AMBER SEXTON New York City 917-207-2375

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The ups and downs of Citibike, Day 3

image by Amber Sexton
Sweaty pic of me picking up my third Citibike of the day. Yes my helmet is all screwed up and there are crumbs from the decaying foam pads dusting the top of my eyebrows.

So today I rode Citibike’s three times. With varying degrees of happiness and frustration. Today I made plans to go to the Cinnamon Snail vegan lunch truck while at work. Their normal Wednesday spot is on 55th and Broadway, which is a bit of a long walk from my office and I can’t always spare the time to do. I went out to the dock behind my office building and had zero problems getting a bike for my lunchtime trip. However all the street directions are a bit against me for this locale. I may go to one of their further east stops on a different day next time. Anyway the tofu pesto cashew cream sandwich was out of sight, also the apple cider donut. In this case, it’s all one trip, I’m on the citibike, waiting at the truck and then heading back to the same dock as all one trip.

image by Amber Sexton
The app shows a completely normal info screen on the number of bikes and docks available, I’m getting used to the displays, the dark blue represents bikes and the light blue represents docks on the little station icon.

Later in the day I planned to head from my office in Rockefeller Center to Astor Wines, again, because they were closed last time. I got out of the building and could not get any of the bikes to release to me. At least 6 other people had the same problem while I was standing there. One guy did get a bike to release, one that I had even tried. The stats list this station as one of the system’s “least popular” I have a feeling it’s because many times it’s not functioning properly. I’m now 50/50 on getting a bike out of it. I tweeted about this and DEAR HONORABLE CUSTO replied to me that the 51st and Broadway station was working well. I had luck with that station.

Off to Astor Wines, where I spent over $100 to get cocktail supplies for future posts on the Brooklyn Cocktail as well as the Corpse Reviver 2. This time it took me 1/2 hour to get there, and I really struggled to find the station even with the app, I might have had the map upside down, and I was sweaty and hot. I ended up at Mercer just above Houston, which wasn’t all that close. I should have stopped at Astor Place, which i know for next time. Then I decided to see how a citibike ride loaded down with groceries on each handle as I am wont to do. I could have hopped in the 6 to the L to the G, but instead got another bike at Astor Place bus plaza and loaded it down with bottles of hooch.
image by Amber Sexton

As usual when carrying stuff on handlebars, I needed to ride steady and slow. I dropped the bike at the station at 1st ave and 15th that I used on the first day and ran into a woman who dropped a bike and could not get another bike. Lots of not getting bike problems…not sure if it’s intentional when you drop a bike, since the system is still new and experiencing glitches, it will take a while to iron out what the rules are, or the timing is, for dropping one bike and picking up another. They have been intentionally vague about this and there are no rules stated about it. Unfortunately for, now I know I can’t fully trust the dock at my job, which is a shame. The stations need to work more reliably, because New Yorker’s like to plan their trips, of course we have other means to get where we are going but you do want to reasonably know you can get a bike, and how long your trip will take. If you have to walk to another station because the nearest one is a crapshoot, that’s not good long term.

Anyway, I still love the program. Ran into lots of other users, and lots of folks asking questions. You definitely feel like an ambassador for the program, but I couldn’t even take the time to answer every person who asked me about it. I was on the clock.

I did have to delete and reinstall the app to get it working. I think it’s still quite useful, but with some confusing aspects. Inactive stations…I’m not positive what that means right now. This grab seems mysterious to me, there are some bikes and a lot of empty docks, so is it working or not? People seem to have been able to get bikes out of it because a lot of slots are empty. I’m confused.
image by Amber Sexton

This one is active, but has zero bikes AND zero docks..what could that mean?
image by Amber Sexton

Anyway, watch out Williamsburg, more stations coming soon. I can’t wait for them to hit Greenpoint. One more thing I want to say, I think the bikes are cute. They are called ugly in every single story about them. They certainly aren’t sexy and racy like some bikes, but the bright blue is really very cheerful. I try not to compare them to other bikes and just look at them as singular thing, they are not ugly. I feel happy on one.

Posted by Amber Sexton on 05/29 at 08:44 PM
New York • (2) CommentsPermalink

Monday, May 27, 2013

Citibike -Day 1

image by Amber Sexton

I’m just going to give a preliminary review of the new bike sharing program we just christened here in NYC, Citibike, which launched today. This is a cross eyed picture of me returning my first ever bike.

