Archive | January, 2014

New York City, starring Chicken Delicious

18 Jan

I just completed a week in New York City and I’m writing this from the American Airlines Admiral’s Club at LaGuardia – a place where I’ve spent countless hours over my career.  A fun and interesting week for sure.  I arrived on Sunday as I had three days of meetings with one of our clients here from Monday through Wednesday, as well as two meetings with Google, and then yesterday and today, participated in the iProspect Senior Leadership Team “SLT” meetings at Aegis Media’s HQ office on 42nd street near Grand Central.

I’ve been coming to NYC fairly steadily for work for at least 15 years, and prior to that on an occasional basis (except for a 2 year period where I more I less lived here).  So, The Big Apple is familiar territory for me.  I generally know where I am at any given point, and even do “New Yorker” things like use the subway to get around.

There is no place like NYC.  If you think you’ve seen it all, wait less than two minutes and then you haven’t.  What continually, always amazes me is the pure size and scale and density of Manhattan.  As a place on earth, Manhattan isn’t a particularly large place – an island about 2 1/2 miles across at its wide point, and about 10-12 miles long.  The city of Chicago, by comparison, is tremendously larger.  Of course, NYC isn’t JUST Manhattan – it consists of the five boroughs of Manhattan, Staten Island, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn – each of which is as big as or bigger than most other cities in the US in population.  But, my focus, as usual is on Manhattan.

If you’ve never visited it, well, you just can’t appreciate it until you do.  It is one solid “business district” from end to end, edge to edge, with people living everywhere among the businesses.  Yes, once you get out of midtown and especially on the upper east and west sides, it does get residential, but only in the NY sense – rowhouse an apartment building standing wall to wall, block after block, and no where, anywhere, are you more than a few steps from a grocer, a dry cleaner, a bar, a pizza place, a chinese restaurant, more restaurants, a drug store, etc. etc etc.  For this small town boy from the cornfields of Iowa, it never, ever ceases to amaze me.

I like to joke that I’d love to pull up stakes and move to NYC for just one year.  It would be great – I’d live like a New Yorker, outsource my entire life (including laundry!), live in an apartment the size of my current master bedroom, with a kitchen that you can cook an entire meal in without moving your feet more than two steps, and a bathroom that you can shave, shit and shower also without moving your feet more than two steps.  I’d walk everywhere, ride the subway everywhere, have NYC pizza and eat it while walking down 6th avenue, folding it in half of course, Robin and I would go walking Sprite in Central Park on the weekends, have dinners in a different restaurant every time we ate out, have amazing bagels for breakfast on the weekend, and more and more.

And then I find out what people pay for rent – $4000 or more for a tiny one-bedroom.  The sheer costs of New York and especially Manhattan, sort of put that idea aside.  I can visit. And see the sites.

Monday evening was fun – we were out with our Google sales team that serves our NY client for dinner at a place in the Chelsea/Flatiron district called ABC Kitchen – a huge place where two restaurants are joined with a huge home store – what would occur if IKEA sold upscale goods and turned half of their space into high-end restaurants.  As we were leaving the restaurant, this VERY tall guy with a very 1980s-looking, dyed black haircut walks in with a beautiful woman.  I turn and do a double take – it’s Ric Ocasic from the 80s New Wave/Pop band, The Cars, with his wife, Paulina Poriskova.  The guy looks like a tragic beanpole with a punk rock mullet.

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So, it’s an official NY trip – a celeb sighting was had.  In the last two trips I’ve taken here with Robin, we saw Jesse Eisenberg, who was right at the peak of his stardom from the movie The Social Network.  He came into a little sushi place with an older woman that we guessed was his publicist and sat down literally right next to Robin at the next table.  And this past fall, right here at this very bar in this very Admiral’s Club, none other than quintessential New Yorker and star of Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, Matthew Broderick was sitting here having a beer.

