New York State of Mind

New York City has been on my mind this week. Two reasons. Riley and I just spent the weekend there, and another terrorist attack happened in downtown Manhattan. With these recent events in mind, I am going to share two blog posts this weekend related to New York City. Today’s will focus on my most recent visits to NYC with Gavin in June, and Riley last month. In a previous blog, I described why I enjoy New York City. In this blog post, I will share three more compelling reasons to visit. Given the recent terrorist attack, I think it is more important than ever that we show support for this great American city. #IloveNYC.

Amazing architecture of NYC

The Manhattan skyline is stunning, especially at night. NYC is full of beautiful buildings. It seems like around every corner is another architectural gem. There are too many examples for me to list here. I have visited many European cities that are known for their architecture. London, Paris, Venice, Florence, Brussels, and Berlin to name a few. Nothing compares to NYC. The city offers many places to view the city landscape. During our visit in June Gavin and I went to three well-known vantage points (Empire State building, One World Trade Center, and Top of the Rock) for viewing Manhattan. I have seen it many times but always enjoy seeing it again.

Gavin on Top of the Rock in NYC taking in Manhattan skyline
Gavin on Top of the Rock in NYC taking in Manhattan skyline

During my last visit, Riley and I stayed in Brooklyn. We were able to walk across both the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges into the city. The views from these bridges are wonderful. We had sunny weather and snapped some great photos. I am really glad we were able to see the city from this perspective. It gave me a greater appreciation for NYC architecture. It is world class.

Riley on the Brooklyn Bridge with Manhattan in the background
Riley on the Brooklyn Bridge with Manhattan in the background

One of the great music cities

NYC is well known for music. It is home to Broadway which offers tourists many options. If you visit Times Square you will see available shows and plenty of vendors selling tickets. But, we do not visit NYC for that kind of music. We are more interested in the rock-n-roll history of NYC. Many great bands and artists come from NYC. The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, Kiss, Beastie Boys, Run DMC, and Billy Joel to name a few. The city offers many music stores and venues. Some are famous. For example, Gavin and I visited Rudy’s Guitar Shop in Soho. The walls are covered with posters of famous musicians who have visited there. The store does a great job letting customers look around and try out various guitars. Gavin was able to play several high priced guitars and amps (well beyond what I could afford) while we were there. It was a great experience for a young musician in the big city.

Gavin playing guitar at Rudy's Guitar Store in Soho
Gavin playing guitar at Rudy’s Guitar Store in Soho

More recently vinyl records have become popular again. The sound from an LP is different than from a CD or streaming. I have a decent record collection. I stored my records from high school and college at my parents’ house. True to form they did not get rid of it. The past few years I bought both Gavin and Riley record players so that they can enjoy listening to records. The last time in NYC Riley, Geoff (one of my good friends who lives in NYC) and I went record shopping. It was a great experience. The city has many record stores. We found several albums we were looking for and came home with a treasure trove of vinyl.

Riley and Geoff in front of NYC Record Store
Riley and Geoff in front of NYC Record Store

A city of distinct neighborhoods

NYC is comprised of five boroughs and many neighborhoods. Manhattan, Brooklyn, Dumbo, Soho, Financial District, Little Italy, Chelsea, Midtown, and East Village to name a few. There are way too many to list, and I have only been to a handful. Each one is different to me. Talk about diversity – Brooklyn has a much different feel than Manhattan. Better yet, walk from Soho to East Village and you feel like you are on a different planet. Soho is a ritzy shopping district full of high-end shops. East Village is a funky place – the birthplace of punk rock. I truly enjoy this diversity. It exposes me to new experiences and stretches my mind. I like hanging out in an area to try and get a feel for the place. I am also a big fan of walking around NYC. The subway system is great, and Uber works well, but at times it is better to stroll through an NYC neighborhood to see what it is like. As mentioned, I have traveled a fair bit. I have never been to another city as diverse as NYC. It is one of the elements that make it unique.

