Friday, 27 November 2015

New York City Part 4: Penn and Teller

Penn and Teller; Magic act or public service humanitarians?

I initially started this blog stating that the sole purpose of visiting New York was for a magic act.  This naturally should lead you to believe i'm kind of a geeky dork to get so excited about glorified quarters behind the ear tricks.

While the dork part is absolutely true, I am, nonetheless, doing myself a disservice by mischaracterizing my actual draw to the Penn and Teller act.

While their act is definately the accumulation of years of experience, and a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It is actually Penn who I am in love with despite the fact, by Penn's own admission, that Teller is the brains behind the group.

I fell in love with his articulate, passionate and reason based views on all forms of social issues and most importantly his insistence on preaching love.

Hes an ardent atheist who reads the bible every day and has nothing but love, respect and admiration for Christians and followers of other faiths.  He has absolutely no issue in calling out what he believes to be bullshit but still respecting the people who hold these views.

More so than that.  Because of his time on The Apprentice, as well as Trumps current popularity in the republican polls, he has been asked by many news sites his views on Donald Trump.

On one such news show Penn offered numerous compliments of Donald Trump and said that America just wanted somebody who would speak their mind openly and honestly.  While also stating it just so happens that Trump is wrong on everything since Penn is a pretty extreme Libertarian.

What ensued as a result of this is typical The Donald:

Penn isn't just taking the high ground.  He both lives and believes what he preaches.  On his podcast (where I further got to know Penn) Donalds trump reaction only made him love him more because he exalts honesty above all else.  Now he disputes the validity of Trumps statement as he was a large success (admitably made larger by NBC's exposure) but truly loves a person who can give their honest opinion.

More so he claims that Trump not only likes Penn but is actually a good person.

I have to call bullshit on that but this does demonstrate just one of many characteristics of Penn that I've fallen in love with.

All this and I haven't even mentioned anything of the actual show yet.  This is because i'm trying to setup a little bit of who Penn is.  This is important as Penn (along with Teller who shares very similar views) impart their beliefs on the audience through their magic act.

Thereby transforming a simple illusion show (nothing wrong with that, saw Copperfield and he was great) into a multi layered introspective experience.

So now i'll get into the show so that I can further explain what I mean.

Love, honesty and freedom are probably the three simple concepts that ties together Penn's entire worldview.

I've already explained how Penn can very easily continue to love those who take to personal attacks on his very livelihood.

But I do believe Penn would be quite hard pressed to find love for those who were intentionally dishonest by attempting to deceive others.

As such I do not believe it to be mere happenstance that his set design includes the means by which some of the more common, but simple, tracks are actually achieved.

The purpose of this is for the audience to know immediately that this is a show.  There is no magic, only illusion and tricks.  And that Penn has no interest in attempting to get the audience to believe in some sort of metaphysical power.

This may seem obvious to some, but in reality there are many swindlers and deceivers out there who have entire careers devoted to tricking others.  Those deceived come from all walks of life both well educated and otherwise.

In fact the person who was seminal in honing Penns passion in magic was a never young Amazing Randi.  A man who has taught Penn that honesty be taught above all else and Randi has spent the latter portion of his life debunking swindlers such as Uri Geller.

I actually intend on writing a blog about some of the things that Randi has down that are truly amazing and just how dangerous some of these swindlers are but that will be for a different time.  This is just to show how much honesty matters to Penn and that this theme will be sprinkled throughout the show.

Speaking of which.  We got some great seats.  We were on the 2nd floor balcony that overhangs the audience on the main floor.  We had the front seats so we were not only close to the stage but had absolutely nobody in front of us to block our view.

While waiting for the show to begin the audience is asked to come up on stage to inspect some of the props.  Each of them will make an appearance at various stages of the show.  Just in case anybody plans on seeing their act I wont spoil anything.

This is not only to get the audience to feel more connected to the show but to allow Penn to get more connected with his audience.  Because unbeknownst to the regular audience members who arn't Penn obsessed like myself, Penn is actually playing base to the side of the stage.

However when I say Penn is trying to get more connected to his audience I actually mean it in the most basic of ways.  As admitted by Penn he is really using this opportunity to be silent, for once, as well as to just check out all the attractive woman who are going up and down the stairs directly adjacent from where he is playing in the shadows.  Creepy?  Sure.  Doesn't mean every other guy wouldn't also jump on the opportunity if given the chance.

