RW250 - Mannahatta

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to them talking about New York for most of the episode.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

Zoom backgrounds (RW250)

John really liked that screenshot Dan just sent him a screenshot of his Zoom meeting, one of dozens he does every day now. It is nice to see a mosaic of other people’s Zoom backgrounds. John doesn’t do a lot of Zoom calls, but he does one a week and he is conscious of what is behind him, he is conscious of the framing, he is an artist. You need a key light, you need something in the distance. Dan had a guy that had some guitars, a gal that had some beige paintings, and Dan has a vaulted ceiling, he was sitting at the island in the kitchen, looking into the living room. There was one guy that seemed he had some acoustic tiles in the back. The guy in the upper left with the playful primary color acoustic tiles, seems like he is in a playroom. He is a podcaster down in San Antonio. It was fun to get a glimpse. Four out of the six of them were wearing glasses. Then there was the lady that looked like she was in her living room. There are some plants, some bookcases.

One day there is going to be a study of contemporary identity based on Zoom backdrops. It would be really interesting what you could learn about psychology of the background. The woman in the bottom left had the best decor of all, whereas the fellow with the guitars just bought that house and he is still waiting for his stuff.

John’s book club is his one Zoom call a week, and there are over 100 people. He will sometimes pull up the individual people, not when they are talking, but just: ”Who are you?” and look at them listening, which is one of the interesting options we have in today’s world. If you were in a meeting and you just zoomed in on somebody sitting across the table from you, eventually they would look up and go: ”Why are you looking at me?”, but you can sit and look at somebody listening in their living room now and John sometimes spends five minutes watching somebody just sit and listen, looking at their house, just trying to imagine: ”Where are they? What are they all about?” and he assumes that other people are doing it, too. At any given moment in a Zoom call somebody might have you soloed and they are watching you listen, so you can’t just sit there with drool coming out of your mouth, but you have to listen actively, you have to look engaged, it is a performance art!

Dan expects that he is going to be on Zoom or some equivalent for years to come, if not forever.

John’s audio was breaking up constantly as if he was on a really bad WiFi and he eventually dropped off and reconnected. He had a lot of tabs open and the porn takes a lot of bandwidth. Now that there is a war in Ukraine they cut the Russian banks off from Swift, but what they don’t talk about in the media is that the porn pipelines are all busted.

Dan visiting New York and using the subway for the first time (RW250)

Dan just got back from New York. This is the second time he has been to New York, he went in December and now it is March. He grew up in Philadelphia and there is not a rivalry between Philly and New York except maybe baseball teams. The rivalry is between Boston and New York. Philadelphia think of itself as better than the Dallas Cowboys, the rivalry is with the football teams mainly. Dan had never had a thing about: ”Philly is better than New York, New York is better than Philly!”, but New York is a great town and Dan had only been there a couple of times before, maybe 3-4 times, enough to vaguely know the gist of the city and a little bit of what it is about.

But these last couple of times he has gotten a different perspective on New York, and he actually really enjoyed it a lot more than he had in past trips. He had a nicer time, maybe COVID has changed the pace of the place, and he had a pretty cool time. When he was living in Philly as a kid he didn’t take public transportation except to school, he had his one route that he would get on, and that was fine, but he never was a big public transportation guy because he wasn’t really commuting to work or anything like that, he wasn’t going out with friends because he was a kid and his friends lived in the neighborhood.

He never lived in a city with a subway system that he would use every day. He doesn’t know how the New York subway system compares to other subway systems, the tube in London is supposed to be the best one in the world and that is probably true, but you will meet with people in New York or they want to meet with you, or you want to get directions and someone will say something like: ”Oh, you only have to take the Red Line for two stops, it is easy!” That is easy if you know what the Red Line is, if you then learn that the Red Line is a subway line and that there are multiple lines.

When Dan gets into his Ford F-150 and drives around the Hill Country he looks at the trees, the grass, and the birds, that is how he commutes places. When it is nice the windows are down, he is listening to music, sometimes he will stop somewhere because the place looked interesting, and sometimes there is barbecue and you have to stop, sometimes they are handing out ammo and you have to roll down your window and collect it. That is his MO.

The idea of taking the Red Line for two stops doesn’t have much meaning to him, but he tried to learn and tried to understand what that means. There are different lines, they take you in different directions or different places, and they all seem to spring outwards from one place and then you pick one up, but it is not clear if the Red Line the one that goes north and the blue goes west, or is the Red line going both north and south? Taking the red Line for two stops is easy for someone who knows what a Red Line is or where to do that or which direction they are going, but for somebody who doesn’t know any of that, it would be like telling somebody who has never driven before: ”It is easy, just make sure that your gas tank is full and whatever!”

