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Catchall.

May 2022 Part II

Click here or on the photo above for more pictures

Mother’s day. The kids made KrisDi breakfast in bed. And this time, they actually made part of it!

Chilkoot participated in a Karate tournament for the first time he started sparring. I thought he did really well, though based on judges’ scoring he was soundly defeated. We went back and looked at the video, and I still don’t really agree with a lot of the judgement. In particular, I was proud how he was more aggressive than is natural for him. He went on the attack more than I’m used to him doing. The other kids he sparred with were more experienced.

KrisDi and I had our anniversary (13 years, I think?). She made us big steaks and shrimp and salad. We also went out for tapas at Castilla, which was really good.

Other stuff:

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2021 Kitchen Remodel

A few things came together to make this decision. One, we decided that despite the rising value of our home, the rising costs of upgrade homes and the limited selection in our acceptable region were going to prevent us from improving our living situation by buying and moving into a new house. Two, we never liked the granite tile counters much, and the grout was starting to come apart, so why repair it? Three, it was summer time, and we figured we could grill a lot if the kitchen was unavailable. Four, we could afford it. Also, KrisDi just really wanted a double oven.

Before

Dissatisfactions with the old kitchen included:

  • Only one oven
  • Limited counter space
  • Limited cabinet space
  • Granite tile (as mentioned); prefer slab

We talked to two different contractors. One of them was pretty straightforward, asked questions, listened to what we wanted, and frequently said, “Yeah, we can do that.” The other was more sales-y, didn’t seem to listen to our reasoning for what we wanted, kept trying to tell us we wanted something else, and he was going to charge us money to make a plan and estimate. So we went with the first guy, Russell.

Lead times were pretty long. Something like 3 months for cabinets and similar for the range/oven we wanted. They delayed ripping stuff out until it was likely that the cabinets (first step) would arrive shortly after. Demolition was surprisingly quick, like 4-5 hours for two guys while KrisDi and I worked from home on 11 Aug.

After demolition and before new cabinets started going in, we let the kids draw and paint on the walls that would be covered up with new cabinetry. It was about 6 days before enough cabinets were put in for our old sink to be put back in a temporary installation, so that we could actually hand-wash real dishes. The old nuker/oven combo also got reinstalled the same day, so we had some heating options, too. We ordered food and ate with disposable stuff until then. We were also out camping for part of the time that the kitchen was completely out of commission.

The bulk of the cabinetry install took only a couple more days (19 Aug). Electrical came in and replaced the light fixtures (unexpectedly, including all the can lights) and the outlets for the island four days later (23 Aug). We just lived on the cabinet tops for a while.

Granite slabs finally showed up on 7 September. Only two guys were sent for this job. We estimate the slab on the island, which is huge, weighs about 800 pounds. Kudos to these strong men. They came with the counter tops, but not the backsplash (which needed to be measured out after the countertops were in place).

Unfortunately, this is where the excitement starts. The island slab is essentially a giant rectangle with a 36″ wide slot cut out for the stove. The slot was cut too wide (by maybe 3/16″ at max), and with the sides not parallel. We decided it wasn’t acceptable. They left the slab on the island (just sitting) while we figured out what to do.

I thought that maybe the depth of the counter would make the gap not so noticeable if the edges were straight, so when they came back with the backsplash on 19 Sep, they brought everything to try grind the sides parallel. They improved the parallelism, but the gap was clearly noticeable. We could see the unfinished tops of the cabinets. We decided it wasn’t acceptable.

At this stage, the kitchen was basically fully functional, except that we didn’t have a stove or a second oven. Lots of things were unfinished (most notably the giant gap in the island). But, the new sink and faucet (now touchless!) and the old dishwasher could all be installed and used.

Second piece arrived 1 Oct. Two different guys came and had to take the old one out and put the new one in. But, the new one had the exact same problem as the first. Maybe not as pronounced, but still exactly the same problem. We decided not to accept it, and had Russell call and bitch at them. They actually told him, “We don’t know what went wrong, we did exactly the same thing!” You mean…exactly the same thing that produced an unacceptable result once already…?

Third piece arrived on Friday, 15 Oct, while KrisDi and I were in New York. Les & D were watching the kids, and received the countertop for us. Russell had very explicitly told them to cut the slot too small and then grind it to size on site, which is exactly what they did.