Unfortunately once the show starts there are no more pictures so from this point, till the end of the show, you are going to be submitted to my poetic waxing, pontificating and general musings where i'm continuously going off topic....oh wait i've already been doing nauseam....alright time to tighten up this blog some.

They anticipated that this is likely to be their last time performing on broadway.  Penn and Teller are in their early and late 60's and, as Penn has mentioned, isn't getting any younger.  Therefore this stint on broadway is a showcase of their decades long career.

They deliver bits as far back as when Penn first met Teller as a fan in a crowd watching him perform, as well as some of their newest material.

Rather then actually summarize their acts it is actually best if someone not familiar with their work went to their show cold.  That is not having watched countless videos of them online like yours truly.

But just as a tease:
They will bring the basic sawing a woman in half trick to a whole new level.
Teller will eat an ungodly amount of needles.
Penn will eat an ungodly amount of fire.
You will be lectured on surrendering your rights in the name of security.
                    Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety,                       deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
And most importantly you will be educated against trusting those who treat these tricks as a supernatural power or ability. (Penn still gets people after his show believing him to be psychic only to have to re explain these are all just tricks).

After every show Penn and Teller will meet and pose with everyone who wishes to.  Just because they are so anti establishment they don't believe in forming lines and instead masses will sort of huddle around them and they will slowly get to everyone.

You'd think that would be chaotic but it actually does work quite well.  No pushing in front of anyone and everyone is quite polite and friendly.  While I don't believe to always apply but there is some merit to Penns views that left to their own devices people are generally good and well behaved.

In any event people would take turns holding fellow strangers cameras to take pictures.  However once Amy volunteered to take pictures the crowd quickly realized that she was a natural and everyone enlisted her help.  Unfortunately the same was not true of who we selected as we ended up with this fuzzy photo.

It was actually quite the contrast of seeing Penn on stage who is quite the loud presence to seeing him subdued after the show as if he had given his all and was spent.

Overall was a great experience but our trip was not over yet.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

New York City Part 3: Central Park, The MET, and Pizza

Central Park, The MET, and Pizza

Walking to Central Park

Amy being reminded of children left behind
First stop is the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  But even though we only planned on exploring central park tomorrow we have to cut through the park in order to get to the museum.  So we took a couple of pictures along the way.

Then we arrived at the met.  What every patron should know going in is that admission is pay as you wish.  You can be admitted to the museum for a mere penny if you so incline.  However this is not noticeably advertised inside as it appears as though the admission is a set 25$ for an adult.  Considering we only had an hour that 50$ would be an absurd entry price.  Instead we opted for a much more reasonable 10$ admission to be boosted later on by drinks in their upstairs bar.

As it turns out an hour for the largest art museum in the United States is not nearly enough time and we found ourselves just hurrying through the insane never ending maze of rooms that the museum housed.

I actually find art immensely interesting as it is a glimpse in time of certain eras.  I find the amount of history gleamed through the different art styles very interesting and if I had the time i'd definitely pick it up as a hobby.

But alas I chose children instead and we instead found ourselves gravitating towards the rooftop bar.

Before I get to that i'd like to setup the pre reveal of the bar.

While going through the museum I did find myself feeling a similar claustrophobia that I experienced both in the subway and the very crowded and busy city.  This being due to the aforementioned maze like layout of the museum.

Adding to this was the incredibly narrow corridor that led to the bar.

While this may sound like a bad thing it actually really enhanced the experience of the bar.
This is because the bar is located on the roof in the middle of central park.

So you go from this narrow confined hallway and are greeted by this:

Its a phenomenal location that the museum is really not taking advantage of.  The bar was really just a makeshift location whos bartenders were both poorly trained and not particularly friendly.  There was also no seating.

However, ongoing criticisms aside, the view was stellar and more then made up for any shortcomings and everyone should make this a must do while in New York.  Heck pay a penny a person and bypass the art if you simply want the view.

By this point we were running pretty short on time (that broken down subway really set us back) and we still needed to eat.  But I had to insist on visiting St. Patrick's Cathedral on the way.

