Today, I went with Matteo, Marco and Ilona to Coney Island beach on, well, Coney Island. Getting there took forever, provided an approximate value of forever equal to 2.5 hours. We swam around a bit before eating the sandwiches Marco had the presence of mind to prepare before we left.
It was difficult to escape the intense feeling of Brighton, UK there. They even had a pier, though no fancy palace-like building at the tip. Indeed, I was not the first to think of the connection to Brighton: the nearby areas were apparently called just that.
The amusement park near the beach, hosting the famous Cyclone rollercoaster, was like a blast from the past. According to Wikipedia, it's about 80 years old. For some reason, the entire scene gave me a sad feeling of better times. Now, despite obvious efforts to keep the beach clean and the buildings in good shape, the overall appearance was a bit run down. However, I'm continously struck by this feeling when I go around NYC, so it may just be me (though Marco agrees).
Despite my better judgement, Marco managed to persude me to join him at a karaoke bar in Greenwhich Village yesterday. Or, I believe it was really his upcoming girlfriend who had him persuade me so that he would be a bit more relaxed knowing that other non-singing geeks would be around. So, I suppose was at the receiving end of a persuasion-by-proxy ploy.
At any rate, I cannot really say that it was a thundering success. One show stopper to my stardom as world-reknown karaokeist is of course my total ineptness at singing. Another is not knowing any of the songs that were popular at this place. If you think that New Yorkers are introvert, you're mostly wrong. If you think they are culturally self-absorbed, you are absolutely right. From what I could tell, most of the songs were about New York, by New Yorkers, for New Yorkers. Oh, and with some appearances by Bryan Adams to make things international.
With some help from Shane and Vijay, I managed to invite myself to a day out with the software group. Their, or our, day out was at what appears to be the closest mountain. It's really nothing more than a big hill, but let's not quibble. The picnic was really a lunch in a dining hall, but we agreed not to quibble.
Despite the misleading advertising, it proved to be a great day. I had the choice of going with Mark Wegman on a climbing trip or Harold Ossher on a hiking trip. I chose the latter, since I'm completely inexperienced at climbing.
I had the strange, but pleasurable, fortune to go with Stephen and Marco to a bluegrass concert with the down in Greenwhich Village yesterday. While I cannot consider myself a fan of American folk music, this concert was certainly worth my time and money.
One of the many peculiarities of the main band appears to be their masochistic treatment of string instruments. The average life time of the banjo strings, for example, was about five minutes, and as a consequence, the band tours with two active instruments per performer. Backstage, professional string switchers are on call, and when a string breaks, one of these mean-looking gentleman steps in with the backup instrument, picks up the maimed one, and promptly gooes out back to replace the string. In the meantime, the backup instrument is used until the cycle repeats.
Yesterday, a tornado swept by the north end of the road where the Hawthorne research lab lies. I go by there every day on way to and from work. The tornado shred a warehouse to pieces, smashed a police car (with driver -- he surived unscathed), caused havoc at my favourite gas station and broke hundreds of trees in the nearby forest. It also hammered the hotel I stayed at after my eccentric landlord unceremoniously threw me out a few weeks ago. It even caused a short power outage that resulted in me losing one of my e-mails, so indeed, I was hit pretty hard, too.
The tornado hit just around 16:00 local time, just before the commute started. An hour later, I could very well have been in the middle of it. Getting home turned out to be rather difficult that evening, since most of the roads going north were closed for hours afterwards.
I met up with Lisa yesterday. She stays in NYC with Laura, a friend of her, pending a hearing of her complaint about her UK visa refusal. After some general hanging about in galleries, and even more general watching the old (Dutch) masters, we waded through Central Park and I got to see fireflys for the first time. Fireflys must be one of the coolest inventions in nature ever. It's even more spectacular when you run into a tiny swarm (though they don't appear to be the swarming kind of insects, in general).
A bit later, we went to a piano bar near Times Square where some of the Broadway washouts are reputed to hang out. As one might expect, they were rather excellent (and funny!) singers. Most of the songs were Broadway classics, and most of the singalongs were entirely unknown to me, but smiling and mumling melodically gets you a long way when you don't know the words.
The US is a big place. Canada is even bigger. This fact has not be lost upon its inhabitants, who have a penchant for spreading their homes and cities over large areas. The corrollary being that the distance between their workplaces and their homes is often rather long.
Though long commutes are not uncommon in Europe either, there is a marked difference in the availibility of public transportation, and also the people who use it. Even compared to Norway, the buses here are few and far between, they follow the longest and oddest routes, and it is evident that buses are mostly for the lower social classes. (I'm still not over how visibible the difference in social class is, over here.)
I am happy to report that I am almost completely installed over here. (For those who joined the story late: this summer I'm working for IBM Research at the Watson Research Center in Hawthorne, New York, hacking on compilers.)
My first week was extremely taxing, mostly due to rather unexpected housing problems: my landlord decided to throw me out without prior notice one night after I had voiced concerns over the privacy of my room. Juicy details available on request.
I rushed off to an extremely enjoyable hotel and stayed for a couple of nights, and I'm now staying in an... interesting motel until I get to move into a new apartment on Monday. Apart from that little road bump, the stay has been very good so far.