Paul (the guy that actually did most of the work) came back to install the downdraft, move the gas line, move the ventilation duct (which was challenging due to a support joist in just the wrong spot), and install the oven, starting 25 Oct. But it didn’t fit. Also, we learned later, he didn’t tighten the gas line enough, and we kept smelling gas until we sprayed soapy water on the joints and realized what was going on. Les came and fixed that for us.

Anyway, we got to live with the kitchen fully assembled and functioning, but the oven occupying space in front of the sink for a little while. We could finally boil water again and make mac & cheese, but the layout was pretty weird.

When the counter people came back out to grind the slot slightly wider on 29 Oct, it was very…exciting. They were there until like 9:30 on a Friday night. And they manhandled that 400 pound oven so much I was afraid they were going to break it. They got it in place, though (but it may never come out again). They had to make some modifications to the way Paul had mounted the downdraft to make room for the oven to slide into the slot (he had left some screws/brackets protruding into space that needed to be occupied by the back of the oven.

Paul came back at least one more time to finish more stuff up, and in fact there is one or two more things that need to happen, such as replacing the panel that has a weird green paint streak on it.

After

As a wrap up, we’re mostly very happy with everything. Not everything is perfect. The pop up downdraft does not actually work very well, and the smoke alarm goes off a lot more (and it already went off a lot). There’s a bit of a gap between the oven and the downdraft (apparently that bothers me but not KrisDi). With the new island size and the new configuration of my coffee mess, the little bottleneck on the fridge side of the island seems to generate more traffic jams.

Also, going through everything again to write this post, I realized we still have a problem with the fridge that we discovered during the remodel. It has been building up a big patch of frost/ice on the back. I bought a kit to try to fix it, but haven’t done it yet (because I forgot entirely about it). So, I guess that’ll be a project for another upcoming weekend.

Here’s the album of all the photos.

Other noticeable changes / acquisitions:

  • Blue themed everything. New placemats, new bench, new barstools, butter dish, spoon rests, curtain, floormats in front of sink and stove, towels.
  • Got rid of the toaster and the air fryer and bought a toaster oven / air fryer combo to free up a little counter space.
  • Got a cool knife holder thing that is made of cork and goes in a drawer to free up some more counter space.
  • New drawer organizers and re-organized a bunch of stuff (and got rid of some unnecessary stuff).
  • We now have a cabinet for the trash and recycling cans, so we only have a little compost bin (on a blue mat) that is visible (this also gave us a bit more counter space).
  • All the cabinets and drawers are “soft close,” which is pretty cool, although one of the drawers wasn’t working correctly. In theory, the contractor should have fixed it, but I did, out of impatience. The problem was one of the drawer slide mounts was not mounted firmly because the wood had split.
  • New dishrack that fits in the smaller right-hand-sink, but is two-level.
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2021-10: NYC III

Click here or on the goofy picture of us with the Pietasters front man for more photos

KrisDi arrived midafternoon on Wednesday. It was time for some “victory lap” visitations — back to The Grand Delancey!

This was with a specific purpose. KrisDi and I love Cantillon, which is incredibly hard to find in the US, and they had bottles of it there. For $35 each. So we each had one. Treat yo’ self!

We ordered random food (including pierogi!) from the neighboring food places and continued drinking beer (including a notably unpleasant Firestone Walker — notable both for its unpleasantness and the fact that it was FW, they never make bad beer). Unfortunately, Sam wasn’t there that day to chat with.

We headed back to the hotel and stopped at a place called Craft + Carry, where they have a pretty good selection of mostly local beers and free skee ball. We enjoyed both aspects of the place, then started to head back to the hotel and realized we wanted to eat something…so we stopped at another bar (“The Globe”) for fries and beer.

The next day, we walked down to Katz Delicatessen, which is apparently famous and has been used as a location in several movies. While we were there, some film staff was talking with restaurant staff about logistics for recording there early the next morning before customers arrived. It was the most confusing restaurant I’ve ever been in. Different counters to order different things. I think we had to order at three different counters to get our food. There was a ton of stuff we wanted to try, and we ordered way more than we could eat. But it was really good.

