First-timers Guide to New York City

Before I start I must ask that you not judge or criticize me for what I am about to disclose. Just recently I got back from my FIRST trip to New York City. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, in between your smirks and chuckles- “Ed, you mean to tell me, that with everywhere you’ve been, you’ve never been to NY City? Really?” And the answer is- You are correct. However, with that now in the open, NYC will be a frequent travel place in my future.

For those who have never visited the ‘Big Apple’ before let me offer up some ideas that will make your first-time enjoyable. First, I recently vacationed there for 4 days, and though you can drive there and fight the traffic and pay outrageous parking fees, or fly if you’re coming from a longer distance, I chose to ride MegaBus. MegaBus provides service from Central NY (where I live) to NYC for about $80 roundtrip. They offer free WiFi and have power units at every seat. The four-hour and thirty minute ride was enjoyable and effortless. The cab ride to and from my hotel was about $12 each way. So for about $104 my travel to and from the City was paid for. Try driving for that!

When I got to my hotel, The Millennium Broadway, I found my view breath-taking. From my corner room on the 38th floor I overlooked both ends of Times Square. The lights and energy were already becoming infectious, and I couldn’t wait to get out there with the masses. My wife and I headed to Times Square and spent our first hour just taking in all that the world-famous area had to offer. After visiting some of the stores we headed to grab a bite to eat at a place we were told about more than once. John’s Pizzeria, located just off Broadway on  44th Street, is a refurbished church that has some fantastic Italian food and a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. The two levels and four brick ovens at John’s makes for a great dining experience.

A neat way to take in the City for the first time is to purchase a tour package. One of the best is the “Hop-on, Hop-off” bus tour. The double-decker bus company has three different tours around Gotham, and even offers a Hudson River boat ride. The neat thing about it is that your ticket is good for 48-hours. So for example on Day 2 of our trip we purchased our tickets right there in Times Square and enjoyed a 2-hour tour of Manhattan. As it makes its 20+ stops throughout the tour, riders can hop off at any location, and then hop back on the next bus coming through about every 30 minutes. Rachel and I hopped off at the famous Stage Deli for lunch. The experience was neat, our sandwiches were tasty, but our waiter was down right rude and nasty. Welcome to New York?

On Night 2 we took in a taping of the David Letterman Show. I was able to secure tickets by applying in advance online at the Letterman website. After the show we headed around the corner from the Sullivan Theater to a neat pub called the Irish Pub NYC. With a full menu and authentic Irish pub feel, this stop was a ‘winner’.

On Day 3 we started with a visit to the Times Square Starbucks, right next to the ABC studios. From there we hopped on the tour bus and hopped off at Canal Street (Chinatown). All that you have heard about this experience, is nothing until you are actually there. Purses, shoes, watches? You want Gucci? They’re all there- I think. At least that’s what the nice ladies and gentlemen tell me standing next to heavily padded-locker doors with their walkie-talkies .

From there we walked through the financial district and then to Ground Zero. We walked into the Winter Garden building and overlooked the new construction taking place on the hallowed ground. It was as moving as I had been told. From there we walked along the Hudson River to Battery Park, where we hopped back on one of the tour buses. As we traveled back uptown we got off near Bloomingdale’s and took in the 8 levels of shopping. Later in the day we stopped at the famous Serendipity 3 restaurant for dinner. Be sure to make reservations ahead of time. Quite often they are booked several days in advance.

On Day 4 we had until about 7pm before our MegaBus was leaving from Madison Square Garden, and took full advantage of a great sunny day. We walked a few blocks from our hotel to Rockefeller Plaza, where we ate a late morning lunch at the Plaza’s Cucina & Co. Eatery. Unfortunately the tour of NBC was sold out already for the day, so lesson learned, always make reservations for nearly everything in NYC.

