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In NYC

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Susan's wedding is imminent, so I was coming to New York anyway; and then I realized that since I was off work this week, I could come out early and see friends and do touristy stuff that I haven't had a chance to do the last few times I've been to NYC.

And then I realized that NY has become one of the places where I know too many people to see them all in a week.

Which means, sadly, that I'm not going to see everyone I'd like to see this week. I'm sorry about that.

Arrived Tuesday night; had a late dinner with Sumana, and I checked into the Hotel Roger Williams, which I'm mostly rather liking (and it's very close to lots of interesting stuff).

Wednesday, met up with Annie and Tivi (who were also in the area this week) and hung out in Brooklyn, mostly lounging in the Tea Lounge. We discovered that the Brooklyn TKTS stand (half-price same-day tickets to Broadway shows) has no line on a Wednesday afternoon; they didn't have tickets to Wicked, which is what I'm currently most interested in seeing (having likely missed my chance to see it back home), so we ended up going to see Phantom. I had seen it before in San José (I think?), but from way up in the balcony; this time we had 20th-row orchestra seats, which were still a little far back for my tastes but not bad. Good show.

Thursday, we tried to go to the J.P. Morgan library (about three blocks from my hotel), which my brother recommended a couple years back, but it turns out that when their website says “The McKim Building is closed for restoration,” it neglects to mention that that's the building where the library is housed. We could've seen the art and such in other buildings, but the library was the main draw for me, so instead we went to the King Tut exhibit up by Times Square, across the street from the Phantom theatre.

The Tut exhibit was neat, and interesting, and had a bunch of cool stuff. It was also heavily hyped, and their line-management technology was sadly lacking. (Tiny example: at one point, a staff person standing in front of us told us repeatedly to go “straight ahead” to get into the exhibit, as she pointed off to our left.) I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't gotten suddenly totally exhausted around halfway through; by the end, even after several rest stops on benches, I was having a hard time standing up. But I recovered somewhat on the way back to the hotel.

I had dinner with Karen & Allen at Vatan, a tasty prix fixe vegetarian Indian place not far from my hotel; perhaps a little pricy by my usual standards (though perhaps not by Manhattan standards), but an awful lot of food (essentially all-you-can-eat), and a very friendly and helpful waiter, and relatively quiet for a Manhattan restaurant at dinnertime. It reminded me a bit of the heyday of Empress of India in Santa Clara, except a little less eclectic and a little more service-oriented. (I've linked to their website here, but I haven't seen it yet because it won't display on a screen as small as mine. Bad web designers! No doughnut or Indian equivalent!)

Later, Annie & I visited the Empire State Building, which I haven't been to since I was about four. (It too is about three blocks from my hotel.) We were accosted by confusing people in uniform outside who wanted to sell us discount tickets of some kind; I'm guessing they're essentially scalpers. We bypassed them, went inside, went through the metal detector, got in various lines, and then saw that the expected wait time was 90 minutes. (At 10:15 p.m. on a weekday, with short lines.) We decided to give up, but then we asked a guard and he said the actual wait time was more like 20 minutes. So we got back in line, got tickets, got in another line, got in another line, narrowly avoided getting our pictures taken by the official people who want to sell you photos of yourself Photoshopped onto a cheesy NY cityscape, got in an elevator, and were whisked up to the 80th floor—where there was another much longer line. Another organization that could use lessons from Disney in line management.

But then a guard yelled out that we could walk up six floors to the 86th-floor observatory, and there was a mass stampede for the staircase.

And six floors up, there was the observatory! Total time from buying ticket to arrival at observatory ended up being about 15 minutes.

I've left out half a dozen other ways that they tried to part us from our money on the way in. I joked that at the exit, there would be a basket with instructions to deposit any money you had left.

We walked around and looked at the nighttime city. Pretty! Then up to the 102nd-floor other observatory, which is much smaller and is fully enclosed (no going outside) and costs an extra $15 to get to. (And we had to stand around waiting for about 15-20 minutes to get into the elevator going up, for no clear reason.) It was kind of neat—and we saw a bunch of bats outside—but the view was significantly clearer from the lower observatory, without the smudged windows to look through.

Eventually we were done, so we headed down. The downward trip was faster than the upward one had been—except that, of course, on the way down they had a gift shop. The final money depository!

Or so I thought. After the gift shop, there were a couple of other ways to spend money, and then we made it out to the sidewalk and someone asked if we needed a limo.

Anyway. They may not be great at providing a good visitor experience, but the ESB people sure do know how to get money out of people. And the actual observatory experience was worth it; it was just the getting to and from that was annoying. And even that could've been much worse. I was very glad not to have to wait an hour and a half to get to the top.

Today: Lunch with Bruce; hanging out with Sumana.

Tomorrow: The Wedding!

Sunday: Seeing Catherine O.

Monday: Returning home for 24 hours before flying off to Australia.

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