.
the house was oppressively hot. i opened a few windows to let the cool air circulate. i took a hot shower. even though i was tired, i didn't go to sleep until almost 3:00, sorting through my new cache of parade photos.
the success of a mermaid parade can be directly correlated to how many photos i end up taking. the total haul for this trip was only 1697 photos, for 5.9GB worth of data. compare that to last year, where i had 2761 photos (9.45GB).