My first impression of the bike is it’s extremely well suited to it’s purpose. The bikes if they stay in this condition, are well thought out and great rides for short hops. They are easy to adjust, 3 speed bikes in which all the speeds are fairly easy. I was often on the highest gear which gave me good speed for city traffic yet you can’t get too fast on. Lever hand brakes were good, grips are big and cushioned, all cables are covered under plastic shells to keep them from sabotage. The front ‘basket’ with bungees held my purse really well. The bike is heavy at 45 pounds. This is not really the drawback it may seem. The somewhat heavy bike is balanced pretty well, though heavy in the front, and very stable on the road when you are seated, so it’s good for riders of a wide range of skill levels. The main drawback of a bike that weighs a lot is getting it up and down stairs, into the subway and adding the weight of your heavy lock to your overall load. That’s not a factor with a bike that docks at street level that you never have to get into your home or on the train. They do not want people to fly down the street at crazy speeds on these, but you can really go as fast as you need to in the stop and go NYC traffic. Standing up on pedals makes it less easy to control than a lighter bike in the same scenario, but still impressively smooth and fun to ride.  The lights are automatic and pedal powered which is interesting, but I didn’t get the impression they were very bright.

My first experience was trying to use the station behind my office in the Time-Life building on 51st street. The phone app said all the stations in NYC are inactive, which was confusing. I tried to get a bike out and could not at lunchtime. I put my key into two bike docks, I kept seeing the yellow light and hearing a beep, but never the green indicator that the bike could be taken out. This actually does take a few seconds it turns out and the sun was very bright, so perhaps I just wasn’t seeing the light, though I pulled on the bike it didn’t come out. I went back to my office and read more about it, heard that people were using the bikes, and saw a short video which emphasized lifting the seat when removing the bike. I don’t actually know if the kiosk was having a problem or it was just me because when I tried in the evening I had no problem getting the bike out.

I was worried about being too short for a comfortable ride, I am 5’ and used the #1 setting, and it was fine, and you can go lower than that to put the seat flush with the top tube even. I looked at the phone app for a station near Astor Wines and set the timer on the app, even though I was confident it would not get close the 45 minute ride limit. I got to Astor Wines and it was closed so I checked the timer and saw it had taken 22 minutes to get there from Rockefeller Center and swung up to Union Square to return the bike and get the train home.

When I got to Union Square, the station on University was full. But one block over on Broadway it was nearly empty and I returned the bike. One of the things I think is confusing is knowing that the bike is properly locked on return. Everything I read said there was supposed to be a green light on return too, but that’s not the case. The help portion of the app mentions this green light, but on the Citibike blog post for today, it just said “Redock the bike firmly to ensure it is secure and that your trip is closed.” You just stick it in until it locks and try to pull it back out to test it, if it stays you are good. After eating dinner, I realized the L train wasn’t running, I went to get second bike at a completely different station there was a red light showing when I put my key in. I was never able to get this particular bike out but the rack had plenty of others. I’m really curious if it was flagged for repair. I had a theory that if I bike is returned recently you can’t get it back out again for a few minutes but that’s probably wrong.
image by Amber Sexton

People asked me questions about the bike as I rode it and the main complaint and fear folks seem to have is that the ride times seem really short to them. They feel they would never get the bike back in the rack in time. I was not worried about this because as an experienced NYC cyclist I know that most trips in town take 15-20 minutes. Most longer distance trips are still 30-45 minutes. People have got to adjust their minds to a different idea of a bike loan, this is not a bike to have all day, if you need one of those you probably have one. If you are a tourist and want that you need a bike shop rental and a good lock. Most rides you want to take are going to easily fit in the 45 minute time window for annual members, especially once all the stations roll out in Brooklyn and north of 59th street. You can easily return and pick up another bike, also realize overage to 60 minutes is only $2.50 for members for those rare occasions. I think the biggest hurdle for people to get over is realizing how ample that time period is for trips these bikes are intended for. People considering the program who are not experienced city cyclists may genuinely overestimate how long it really takes to get places on a bike. This is something that the city should emphasize in later communications about the program. Show people taking some test rides and publish likely ride times.

