Tarzan never had so much fun

Every now and then, it’s nice to just kick back and share a quiet moment with the one you love. Peace and quiet instead of the hustle and bustle. Laid-back instead of high-flying. And what better occasion to steal this moment then on your anniversary with your sweetie. Your sixth one together, no less. Nice. Easy.

Or not.

Instead, you could do what we did two weekends ago and trek up to Lincoln, NH, to Alpine Adventures and spend two hours in the White Mountains on their zipline course, sliding from tree to tree over steel cables—sometimes a hundred feet above the ground below you—and failing miserably in resisting the urge to let loose (more than once) with a joyous “WOOHOOOOOOOO!”.

A close-up of our lifelines.

One of our trusted course guides. Well, his back anyway.

But feel free to do the whole peace and quiet thing, too. I mean, that’s always a safe bet.

Or not.

Turning the big 4-0 (finale)

(Recaps of the first day and the morning and night of the second day for those who missed them. And now, the rest of the story…)

Saturday was a cold and windy day, but our group had plans that couldn’t be kept waiting. So it was once again back to the subways. Pedro and my sweetie pondered the maps and led us on our way. To this point, I still didn’t know where we were going—again, the whole weekend’s plans were one surprise unfolding after another. But once we got on the #4 north towards the Bronx (and taking into account the size of our group and the fact that she would have planned something up my alley), I offered a guess: Yankee Stadium. And the guess was right. And I was thrilled.

Next stop: Yankee Stadium.

I’ve been to the Stadium on a handful of occasions for games, but this was going to be an inside-the-stadium tour, which I’d never done before there. Plus, given that this is the last year for the old Stadium (with the new Yankee Stadium opening next door to it for next season), it was great to be able to see the inner workings of the old place before it met the wrecking ball. And it was just as cool as I was expecting, me being the huge Yankees fan and all. (Thanks, dad!) We, of course, got to walk around Monument Park. We also got to mill around the home dugout, the press box, and one of the high-roller luxury suites, and—because it was still spring training and the Yankees were out of town—we also got to step inside the Yankees clubhouse. (No pictures of the players’ lockers, unfortunately, as they were very adamant about their “no photography inside the clubhouse” rule. In fact, it was rule #1 of the many rules that a large man recited before the tour, the breaking of any of which would see us “…removed from the tour”—this last line became a running joke among us for the remainder of the tour… guess you had to be there. Bummer, too, because it’s not like any of the players’ personal items was out for display—the only things there to see were a bunch of empty lockers and piles and piles of empty clothes hangers. But hey, it’s their rules.)

Monument Park.

And all this time, my sweetie had been toting around a shopping back with (what else) my birthday cake. After the tour, we tried to find a public place (a park or anything) where we could sit for a spell and cut the cake, but around that part of the city, nothing was to be found. So we ended up in a McDonald’s next to the stadium. But it was my friends and family (and, of course, the cake), so it didn’t really matter where we were to me.

The rest of the afternoon was free, so everyone went there separate ways for a few hours. A small group of us ended up back down in Greenwich Village, where we spent the afternoon eating and milling about. (No Julia Stiles this time. Oh well.) Later that evening, most of us got together again (a couple of folks had made other plans for while they were in the city, which was fine by me—after all, they’re in New York City!) for a couple hours of entertainment at Ha! The Comedy Club (also within walking distance of the hotel… not an accident) that my sweetie had bought tickets for. And with the exception of one poor, terrified female comedienne (who, unfortunately, just bombed), it was a funny lot. A couple more of our group broke off to catch a late-night show, and the rest of us wandered down the street to another pub to grab some dinner and a couple (maybe more than a couple) of beers. And for the third night in a row, it was back to the hotel well after midnight—a little tougher on this now-old guy, but ask me if I minded.

Sunday morning found us all together one last time for a group breakfast at a diner (say it with me) down the street from the hotel, and then it was everyone off to make their way back home. New Hampshire. New York. Virginia. Florida. Nebraska. Texas. And the best birthday I’ve ever had officially came to an end.

A huge thank you to everyone who took time out of their busy lives to spend a weekend with us in New York City. Ray and Amy. Milda and Lawrence. Keith and Staci. Tom and Tanya. David and Kimberly. Pedro and Nicola. You are my friends, and you are my family, and I must be doing something right to end up with the ones that I have. You’ll never know how much this meant to me.

And to my wife: I love you. You are everything to me. And you must like me a little bit, too, to go through this much time and effort just to celebrate me turning old. :-) Thank you, sweetie.

