last night i was in bed by 11:30pm but watched house of the dragon until 12:30pm. i then tossed and turned and didn't fall asleep until 2:30am, with the alarm set to 5:30am to get ready and catch my 7:30am flixbus out of south station. by 4:30am frances was already texting me (on whatapps; she was texting before on wechat but i suggested we switch to a more secure messaging app): she was up anyway because of work, but i think she also wanted to make sure i didn't oversleep. i didn't fall asleep after that, and woke up before the alarm went off, only having slept for 2 hours.
it's crucial before any long trip to properly use the bathroom. and by that i mean to have a good poop. i sat on the toilet for a good 30 minutes - researching ways to get rid of the mildew smell on old towels (didn't realize you could do that, the secret is vinegar and baking soda) - and i did poop, but it wasn't satisfying, felt like i had unfinished business still.
i'd already packed last night, but decided to switch out my smaller mountainsmith lumbar bag with a larger messenger bag, with more room to carry stuff. i wore my progressive glasses but brought my transition darkening glasses just in case. i made one final look around to make sure i had everything before setting out a bit before 6:30am.
the sun was just starting to rise. it wasn't busy at porter square, just a handful of people waiting on the platform. i noticed most were wearing masks, so i put on mine as well. i haven't taken the subway in ages, not since the start of the pandemic. it wasn't so much because i was worried about the coronavirus, more that i didn't really have any good reasons to take it, and the places i wanted to go i could always get there by bicycle. most of the subway ads were for medical studies.
there was some new construction at south station, i read somewhere that they're planning on building a tall building above the station. i made a quick detour to use the bathroom one last time. inside the bus depot, i noticed both lucky star and megabus were still there, though none of their buses were running yet (or maybe already left, though the megabus counter was closed). i found the flixbus departure gate, the driver scanned the QR code in my flixbus app on my phone, and climbed onboard by 7:15am, perfect timing, no waiting. flixbus tickets have assigned seats, i had 2A. flixbus also have free wifi, with included onboard entertainment through your phone, with a selection of movies, books, music, even games. it was pretty fast wifi - no delays - but wouldn't allow me to run speedtest, so there's also a pretty robust security firewall.
the bus left 7:30am sharp, with enough empty seats that nobody had to share. just as we were about to pull out, a senior couple came running out of the gate, so the driver returned to pick them up.
we never hit traffic going outbound, but i did see a bit of traffic inbound. i wasn't too interested in trying out the onboard entertainment, all i really wanted to do was to get a bit more sleep and wake up and be in new york city. earlier i shared my google location with frances so she could see where i was. i still had my mask on since porter square. most of the people riding the flixbus weren't masked. i wore the mask for about 2 more hours before finally taking it off, it was starting to make me motion sick. thankfully there were adjustable ceiling fans, i turned them so they were blowing cold air onto my face. as hard as i tried, i couldn't get any good sleep on the bus. last time i remember thinking about getting a travel pillow, and i should've followed up on my own advice. every time i fell into a deep sleep, my head would roll to the side and suddenly snap me awake. and the thought of resting my head against the rattling glass window seemed dangerous.
this was my first time taking the flixbus and i was curious how it'd get to manhattan. the driver took the whitestone bridge to queens. i could see from google maps that we were about to cross flushing. i was tempted to ask the driver to let me off here, but i knew that was impossible. what surprised me even more was it took us just a bit over 3 hours to pass through flushing. so in theory one could drive to flushing from boston in just 3 hours, something to keep in mind for the future.
we made it to the flixbus midtown "bus depot" in record time, 11:20am when the scheduled arrival time was 11:40am. the station is little more than a parking lot located on the southwestern corner of 31st and 8th avenue, next to penn station/madison square garden. not wanting to look like a tourist, i grabbed my backpack from cargo and simply started walking, not really knowing where i was going. once i got about a block away did i finally check my phone for direction. my hotel - casamia 36 - is located at 36th and 10th. i kept walking west on 31st until i hit 10th avenue. there were so many new buildings i didn't recognize. i climbed onto a whole foods building thinking it might be shortcut somewhere but it was a dead end (i did get a nice view out of it though). i then proceded north up 10th avenue until i got to 36th street.
