Day 390 (aka Christmas)

Merry Christmas everyone (who celebrates Christmas)!

This is actually the second time I’ve spent this holiday away from my family. The first one happened the year I moved to NYC. Since I arrived in the city at the end of November, I thought it kind of silly to pack up and fly home a few weeks later—plus it cost an arm and a leg. I spent the day wandering around Times Square, which was completely empty. Let me tell you; it was a sight to behold. I bet very few people out there have ever seen Times Square without thousands of people mulling about. It was actually a really special moment, because there was a light snow coming down and the weather was just perfect. It’s an image I’ll never forget. Though I followed that up with a visit to this random diner in Queens and the food ended up making me sick. So, I like to chalk the whole thing up as a wash.

But despite its flaws, I’ve decided to try for a similar adventure today. This afternoon I’m going to walk around Market Street in the Financial District, as I assume it’ll be rather empty as well. I then plan on picking out a new movie to see (I say new, because I ended up watching The Interview online yesterday) and heading to one of the city's many diners to chow down. Hopefully, my stomach will be more forgiving this time around.

Those are my plans for the day and I’m sure they’re far different than yours. I just ask that whatever you’re doing today—whether celebrating or not—enjoy it. Every holiday is unique and you should never let it pass you by just because things don’t go as planned.

Merry Christmas everyone,

-Steve-

Day 253

The Mall of America.

As an advertising professional, I’d be remiss if I didn’t venture to the place many consider the mecca of consumerism in the US. So, during my second weekend here in Minneapolis, I hopped a train down to the land of endless stores and merchandise. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of malls. They’re always filled with people I normally try to avoid. But, this is one of those rare occasions where I felt compelled to actually step foot inside.

My initial reaction was that it seems a lot bigger on television. Don’t get me wrong, it is a gigantic place. But all of those clever camera tricks they use make it seem a lot bigger than it actually is. The building itself is 3 stories tall—with a fourth that houses a few bars and restaurants—and broken into four wings. I managed to cover the entire place in just under an hour and that’s when the disappointment started to set in. For some reason, I assumed all of the stores would offer something special—much like the eye-catching shops in Times Square. Yet, they were just stores. The same ones you find in just about every other mall across the country. Sure, this mall features two Victoria’s Secrets and 5 or 6 Starbucks, but at the end of the day, how much lingerie and coffee does one need? I’d say the most redeeming quality of the entire shopping area has to be the various food courts. They offered just about everything, from a Benihana and Tony Roma’s to a Bubba Gump Shrimp and Chipotle—not your typical mall fare.

Of course, if this was just a giant mall, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. That’s why the Nickelodeon-themed amusement park that sits in the center of the building is such a selling point for me (and I’m sure many of the families that visit). At first glance, I assumed there wouldn’t be much for me to do, since every ride is named after a cartoon character. But I soon learned that wasn’t true. I ended up riding three of the park’s rollercoasters and boy, for being indoors, they sure are some hair-raisers. In particular, the SpongeBob coaster has a hill that goes straight up at a 90º angle and then drops you back down the same exact way. Oh and then it offers two loops for good measure. Is it for kids? I doubt it, but that’s what I found surprising about the park. It truly offered something for everyone.

In all honesty, the mall does have a lot more to offer than what I was able to take in. There's an aquarium, a movie theatre, a comedy club and several rotating exhibits, which currently include CSI: The Experience, the Barbie Dream House Experience and Star Trek: The Exhibit, among others. The one downside to all of these things though is the added price tag. I'm sure some of them are rather enjoyable, but I just couldn't bring myself to fork over the dough. However, I did want to make mention of them, as they too are a strong selling point for the overall experience. 

Would I ever take a destination vacation to The Mall of America? Nah. But after visiting, I really see the appeal to families. It’s an experience unlike any other and given that there’s a hotel connected to one of the wings, it’s easy to pop by for a weekend and indulge in just about anything your heart desires. In the end, I think it does bring something special to the area, especially during the frigid winter months. When there's 8 feet of snow outside, I imagine this place almost seems like a wonderland of sorts. All I know is, if I ever go back, I’m getting a room for the night and hitting up Cinnabon and Auntie Anne’s pretzels for an all night bender of sugar, cinnamon and sweet, sweet icing. You just can’t get more American than that! 

-Steve-

Day Eighty Five

Indeed it is.

This past weekend was a much-welcomed break from the chills of winter. I did my best to take full advantage of the warm, sunny days by venturing into some of my favorite neighborhoods and even did some mid-afternoon reading at Union Square Park. Looking around, you could tell everyone else had the same idea too. The sidewalks were more crowded than I’d seen them since Super Bowl weekend.

Of course, all of that walking gave me plenty of time to think too. As I strolled through the Meatpacking District in Manhattan, I came across the High Line—a section of repurposed train tracks that now houses a gorgeous public green space. It instantly reminded me just how many projects are in progress to transform NYC into a city of tomorrow.

It’s too common that NYC gets a bad rap for being dirty and overcrowded. Sure, that may ring true for some areas of the city, but that can be said about any major metropolitan area. I’d argue that now, more than ever, the city and several private companies are trying to shed these preconceptions with a variety of green space and tech developments aimed at attracting more young professionals to the area.  We’ve already seen the addition of new bike lanes and public spaces in areas such as Times Square, but those only scratch the surface of what this city has planned for the future.

The weekly Farmers' Market at Union Square Park.

The Low Line, which takes its cues from its sister High Line, is billed as the world’s first underground park. Utilizing innovative solar technology, the project aims to transform an historic trolley terminal into a stunning park underneath the Lower East Side. Although negotiations are still underway, several elected officials support the project, which is looking to complete construction in 2018.

Roosevelt Island, that weird space under the Queensboro Bridge, is being transformed into Cornell Tech’s new campus through a joint partnership between the city and Cornell University. Designed to be one of the most forward-thinking campuses in the US, the new Cornell Tech will be utilized to fast track tech careers in the area, encourage a greater presence from tech companies in the city overall, and provide a space to explore the potential of tomorrow’s tech.

These are just a few of the innovative investments the city and its partners have made recently. From the expansion of the LIRR with East Side Access, to the area-wide rollout of Citibike, New York City is ensuring it’s not left in the dust when it comes to attracting lucrative start-ups and young professionals. While there’s still a long way to go, it’s encouraging to see the city make such a sweeping effort to lead the future. I actually saw Cleveland making similar motions before my departure too. It goes to show that even if a city isn't your best fit now, you should always keep an eye on where it’s going. In the end, it might turn out to be a good place to call home after all.  

-Steve-