Category: USA Tour 2004

These are posts imported from my USA Tour 2004 blog

December 1, 2009
I have been doing a little bit of tidying up.

In 2004, I was kindly invited to be the British Guest of Honour at Conterpoint, the American NorthEast Filk Convention. I’d originally planned to fly out the week before the convention, and maybe stay for a few days after. However, I very quickly received many invitations to visit and stay with various people on the East Coast, and eventually my planned trip was going to last a whole month.

July 14, 2004
Nearly all of the photographs in this journal were taken with my mobile phone, as its infrared port made it easy to transfer pictures to my Palm for editing and uploading.However, I was also taking pictures with my Olympus digital camera, and some of these pictures can be seen on these pages:Pictures of Washington, 2-14 JunePictures from Conterpoint, 11-13 JunePictures of Toronto, 15 JunePictures of Niagara Falls, 16 JunePictures of Franconia Notch/Cannon Mountain and Boston, 20-21 JunePictures of Long Island, 23-24 JunePictures of Philadelphia, 25-27 JunePictures of Manhattan 28 June 1 JulyPictures from the Staten Island Ferry, 1 JulyWARNING: Some of these pages may take some time to load, which is why I have made them individual pages, outside of this journal.If you met me on my trip and have any photographs of me, I would be pleased to hear from you – I can be emailed via my contact form.

July 14, 2004
I would like to thank all of the people who had me to stay during my visit, and all of the people I met during my travels, who made me so welcome.Without you, this tour would probably have not been possible, and would certainly not have been as enjoyable.Thank you,Chris Malme
14 July 2004

July 4, 2004
We get up and about, and go into town. Steve and Crystal have been asking what I would like to see today, and we decide upon a trip to the Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Although we arrive soon after 10am, the Museum is busy today, and the earliest tickets we can get for the main permanent exhibit is after 3pm, too late for our purposes. However, there are sufficient other exhibits we can see to make it worthwhile our time.
First we go to “Life In Shadows:Hidden Children and the Holocaust”, which tells the tale of Jewish children in occupied countries during World War II, and how they were hidden and protected. It is a very good exhibit, with plenty to see and think about – letters, photographs etc, and also a lot of audio-visual material, from children who survived to be adults. However, it is worth remembering that over a million children didn’t survive.

July 2, 2004
I get up and shower at 9am, and pack leisurely, leaving the hotel at about 11:30. As I leave, the doorman lifts his hand and hails a taxi, like straight out of the movies. Although I am quite capable of hailing a taxi myself (or even walking the 25 yards across the street to the taxi rank), this fits so well into the spirit of my stay, that I have no hesitation in thanking and tipping him.The taxi takes me straight down 7th Avenue, to Penn Station, in plenty of time to catch the 12:05 train to Washington. The trip is enjoyable, but uneventful. I know I am nearing the end of my vacation now, and am content to rest and think about the fun I have had.I arrive at 4:20pm, and telephone Steve and Crystal to make arrangements. Gary and Sheryl are also free tonight, so it is suggested we dine somewhere in their area. We agree that I should make my way to Rockville station on the Metro, a trip now familiar to me, and Steve and Cheryl will pick me up. I arrive a little before them, so find some local shops and buy some water – it is hot and humid again, here in Washington, and I need a drink.Steve and Crystal arrive, and we drive to Gary and Sheryl, then onto an Indian Restaurant. We have a very nice meal – I had a Lamb Biryani, with Naan. The others are interested in how it measures up to English curries, and the answer is very well indeed. In fact the menu looks quite familiar with the notable absence of anything like a Vindaloo, Bangalore of Phal, which seem to be excessively hot curries peculiar to the UK. No loss there!We then drive on to meet a gaming group that Steve and Crystal play with. We play a few different games, one of which – Carcassonne – I win. We then headed back to Steve and Crystal’s, and bed.

