America

So, our time on the road is coming to an end. As we make our way back to the Big Apple we find ourselves reflecting on our weeks of traveling across America. Sure, we could dwell on all the fun we had, all the interesting sights we have seen, or on all the things that went wrong. Yet, that has not been our real takeaway from this experience. Ultimately, our journey has always been about the people. We have met people from New York to New Orleans, from Chicago, IL to Fayetteville, NC, and for the most part everyone has been kind, caring, and amazing. It has not mattered whether we were in a blue state or a red state, Americans have proven to be truly special people, and that is something worth remembering in today’s climate.

Gateway to Understanding
The news media has this tendency to cast everything in a bad light. We get it, good news doesn’t sell. However, sometimes this leads to a skewed perspective on the world. Talk to anyone who does nothing but stare at their Facebook feeds all day long. “The world is coming to an end.” To look at all the bad news and to watch what is going on out there you might think these are the end times. After all, violence is up, the economy is out of control, Donald Trump is being elected President. Surely the four horsemen are not far behind. Yet, that’s not the America we found out there, and its also not the first time we have thought like this either.

Traveling across the nation is also about traveling through our history. We spent some of our days visiting Native American sites, Civil War battlefields, and even Dollywood. When walking through such historic places it is almost impossible not to find yourself reflecting on the good the and bad of our collective history. That was especially apparent in St. Louis, where the Dredd Scott case took place. For anyone not familiar, Dredd Scott and his wife, Harriet were slaves who sued for their freedom. The case was lost, but the Scotts were eventually granted their freedom by their masters. The Supreme Court case made national headlines at the time, and proved to be a polarizing issue in the lead up to the Civil War. The court ruled that the Scotts were property and had no right to sue under the US legal system, but the legal battles raised awareness of the issues surrounding slavery and the decision helped galvanize support for the Emancipation Proclamation.

Similarly, while we were touring the famous St. Louis courthouse and learning about the case, one of our team picked up a newspaper. It was a souvenir reprint of the original newspaper that was published on the day the St. Louis Arch was completed. The main story was -of course- the towering new monument, completed in 1965. Yet, once you got pass that fluffy and inspiring article a further examination of the paper showed nothing but stories of political scandals and news of Vietnam. After all, 1965 was not exactly a calm year for the United States. So, picture holding that newspaper in your hand on the day it was printed. Despite the main story, it would not have been hard to look at all the scandal, war, conflict, and violence and believe that, “The world was coming to an end.”

Road Tripping Across History
That is kind of our point. Maybe we always think the world is coming to an end? Maybe that’s how it always goes.

In hindsight, we know that the world didn’t fall apart in 1965, and that slavery eventually did end, as did the Civil War, World War I, and the Cold War. It may seem that we live in a crazy world of turmoil, politics, terrorism, Pokémon, and heaven knows what else. It may seem that this is the worst time the world has ever faced. There are school shootings, and the government is coming for your guns, and taxes are out of control, and liberals are running the White House, and conservatives are running the Congress… But when you really look at history you begin to realize, that may just be the human condition. After all, wouldn’t you have felt the same if you lived through the Civil War? Didn’t they feel the same when Pearl Harbor was bombed? Didn’t people feel like the world could end any moment if the Russians ever dropped that bomb? And don’t even get us started on the 80’s -that was just one agonizing fear sandwich of a decade.

Our point is that during the Dredd Scott case all the slave owning white people probably thought the world was turning itself on its head, in the same way many evangelical Christians probably feel about Marriage Equality. When it was finally decided all the abolitionists probably screamed about the “backwardness of the country.” During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln had people who hated and blamed him as much as he had people who loved him, much like our current President. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the War in Afghanistan, the Iraq War… and maybe, we are a country doomed to repeat our own history. Maybe we are a people doomed to repeat our own panic attacks, because we always think our time was worse than anything before. Maybe it is time we all took a step back and looked at the world in comparison to our ancestors.