We walked from there to Malt & Mold, a beer and cheese place. We had…beer and cheese. Then we subwayed back out to Grimm and tried more of their stuff! Still awesome! Same server was there! Unfortunately, they didn’t have the inside open at first and they only use plastic glasses outside. I bought a shirt and some glasses to take home. Again, loved everything I tried. And retried the best ones. Excellent!

From there we followed KrisDi’s Polish coworker/friend’s advice and went to a Polish diner named Christina’s, which was great (particularly their beet soup). We also went to a nearby bakery and picked up some poppy seed cake (not as good as P Dubs’) and apple cake. Then back to the hotel.

One of these mornings, and it might have been the next one, KrisDi and I toted two large flat rate USPS boxes of beer, painstakingly packaged in the hotel room, to the post office to ship one to our house and the other to PoD’s. PoD had asked me to put together a box of IPAs for his uncle (who has provided Pliny the Elder many times) and if possible to get Unicorn Farts for his wife. This was a beer I had seen in several of the delis in Part I of the vacation, but then was completely missing despite a concerted effort to check at every deli we walked by the rest of the trip, so none of that was in the box, unfortunately.

Bagels for breakfast the next day at Bagels & Schmear (excellent). Some wandering. Surprisingly, we found local cheese place Beecher’s has a location out there. Went to the Union Square market. Subwayed back out to Brooklyn and visited the Talea brewery (it was OK). Wandered a bit there, and got pizza at Tony’s. Waited for Brooklyn Brewing to open.

Brooklyn Brewing was a good brewery to visit but I was deeply annoyed by them — not customer friendly. I wanted to get small pours of big beers because there was a bunch of stuff I wanted to try that was like 13% abv. But, most of them they only allowed to be purchased as a “sidecar” or something with a regular sized beer. So I bought more than I wanted to so I could try the things I wanted, and the staff were jerks about it. The place was cool and the high end beers were good, though the “standard” stuff is boring.

We went back to the hotel and dropped stuff off, then went out to a German place called Heidelberg for dinner. In particular, I was looking for schweinhaxe for dinner. They had it, and it was excellent. Afterward, we met with KrisDi’s friend Sahnj and her husband at a place called the Stag. I noticed at the very end that someone had ordered a Heady Topper, a white whale beer for me, but we were well done for the night.

That might have been the night we realized why the street noise was so loud in our room: The window was coming detached from the frame wasn’t fully connected to the wall. This may have also explained why the AC was working so hard and dripping so much condensation that the floor was wet (or rain was getting in). Maintenance came in the middle of the night and improved the situation. The hotel apologized profusely and offered to move us to the only available room, which was smaller than the one we were in. We deemed it not worthwhile.

We met Mr. and Mrs. Sahnj again for brunch the next day at a place called Cookshop. We were there too early, so we went to the nearby Chelsea Market and shopped around a little bit. We didn’t buy anything there, just looked around. After breakfast, we all went to Milk & Hops. I chatted with the staff there, and was a little puzzled by their mix of knowledge and ignorance of the beer world. The Sahnjes went their own separate way from their.

We went back to the Stag to get Heady Topper. Unfortunately, it was fairly old, and nowhere near as good as I remember from the previous two cans I have had. I don’t really understand why, but the server seemed to think it was a good idea to buy us shots, so we both had “picklebacks” — a shot of whiskey chased with a shot of pickle juice. We survived.

We had dinner at an Italian place named L’Angeletto, and then we went to the boat for the Pietasters. We remembered earplugs this time (I think I did permanent damage to my hearing last time), but forgot them in the hotel room, and got the last box off the shelf at a CVS on the way to the show.

Lucille is the boat. According to the stats on that page, the maximum standing capacity is 125 people. I don’t think we were close to that. I would guess there were maybe 80 people there including the band. I don’t know how the Pietasters can be making money on this. But, once again, it was several hours of just the Pietasters and a small crowd of super engaged fans. We skipped the buffet (yeah, they had a buffet!), I drank a couple JW Blacks and Bud Heavies (best available). It was so much fun, once again.

It was raining quite a bit when we got off the boat. We stopped at Mike’s for a slice of pizza and then went back to the hotel room to cool down with a fancy sour beer.

