"Know York" – Week Three: Chelsea

Yeah, yeah, yeah… this is delayed but it’s HERE!

Week Three: Chelsea, Manhattan
Where is that exactly?
On the West Side of Manhattan, Chelsea is just below Hell’s Kitchen and the Garment District, and just above Greenwich Village and the Meatpacking District. The neighborhood stretches from the Hudson River across to Sixth Avenue. Both the A-C-E and 1-2-3 subway lines run through Chelsea, but I decided to stretch out my walk and get off the 7 train at 5th Avenue/Bryant Park (nearest cross-street 42nd).
History:

Chelsea was named for the the Moore family’s Federal-style house of the same name, which took its name from the manor of Chelsea, near London. “Chelsea” occupied a full block between Ninth and Tenth Avenues south of 23rd Street, but was later replaced by high quality row houses in the mid-19th century. By 1900, the neighborhood was primarily Irish, and was home to the many workers of the Piers. The borders of Chelsea had also expanded from Eighth Avenue all the way to Sixth Avenue. Before World War I, Chelsea was an early center for the motion picture industry. Today, the neighborhood is mostly residential, with a good mix of tenements, apartments, and rehabilitated warehousing. A large gay population thrives here, as well as an increasing number of art galleries, excellent nightlife, and diverse restaurants.


And what did you do?

Well, as I mentioned, I started my walk from Bryant Park near Times Square, and headed down Sixth Avenue (the Eastern-most border of Chelsea). Along this stretch, one can find multitudes of craft stores and whole-sale priced bags and shoes. I happened to come across a row of Bead shops, where I spotted this amazing seating area outside “for husbands.” (You might have to click on the picture to get a better view.) I then cut in West on 37th to walk by the infamous fabric store “Mood” – if you watch Project Runway, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This area of NYC was particularly inspiring for me, as I have lately been thinking that I’d like to start some sewing projects. It has been sew long. [Insert obligatory laugh to Ashley’s pun here.] I was a little intimidated to actually step inside Mood, so I resolved to instead stand from across the street and stare. Maybe I can work up the courage for next time… Next, I headed down 7th Avenue, or the aptly-named “Fashion Avenue” and continued to gawk at the beautiful fabrics in shop windows – though it should not be withheld that there were MANY horrendous-looking displays down Fashion Avenue. Satisfied with my findings in this part of the neighborhood, I headed further West and then down 10th Avenue to end up in the Gallery District of Chelsea. Walking West on 24th Street, I popped into a number of exquisite galleries – my favorite of which was the Yigal Ozeri collection at the Mike Weiss Gallery. Filling full of culture, I realized that my belly was devoid of food, so I continued down 10th and over to the teens. I was surrounded by some beautiful architecture here, and even came across a church which offers its services in German! I must add here that… I want to live in Chelsea sooooooo bad. Sew bad. It’s the neighborhood that houses the UCB Theater, it’s just below the Theater District of Times Square, walking distance to great art/culture/dining/nightlife. What more could you ask for? Anyhow… around the corner, I found myself at Room Service at 18th Street and 8th Avenue. This Thai restaurant is a self-proclaimed “Bangkok Contemporary Kitchen” and boasts an extensive menu plus a lavish and creative dining-room concept. The idea is that you should feel like you are in a fancy hotel dining by, you guessed it- Room Service. I ordered the $6 lunch special, which included Pad Thai and a green salad with peanut dressing – a great deal for some fantastic service! $6.00 + $1.50 = $7.50 spent. Chelsea Market, on 9th Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets. This “industrial-chic hotspot” resides in the historic Nabisco factory, which now houses gourmet restaurants and stores, bakeries, coffee shops, and live music. I immediately walked into Eleni’s a bakery studded with multi-colored cup cakes. I decided upon a chocolate cupcake with butter-cream frosting and shredded coconut. The perfect dessert! $2.00 spent. >As I strolled around enjoying my cupcake, I notice the Chelsea Wine Vault and decided to check it out. I sampled some gin and some Argentinean wines and decided on a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc as a birthday gift for Natalie. (Not a part of my $10 budget!) Well, my day seemed to be winding down, and I knew that I needed to get home to get ready for Natalie’s birthday evening. With 50 cents left to spare, I headed into Chelsea Market Baskets, and blew the rest of my budget on some candies! $0.50 spent. A day well “spent!”

