Las Vegas: The New York, New York

Returning from my first trip to Las Vegas, I can now make several important observations.  The first is this:

Visit the New York, New York

I didn’t expect to like this hotel.  I didn’t even consider it as a place to stay when we were planning our Vegas trip.  My reasoning went: someone who wants a New York experience should visit New York itself, not a replica in the desert.  Now, I expect to stay there the next time we stay on the strip.

What won me over first was the absence of the second-hand smoke that is ubiquitous in Vegas.  From the moment we opened the door at the Venetian to check in, I felt years ticking off my life.  At the New York, New York, parts of the casino (at least) have two-story high ceilings, letting smoke get pulled up into the ventilation system where it bothers nobody.

But beyond that, the theme is pleasantly cohesive.  Arranged along streets like Broadway are New York staples such as Nathan’s Hot Dogs.  Guests stay in towers like the Chrystler Building, and congregate in areas named for famous New York neighborhoods.

For a casual visit, it looks like an excellent place to stay.

Advertising Demographics

I took advantage of my “All You Can Jet Pass” with JetBlue to spend the day in Manhattan yesterday for no particular reason.  I’d like to share a couple highlights of my trip.

We’ll Need Both Horsepower

I noticed the New York Police Department has purchased some interesting law enforcement vehicles I hadn’t seen before:

NYPD Enforcer

NYPD Enforcer

In the words of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (in the episode Space Mutiny), “Put your helmet on!  We’ll be reaching speeds of three!”

Location, Location, Location

On my way up Fifth Avenue, I noticed a suspicious lack of overwhelming crowds in the 34th street area.  On a drizzly, foggy morning, I decided it might be the perfect time to see the top of the Empire State Building for the first time.  I walked straight in past the enormous rooms setup with stanchions to control the usual crowds, all completely empty, and went straight to the top.  Even in bad weather the view is fantastic.

Looking down, I couldn’t help noticing this advertisement pointed straight up at us:

Empire State Building Ad

Empire State Building Ad

Since the official website (under Frequently Asked Questions) reports that 3.8 million people visit the building every year, statistically a few were probably looking for an apartment.  On the other hand, about 90% of the people I heard up there were speaking French, suggesting they weren’t from the New York area, and thus were far less likely to be moving in.


The Buttercup Bake Shop is as fantastic as its pictures suggest.  No humorous anecdote; just good cupcakes.

Stop Stealing My Coffee

Dear Passengers at Logan International Airport,

You’ve clearly noticed the many Starbucks restaurants conveniently located throughout the airport. Let me take just a moment to explain how they work.

Since many customers are ordering coffee at the same time in busy locations like these, the baristas (i.e., staff) will call out a description of each drink they’ve prepared as they put it out on the counter for customers to collect. This lets you verify that you’re picking up the correct drink.

If the barista announces, for example, “tall with-whip nonfat caramel macchiato” but what you ordered was “decaf tea,” that drink is not yours. It belongs to someone who actually ordered what the barista described and who, as a rule, would like to consume it.

Common practice in this situation is to step aside and let the intended customer pick up the cup. It’s considered impolite to take it yourself, sip from it, and then walk away muttering that it’s a terrible cup of tea.  It’s also generally regarded as incorrect to pick up three beverages completely at random, take them back to the cashier, and complain that they’re not what you ordered.

These actions do not get you your drink any faster or better, but do inconvenience the people whose drinks you’ve stolen.

Customers in Starbucks locations elsewhere do not seem to struggle with this. It’s just you, fellow Logan travelers, who do it every single time I go to Starbucks before a flight.  Please stop.  If I can help clarify the procedure, please do not hesitate to ask when you find yourself in line behind me.

Someone who just wants his Grande One-Shot With-Whip Mocha

Give Me Back My Jacket!

I heard this angry exchange between two women as I got on the T:

First Woman: I work hard for a living!  I work (expletive) hard to make money!  Don’t you get that?

Second Woman: Look, all I’m saying is: I don’t know anybody named John.

I can’t imagine how these two could possibly have been having the same argument. It reminds me of a Louis C K routine about arguing:

I decided that I’m gonna argue with this guy, but I’m gonna argue about something else. I’m not having his argument; I’m having mine. So, he’s like, “Go!” And I go, “Well give me back my jacket!” And he stopped. I was like, “Yeah, you got my jacket! Give it back! I said you could borrow it, not have it!”

(And now, as a result of this post, Google has “comedian stole my jacket” in my permanent search history.)