[Oh, one last thing. Remember the signed picture from everyone that was my gift at the birthday dinner? Well, we almost didn’t. After getting off the bus that took us from South Station back to our car, we accidentally left the bag containing the picture in the overhead compartment on the bus. By the time we realized this, we had just missed the bus leaving the station and heading for its next stop up the highway in Concord. And you should have seen us tearing after that bus—85-90 miles an hour at midnight, trying to catch up to it. Somehow, though, we never caught sight of it. But as we pulled into the Concord bus station, we saw our bus sitting there—it turned out the driver had to make a stop of his own, if you know what I mean, and because of that, it hadn’t yet left the station. We managed to talk our way back onto the bus and, with much relief, recover this precious item. Hey, it was a perfect birthday weekend—surely you didn’t think it would end on a low note…]

Turning the big 4-0 (Part III)

(Get caught up on the first day and the proceedings til now for the second day. Back to the story…)

We headed off to Carmine’s for a nice birthday dinner together. And her phone is still going off with the text messages, to the point where she finally tells me that she’s telling her sister that the phone is being turned off for the evening. The restaurant was only a couple of blocks from the hotel, so we were there in very short order. And the place is packed to the rafters, with a line going out the door. They tell us that only one person from each party should stand in line, and everyone else should wait inside at the bar. I get ready to take on my normal line-standing role, but my sweetie says that she’ll stand in line instead and that I should just make my way to the bar. (This is very unusual for her. Should have set off some sort of bells, but my Spidey senses were apparently taking the night off.)

I waited at the bar for, oh, not that long a period of time, actually—we had arrived pretty close to our reservation time—before she made her way to the front of the line. I saw her chatting with the maitre’d, at which point he ushered her out of the line and told us, “Your table’s all set; the rest of your party is waiting for you.” When I mentioned this to her (“Rest of our party? Do they have the right reservation?”), she looked understandably miffed, and we both figured they’d borked our reservation and that we were going to be marching right back to the hostess stand in very short order. And she takes off up the stairs ahead of me. I mean, she takes off. Not a happy camper. (Again, though, unusual, in that this is typically my role. More bells missed.)

Up the stairs. Around the corner. Past the waiter (“They’re already waiting for you.” Moron.) and to a curtained-off booth. And as I pull back the curtains, I’m already coming up with my apologies to the complete strangers whose dinner I’m about to interrupt. So back go the curtains…

(And I’m sure you’ve already figured out what happens next, more or less.)

…and in front of me sat not a table of complete strangers, but a table of some of my best friends and family. And given that I realized what was happening about a millisecond after I pulled back the curtains, the look of surprise on my face was quite genuine. (That despite the efforts of the Carmine’s staff to inadvertently blow the surprise. “The rest of your party is waiting”, indeed. Not sure what part of “surprise party” was hard to figure out.) And then the now-obvious truth came out: All of those text messages to my wife weren’t from her sister—they were from various people in the party who had been IM’ing her their location and plans so as to make sure that we didn’t accidentally run into them. For example, one of the first messages that she received right after we got to the hotel on Thursday was from one couple who had walked into the hotel literally minutes after we left the front desk for the elevators—in fact, almost every single person in the group was actually staying at the same hotel we were, and we managed to avoid running into them for the better part of two days! (no small feat, as you can imagine) And the others: “We’re in the hotel lobby.”… “We’re leaving for the restaurant now.”… “Everyone’s here.”… (etc.) My friend Keith was apparently the most prolific of the texters, as she got updates on every move of his short of knowing when he was stepping out of the shower in the morning.

[Aside: In fact, when I had previously IM’ed my friend Pedro saying that I just saw Julia Stiles, he told me that he’d about had a heart attack when he first started reading the message—”I just saw…”—as he thought the next words were going to be along the lines of “…you walking down 7th Ave”. He was quite relieved that I had merely sighted a celebrity. Oh, and I also discovered that he was quite the accomplished liar, as he and I had been chatting about my lack of knowledge of my birthday plans for weeks, plans that he’d known about for months.]