Being an atheist this may seem like a strange insistence.  But I care for a devout catholic in a long term care facility who said I had to check it out.  If for no other reason than his idol John F Kenedy had his funerals mass there.

We were actually fortunate to visit when they were doing mass as the church is currently under renovation but construction is halted during mass.

As always these big massive religious buildings are impressive and awe inspiring while also being incredibly expensive to build and maintain.

I have to stop myself for going into a diatribe about all of this money spent on a building with the various homeless and needy people right outside its doors, as well as Jesus's own teachings on the matter (which include a table being thrown over), but I suppose there was already a pretty bloody reformation fought on this, among many other, premise and i'm late to the fight on this one.

So instead.  Pizza time!

Being from Montreal and being proud of the pizzas it has to offer I sought out one of the better reviewed pizza places to see how New York compared.

Now the best Pizzas i've had from back home have thick bubbly and doughy crust with incredibly jam packed and thick toppings with much grease mixed in there (which is what probably softens the crust).


New York pizzas are also known for their thick toppings but opt for a thinner crust (but not Italy style thin) and apparently (or foolishly I say) less grease.

Very good and I suspect most would actually argue for New Yorks style over Montreals.  The pizza had high quality ingredients and was very flavorful.

However I much prefer feeling like I've had an entire meal with just one slice of pizza.  The amount of jam packed goodness in just one slice is where my vote goes.

That being said we did have to rush through the experience as our time was quickly ticking by and we still had to return to our room to change and get to the main event of the trip.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

New York City Part 2 Arrival


This picture of me does a pretty good job of summing up my mindset arriving in the deep underground inferno of what I believe was the 6th level of hell.  Also known as the New York City subway system.

I was unimpressed as all 5 of my senses were competing with which sense was worse off.  We were immediately assaulted by an immense heat as though we were inside of a boiler room.  The fact that we were trapped underground with no quick way to escape made this already unpleasant feeling darn well near unbearable.

Concurrently my sense of smell was dealing with an overriding smell of urine that immediately brought me back to my days in the Montreal core on St.Catherines St., while my ears were being deafened by the cacophony of sounds most notable of which were the numerous subway carts barreling through the tunnels.  The lonely sax player had no chance at conveying his talent  under these boisterous conditions.

Meanwhile I was also getting the pleasure of viewing the deeply neglected subway system replete with dirt, filth, graffiti and crumbling stone.

Alright that covers my senses of touch, smell, hearing, and sight.  What am I missing?

Ahhh yes!  I swear I could taste the sweat poring, and pooling, off the various homeless subway dwellers who had to endure these conditions day in and out.

Luckily my torment would be quick to dissipate as before we could even get on a subway cart the intercom announced that our route was currently unavailable due to some issue further down the line and that we'd have to find an alternate route.

We decided to walk it because it was only a few blocks away and surely walking above ground with all our luggage in tow would be much preferable to the deeper reaches of hell....but then again.

Other than that our trip was going splendidly thus far.

And while our journey above ground was certainly preferable we quickly realized that some blocks are much longer than others.  And even though they are clearly labeled numerically we still had no way of knowing which way was north and which way was south and therefore found ourselves having to backtrack after going down one of the larger blocks in the wrong direction.

But alas sanctuary!

The Shoreham hotel was one of the more affordable hotels located in between timesquare/broadway and central park and we would find it would only take a couple of blocks to get to either of those locations.

After a quick and super friendly chat with the receptionist we were told that we would love our room and she wasn't wrong.

Unfortunately we couldn't get a photo to do the room justice but the reason this room was such a gem was its space.

Sure the view out the window wasn't very good but after dealing with the near claustrophobia of both the subway and the incredibly busy city I had no problem just shutting the curtains and enjoying the fact that this room was unusually large for hotel rooms located in the core of Manhattan.

What they had done was sacrifice a bit of bathroom space which allowed for a much larger bedroom.  A larger bedroom that wasn't burdened by unnecessary cluttered furniture but allowed empty space to exist so we felt we had some much needed room to breathe.

Furthermore, even though the bathroom was smaller I finally got to experience one of those multi jet showers I'd always wanted to try.  And they are as great as I thought they'd be.