Wednesday morning I had the interesting experience of visiting Google’s NYC offices at 111 8th Street – 8th and 16th.  While not allowed to take pictures in there, among other things they had:

  • A huge cafeteria with hot food served three times a day – and a tremendous selection as well, all generally very healthy
  • Multiple “mini cafeterias” with coffee bars, additional food and drinks, open 24×7
  • A full-on barista-manned coffee shop in yet another of the cafeterias
  • A hallway with at least 15 machines capable of playing a variety of 1980s video games including every variant of Pac-Man, plus Galaga, Galaxian and more
  • a huge space just devoted to games – pool, pingpong, board games, jumbo jenga, and much more
  • Most of the mini cafes had a theme – for example, on the 5th floor, there is a Lego-themed cafe with a huge play area with a wall covered in bins of Lego bricks, and work tables where you can build your creations and shelves to display them.
  • Many, many signs with “Googler’s only from this point forward” – clearly plotting the world’s takeover
  • and scads and scads of ridiculously happy people that work there

The one thing I could take a picture of was the immense neon Google logo rendition on the wall of the reception area:

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Wednesday evening was my “night off” from doing client and company-related stuff.  I started out with a couple of beers with Robin’s cousin “Doc Craig”.  We met up at one of Midtown’s ubiquitous Irish Pubs, this one being “The Long Room” on 44th Street.  We had a few good laughs for an hour and then I headed off to go to my dinner.  Here’s the shot I took of the Doc enjoying his first beer of the evening:

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After I left the Doc, I headed to the upper east side and I met up with my long-time pal, fellow MadMan, career mentor and all around great guy, Professor Troutstream.  The Prof works for “another big ad agency” in NYC and commutes from Chicago to NY for work each week, staying in his little pad he calls The Treehouse.  He’s earned his nickname because even though he’s been an ad man for more than 30 years, we all know he’d rather be teaching marketing part time at some university in a western state somewhere, and spending the rest of his time in waders, waist deep in a trout stream, going all catch and release on the local rainbows.

The Prof has been doing the NYC thing for a lot of years, and has some favorites.  He shares my love of funky, off the beaten path places, and so he recommended a choice of either Donohue’s Steakhouse on Lexington at 65th street, or an Italian joint called Mimi’s on 2nd Ave in the 50s.  He was selling Mimi’s on the information that it has a piano bar featuring one guy who “look’s like Eddie Money’s love child and can’t sing for siccum” and the next guy who “no shit, goes by ‘Chicken Delicious’ and plays a mean piano”.

We didn’t set out to go to both places – we made a reservation at Donohue’s at 7:00.  Donohue’s, if it were in Wisconsin, would be called the local “Supper Club”.  It is like 1968 arrived and the clock stopped in there.  Except for the aging of the patrons, who all looked like they might have been in their 40s in 1968 but, father time marches on.  I walked in, every head at the bar swiveled to take me in, I said “Hello!” to the bartender, which was greeted by a “harumph!”  The two 20-something waitresses were also appropriately rude to the new comer, although when I started asking about the food, and started talking cocktails with the bartender, he warmed up.

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The Prof arrived, we took a booth and he and I both ordered the same thing – filets medium rare, salad with blue cheese dressing, baked potato and sautéed spinach.  The food is outstanding and a huge value – where  in NYC can you get a prime steak dinner with all that stuff for about $40.  Of course the bar bill ran up the tab a wee bit, but the value there was stunning.  This place is definitely a “must do” for anyone wanting a delicious meal in NYC in a funky atmosphere with interesting people watching.

After some great conversation and getting a kick out of watching the local/regulars cycle in and out, we decided to walk back to our respective abodes, and as we approached Lex and 54th, the Prof said “hell Stew, let’s play two.  We can get to Mimi’s just in time for the second show.”  Hey … you all know me, I’m always all in on more fun.

Let’s play two indeed!

Now mind you, when the Prof was selling the idea of Eddie Money’s Love Child and a piano player named Chicken Delicious, well, I figured this was all “good copy”.  He is an ad man after all.  But NOOOO.  Truth in advertising baby.  We arrived just as Eddie Money’s Love Child was giving up the piano and Mr. Delicious himself was taking over.  Chicken Delicious is about 75, EXTREMELY flamboyantly gay and positively hilarious.  At the same time, he’s also a virtuoso piano player with hundreds and hundreds of songs committed to memory.  One of his especially interesting things he does is get into costume for various songs … he put on a two-piece Billy Joel mask to sing Piano Man, put on a stocking cap with long braids coming out of it for “You are always on my mind” by Willy Nelson, and etc.  Awesome.  And he tells stories and interacts with the crowd and will rubber band his iPhone to his forehead with a message on it and more.  Truly a great entertainer.  He said he grew up in Mississippi and by my guess, being as flamboyant as he was, well, had a rough time of it growing up.  But now, he makes his living entertaining tourists and regulars at a place called Mimi’s in NYC.  Here’s a couple of shots of Chicken Delicious himself:

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The best thing about New York is stuff like this.  You can find things that you just can’t make up, everywhere you turn.