The party had been waiting for us long enough for everyone to introduce themselves to everyone else, so that spared me from having to actually function as a host (which I probably wouldn’t have been capable of at that moment anyway). And so friends and family from all stages of my life had time to figure out what they had in common besides being stuck knowing me: my brother and sister-in-law, one of my best friends from back since the 6th grade and her husband, two of my roommates from college (and their respective spouses), one of my classmates from college and his wife, and one of my best friends since college (and his very significant other). The rest of the night was a gleeful blur of food and wine and endless laughter—oh, was there laughter (and not always at my expense, thankfully, though among the gifts—or is that “gifts”?—from the evening were the “Oh crap! I’m 40!” T-shirt and the tube of Fixodent ever so thoughtfully sent by one of my grad school officemates who couldn’t attend the festivities in person). The capper was the picture frame that I was presented, signed by everyone but also signed by quite a number of people who couldn’t attend in person. (Like I said, she thought of everything—and everyone. There wasn’t a single person there or that I talked to later who didn’t rave about the level of planning and detail she had put into this weekend. And it was still only Friday.)

Eventually, we all wandered back to the hotel and collectively called it a night (though a couple of us met in the pub next to the hotel for a late-night pint before turning in). After all, there was still Saturday to come…

Continue to the finale

Turning the big 4-0 (Part II)

After arriving on Thursday, it was now on to our first full day back in New York City and on to the first planned activity for the weekend. Did I know where we were going? Of course not.

So it was to the subways and down into Greenwich Village. Whatever was planned wasn’t until 11:00 in the morning, so since we were a little early, we walked around a bit before stumbling across and passing most of the remaining time at Bleecker Street Records scrounging for used CDs. Then it was out the door, across the street, and down maybe a block before she announced that we were there. And there turned out to be on the sidewalk in front of Murray’s Cheese Shop. OK, I like cheese (no, I love cheese), but was it worth a train ride all the way down to the Village for? Well, yes, it was, but that’s not why we were there, it turned out. We were there awaiting the start of a walking tour of Greenwich Village, three hours of going shop to shop, door to door, hearing about (and sampling—yay!) a wide variety of local shops and restaurants. Pizza, olive oil, Thai food, cookies, more pizza, cheese (yes, at Murray’s), canoli… this was worth the train ride, and she knew I would be in foodie (read: foodie wannabe) heaven when she planned this tour for us. Does she know me or what?

Outside of Murray’s Cheese Shop in Greenwich Village.

[Oh goodness, the olive oil. On our way to Murray’s for the start of the tour, we passed this charming green facade along Bleecker that advertised olive oils and such and made a note to stop by there after the tour. No need, as it turned out, as O&Co. was one of the stops on the tour. And oh dear god, I don’t know that I’ll ever buy olive oil in a supermarket again—after hearing about and tasting the difference between that and the “good stuff” like at O&Co., I was sold. In fact, sold to the tune of a big wad of change to ship back multiple bottles of oil and balsamic vinegar (mmmmm… balsamic vinegar…) to ourselves back home. And yes, they can expect our mail order business in the future. Duh.]

Some of the goodies at O&Co., also in the Village.

After the tour, we still had some time to kill, so since we were in the neighborhood, we wandered over to the expansive foodie mecca that is Chelsea Market. And if it wasn’t for the fact that it was already mid-afternoon and that we apparently had dinner plans, I would have made a royal foodie pig of myself, I’m sure. But in the end, it was a very pleasant (and aromatic) way to kill some time before we started to head back uptown in order to get ready for dinner.

And then it happened. At the corner of 7th Ave and Greenwich Ave, we were waiting for the light to change before walking across the street, and who should walk by but… Julia Stiles. I tried my best to play it cool and not just stare at her. (Major effort on my part, let me tell you.) My sweetie nudged me and asked, “Do you know who that was? Julia Stiles!”. Oh, don’t worry, I noticed. And she added, “See, I did get her for your birthday!” (*) And no, I didn’t stop her and ask for her autograph—a part of me wanted to, believe me, but hey, everyone is entitled to a private life, and at that moment, walking (back home?) down a sidewalk on Greenwich Ave, she wasn’t Julia Stiles, actress, but rather Julia Stiles, resident of Greenwich Village (and, at least for today, Julia Stiles, my early birthday present), so along she went on her merry way without being stopped by a (or at least, this) drooling fanboy. Though I did fire off a quick IM to my friend Pedro, swooning over my passing encounter with the lovely Ms. Stiles.

[(*) Back story: Some weeks before this birthday weekend, my sweetie had asked me what I wanted for my birthday. To which I immediately responded “Lauren Graham jumping out of a cake”. When she told me she probably couldn’t swing that, I said, “Well, how about Julia Stiles?” Lauren and Julia, both of whom I totally have massive crushes on—and She knows it. So to actually see Julia Stiles on my birthday weekend… yeah, sweetie, that was a neat trick, I’ll admit.]

