Tag Archives: New York

Rollerblading in Central Park

Valentine’s Day is in two days, and today, I’m scrambling to make something for Angell as a token of my love. As I’ve been doing this, I’ve been combing through old photographs, looking for specific images that will accomplish my purpose (I’m being vague because Angell will read this before the 14th).

Looking through old photographs is to climb into a time machine. I’ve read where smells are the most evocative of the senses at triggering memories, and while I’ve found this to be true for myself, the combination of my eyes and old photos is mighty strong.

Rollerblading in Cenral ParkTake this photograph of me looking like I got jumped in an alley. This was taken in the summer of 1995, when Angell and I were living in New York. Her friend Rhonda had come to town to stay with us a few days, and we went to Central Park with her and my friend Suzy, who was in Elizabeth Dillon’s acting class with me.

The previous Christmas, Angell’s mom got us each a pair of roller blades for Christmas. I have no idea why she bought us those things. We’d never expressed an interest in roller blading or any other activity that involved footwear designed to make one fly like the wind.

Before Rhonda’s trip to New York, I’d used my roller blades exactly once. Angell and I took them over the Juniper Park, a few miles from our place in Queens. The park is a rectangle, 1.3 miles in circumference. I made it around once before giving up. I’d never ice skated, and couldn’t quite get the hang of it. Angell, on the other hand, picked up on it rather quickly. She was a skate rat in middle school, so maybe that had something to do with it.

I don’t remember who suggested roller blading in Central Park. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was me. We had no blades for Rhonda, and she was very much okay with that. We drove into the city that day, and picked Suzy up at her apartment in Manhattan before heading over to the East Side to find a parking spot somewhere in the 60’s. We packed in our blades and put them on after we’d walked around a bit and gotten past the Alice in Wonderland statue by the Boat Pond.

Rhonda followed on foot as we made our way toward the Bethesda Fountain. I remember Suzy being quite good on her blades. Angell was next on the depth chart, followed by wobbly me.

When we passed the Band Shell and crossed the road just before the Bethesda Fountain, I looked to the right to see if we could avoid all those steps. I noticed a sidewalk snaking up into the trees and then down to the pond where you rent the row boats.

I skated past the girls and told them to follow me. As I made my way up the little hill, Suzy said she didn’t know about that path. When I got to the top of the little rise, the sidewalk turned to the left before plunging down a short, steep hill that dead-ended at a sidewalk at the bottom. Just past that was water.

For some reason, I felt no fear or caution, which is not like me. Instead, I paused a brief moment before pushing off just as Suzy and Angell were making the top of the hill.

The impulse to skate down this hill was done without a thought to how I’d stop at the bottom. I could barely stand upright on the stupid roller blades, let alone stop on a dime at the bottom of a steep hill. As I gained speed, this thought raced through my mind as I comprehended the stupidity of my decision.

My knees bent, I stared ahead of me at the T-shaped intersection at the bottom of the hill. I’m not a panicky person, and in a split second, I formulated a plan. I noticed that to the left of me, it seemed soft and spongy, with vines and other plants bordering the sidewalk. The plan was to simply skate off the sidewalk into the viney stuff and have a soft landing.

The problem with that plan occurred when I took my eyes off that T intersection. Me being the novice blader, I was wobbly on my feet when I was barely moving. At this ever-increasing speed, I was a disaster waiting to happen, and when I shifted my gaze to my left, my feet flew out from under me.

In the moment when I crashed, time slowed to a crawl. I saw my feet shoot up as though being jerked by a rope. As this happened, I threw my arms back reflexively to soften the blow of falling on asphalt. As I did this, my body somehow spun in the air, and as my left elbow hit first, splitting the end of my radius bone, my left cheek was next to hit, emitting a shower of starts, and drug behind me a bit before I rolled over and gave the right side of my face a go. As I spun around, my knees got all scraped up too.

As I slid off into the dirt, time resumed its normal pace, and I began laughing and cursing as the girls made their way to me. Angell and Suzy, afraid of suffering the same fate as me, side-stepped their way to me as Rhonda was able to run.

They tried to get me to take it easy as I sat up. At first, it didn’t hurt, but as the blood began to move into the banged-up areas, the stinging started. I assured them I was fine. They were all wincing at the look of my face, and none of them had mirrors, so I didn’t know how bad I looked. My elbow felt weird, but I figured it was just a bruise.

As I sat there, I pulled off those rollerblades for the last time and got back into my black high-top Chucks and got to my feet and told them it looked worse than I felt.

Rhonda was wanting to rent a row boat, and me being me, that’s what we did. For the next 30 minutes, I rowed the three girls around the Central Park Lake in a rowboat with what turned out to be a slightly broken arm. At that point, the swelling hadn’t started, and I felt okay. The next day, my arm stiffened up and hurt like hell.