There is a whole lot of things you tell somebody about driving in a car, but you take it for granted that they are going to know to stop at a stop sign or that the gas is the pedal on the right. These things are common knowledge for anyone who has driven before, but Dan doesn’t even know where the entry point to get down into the underground area is or if he is going to the right one. Is the Red Line in all of them, or is it across the street in the other hole that you climb down into?

Dan went down into the thing and you have to pay to get into the area where you would get onto the trains, which makes sense because you don’t want people just loitering around in there. You can pay with your phone, which is super-handy, but Dan doesn’t even know how much he paid, was it $1, was it $20? Now he was down in this thing and he walked up and there is a big digital screen that was supposed to show you the Red Line, and it shows where it is, where he was standing, and then it shows where the Red Line would continue and he actually sees the stop that he would need to go two stops away. He was in the Financial district at the time.

The Red Line shows that it stops and then beyond it where the Red Line is supposed to continue it was grayed out on the sign. He could see literally a Red Line that was ending where he was and beyond it was grayed out. The other lines were not grayed out. What did that mean? Did that mean it was stopped, was it not running today? Does that mean he was the end point for it? The other tricky thing was that he didn’t if where he was going was Uptown or Downtown. How are you supposed to know that if you just get out of your Uber from the airport and you are at the hotel? Dan didn’t know what any of this means, so he took a cab and he paid $20 plus whatever he spent to go down there to look at the stupid sign.

You are also cognizant of the fact that you are obviously not from there because the people down there all got their urban headphones on, they are looking down or looking at their phones, standing by the platform to wait for the train. Dan is definitely not going to ask anybody anything, even though he knows they would help, they look helpful, but he is still not going to ask them. There is still a myth about New York that everyone is really mean and it is dangerous. They are thinking of Philadelphia, it is not like that in New York.

Everyone that he ran into in New York, everywhere that he went, he went to the West Village, he went to Brooklyn, he did some sightseeing, and every single person he interacted with on the street and in the stores were super nice people, it was great and he felt very welcomed, but he is still not asking somebody how to use it the subway, just the same way that he would stubbornly not ask for where the certain size screw he is looking for is in Home Depot, but he is going to find it himself!

John understands that completely. Anyone he had asked, there was a good chance they would have helped. In the same way Dan loves to give people directions, he might even give them one of his secret shortcuts. Dan was not going to do that and he instead paid the price. A lot of people in New York take taxis from place to place because they don’t want to deal with the subway or because it is part of the culture there. John loves taking the subway, he hardly ever takes a taxi, and he has only ever taken a bus in New York once or twice. It is like two simultaneous cities occupying the same space: There are buses all over and there are people on those buses, but there has never been anywhere in New York that John wanted to go that the subway didn’t go at least close to it.

If Dan had had time to explore he might have done it, he was not afraid to do it wrong, but he was afraid to be significantly late for an important meeting. Literally every single minute of his day was predetermined and scripted and he was moving through this schedule that had been made for him. If you ask the person at the hotel Dan is always shocked that they will tell him they don’t live in this area and this is just where they work. The old adage that John even said is: When you are somewhere you talk to locals and ask them where they go and what they eat. Don’t send me to the tourist trap, but where do you go when you want a really good hoagie or something.

Dan found this in San Francisco all the time when he would be down on second, they would say: ”I don’t live out here. I live in Oakland!” He asked this one person in this place where he was buying a big jug of water, there is always a little mom and pop convenience store within a block or two of the hotel, and you buy a big thing of water and he will fill up a container so he can drink his protein shakes in the morning: ”Where is a good place to grab a bite to eat?” - ”Oh, I don’t live around here!” - ”But you work in here. You got to eat here, right? Where does that come from?” - ”I bring it from home!”

John explains that the Red Line is one of the trains in Boston. If someone in New York told you to go two stops on the Red Line, they were using non-canonical terminology. The subway in New York that is red is the 1, 2, 3. Someone in New York would say: ”Take the two!” The Red Line is a Boston thing. The line that Dan was on goes up the West Side to Greenwich Village. Why was it great out? This is true of London, too. They got to keep that subway running, even though it is super old and super janky and they turn parts on and they turn parts off because they got a bunch of guys down there in hard hats doing God only knows what. They are always working on it, there is never a moment of the day where somewhere in New York there isn’t work happening on the tracks.

