Spring is Springing!

The warm weather finally feels like it’s going to stick around this time, probably because it’s coupled with longer days, magnolia blossoms, and an explosion of spring flowers at the greenmarket I stroll through on my way to work. Yesterday, I had nonstop meetings all day long, so I only managed to sneak outside for about 5 minutes to grab lunch, but it was really hard to convince myself to go back inside, let me tell you. On my way to the subway at the close of business, I stopped to enjoy the park for a few minutes, and snapped the above photo. When the forecast for the rest of the workweek looks like this:

And the weather takes an abrupt turn for the less-good on Saturday, I feel like we should all get a free pass to play hooky for one day. Or I should at least be able to work remotely from the park, no? Right under that tree, with my sunglasses and laptop…

Czeching Off Saint Patrick’s Day

Saturday was, as most people know, St. Patrick’s Day. Nowadays, most people use the day as an excuse to “pretend they are Irish,” which apparently means wearing green and drinking beer. I do those 2 things many times throughout the year, but on St. Patrick’s Day I tend to have more company.

Since we moved to New York nearly 3 years ago, St. Patrick’s Day has also taken on its own tradition for E, myself, and our local friends: it has become the official start of beer garden season! We live around the corner from New York City’s only remaining old beer garden (The Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden), and it is our go-to spot in the warmer months (and one of the few ways we can get Manhattan- and Brooklynites to come out to Queens). Two years ago, E and I went for dinner and a drink at the beer garden on a weekday St. Paddy’s day, since it was the first day it was really warm enough to stay outside – in the sun, mind you. Last year, I went with some friends on a much chillier St. Patrick’s Day, and we toughed it out in the outdoor beer garden for a couple of hours. Typically, it’s the first day of beer garden season before a short hiatus while the weather catches up with our wishes, but this year? This year that whole non-winter New York has been having allowed us to hang out in the beer garden all day.

The beer garden is a giant walled-in courtyard full of picnic tables, gravel, a stage and dance floor, and waiters and waitresses carrying pitchers of beer and trays of Czech food (except this weekend, when they also had corned beef and cabbage). Games are okay as long as you don’t get crazy, and a deck of cards is an awesome way to pass the time and make friends during leisurely afternoons of knocking back a few beers. The tables are communal, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll have at least one conversation with your neighbors. This weekend, we played cards with people around us, faced off in empty-pitcher-stacking competitions with nearby tables, and taught the other folks at our table to play Thumper.

Before 9 pm, the beer garden is billed as a “restaurant,” so kids under 21 can come in with their families. On warm summer days, there are toddlers playing, parents eating kielbasa, and twenty-somethings nursing buzzes. It’s a very friendly environment (Also, Let’s Go Whalers!).

Depending on the day, there are bands or DJs (or, during the annual Czech and Slovak festival, choirs of schoolchildren singing national anthems), and dancing is encouraged. Despite my own lack of coordination and sloppy dance floor culminating in a fall and skinned knee for me during an LMFAO song, we had a really great time. I can’t wait for summer to set in, when I will peer pressure E to stop studying for the bar exam and come hang out with me at the beer garden. We’ll catch some rays, enjoy some Eastern European brews, and chat with old guys with accents and beer bellies. It will be awesome, like always.

There are few things I’ll miss about NYC if and when we leave, but the beer garden is definitely one of the biggies.

An Early Spring at the Bronx Zoo

E was on spring break last week, so instead of going to campus to read cases and apply for jobs, he did it from the comfort of our living room. There was a vacation pileup in my department at work, so I could only manage to sneak out for a day mid-week. Luckily, that day was the last of the 70-degree early spring days we had, and E and I took advantage of the weather by heading up to the Bronx Zoo. I had never been before, somehow, and I was eager to join the mostly-local crowd (lots of kids in school uniforms with their backpacks and parents) on the unseasonably mild afternoon.

 

 

I admit that I was disappointed by the zoo. I think that my high expectations, the fact that it was, actually, really early in the season for zoo-going, and my inability to avoid checking my work email account conspired to dampen the experience. There were several large exhibits closed, and many of the exhibits that were listed as open were mysteriously empty of animals. The infrastructure was pretty run down, and nearly all of the snack stands, sundry shops, and other amenities aside from the main cafe and gift shop were closed. And, in contrast to the Central Park Zoo, which I think has done a wonderful job updating its exhibits while respecting the historic architecture and infrastructure, the old animal houses at the Bronx Zoo were full of tiny, dark, labyrinthine habitats where bored animals paced or slept. Truth be told, we didn’t spend any time in the Congo exhibit, which is lauded as an exemplary zoo exhibit (but there were no animals out, and it was crowded, so we left).  And everything smelled awful.

I love visiting zoos and learning about animals that I will probably never see in their natural environs. I know the challenges and criticisms of the institutions, and I think a lot of those issues were visible at Bronx Zoo. Many of today’s [American] zoos are evolutions of a form devised several hundred years ago, one that didn’t really work for the animals or the patrons. If we could divorce the zoo from its original forms, and imagine something totally new with all the knowledge we have of animals, conservation, and user experience today, what would that zoo look like?

It probably wouldn’t look like the Bronx Zoo.