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I’ve kept busy the past couple of months.

A trip out West, a trip Midwest
Explorations to a city that never was, an abandoned motel, a landfill, a trash-strewn beach, a historic aqueduct, a hidden waterfall
Immersion in architecture and sculpture
Sweeping views of a Great Lake, powered by both IMAX and JetBlue
Virtual time travel along an ancient trade route
A record-time run
Two incredible live shows
An illness
Multiple happy hours

A birthday

More changes afoot…  “Watch this space” as they say.

Pages of The Power Broker read: 5
Total pages: 224

“What are your Friday plans?”

“Why?”  My eyes narrowed.  “You’re thinking of something…”

“Well… I think it would be a perfect day for Spa Castle.”

Spa Castle!  I had almost forgot it was on my list of things to do on a Friday.  Spa Castle, for the uninitiated, is a 5-story, 100,000 sq ft theme park of a spa located in College Point, a quiet residential Queens neighborhood.

After a looong 7 train + bus ride, we finally spotted a terracotta monolith rising above the squat houses.  $35 gets you access to the full facility on weekdays ($45 on weekends).  I found it surprisingly crowded for a Friday afternoon — a diverse mix of men and women of every shape, size and background.

You really need to experience Spa Castle first hand to fully appreciate it, but my highlights were Sauna Valley, a series of igloo-shaped themed saunas, and the all-season rooftop Bade Pools, with aquajets that soothe and massage and blast from out of nowhere.

After a couple of hours we were relaxed enough to brave the “No bathing suits” indoor bathhouse, with chilled plunge pools and even more aquajets to be doused by.

Highly recommended!

Pages of The Power Broker read: 5
Total pages: 224

I found myself watching the Winter Olympics quite a bit this year.  Maybe because it’s been so snowy here in the northeast, or because I’ve been invigorated by our winter hikes, or because I spend too much time in bars with TVs and there’s no baseball on yet.  For two weeks I was mesmerized by obscure sports like curling and biathlon, held my breath watching ski jumps, and was (surprisingly) floored by figure skating.  Historically I’ve not found watching figure skating all that interesting, with its tinny soundtracks and theatricality.  But this time I focused on the skates.  Wow.  It dawned on me that the costumes and music are just a bit of watch-the-birdy, when the real action is where blade meets ice.

So when Michelle took the day off to go skating at Sky Rink, I invited myself along, hoping to (albeit awkwardly) experience some of that same exhilaration of being out on the ice.  The weather played along, and despite 8+ inches of snow I easily made my way to Chelsea Piers, thanks to the MTA.  It was my first visit to the “new” Sky Rink — as a kid I’d been to the original location on W. 33rd Street, and remember the novelty of skating 16 floors above the street.  The old Sky Rink closed in the 1990s, and was reincarnated much closer to the ground at the sprawling Chelsea Piers Sports Complex shortly afterwards.

I laced up my ill-fitting rental skates and stepped gingerly on to the smooth surface.  Michelle patiently guided me through the basics, and soon I had mastered enough to take off on my own, slowly circling around the rink.  It was tough on my legs, still recovering from kettlebell the night before, but I got enough out of my few spins around to be satisfied, and happily watched Michelle zip around the rink and really enjoy herself.

With the close of the winter games I’m ready for Spring, but a Friday afternoon at Sky Rink was a great way to end the season.

Pages of The Power Broker read: 5
Total pages: 224

Our cabbie was a chatty guy, condensing almost 100 years of Atlantic City history into a 5 minute ride to the train station.  Eric and I had decided to return to NYC via train instead of the bus, our final destination prompting the driver to dive into tales of The Blue Comet, a now defunct line operated by the Central Railroad that carried passengers along the Atlantic coast from New York to South Jersey.  The Depression led to the demise of this and many other independent rail lines in New Jersey, the damage compounded in later years by the development of the interstate highway system and advent of automobile travel (I’m looking at you, Robert Moses).  He spoke of torn-up steel rails re-purposed for war production, the wooden ties left behind to be lazily paved over in the ’60s and ’70s, now oddly bumpy roads that puzzle drivers and hide the history beneath.

Needless to say my interest in New Jersey’s ghost rails was seriously piqued, despite the harrowing train ride that followed (or perhaps because of).

