tourist in the big city

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A few tidbits from my recent trek to New York:

  • The alleged reason I went was to attend NECSS (Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism). The skeptics were standing in line outside the conference hall on the first day. I approached several of them and said, “Want a psychic reading?” No one seemed interested. I walked a little farther down the line and asked again. Nope. What the hell is wrong with these people?
  • A woman in a crowded subway was stuck in the middle of the car and unable to grab any handrails for support. I offered to prop her up if she fell in my direction. She laughed and called my attention to a large black leather bag hanging from her shoulder. The bag had dozens of evenly spaced holes in it. “There’s a dog in here,” she said. I asked what type of dog. “A miniature dachshund.” That’s how canines ride the MTA.
  • Back at the conference, the emcee for the event was Todd Robbins. He’s a funny, articulate gentleman with a few bad habits. Before introducing Eugenie Scott, for example, he did the old carnie trick of pounding a nail into his nose. Somehow it didn’t quite fit the occasion. Don’t get me wrong — there are excellent times and reasons for pounding a nail into one’s nose — but probably not before introducing a fairly dignified presentation on church-state separation. He also described the process of learning to ignore the gag reflex in order to swallow a sword. You practice with a coat hanger, day after day, hour after hour, until you can push it down your throat without puking. Nice to know.
  • The real reason I went to New York was for the pizza. Two Boots, which I found in the food court under Grand Central Station is pretty dang good. So is Rocky’s. After returning home, I discovered that both are national chain restaurants. Somehow that spoils the idea of New York pizza, but it was undeniably good pie.

I spent a small but not insignificant amount of time wandering mid-town Manhattan, trying to get my bearings to learn the right direction to the hotel or the conference. I don’t like to ask for directions, but I’ll ask what kind of dog is in the shoulder bag. Directions are trivial–just data bits, but the dog in the bag is a story to tell. Also of note: the geometry of fire escapes on the hotel, and the incredibly skinny hallway inside.

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