The next morning, we went to the Bluebell Cafe for breakfast, which was very good. We walked out to a couple places looking for NYC souvenirs for the kids and found a place run by a crusty old dude. KrisDi was trying to buy two clear blocks with 3D NYC scenes laser-etched inside them and two small ceramic mugs. At checkout, the guy decided we needed more stuff, and insisted KrisDi take a kitchen towel if she would use it (it was an apron), oh and she definitely needed these three post cards…and yes, of course, this pen….and how could we leave without taking this magnet? All at no additional charge. It was very strange and very cute.

We went back to the room and packed. We decided to keep the remainder of the Talisker and passed the Willett back and forth taking swigs and left it behind for housekeeping.

Afterward, we walked back to Good Beer NYC. We were slightly early, so we stopped in a nearby market and found Unicorn Farts! We bought a couple of those to stuff in my suitcase when we got back to the room. We got more food from the Morelos place.

We got a Lyft to the airport (long, expensive ride), and found scales to check our bags’ weights. With the addition of the Unicorn Farts, my bag was slightly overweight, so we moved a pair of jeans into KrisDi’s bag and we were golden. We ate some boring, extremely expensive food at a place in the airport. The flight home was fairly uneventful, except that it was super hot (like to the point where I didn’t feel well), and we took some weird zigzag over Montana / Idaho that didn’t make any sense.

The bag arrived without smelling delicious, and we Ubered home. Then work the next day.

Epilogue

Overall, I think a very successful trip. My friends and I agreed we shouldn’t wait forty years to do it again, but we should have gotten a place more downtown than suburb, although a three bedroom place in Manhattan would have been prohibitively expensive. I learned that Brooklyn is essentially a suburb, although there’s still a lot going on.

I had a great time drinking alone, visiting breweries and beer spots, trying new beer, and chatting with fellow beer nerds. But footwear is important. The shitty flip flops I bought went in the trash. I was developing a rash from the strap and I had some kind of bruise on the ball of my foot that took more than two weeks to heal.

KrisDi and I had a great time, even though we did very little “touristy” stuff. The hotel was shitty, but the location was good for us and we didn’t exactly hang out there. The Pietasters are awesome and as long as they keep doing this Rock the Boat thing, I want to make an effort to get out there. Probably if we’re going to be tourists out there, it would be better for us to be out there the whole time together (rather than me there for a week before she arrives), and maybe plan a couple specific things.

No regrets on my part, though.

I learned also that essentially there are no exaggerations about New York in movies and TV, except one: I never saw a single human being using their fire escape as a patio.

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2021-10: NYC II

Click here or on the beer above for more photos

I arrived at the hotel too early to check in, so I gave them my bags and I went out to lunch — a nearby place called Taproom 307. It seemed like a yuppie douche place dressed up as a beer place. I had nachos with an egg on them and a beer and went to Brooklyn to visit some breweries.

First stop was Interboro Brewery. I was not terribly impressed. Nothing bad, but nothing great. I had mostly IPAs there. Servers were kind of standoffish, but not exactly unfriendly. Most disappointing was their strangely unsuccessful attempt at a straightforward west coast IPA.

Second stop was Grimm Brewery. I was terribly impressed. I don’t know the name of the server I talked to, but she was really knowledgeable, fun to talk to, and totally engaged. The first beer I tried there (on her recommendation) was a legit American-made lambic style beer named The Open Work. It is one of the best new beers I have tried this year. I asked her to recommend a NE style IPA that would convince me west coast breweries were not doing it right, and Lambo Door did exactly that. Then I asked her what the brewer was most excited about right now, and I was very impressed by Invisible Touch, a helles lager. Three completely different styles, and all excellently executed. Grimm is my new favorite NE brewery.

Third stop was Kings County Brewing Company (KCBC). It was pretty busy, and it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. Generally good stuff, but not excellent. Subwayed back to the general vicinity of the hotel, stopped at an Irish bar named Molly’s for another beer (a Sixpoint Bengali, which I now know to be boring) and a burger.

I learned that night I had forgotten my contact fluid in the AirBnB, and had to go searching late in the night to several CVSes before I found something. The next morning, I decided to improve my life for the next week by buying flip flops, toilet paper, and water at a Target (as well as some packing/shipping material to send beer back for me and for PoD.

