These Lights Will Inspire You.

This is a guest post by Chris, my contributing editor, contributing dad, and contributing husband.

So, the new year is here, and most of America resolves to do something.

In January of 2003, I threw my large flabby self into an old pair of sneakers and walked ambitiously to the foot of our hill and started running with all of the fervor and grace that a fat guy can muster. I didn’t make it a quarter mile before my legs & lungs gave out and I had to walk again. But I kept at it, and this January marks ten years of habitual running.

Its not just exercise for calorie burning, although that is definitely part of it. Its become my favorite hobby – a mind-clearing, fresh air breathing, challenge conquering pastime.

But the biggest reward of running is the freedom to explore the world around me.

I can go a little farther now, and I make a point to explore on foot when I travel, which I have done in San Diego, Saluda, NC, and pretty much anywhere I go for more than one night.

When I tagged along with Rachel to Blogher back in August, I left her to conferencing and explored Manhattan by running 15 miles over two days, since it was my first time in NYC.

On a warm Friday morning, I took the subway to the far side of the Brooklyn Bridge and headed back to midtown on the elevated pedestrian path.

(Note: No Mopeds, because you see those never.  And no runners over 3 tons. That’s for you, Sunday Night TLC.)





After crossing the bridge, I turned south towards the business district, to see the Old Trinity Church from National Treasure (where all of Solomon’s Egyptian gold is buried!!), and along the way I learned where hedge fund managers buy non-dad jeans to match their metro casual scarves. Not at the Levi’s on 34th street, but on Wall Street itself, across the street from THE New York Stock Exchange, at True Religion, 14 Wall Street.


Skinny, low-rise excess is available right there between Capital One and Charles Schwab.


I left the district of historic fortunes and luxury denim and went north along the Hudson River, past the well-dressed foreign nannies walking babies in the 2%,


and checked out a mix of new construction and classic NY. It felt like wandering around in Seinfeld and Friends.



I headed back to the east side and up through Chinatown and Little Italy – where businesses flourish, especially in the basement. Yup, this is totally legit. Nothing to see here.



It didn’t always smell “fresh,”


despite their efforts in exterminating their unique set of pests,


but it was very cool to see. Once you get north of Little Italy, the street numbers start, and the blocks went on forever.


So in the interest of time, here are a few touristy shots of architecture between 4th and 34th Street, some you might know and some you might not.







This brings me to one of my two tips for NYC.

Times Square is the zoo train of the city. It has nothing to do with the city (except I guess on New Year’s Eve,) and its surrounded by much more interesting animals places.

It is absolutely packed with tourists, back-to-back double decker tour buses, and chain restaurants that have nothing to do with New York.



After making it nine miles back to the hotel, I cleaned up and returned, blissfully exhausted and starving to the same subway exit for the best pizza I ever had. This is where you want to go:


A short walk puts you at the original Grimaldi’s.

This is the Best Pizza I have EVER eaten.

And I have eaten a lot of pizza in 36 chubby years.

Go to Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn. I cannot recommend this with any degree of reservation.


And not to worry – they are prepared for you to eat the whole thing.

The next day, I ran around Central Park, and by that, I mean a complete six mile lap around the perimeter. I know there are lots of other scenic trails inside the park, but it was my first time. Besides, I loved the short, old, quirky buildings along 5th Avenue stuck in between the standard super tall boring ones. Do Rockefellers, Astors or Vanderbilts live in these buildings?




Let me insert my second New York tip here. The south end of Central Park is the popular one. See my earlier description of Times Square. The Plaza Hotel, Columbus Circle, horse carriages, bike renting pamphlet pushers, and tons of tourists are all in attendance. If you keep going a few 10 or 15 blocks, you can have 5th Avenue all to yourself – or at least the sidewalk.


If you make it to the end of Central Park at 110th street, you are just barely in Harlem. And when I saw this, I desperately hoped that McDougal’s was right around the corner:


I passed what was either a swearing-in ceremony or NYPD Glee Club.


Coming back down the west side is just as quiet, at least for 30 blocks or so…


…until you get closer to standard tourist formation, with hot tired people milling about in huddled masses.



Oooh. Look! Standard Huxtable Brownstone!


Sweet! Panoramic postcard vista!


I made it back again, having thoroughly enjoyed exploring the city, and ended up with a few amateur observations about Manhattan.

1. Really New York? Has it come to this?


2. Who is Fang Wong? And why does he have an office?


(Google it. Not what I expected.)