Gavin in Soho
Gavin in Soho
Riley in East Village in front of Punk Rock mural
Riley in East Village in front of Punk Rock mural

It comes down to reality, and it’s fine with me cause I’ve let it slide
I don’t care if it’s Chinatown or on Riverside
I don’t have any reasons
I left them all behind
I’m in a New York state of mind
– New York State of Mind by Billy Joel

Be picky about being picky

In America, we have a lot of choices when it comes to the things we buy. Think about it. When is the last time you bought something and there were no options – only one item for purchase. If you go to a restaurant you will usually receive a multi-page menu describing all the various options. The Cheese Cake Factory menu is thick as a book. It can be overwhelming. Visit an American grocery store and you see how many different kinds of Ketchup there is. I like hot sauce. It is amazing the number of options you have when it comes to buying hot sauce. Let’s talk about Starbucks – the options seem unlimited. It is a pet peeve of mine to stand in line behind someone who takes forever to order their drink. It is not like you are making a life-changing decision, but you would think so based on how difficult it is for some patrons to make a selection. Even after you order the barista may ask you more questions about what you want – whip or no whip? Really.

Don’t overthink the problem set

I am a big fan of not overthinking things when possible. With that in mind, I recommend that you not waste your mental capacity on trying to figure out what to buy. Look at your options, determine what you like, calculate what you can afford, and then buy it. Don’t spend too much of your brain power trying to buy just the right thing. You can drive yourself nuts if you do. If you get it wrong, it probably will not be a big deal. There are three exceptions to this approach that I want to share with you so that you can be picky about being picky.

Quality vs. quantity

You will buy many items in large quantities. Don’t waste too much time picking these items. For example, I run a fair amount and like to drink Gatorade afterward. Gatorade comes in many types and flavors. I like G2 because it is low calorie, and am not that picky about the flavor. When shopping for Gatorade I buy whatever G2 flavor is on sale. If none of it is on sale, then I buy one of my favorite flavors. Problem solved. Wristwatches are another matter. It is unlikely that you are going to buy multiple watches at the same time. In fact, you will probably only buy a few over your lifetime. In this case, do some research so that you make an informed purchase. I don’t have a lot of money, so really expensive watches are out of the question. I own two watches – one informal, and one formal. I wear a Timex weekender watch that I really like. It costs less than $100. You can change the straps on the watch to match the clothes you are wearing. For work, I wear an Invictus watch. It is stylish and only cost a few hundred dollars. Nothing fancy for me.

I wear a Timex Weekender - great watch at a reasonable price.
I wear a Timex Weekender – great watch at a reasonable price.

Premium purchases

You will buy a few things that cost a lot of money. Cars, houses, and college tuition are top of the list for me. When spending a lot of money like hundreds of thousands for a house, you should spend a lot of time looking, researching, analyzing, and comparing before making a decision. Work with a good real estate agent who can help find you the right house, at the right price, in the right neighborhood. Some shows on HGTV make it seem like you can find a house quickly. I prefer to take my time and spend a lot of time thinking before buying. Bottom line – you should love the house you buy. If you don’t love it, then hold off until you find one you do. When it comes to cars I never buy the first day I visit a dealer. I don’t want to make an impulse buy. It is an easy mistake to make when buying a car. I prefer to visit multiple dealers, do a lot of research, and spend some time thinking about the purchase. Three car purchases I made were good – the Accord, Tacoma, and my Jeep. The Lexus I bought was a mistake. I should never have spent that much money on a car. Choosing a college is similar – do lots of research to include visiting each school before making a selection. The good news is that researching cars and colleges is much easier these days with all of the online tools. These did not exist back when I was your age.

Jeep wrangler
Jeep Wrangler

Money makers

You should save and invest some of your money with each paycheck so that you can retire one day. When it comes to investments there is an overwhelming number of options. Be picky about who you allow to invest your money. Many financial institutions will promise high returns and low risk. They use this marketing lingo to justify charging you high fees for managing your money. Don’t fall for it. Every dollar you spend on management fees is one less dollar that gets invested. It is really hard for money managers to “beat the market”, and they know it. I have done a fair amount of research on this topic and decided to keep things simple. I invest in index mutual funds with low management fees. Several reputable companies offer these type nowadays. I would never attempt to invest my own money in individual stocks. It takes time and energy, and expertise that I don’t have.

