Traveling Through Time

Waking up to the dulcet tones of Soterios Johnson, my morning routine is always the same: listen to the news of the day and wait until he tells me the current temperature in Central Park, for only then will I get out of bed. From there I pad down the hall to the kitchen to make coffee before settling down in my office to write.

February 1, 2013. A day that centers around two New York historical figures — legendary mayor Ed Koch who died today and Grand Central Terminal celebrates its centennial.

Grand Central with all its opulence and grandeur. The turquoise fresco that draws your eyes up to the heavens where celestial bodies watch over passengers as they bustle through corridors to train platforms or out onto 42nd Street. When I lived in New York I was fortunate to work on 42nd Street and thanks to the 4/5/6 train, I could enter/exit Grand Central Terminal on a daily basis if I wanted but usually avoided due to the crush of people (opting instead of a small exit down on 42nd and 3rd). Just standing in the main concourse of Grand Central you can feel the electricity in your bones, the spirit of how train travel used to be (one could say the same of Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station and part of Washington DC’s Union Station).

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A Twinge of Nostalgia

Confession: I miss New York. Or to be more precise, I miss living in New York.

It’s been a little over a year and a half since I said good-bye to the frenetic city streets, concrete and high rises to follow my heart to New Jersey. To be fair, I feel perfectly at home and content in a town 15 minutes from the beach, where, on a quiet and clear Friday night the light of the full moon blankets my bedroom in a luminescent glow. But lately, when I travel to the city for my weekly NYC work day, I find myself falling back into my old rhythm, taking up that brisk-paced walk, weaving through throngs of tourists and motoring to my destination with a longing in my heart for this loud, dirty city. It’s a comfort, a place I know well, even though it’s constantly changing – small bodegas being gobbled up by Starbucks and now (gasp) Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. It is always New York — vibrant and alive, diverse and eclectic.

It’s the distinct New York-ness that kept me there, longer than I thought and made it hard to say good-bye. But this new feeling of “missing” my old place of residence has me wondering, why?

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What a Difference a Year Makes

A little over a year ago, an event occurred that changed my life. Or at least it changed my writing life.

The New York Times Travel Show, the veritable institution of journalism excellence brought together the best and the brightest from the travel industry to share with commoners (like myself) and members of the travel media (of which I aspire to belong). Sitting in the travel media sessions, learning about cultivating your persona (or brand) online, I realized that my first foray into blogging didn’t really seem to have a strong purpose and direction. Sure, it was fun to write stories about my life in NYC, but it was a bit insular and only of interest to its participants (but dang, it was funny).

Sitting in the basement of the Javits Center, listening to noted travel bloggers and writers talking about their websites and online “presence”, I was inspired to begin anew. This time, focusing on my love of travel and writing. It seemed easy enough. Thanks to WordPress and some creativity I had a place to begin. Or so I thought.

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Finding Home

Sitting down to write today’s blog post and it dawned on me that as of today, I will have written for two weeks consecutively. That’s Monday – Sunday (x2), an accomplishment in and of itself. Seeing today’s 30 Days of Indie Travel Project email, I smiled. A part of every journey is coming home. Whether it’s returning to someplace familiar or setting off in a new direction — it’s more a feeling and a sense of contentment than any physical address.

Day 13: Home

For some people, no matter how much they love traveling, there’s always no place like home. Other travelers make their homes wherever they happen to be. Tell us about your home – where is it and why do you consider it your home? 

Until I moved to New York, I never really had a settle down type of life. I always craved the next job or city — the prospect of moving to a new place, starting a new job and meeting new people held a certain allure. When the prospect of first moving to New York presented itself, I questioned it. Could I live to New York? My time in Boston for grad school had me questioning whether Nor’easters were worth the fall foliage and proximity to Fenway Park. New York was an entirely different beast.

Fast forward seven years and after six on the isle of Manhattan, I’ve moved yet again, this time across the Hudson over to New Jersey. A place I swore I would never live,* is a place I now call home. It’s here I find my respite from the daily grind, where I can hole up with a good book, write a story, spend time with friends and loved ones.

Until now, I had always eschewed a permanent residence, always treating my apartments as temporary dwellings. No need to invest in furniture or nice art, after all, it was never meant to be my actual home. Our place is an eclectic mix of our personalities and artifacts from our travels. The buddha head Marc bought in India, the cedar box with Mandarin carvings from the flea market I went to in Beijing are just two mementos that are sprinkled throughout our home that bring a smile to my face when I pass them. Marc and I sometimes wax wanderlust about places we could move to — at this stage, what the future will bring is anyone’s guess. But wherever we go, the relics from our past travels will come with us.

This post actually fits with a new favorite song, which reminds me of Marc. The aptly named, “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes is poetically beautiful, captures the feeling of love and damn, it’s catchy. The chorus is simple and I think best summarizes what domestic bliss means to me, “home is wherever I’m with you.”

*Note: my preconceived notions of New Jersey were formed by relatively few trips in/around the Newark area. I couldn’t understand why it was called “The Garden State” until friends moved to Middletown, NJ. They helped me see the light and in fact, thanks to their daughter’s first birthday, introduced me to my boyfriend and current roommate. 

