NYC/Pittsburgh 2019 (Day 4): The Aukmaster, The Shawarma and Mr. Met

Elson “Mega Bass” Trinidad meets up with Eric “The Aukmaster” Wolf at Grand Central Terminal.

The Aukmaster Reunion
As much as I love my niece dearly, I also wanted to get out of the Upper West Side and do what I love doing most when traveling — exploring. Today, I was finally able to do that, starting off with a 1 p.m. lunch with Eric, one of my good friends from high school, who moved back to NYC last year after living in Houston for many years. We decided to meet at the iconic center information booth/clock at Grand Central Station, which is in his work neighborhood. Eric and I graduated from high school 30 years ago this year (!), and maintained in touch through the years. I visited him 20 years ago during my 3rd visit to NYC when he lived in Manhattan, and the last time we hung out was in 2001 when he was in Los Angeles for a convention, and we lunched over french dip sandwiches at Philippe The Original. That was 18 years ago — and 18 years was about the age we were when we graduated high school. It was cool to see Eric, who went by the nickname “The Aukmaster” back in the day due to his fascination with the marine bird (my nickname, at least among our crowd, was “Mega Bass” – from the Sony Walkman I was prone to toting around which had that low-frequency boost switch prominently displayed on its front panel). Eric gave me a vinyl LP of his own guitar music, which he took up as a hobby several years after high school. He told me he decided to meet me at Grand Central Terminal since the last time we met was at Los Angeles Union Station, and we had lunch at Grand Central’s historic 106 year-old Oyster Bar restaurant, which unbeknownst to me existed below the main station hall!

The Grand Central Oyster Bar restaurant, an institution since 1913.

I had the Fried Ipswich Clam Sandwich with cole slaw, and for dessert I had a slice of New York Cheesecake (which I just referred to as a “cheesecake” of course), since I had never had a New York Cheesecake in New York City before. We talked about our parents’ health, various people from high school we’ve seen or been in touch with, the planned 30th high school reunion in Las Vegas in November and the various dynamics/quirks of New York and Los Angeles local politics. I told him I visit NYC every other year, and will most likely go visit his house in suburban Westchester County during my next visit. We walked up Lexington Ave, past the various police roadblocks for the United Nations General Assembly this week to his office at Sotheby’s before parting ways.

On The Avenue, I’m Taking You To 42nd Street
I walked back towards Grand Central and then headed west on 42nd Street to Hudson Yards. I was already familiar with the Midtown Manhattan grid of east-west numbered streets and north-south numbered avenues, so I was basically here to explore. I passed a place called “Pershing Square” which, unlike L.A.’s park, is the area under the Park Avenue viaduct by Grand Central. I also caught nice vantage views of the MetLife Building and the Chrysler Building. I also passed just south of the hustle and bustle of Times Square (been there, done that), but not without encountering the spillover crowds of people passing out discount flyers for various attractions, as well as Spanish-speaking women in Minnie Mouse costumes accosting various Latino passers-by. I also passed by the massive Port Authority Bus Terminal, which I don’t remember going to before, although I may have in 1999, but the place had since been remodeled to where it’s no long recognizable. I also heard there was a Jollibee location here, but I was unable to find it. I did see numerous Hudson News periodical/snack stands that didn’t seem to sell bottled water that wasn’t Dasani. I also encountered a Time Out NY-branded street piano and a woman performing on a piano on a performance stage, entertaining bus passengers and shoppers. Besides taking a peek, I was also there to seek reprieve from the overcast humidity in the structure’s air conditioning system, before exiting the building at 9th Avenue.

From then it was due south to 34th Street, where I got to stop by a market for some potato chips and Poland Spring water, and encountered the sights of various restaurants, a stacked parking lot, the sight of the Empire State Building (now settling for seventh place among NYC’s tallest buildings), the B&H Photo Video electronics superstore, and finally westbound on 34th to Hudson Yards.

The 150-foot public art sculpture called “Vessel” (a.k.a. The Shawarma) at Hudson Yards.