There are certain parts of New York where the subway is made to be an effective experience for tourists. If you are in New York and you have somewhere to be at a certain time, you are in a completely different New York than if you were in New York and you don’t have anywhere to be. If you are in New York and you don’t have anywhere to be, it is absolutely the greatest city in the world. Everywhere you look there is something happening and you can walk for hours looking into places and everywhere you look it is sparkling crazy, even the dirt, even the rats: ”Wow, look at those New York rats! That is amazing! How did I get here? I am in the West Village. I didn’t even know!” New York is wonderful.

If you have to be somewhere at 11am, no matter if it is 7am, you are in a different New York and it can super duper suck. Anywhere you go there are a bunch of people that have to be somewhere and they are frazzled and they are fighting their way through all these other people that have somewhere to be, they are all running late and then they see the subway is grayed out and then they are pissed. When John is in New York he tries really hard to not have anywhere to be and when he does have somewhere to be it is stressful and he knows it is time to leave New York when he feels himself getting into a situation where he might actually have to be somewhere in a certain time.

Whenever he thinks about moving there he just remembers the experience he had 1000 times, which is: ”I love New York! Oh, but I got to be somewhere!” and then the whole city turns a different color: ”Oh no, this is awful!” John is used to be wandering around at 11pm and not knowing where he is or what time it is, but if you should take a train to meet your friend and it happens to be 6pm and you go down into the subway station that you think you know, you have been there 1000 times, but at 6pm you didn’t know that subway station at all! You don’t know anything about this! At 6pm it is a completely different universe, and it is a hateful, terrifying, claustrophobic, angry place, but it is only like that in certain hours.

A lot of the people in New York City live in that cycle, that is the only time they are in that subway, and they hate it and think it is miserable, or at least they are acclimated to it. When John talks about New York and how much he loves it he is speaking as the boob from out West who doesn’t know whether it is day or night.

Dan was living in Orlando and there was a road called the East West Expressway that went neither East nor West and as a result of that he developed a deep-seated suspicion of everything that related to naming of things and direction of things. It never sat right with him that you would have something so erroneously named, and yet people just agreed to it. There is always a little suspicion that sign probably doesn’t mean anything, it might tell you it is going to get you there, but it really doesn’t. The other thing is the incompetence. There are a lot of really great cabbies out there and a lot of really professional Uber drivers, he knows a couple here in Austin who are really good and they know where to go, but it makes him nervous when you see the Uber driver or whoever asking you how to get there: ”Hang on! You are picking me up from a hotel! I am walking out of the hotel. Wouldn’t you think there is a good chance that if you are walking out of a hotel that you don’t live there?”

There was another cab person and Dan gave them the address and told him the name of the place and what it was, and he found a different road that didn’t even have the same number on it and drove it and pulled over at the end. ”457 whatever the name?” - ”This only goes up to 18?” - ”Is it Avenue or street?” - ”Oh, you said street!” Then he had an Uber guy just abandon the pickup. Dan was out there waiting for it, and he could see him looping around, he looped three times around the block without turning and then it said: ”… has canceled the ride!”, so he had to get another Uber and then he was late. It is confusing and it doesn’t need to be that confusing.

New York is confusing for a lot of reasons and they tried to make it not confusing by making the streets a perfect grid, although aligned with the shape of the island, not aligned with the compass, which makes sense, although there are some streets, like Greenwich Village is just aligned according to where the goats walked back in 1700, but there are a lot of people there and they tried to make the city as idiot-proof as possible. There are no alleys in New York, there are not that many avenues, the blocks are all even, and if you go one block in any direction, you can tell whether you are going up or down because the number of the tree will go up or down. The Bronx is up and the Battery is down, just hum that to yourself.

Walking is very easy to do in New York City. Dan has always had in a city a very good sense of where he is and where he needs to be going. It is a very different thing when you are driving or when especially when you are a passenger in the car, but as far as walking, then Dan feels really good. Whenever he is with other people in the city, they are always getting turned around: ”Why can I do this? This seems like it would be harder!”, but the walking part is great.

Dan found a good breakfast place that was a ten minute walk from the hotel. His favorite part of being there was waking up in the morning and going on a nice ten minute walk in the cold, knowing where he was going, he didn’t need to look at the phone or at the map. This is why people like New York because they can just find what they want, especially if you are in a good neighborhood where there are a lot of places to go shopping, food, things like that. You can just take a direction and walk and you get to know the places that you go and the people that run them, and you run into people along the way because it is your neighborhood. That is something you can only get in one of those really fun walkable cities like that, and Dan really enjoyed that part of it.