My Favorite Mistake

Day 4 and already the cracks are starting to show. A long day at work and the last thing I want to do is write. Yet, I know that once I get going and see the finished post at the end of it, a sense of accomplishment will wash over me. So, owing to the commitment I made to myself, I will soldier on and get down to it. After all, a challenge is a challenge.

Day 4: Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. We forget to ask for Coke without ice in Mexico and spend the rest of the trip in the bathroom. Or we arrive at the airport for a 7pm flight only to realize the flight left at 7am. Tell us the story of your worst travel mistake.

Thinking back on my travels, I don’t recall mistakes per se. Sure things didn’t go as planned or I exhibited some less than stellar judgement, but in all honesty that’s what travel is all about. It’s getting outside of your comfort zone, experiencing something new and finding out about yourself in the process. So when I think back to my illustrious travel career a couple of doozies spring to mind.

1) Mistakes in Transit: nothing is worse than showing up at the airport and realizing you: a) got the flight time wrong b) are at the wrong terminal/airline or c) my personal fave…at the WRONG airport. Yup. You read that right. Wrong airport. I was 16, a junior in high school and my dad was taking me to Colorado to check out colleges. I would like to state, for the record, that my dad is the quintessential traveler. A man who made his living in sales and marketing, he traversed the globe racking up more frequent flier miles than he could ever redeem (he’s still trying to this day). He booked our tickets through his trusty travel agent, Ruth, and the trip began like any other. My dad packed up the Grand Marquis and off we went to John Wayne airport. Drop off the car, head to the terminal where the booking agent explains to us gently that we’re in the wrong place. I’ve never seen my dad look so flabbergasted in all my life, he actually sputtered, “No, no. It couldn’t. It couldn’t be. Ruth. Ruth. She knows never to book me out of LAX.” With a quick turn on his heel, we grabbed our bags, ran to the car and hit the 405. While we missed our first flight, we thankfully caught the next. And to this very day, I always triple check my departure airport (especially handy in NJ where there are three major airports in the vicinity).

2) Mistakes of Epic Libation: I know, I know. You’re shocked that alcohol could be a factor in travel mistakes. Wish I could say I was free from this error in judgement. But you’re out, you’re having fun, your friend shouts out, “One more round!” And you think, why not? What’s the worst that could happen? Besides, I’ve always been the girl who will stay to the bitter end for fearing of missing a funny moment that would turn into an even funnier story. As a result, I’ve been known to consume one too many for fear of missing out (the FOMs as my friend Deneen calls it). And since I’m all about the story, it would be a travesty to leave. Case in point? Heading out to a Thanksgiving party instead of packing for my trip home when I was in grad school. Stayed out too late, had a cocktail or two, but didn’t miss out. Instead, I had a brilliantly fun and zany night out with my friend Neda that involved a heated debate over Weezer’s blue album. Needless to say, I woke up late, haphazardly packed and nearly missed my flight home since I fell asleep at the gate at Boston Logan. Did I mention I forgot to call my parents and let them know when I was arriving? Thank goodness for layovers, where I was able to call my dad and let him know my arrival time. Not my finest moment – and now preserved on my blog.

3) Mistakes of Forgetfulness & Theft: Picture me: an 18 year-old girl living in London for the summer. It’s 1994, ATMs weren’t the preferred method to procure cash, so Amex traveler’s checks were the way to go. After a week of living in the hostel, it was time to strike out on my own and get a sublet. I head to the local bureau de change and flush with GBPs, I settle into the cubby area at the hostel to call the 5+ flats on my list. Not having much luck, I settle back in the common area and peruse the daily paper for additional housing gems. About 5 minutes into my search, I jump up with a start. My wallet! On top of the phone! I race down the hall and see it perched on top of the phone. Just where I left it. Heaving a sigh of relief I walked back to the couch and flipped open my wallet to find it…empty. All my freshly exchanged pound notes. Gone. A frantic call back to my parents (middle of the night for them…natch) and they thankfully helped me get back on my feet. But lesson learned: I’ve never set my wallet down anywhere since — grab what you need and put it away. Perhaps I’m a little obsessive, but you lose your hard-earned cash at 18, you learn quickly.

And so, there you have it. My trifecta of mistakes or as I prefer to look at, opportunities to learn a bit more about myself. And besides, they make for good stories. So I’ve got that going for me.

The Three Bs: The Beach, Boardwalk and Bruce

Tillie @ The Wonder Bar

Asbury is by far my most favorite beach town on the Jersey Shore. It could be because it was my first shore town or the fact that my boyfriend and I strolled along these very sands when he told me he loved me for the first time. Even without these memories, Asbury Park has inexplicably drawn me in with its perfect blend of history, spunk and individuality.

Take for example its prominent landmarks, Convention Hall and the Casino, which bookend the boardwalk and tell the tale of another time. A time when Asbury was a regal seaside town and the place to be. Truth be told, it kicks my imagination into overdrive and I find myself thinking of swimming costumes and women with parasols strolling alongside the beautiful, briny sea.