The last two days of my trip were filled with two straight days of meetings with the senior leadership team of my company, iProspect. Ordinarily I’d look at two straight days of time spent in a conference room, looking at power points and listening to speakers with the same amount of excitement I’d give to having a colonoscopy – but not at all in this case.  Meetings like this are why I joined this company – it’s an extremely well-run organization and the senior leadership team are a great bunch of really bright folks.  We had a great finish to 2013 which has put us in a place to have an amazing 2014, we’ve got a bunch of work to do in 2014 to put initiatives in place that began developing in 2013 that will drive the business even higher.

So, is there a point to all this?  Yes, a small one.  But an important one – you find the bits of amazing when you go off the beaten path.  One of the big themes of our leadership meeting was “going outside of our comfort zone” … and it’s true.  Outside the comfort zone is where great stuff, great fun, great memories, great adventures and more happen.

I say it to anyone I talk to who has never been to New York City.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a small town person or a big city person.  If you haven’t enjoyed a few days in New York City, then your life’s adventures are seriously missing something.

As you were,

Stew

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It’s a POLAR VORTEX ladies and gentlemen!

6 Jan

Polar vortex.  Historic cold wave. Subzero. Dangerous wind chills.  Coldest in 20 years! Flesh will freeze!  Auuughhhh!

Ok, yeah it is f’ing cold out there.  Yup, it really hasn’t been this cold in 20 years, I guess.  (Hello all you global warming naysayers, there’s a data point for you …)  That said, I really don’t like to play the “well when I was a kid” card, but hell … when I was a kid …

… I remember it routinely got to -20 in Central Iowa during January.  We were sort of proud of it!  “Booyeah!  20 Below!”  If it was promised to hit -20 and it “only” got to -19 or so, we were disappointed.

… We weren’t horrified of the cold, we were fascinated by it.  Different things happen when it’s that cold.  One of my friends always liked to say he could feel the boogers freezing in his nose.  If you wore a scarf over your mouth, you’d get a “frost beard” on your scarf by the time you got done walking to school (yes, we WALKED to school!).  You’d do things just to see how cold it was – spit on the sidewalk, pee in the snow (“Really, I swear it froze into an icicle on the way down!”), and of course the continual dares to lick the flagpole, although I don’t ever recall enacting that famous scene from A Christmas Story.

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… Never, EVER burned a snow day on cold weather that I remember.  Didn’t happen.

… I can remember heading out to ski and sled in the back yard of our second house when the temps were below zero.  You just wore extra clothes and came in a bit sooner.  And the hot chocolate tasted that much better.

… Growing up, in our first house, we had an ice rink in our back yard – so much fun skating around back there.  Every night my mom would go outside with a bucket of water to groom the ice – no Zamboni – just pour fresh water on the ice.  On below zero days though (which were common …), sometimes the water would roll out across the ice and stop – creating a bumpy surface that sucked for hockey … but it’s just what happened.  No one thought much about it.

… Remember cars had carburetors back then?  That’s when you really had to worry about the car starting.  Carbs don’t like cold – the engine running right depends on fuel atomization into a mist, and that little process doesn’t work well in below-zero temps.  Nowadays?  Fuel injection and computers – turn the key, start cranking and when the computer senses things are at the right conditions, it squirts the fuel in and bang – no problem.  Biggest thing you need to worry about is keeping a full tank and a good battery.