I had breakfast at Sunburst Espresso (a really good French toast). I had a hankering for udon, and Googling brought me to a Japanese restaurant named Ootoya. I had envisioned a simple, cheap bowl of udon. Wrong style of restaurant (I still have not found that kind of udon place in the US) — instead, I got a gorgeous seventy-four course lunch that included udon. Excellent.

Based on a recommendation from a random guy on BeerAdvocate, I went to a place called The Grand Delancey, and I was not let down at all. 49 taps, all excellent and/or interesting stuff. I tried several things there, chatted quite a bit about beer with Sam, the server and possibly owner. I learned he gets little chance to try west coast beer. I told him I’d ship him stuff when I got home, and he threw two Fox Farm beers at me. Both were excellent.

The Grand Delancey doesn’t have a kitchen, but it has a menu: Food from the restaurants that share the shopping center. On my way out, I got a kelp cookie that was surprisingly good.

I stopped at a bit of an Irish dive bar called McSorley’s that only had two beers (light and dark), and each beer you ordered was served as two glasses of beer. Then I got some boozy ice cream near the hotel and went to bed.

Tuesday, I subwayed out to Brooklyn again to go to a place called St. Gambrinus Beer Shoppe, which was an excellent decision. They were celebrating their 8th anniversary on Tueuzeday Gueuzeday and had an incredible selection of American and Belgian lambic/gueuze style beers. It was fantastic. I ordered some Mexican food delivered, and some dude noticed my fountain pen as I was taking notes on the beers I was drinking and talked to me for a while.

Once I killed enough time, I went to Folksbier, because I had heard that their lagers were excellent. But they had no lagers at all. I wasn’t impressed with what they did have. Too bad. Then I subwayed back to Manhattan and went to a well known beer bar, The Blind Tiger, for dinner and (surprise!) beer. It was very good. I got ice cream across the street and walked back to the room.

KrisDi was arriving the next day. I decided to go for a long walk before waiting for her at the hotel room. I started by walking to Johnny’s Luncheonette, a tiny little diner. It was good. Their bathroom was ridiculously small.

Then I walked a lot. Still wearing the shitty flip flops I bought at Target. In the long run, this was a bad idea. I walked along the western shore and saw lots of interesting architecture and a weird man-made island thing, stopped at the Fountain Pen Hospital (which I didn’t even realize had a physical storefront) and bought some Clairefontaine notebooks, walked through the government area and Chinatown and ended up at a store that will surprise you: Good Beer NYC.

David is the owner. I was hungry. He told me there was a great Mexican place down the street that didn’t complain if you brought beer in (at least from his place): I got a little plastic cup of beer from him and walked down the street to Tacos Cuautla Morelos. Then I went back and had a couple beers there and bought a bunch of stuff. I got a Lyft back to the hotel because I was sore in the feet and back regions, and I waited for KrisDi to arrive.

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2021-10: NYC I

Introduction

Pope of Djibouti, Djiboutian Phoenix, Monocular Ben, and I all turned 40 this year. We decided to have a long weekend getaway together without the spouses/children. They unwisely left the bulk of the planning up to me, and we ended up going to Brooklyn. This happened to be the week before KrisDi and I were planning on going to NYC for another Pietasters Rock the Boat show, and it turned into a three part vacation for me: Thursday-Sunday with college buddies, Sunday-Wednesday alone, Wednesday-Sunday with KrisDi.

Chapter I

Click here or on the whisk[e]y for more pictures

I got a three room AirBnB in Brooklyn. I didn’t figure anyone really wanted to deal with sleeping in the same room as each other, and that I would be OK sleeping on a futon or the floor in the living space, since I wake up early as hell and if someone else slept there I’d have to tiptoe in the mornings.

Pope of Djibouti (PoD) and Djiboutian Phoenix (DP) flew out Wednesday night. PoD brought a bottle of scotch with him (Aberlour A’Bunadh Alba, a cask strength doozy), and DP bought a bottle of Eagle Rare bourbon. Ben and I took the redeye Wednesday night and arrived around 7 AM. I had had a shitty night of sleep the night before and my back was hurting, so I took some flexeril and zonked out for basically the whole flight, and probably got as much sleep as I usually do at home.