Observations…

Firstly, I want to say: Use this map if anyone is ever name-dropping Manhattan neighborhoods. You can nod your head in agreement, and maybe even catch them in a mistake, like “Ohh… actually my friend, Ashley Anne Harrell lives in Yorkville, Burrough of Manhattan, New York City, New York State, United States of America, Earth.

With that, here are some of my recent observations – whether in Yorkville or Chelsea…

My Neighborhood:
1. The “park” on the corner. This outdoor seating area is technically considered a park, but is just a little concrete area with some flowers growing in boxes around metal benches. There is a man who sits there all day, harassing the little old ladies who come to sit/watch/talk. I think the man looks a little creepy, a little annoying… but the ladies shoot it all back his direction. I think this is single senior behavior.
2. Construction. New York City public transportation boasts the arrival of a new subway line – to be finished by 2013… Well they are doing their first round of construction slash demolition right at the corner of my block. My next-door neighbor told me that 2nd Avenue used to be lined with beautiful old trees, which were removed shortly before the jack hammering and bull-dozing began. I’m not complaining on this one, because it’s an advancement for the city – but it just sucks that the neighborhood lost a lot of it’s “charm.”
3. Traffic. It’s different than California, folks. Taxi drivers will kill you if you get in their way… think – Frogger. Because of all the construction on 2nd Avenue, a lot of the sidewalks have been moved and destroyed, so this makes street-crossing a sticky situation. And there are traffic cops… but they don’t do much. Look both ways.
4. The massage parlor downstairs. It’s a seedy little joint next to Koito Sushi (Koito makes Brian think of the word “coitus”). When you walk by this place, you notice the pink curtains and neon sign which is mysteriously always displaying “open.” The most distressing feature of this business is the video feed that runs 24/7, displaying someone’s legs being massaged. [shudder]
5. Water tower. There are always people working on it. I can see it perfectly out my window.
6. Koito Sushi. How can they afford to always have half price sushi? Why don’t they just change the prices on their menus, and instead they are just a cheap sushi place?
7. Strollers. We all know you have a baby – in a stroller… but, can you please get off your cell phone and move over to allow others to walk on the sidewalk? I think it’s an upper-east-side thing.
8. Key Food. They always have a decent 6-pack for $3.99.
9. Crowe’s Nest. While on the subject of beer, this is an Irish bar with charm and some good happy hour prices… and awesome accents! Not bad for a half block away.
10. Sixth Floor Walk-up It’s not as bad as I thought!

New York City:
1. Male Attention. It seems to be thrown around every which way… I’m just not used to getting cat calls or sweet nothings whispered into my ears from passing strangers. Yeah… it’s sorta weird.
2. Buses. If you are talking on your cell phone while you swipe your metro card, and it’s expired, the bus driver won’t say anything.
3. Sudoku. Is a great thing to play while you ride the subway. I have it on my cell phone. But it’s annoying when the guy next to you is sorta looking over your shoulder and you think to yourself “Ohmygod does he see something I don’t?!” and so you frantically try to finish the puzzle as quickly as possible so as to prove your worth and intelligence to this perfect stranger. Or maybe that’s just me.
4. The Village. A fabulous place to bar hop – “Peculiar Pub” serves over 300 beers… seriously. And you have to try “Magic Hat” beer if you’re ever on the East Coast. It’s spectacular.
5. Upright Citizen’s Brigade. The best place in the city to see long form improvisation… especially since I start my improv classes there next week!
6. Trader Joe’s. Located in Union Square, this is the sole TJ’s in Manhattan. Great shopping, great prices, but I don’t recommend going at 6:00pm on a weekday. Actually I highly recommend that you stay far far away from it at that time.
7. Craigslist. Limitless possiblilities are available on that site… I found someone who gives out free tickets to movie screenings for film critics. She’s added me to her address book, so she now sends me an email every time she gets free tickets! Awesome entertainment for FREE – I saw “The Kingdom” two weeks before it came out… but it wasn’t that great.
8. Taxis. Just as they are particularly scary to see as a pedestrian crossing the street, these yellow machines are just as terrifying from the inside. But they can get you from here to there FAST. By the way, the picture to the left is from an extreme publicity scheme by HBO for Sopranos… hehehe.
9. Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts. This place has way more than the music library at UCSB – we’re talking CDs, sheet music, books, magazines, plays, dialect instruction tapes, videos, DVDs, so much! And it’s completely free to all NYC residents. The public library system here is unbelievable… I just can’t believe it sometimes.
10. Times Square Solicators. I hate when you’re trying to get from point A to point B in Times Square, and all these people keep coming up to you saying “You like comedy? You like comedy? Wanna go to a free comedy show?!” “NO!” I answer, “I HATE COMEDY.” Then they look at you like, “Really?” And you think to yourself, “I love sarcasm.”