Around the corner from NBC is a fabulous little bakery called The Magnolia. Be sure to stop there for a quick little sugar-hit. As we walked just a few blocks further we reached Grand Central Station. Standing inside the often filmed iconic landmark was pretty neat, though I was disappointed that a FlashMob didn’t break into song and dance while we were there. As we headed back to Times Square in the afternoon we walked through Bryant Park. Its Citi Pond and Celsius Bar was a neat place to sit and take in the day. As we got back into the Times Square area Rach and I decided that John’s Pizzeria deserved another visit before we headed for home.

Though this may have been my first visit to NYC, I can guarantee you that there dozens of more trips planned in my head for the future. New York City is truly the “City That Never Sleeps”, with so much to see and do. While my next visit will likely include taking in a Yankee game, Broadway show, and a trip to one of the many museums, it will also include getting there on MegaBus, staying at the Millennium Broadway Hotel, and of course another trip to John’s Pizzeria.

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EA Sports release Tiger Woods 2012: The Masters

The Augusta National Golf Club has long been viewed as the mecca of modern-day golf. Sure you have St. Andrews across the pond, and the breathtaking panorama of Pebble Beach, but there has always been something magical about Augusta, home of The Masters golf tournament. And for decades Augusta National has only allowed a select few to actually play its course; and that may never change. But what we have to celebrate in the golf world this week is the release of EA Sports’ annual release of the Tiger Woods golf video game. This year Tiger Woods 2012: The Masters will feature the prestigious Augusta National as one of its courses. So while most of us mortals will not be able to actually ever play the famed course in person, the wonderful world of technology and EA Sports will let us experience it through the virtual world.

I just finished reviewing my copy of Tiger Woods 2012: The Masters for the Nintendo Wii platform, and it truly is spectacular. Though I mainly got the game for the Augusta National feature, I am happily surprised with the new features and incredible graphics. The laser scanning technology that the folks at EA Sports used to create the Augusta course is “eye”-mazing. This technology allows players to experience every ripple of water at Amen Corner, every whispering pine, and every twist and turn of the famed-Georgia greens.

Available for PS3, Xbox 360, PSP, and Wii, Tiger Woods 2012: The Masters doesn’t throw you on the course by yourself. New to the game this year is the use of a caddy to help you analyze your next shot, right down to the direction of the Augusta breeze and break in the green. With the game’s Career Mode players can progress through the game at their own pace, saving their games as they go. Players can also select to play as one of nearly two dozen PGA tour professionals.

Aside from the spectacular graphics and playability of the new Tiger Woods 2012: The Masters, EA Sports has added long time CBS Sports announcer (and former college roommate of PGA pro Fred Couples) Jim Nantz as the voice of the game this year.  Also new to this year’s release is the ability to replay the great moments at The Masters and attempt to match Tiger’s four winning tournament scores against the champion himself.

Though I can’t imagine myself getting tired of playing the Augusta National course, after waiting for over a decade for this day to come, Tiger Woods 2012: The Masters does feature other classic layouts such as the Atlanta Athletic Club, the Royal Melbourne Club (in Australia), and yes, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews as well.

Though Tiger Woods himself may be in a slight slump, EA Sports once again proves that it is at the top of the golf gaming world with their latest release Tiger Woods 2012: The Masters.

Jagger Steals 53rd Grammys

On Sunday night (Febraury 13, 2011) the best of the best in the music biz gathered in Los Angeles for the 53rd Grammy Awards. The night started with a diva-studded tribute to the “Queen of Soul”, Aretha Franklin, who was recovering from an illness back at home in Detroit. As the evening continued the show was filled with great performances. In fact, viewers often had to remind themselves that they were watching an awards show, and not a ‘Grammy-palooza’. Three cheers for this year’s producers of the show for giving us more ‘substance’ than ‘style’. However if you wanted style, there was Lady Gaga and CeeLo. We’ll get to them in a bit.

Acts such as Lady Antebellum, Muse, and Bruno Mars all performed their hits to near perfect form, while Usher and Justin Bieber got the crowd to their feet with an inspiring duet. Their performance began with a video clip of Bieber performing for Usher a few years ago, then moving into Bieber’s acoustic version of “Baby, Baby” .