The only drag is that every once in a while some rando is going to walk up to you while you are waiting for the light to change and just scream in your face. That happens at least once to everybody in New York, but all it has to do is happened once and then you are like: ”It could happen again!” and sometimes it does happen again. That the one downside of living in any city. The only way to avoid it is to live in the forest. But New York in particular there is always going to be somebody that is going to scream at you at some point. And sometimes they may have a point and a lot of times they don’t.

John missing New York, having always been thinking to maybe move there one day (RW250)

John misses it, he hasn’t been there in over two years and he gets a lot of energy from visiting New York. It makes him feel like a citizen of the world, it clicks him in, and he can go a long time without visiting other places. He loves Atlanta, but I can go a few years without visiting Atlanta and not feel that he is not in the loop, but he hasn’t been to New York since the Pandemic and he was talking about it with somebody last night. It is not about the social loop really, it is something energetic about walking the streets and being in the power plant, almost.

John always wanted to move there, and he lived there for a third of a year and loved it, of course his job used to take him there many times every year and he had good friends there and he felt very comfortable being a regular there, but his fantasy has morphed over time. 20 years ago he wanted to live there in an apartment and in the intervening years he tried to think about how to get established in New York and if it is worth it to get established in New York or can he get everything he needed by visiting there five times a year? If he got established there, would he not like it anymore? Because now he is living there, so he has places to be, there is a roach in the sink. What do I do? Call the Roach guy? No! Call your super? He is going to come up in a sleeveless T-shirt with a ring of keys and tell him ”God made the rat!” What is going to happen?

Now John thinks if there is a time when his kid is grown and off on her own that he doesn’t need to live in a house and can buy some one bedroom apartment somewhere and just move to New York, and at which point he will be a man in his 60s, a young guy still in a lot of ways, and just make the scene, maybe still podcasting from his New York apartment and just rolling around the city and having that energy to power him? John does think of that! At 65 years old he would be so much more inclined to live in a one bedroom apartment in New York than live in retirement somewhere in a warm climate, he can’t imagine retiring to Costa Rica, but if retiring is a thing that is possible he wants it to be in New York or Amsterdam or Berlin or something. In a city!

Most people would say that they would prefer to retire to the countryside where it is more relaxed, somewhere where they get a nice view and relaxing times, but John doesn’t want to relax and doesn’t understand how to relax, he wouldn’t enjoy relaxing. It is not that he is a stress monster, although maybe he is, he always thought of himself as so chill, but maybe he is not chill? If you look around the room and you don’t see the un-chill person, maybe it is you? People who say that they are easy going are not easy going, that is just a fact.

What is interesting about John is that if someone were to just meet him without knowing anything about him, he is going to seem a lot like The Dude. Dan knows him from listening to him all these years, and in his heart he is an easy-going person, but there are different things, for example his skin wants to eat itself, which makes him not easy going. He would seem like the kind of guy who could take your T shirt, bunch it up into a little ball, put it under your head and sleep for 12 hours, but that is not it at all. John resists sleep! People would think that he could just eat anything whatever he wants, but he is very picky when it comes to food and textures and tastes and he can’t eat potatoes.

What sets John apart is that he is adaptable to almost any situation, and that is what would give people the perception that he is easygoing when in fact internally there is a struggle. The struggle right now lately has been the same struggle as always, ”trying to figure out” is the mode. If you put a little cake in front of him, he would try and figure it out. If you put a lit stick of Dynamite in front of him, he would try and figure it out. All he is ever doing is trying to figure it out.

John not being able to retire from anything (RW250)

John doesn’t think that he will ever retire because he doesn’t know what he would retire from, and he doesn’t have a 401K, he is going to have to keep hustling, he is not set to inherit a big anything, and also at 65 he is going to look at his bank account and it is going to be like: ”Hey there, hey friend! Yes, you have a checking account!” John also doesn’t have an art collection, he did not at any point buy a (Jean-Michel) Basquiat. All the things that he likes to collect, a collection of mugs that have CB slogans on them from the 1970s, he is not going to retire on that.

Being in a place like New York feels like a place that he could keep finding ways to stay afloat because there is stuff going on. It is like you hit a certain age and the AARP envelopes start showing up in your mailbox, and these days it is at 40 years old. ”Ready to retire? Join the billion people that belong to our organization!”, but it is a terrible organization, don’t join the AARP! But the Internet, of course, the targeted advertising, is like: ”Are you ready to retire?” and then it shows a picture of a really handsome gray-bearded guy who is looking thoughtful but also confident off into the distance. It is the one guy that is in all those very expensive watch ads: ”Nobody ever owns a Patek Philippe!” - ”Who is this guy?”