i found casamia 36. some young people were lounging in the courtyard. the door was locked, the concierge saw me and opened the door. a bored-looking hispanic family with several kids buried in their phones were camped out in the waiting area. a wall-mounted tv had fox news turned on, which i thought was some kind of joke. i was given my hotel key and went upstairs to my room, 603.
the room was underwhelming, made more so by the fact that i'm essentially paying $165/night, so i felt like i got scammed. a king-size bed took up most of the space, nearly touching 3 walls. there was no carpeting, just bare cold floor. the view outside the window faced the back of several adjoining buildings. surprisingly however, there was a mini-fridge and a microwave. i kept hearing water draining in the bathroom. apparently the toilet tank was leaking into the bowl, and kept refilling every few minutes.
so i went downstairs to complain. the concierge came up to check on the toilet himself. it was a fix i could've done myself if i had the parts. "looks like you've done a bit of plumbing," the concierge remarked. they have a handyman on staff but he wasn't in today. "good thing you didn't use the room yet. let me change you to a different room," as i gathered my things and headed back downstairs. what i didn't tell him was i did use the room, i had a brief poop before i went to complain.
the concierge gave me room 1003, which is the same room but on the 10th floor. this room was actually slightly bigger. earlier (11:50am) frances had noticed that i was already in NYC. i told i was at the hotel. she said they were at FAO swartz and were coming over to meet me. i told her no rush, as our original plan was to meet at 1pm. i was going to sneak out and get something to eat, but they wanted to have lunch with me so i waited.
i called my mother to let her know i'd arrived in new york. she told me that my cousin and my taiwanese aunt were coming to the new york boston area in 3 weeks, and that they were going to live at my house for at least a day. i had no problem with this unexpected news. out of all the places they could stay (for free), my place is the best option in terms of convenience and accommodations. the only issue i had was once i got back home, i had a little over 2 weeks to get the hole in my bathroom wall fixed and painted before they arrive. if i needed some kind of motivation to repair my bathroom, this would definitely be it. the first and only time my taiwanese aunt came to visit boston was 20 years ago. i'd just bought my house, and was just starting to do work on it.
at 12:42pm frances sent me another text, saying there were 5 minutes away. i told her i was coming downstairs to meet them.
by that time the hispanic family that was earlier in the waiting area had gone. i got a chance to chat with the concierge, whom i found out was a dominican named vladimir. he asked if i had kids, i said no, never even been married. we got to talking about family, and being immigrants.
frances and june were the first to show up. i forgot that hans was in his wheelchair so they were trailing behind. frances was holding a large bag of norwegian goodies. the only thing i asked for was scandinavian licorice, but just from a cursory look inside the bag, she also included various crackers and chocolates. minutes later fredrick, lars, and hans finally arrived. the last time i saw the kids they were 11, 9 and 7: how they were 15, 13, and 11, heading into their teen years. lars was taller than his father, hans taller than me, and june will be just as tall in another year or so. hans was riding a motorized wheel chair this time around. frances asked if they could leave it in my room, and more importantly, charge the battery. so the three of us (frances and hans) went upstairs, so i could also drop off the norwegian goodie bag.
we headed out a bit after 1pm. our first stop was the nearest jollibee, at 39th and 8th, just a short 11 minute walk from the hotel. this was my first time experiencing this fast-growing filipino fast-food chain. hans seemed to know it as well, from youtube videos. i got the chickenjoy perfect pairs ($8.50) with is a fried drumstick, spaghetti, and a drink (i got the pineapple juice, their soda machine was broken). i also ordered a side of peach mango pie ($2.99). the place was busy, customers were given remote buzzers to let them know their order was ready. there was a narrow dining area, we managed to find empty seats but had to take up 3 tables.