Hungry For Some Shawarma
Hudson Yards was my destination to see this big public art thingy that opened in February of this year that instantly went on the list of things to see in NYC for this visit. Entitled “Vessel” by Thomas Heatherwick (a.k.a The Shawarma), the $200 million brand new tourist attraction certainly attracted this tourist to walk all the way from Grand Central. It was big enough to where I didn’t have to hunt for it; it was right there next to the Hudson Yards subway station (and where a Farmers’ Market was happening today). There were tickets to be had to get inside and walk up this thing, but ironically, I got an email telling me that I was able to buy Dodgers playoff tickets (home was calling). I wrestled on my phone for the next half hour setting up the public Wi-Fi connection and buying a pair of tickets for Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, to be played on Saturday, October 12 – before the opportunity passed and tickets got sold out. After the tickets have been purchased, it was time to get the tickets to this Vessel/Shawarma thing, which were free, but required an appointment time to keep crowds manageable. To my chagrin, the next opportunity to buy tickets was Monday, September 30.

Crowds at the base of “Vessel” (a.k.a The Shawarma).

Okay, so forget that. It was getting very windy, a little cold (I put on my light hooded jacket), and starting to drizzle. It was time to leave this place that’s trying hard to be the new World Trade Center, get on the 7 train at the nearby Hudson Yards subway station, and head down to Queens.

On The 7.

Flushing In The Meadows
In about half an hour I found myself getting off at Mets-Willetts Point station, next door to Citi Field. It was only 5 p.m., and the Mets game wouldn’t start for another 2 hours, so I gravitated down the wooden boardwalked pedestrian bridge to the adjacent Flushing Meadows Park to finally see the Unisphere – the main monument of the 1964 World’s Fair – with my own eyes – it was peeking from the view of the 7 train, beckoning me to come closer. Fortunately, it was a very walkable half-mile to the large steel globe structure. Snap!

Meet The Mets
My ultimate destination today was the Citi Field, home of the New York Mets since 2009. This is my 2nd MLB game this week (I saw the Dodgers vs. Mets on Sunday) and my seventh MLB stadium. Having been to Yankee Stadium 2.0 during my last visit in 2017, it was time to visit the NY’s NL stadium.

With the Mets out of playoff contention and playing the last-place Florida Marlins, this wasn’t going to be a sell-out anyway, so I just bought a $22 seat for Promenade level, Section 414, Row 5, Seat 7. It was a small section above home plate, but not quite as high as the nosebleeds. Since the stadium was a cookie-cutter new-generation ballpark, it had great sightlines and the flexibility to walk around the stadium ant watch the game from different locations.

Some observations:

  • They have an onsite Mets Hall of Fame and Museum near the main entrance.
  • The entrance rotunda is heavy on Jackie Robinson history and images. I guess they can kinda claim this since Jackie played in the next borough over.
  • The rumble of airplanes and LaGuardia and the nearby 7 train is omnipresent throughout the game.
  • There is no stadium organist. It’s all pre-recorded music.
  • Students from a local elementary school sang the National Anthem.
  • The game is kicked off with a video recording of a Mets fan saying, “Play Ball!”
  • There are a few nods to the old Shea Stadium, such as a bridge in the right-field area with an insignia and plaque on the former Mets stadium. The original home plate is out in one of the parking lots, but I didn’t have the time to seek it out.
  • Lots of great food options, and the required hotdogs and beer aren’t as expensive as in Dodger Stadium.
  • There are a number of cashless (credit/debit card only) concession stands.
  • The “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” 7th-inning stretch song is just an old recording, and they just sing “the home team.”
  • I could not really spot the press box area.
  • The overall fan experience is much more laid-back than at Yankee Stadium (maybe because the Mets aren’t playoff-bound this year).
  • The working-class Queens ethic is really present in the stadium atmosphere, moreso than at Yankee Stadium.
  • You can see the Manhattan skyline from the left field-side stairwells.
  • Nobody cared that I wore a Dodger cap. Unlike at Yankee Stadium, I didn’t spot any other Dodger fans.

The game was scoreless until the 7th inning, when the Mets drove in two runs, but the Marlins fought back in the bottom of the 7th and in the 8th; former Met Curtis Granderson (who got an ovation from the crowd) hit the go-ahead homer that sealed the deal during the game. No pony in this race of course, but I would have loved to see HR leader Pete Alonso hit his 52nd bomb at this game (alas, he went 0 for 4). I did, however, get to meet the team’s mascot Mr. Met (the first-ever MLB mascot I’ve met, no pun intended), after tracking him down and following him through the main field-level corridor. Perhaps it’s because of my Dodger hat that he knew I was just there to visit, but I had my phone in Selfie Mode, he leaned and paused to pose, I snapped the picture, we shared a fist-bump, and the deed was done.

Lovely post-game pic.

After the game it was just a short walk up to the 7 platform and back to Penn Station, and a transfer to the 1 back to the Upper West Side.

So whatcha think?