Two Steps Back, One Look Forward
The truth is that the world and America are going pretty well. According to ForeignPolicy.com, “combat deaths are the lowest they have been in 100 years.” We’re smarter than ever before. We’re living longer than ever before. Violent crime is way down. The number of people living in poverty has been cut in half in the past two decades. 22% of the world is getting energy from renewable resources, The US deficit has been cut by nearly 50% since 2009, and our taxes are among the lowest in the developed world. We have smart phones, and the Internet, and Netflix, and the ability to travel to anywhere on the globe in hours. We have rockets and robots on Mars, and even robots that have left our solar system. Our medical care is better than any time period before, and childhood death is so low that any incident has become unthinkable, which is something that was not true even 100 years ago.

Objectively, any person from any other time period would look at our world and claim that we lived in paradise, and yet all we see is the darkness. We tend to focus on the bad because of our perspective bias. We don’t know any other time or any other place, so we have no way to compare our personal experiences to that of someone else from another era. Couple that with the fact that we tend to look at the past with nostalgia. We see our childhood through rosy-colored glasses. We like to think it was amazing, and the world was better back then. Yet, while we were happy and content playing stickball -or whatever- there was racism, and war, and sexism, and poverty. We look at the past as better, but it really wasn’t. So we believe the cable news networks, or the nostalgic listicles, or the orange polticial candidates that tell us the world has “gone to hell,” and that “America was better in the old days,” because we feel as if it is true. It’s not.

Listen, we are not saying that is still not problems that are in dire need of fixing, because there are. Climate change is real, systemic racism still runs rampant, and terrorism is one of the defining problems of our times. All we are saying is that maybe we can try and dwell on the good sometimes too. On our trip, we met a lot of Americans of all religions, races, and political persuasions. We learned that they are all good and decent people, reasonable in their beliefs and their respect for life. We sometimes tend to construct these bloated ideas about other places or we demonize other people, and we never bother to verify those assumptions with our own experiences. Well, we here at The NYRD have done just that, and we can reassure you, life is pretty sweet, but there is no place like home.

New York, here we come.

superman

In traveling across America there is one thing we are finding more and more of, and we’re not just talking about a patriotic sense of self satisfaction. No, we’re talking about Superman. Yes, it seems like the big blue boy scout is everywhere -of course it helps when you go looking for him, as we have. However, there is something strangely appropriate about the ability to find Superman in the very fabric of America. After all, the Man of Steel is as American as apple pie or red, white, and blue bathing suits.

Cleveland Loves Superman
20160714_153447Joe Shuster and Jerry Seigel were born in a poor Jewish neighborhood on the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio. Both the Shuster house and the Seigel house still stand today, even if they are no longer owned by those respective families. Yet, the current residents and the city of Cleveland have not forgotten their two favorite Sons of Steel. Each house is decorated with Superman figures, artwork, comic panels, and more all in honor of “The Birthplace of Superman.” Even the street signs are emblazoned with the famous “S” symbol and the city erected a placard declaring itself the “Home of Superman,” which is a title worth displaying.

After all, Superman, much like Shuster and Seigel embodied something about the American spirit. The two creators were born the sons of immigrants as Superman himself was born an immigrant. It is a crucial part of the Man of Steel’s identity, but also a crucial part of the American identity. All three left their lives of relative obscurity and made a name for themselves in the big city. Shuster and Seigel eventually landed in New York and Clark Kent eventually left Smallville and ended up in Metropolis.

Metropolis, Illinois
20160718_090454We also found ourselves in Metropolis, though not in the DC universe. We took a detour to pay homage in Metropolis, Illinois, a small town with a big love for Superman. The town square is adorned with a giant Superman statue and surrounded by a Superman museum and tons of memorabilia. The town even holds an annual Superman Celebration, which had often been visited by actors such as George Reeves and Noel Neill, who played Clark Kent and Lois Lane on the original live-action Superman TV show. There is even a statue erected to Noel Neill’s Lois in honor of her frequent visits and love for the small town.

