Meeting Vanessa

vanessaRecently, I had the opportunity to have one of those “in real life” meetings with one of my favorite bloggers — Vanessa “ethelthedean” Woznow of Rant and Roll. Several months ago we realized that Vanessa would be in my neck of the woods for a few days this summer. She would be visiting Brooklyn for her sister’s wedding; I live in northern New Jersey. Obviously, we couldn’t be so close and NOT get together — that would just be silly.

Vanessa carved out a couple of hours between helping her sister with her final wedding preparations and trying to see some of the sights of New York City. Since she was staying in Brooklyn, I decided that lower Manhattan would be the most convenient location for us to get together. Because I’m an idiot, I set the meeting for South Street Seaport.

Anyone who is familiar with my blog can attest to the fact that I’m not that big on paying attention. This particular chink in my armor is not a huge deal when I somehow fail to hear the clerk call out my deli number and, therefore, miss my chance at the rarest cut of roast beef. It is, however, kind of a pretty big deal when I send the lady from Vancouver to an area of Manhattan that was all but flattened by Hurricane Sandy.

My first clue that something was very wrong came when I realized that I was the only person roaming the neighborhood who wasn’t wearing a fluorescent vest and a hard hat. At first I thought (seriously, I thought this) that they were simply renovating the area. It wasn’t until I smelled the mold and the mildew that I took note of the fact that the streets looked like that classic episode of “The Brady Bunch” — the one where they stumble upon that abandoned mining town on their way to The Grand Canyon. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d been approached by a grizzled old prospector offering me some “Fool’s gold”.

The night before our meeting I had, thankfully, Facebook messaged Vanessa and given her my phone number — “just in case”. Of course, I imagined she would only have to use it if she found herself running late or some such, I didn’t think she’d need to contact me to tell me that the giant chain restaurant  — the one that we had agreed to meet in front of — the one that had been sitting in the same spot for going on twenty years — was, indeed, “missing”. To be clear, it wasn’t just “missing” — in the sense that it was no longer in business. It was, quite simply, gone — as in, it’s now somewhere on the bottom of the East River or the Atlantic Ocean. It, along with the pier on which it once stood, was, in a testament to the power of hurricanes in general and Sandy in particular, washed away by the sheer force of the wind and the rain that accompanied the storm that, literally, rained devastation upon the eastern seaboard.

At some point on this cloudy and humid Monday, while scouring the area for signs of life, I realized that this day might also have a bit in the way of precipitation in store for us. And did it ever. It poured buckets. I know people say that all the time, but in this case it was true. The rain formed what can best be described as a “curtain” — separating the pier from the water — it was so fierce that, although I was standing at the foot of The Brooklyn Bridge, which, for those of you unfamiliar with this edifice, is no small structure — I couldn’t see it at all. Any of it. It was eclipsed by the deluge. Great!

Luckily, one of the piers, while it had suffered some damage, had just recently reopened for business. That’s where I found Vanessa and her party.

Somehow, my intrepid Canadian friends (Vanessa brought her mother and her husband over the bridge with her — bonus!) stumbled across what I could not — an open food vendor! When I found them they were replacing the processed sugar they had lost on their long, wet trip across the bridge. Fueled by cinnamon rolls and caffeinated beverages, we set about getting to know (more!) about each other.

Fang always worries about me whenever I agree to meet a “bloggy buddy” — as he likes to refer to them — in real life. I’ve met a few so far. Not one of them has turned out to be an axe murderer, but that doesn’t stop Fang from expressing his anxieties regarding what he characterizes as a sketchy practice. I’m happy to report that Vanessa, who didn’t even have room for an umbrella in her bag, was not, as far as I could tell, armed with anything more dangerous than a hair tie. If she is an axe murderer she hid it well.

We had a short, but enjoyable, visit. I learned that her husband knows far more about American history than most Americans — and certainly more than I know about Canadian history. He was as delightful as his wife. Vanessa’s mother was lovely as well — she struck me as an “up for anything” kind of gal.

Vanessa was funny, warm, energetic, intelligent, vivacious, and very tall, which is exactly how I expected her to be. I daresay she felt the same way about me. I can’t wait to see her the next time she’s in New York — hopefully we’ll manage to squeeze in more than an hour together and have a meal outside of a food court.

