Thursday, May 01, 2008

They Named It Twice

Warning: No poker content here.

No, instead this is to be a trip report of a different sort. Over the last three days, my father and I drove to New York and back in order to see our Tigers beat the Yankees, and see Yankee Stadium in its final year.

I learned after my part of the trip was already planned that it was the last year for Shea Stadium also. I didn't buy tickets for Shea, and my father wasn't that interested, even though the Mets had a day game at home the day after the Yankee game we were attending. Truly, I wasn't terribly interested in seeing the Mets, either, except that I felt like as long as we were there, we should, since we're likely never again going to have an opportunity to see a game at Shea Stadium. What settled it is that my dad had appointments scheduled for Thursday, so it wasn't possible to see the game at Shea and make it back in time for him to keep those appointments.

In any case, we drove Monday toward New York. There wasn't anything terribly eventful about the drive, and we ended up staying off the freeway in Danville, Pennsylvania, about 2½ hours out of New York, and continued the next morning. As a road geek I noticed that Pennsylvania and New Jersey seemed to have more old road signs still in use than Michigan, but the best sign of the whole trip was about a dozen miles into New Jersey, where a sign said “Land of Make Believe, Next Exit.” (I have to assume that's an amusement park or something, but it was still funny.)

My father's GPS device guided us pretty expertly to Battery Park, at the southern end of Manhattan, so that we could play tourist during the afternoon and see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We had to drive around the block a few times to find a place to park, but I've had to do that in other big cities and I really wasn't surprised. The elevator to get the car to the appropriate level (rather than ramps) did surprise me a bit, though.

We boarded the boat to Ellis Island after going through security, and the boat went around the Statue of Liberty slowly enough that I feel like I saw that, too. I can't imagine that seeing the statue from the island is better than that; the boat had us at pretty much the perfect distance for viewing the statue. Any closer, and it'd be like sitting in the front row at the movie theater, trying to figure out what's what while putting a crick in your neck. I'm sure there were displays on the island, but of what, I don't know.

Let me say here that ten years ago, I would have been much more interested in the Statue of Liberty. I was a Libertarian during my political days, and—unsurprisingly—Libertarians hold the Statue of Liberty in high regard. It's the symbol of the party, it appears on nearly all of their correspondence, and I would have held it in high reverence. Today, it's just a statue, and while my politics are certainly still essentially libertarian, I'm more able to see the statue in its historical context. Maybe that makes it lose something for me, I don't know.

When the boat docked at Ellis Island, we went into the main building. It's not exactly as immigrants would have seen it, even if we docked at the same place (I don't know). Mostly, there's a big wheelchair ramp that sticks more than fifty feet out from the front of the building, that was (clearly) added during the refurbishment of the 1980s. We got inside, and … were disappointed. There were pieces of old luggage piled into a big display, and a few displays about U.S. immigration and emigration over the last 400 years, but basically it looked like a big empty train station. My dad commented that it was not like the pictures he'd seen.

We were probably going to give up and get back on the next boat, when I said, "Let's see what's up these stairs." And we emerged into the main part of the museum, and into the main hall of Ellis Island. We learned that the stairs we climbed were climbed by pretty much all of the people who came through Ellis Island, and that it was the first time they were examined for unfitness to enter the US (they might be marked for "lameness" if they limped up the stairs).

The museum displays, and the very existence of Ellis Island, piqued me politically for almost the exact opposite reason that the Statue of Liberty did. I hate unneccesary bureaucracy. I think if 3/4 of government workers lost their jobs it would be a good thing (and we'd hardly notice). And during most of the time Ellis Island was open, these people were going to get into the US. There were no quotas on immigration until the 1920s. The only legal reason to keep them out was unfitness (for one of several reasons), and the bureaucrats were looking for signs of that unfitness. (About 2% ended up beind denied entry for unfitness.) A number of immigrants were quoted as saying that going through Ellis Island aged one horribly, that one came out older than one went in. And for most people, they were only there a few hours.