Robbing internet from your neighbors is so outrageously fun…

Side note: This was written two nights ago… It has been far too long since my last real update. I’m currently sitting in my brand-new (to me) New York City – Upper East Side apartment, without internet access, typing this to prepare for the moment I get the Time Warner technician to activate my internet tomorrow morning. Believe you me; I have been looking forward to writing this for the last week. I am completely prepped for the next hour or so it takes to finish this: got my candles lit, the lights dimmed, Sara Bareilles’ voluptuous vocals streaming through my speakers, oatmeal raisin cookies hot out of the oven, and a big glass of milk. I suggest you do the same. Where did I last leave off? I think it was in Virginia… I’m so glad to be out of Virginia. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful state – I’m just not so sure how well I handle the people there. When we crossed into D.C., it was like a breath of fresh air. What astounded me most was the proximity between two completely different lifestyle attitudes. One moment we saw rednecks waving Confederate flags, sporting mullets, and driving vehicles with stickers advertising the Bush administration, the National Rifle Association, and “Jesus is the only way you filthy sinner…” Okay, overstatement. But travel only 20 miles Northeast and you see non-obese happy, friendly people, gay couples holding hands, young women and men prancing the streets in suits with briefcases, and plenty of anti-war protests. This country is amazing – so many different people in so many places. I don’t think you can really appreciate how huge this place is until you complete the drive across the continent. It was an amazing experience, and a cultural shake-up in many ways. It was so lovely to spend so much time with my mom, and I swear that neither one of us had the inclination to kill one other – even with the limited seating space in our over-packed Hertz-rental Suburban. By the way, thank God for GPS… and Sex and the City. We finally arrived in Manhattan last Sunday afternoon (eight days ago). Upon our arrival, I was greeted by the smiling faces of Brian, Natalie and Jess. The five of us managed to clear out the vehicle of all my belongings, up the five flights of stairs, to my future home. It was so strange to finally be here after so much anticipation. What’s more, the apartment immediately seemed like home. Despite the tiny size and the whole “sixth-floor walkup” aspect, the apartment is quite wonderful. We are in an amazing neighborhood, and it seems like most of the inhabitants are in our post-collegiate age group. Within walking distance are several markets, bagel shops, various ethnic restaurants, drugstores, bars – you name it! Only two blocks East is the East River, and three blocks West is Central Park. I really think we landed in a great location! After we unpacked everything, the next few days of “city-life” were just a whirlwind of activity. My mom and I made numerous trips to Home Depot, which is nothing like any HD I have ever seen! After painting my room and setting up my first big purchase of the week, a new bed, my room finally felt like me. On Wednesday, we attempted to have some fun in the city, and ended up walking all over! We visited my local library branch, tried to find Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment, made it to Rockefeller Center and Trinity Cathedral, visited Times Square, ate at Carnegie Deli, and saw a Broadway show! We were able to meet up with Brian, and we won the raffle for front row seats to watch “Drowsy Chaperone.” I had seen ads for the show, but didn’t know much about it – and therefore had no expectations. Well, it was hilarious, short and sweet, entertaining, and included some astounding physical feats. Thursday morning was bittersweet as my Mom and I visited Central Park and walked through the lush greens around the Jackie Onassis Reservoir, the Great Lawn, and through the butterfly-inhabited Shakespeare Gardens. (Yes, Ingrid, I can now tolerate butterflies.) Central Park is so perfectly serene and peaceful. It is such a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. After our nature walkabout, we packed up her suitcases and headed for JFK. After she barely made it to the security checkpoint in time for the flight, we had a brief goodbye that didn’t allow time for tears or sad emotions. Probably better that way – I think this