New York: Guggenheim, Village Vanguard, Power Plants

On my recent New York trip, as usual, I spent a day in New York City, shoehorned full of various activities. As usual, I walked away feeling like each day I spend here results in two more days’ of activities I want to add to my list.

First, I headed to the Guggenheim, to catch the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit before it closed. I have to admit that it is quite embarrassing, as a native New Yorker (and museum nerd), that I’ve never actually gone to the Guggenheim. The exhibit was in roughly chronological order, going up the spiral of the museum—a really nice organization method.

Yes, I guess this shot is probably overdone, but it’s iconic, eh?

I got the audio tour, which provided a wonderful wealth of information. But it was somewhat interesting looking at his work, as a building technology nerd. For instance, “…but they don’t talk about how they had to completely rebuild the structure of Fallingwater’s cantilever with retrofitted post-tensioned concrete, just to keep it from falling down,” or “Oh yeah, the Usonian houses… I saw that article on having to entirely rebuild the structure, because the beams were built out of multiple 2x4s instead of a 2x10, like it ought to be,” or “Marin County Civic Center—yes, it’s a gorgeous space, inside and out… and the detail of those repeating motifs throughout the building are great. And I have an awesome picture of the leaking skylight there.”

Incidentally, Wright appeared to be a pretty unpleasant human being to deal with—common personality traits that come with genius probably. This is based on the Ken Burns/American Experience documentary—a huge amount of fascinating information, if anyone is interested.

Anyway, in the gift shop—check it out, a Lego Guggenheim! It turns out that there is a whole Lego architectural series. Funny.

Headed back to my sister’s place, got changed, and headed down to Greenwich Village. Had dinner at a local spot I found just randomly walking around (Chow Bar)—Asian fusion-ish; great calamari salad and tuna tartare. One amusing dish that I got as a side—their “crispy spinach”: take spinach, deep fry, and salt. Yep, they made spinach into potato chips. Wow. You actually can make spinach unhealthy. I only had a few bites before I gave up.

A very nice little wander around the Village to kill time before the evening’s entertainment. A brief moment of, “man, sometimes, it’s good to be alive”—check out that view of the sunset.

Then an evening of jazz at the Village Vanguard—as I wrote in the past:

I don't know how many of you are jazz aficionados, but the Village Vanguard is a famous Greenwich Village jazz club that has been around since the 1930's. The greats have all played the Vanguard, and a multitude have recorded live albums there: [Insert name of jazz giant] Live at the Village Vanguard (including my personal favorite, Bill Evans' Sunday at the Village Vanguard). As a younger jazz musician puts it: "I call it the Carnegie Hall of jazz because most jazz clubs just don't have the sound that that place has. . . . It's the place where Moses and Mohammed and Jesus walked!"

The group I saw was Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, and Paul Motian (piano, bass, and drums)—Motian has a history that goes back to the 1950s, playing with some of the jazz greats (including Bill Evans). It was an absolutely superb evening.

I was only in the city for the morning, the next day. I thought I would try to find the Jamaican food truck on the upper East Side mentioned in a New York Times article (“Sweet Heat: For Jamaicans, It’s About Jerk”). Unfortunately, I could not find it—I’m guessing they are a weekday outfit, and take the weekends off or something. Guess that will have to be another trip.

However, I did get to wander about the East Side, looking up and down the river at the bridges and Roosevelt Island across the way.

Of course, infrastructure geekery ends up finding me—there’s another gorgeous old turn of the century power plant on the river there (74th Street)—there’s a similar one on the West Side—see that previous post. Incidentally, Daniel—you wrote I've always loved the look of that power station. When we were briefly on the FDR Drive, I thought we went past it (half torn down), but that must've been some other ornate squarish building on the East side.--is this the one you’re thinking of?

Anyway, as usual, this prompted me to go do web searching on the history of this thing. It was actually unproductive at first (I was doing “74th Street powerhouse –mesothelioma,” because most of the links were class-action lawsuits). But then… paydirt, at Google Books: The New York Electrical Handbook, by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (“Being A Guide for Visitors from Abroad Attending the International Electrical Congress, St. Louis, Mo. September 1904”), with a chapter all about the power plant, in obsessive and excruciating detail (starting at page 243—“74th Street Power Station, Manhattan Division”). Man… for all of the debates on the intellectual property ramifications of Google’s book scanning project, it’s discoveries like this that makes me feel that on the scale of humanity, it is a fine, fine thing they are doing.

The amount of coal required for the operation of the power station during the winter months is about 700 tons per day. This coal is brought to the power station dock in barges, from which the coal is unloaded by means of a ton-and-a-half clam-shell bucket operated by a hoisting engine. This bucket is elevated about fifty feet to the top of the coal tower, where the coal is discharged into crushers, which break it to a size suitable for use in the automatic stokers. The coal then drops into weighing hoppers, where it is weighed before going to the boilers.

I also found that Con Ed has a PowerPoint presentation showing all their power plants in the New York City area that supply steam. It’s actually a pretty clever use—this is leftover steam heat, from the power plants—normally, this energy is wasted. Instead, they pipe it under the streets to heat buildings.