… I remember my dad’s cold weather routine with the cars – both cars had engine block heaters that you’d plug in at night, so we had cords running all over the driveway – both were plugged into an outlet that was controlled by a switch in the kitchen.  For some reason, my dad thought it wasn’t smart to leave them plugged in overnight or he was just too frugal for that, so he’d wake up super early – 5:00 AM or so, and go down and “flip the switch” to turn on the engine heaters.  The mantra was if you had to wake up to pee in the middle of the night, then you needed to go flip the switch in the kitchen.  If it was going to be colder than 20-below, then the routine was modified to go outside and start both cars about 10 PM and let them both run for 20 minutes to come to operating temp (ah, cheap gas …) before going to bed.

… the other big, important thing was to go get the milk from the milk box (remember those?) before it froze.  The milk man from Anderson-Erickson dairy would deliver our order every other day (1 half-gallon “homo” – I don’t think they use THAT term any more for whole milk – 1 half gallon “skim”, 1 quart Tropicana OJ) at about 5:00 AM and on 20-below zero days, the milk would start to freeze pretty quickly, so immediately after “flipping the switch” you needed to get to the milk box by the door to bring it in.

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… on super cold days like this, we’d have school, but we’d have indoor recess, and that was always fun – you’d head to the gym and basically have a free-for-all – it was like disorganized gym class.  Occasionally, they’d organize something for recess like a show, or music, or something and you’d have to go sit in the gym, which sucked, because the point of recess was that we had been sitting too long and were needing to jump around.

So, as I sit on this empty train, and it’s a chilly -10 outside with a -35 wind chill, I think, would this train have been empty 40 years ago?  Nope.  We didn’t have 24×7 news cycles, The Weather Channel, social media, You Tube videos, etc. all telling us that hell is officially freezing over.  So we just soldiered on.

Maybe we need more soldiering on in this world.

As you were,

Stew

The dark part of winter

2 Jan

Well, Christmas is old news.  New Year’s was the day before yesterday.  Now we head into what I always think of as the darkest part of winter.

The days are of course getting longer, but they are starting from a very short place on December 21.  With the end of the holidays comes the end of holiday decorations and all the lights associated with that.  The weather tends to be fairly “iffy” – with clouds and snow or rain being the dominant feature.  Sunny days tend to be bone-chilling cold as the weather that supports having sunny days is, guess what?, ARCTIC high pressure systems – cold fronts from the North Pole. So even when we get a sunny day, it comes with a nasty price tag.

Ok this sounds like a bit of whining, and it is exactly that.  Winter’s only been rolling about 4 weeks now and already I’m bitching?  No, not really.  The snow is beautiful, and well, if we’re going to have to deal with cold, we might as well have the beauty of snow to go with it.

So, what’s my problem, you say?  Well, my problem is that I think decorating outdoors with lights is a fine idea that’s wasted on Christmas.  Now, those that know me, know I grew up in that religion that celebrates Christmas, and now I’m Jewish.  And, those that know me, know we celebrate Christmas with my family, so please, don’t think this is a bash on Christmas.  It’s not – sorry, Sarah Palin, you won’t get the satisfaction of saying I’m a Jew waging war on Christmas.

My point is that, well, the lights are pretty.  They break the darkness that is winter from January until the middle of March.  But for some reason, it’s a) in bad taste to run your outdoor light decorations all winter long; and b) decorating outdoors with lights somehow is the exclusive property of those that celebrate Christmas.  Wouldn’t it be fun to drive down your street every night coming home after work and each house is festively lit up a bit, or a pretty tree is decorated with lights?

And what about us Jews?  Wait a minute – isn’t Hannukah THE FESTIVAL OF FREAKIN’ LIGHTS?  So why don’t we seize the tradition and show everyone that we OWN THE LIGHT.  But nope, we instead light a handful of forlorn skinny candles that burn out in 20 minutes, sing a couple of songs in a minor key and we keep the outside of our houses dark.  Honestly, my tribal pals, I do think we can dial up the Festival part of the Festival of Lights a bit.

I’m sure every one of us has enjoyed going to a restaurant somewhere where they have the trees, or the patio, or whatnot, decorated festively with twinkly little lights in the summer time. Why don’t we decorate our houses with those in the winter? Let’s add a little glow to the darkness, gang!

Over our patio, we have a very large pergola – a large trellis-like structure that provides some shelter and dappled shade in the summer.  For parties and such, I’ve strung it with lights, and after our last big party out there, my 50th birthday, we left them up and turned on until the string completely burned out.  But you know what, it was festive.