The photo above was taken when we got back to the car. I love it. The Preservation Hall t-shirt was a memento from our honeymoon to New Orleans. The sand cammies are still in my wardrobe, and when I’m not fat, I wear them.

The next day, I showed up for work looking like I’d been beaten up on the way in, and my boss sent me straight to St. Vincent’s, down in the Village, to get looked at. That’s where I learned that I’d broken my arm.

A day or two later, we drove Rhonda to LaGuardia and put her on a plane home, and over time, the scrapes scabbed and healed, as did the arm. These days, the elbow aches when I do yard work or swing a hammer or use my heavy duty drill for any length of time – a little reminder of the time when I went rollerblading in Central Park.

Whenever I visit New York and get a chance to walk through Central Park, I always head over to the Band Shell and the Bethesda Fountain and watch the street performers work their hustles. But what most attracts me are the skaters.

I love the roller boogie skate dancers, with their smooth and rubbery moves that make skating look so easy, but what I really love are the young daredevils who usually congregate over at the steps that go from the road down to the fountain. They’ll take turns getting up speed at the top of the stairs by backing off from them and sprinting at them as hard as they can before leaping in the air just as they reach the top step. As they sail through the air, they’ll do a 180 and get into a crouch, looking behind them and anticipating their landing spot.

The successful ones stick the landing and continue to click-click-click down the remaining steps at break-neck speed. If you can’t see them land, you know they made it by the oohs coming from their peers and spectators.

The unsuccessful ones wipe out and go spiraling out of control down the remaining steps, cursing and yelling. Their failure is usually met with howls of laughter from those gathered, especially when the skater gets back up on his feet and shows that he’s okay.

I admire the successes, but relate to the failures. I know just how those guys feel.

Meet Shinola

This week, I attended the National Retail Federation (NRF) trade show in New York. It’s a big event that swallows up the cavernous Jacob Javits Convention Center with hundreds of booths, meeting rooms and dining areas. The show features somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 speakers in a variety of session topics that are a mixed bag.

Some of the sessions are snoozers, but a few blow you away with some new information or a great speaker or phenomenal brand. This morning, I experienced the latter.

Shinola logoBefore today, my only connection with the word “Shinola” was the phrase, “You don’t know shit from shinola,” meant to illustrated the stupidity of the targeted individual. Shinola was a brand of shoe polish that was made in American in the 20th century, but has long been out of business.

This morning, I was introduced to a new company called Shinloa, and it was quite by accident.

The sessions at the NRF show are in a variety of venues that run from smallish to gargantuan, and the ones that were in the smallish rooms filled up quickly, leaving frustrated attendees walking away if they didn’t get there at least 15 minutes early. That happened to me at a session, today, and having time to kill, I wandered into one of the large venues to sit down and figure out how to improvise something productive with the hour I had to wait before my next appointment.

The venue I walked into had some guy up on the stage talking about make-tailing, which seemed to be the kind of retail that comes from small, mom-and-pop operations who hand make a product and sell it through either a local brick-and-mortar store or perhaps over the internet through an owned website or something like etsy.

The speaker went on to showcase some American cities with vibrant make-tail economies: New Orleans, Portland, Pittsburgh and Detroit were featured prominently. At the conclusion of his bit, he brought up a guy named Heath Carr, the Chief Operating Officer of a company called Shinola, based in Detroit.

While all of this was going on, I was only half-listening as I studied the event schedule and floor plan, figuring what to do. Having decided to stay put, I got my ear buds out and decided to watch a Casey Neistat vlog or two while I waited for the top of the hour (my feet were killing me).

But as I held my earbuds up to my ear, this Heath Carr guy started talking about Shinola’s passion for American manufacturing. This caught my attention because I can’t remember the last time I heard an American businessman say anything remotely like that. Carr went on to say that Shinola also has a passion for the American worker and that the company was created to create jobs.

After that last bit, the earbuds went back into my backpack and I moved up closer to the front of the auditorium to better see the slides that accompanied Carr’s talk.

I learned that Shinola was dreamed up in Dallas, Texas, by Bedrock Manufacturing, but moved to Detroit in 2012, setting up shop on the fifth floor of a building that was once a GM research facility. Because no watch movements are manufactured in the United States, Shinola hired its first team of assemblers, almost entirely made up of locals who’d once worked in the auto industry, and had then trained by Swiss artisans.

Each line of watches has a unique name, and a Steve Jobs-like attention to detail is imbued in every detail. Carr pointed out that they are just as proud of the backs of their watches as they are of the faces. I jumped online and saw that Shinola’s watches sell in the $500 range look great.

Carr posed the question they are frequently asked – “Why go to Detroit to make watches?” His answer was basically, “Why not?” He went on to point out Detroit’s rich tradition of manufacturing, a nostalgia which feeds into the company’s avowed love of manufacturing.