The worst part of the program so far is the app, which is a shame because it’s a crucial piece. It really needs tweaks because it’s an essential tool for using the program. A temporary problem is that it lists all the kiosks as inactive at this point. Which is confusing, and made me think none of them were allowing bikes to be used. But it really means that the kiosks that allow day rentals are not on yet, as soon as next week rolls around, I assume just the kiosks that are actually not working will show as inactive. If you are an annual member you don’t really need a kiosk, the key is all you need unless you return a bike right as your time is up and the station is full and you need to ask for extra time to find another place to return it. At any rate, the app shows how many bikes the stations have but don’t indicate things like “full” and I did arrive at a full kiosk. The app also has a timer which is less than wonderful. First of all you need to get used to that it doesn’t work like the iPhone timer which counts down to zero time left and then plays whatever alarm you choose. The Citibike app counts up to the time limit. This is a good idea actually because it lets you be able to learn how long your regular trips are going to take, the time is actually saved when you stop it until you reset it. The real bad thing is the timer goes off and barely makes a sound. It’s like a Twitter alert. It’s not like an iPhone timer which goes off until you turn it off and vibrates as well. This alert really can’t be heard in your bag, or in traffic, though the next time you check your phone there’s a ‘helpful” visual alert that your time is up.

image by Amber Sexton

I recommend using your phone’s timer until they make a more noisy alert, perhaps in addition to the timer in the app. The reason I suggest using both at once is that the app timer keeps running when your time is up. Then if you do go over your time, you will know how long your total ride took, and how much overtime you are going to get charged. (For members it’s only $2.50 if your ride goes up to an hour) It also can help you figure out how much you need change your route or habits to shave off time if you do a ride often that is at the edge of the limit. Anyway, most of the problems with the app are not features, they are glitches. The timer is my only beef with a feature.

The worst error is that I got home and now the map won’t show me any stations at all, (though in Greenpoint I’m not near one until the second stage rollout.) I had this happen on the website once as well and it’s really frustrating. Clicking on the one station I put into favorites takes me to the middle of some body of water, or whatever an entirely filled screen of blue symbolizes.  This is the useful regular function of the app being broken, I actually wanted to take captures of the station distances and number of bikes but now my app just shows that there’s nothing out there at all. I can’t figure out how to fix it, if it doesn’t reset itself tomorrow I will delete and re-install. You really need the app to plan what station you are dropping the bike when you pick it up and think about your route to your destination. It’s really necessary because many convenient stations are not in immediate eyeshot. So I hope the bugs can be ironed out because it’s really your lifeline when using the bikes.

On the left you see the misleading “inactive” and on the right the blue screen of nowhere.
image by Amber Sexton

One other little snag. The package with my annual membership key includes a coupon for $10 off a new helmet purchased at a NYC bike shop. I went to my local bike store, which was listed as participating in the program in the resources section of the website and it was news to them they were participating in the helmet discount program. But they were game to accept a coupon, however, they had none of the three helmet brands the coupon was good for. I realized later looking at that resources tab that they just list all the bike shops they can find, no one has been warned in advance about the coupons or carrying the helmets. The coupon is only good at a NYC shop so I don’t think online works. There is also a coupon to give a guest a free 24 hour ride pass in there, it’s done with a code so I just took a picture of the coupon that way I don’t need to keep track of the tiny slip of paper. That’s a great way of reaching more people I think, having someone try the bikes with a member.

I’m very excited about Citibike and it really solves a problem for me. I love being able to take a one way trip and not be stuck with my bike all day, mostly I make the decision not to ride at all in those circumstances. There are nights I work late and could never consider riding to work as I take a car service home. There are plenty of mornings I can barely get out of the house on foot but would love to ride on my lunch hour or bike home after work. This post should certainly read as an endorsement of the program. My overall emotion when using it today was that of a childish thrill, a feeling of empowerment, that I had options to joyfully go to more far flung places and to see more people and do more errands because I had the flexibility of a bike I didn’t have to look after and could just leave. I plan a lunch run tomorrow. I seriously love new things and this is like a present. Enjoy.