move is the most earth-shaking thing I have done in my entire life. Okay, Sara Bareilles just ended, so I’ve moved onto Laura Jansen – thanks Julia for introducing her to my iTunes library. It was really weird to finally be on my own in the city. I am an independent person with strong convictions and an aura of confidence, but it’s still strange to say goodbye and realize you will be 3000 miles away from your family and many of your friends. My first few days alone were still very busy in the apartment and around town. I found a running route I really like, around the reservoir in the park, and have even discovered my favorite bagel place in the neighborhood – H & H Bagels. I spent some time trotting the aisles of the Food Emporium, and found a cheap art supply store in Noho. After all my stuff was finally put away, I celebrated by meeting up with Jess and Jenson in Brooklyn – we went to this bar called “Fulton” and enjoyed Brooklyn Lager and Bocce Ball, a great evening. On Friday, I met up with Jess again, and we headed to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) for their free-admission Fridays. The place is so amazing, but simply exhausting. It is made up of six overwhelming floors, filled with twists, turns, and extraordinary art. By the time we got to the fourth floor, we were completely spent. We parted ways and agreed to meet up later for the free Camera Obscura concert at South Seaport, but later agreed that we were too tired for any more excitement that night. My evening concluded with an Absolut Citron martini at Ray’s Piano Bar with Brian. I forced him to go out since it was our first Friday night in our apartment. After one strong drink, several singing flamboyant gentlemen, and flirtatious glances at my roommate from one particularly gorgeous crooning bartender, we agreed to head back home to rest up for our impending doom: a trip to Ikea… New Jersey. Blue & Yellow. Madness. Anxiety. Hot Dogs. Lines. Credit Cards. Indecision. Sore arms. Public Transportation. Evil Glares. Yeah, that basically sums up Saturday. Our Ikea day was like nothing I could ever imagine. Take whatever experience you may have had at Ikea – multiply the number of people by five, turn up the heat a few degrees, pretend you’re buying more then you ever have before, and… you have no car. Though the day was almost mentally scarring, we ended up with some great purchases. (Our couch is being delivered on Wednesday!) We decided to give our living room a black, red, and beige color scheme – and it looks fabulous so far. Yesterday we hit up Home Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond, and finished the weekend with acquiring a free bookshelf from the street. To celebrate our progress, I was finally able to actually cook in our kitchen: seared cod with coconut sweet pea basmati rice, and a mint-cilantro-ginger-cumin chutney. Yum! Today I was able to explore a few things I was looking forward to – I got my public library card and checked out some reading material and some reference material (on auditioning for theater), then I headed to the performing arts library across town and checked out some sheet music – for free! Love libraries. I really think that people forget how spectacular they are: free internet, a world of literature, peaceful environment, and like-minded patrons cruising the aisles. Forget Blockbuster or Borders – everything you could rent or buy, from books to CDs to DVDs, is available at the library at no charge! After returning home, I went with Brian to pick up our new Craigslist coffee table (A GREAT DEAL!), and we (I mean he) hauled it 21 blocks back to our place. After two episodes of Heroes and my nightcap of cookies, I’m finally ready to hit the hay and prepare for my first day back working. Tomorrow I will start up again with The Nilson Report and finally start earning a paycheck again! Watch out, execs of Visa and Amex, because Ms. Harrell is back at it! My bed is calling my name – thanks for tuning in. Oh, and one slightly sad personal note: after much deliberation, I decided today to take out my “Monroe” piercing… I loved loved LOVED having it, but decided that it’s not the sort of thing that will work out for my career in music. But now I have a cute little scar healing – like Marilyn’s mole? Still don’t have my internet working – thanks to “levi” for the free connection tonight! In other news, our new couch was delivered today and I painted the coffee table… Isn’t that exciting?