This is an important aspect of Superman, he inspires us to be better. In many ways he is the American dream embodied in a red cape. Whether you live in New York City or a small town named Metropolis, you can look to the example of the Man of Steel as a hero we all want to be. He is something greater than a man, greater than a fictional character. He stands for something, much like the American flag or the ideal of America itself. When a town erects a statue to Superman, they are not honoring a comic book superhero, so much as they are recognizing a symbol that has become so important to so many people.

Maybe the greatest irony of all this is that Metropolis, Illinois is closer to Smallville, and the birth place of Superman, Cleveland, is closer to Metropolis than Smallville. Yet, none of that matters. Because the fiction of Superman has help influence and inspire what it means to be American. Clark Kent may not have been around in the times of Washington or Lincoln, but he has had an impact on the fabric of this country as much as any historical figure, but the true is also opposite. For even as art influences art it also imitates it and as much as the Last Son of Krypton has influenced our world, America has also inspired Superman and his super friends.

The Hall of Cincinnati
In Cincinnati sits the Hall of Justice… well not the real Hall of Justice. You see when the boys working on the old Justice League comics were looking to create the Hall of Justice -home of the Justice League of America- they used the Cincinnati Union Terminal’s art deco styled building as inspiration. Now the real Union Terminal is visited by thousands of nerds every year who want to cosplay and pretend to be their favorite heroes, including Superman. Currently the old Union Terminal has become the Cincinnati’s Museum Terminal and still stands to this day.

The very popularity of the building and the bulk of visitors it receives every year is just another example of how the adventures of Superman and others have shaped our American experience. We look to our heroes not just because of their powers, but because of the examples they set and the lessons they teach. We visit such sites because we want to pay homage to all they have inspired in us and because we strive to be like them. They are beacons of freedom and liberty, and none more so than Superman.

Traveling along the dusty long highways and byways of America it is hard not to encounter the Man of Steel, not just in Cleveland, or Cincinnati, or even in Metropolis, but in all of America. His story and his spirit is something we all share. We as a country and a people want to keep striding to do the right thing, to be better, and to make a better land where everyone can be free and safe. He is the immigrant, the country boy, and even the responsible news reporter. Superman is all of us and none of us. He is the country and the ideal, not because of his powers, but because of who he is as a person and a leader.

Until next time, keep watching our adventures on SnapChat at thenyrd.
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Lincoln

During our journey across this great nation we decided to take a random pilgrimage to visit the Tomb of Lincoln. In order to enter you have to answer the Riddle of the Three Headed Mary Todd, and defeat the vengeful ghost of Stephen Douglas… in a standard format debate. Still it was worth it to gain entry to see the actual tomb of Lincoln, where his body finally came to rest. We say finally because the matter of Lincoln’s body is one of those strange and quintessentially American tales.

A Procession of Mourning

Lincoln, the young years.

Our sixteenth President died on April 15, 1865, and he eventually came to rest in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois, but getting there was a bit of a pain. You see back before television it was determined that the people of the United States should have one last chance to say goodbye to their hero President. So Lincoln was extensively embalmed, and on April 21 loaded onto a train that was adorned with a giant picture of him. The train and Lincoln then made a 1,600 mile journey to cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and hundreds of other smaller stops. The train carried dignified guests, including the body of William Wallace Lincoln, who died from typhoid at age 11 and was being moved with his father to be buried in Springfield.

At each stop the corpse was unloaded placed on a black carriage and paraded to a spot where the public could arrive to view it for several hours or even days. Unfortunately, there was a flaw, and that was the lack of the invention of refrigeration. Embalming only does so much, and by the time Lincoln reached New York and went through a marathon viewing, the dead President was not looking so well. The corpse was exposed to the air for 23 hours. By many accounts, when Lincoln reached Springfield he was looking like something more fit for a horror show than a somber funeral.

At least he finally reached Springfield to be laid to rest in Oak Ridge, and you would think that would be the end of the story.

Grave Indecencies
On, November 7, 1876 -election night- a band of grave robbers attempted to exhume Abraham Lincoln and hold the corpse for a $200,000 ransom -about $4 million in today’s money- and the release of a fellow counterfeiter. Their plan was foiled by the Secret Service, a group which Lincoln created. They did, however, manage to get the lid off the President’s coffin. So after that, the coffin traveled to a number of secret locations between 1876 and 1887. It had to be opened multiple times to confirm Lincoln’s identity, which sounds like a fun job.