In terms of my husband and his concerns regarding axe-wielding Canadians, I’m happy that I didn’t suddenly and uncharacteristically choose to listen to him. If I’d done so, I would have missed out on meeting a truly fantastic person — and that would have been a real crime.

photo credit: me

My Exciting Thursday

moodfabriclogoSomewhat guiltily, I shoved aside hovel purging and did a few more interesting things yesterday — not, perhaps, as necessary as hovel purging, but, still in all, far less mundane and back-breaking than filling more bags and boxes with the detritus of my life. Following what turned out to be a bus ride that had it’s equivalent in the expression “slow boat to China”, I went to Mood Fabrics in NYC and drooled over toiles, velvets, and the hundreds of other beautiful fabrics they have to offer. For a fabric hound such as myself, there is no better place to while away a few hours than on West 37th Street in Manhattan. Maybe they have more toile at, say, The Palace at Versailles, but I suspect that they would frown upon my clipping a swatch. Mood and the other fabric stores in the area actually encourage the swatching that will, no doubt, land you in a French prison. (I wonder if they still use The Bastille?). Also, I can’t just hop on the 163 Local to gaze at the toiles enjoyed by Louis XIV and his ilk. Sampling the Versailles toiles and enjoying three hots and a cot on the French government would require airline travel and a passport. I’m adventurous, but I’m not THAT adventurous. Frankly, I was antsy on the OVER ONE HOUR bus ride to the city (see “slow boat to China” reference above) — it normally takes about 45 minutes midday — a seven-hour plane ride would be out of the question.

I spent an hour trying to find the Joe Fresh location that was supposed to be on 34th and Fifth. They were supposed to be having a sale on sweaters. And they don’t sell online. (Can you even imagine?) There was no Joe Fresh on 34th Street or anywhere in the surrounding area. No one that I asked had ever heard of such a store. I did, however, manage to stumble upon a place called The Manhattan Mall. I only ventured in because I thought that Joe Fresh might be tucked away inside of it. It wasn’t. Don’t worry, though, I didn’t come home empty-handed. I still managed to feed my cashmere addiction at, of all places, JC Penney. (You all need to check out what they’ve done to JC Penney — it’s not just Worthington anymore, boys and girls!) I managed to leave the store with a cashmere sweater for myself and one for my daughter. And, GET THIS, it only cost me $40 total. Forty bucks for TWO cashmere sweaters. Unheard of.

I downed a delicious and much needed vanilla latte at Starbuck’s on 33rd Street (the one thatstarbuckslogo is literally in the shadow of The Empire State Building). I even managed to have a moment of self-awareness and a mini-adventure in the bathroom line. In a city known for its dearth of public restrooms, Starbuck’s should be commended for the fact that they have at least one in all of their locations (at least the one’s that I’ve been in). Also, there is no need to ask a barrista for a key nor have I ever seen a sign indicating that only Starbuck’s customers are welcome to use the facilities. This appeals to my sense of fairness and democracy. While I applaud the Starbuck’s bathroom policy in theory, the reality, as is often the case, is somewhat different, especially when this reality has a direct and deleterious effect on me. (Communism looks great on paper until you’re the one subjected to a lifetime of potato peeling based solely on your inability to read as well as some of your classmates in the first grade!) So, there I was. About to break out into the “pee-pee” dance in the shadow of one of the greatest architectural wonders of the Western world when it hit me that I am not as egalitarian as I like to think I am. As excellent corporate policies tend to do (Rite-Aid takes back opened/used cosmetics — no questions asked!) word has gotten out regarding Starbuck’s lax lavatory regulations. And not just to the folks that work in the area. No. Word has spread to those folks that live in the area. More specifically, word has gotten around to the local homeless population.

I have nothing against the homeless. In fact I think it’s shameless that there are homeless and hungry people living in this country at all. That being said, I must tell you that yesterday at Starbuck’s I harbored a fair amount of ill will against a few homeless people who had managed to scooch in front of me on the restroom line. And scooch they did. One minute I was alone and next in line for the W.C., the next minute they were in front of me. I honestly have no idea how this happened. Perhaps I was daydreaming or looking at The Empire State Building. Maybe I had a small seizure. I really couldn’t tell you. All I know is that they had somehow taken up residence ahead of me. Sure, I could have said something. I could have made a scene. But I’m a middle-class, middle-aged suburban white woman who has never even considered voting for a Republican. Tangling with homeless people in a public place istheempirestatebuilding just not my style.

I should have taken it as a bad sign when I watched as the two women went into the loo together. I should add that they did so with all of their goods and wares in tow. This, as you might imagine, took some time and maneuvering. Oh, and there was still one more poor soul with his cartful of supplies ahead of me. I weighed my choices. I could stay where I was or I could make the mad dash across Fifth Avenue to the Starbuck’s across the street. It was a classic case of choosing the known versus the unknown. I opted for the former. At the end of the day, I don’t know whether or not I made the right decision, having no knowledge of the goings on across Fifth Avenue. Though I imagined, as I stood there with a nearly exploding bladder (why? why? why? did I order a Venti? A less gluttonous person would have gone for the Breve!) that there was no line for their, more likely, swanky and sumptuous facility. I had, by this time, reached the point of no return. It was too late to get across the street in anything resembling a dry state. Having already shopped for sweaters and been successful, I could not imagine that I would have the same luck procuring new jeans and underwear (and, God forbid!, socks), but don’t think I didn’t consider it.

