Monday, March 30, 2009

Can Brooklyn count as The Outdoors?

I always find the drive from DC to NY tiring. I95 is always crowded enough that you can't just relax back into your thoughts, and today bad weather exacerbated the stress of the drive. Combined with some sensory overload from a brief stop at a kayak show, I was pretty dazed by the time I hit Staten Island. Is it any wonder that at first glance I misread the "Staten Island Botanical Garden" road sign as "Satanical Garden"?

Brooklyn always brings out mixed emotions for me. It's home. It's my roots. Truth be told, though, it's a pretty gray and grubby place. But dammit, the food is good. As usual, my first goal upon entering the borough is to get a slice of pizza. I squeeze the car into an impossibly small parking space in Bay Ridge and set out in search of a pizza place. The first place I come across, a block and a half up, is closed for renovation. I have to walk all the way to 79th St. to find a pizza place - that's five blocks! Having to walk five blocks to find pizza in Brooklyn is simply unfathomable. Pizza is ubiquitous in Brooklyn, and I am pretty frustrated by the time I finally belly up to the counter and order.

I can't help myself, I somehow pick up a Brooklyn dialect when I visit. Not just the accent, but quirks like calling people "buddy" and using expressions like "fuhgedaboutit". The funny thing is I didn't speak like this when I lived here. I think I overcompensate for my insecurity over being merely an ex-Brooklynite by adopting a comically exagerated Brooklyn persona. So, "yeah, gimme two slices an' a smawwl Diet Coke" is what I sez to the guy behind the counter at the pizza place.

Accent notwithstanding, I soon sit down with my two slices. There's a commercial for Domino's on TV. Domino's?? Who in their right mind would order Domino's in Brooklyn? I take a bite of my slice. It's about average for Brooklyn, which means it's AMAZING. The crust is a little on the crisp side, but the flavor is just right. It just explodes through my mouth. Before I know it I have inhaled the whole slice. I force myself to take a break and then eat the second more slowly. Heaven.

Oh, and I later figure out that had I walked in the other direction I would have gotten to a pizza place in only two blocks. That's more like it.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Wasn't it just snowing?

OK, so five days ago we got slammed with significant snow. But that was then, this is now. It hit seventy degrees today. Seventy! There is no way to describe how good the warm weather and the Springtime air feel when you're so, so sick of Winter.

Today was the annual trip planning meeting for my kayaking group. I usually attend the meeting but truth be told, I don't lead many trips, so this time I stayed home and worked on my taxes. I can add my trips to the calendar later. I swung by the meeting just as it was ending - had time to grab some dynamite coffee cake and join people as they headed for the river.

Oh, the agony and the ecstasy of warm early spring days! You have to dress for the water temperature, which is still in the 40's, so on went the layers and the dry suits. But have I mentioned that the air temperature was seventy degrees? Man, that winter gear is hot. Before I got into my boat I had to wade into the Potomac to cool off.

We launched from Gravelly Point, just north of National Airport. I have never seen the place so crowded. Joggers, runners, bikers, people with strollers, airplane watchers, boaters, walkers. So many people out taking advantage of the break in the weather. It was like a party, like Central Park. The large parking lot was full - we unloaded our boats and parked on the grass.

After zipping up into our oh-so-unconfortable gear we headed out, a group of eight paddlers. We crossed the Potomac and headed up the Anacostia River. The Anacostia is not the world's prettiest river. It has much more of a working river feel than the Potomac - work boats, scruffy marinas, the Navy Yard. We paddled up past the new Nationals stadium, past the USS Barry at the Navy Yard, a little past the Anacostia Community Boathouse. Along the way I splashed myself liberally with river water to stay cool - and you have to be pretty warm to voluntarily rub yourself with the toxic muck that is the Anacostia.

As we turned back we realized we had had the wind and the tide with us on the trip out. It was uphill, so to speak, on the way back for sure. The wind in our faces kept us cool, but it took a little work to keep up a decent pace. As usual, Cyndi literally paddled circles around the rest of us. I haven't paddled much over the Winter so I was feeling the burn for sure! As we rounded Haines Point a soccer player yelled to us asking if we could help him retrieve his ball, which had gone over the fence into the river. At first we said, "sure", but when he mentioned it had gone into the water 45 minutes earlier, we told him it had no doubt drifted too far to be found, apologized for not being able to help him out more, then continued on out into the Potomac.

I don't know how far we paddled, exactly, but we were out about 2 1/2 hours. As soon as I hit land I downed my extra water bottle in what felt like one gulp. We helped each other load boats, had a few mini coffee cakes that Dave had thought to grab as we headed out from his house, then headed out through the traffic jam - traffic jam! - of the Gravelly Point park.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Walking in a Winter Wonderland ... because the car broke down

So March starts off with a bang - a big, white bang of a snowfall. The biggest we've seen here in a long time. Not anything that would impress anyone from the real snowbelt, but big for Virginia. For Valerie and the boys decisions about what to do are easy - when your life revolves around school, someone else does the decision-making. School's closed - stay home. For me, things are a little more complicated. I'm usually pretty hard-core about making it into work. I've got a calendar full of meetings. On top of all that, I've got an appointment to bring my car into the shop on the way to work.

So, at 7:45 I set out so I can get to the shop at opening time. It's only about a mile from the house, but it turns out to be a crazy drive. Even the main roads are slick like crazy. I get to an intersection where I want to turn left, but the car just keeps going straight. Oh, boy. Fortunately, the roads are empty and so I safely slide to a stop about 50 feet past the intersection. From there I inch the rest of the way to the shop. The shop is open, but none of the mechanics have made it in yet. I leave the car but decide to go home rather than press on to work.

The walk home is amazing. There's a walking trail through a small park that connects to the bike trail that runs near my house. I do the whole walk home through parkland. It's still snowing. It's bitter cold, but I'm bundled up top to bottom. It's white, it's beautiful. It feels more like the Sierra Nevadas than Arlington. A few dog walkers are out, along with a few dedicated souls trudging to the Metro stop. We greet each other heartily.

It takes me about 30 minutes to walk home. I arrive home exhilarated. Another cup of coffee, light a fire in the fireplace, power up the laptop. One by one, my meetings get cancelled and disappear off the calendar. I have a pretty productive day by the fire.

I love March snow. All the fun, knowing full well that it's Winter's last gasp.