BTW—in case it is not obvious—all of these power plants are located at the perimeter of Manhattan because they use river water as their cooling medium.

Yep, another fine visit.


Defeated By Plumbing

As always, my trips back to my parents' house involves various home repairs. They all started out quite well--the dining room window has required a stick to prop it up for, well, as long as we've lived there (1976... wow). I realized, "Hey, I can fix that!" Some surgical prybar work and a sash spring later, a working window!

New doorbell, no worries; water filter; ordered a new part. And then unclogging all the drains in the upstairs bathroom (sink, bathtub, shower). Yeah, ewwww.

The shower unclogging operation required a bit of persuasion to the plumbing--stuff that appeared to be concrete was in the drain, which required scraping out with a metal bar. However, later on that night, mom reported dripping from the living room ceiling, below the bathroom. Uh oh....

So there I was, sawing holes in the ceiling of my parents’ living room at 10 PM, with lukewarm brown water running down my arms into my shirt. It was especially frustrating, knowing that back at home, I had at least three tools that would be doing a faster, better, and cleaner job. As well as knowing that I couldn't take a shower to wash this stuff off.

I excavated the leaking pipe and found... uh oh, lead pipe? WTF? Wow. I’ve done plenty of plumbing, including black iron threaded gas pipe, sweated and compression fitting copper, CPVC, PEX… you name it. And as for drain lines, I’ve huffed more than my fair share of PVC and ABS cement, put together hubless fittings for cast iron, and sweated copper DWV. But lead pipe? Crap. That’s a whole new one to me. It appears that lead's strengths are corrosion resistance and formability; however, it is hurt by high cost, physical weakness, and creep (tendency to flow at room temperature, resulting in "sagging" pipes). Apparently, I had made a horizontal tear in the pipe while trying to unclog it. Grr.

Repair take one: Mission hubless coupling, with a sheet of rubber to act as a gasket. You'll notice what a wonderfully accessible spot this whole setup is--one side of the pipe tight up against a floor joist, and tucked in above a set of bookshelves. And the hole is on the side facing away from me.

Unfortunately, no dice--my guess is that the lead pipe is malleable enough that the gasket really didn't seal against a round surface--it just crushed the pipe, slightly.

Repair take two: sand off the pipe, and use PC-Plumbing™ Putty Epoxy--“The Impossible Made Easy”--not a bad slogan. Set it up, and... nope, still a trickle of a leak. Holy crap was I pissed.

After staring at it for a good long time, I was forced to give up and drive back home. It's hard to describe how much of a defeat this feels like, leaving it in my parents' hand to call a plumber to fix.

Man… this whole experience makes me realize that my attitude towards home ownership is converging with my attitudes towards babies—amusing at times, not bad to borrow, but maybe I’ll pass on being responsible for one, myself.

So Why Did I Drive?

Had a thoroughly miserable drive up from Long Island to the Boston area this afternoon--from about 2 PM to 8:30 PM; I normally do the drive in 3.5 to 4 hours or so. Managed to hit serious traffic in three different states. The fact that driving on a rainy Sunday summer afternoon is bad has been duly noted.

First, about a half hour into the drive, there was some type of serious accident on the Hutchinson River Parkway--as in multiple fire trucks, paramedics, and tow trucks driving up on the wrong side of the median, because traffic was completely shut down in that direction by the accident.

The entire highway was stopped--not stop and go, but literally all-lanes-stopped-with-the-cop-standing-in-front. About 45 minutes worth.

Basically, the Hutch is a very winding parkway, lots of tight banking turns--lots of fun if you're in a performance car, but with plenty of accidents as a result--given that Traffic studies found that the parkway "reasonably safe for operating speeds of only about 25 MPH". The wreck happened under that overpass--where it is both a downhill turn, and an on-ramp at the underpass.

H'okay... after that painful experience... an accident and a car fire on I-84 around Hartford. Swell.

This time, for the hell of it, I decided to get off, and let the GPS take me to the nearest movie theater, through a winding series of back roads. And the options were:

Hrm... okay, maybe not. One amusing bit--they didn't actually have a real poster for one movie--only a page from a newspaper. Back onto I-84. And in the final leg... got onto the Mass Pike, and...

Oy. I actually prefer to take the train down to New York... it's just that with a carload of tools, that's not an option.


Mixed Signals

I was walking around Greenwich Village last night, on the way to the Village Vanguard, when I saw the crossing sign lit up like this:

Um, what? You'd think that they would have some pretty serious hard-wired fail-safes to keep this from happening. At least I hope that's the case with traffic lights.

And just in case anybody else was thinking of the punchline, it's been running through my mind as well: "Hey, wait! I dated her!" (sorry)

Also, I thought this was an entirely clever (albeit grim) driver bicycle-awareness billboard--from The New York City Bicycle Safety Coalition (part of the NYC government):

Aha... it's also available as a PDF poster here--you can make out the detail, where it is clear that a cyclist bounced off the windshield. And hey... a similar, and even more grimly funny one.