I don't know if I'd come out of Ellis Island older, but I'd come out infuriated. And I say all of this favoring politically a pretty liberal immigration policy. If you want to come here, great; we just want to know who you are and make sure you're not going to blow us up. If you're going to stay, fine, but I'd like to stipulate that you don't get any federal benefits for some time period, maybe two years. And that's it. And for all the bureaucracy that immigrants faced at Ellis Island, I'm sure that (legal) immigrants today face worse.

Didn't You Say Something About Baseball?

When the boat got back to Battery Park, it was about 5:00, and the Yankee game was at 7. I noticed that at the entrance to the park were stairs to the #4 and #5 subway trains, and I knew from looking on the Internet earlier that it's the #4 train that goes right by Yankee Stadium. My suggestion at this point was to leave the car at Battery Park, and take the train up, but I didn't know what would happen if we tried to get our car out of the garage at basically midnight. We asked. The garage closed at eight. So, apparently, we were driving to the game. Both of us looked at this prospect with some dread, driving in Manhattan, but there are freeways up each side of the island, and the one up the east side (FDR Drive) was more convenient for us.

You know, even though that drive provided the only overall feel of Manhattan that I got that trip, I've got to say that you probably have to be crazy to end up with a city like that. We saw driveways curving around within inches of the freeway several times, and most amazing to me were the buildings built on top of the freeway. That strikes me as absolutely insane.

Surprisingly, we moved along fine up the freeway, and got to the Bronx pretty quickly. And this was at 5:00, when I'd have expected a bunch more cars to enter the road system as people get off of work. And even finding a place to park by the stadium, which the Yankees web site itself suggests will be darn near impossible, wasn't: There is a garage right next to the stadium, and it was less than $20 to park in it. I don't know what our situation would have been if we'd got there at 7:00, but at 5:30, we had no problem parking.

I was also a bit concerned about whether we'd find food by the stadium; the Bronx isn't Manhattan and I kind of expected a commercial wasteland. But the area around the stadium, at least, wasn't much different than other big cities I've been to, and we found a bar and ordered some beers and looked at the menu.

The menu is so crazy that I put it in my pocket. It's a single piece of cardboard the size of a postcard, with phrases like "We Carry Wiskies [sic] & All Liquors And Drinks." But the actual "menu" part of the menu is so weird I'll quote it here:


I got boneless fried chicken, which was what I expected, and rice & beans, which wasn't. It was a plate of white rice, and a bowl of soupy beans. I poured the beans over the rice, and it was in face quite good, but not the way I'm used to being served that. My dad ordered fries, and "chicken with bones," which he expected regular fried chicken, and I expected chicken wings. What he actually got was random hunks of meat on random bones, in his words, it was like they took a chicken and put it on a bandsaw to end up with golf-ball sized chunks of "chicken with bones."

The amazing thing was that this food, and four beers, came to $47. Okay, the menu mostly didn't have prices on it, and it's not like we were on a budget, but forty-seven dollars for bar food? Yee-ikes!

I Thought You Said Something about Baseball.

Okay, okay, I'm getting to that. We went into the stadium, and made our way toward right field, where I still think the Internet told me our seats were. They turned out to be in left, so we got a nice little walk around the entire stadium. That was okay, since we were there mostly to see the stadium. We weren't there early enough to walk through Monument Park; it's a little annoying that we couldn't even really see it from the grandstands, since we were close enough.

The game itself wasn't a particularly good game; both starting pitchers had trouble with the strike zone, and there were approximately 1,735 walks in the game (I might be off by a couple). Kenny Rogers walked the bases loaded once, and hit Derek Jeter to force in a run. Despite all of this, the Tigers offense hit well enough to win the game, including a Gary Sheffield home run that ended up in the hands of the fellow sitting next to me. I was probably on TV briefly for that home run. In the end, the Tigers won 6–4.

The ride home was uneventful, but I'm sure both of us wished we were staying closer to New York on the night of the game; we didn't get in until about 1 AM.

Go get ’em, Tigers!