Entry for July 17, 2006 — NYC visit

Friends, I hope you've had a good week. David I.S.'s and my visit to friends in metropolitan New York went well. On Friday, 7 July 2006, Dave took a bus from Upstate New York and then the subway to the new condo of Steve A.L. and family in Brooklyn.

Since I had worked a 12-hour day and didn't want to fight traffic in the Northeast Corridor, I drove down from the Boston area on Saturday. I found chez Levine without difficulty. After dropping off my bags at Steve's guest quarters, we waited an hour or two for Carlo R. wrap up at a speculative science event and for Dexter V.H. to come from his parents' home, also deeper in the borough, to join us.

Carlo was two years ahead of me at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, New York, and we met through mutual friends and connected over our shared interests in science fiction and philosophy. I met Dave 20 years ago this summer (August 1986) during our orientation weekend before freshman year of college at the State University of New York at Binghamton, and we've been close friends ever since.

Although he's two years older than me (and recently celebrated his 40th birthday), I met Steve shortly thereafter at a leftist political club on campus. Dexter was two years behind me at SUNY-B., and although we lost contact for several years, our shared interest in role-playing games is but one part of our friendship.

After some wandering around some historical neighborhoods, we ate lunch at an upscale pub because our first choice, a local pizzeria, had become popular as the neighborhood gentrified. Dave called us after the first of the dates that he had arranged online, and we met him at the Brooklyn Museum. We then walked around the impressive collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts, international art, and a graffiti exhibit.

For dinner, we went to a nice Japanese restaurant. Dex and Carlo left (the latter getting lost in the subways on the way to his home in Westchester). Dave, Steve, and I picked up some frozen yogurt and ice cream and continued the day's conversations about relationships, politics, and religion. As a historian, Steve is a great source of information about New York. Naturally, we went to sleep late that night.

On Sunday, we followed our plan to spend the day in Manhattan. The city crews met at midmorning at Stuart C.G.'s place on the Upper East Side. In addition to the guys who had met the previous day, we were joined by Erik B.L. & Wei T.L. and their adorable 4-year-old daughter Emma M.L., as well as Brian D.H. Stuart's sons Sammy and Benji were rambunctious, playing hide and seek with Brian, while Emma flirted with Sammy.

Stuart was a friend of Dexter's and mine during the latter half of my undergraduate years, while Brian is another Binghamtonian and a former housemate from my year as project coordinator of the New York Public Interest Research Group chapter at Queens College of the City University of New York.

Although Erik attended SUNY-B. one year behind me, I didn't really know him until the early 1990s, when we (and fellow alumnus and genre fan Steve M.R.) met in Washington D.C., where Erik and I studied international relations at the George Washington University. He went on to law school, while I moved into publishing, journalism, and copy editing.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to meet Stuart's wife Zoe, who was off studying for an accounting class. Coincidentally, after spending time in Japan, Stuart married a Chinese woman, as did Erik. Stuart now works for Bloomberg, and Erik practices law on Long Island. As the lone woman present, Wei got the thankless job of running after the children.

We went to a Hamburger Heaven for brunch, and Dave left early for his second planned date, whom he met at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Former Boston-area gamer Ted A.H., who works in the arms and armor exhibit, was unfortunately unavailable. After a good meal and discussion, Steve suggested that we walk to a nearby playground in Central Park where we could sit in the shade while Sammy, Ben, and Emma burned off some energy outside.

In hindsight or for the next time I visit, we'll have to think of a better way to accommodate both the adult acquaintances as well as their children in terms of activities both might enjoy. I would have liked to go into the Met, but it would have been expensive and difficult to keep everyone together. Erik, Wei, and Emma returned to Queens by midafternoon, and Stuart, Sammy, and Ben reluctantly also left us. Brian was feeling tired after a long bicycle ride the previous day, but he had made lunch reservations for Monday.

Steve left to pick up his wife Michele and son Nathaniel at La Guardia Airport, where they were returning after a visit to family in Florida. Thus, Carlo and I took a bus to meet Dave at Rockefeller Center. Dave was pleased that both dates went relatively well, and the three of us walked farther downtown. We stopped in Virgin Megastores and two comic book shops before Carlo headed back north.

Dave and I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan, enjoying the fine summer weather, diverse crowd of pedestrians, and varied architecture. We were soon back at Steve's building, where we met Michele and Nathaniel. Dave immediately connected with Nathaniel over their shared interest in videogames, specifically the portable Nintendo DS. Michele wisely recommended that we stay in for dinner, and we ordered excellent Indian food.

After another late-evening analysis, Dave and I left the Levines' condo on Monday morning. We took the subway into lower Manhattan, where we visited the Compleat Strategist, a gaming store that had been closed when we stopped by the Empire State Building the day before. We then met Brian for lunch at CraftBar, taking advantage of "restaurant week" promotions to eat at a fancier restaurant than we would otherwise go to. We also stopped by two more comic shops.

Dave accompanied me to Brooklyn to pick up his growing luggage before heading back to the Port Authority and home. I drove up to White Plains and was surprised by the amount of construction downtown. I remember before the Galleria and other shopping malls were built and was impressed to see the economic growth of the city since my high school years.

However, after visiting Comic Book Heaven, an independent seller in the middle of the old shopping district, I learned of the downside of such development. The proprietor told me that she might have to close her store or move because of increasing rents and that the arrival of large chain stores had destroyed the neighborhood's feel, turning it into one more drive-through destination and widening the gap between wealthy suburbanites and poorer minority (soon only in name) urbanites.

Back at an old haunt, I met Carlo, Steve M., and Ron J.K. for dinner at the Galleria's food court. Unfortunately, Damon F.P. and his family were still at the New Jersey shore and thus unable to join us. Carlo, Steve, and I reminisced about Stepinac, and I told Ron how I had spent the weekend hanging out with other college chums. We also compared notes on family concerns, dating, car troubles, and apartment living. Serious topics aside, I had a pleasant time with the so-called Westchester crew and then drove the rest of the way to Massachusetts. I'll save my update for the rest of last week for my next blog entry…