July 1, 2004
I get up, and make my way up to the American Museum of Natural History. It is a really nice day, so rather than risking the subway again, and as the Museum doesn’t open until 10am, I walk up 7th Avenue until I reach Central Park, and then wander through the park, trying to head in the right general direction. It is a pleasant walk, and I get to the Museum about 20 minutes after it opens.It is impossible to “do” the museum in the time I have, but I have fun skimming through its exhibits. In particular, the “Big Bang” show, which exits into the “Scales of the Universe” exhibit, trying to illustrate the relative size and age of the Universe as we know it, Below, in the “Hall of the Universe”, there is much excitment, as it is announced we would shortly have the first pictures of Saturn from Cassini. However, all the excited crowd see is several different talking heads from Cassini Control, talking about what we would be seeing, when the pictures were available. Many people wander off, myself being one of them.The Frogs exhibit is very good, with over 200 different live species of frog on display. However, I’m slightly ashamed to say that the frog I buy in the museum shop was none other than Kermit the Frog!After the museum, I meet Elaine Muraskin, over on the East Side, where she lives. We have a very pleasant and civilised lunch in a little bistro, and then take a bus down to the business district, passing through Chinatown on the way.Elaine wants me to see Ground Zero, but to be honest, there is not much to see. For people who were used to the two towers of the World Trade Centre, their absence is probably still shocking, but to me it looks very much like an empty building site. Which is what it is – the train station is already operational, the whole site is cleared, and foundations are ready, and construction is about to commence. Whether or not the area should have been left as a memorial, as many people think, I do not know, but as things stand, New York appears to have moved on, with business as usual.We make our way to the Staten Island Ferry, and meet up with Marc Glasser and others for the NYUSFS (New York Unnameable Science Fiction Society) Fourth of July Staten Island Ferry Meeting. They have come prepared for party, with pizza, watermelon and other consumables, and Marc has his guitar with him. The plan is to do the return journey to Staten Island a couple of times, and then those that want to will go off for a meal.Unfortunately we are not allowed to stay on the Ferry when it arrives at the other side, but are made to disembark, and queue to re-embark again, even though one of our party is in a wheelchair. The reason given for this is “Homeland Security”, although none of us can see what the danger of us staying on the ferry is – given that we have already gone through their security gates once – nor why anyone would want to attack the Staten Island Ferry. On the second time around, I think I see Marc having the pizza boxes searched, or he might have just been offering the guard a slice, I am not sure. We are not the only ones inconvenienced. Although the Staten Island Ferry serves an important role for commuters, every New York guide book I have seen suggests taking a round trip for a free look at Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty – as such, there are a number of tourists who are also told to leave the ferry, against their wishes.I feel that the filking element of the trip is more symbolic than anything else, as it is difficult to hear anybody sing unless you are either sitting next to them, or it is a chorus song involving anyone. A filk of “American Pie” proves popular, with the filkers and also some of the other travellers, many of whom smile and say thanks for the entertainment. Elaine persuades me to do a couple of songs, so I play and sing as loud as I can get (pretty loud), and get an appreciative round of applause.While we are on the ferry, we see quite a few other small ships, and then one quite large one. It is only as I am framing it, to take a picture, that I realise it is the Queen Mary 2.Elaine and I had had a pretty late lunch, so we decide not to go to dinner with the others, but walk back along and around the harbour area, ending up at Pier 17 – a harbour pier now turned into a mall/restaurant complex. We sit out on the deck for a while, and admire the view of the Boston bridge and the passing pleasure cruisers. Then we take a bus going uptown again. I say goodbye to Elaine and get off at 42 street, then get the crosstown bus to 7th Avenue and walk back to the hotel.

June 30, 2004
I get to the Circle Line dock in time for a 11am sailing,only to find that it is actually at 11:30, so I grab a drink and wait.The cruise is a 2 hour semicircle tour of the harbour, which sails back on itself, so whichever side of the ship you sit, you will see everything. It is actually much more entertaining than I expected – the cruise guide is quite humorous, and keeps us entertained. We get to see good views of most of the New York waterfront, and Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.We don’t get back until 1:45pm, and I decide to carry on to my next planned attraction, and catch lunch there. This is where I hit a snag. I was going to see the Museum of Natural History today, and the Guggenheim tomorrow, but I discover that the Guggenheim is closed on Thursdays. So I decide to switch the two attractions and head for Guggenheim. However, disastrously, I accidently catch an express subway train instead of the local one, and am taken way past my stop. Then trying to get back to my stop, I do the same, in the opposite direction.By the time I work out what has happened, where I am, and how to get back, I realise that it is 3:30pm, and I will only get to the Guggenheim a couple of hours before it closes, not enough time to do it justice. I am tired and hungry, so I decide to abandon the plan, and simply head back into town and find something to eat.People have told me I ought to try Katz’s Deli, while I am in New York, but I haven’t gotten round to it, However, walking down 7th Ave, I come across the Stage Deli, so I go in. I order a “Joe DiMaggio”, which is pastrami, corned beef, onion and chopped liver, on rye bread. Like the previous deli sandwich I had in Long Island, it is massive, with as much sliced meat in it as I would normally eat in a week.I thoroughly enjoy the meal, but after this and my Long Island experience, I decide that deli cuisine is probably not my cup of tea. This may be contentious, but when it comes down to it, I enjoy good cooking, and frankly, piling a pound of assorted cooked meat on a couple of slices of dry bread isn’t cooking to me.It’s coming up to 5pm, and I am not due at the Minskoff Theatre until 8pm, so I wander around the shops in the area, and just have fun. I find time to nip into the Internet Cafe on 42nd street to check my email, and then head back to my hotel to change for the show.”Fiddler on the Roof” is a masterpiece. It is a very modern production of the musical – the stage is an open space, bordered by realistic looking trees, and the cast and crew bring on props and furniture as they are needed – a bed is brought on, and the space is a bedroom; tables and chairs make it either a bar room or the town square. The orchestra are actually on stage, to the rear, and the Fiddler wanders around the action on stage.It is hard not to make comparisons between this cast, with Alfred Molina, and the cast I am familiar with from the movie, with Topol in the part. Molina’s voice is lighter and higher, and during the first number – “Tradition!”, I wonder if he is going to pull this off. He plays Tevye the Milkman as a much younger man, and the pace of the songs is faster than I remember them.But it works. Molina makes the part his own, and takes some real chances that pay off – particularly with his scenes with Tzeitel the tailor – where as much is said by the pauses that punctuates their dialog, as by the words themselves.Subsequent to seeing the show, I have discovered that this has received very mixed reviews. Perhaps it’s just that I’m a sucker for a live show, but I loved it.When I leave the theatre, it has gone 11pm, but I am not the least bit tired. I wonder back towards my hotel, and discover an “Irish Pub”. On entering, I discover that at least two of the barstaff areIrish, and that their Guinness is good too. I stay for an hour or so, and a few pints, before going back to my room.