Light up the night folks – those with lights up – do me a favor – leave them on a bit longer this year. I won’t say anything bad about you for doing it.  Take them down of course when the snow is gone and it’s no longer dark at 6:00 PM, but for now, in the coldest, darkest part of winter?  Leave them on.  As for me?  Well, it’s too damn cold for me to go put anything up, but just maybe next year, I’ll do some outdoor lights – I’ll find a light up Star of David or Menorah to make sure I’m representin’ the tribe correctly, but I think I’ll do it.

The famous quote is “tis better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness”.  Well, how about we light up a few hundred twinkly lights instead?

As you were,
Stew

Meet the New Year … same as the old year!

2 Jan

Ah, the ritual greeting of the New Year.  The calendar turns. You have to get used to writing a new date on checks (although who the hell writes many checks anymore what with e-banking).  Celebrations are had – champagne popped, fireworks shot off, Auld Lang Syne is sung, etc.  New laws are announced.  And people make New Year’s Resolutions.  That are promptly forgotten. 

I put on my Facebook wall yesterday that I’m not much for New Year’s Resolutions.  My feeling is if you’re going to commit to something, commit to it.  Why do you need a big milestone to do so?  That said, I made a rough list of things I want to do more and less of … that’s here:

– more guitar playing and singing. Perhaps some lessons too!
– more time spent on reading, less time on social media (yes, I said that.)
– more investment in learning to cook more inventively and more healthy cooking
– more eating healthy meals, less crap. Dabble in vegetarian/vegan meals.
– more talking and joking about bacon. Per above, less eating it.
– more exercise, less sloth. 
– more time spent with friends I don’t see often
– more time spent with family I don’t see often
– less worrying, more positive planning, less stress, more action
– NO big DIY home improvement projects (three were enough for 2014 – sheesh!) instead, finish all the little details on things that I’ve been wanting to finish.

And as I hopped on the train this morning, I thought to myself … and more writing in my blog.

As you know, my muse has been sparse to visit me this past year. I think after the challenges of 2012 I had with health and all, and then my focus in spring of 2013 of making a career change – something that found me but nonetheless took a ton of energy and more than 5 months to close the deal, I was sort of out of topics.  I hope that changes this year.  I’m going to make much more use of the features of WordPress to be able to post interesting content – photos, quotations, reposting of other blogs and more.  I’ll post more about food and cooking, and of course will use my observational capabilities to your enjoyment.  There’s quite a few folks on my train still to introduce you to, plus I’m commuting by bus from the train station to the office right now and that’s a bit of it’s own trip.  So, more “railroaded” posts to come.  I’ll also be traveling a ton for biz, so that’s a good ripe topic to mine as well.

A quick bit of observation for you this morning – it started snowing in Chicago the day before yesterday and it hasn’t let up yet.   That’s 36 hours of straight snowfall, and it might go all the way to 48 hours what with this lake effect thing that has kicked in and is just POURING snow from the sky.  That observation on its own isn’t remarkable.  We live in Chicago. Snow is what happens here in the winter and the lake effect is part of it.

But what is remarkable, always, is how Chicago just sucks it up and deals with it. Living in Iowa growing up, it snowed there too of course – and pretty much the streets were covered with packed ice and snow from mid-December through mid-February.  Highways would often be “tracked” versus clear, and well, that’s how it was.  They weren’t very effective in making it go away.  Here in Chicago on the other hand, fates of Mayoral careers (hello, Michael Bilandic, it’s Jane Byrne calling!) have hung in the balance.  It snows here, and by G-d the city just keeps on going.  Plows are rolling by constantly and a dried ocean of salt is poured on the streets to keep them from icing up.  Usually, within 4-6 hours of the end of a snow storm, the streets are completely clear of snow and ice from curb to curb.  The expressways generally only get wet and slushy during a snow – only when it’s really cold and therefore, the salt isn’t working well, do they get badly snow packed.  It takes an immense blizzard to stop this city.

And it just gets more beautiful with a layer of snow.  I can’t wait to be downtown today and look out at the city from my office windows.

So … Happy New Year, my dear readers.  Have a great day.  Here in Chicago, we’re having a snow day, but it’s not a Snow Day. 

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