Our reprieve would be short lived as we had much to do and only one and a half days to do it in.  So we dropped off our luggage and headed back out to the steel jungle.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

New York City Part 1

Pre amble

I don't like cities.  I've never been a fan of them.  Sure I can only really count Montreal as the only major city i'm familiar with but I figure they all have much in common.  They are way too crowded, busy, smelly, pollution and filth ridden, and attempt to put in green spaces as a distraction from all of this so that there are places where city dwellers can go to try to pretend they can still connect with nature.

Now I'm of course being slightly facetious. I fully understand that large cities have tons to offer.  They just don't have much, if anything, to offer me.  They don't match my personality type.

I'd prefer a quiet evening with some friends where we gather at one of our houses, play some cards, have a few drinks and talk philosophy.

And instead of traveling all of the historical cities of Europe i'm much more excited about visiting the maritimes and all of the beauty that the west has to offer like Banff and Jasper

Seriously.  This:

Doesn't even come close for me when compared with cities.  The dirty, polluted, loud, and overpopulated concrete jungles that they are.....

I base all of my assumptions of cities on Montreal the only real city I've known.
And yet I've decided to visit New York City.  A city nearly ten times the size of Montreal.  With ten times the amount of things for me to complain about.

And for what?

A magic act of course.

Penn and Teller are finally taking their Vegas act to the east coast but unfortunately it's right in the heart of New York City on Broadway.

Yep I'm a geek.  I've always wanted to see them.  I've come to love Penn particularly through various podcasts and shows I've seen and heard him in.  I love his act as well as his always interesting views of life in general and its interesting how he incorporates these views into his act.  But more on that later.

I say all this preamble to give you an idea of my mindset and expectations for my trip to New York City  Basically I was going just to see a show.  The city was an aside that I would have to tolerate.

Pre Trip

We figured we had three choices in how to get to New York City.

 1.  We could fly there.  Not worth the extra cost nor the possible extra headache that we have been traumatized with on a previous Delta Airline experience.

 2.  We could drive there.  Certainly don't want to drive anywhere near New York City and definitely don't want to pay the typical $60 daily rate to park my car.

 3.  Or we could take the train there.  Which is what we chose.

However in order to take the train we would have to drive to Syracuse which is about 3 hours away.  After doing all our Myrtle beach (18 hour) and Florida drives (26 hours) it felt like absolutely nothing to drive 3 hours.

In any event this is nothing new to us since we are used to frequenting the city for cheap flights.  Now we get a reasonable train ride with only $6 a day parking and an excuse to enjoy the always great Cheesecake Factory and its endless entree and desert menu items.

As is the case when we fly down, we decided to rent a cheap hotel room the night before and take the earliest train out the next morning.

We had to wake up at the ungodly hour of like 5:30am but thanks to my almost super hero worthy ability to sleep however long I want in any conditions the 5 hour train ride would be my sleep reprieve.  In fact I would have slept the entire 5 hours to New York if it wasn't for the fact that Amy insisted I walk her to the snack carriage.

In her defense the snack carriage was like 30 carriages away and was a journey unto itself that felt like it would never end.  Also I had been sleeping for 4 hours straight.

However I was in fact doing myself a sort of disservice because had I been awake for the ride I would have enjoyed the beauty of the Adirondacks passing me by.  Luckily I did wake up in time to view the train's path along the Hudson river.  Not only was the Hudson river gorgeous but the train would go by numerous industrial buildings of days gone by.  They were in varying states of decay but would conjure images of a time where the manufacturing industry would use the river and the rail to transport its goods.  This was contrasted with the current cottages dotting the river banks and the tourists on their motor boats waving us by.

I had just woken up and was taking in all this beauty and forgot to take pictures.  So instead I have found other peoples pictures of the Hudson River that are a good representation of what it looked like.

Another interesting contrast was the fact that this very rural and beautiful natural landscape was soon approaching its very antithesis in the beast that is the man-made built steal, brick, and asphalt jungle called New York City.

Not only that but the reveal of the city would not be granted to us gradually where we get to see the city in the distance and slowly ease ourselves into it.  No instead the train would actually bring us underground way before entering the city and bring us to the subway system.  I thought what better way to experience the city then to have us experience it all at once in its full majesty upon exiting the subway.

But then we arrived, entered the subway, and I was immediately reminded of why i don't like cities.

And now our trip has begun.