It was Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s oldest son, who finally suggested surrounding the coffin with a 10-foot steel cage and ecasing it with cement, as if they feared the undead wrath of the Great Emancipator. In 1901, the body finally came to rest in its current tomb in the Oak Ridge Cemetery, accompanied by Mary Todd and the majority of their children. Then, after 1901, the tomb started receiving a lot of curious and patriotic visitor. So, the Egyptian-like tomb was expanded in 1930 to add more rooms for visitors, and in 1960 it became of America’s first National Historic Landmarks.

Visiting Lincoln
Finding the tomb of Lincoln is not hard, trust us. It towers above everything in the cemetery and is decorated with ornate statues depicting heroic recreations of the Civil War and other moments in the President’s life. When you walk inside the massive monument you realize that Lincoln -much like the ancient Egyptians- was buried with a friendly tour guide. A very nice man is employed solely to sit in the tomb all day and direct visitors about which way to go.

When you enter the tomb you follow the circular path around to see various statues of Lincoln at different parts of his life, as a debater, a soldier, a lawyer, and finally as the President. The path ends at the tomb of the man himself, a giant marble slab bearing his name and surrounded by flags. The body itself is interred 10 feet below the floor, but you can still feel as if Lincoln is in the room, silently judging the poor decisions that led to the election of Donald Trump. The flags arrayed around the coffin are of the state that the President lived in and the states that his current descendants live in.

20160717_091345That’s it. Then you stand their awkwardly somewhat thankful for all the concrete and steel between you and the vengeful embalmed zombie corpse. After you are done you can find the bust of Lincoln that sits in front of the tomb and rub its nose for the good luck that Lincoln never had. Then you get in your car, get lost in a bad neighborhood of Springfield, and then eventually find the highway and move on.

All we can say is that the impressive monument and the strange story of Lincoln’s final burial is a true testament to the man’s mystique and prestige as a President. During the hard times of the Civil War, Honest Abe, was very much like Batman. He was the hero the United States needed, but not the one it deserved. He was a silent guardian standing vigil during our darkest night, and we suspect that if it wasn’t for all that concrete and steel keeping him in check, he might still be.

As for us, on to our next adventure…

Until next time, keep watching our adventures on SnapChat at thenyrd.
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Pokemon

Greetings fellow travelers. We here at The NYRD have been out on the road, seeing sights, looking for adventure, and trying to catch ’em all. Yes, we’re talking about Pokémon, because much like the rest of the country we have also been caught up in the craze of Pokémon Go, but unlike the rest of the country we thought our road trip across America would be a good opportunity to really explore the limits of this new augmented reality game that has very quickly revolutionized how ew think of phone games.

I Choose You
20160716_135708Just two days after the games release in the USA the newest Pokémon game had already been installed by more than 5% of Android users. That may not sound like much but consider that means it was installed on more phones than Tinder, and people didn’t just let it sit there either. Over 60% of people who downloaded the app have continued to use it daily. It has about the same daily usage as Twitter, and the numbers are still going up. The average use time per day is about 43 minutes, which is more than the average person used Instagram, SnapChap, or visits The NYRD. Thanks to the massive release, Nintendo’s stock has surged 20% and it gave the game company its best day on the stock market since 1983, which was before most of our staff was even born.

However, there are some downsides. There have been plenty of humorous stories of people who were too busy trying to catch their eighth Pidgey to pay attention to where they were walking. Some people have fallen off cliffs, fallen into water, and one even caused a very serious car acciden, though there is some debate over that. In fact, more than once on our journey across this nation we had to stop Todd from walking into a building or large southern men who, “don’t take too kindly to yankee types,” which is absurd because we don’t even follow baseball.