Now we were getting back to the hotel, and I asked her where she had booked us for dinner. She had earlier told me that one reason she had picked this particular hotel was its location, so along these lines, she asked, “Where do you think we’re going to dinner near Times Square?” (or something like that) Given that this would imply that it should be some place meaningful to me/us, I had to ponder this for a sec, but it finally dawned on me: Carmine’s, where we had our first “real” dinner together in New York City almost 8 years earlier. She really had thought of everything.

And boy, had she ever.

(Oh, have I mentioned that her phone had been going off all day with text messages from her sister? No? Well, it had. All. Day.)

(Really, all the text messaging—pretty important to note…)

Continue to Part III

Turning the big 4-0 (Part I)

OK, let’s just get this right out of the way: I turned 40 this year. 40. (Forty!) So I’m old. I get it, OK? Can we just move on now?

Which gets us to this: My wife—pretty much since we first got together, I gather—had been planning (threatening?) some big event to commemorate the occasion. She never gave any hints as to what she had in mind (and in all fairness, I never asked—I like a good surprise as much as the next guy), but every year, it was “just you wait… hee hee hee…”. Well, this was The Year, and here’s how it all went down…

My actual birthday was on a Saturday this year, but the “event” started early Thursday morning at the bus station in Manchester, NH. I was under the impression that we were taking a shuttle to Logan (in Boston), though once I look back on it, it should have signaled something in that we’ve never done that before (when we fly out of Logan, we tend to park in one of the off-airport long-term lots… but anyhoo…). However, it finally came to the point when she had to hand me the actual ticket, and as soon as I saw the destination, I at least knew where we were eventually going: The ticket said we were going to Boston’s South Station terminal, and that meant only one thing to me—we were bound for New York City via our friends at Amtrak.

[Aside: Chatting with one of my best friends in the days leading up to the event, I told him I figured we were heading to one of two places: San Francisco, or New York City. (I did know we were going somewhere; that much, and only that much, I had been told.) And the only reason I picked those two is that she knows that those are two of my favorite places to be for any reason.]

Personally, I love taking the train when time isn’t an issue. Granted, we could have flown to NYC and been there in a little over an hour, but the four-hour train ride down there was delightfully relaxed and largely free of all the security theater B.S. that you have to deal with when flying these days. (By the way, Amtrak business class is the way to go: comfy seats, lots of room. The only downside, one of taking the train in general: People still have cell phone reception, so you still have to deal with the occasional loudmouth yammering away with their “personal” discussions for all to hear. Such is life.) The most important thing is that we were going to New York City, and I will never complain about that, birthday or no birthday.

Upon our arrival at Penn Station, we decided to enjoy the nice weather and just walk the few blocks to our hotel. So it was over to 6th Ave, north up to 44th St, a quick turn, and we were there: Hotel Mela, a boutique hotel just a couple of blocks from the heart of Times Square. And that’s when her cell phone started going off like every 5, 10, 15 minutes, it seemed. Text message after text message from her sister, she told me, wondering how things were going. And damn she was curious. I mean, it was *beep!*, answer, wait, *beep!*, answer again, wait, *beep!*… you get the picture. She’d never texted my wife this much (hmmmmm…), but boy, once she got started…

By now, it was mid-afternoon, and I was told that the rest of the day was a free day with no specific plans. We ended up taking the relatively short walk uptown to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which I’d at some point mentioned that I’d been itching to go to. Now don’t get me wrong, it was worth the price of admission, and there were some admittedly cool exhibits. But for at least the second time in my life, I was made aware of the fact that I, as a whole, just don’t “get” modern art; the other time was our visit to the Tate Modern in London while on our honeymoon (now there was a confusing experience… the Tate, not the honeymoon… never mind).

The funkadelic floor in the lobby of MoMA.

After a bit of a break following the museum, we were famished. And as luck would have it, we knew of just the place in this neck of the woods for what we were in the mood for, and that would be Ruby Foo’s for sushi. Perhaps the sushi purist would complain, what with the assortment of cooked rolls they serve there, but frankly, I couldn’t care less—that was some damn yummy stuff (call it whatever you want if it’ll make you feel better) yet again. A nice leisurely walk in Times Square, a quick stop for some cheesecake along the way (I think the name of the place was Maxie’s—their “world-famous” cheesecake, well, wasn’t, but it wasn’t bad), then back to the hotel to crash after another night back in my favorite city. A long weekend to come with my sweetie in this city—this was going to be a great birthday. If only I knew…

Times Square (duh).

Continue to Part II