3. Central Park is full of playgrounds. Really nice ones. Who knew?

4. Finally, Manhattan has some really unique churches. You won’t find these congregations in Alabama:

The ever popular denomination:

Those decisively hard nosed fellows who didn’t like the first, second, or third group at the:

And my favorite:

This particular church’s marquee sported the best sermon topic I have ever seen at a Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church:

It’s a new year and you are going to resolve something. So grab your old sneakers, build a habit, and discover irony in faraway places.

The Secret of Halal

Our trip to New York last week was was Chris’ first visit, so he got to experience the full unexplainable magic of the city, and he also had a few adventures along the way.  This post is one of his fabulous guest posts (written the night before we left), so be sure to give him props, as he is my official Contributing Editor, Rump Photographer, and Man On The Street.


So, Halal.

It is a popular Mediterranean cuisine in New York City, found everywhere on street carts.  According to Wikipedia, Halal is defined as “foods that are allowed under Islamic dietary guidelines.”

As it happens, the most popular food cart in Manhattan, a halal one, was right outside of our hotel, at 53rd St and 6th Ave.

Rachel told me about this particular food truck a couple of years ago, when she was attending BlogHer at the same hotel.  She hadn’t partaken from it, but she’d witnessed the phenomenally ridiculous lines.

The Halal Guys.  Gyro & Chicken. Yes, We Are Different.

This food cart has a line every night. A long line. Every night.

Therefore, since we were staying right across the street, it must be tasted.

There was one small problem, but I’ll come back to that.

I came running by this cart about 5pm. There were about 15 people in line, and it smelled fantastic.

I made a mental note: come back and try the Halal late tonight when the post run munchies come around, because that’s what parents do when kids are elsewhere: go out after 7pm.

So at 10pm, we checked out the Halal situation. By this time it was the Twilight Zone.

There was no longer one Halal Guys cart at 53rd and 6th – there were now three. All Yellow.  Same logos.  Same T-shirts.  Same smell.

VERY different lines.

Halal Guys cart #1 (which housed the 5pm line of 15) had no line.

Halal Guys cart #2 (that was a new arrival since 5pm) had about 60 people in line.

Halal Cart # 3 (also new since 5pm) had no line.

There must be some mistake.

We analyzed this situation, then headed upstairs. Not long after, I proceeded, Man on the Street style, to figure out what was going on.

I presented my question to several people huddled around their sacred foil pans filled with Halal goodness at super-line Cart # 2.


“That cart had a line at 5pm. Now they have nobody. This cart has a huge line. They weren’t even here at 5pm. What is the difference?”

Responses barely varied:

“Because people are sheep.”

“There is no difference. Same guys. Same everything.”

“I don’t know. We just heard this was good.”

Could this really be possible? That native New Yorkers and tourists alike just assume that a longer line means its better?

I continued my interviews at ex-popular Cart #1. I was taking pictures when three girls walked up. In response to my question:

“We’ve never been here before, We heard this was good. Its the same thing, right?”

I proceeded to always-a-bridesmaid Cart #3. This time I was going to solve this. These guys had nobody in line.

So I asked the yellow shirted Halal guy who tried to help me. His heavily accented response, gesturing with annoyance at Prom Queen Cart #2:

“They are only open at night.”

“Yes, but WHY are more people there?”

He shrugged his shoulders.  “They have been there for 25 years.”


If these guys were not the same company, surely in this city of 139 hour workweeks for freshman lawyers there would have been a trademark infringement settled long ago.

There are three identical Halal Guys carts at 53rd and 6th, and depending on what time of day you go, you think you are getting the “good one” based on the line length.

I bought a plate from the Unlucky Cart #3. Gyro over rice. Rice, gyro (lamb) meat, lettuce, pita bread, and sauce. Two sauces actually. White sauce, which appeared to be the common sauce, and red sauce, which was duly noted as very spicy.

I asked my Halal Guy, “What are the sauces?”

“I gave them to you. They are in the bag.”

“Yes, I know, but WHAT are they?”

“I gave them to you! They are in the bag.”


So turning the corner,  there was another Guy refilling the extra sauce bottles to be used at one’s leisure.

I asked new Halal Guy, “What are the sauces?”

“The white sauce and the red sauce.”

“Yes, I know, but WHAT are they?”

“The white sauce and the red sauce!”

Yeah, OK.

I took the hot foil platter upstairs to share with Rachel, and we began to investigate. It was yummy. Really yummy. She wasn’t terribly impressed, but she never is with street/fair food.