However, these same structures also tell the tale of a town that has weathered some serious storms, and not just the saltwater and weather variety. From a generational shift in summer retreats to the riots of the 70s, as I understand it, the tumultuous history of Asbury Park could fill multiple blog posts. It’s a history that I have yet to really dive into, let alone fully understand. Suffice it to say, Asbury Park has a healthy dose of remembering its past and an eclectic group of inhabitants that breathe new life into it, giving it its “rough around the edges” image and a solid place in my heart.

As for the third B, no post about Asbury could be complete without mentioning the illustrious Bruce Springsteen who put The Stone Pony on the map and made this town famous with his first album, “Greetings from Asbury Park.” Truth be told, I’m not the biggest fan, but now that Asbury and I are kindred spirits, I feel I may have unfairly overlooked Bruce. Note to self: rectify this immediately.

And while this post barely scratches the surface, I hope I’ve done it justice and given you an insight into this seaside jewel. So, if you find yourself pondering where to go on the Jersey Shore, may I recommend Asbury Park. To sweeten the deal, here are some favorite pearls.

Know & Go: Asbury Park

  • You can surf in Asbury. North of the boardwalk, there is a small dirt parking lot (note: you have to pay to park here now* – bummer) where you can find a decent break off the jetty. It’s not always consistent, but if there’s a swell there will likely be a crowd. Worth checking out
  • Say you had your morning surf session and want to keep that stoked feeling all day, where do you grub up? Why, Sunset Landing of course! Set on Deal Lake, this small, unassuming luncheonette whips up the best breakfast grub with a distinctly Polynesian flair along with NJ breakfast staples (read: pork roll). Try the Hawaiian bread french toast — it’s like a little taste of the islands at the Shore
  • Convention Hall is the flagship of Asbury Park. Easily recognizable, it’s a shame that it has fallen into a bit of disrepair, but has a lot of character and history to make up for it. I love looking at the blown up old tickets that are poster-sized and lined the walls inside. It makes me curious as to what this place was like in its heyday. Notable acts over the years have included: The Beach Boys, The Who and Bruce (natch). In fact, Bob Dylan is playing next weekend
  • Roller Derby is alive and well here, thanks to the Jersey Shore Roller Girls. I’ve been to two matches this season and I’m hooked. It could also be the $6 Yuengling in a can and watching the girls take the corners with that skate crossover move and a body check. Oh, and I love the creativity in each girl’s handle: M8T, Black Eye Betty and Tamel Toe Stomper to name a few. I have writer’s block just trying to come up with something even one iota as clever. Simply put, these girls rock
  • And say you want to take a break from the boardwalk and experience another slice of Americana. How about Asbury Lanes? Or “The Lanes” for those in the know. Here you can bowl 10 frames, listen to live music, grab a bbq tofu sammie w/ tots at “Snack World” (the most aptly named snack bar I’ve come across in my 34 years) and a frosty brew at the retro, 60s-style bar
  • Asbury also has some stellar cuisine and establishments that rival my former city’s offerings. From Langosta Lounge (vacation-inspired), Brickwall Tavern (good pub grub and beer on tap) and Trinity and the Pope (Cajun Creole – can you say collard greens mac ‘n cheese?), you can eat your way to happiness

Hope to see you there!

*Note: Coastal access is a hot button issue along the Jersey Shore right now. I’m attending a Jersey Shore Surfrider meeting next weekend to get involved. So you can bet there will be a post in the future.

The Jersey Shore: An Introduction

Ocean City, NJ

Growing up, my next door neighbor John was a tall, boisterous man. Born and raised in West Orange, New Jersey, he had a non-descript accent you couldn’t quite place, which really only came out when he tried to say my name. Instead of pronouncing it “air-in”, John called me “uhr-un” in a declarative way that would make you think he had a bone to pick with me. The life of the party with a wicked and bawdy sense of humor, John was, to me, my only exposure to the Garden State until I moved to New York in 2004.

Although truth be told, I don’t often think of John. Life gets busy and you don’t often have time to remember those “halcyon days of yore” — that is, until your parents come to town. For the Graves family, it seems that every time we get together there is a good amount of time spent reminiscing. This trip was no exception as the conversation inevitably turned to John, our Garden State ambassador and his opinions about what to see and do when my parents came to NJ for the first time. One mandate, “visit the Shore.”

Of course, for my generation the Jersey Shore conjures ups the MTV set (as much as it pains me to type that), but for the vast majority of the population, the Jersey Shore represents a summertime tradition. Weeks spent holed up in a shore town, days spent lounging on the sand, cruising the boardwalk for beach treats and diversions (with everything from amusement park rides to mini-golf). There is something distinct about the Jersey Shore — maybe it’s the blend of beach, boardwalks and barrier islands — that you don’t find in other beach towns.

I know some may be upset by the previous statement. To be fair, as someone who grew up on the beaches in Southern California, I’m the first to admit that a beach in one city is fairly similar to another, they tend to offer a laid-back vibe and easy-going attitude that can only be attributed to the ebb and flow of the ocean (it just instills a peacefulness and appreciation of its natural glory). But there is just something about the Jersey Shore I can’t quite put my finger on. No doubt it will give me plenty of blog fodder.

Stay tuned…