Despite all the bad press the game is getting it is worth mentioning that Pokémon Go is the popularization of something new in our society. It is a game that encourages people to get out of their homes and interact with the environment, even if part of the environment is digital. The app is making kids walk and run and explore the world we live in. It is no coincidenc that there are PokeStops at all significant and historic locations in almost every area of the country, and trust us we know. The game even changes what Pokemon a person can find based upon the time of day and the area someone is in.

What the Psyduck?
Of course, in our own adventures we have encountered a lot of different pokemon. Unfortunately, we can’t really answer the question you are probably asking? Do you catch special pokemon in historic or significant locations? Well, we never came across any legendary ones, but we definitely encountered high level and more exotic pokemon in certain areas, such as Niagara Falls -which by the way offers free wifi on the American side- We cannot say for certainty that going to national parks or similar sites will net you anything that you can really show off to your friends. Yet, we still recommend you go all the same, because these are just cool sites to visit.

We can tell you however, that playing Pokémon Go alongside the Mississipi River or through the streets of Chicago or even in the parking lot of some roadside motel that we happen to be staying definitely enhances the experience. It is also a great way to meet people. We have not visited a single city or even café yet where we have not overheard people comparing their pokedex or talking about where they found this Evee, or why Team Instinct is the worst. Bumping into people with their head buried in their phones is very common these days and it makes it very easy to start conversations.

“Hey did you see that Zubat over there?”

“No, do you want to be best friends forever?”

“Of course.”

See how easy that was, but we have also noticed that Pokémon Go is doing more than just enhancing personal relationships or personal waistlines. A lot of businesses are getting in on the action. It has not been uncommon in our travels to find businesses that are regularly putting down lure to draw in Pokémon and paying customers. There is even a story about police using Pokémon lures to catch fugitives, which is pretty awesome. However, the technique works particularly well in cafes or other business where people can sip their coffee, chat with friends, and enslave poor defenseless creatures in a case the size of a baseball. Its basically a win-win for everyone, except that poor Pikachu that got nabbed by the cops for all those unpaid parking tickets.

A Magikarp Ride
Really, we just want to report that the state of the Pokemon Union is strong. People all over the country are mindlessly wandering around state parks and into traffic. We know that this is not the first AR or environment interaction game, lest we forget geocaching. Ultimately, we believe that this newest use of crude but effective augmented reality is a step in the right direction. The best part is that the game will only keep growing with the possibilities of new Pokémon, trainer battles, and a slew of other possibilities. At the very least, Pokémon Go is getting people active again and interacting with the world and each other in new and previously unthought-of ways.

Also there is nothing so unifying as being a bunch of thirty year old adults excitedly squealing over finding a Squirtle, and then rubbing it into face of a group of twelve year olds. Truly, we live in a magical time.

Until next time, keep watching our adventures on SnapChat at thenyrd.
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Snapchat-6241627312981046618Excelsior, heroes, and welcome to our first installment of the The NYRD Trip. It’s a lot like a regular road trip except much nerdier. In the coming weeks our crew will be traveling around the United States to see some sights, have some experiences, and probably raid a few comic book shops along the way. You can follow along with us at SnapChat, username: thenyrd. However, we thought it would be best to kick this thing off in our very own home town, New York City, nerd capital of the world.

New York, Like in the Movies
Let’s start with the Geekiest locations. New York houses everything from MiB’s secret headquarters to Peter Parker’s Queen’s home to Mario Brother’s Plumbing. Of course, in our humble opinion nothing beats the Ghostbusters firehouse located at the corner of Varick and North Moore in Downtown. Unfortunately, the building is currently under construction and obscured by scaffolding that sort of takes away from the iconic look of the place. You can find a lot more in BuzzFeed’s Ultimate Nerd Guide to New York.

We would like to add that we are also fans of Hell’s Kitchen, the Midtown neighborhood that sits across the Hudson from Jersey. It’s not so much that we sit on rooftops and look for Daredevil –though we’re also not saying that we don’t do that– but if you are looking for trendy food and some decent craft beer we recommend the area. In fact, you couldn’t swing a Kingpin and not hit a place to find a decent drink and burger. You can also take a walk down to Luke Cage’s office on West 42nd Street, if you’re feeling so inclined.