I stayed put and counted the minutes (13!) that the pair spent in what I was beginning to think was a mirage of a lavatory. I assumed that they were showering and doing some laundry. I cannot tell you how disappointed I was when they finally emerged (only to have their bedraggled compatriot go in behind them) looking much the same as when they had entered. For whatever reason, this annoyed me. I expected to see that they had at least made some minor improvements to their appearances. So, there I was, judging the homeless, tapping my foot, doing some kegel exercises, and, I am sure, rolling my eyes when one of the fine folks who is employed by Starbuck’s actually took notice of my discomfort and allowed me to use the employee bathroom. He was not wearing a name tag and I plum forgot to ask him his name. Whoever he was, I would just like to say that he is a fine human being who, in addition to rescuing a soon-to-be covered in urine person from her latte excesses, also has excellent taste in footwear. His patent leather kicks were to die for! Also, he wouldn’t even hear of taking the tip I proffered after emerging from the restroom. Who says New Yorkers don’t have a heart?

On most days this young man and the kindness that he showed me would have been the highlight of my day. But not yesterday. No. Yesterday I had the pleasure of being surrounded by exciting people. You see, the reason that I went to the city at all was to have dinner with a group of women from GenFab. GenFab is a Facebook group of (mostly) women of my generation. We’re not Boomers. We’re not Gen-Xers. We’re the ones that fall in between. I came to be a part of this group a few months ago at the urging of my friend and fellow blogger, Amanda Fox, over at The Fur Files. (Thanks, Fern!) They are a great group of supportive, talented, and wonderful women. Over the last few months they have been working on launching a website dedicated to issues that are pertinent to our age group. (Don’t worry, I’ll promote the launch!) They asked for contributions and have agreed to publish one of mine. This is not what drove me to join them for dinner last night, though. No. I really just wanted to be in the company of these dynamic women. (I’m hoping some of it will rub off on me!) They were all so welcoming and, given their accomplishments, not the least bit pretentious. Usually at 8 o’clock on a Thursday evening I am apologizing to some moron for bringing him what he ordered and/or dealing with my immature co-workers while covered in the barbecue sauce that I had spilled on my shirt during the lunch shift. Do I need to tell you what a nice departure this was from that? I didn’t think so.

genfabdinnernyc2713This was first “in real life” meeting with folks that I have met through blogging. I won’t lie, the idea of this was a little daunting. More daunting, though, was knowing that I was going to meet virtual strangers, most of whom I admired. For a couple of weeks prior to the dinner I was both excited and a little bit worried. I thought about dying my hair, getting my nails done, wearing better clothes, whitening my teeth, and making other adjustments to my appearance. Basically, I wondered if I should change who I ultimately am. In the end I decided to just be myself, warts and all. I’m happy to report that it went well. I don’t think anyone cared that my hair was in need of a dye job and that my nails were in need of a manicure. If my teeth weren’t white enough, no one mentioned it. And my attire? It was fine. Here’s the thing: these women were more interested in WHO I was than in what I was wearing. Many of them seemed genuinely interested. And some of them had even read my blog. And they admitted not just to reading it, but to actually liking it. Wow!

So, now comes the hard part. I really want to mention, by way of a “thank you”, everyone that I met last night. I want to encourage you to read their blogs and their books, subscribe to their web magazines, watch their movies, and, just generally, get to know them, but I fear that I will leave someone out. I’ve decided to put that fear aside and not squander this opportunity to promote them and GenFab. I’ll do the best I can and list everyone that I can remember. If I forget any of you, please remind me who you are and what your blog/website is and I will update my list. I promise you that my intention is not to exclude anyone! For those of you who fall into this “fabulous” generation, consider joining GenFab. You won’t regret it.

Better After 50
Grown and Flown
An Empowered Spirit
The Chloe Chronicles
Connect with your teens through technology
The Louise Log
Relocation: The Blog
100 Sleepless Nights
Books is Wonderful
Second Lives Club
Oh Boy Mom
Boomer Wizdom

photo credits: starbucks logo (, The Empire State Building , GenFab dinner pic (Cathy Chester), Mood Fabric logo (fashion