Without a doubt the night was a celebration of Lady Antebellum winning for their smash hit “Need You Now” and the Grammy organizers turning the show into more performances and less ‘blah, blah talk’. Lady Gaga and Katy Perry turned in what would have been the performances of the evening on any other Grammy night, but it was first-time performer, Mick Jagger, (that’s right, I said, “FIRST-time performer”) that took the designer dresses and tuxes by storm. His tribute to the late “King of Rock ‘n Roll”, Solomon Burke, was a masterpiece! His rendition of Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” got the entire audience on their feet, and then at the end, with a 10-second pause, he and the band continued for another minute or two to the crowd’s delight!

Though the 53rd Grammy’s may go down as one of the most memorable in quite some time, the evening did have a few surprises and slip ups. In the surprise of the night, Justin Bieber did not win the New Artist of the Year award, That went to Esperanza Spalding. However, to all you ‘Bieber Fever-ites”, don’t worry too much about Justin. The opening weekend of his concert/movie, “Never Say Never”, raked in over $30 million! Lady Gaga and CeeLo had the most flamboyant performances of the night, with Gaga hatching from an egg, and CeeLo “G-rating” up his “R-rated” hit “Forget You” in an outfit that could only be described as a new millenium version of Sir Elton John. In the ‘Ooops” category the nominees were Bob Dylan and the low-mic volume during his performance (however after they turned it up, maybe there was a reason for it being down), Christina Aguilera’s near plunge off the stage after the show’s opening performance (she has Jennifer Hudson, and her smokin’ hot Weight Watchers body, to thank for catching her), and Glee stand-out, Lea Michele, who flubbed up her lines during her presentation with Super Bowl stand-out, Clay Matthews.

And though Katy Perry was outstanding in her six-minute performance of a Valentine’s Day themed “Teenage Dream”, there is no doubt that the buzz around Monday’s watercoolers will be Mick Jagger and the stellar performance he pulled off at this year’s 53rd Grammy’s.

Four and a Half Stars for Two and a Half Men

When you think of CBS primetime television, you probably think of its CSI team of dramas or Survivor. But sitting in their Monday 9pm timeslot is the comedy-monster-sitcom, Two and a Half Men

Starring Charlie Sheen, as Charlie, Two and a Half Men continues to entertain its current and new viewers with its growing popularity. Its writers are extremely witty and funny. But think about it, how much fun could you have with a divorced father of a teenager living with his older, playboy brother? Add to the mix a demanding mother and overbearing ex-wife and you’ve got the recipe for a successfully funny sitcom. 

Sheen plays a free-living songwriter who has taken in his younger brother, Alan (Jon Cryer), who is recovering from a messy divorce from Judith, played by Marin Hinkle. The ex-couple remain in contact through their son, Jake (Angus T. Jones), whose humor just about always steals the show. Both brothers live with the ever-present shadow of their powerful realtor-mom, played by Holland Taylor, lurking over their every move.

 Whether it’s Charlie trying to juggle two dates in one night or Alan agonizing over if he’ll ever get his life straightened out, the storyline of Two and a Half Men is thirty minutes of non-stop dry one-liners and sharp, witty humor. Sheen proves that he can deliver the funniest of lines without cracking a smirk, while his nephew in the show, Jake, comes up with ‘tell it like it is’ comments that will leave the viewers’ sides splitting in laughter.

 If I can’t watch Two and a Half Men at its regularly scheduled time, I absolutely make sure it’s ready to record on my DVR to watch at a later time. That’s how good Two and a Half Men is. From its male chauvinistic, womanizing angle with Charlie, to its portrayal that today’s families come in different shapes and sizes, Two and a Half Men is smart, fun, and just a plain old good time. In fact, Two and a Half Men is so good you can now also watch reruns on many cable channels.  