i started with the jolly spaghetti. the sweet red sauce is made from banana ketchup and mixed with pieces of hot dog, sprinkled with some melted cheese. i wouldn't say it's a gourmet dish but i could see the comfort meal aspect of it. the sauce was sweet but wasn't too bad, the bits of hot dog a pleasant distraction. next i tried the spicy drumstick: hard to go wrong with fried chicken, it was crispy, the chicken juicy, a decent drumstick. finally i made my way to the peach mango pie. it was hot, a deep fried soft outer shell (reminded me of fried plantains) with a gooey peach mango compote interior. it was very sweet and crunchy (and oily!), if you didn't tell me i couldn't tell it was peach or mango. overall, i'm glad i tried jollibee, but from the small sampling i tried, there was nothing that screamed out "must try." if there was one close to me i would definitely go there often, but mostly for the fried chicken, which i love in all iterations. i think frances and family were all in agreement, although the food didn't sit well with fredrick, who hours later disappeared briefly for a bathroom emergency.
i'd noticed lars carrying around a camera. at first i thought it was the old compact canon powershot camera frances had when they visited new york city last time (which i thought was a great camera). later i learned it's actually a canon manual camera, and that lars was shooting film. he said the price of film plus development meant that it cost him a dollar per image. i think it's kind of novel that a kid would be interested in such a retro technology. ever since i discovered digital photography, i've never thought about going back to film.
i was surprised it'd started to rain by the time we left jollibees around 2:20pm. the only other thing we had planned were tickets to go see the summit at one vanderbilt place at 6pm. since it was near grand central station, we decided to go hang out there and figure out our next plan.
i had an old MTA card from 4 years ago, but the machine wouldn't even recognize it anymore. i don't think i had too much money on it anyway, but i guess we'll never know. so i purchased a new one, added about $20 onto the card. frances and her family all got unlimited but only because they were here for a week. i was no help with navigation, it was mostly frances and fredrick, i basically followed and pretended to know where i was going.
after wandering around grand central - including the whispering walls and the in-station apple store - we left via the metlife building and went to the urbanspace food court across the street (everyone was checking their phones trying to figure out where this place was until we realized it was basically right in front of us). lars was telling me about be real, and i wasn't paying attention at first, but then i remembered the saturday night live sketch i saw with this weird social media app that takes photos on both front and back cameras. that's when i realized be real is actually real. also at one point i was talking with june - who's really into kpop - and she seemed impressed that i knew about blackpink and jennie and lisa (they're the only kpop group that i know). june's favorite bands were blackpink and also twice, a 9-member girl group i've never heard of before. i also paid frances for the summit ticket, which was $69 (pricey, but that's the going rate for these observation towers, it's pretty much free money for these skyscapers, to have the privilege of seeing the view from the top). while the kids were enjoying their boba drinks with frances, fredrick and i were tasked with taking the subway back to my hotel to get the wheelchair for hans.
it was a quick trip, though it still took us nearly 50 minutes to complete. going to my hotel was the quick part: we simply took the 7 train from grand central to hudson yard. i also didn't realize just how close my hotel is to the hudson yard terminal station, just a few minutes walk. we grabbed the wheel chair and charger and then headed back to grand central. this was the slow part. having never trailed with a wheel chair before, i can better appreciate what it takes to find accessibility entrances (elevators) at the various stations. fredrick was used to it so he already spotted the wheelchair access points before i did. elevators can sometimes be a challenge to find, and when do you find them, they're slow to move, occasionally cramped and crowded, and every once in a while somebody had used them as a public urinal. going from above ground to below ground and then above ground again, and navigating the maze that is grand central, we finally made it back to urbanspace before 5pm.