Our Thursday plan was to visit the Widow Jane distillery. I had booked a private tour at 3 in the afternoon. We went to a nearby breakfast place for a very late breakfast, and then walked to the Other Half brewery and had a couple beers.

Ben is not a beer drinker. He asked me to pick stuff for him, and so I looked for things that depart wildly from the “norm” in the beer world — fruited berlinerweisses and barrel aged stouts with chocolate and such added to them. I did not hit a home run, but I did not strike out, he was OK with one of fruited sours.

We walked on. We found the distillery but still needed to kill some time before they opened, so we went to a nearby deli and ate a sandwich.

Edit: Forgot to mention the yelling match between a moron in a pickup truck who couldn’t get through an intersection blocked by a FedEx truck stopped for a delivery and the FedEx driver, pickup guy genuinely angry and screaming invective, and FedEx driver mostly laughing at him. I’m on the FedEx driver’s side because I think a competent driver could have made it through the intersection.

The distillery tour was pretty cool. Since it was just the four of us, I didn’t feel like I had to be polite and let other people ask questions. I learned that almost everything they sell right now is other distillery’s whiskey that they blend. They are still in the process of distilling and aging whiskey enough to sell their own, but they do have a four year old that is somewhat available. The tasting flight at the end was their four year old, a whiskey aged in barrels that first aged whiskey and then aged maple syrup, two ryes, and the regular Widow Jane 10.

We tried to visit Sixpoint (a brewery) after that, but learned that they were closed on weekdays. We walked back to the room, which was a 45 minute walk (according to Google) and a seventy-two hour trek according to Ben’s poorly-shod feet.

The plan for dinner was pizza from a local joint (Luigi’s). I walked in and ordered takeout, but it was like an hour and twenty minute delay for orders to be filled, so PoD and I wandered around looking in the myriad corner delis and discovering that they each have different selections of beer and some of them have fresh beer and some of them don’t. I bought a couple (~8) beers at one. We eventually got the pizza, brought it back, and spent the rest of the night drinking, eating, and shooting the breeze.

The next day, our primary plan was to go see We Come From Away on Broadway, a musical about Gander, Newfoundland, and the chaos that ensued when dozens of international flights had to land and stay there after 9/11 and the closure of American airspace.

I was up hours before anyone else. No surprise. Unfortunately, I was also up about an hour before any coffee places opened. I had two cups of coffee from two different shops before we actually went anywhere. We had breakfast near the room and then got subway passes to go elsewhere. Since breakfast was late, our first stop was the Evil Twin brewery, where I was able to recommend some beer that Ben actually liked, so I felt like an accomplished beer dork.

We subwayed to the southeastern side of Central Park and wandered some more, with the intent of going to the Met, only to discover that the line to get tickets for entry was about a long block long (side note: there are two types of blocks in New York, long ones and short ones; I think in general a long one is 3x longer than a short one, but some areas I swear it’s 5x). We gave up on that idea, walked through central park, and had lunch at a seafood place because Ben wanted to have Maine lobster. He and I shared a five pound bucket. It was excessive, but very good.

Then we subwayed to broadway. The show was really good. After that, we walked someplace for ice cream, and then subwayed back to the room to drink and chat some more.

That subway ride was interesting. There was a dude on the far end of the car with a big stroller sort of thing, with a big colorful parrot on it. Later, I saw him reach in and pull out a portion of a snake with a five or six inch diameter cross section. Then a portion of an albino snake with a four or five inch cross section. Then he took the parrot for a walk up and down the car.

I asked the girls across the car from us, “We’re not from around here. Is this normal?”

She scrunched up her face. “It’s New York City. This is the first time I’ve seen this specifically, but there’s always something.”

We had absolutely no plans on Saturday. We went to a ramen place for lunch (first time at least for DP), then we subwayed down to Coney Island and walked around getting sandblasted in the wind. Then we stopped at the Coney Island Brewery. We subwayed back, had dinner at a somewhat fancy Italian place, bought some more whiskey (I don’t remember actually if we bought it that day or another day), and spent the rest of the night drinking and chatting.

Ben’s early morning flight was cancelled late in the night. I didn’t know about it, so I was worried he’d slept through his alarm and missed his flight. In the end, I got a Lyft to my next place, a hotel on Manhattan Island called The Marcel at Gramercy, for the next segment of my vacation.

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