In most cases, I don’t think there is much value in being picky about what you buy. There is a time and place to be picky. I recommend the three listed here. In case you are wondering why we have all of these choices, the video below explains why:

How to spend the summer

We are in the middle of summer – the weather is hot, the days are long, and you do not have school. You have more free time than usual during the summer, so the question becomes what should you do with all this free time. When I was your age I did many things during the summer to include sports, travel, work, and spending time with friends. I recommend that you do something similar. Don’t waste the months sleeping late every morning, watching endless hours of Netflix, and texting back and forth with your friends. Instead, I recommend working hard, having fun, and doing some physical training.

Get a summer job

Working hard is an important habit to gain during your younger years. I am a big fan of getting a summer job. The work itself may not be exciting, but that is not really the point. The experience is what matters, and earning a little extra money is not a bad thing either. I worked several jobs during high school and college to include delivering pizza, helping out at the local movie theater, and cleaning up at a sheet metal plant. Each job was different and taught me new things. I developed the habit of showing up on time at work, learned the importance of interacting with customers, and how to get stuff done without having to be constantly monitored. This summer Gavin is working and learning many of these same lessons, and earning some money for college. Riley – you will start working next summer.

Gavin at the beach in Duck, our favorite town in the Outer Banks.
Gavin at the beach in Duck, our favorite town in the Outer Banks.

Have some fun

The summer should not be all work and no fun. You have extra time, so enjoy some of it. When I was your age I had the opportunity to go to Europe multiple times to see and experience a different part of the world. I met a lot of new people, experienced new things, and really expanded my perspective of the world. Luckily for both of you, I still enjoy traveling and already take you to Europe during the summer. I plan to continue taking you there each summer. Both of you have also been able to spend a lot of time in the Outer Banks at the beach. We have great memories from the many years we went to Duck. I encourage you to consider doing more of this as you get older, and the summer is one of the best time to go. Other things I enjoyed doing at your age during the summer was going to the movies, seeing the bands I liked in concert, visiting the beach, and hanging out with friends. I know that times have changed a lot, so I am not saying you should do the same things. Rather, make sure you enjoy your time off. Some of my best memories from my youth are from the summertime.

Riley at Heidelberg Castle, one of the cities we visited last summer.
Riley at Heidelberg Castle, one of the cities we visited last summer.

Get in shape

Summer months offer you an excellent opportunity to spend some time getting into shape. One excuse I use a lot when it comes to physical training is that I don’t have the time for it. That is not true for either of you this summer. You have plenty of time, so make it happen. The weather is perfect for getting out there for a swim, a bike ride, or a run. Going to the gym is another great option. I was on the local swim team at your age, so we would spend most weekends at swim meets which took a lot of time. As you know, I never pushed you to be a swimmer since neither one of you were very interested in the sport. But, that doesn’t mean that you should lay around the house doing nothing. Nowadays, I do some of my hardest training during the summer months. I recommend you do the same.

Trust me when I say that it is not likely that you will have more free time on your hands than you do right now. At my age, you get vacation days that you have to use wisely. With that in mind, I highly recommend you spend a little time thinking about how to spend your summer and make it happen. Fall will be here before you know it. When someone asks what you did over the summer, avoid having to answer, “nothing”. A better answer would be I earned some money working, went to Europe, and got in much better shape.

Summer nights and my radio
That’s all we need baby don’t you know
We celebrate when the the gang’s all here
Hot summer nights that’s my time of the year

– Van Halen

Why I enjoy New York City

I never visited New York City until the past few years. No particular reason, just never went there when I was young. More recently, I have visited New York several times. Each trip was different. My first time there, I went by myself and ran the NYC half-marathon. It was exciting to run through Central Park, around the wide city streets, and finish in downtown Manhattan. One time, Jill and I went there to see one of my favorite bands, U2, perform at Madison Square Garden. The last two times, Riley and I visited to see the sites and learn more about the city. After these trips, I have come to the conclusion that I really enjoy visiting NYC – one of America’s great cities.

Riley in New York City with the Flatiron Building in the background.
Riley in New York City with the Flatiron Building in the background.