one vanderbilt place was just across the street. the rain seemed to have picked up by then, i heard frances complaining how cold it was. for a norwegian person to complain about the cold in "southern" new york city means it must be really cold! but i think it's just the combination of rain and wind that makes it more unbearable. frances was hoping we could get into the summit early (before 6pm), maybe use the wheelchair card, but they were having none of it, we'd need to wait until our appointed time. so we hung out in the lobby area until they finally called up all the people for the 6pm summit.
first we had to put on booties over our shoes to protect the glass floors. then we took a group photo (so that afterwards they can sell us the developed official souvenir image for some crazy amount of money). that was followed by a scan of our face with a 3-D scanner, tied in to our wristband QR code, for some special event later. we then took a mirrored elevator up to the top floor, which included some special strobing lights to get you into the mood. finally we emptied onto the observation floor, which was mirrored floors and ceilings, and gave the place an infinity effect, with the view of new york city outside. the place seemed to be designed for the social media age, as plenty of people were taking selfies for the likes, whether it was a cutesy pose or the perfect backdrop.
given the choice, i think the summit is the better skyscraper observation tower. a lot of people do the empire state building, but the problem with that is when you're inside the empire state building, you can see the empire state building. being in the vanderbilt tower, it was easy seeing all the local landmarks: empire state, chrysler, metlife, even freedom tower off on the distance in downtown. i try to imagine living in one of those fancy new midtown highrise condos, what it'd be like looking down at NYC everyday. i think it'd be cool, but i'd be constantly worried about the building swaying.
i managed to lose everyone in my party, and made my way upstairs (not realizing i couldn't come down anymore). frances texted me asking if i was still on the floor, i told her i'd already gone upstairs. i hung out for a bit, before everyone else eventually made their way up.
we managed to stay in the vanderbilt summit for 2 hours. unfortunately it was still raining. afterwards we walked to time square, to have dinner at junior's. it seemed like an old-timey restaurant, i'd never heard of it before, but they must be doing something right to have a spot right in time square. apparently they're famous for their cheesecakes. for some reason they didn't have any tables that can fit 6 people, so our party was split between 2 tables. when some double tables opened up, we merged 3 of them into a 6-party table. i got their classic reuben sandwich ($19): corned beef, grilled sauerkraut, and swiss on rye. the sandwich was a monster, so large it had to be split into 3 pieces. it also came with a small bowl of russian dressing on the side. i dipped the sandwich into the dressing liberally, suprised that there was a faint taste of liver (which is also on the menu as a chopped appetizer). the corned beef itself was a little dry, but the sandwich was still delicious and i finished it all. afterwards i shared a piece of original cheesecake ($8.50) with fredrick. it was decent, but i prefer cheesecake with a graham cracker crust, this one had a slight crust but i think it was also made from cheesecake. texture-wise it wasn't as dense as a usual cheesecake. when the check came i offered to pay off my portion of dinner but frances insisted on treating. we saw on the receipt that they'd automatically added a 18% gratuity, but frances like the waiter so much, she gave him some additional tip.
the rain continued after dinner. i walked with france and family to the nearest subway station before we parted, deciding to make plans tomorrow morning depending on whether if it's still raining or not. after they left, i continued walking down broadway to koreatown on 32nd street. i confess, the whole time we were eating at junior's, all i could think about about pelicana fried chicken at food gallery 32. they close at 11pm, i had just enough time to get there and make an order before they closed. i got there by 10:30pm but it didn't look good, as several shops were already closed for the night and there was hardly any customers, mostly just workers cleaning up. i went to the third floor and discovered that pelicana was already closed. all i could do was take some photos of the menu and walk back to the hotel.
after some searching (there didn't seem to be a lot of businesses on west 36th street), i found a local convenience store to get some drinks, a bottle of water and a can of coconut juice. vladimir had gone on, in his place were two different people working the hotel lobby. one of them went to open the door for me but i had the lock code (written on my hotel keycard sleeve).
i stripped out of my damp clothes and used the bathroom. afterwards i took a hot bath (close to midnight), as customary whenever i stay in hotels. i didn't go to sleep until 1am, wondering if it'll still be rainy tomorrow.