John is always trying to figure it out, he clicks through a few of those, and they say things like: "If you are going to retire at this age, you need this much money, when you are this age…” and looking at those things, it is always: ”(alarm sounding) not ready, not ready!” - ”Damn it!”, but a lot of them pitch you in that direction where it is like: ”10 cities where it is cheapest for American retirees to live like kings!” Panama City, where it is 180% humidity, but it is a great town and very cheap! Is John going to be the tailor of Panama, going down to Panama and walk around in a white linen suit? No! He doesn’t want to do that. Maybe? If it comes to it? He has to keep some skin in the game!

John seeing an Indie Rock band playing at the hockey game and not being on the short list because he is cancelled (RW250)

John went to a hockey game yesterday because he got a friend that has season tickets, but he routinely is in a situation where the people that he bought the tickets with can’t go to the game and at the last minute he got two extra tickets to the Kraken, Seattle’s new NHL team. John actually went to opening day, the first Kraken game, and the Kraken lost, and then he went to another Kraken game and they also lost and last night he invited Ken Jennings and they went with John’s friend to a Kraken game and they won, which was exciting! It was Ken’s first NHL game.

John grew up in Alaska, he knows how to watch a hockey game, but the Kraken are trying really hard to be Seattle and that involves a very weird ritual where every time they score a goal they play a Nirvana tune, and John is not going to speak for the ghost of Kurt Cobain, but he did not intend his music to be used as sports music, and not for hockey especially. But then he realized that Courtney Love controls the publishing of Nirvana songs now and she is just doing what Courtney does, but the crowd actually chants: ”Let’s go cracking!” to a Nirvana tune. It is too bizarre to even…, it is to the song Lithium.

It fries out something in John’s brain! There are many things he thought he would see before he saw Lithium used as a hockey anthem. The people that are running the League are trying really hard to make it Seattle-y, but there are a lot of different Seattles and hockey is a dirtbag sport and it is very easy to pander to dirtbags, you just give them some logos and a mascot and you give them some chants and a T-shirt cannon, and you give them free T-shirts, there is nothing a dirtbag audience wouldn’t do for a free $9 T-shirt with a sports logo on it, they climb over each other and trample each other.

Last night the evening began with an Ukrainian opera singer who is stranded in Seattle singing the Ukrainian National anthem, which felt like: ”Okay, we are doing this now, and I support it. I had never heard the Ukrainian National anthem, especially not sung with as much emotion as this man brought!” and the crowd was in it because this is what is happening in America today and we are all Ukrainians now! For the American National anthem outstepped Tomo Nakayama, a local singer songwriter whom John knows and they have been in the Seattle scene together for many years.

Their relationship is fraught because Tomo is a great singer, a great song writer, and a hardworking musician. He plays shows all the time, he is extremely professional, he is very good at what he does, and during the whole period of Tomo’s career in Seattle John has been a musician in Seattle who shows up unprepared and unshaven and he walks out, gives the audience the finger, he plays four songs, spends a half hour talking about his experience that day, trying to get a coffee, and for the fifth song he forgets the lyrics and he stops in the middle and asks the audience if anybody remembers the lyrics.

They never actually had a conversation about it because they never sat across the table at a dinner, but they always meet in the backstage of a place at a benefit show. They are in the same circle, and John admires him, he has got so much going, he is a triple threat, but John has more often than not been the headliner of the show, and if you believe that being a performer is a thing where if you work hard and are really good, you earn success, John can imagine how it would be very frustrating for someone like Tomo to constantly be in a situation where somebody like John, whose whole performance style is: ”How did I get here? …and then I woke up and I was on a stool in front of this audience. I am only half drunk!” is ahead of him.

John could see where he would over time build up a little bit of a resentment or a little bit of a feeling of like: ”WTF?” and John has sensed it long enough because Tomo is very polite, John has never even actually seen him do a gesture, it is just a feeling he gets when he looks to the West, that Tomo of all people would have just cause to feel like: ”Why am I opening for this guy again? When do I get my shot?”

Now Tomo is singing the national anthem at the hockey game, which is like great! John has never sung the national anthem at a sports event although he is available. Tomo is a great Indie Rock singer and the national anthem is probably not the tune you would have picked for him, but after the second period there was the live Rock band Deep Sea Diver playing, an Indie Rock band from Seattle that is absolutely part of John’s music scene! They are epic, she is a wonderful guitarist and a great singer, but they are Indie Rock, no-one ever takes a solo.

But John is canceled now! They have a hockey team where they are actually hiring local dingdongs to sing the national anthem and play the second period break and if it had not been for beandad John would already have done it or would be on a very short list of people that was booked for one or both of those jobs, but he is out, he is going to have to move to New York!

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