June 29, 2004
Got out and about by 10am, and headed down to the Intrepid museum area. The main exhibit is the Intrepid, an aircraft carrier converted into a museum of sea, air and space. The exhibits it contains are interesting enough, but I was fascinated by the vessel itself, and explored every bit that I thought I would be allowed in. I learned a few things as well – as a flag ship, the Intrepid actually had two bridges, one above the other. The upper bridge – the Captain’s Bridge – was for the control of the Intrepid itself; while the lower bridge – the Admiral’s Bridge was for strategic command of the fleet it commanded.

Having obtained several recommendations for places to eat in New York, I let you all down by having lunch in the mess room of the Intrepid, due to hunger, and a desire not to cut the visit short. However, I did have the good grace not to go for the MacDonalds on offer there, and instead had a quite tasty turkey, ham and cheese salad sandwich (UK readers – a sandwich is *not* a slice of meat between two slices of bread, it is a whopping great roll, with about half a pound of sliced cooked meat in it.).

June 28, 2004
“New York, just as I pictured it. Skyscrapers and everything.”I arrive in New York just before midday, having had a lift from Rene to Philadelphia station. I only have my pack and sleep machine with me, so I simply walk down 7th avenue until I reach Times Square, and my hotel. It is too early to check in, so I leave my bags at the porter’s desk, and go out to explore for a couple of hours.One of the first things I see is that Alfred Molina is staring in a revival of “Fiddler on the Roof” – I mark that down as a definite possibility for an evening show. I also pick up a leaflet for the New York City Pass, which will give me entry to 6 attraction for just $48:Intrepid Sea Air Space MuseumGuggenheim MuseumMuseum of Modern ArtCircle Line 2 hour harbour cruiseAmerican Museum of Natural HistoryEmpire State BuildingAs all but one of these was on my list of thing to check out (guess which one didn’t make the list), it seems a good choice to use as the basis of my visit.I decide I may as well have lunch while I wait for my room, and so find myself in a Red Lobster, drinking iced tea, and eating shrimp, clams and crab cakes.After lunch, it is still a bit early I to check into my room, so I make a decision, and book a ticket for “Fiddler on the Roof”, for Wedneday night. I know that I could possibly pick up cut price tickets on the day, but that would mean returning to Times Square on the afternoon of the performance, and queuing up for ticket returns. Given the amount of time I have in New York, I decide to pay box office price, guarantee myself a good seat and avoid disrupting my day.After that, I book into my room, which is a compact but quite wonderful suite (queen sized bedroom, bathroom, and lounge, including fridge and microwave) on the 42nd floor and has views of both Times Square and the Hudson River.As a hotel that I found on the Internet, it is a complete success.After freshening up, I walk back to Penn Station, to take the Long Island Railway out to Dave’s.I arrive just as Dave is walking around to the Laundrette, so we walk round together and collect his washing. The we load my case in his car and drive to a Mexican restaurant for Dinner.Dave is going over to a friends later tonight, to help them move, so we both get on the New York train, although Dave gets off to change at Jamaica.I walk from Penn Station to the hotel again, this time with my case. After unpacking and having a bath, I go out again at about 10:30, for a walk.I discover an Internet Cafe near to my hotel, which will give me unlimited net access for 5 days for just $10. This will be my communication line to the world for my time in New York.