In Shinola’s advertising, they feature their assemblers and profess a desire to one day hear it said that Geneva is the Detroit of Switzerland, meaning Detroit would become so well known for producing great watches that it would eclipse the current champ. We’ll see.

From there, Carr described their bicycle manufacturing operation, a subject near and dear to my heart. For this, they’ve partnered with Richard Schwinn, of THAT Schwinn family, who manufactures frames and forks for Shinola at his Waterford, Wisconsin facility.

The frames, like the watches, are designed with a nostalgic bent, which also happens to be in line with what hipsters are riding these days – those old 1950’s style cruisers that just about every middle-class American kid had his photo taken with at one point.

The bicycles are beautifully made, with a meticulous eye for detail in the styling and construction of the frames, and, especially, in the outfitting of the bikes with seats, fenders and other accessories that are as beautiful as they are functional.

There was a Shinola bicycle at the trade show, and I made a beeline to it after the session to ogle it and admire the craftsmanship.

Shinola does other things as well: leather goods, journals, pens & pencils. They are growing their line of products, positioning themselves as a luxury lifestyle brand.

Their stores are as obsessively curated and designed as the products, with Carr saying that no two will be the same, proving it with a slide show of the coolest looking stores you’re likely to see this year.

Serendipity is a wonderful thing, and I’m so glad I stumbled into that session to rest my tired feet. Heath Carr made my day by introducing me to his wonderful brand. In fact, I ended up cutting out of the show early enough for me to take a cab down to TriBeCa and pay a visit to their New York location.

The Manhattan Shinola is located at 177 Franklin Street, just a few blocks north of the World Trade Center, and is actually fronted by a small coffee shop. You walk in the front door, which looks like a shop front out of the early 1900’s, and you’re greeted by the smell of coffee and the sight of a barista and a few chairs to sit and relax.

Walk to the “back” of the coffee shop, and you’re soon standing in the middle of the small showroom of Shinola, a place that is beautifully decorated with a patina that is straight out of The Godfather.

ShinolaWatches and bicycles and journals and leather goods and a few articles of clothing are beautifully displayed among other items not for sale (I’m assuming), like a book on Eames design or a coffee table book about Muhammad Ali (to commemorate a special run of products commemorating American heroes).

The associates were gracious and invited me to take photos as I browsed, which I did as each in turn told me about the store and the company.

In the end, I purchased two Moleskine-type journals and a pencil like the kind construction workers use that had the Shinola logo embossed on it in black. As I paid for my purchase, the associate assisting me offered me free embossing of my journals (they doe this for all paper and leather products). I chose the size and color of the type and watched as he set up and antique looking machine and personalized my journals as I watched.

It’s rare when a retail brand captivates my imagination and interest (there are so few who even try), but Shinola has made a fan of me, and I can’t wait to visit their Minneapolis location when I’m up there next week.

A day spent networking

Day 2 of New York and having little-to-no time for making stuff.

Trade shows are a grind. You get up early and get to the venue between 8 and 9 and spend the next 8 hours engaging strangers to see if they have any money for you. I’ve never been comfortable doing this. Probably because of the way I view it.

I’m sure the best networkers are the ones who don’t feel like they’re being fake or manipulative or dishonest in how they are engaging targets. Rather, I imagine they feel like everyone they meet is lucky to be talking to them because their product or service is the perfect tonic for whatever ails them. Or barring that, they feel like they are personally helping the target – it just so happens that it’s the product or service they represent which will be the conduit for getting better.

And then there are the ones who simply enjoy the game. Maybe they are the best ones at networking because whether consciously or unconsciously, there is no moralizing or neurosis at stake. It’s simply a matter of predator and prey. Kill or be killed. They’ve studied the game and know the moves, just like a chess master. Whether or not they are sociopaths, they’ve removed emotion from the game completely. Networking is like math to them, and they work the equation, trusting the logic that will eventually get them what they want.

Maybe.

After a long day of networking and sitting in some pretty interesting educational sessions and getting to hear former Secretary of State Colin Powell give a rousing talk, I went and had dinner with clients whom I would call friends.

After we ate our food, we talked about this and that until one of them indirectly brought up the subject of writing. We had a good conversation about writing and storytelling and the fantasy/sci-fi genre, which is totally alien to me, but was interesting to hear passionate fans discuss.

Everything begins and ends with story. People are storytelling creatures, and I’m glad for it.

Back to the Big Apple

I’m in New York today, so this post is going to be short and sweet.

I’m here on business, staying in Manhattan. Sadly, I’ll be too busy for playing around and sightseeing.

There are so many good memories tied up here, where Angell and I lived for five years right after we got married. Just being here fills me with nostalgia.

She and I will be back in the summer with the kids. It’ll be sweet to be back with all of them. I love this place.