I think one can go there, and not have a good time. NYC is loud (all the honking car horns), dirty (like all major cities), and can be dangerous if you are not careful. Riding in a NYC city taxi can be a religious experience, and the subway seems like a magnet for strange people. But, it is easy to see the dark side of NYC more than what it has to offer visitors. Three compelling reasons why I enjoy NYC:

The sites are great

Each time I am there I see something new. This past weekend, we had great weather, so we visited Central Park at sunset, went to the top of the Empire State building, and hung out in Washington Square near NYU. The views from One World observatory are incredible, the 9/11 memorials are very well done, and there are too many great museums to list here.

Riley and I in Central Park. We had great weather for the entire trip.
Riley and I in Central Park. We had great weather for the entire trip.

The food is excellent

I always eat well when visiting NYC. The city is full of choices. Just walk around and you can find a great place to eat without spending too much money. Many say that the pizza in NYC is the best anywhere – I think they are right. We went to Prince Street pizza and it was excellent. Tiny place with a line out the door for good reason.

We always stop by Prince Street Pizza for lunch. It is tiny, but awesome food.
We always stop by Prince Street Pizza for lunch. It is tiny, but awesome food.

It is a huge melting pot

You will hear many languages, experience different cultures, and see things in NYC that you will not see in other parts of the US. The pace of life there seems intense, and I am convinced that the city never really sleeps (similar to New Orleans). At times, it can be challenging, but I feel like it forces me to get out of my comfort zone and learn new things.

Riley and I visited the Met in NYC - one of the largest art museums in the world.
Riley and I visited the Met in NYC – one of the largest art museums in the world.

I plan to keep visiting NYC in the future to see more of it. It is worth the effort. I will take you boys with me whenever you want to go, and we can experience the big apple together.

These little town blues, are melting away
I’m gonna make a brand new start of it, in old New York
If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere
It’s up to you, New York, New York
– Frank Sinatra

Enjoy life – especially in the moment

Learn to enjoy the great moments in your life.  Both of you have accomplished great achievements recently. I hope you savored the moment. It is easy to become consumed and distracted by what is going on around you.  I have found it difficult, sometimes, to step back, and enjoy the experience of the moment I am in.  Take the time to celebrate your victories, tell others you love them, and simply enjoy all the fantastic things that you will experience in your lifetime.  It does not have to be fancy, but rather a simple recognition of success, or a special event. Otherwise, time will slip through your fingers if you are not careful. For example, I enjoy going to Tony’s Pizzeria after a soccer game with my fellow teammates to celebrate all the good things that happened during the game. We raise a glass and share a meal to commemorate the game.

We are the champions, my friends,
And we’ll keep on fighting ’til the end.
No time for losers,
‘Cause we are the champions of the world

 – Queen

Let Music Inspire You

Music can have a very positive impact on your life and inspire you.  Although I do not possess much (if any) musical talent, I have always enjoyed listening to music.  As a young man I listened to music that reflected the disillusionment and anger that I felt.  Now that I am older, and more mature, I listen to a much more diverse array of music. I enjoy hard rock, punk, 80’s alternative, country, jazz, and modern Christian music. Christian music makes me think of Jesus and helps me worship God. Jazz is smooth and helps me relax. Country music helps me recognize that life can be rather difficult at times. Alternative rock and punk reminds me of my youth. It is the music I listed to in my formative years. Hard rock is just plain fun to listen to some days. Each type of music inspires me in different ways. Explore music and find out what you like, and listen to it for inspiration.

So I’m headed down the open road unknown
And we find what we’re made of
Through the open door
Is it fear you’re afraid of?
What are you waiting for?
Love alone is worth the fight

–  – Switchfoot

Start the day with something you enjoy

One thing that I do each day is to start with something I enjoy, because I may be about to experience the worst day of my life. The reality is that I don’t know what is in store for me. I enjoy a good cup of coffee in the morning, especially on a cold day.  I also enjoy croissants (France’s greatest contribution to the world). It may sound goofy, but I buy coffee and croissants many mornings at Starbucks on my way to work. I am not saying that you should start drinking Starbucks coffee like me.  Instead, I am saying figure out something that you enjoy (going for a run, reading the paper, listening to a favorite song, reading the Bible, watching the news, whatever) and make it one of the first things you do.  Enjoy that moment and then get on with the rest of your day.

I’m never gonna look back
Woah, never gonna give it up
No, please don’t wake me now
Oo-o-o-o-oo
This is gonna be the best day of my li-ife

– By the American Authors