So the sauces. The white sauce tasted like ranch dressing made with yogurt instead of mayo. It was good stuff.


Then I tried the red. It was a tiny container. Too tiny.

But I tried it anyway.

Despite my heavy Hot Wing habit back home, this was quite possibly the hottest thing I had ever eaten. Within a minute, my nose was running, my eyes were watering, and I was duly impressed.

Goodbye, red.

I’ve been nibbling far too much on this Halal as I have written this post tonight on our last night in New York.

And I am going to regret this at LaGuardia tomorrow.

Especially the red sauce.

But tonight, we are young. And the Halal Guys are making BANK outside.

BlogHer, in Bad Photos.

Five Benefits of Taking My Husband Along to BlogHer.

1. His analytical and strategic skills make me look like a novice. He had a plan, he knew what he was doing, and he would set up fabulous opportunities to show off our professionalism and class.


2. As the last photo also attests, he is willing to do anything.

When, in the expo hall, the Sheex lady promised him two sets of high-end sheets if he would hop into her demo bed so she could get a photograph of him because she hadn’t been able to photograph a single man in the bed, he readily agreed and asked if she’d also like me to join him.

(I did not.)

(Nor did I remember to take a photo of his very convincing sleepy face.)

3. He takes stunning, picturesque pictures of me in front of New York Landmarks.


And actually a decent one or two every now and then.


(Except for the tennis shoes.  But it was New York, and I already had blisters.)

4. He doesn’t mind dressing up like a latex unicorn so that I don’t have to.


5. He’s a great swag sorter and packer.

Also? You get double swag when there’s two of you.


Speaking of Swag…

Five Pieces of Swag That I Didn’t Realize I Couldn’t Live Without.

1. A Banana Flash Drive. ONE WHOLE GIGABYTE, no less!!


(Chris was immediately dreaming of hanging his from his car radio’s USB jack.)

Speaking of swag that Chris was excited about,

2. Hot Flash Cooling Wipes.


They’re to wipe on your FOREHEAD AND NECK, people, and they supposedly make you cool for a fabulous 20 minutes.

But Chris doesn’t care that he’s not a woman or over 40 – he’s pretty exuberant about testing these out on his next run.

(I just that hope no one sees him opening a pad wrapper on his water break.)

3. Caffeine-Flavored Lip Balm. For when your lips need a pick-me-up, too.


I fully expect Ali or Noah to have eaten them all by the end of the week.

Speaking of Ali, of all of the stuffed creatures I brought her (and there were several), her favorite was…

4. Herbie Hot Pocket.


I understand that everyone needs a stuffed freezer delicacy, but I’m still shocked that she chose him over my all-time favorite stuffed creature ever,

5. Curmudgeon, the Sullen Bowling Pin.


Five (More) Benefits of Taking My Husband Along to BlogHer.

1. I have a photography assistant so I don’t have to be the complete self-absorbed dweeb who asks someone else to take my photo in front of the sign on which I was listed.


2. I can have the extra legroom of the exit row without worrying about having to throw that 42 pound door out the window if the time comes.


(As an aside, does Delta refund your $19 premium seating fee if you actually have to operate the exit row? I mean, that’s a lot of work – directing traffic and being the last one off of a burning plane and all.)

3. He’s a better face for enthusiasm for photo ops of all kinds.

My excited face…


And his.

Strong Face_thumb

(I especially love that his sleeve totally photobombed him.)

4. The kids like him better anyway.  So it makes FaceTime more smiley.


5.  When I’m completely freaked out by the crowds and huddled up inside myself in a ball of introvertedness, I don’t have to socialize with strangers!!  I can just talk to him.


Five Celebrities You Absolutely MUST Meet at BlogHer.

Sure, Katie Couric, Martha Stewart, and Soledad O’Brien were there.  And President Obama was even in attendance – albeit by satellite.

(I’m sure it was because he reads all of our blogs every morning with his relaxing coffee time, not because it’s election year.)

But if you want the inside scoop on which celebs you really need to meet at BlogHer, here is your exclusive guide:

1. Who would pass up the opportunity to meet soy sauce live and in the flesh?


2. Speaking of flesh…


There was that guy.

3. Chris was truly giddy to meet (and dance with) his favorite plastic,


(I told you these were crappy photos, did I not?)

4. And this celeb made me feel better about my own level of Greek Hairiness.


5. Um…


I don’t have a fifth one. 

But really, with those four, who needs another?