June 27, 2004
I wake up at 9am, but there are others still sleeping downstairs, so I read for a while. The the door rings, and Eyal arrives. He is giving a lift to Merav and Jon, so people gradually get up and breakfast is had.After the three leave for New York, the rest of us drive to Philadelphia’s “Antique Row” area where there is a “Culinary Festival” today. There is various foods available, and live entertainment and music.Later we go for a short drive around Philadelpia, and end up at the Japanese House and Garden – a traditional house, built in Japan in the 1959’s, and shipped first to New York, then later to Philidelphia. The house is quite interesting, and the surrounding gardens and carp pool are beautiful and peaceful.When we get back, Mark starts a fire, and we have barbecue – steaks with corn and salad.

June 26, 2004
I get up around 9am, and have breakfast with Mark and Rene. I then take the number 34 trolley into the city.I can take the trolley further into town, but I decide to get off at the 30th Street main station, as the Franklin Museum of Science is only a short walk away. I discover that the museum appears to be predominately aimed at kids, which surprises me, as there is another museum expressely for children (called “The Please Touch Me Museum”) in the same area. Still, it has some interesting exhibits, particularly the train room, with various steam locomotives.My ticket includes a session in the Planetarium, but I am too late to make the 11am show, and don’t want to stay until the next show at 1:15pm. I check and find that my ticket will allow readmission, so I decide to come back later, if time allows.I walk down J F Kennedy Boulevard, into town. Tickets for Independance Hall are sold out today, so I look around the Independance Hall Visitors Centre instead, then I queue to stare at the Liberty Bell for a few moments.I make my way back to the Franklin Museum, stopping at various shops on the way, including a lunch break for the famous Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich.. I arrive in time for the Planatarium show, which is a bit of an anticlimax. For a start, they are using a perfectly good 360 degree dome planetarum for a multimedia show that would have been more suited to a conventional cinema, with very little showing of star-scapes, and lots of flashy split screens. Secondly, the show is spoilt by the constant crying of two babies on opposite sides of the hall whenever the room went black. I had no real problem with the little girl sitting behind me, asking questions of her dad – at least the questions were about the show. But I think taking babies into a show like this is kind of thoughtless, both for the baby and other people, and not leaving when the baby cries is even more so.I walk to 30th Street again, and return to Mark and Rene’s place for the housefilk. There are familiar faces – Ben, Merav, Jon, Eyal from the con; my “stalkers” Paul and Hilary, who appear to be following me around, being at the con and the previous house filk in Boston; and some folk I haven’t met before – Leah, and Ben’s girlfriend Rachel. Not forgetting Mark and Jeremy, of course, Rene and her cousin, and a colleague of Mark’s, from work. The evening was a success, and fun was had by all.

June 25, 2004
Dave has to get up early to take his car to the garage. As it happens, I wake up early too – when he returns, we walk to a nearby diner, and order breakfast – I have waffles with sausage.The day has started out cloudy, but it is now clearing and bright sunshine. We go back to Dave’s apartment and pick up our sunglasses before setting off again, in the opposite direction. After a couple of miles we reach our objective – Best Buy – where I eventually manage to buy a set of noise-cancelling headphones. It was far harder than it should have been, as their computerised till system is slow and decidely unreliable, ans seems unable to accept a purchase from someone from the UK. According to their system, customers can only be from the USA, Canada or Mexico, nor can it accept UK phone numbers, even though the field is mandatory. After we make the purchase and have left, I am further annoyed to find that a “free” trial of a music download service they offered me has, in fact, been linked to the credit card I used to buy the headphones, and unless I cancel it within 14 days, the card will receive a monthly charge. Nothing had been said about this, and I resolve to cancel the service without even trying it, and make a very strongly worded complaint to the management about it.Dave was hoping his car would be ready, but it isn’t, so we walk back and call for a taxi to take me to Wantagh Station. I catch a local train, and arrive at Penn Station, with 5 minutes before my train to Philadelpia leaves.Mark meets me at Philadelphia station, and we get the trolley to his home. I meet Rene and Jeremy, their son, and then Mark and I head out to a store to pick up supplies for tomorrow’s food.When we get back, Rene is cooking, and we have fried chicken, corn and asparagus, with desert to follow later in the evening. We sit and chat until about 10:30, when I come over tired, and head for bed.