If five-stars is the top of the bar, then I have to give Two and a Half Men four and a half stars. It continues to hit the mark for CBS, even with Sheen’s off-screen troubles. As far as I’m concerned, I hope Sheen and the cast of  Two and a Half Men continue to show up to the set, sober or not, and keep producing he funniest show on primetime television.

Let the “Madness” begin

This is the time of year that reminds me of the old saying, “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who don’t, none will ever suffice.” There is a ‘happening’ that takes over the last half of March. It has nothing to do with the weather; nor is it race, religion, or even gender driven. It is simply an ‘understanding’, an ‘appreciation’. 

It is MARCH MADNESS! The NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. 

On Sunday 65 universities and colleges, with Division-1 basketball teams will find out if they are going to be part of one of America’s biggest events. The “Big Dance”, as it’s called, equates into “big money” for those teams and conferences that are a part of it. So where does all the money come from? CBS has anchored itself as the official broadcasting company of this 3-week long spectacle for more than 20 years now. It pays out hundreds of millions of dollars to have the exclusive rights to each and every game. In turn, CBS receives millions more than it pays out in advertising revenue, not to mention an opportunity to promote all of the other shows it broadcasts. 

CBS has mastered the ability to bring excitement to this tournament played by young scholar athletes. Beginning with its hour-long selection show, sponsored by a car company, wireless phone company or pizza franchise, the hoop-hype is fueled.  Which teams are in? Which team was overlooked? And the debates begin.

 In the past CBS has delivered A+ performances with their coverage of the tournament. Its polished pre-game report, sponsored, of course by the latest car you need to drive or male enhancement drug, traditionally hosted by Greg Gumbel and an array of coaching and tournament experts, sets the scene for the coming hours of basketball nirvana. The games themselves are called and commentated on by the very best in the business. With the likes of Jim Nance, Dick Enberg, Mike Gminski, and the ‘love him or hate him’ Billy Packer, even the casual basketball fan is fed everything they need to know about each team and its players. Can you say ‘information overload’? Of course to help bring you the ‘You are there’-feeling, CBS has also positioned courtside reporters near the benches, again sponsored by some bottled water company or tension headache reliever, to bring you the latest news on a possible sprained ankle or a player losing his contact lens. CBS and the NCAA are also offering again this year, March Madness On Demand. Internet surfers now can head to www.ncaa.com/MMOD and register to receive full access to Every game being played during the tournament.

 Perhaps the best part about CBS’s broadcast of the games is its timing. Strategically staggered, almost like the pieces of a well-designed puzzle, the games start and finish within minutes of one another. It’s the producers’ hopes that one close nail-biter will lead into another barn-burner, and into another, and yet even another, with their ‘Live look-in’ feature. (Yes, there are advertisers for that too.) And my gosh, year after year, CBS nails it. This year’s first round games are likely to see #12 vs. #5–seed and #11 vs. #6-seed upsets. And that starts the buzz! CBS also longs for those ‘Cinderella’ stories that keep the casual fan interested for maybe a couple more games. Who will be the next Gonzaga, Villanova, or NC State?

 All games being played in this year’s tournament for the next two weeks will eventually form this year’s edition of the ‘Final Four’. One team from each of the tournament’s four regions will make their way to Indianapolis, the site of this year’s Championship round. Then let the hoopla (no pun intended) begin! From Monday to Friday the Final Four teams will appear for team photos, open practices, and news conference after news conference. All of this leads to the two National Semifinal games on Saturday afternoon, April 3rd , and culminating with the National Championship game set for Monday evening, April 5th . And through it all, rest assured, CBS will have its cameras and announcers there, followed closely by its wave of high-paying sponsors.

 So excuse me now, while I park my Chevy in the garage, turn on my SONY- HD television, open a bag of crunchy-baked Doritos, order a Papa John’s Ultimate deep dish pizza, chill up some Dasani bottled water, and find some Tylenol severe migraine relief tablets (in case my team loses), and oh yeah, watch the games.