Thursday, February 9, 2012

An engineer in New York

Every trade has a big bronze plaque in the lobby of the Empire State Building. Awesome!
Nicola Tesla lived most of his life in New York City. He began his career there, working first for Edison and later for Westinghouse. He electrified the city when he built the hydro power plant at Niagara Falls. And he lived out his final decade at the Hotel New Yorker, at the corner of 8th Avenue and West 34th.

So when I was offered what amounted to a time share sales trip, three days at a manufacturer in rural Pennsylvania and a free morning in New York City, I couldn't refuse. An all expense paid trip for my first visit to the City? Yes, thanks.

What's an engineer to do, all alone, on her first trip to New York? Look at buildings, of course. Since I only had until 1:30, I checked out of the hotel before dawn, left my bag with the bellhop, and headed out into the empty streets of a Sunday morning. My hotel was near Penn Station, and most of the "must see" buildings are in that neighborhood: luck! 

I took pictures of the dawn light hitting the Empire State Building, then was first in line to visit the observation deck. What a great way to start! The recorded audio-guide (well worth the $8) walked me around the deck, pointing out landmarks and sharing snips of history. Did you know the dock where the Titanic was meant to berth is now a driving range? Look for the nets.

Winter sunrise.
The ESB historians have found the construction logs of the general contractor, holding every detail of each day of the construction. Not only have they published it (which, of course, I bought), they've also blown up many of the photos, blueprints, schedules, and budgets to poster size for the elevator queue. It’s like a museum exhibition of my job!

My job, in part. Woo! The wild life!
After a Q/A session with a tense security guard (an engineer takes photos of the same things a terrorist might), who I charmed into friendliness, I returned to the street to find that the rest of the tourists had risen. I wandered.  I nosed around Grand Central Terminal (and sneaked down to a platform), pondered the outside of the main Library while eating a pretzel (closed until late, Sunday hours), lounged in Bryant Park to watch the ice skaters, walked through Macy's to say I had (like Seattle, but more crowded).

The Chrysler, hiding around the corner from the Library.
Lunch was planned ahead of time. I wanted to eat New York Food on this trip, so breakfast was the aforementioned street pretzel (wrong neighborhood for bagels dammit), and lunch was a giant open face Reuben at Sarge's Deli. Despite being within walking distance of the tourist zones, and, I suspect, in many of the guide books, Sarge's still manages to feel like a neighborhood deli.  It's a deep, narrow space that appears unchanged since it opened in 1964, including the staff, and I think that's part of the charm.

Wedgehead, our traveling buddy, at the ESB.
Which brings us to one o'clock. But wait, where's Tesla? No worries...

Back west, past the Polish Consulate, stopping in Tim Horton’s for a bounty of TimBits for Jon, to Madison Square Garden and the Post Office, and finally to 8th.

The Hotel New Yorker has gone a bit shabby on the outside. Presidents, movie stars, and geniuses have stayed here, but while they've renovated the inside, the outside, with its grey bricks, well, it doesn't stand out. Finding Tesla's memorial plaque on the outside wall involves walking past a weird 50s-retro diner and standing on top of a pile of tourists awaiting their charter bus.

There's no plaque for Kennedy or Hoover. Presidents don't rate with gods.
But the inside... I pushed through the revolving doors and stood on the marble floor of the lobby, stunned and motionless at the idea that my idol had walked on this same stone, seen these same ornaments, passed each day through that hallway, slept every night 32 floors above. I stood there several minutes, in the center of the lobby, until the manager began to frown my way and I fled, hand lingering on that brass door rail that Tesla might once have touched (but no, he was a mysophobe, no door handles for him).

Room 3327 is available to reserve.

So. That's New York. An engineer's New York, in seven hours. I'll be back, next time for a week at least. There's so much to see and do. While it was interesting to be a solo tourist, and to not bore Jon with buildings, I'd rather experience the rest of it with him. And I still need my bagel...


  1. I did what you did at the Hotel New Yorker, except I did it at the Algonquin, home of the Round Table. I even stayed there once!

  2. I had to look up the Round Table. That sounds like an awesome thing, and something that would be super fun to be involved in. That's cool that you stayed there in tribute :)