A Google search revealed that many of these old railway lines had been transformed into rail trails — paths designated for walking and biking.  Further queries led me to the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy, which operates the excellent website.  Goldmine!  Clearly these needed to be explored.

Zooming into the New Jersey rail trail map I noted the West Essex trail, which after cross-referencing with Google Maps and NJ Transit timetables seemed relatively accessible via public transport, and a good place to start. Sandi, always up for adventure, needed no invitation, and as we discussed my Friday plans it was simply understood she’d join me.

The West Essex trail begins in Upper Montclair near the recently shuttered Great Notch station, bisecting suburban backyards before it joins the old Lenape Trail through Cedar Grove and into Verona.  The ghost of the Caldwell Branch of the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad lies beneath, and along the trail we identified a few vestiges — a torn up rail here, mile marker there, and several out of place concrete structures, mysteriously sealed.  It’s interesting to look at the evolution of this particular trail — from forest path to industrial rail line, back to forest path again.  Nature prevailing.

Some highlights:

Trail head

The snowy path

Danger: High Voltage

Crossing the Peckman River

Trail marker


The trail terminates in the parking lot of the Verona High School, and from there we wandered suburban streets for another mile until we reached the bus stop, just in time to catch the 195 bus back to Port Authority.

I was too beat and my sneakers too waterlogged to figure out how to get to the Hilltop Reservation and find the old water towers.  Next time.

More photos here.

Pages of The Power Broker read: 5
Total pages: 224

Conventional wisdom says jumping off a blazing train onto the snowy tracks below is scary.  But I’m not one to be dictated by conventional wisdom, so on Saturday night when I found myself, well, jumping off a blazing train onto the snowy tracks below, I was more irritated than scared — irritated that my wine-induced snooze had been interrupted, irritated that the other passengers weren’t moving quickly enough, irritated that my snowboots were packed away in my bag, irritated I hadn’t thought to pee earlier.  Yet, as I ran through 3+ feet of snow, I couldn’t help laughing.  Laughing out loud.  I mean, our train was on fire!  The other passengers, followers of conventional wisdom, looked at me like I was nuts.

We were returning from a two-night trip to Atlantic City, my first Friday away from the city.  Originally scheduled to return to NYC on a late bus, we opted for the earlier — and more pleasant — ACES train.  There’s something about train rides that cause the mind to wander, and shortly before the train came to its abrupt stop, I had been complaining of utter boredom.  “Bored bored bored bored” I kept repeating in my mind and out loud.  Bored with the slow-moving train, bored with life.

I think the train gods must’ve heard me and were like, “Bored eh?  Here you go.”

I’ll take this as a sign to stop waiting around for things to happen to me.

Smokin' Aces

Fleeing the train

Pages of The Power Broker read: 0
Total pages: 219

I have a doctor’s appointment today, right smack dab in the middle of the day.  When I made it I was still working Fridays so the intention was to go to the appointment (a good 45 minutes from my office) then take the rest of the day off.  Now that I have the whole day off I’m annoyed it’s going to take up my entire afternoon.

That said, I do still have the morning, so time to review my self-imposed rules on how to spend the 5th day:

  • Don’t treat it like Saturday
    This means no sleeping in, no being hungover, no chores, no lounging in PJs all day.  I’ve already bent this rule, but I knew today would be sort of a wash on account of the doctor’s appointment.
  • Go to the gym
    When you don’t have to go to work there’s really no excuse not to go to the gym.  Especially when it’s across the street from your house.
  • Do something outside
    I spend 4 days a week cooped up in my office staring at a computer screen.  Spending the 5th day cooped up in my apartment staring at a computer screen isn’t any better.  Even though the weather isn’t ideal now, getting outside is a really important part of this.

Off to the gym…

Pages of The Power Broker read: 0
Total pages: 219

About me

In 2006 I purchased The Power Broker, the biography of Robert Moses, which weighs in at 1162 pages not including notes, index and bibliography.

I got to page 219.

In January 2010 I downsized myself to a 4-day work week. Objective: regain some of the time I've lost, and maybe discover something new about myself.

And finish reading The Power Broker.

July 2018
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