The Ghost Professor

This is an actual support ticket our help desk received this morning:

I can see and hear everyone in the class. They can hear me. They can not see me.

Wow!  Philosophy classes have gotten a lot more intense this year!

(In fairness, this seems to pertain to video in an online class, but absent any formal acknowledgment of that in the ticket, I choose to believe this professor is a ghost.)

Dog Bites Man

I had a voice mail today from my credit card’s fraud prevention department, asking me to call back immediately.  Although a quick Google search suggested authenticity, I called the number on my card instead but got routed to Fraud Prevention the moment I entered my card number.

My first thought was that the expensive Vegas vacation I recently charged got their attention.  I did spend quite a bit of money in about 30 minutes.  But that was last month, so I’ve already paid that balance in full.  An inattentive cardholder might pay for a stolen $10 lunch without realizing it, but only a complete idiot (or someone impractically rich) would unwittingly pay off someone else’s entire vacation.

Then I recognized a coincidental string of PayPal purchases all on one day last week.  They were all small purchases from online stores, but perhaps such a sudden burst of PayPal (or other peer-to-peer payment) activity had been seen as a red flag.

That was my most promising theory when I dialed the phone.  The nice man in India confirmed what had really gotten the bank’s (computer’s) attention: a single online purchase from Peapod last week for a little over $100.


You know… Peapod.


An online charge from Peapod for about $100 has appeared on my statement at the beginning of every month I’ve ever used this card!  After Netflix, it’s the second most routine transaction on my entire statement.

I appreciate that the algorithms used to detect possible fraud are sophisticated and beyond the comprehension of mere mortals, but that was a little absurd.  When I thought the bank had picked up on some legitimately unusual account activity, I was pleased with their efforts.  Knowing that they’re just flagging my everyday spending, I’m rather less pleased but vastly more amused.

Tall! Decaf! Cappuccino!

What I want:

Coffee with Splenda

What I have to order:

Small regular hot coffee with one Splenda, no cream, no sugar to go

What I then invariably have to clarify immediately after ordering:

Clerk: Small regular coffee?
: Yes.

Clerk: Cream and sugar?
:  No.  One Splenda.

Clerk:  No cream?
: No.

Clerk: Iced coffee?
:  No.  Hot.

Clerk: Small hot coffee?
: Yes.

Clerk: Here or to go?
Me: To go.

I’ve never — not once — successfully ordered coffee at Dunkin Donuts in fewer than ten steps.  And (I say at the risk of defending their fans) it’s terrible coffee.  (The machine in my building broke, and I didn’t feel like walking all the way over to Starbucks.)

As Tom Hanks puts it in You’ve Got Mail:

The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short / tall, light / dark, caf / decaf, low-fat / non-fat, et cetera.  So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall! Decaf! Cappuccino!

Three If By U-Haul

As every single Boston resident has been heard to joke, “The students are coming!  The students are coming!”  In fact, at this point the students are already here.

My Peapod driver tonight arrived at the tail end of my delivery window, having spent fully 45 minutes just trying to get past Boston University’s move-in.  I was stop 11 of 23.  A colleague spent an hour longer driving through the same area over the weekend.

No fewer than eight U-Haul trucks and two furniture delivery trucks are double-parked within sight of my window.  Across the street, it appears the entire building is changing ownership.

One girl waited on the sidewalk surrounded by her worldly possessions until a van arrived to cart her and her belongings away.  Another girl, the very model of efficiency, simply hailed a cab, piled in with her futon and two chairs, and headed off.  One enterprising gentleman acquired a bellhop cart from somewhere and lugged it up the six steps to his front door before realizing that he’d just have to lug it back down again once laden with his belongings.

At my own building, one departing student rearranged the benches out front to make space for his pickup truck on the sidewalk after finding our loading dock, parking garage, and two makeshift lanes of on-street parking to be taken already.

Despite the chaos, this batch of students seems inexplicably (and delightfully) more civilized than the last.  The only disturbance so far was when the kindly gentleman moving in across the street found his driveway blocked.  Rather than use the other driveway around the corner, or take one of the six on-street spaces next to him, he decided to just lean on his horn until the blocking driver returned — a good four minutes later.  And how did the neighborhood react?  Two people ran out to suggest alternative parking ideas, while the rest urged him to “shut up” in hushed but insistent tones.  (Sure, it had no effect, but the sentiment was laudable!)

This is going to be a great year.