Posted by Amber Sexton on 05/27 at 10:04 PM
New YorkOpinion • (0) CommentsPermalink

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Long delayed post on Chef’s Night Out

image by Amber Sexton

So, I was lucky enough to win a facebook contest from Bluecoat Gin and got two free tickets to Chef’s Night Out which they are a sponsor of. This was held in the basement of the Plaza hotel and is connected with the James Beard awards. I brought my friend Alexandra who is a pastry chef and we got to business immediately by making nuisances of ourselves in the lobby of the plaza and taking photos before the event. Like this.
image by Amber Sexton
And this:
image by Amber Sexton
Then we diddled around, checked out the bathrooms (natch, we are ladies after all) and then hung out in the lounge before the event opened.
image by Amber Sexton
So after this we waited on line and finally the event began. We were confronted with an overcrowded bar immediately, that we knew was a suckers game. We snarfed up some pastries and chocolates. Alexandra wanted to go savory after that initial taste, and I knew my vegan choices would be slim and perhaps there would be some slippage.
The first free drink we helped ourselves to was a Woodford Reserve “Manhattan”. Now..they tried to give us a giant cocktail glass, with a pre-mixed Manhattan loaded with ice. We were all…uh…please strain, we’ll take it up. It was good, though very watered down by whatever ice treatment they gave the pre-mixed drinks. Still, it was free, like everything we had so who is complaining?
image by Amber Sexton
At this point we began to look for stuff to eat. I confess trying several non-vegan macarons. (I won’t compound the shame by including photos.) I was meanwhile looking for the gin, knowing that the Bluecoat people were here and a sponsor and therefore there had to be a gin drink on offer. We got waylaid by these truffles, both of which were cocktail flavored, the orange one was supposed to be a Mai Tai. It was yummy but I’m not sure it totally succeeded with that.
image by Amber Sexton
Then I got cheese free pizza with caramelized onion and eggplant, and Alexandra got a short rib sandwich of some kind. There was fruit and hummus and olives and I kept stuffing my face with that. As my friend made a round to look for more things to gather I settled in to chow down. There were a lot of annoying rich people, some of which got annoyed when you were too near them. But again, this was free, I was eating and drinking for free in the Plaza, admittedly the basement but still, gift horses, mouths that you don’t glance at.
image by Amber Sexton
Then…the good stuff started to happen. First I met a lovely person who actually won a James Beard award for her children’s cooking magazine, Chop Chop, she was so nice she’s sending me an issue and the website is lovely with beautiful photos. Definitely getting children into cooking real food is an important mission.
Next I found the pumpkin ravioli, which I asked for without cheese at the same time as finding the nicer back bar which had the gin cocktails. Eureka. I proceeded to eat about eight samples of the noodles and saw that to my surprise one of the sponsored gin drinks was a Bronx cocktail!!!
image by Amber Sexton
(check the pretty out of focus Bluecoat bottles in the background)
I had really heard good things about Bluecoat, from my friend Amy but honestly the stores around me do not carry it. However after some poking around I realized that I have the absinthe by the same distiller Vieux Carré. That is a topic for another time but lets just say I am a fan already. Anyway, I was thrilled to get a Bronx, though again it suffered from having sat in ice for a bit, however they did serve it to me up as asked, and I drained that thing. Amen.
I got a gin and tonic that was also lovely. There was a tequila sponsor, and don’t ask me why every place has to ruin a margarita, but this was a Tommy’s margarita and it was terrible. So I won’t say what tequila or anything it was because the drink was a watered down kool-aid tasting mess, which I could barely have two sips of. Here have some more gin.

image by Amber Sexton

At that point we actually met the reps from Bluecoat, and they were genuinely fun people to hang out with and I am so appreciative that I won the contest and got to meet them and talk about cocktails and have gin with them. Lovely. Alexandra and I head upstairs to poke around the vacant Palm court before we leave. image by Amber Sexton
So the final point of the night, my friend Jeff who had been following my facebook updates, texts to dare me to take pictures of myself lying on the carpet upstairs with my green hair against the red rose patterns. Which I absolutely say no way to. I mean forget it, the security guard was breathing down our necks and it’s not happening. So…
image by Amber Sexton
And then…
image by Amber Sexton

Thanks Bluecoat and Chef’s Night Out, Alexandra and a shout out to carpet lint for not getting in my hair too badly.

Posted by Amber Sexton on 05/16 at 06:57 PM
(1) CommentsPermalink

Saturday, May 11, 2013

I’ve done two book reviews at my freelance job

Hey I did two short book reviews at People.com.
image by Amber Sexton

image by Amber Sexton

Posted by Amber Sexton on 05/11 at 11:32 AM
Opinion • (0) CommentsPermalink
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