However, if that doesn’t grab you we also heavily recommend the Natural History Museum. Chances are you won’t become locked in there for the night when all the exhibits come to life –they totally do– but it is just a really cool place to spend an afternoon. You need to stand under a giant blue whale at least once in your life, and while you’re in the vicinity make sure to head over to one of the greatest Mecca’s of Nerdom, the Hayden Planetarium. Home to the Cullman Hall of the Universe, and resting place of Neil deGrasse Tyson, at least when he is not out saving the galaxy from Skrulls and incorrect movie science. Just remember to check it out early as the planetarium often closes before 6:00 pm.

The In’s and Outcasts
Aside from all the iconic sights, New York also offers a lot of pretty unique and nerdy experiences. For comic book fanatics we suggest Forbidden Planet in Greenwich Village, Bulletproof Comics in Brooklyn, and of course –our personal favorite- Midtown Comics, in one of their Midtown or Downtown Manhattan locations. With several floors and stores of comics, memorabilia, and back issues you are certainly going to find something worth spending your cash on. Lastly, don’t miss out on the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company in Brooklyn. They sell everything from capes to utility belts. You can purchase anything you need to feel like an actual superhero, and it also helps that the store is a charity that raises money for a non-profit tutoring and writing center for kids called 826 NYC.

For gamers you can always check out the Sony NY Headquarters or the Rockefeller GameStop location to try out some pretty cool demos. However, we would also recommend you take a trip into Brooklyn to spend a night drinking and playing at Barcade. Other places of interest include Nintendo NY in Rockefeller Plaza, VideoGamesNewYork in the East Village, and Tekserve in Chelsea if you ever interested in buying electronics or fixing your computer at a business that is not shaped like a giant glass box.

For literary Geeks there are amazing bookstores such as the famous Strand Bookstore in Union Square, the Housing Works Bookstore Café in SoHo, Desert Island in Brooklyn, and St. Mark’s Bookshop, which is unfortunately closed forever as of February… bastards. So unless you have a time machine, we’re not even sure why we mentioned this last one.

For hobbyists and board gamers we recommend, The Twenty Sided Store in Brooklyn and the Compleat Strategist in Midtown. Between these two stores there is almost no game you will not be able to purchase. If you are obsessed with collectibles and toys make sure to check out, Toy Tokyo in the East Village, The Lego Store in Rockefeller Plaza, and Dinosaur Hill also in the East Village, especially if you’re into puppets.

Changing of the Geek Seasons
Those are just some of the year-round places to visit, but New York is always a hub of activity and changing attractions. Regardless of when you visit you need to stop by Discovery Times Square to see what exhibits they have going on. As of this writing they are showcasing costumes from all the Star Wars movies, as well as an exhbit on Vikings, and of course the world famous Bodies exhibit. You know… if you like looking at dead people. You can also stop over at the Intrepid Air and Space Museum for a wide range of exhibits on air and space, including the actual NASA shuttle, Enterprise. Currently, the Intrepid is also running a showcase on the other Enterprise, with its 50 years of Star Trek exhibit. Lastly, make sure to check out the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met may not seem overtly nerdy until you realize that you can see real-life medieval knight armor in the same place as Japanese samurai memorabilia and ancient Egyptian artifacts. The Met also has several rotating galleries of cool and trendy exhibits, and a rooftop exhibit.

All in all we could go on for much longer about all the nerdy and geeky things to do here in New York. Remember you are always invited for a visit. New Yorkers love tourists, unless it’s between the hours of 7:00 am and 9:00 am or 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm on Monday to Friday, then we hate you. Get off the street, we’re trying to get to and/or from work.

It is tourist season in NYC and maybe that’s why -as much as we love this city- we need to get out of it for a bit. So we will be hitting the road for the next few weeks. Make sure to check back to see our stories and find out what we discover as we trek across this great country. We will be positing pictures and stories here and on our SnapChat, -thenyrd- so stay tuned and hit us up to let us know what you want to see most out there in the wide nerd yonder.