Monday, August 6, 2007

Fun things aren't always expensive

Manhattan is notorious for high prices and less-than-affordable rent costs. Movies, Broadway shows, $10 drinks, even Tasti-D Lite ---all threaten to make a huge dent in your wallet. The cost of living here alone is exorbitant, and once the rent is paid, it's difficult for young professionals and students to spend far beyond bare necessities.

So what about fun?

Few New Yorkers are aware of the free activities available to them throughout the summer. My favorite -- run entirely by volunteers -- is the free kayaking on the Hudson River. The New York City Downtown Boathouse oversees facilities at three different ports: Peir 40 at Houston St., Pier 96 at 56th St. and next to the riverside cafe at 72nd St. Without hassling any participants for donations, the organization provides free life jackets, kayaking time and optional instruction for both beginners and advanced boaters. All you have to do is sign a waiver and take responsibility for your own safety, but trust me, you won't drown.

And hey, I may have been splashed by some unknown megamorphic Hudson River toxins and/or lifeforms, but we had a great time. In all seriousness, it's a fun experience and incredibly relaxing. Now the question is -- when you look across the river, which cluster of high rises is Weehauken, and which is Jersey City?

Another really interesting place to visit is (Penn nerds, read on) The Science Barge. Located essentially adjacent to the 72nd St. kayaking port, The Science Barge is a self-contained environmental studies museum and agricultural producer, perched on -- you guessed it! -- a barge. The scientists and interns who work on-board experiment with different types of power, such as solar, wind and used vegetable oil from NYC restaurants. While the functionality and profitability of these alternative sources is certainly debatable, the barge presents an admirable effort to uncover future solutions for environmentally-friendly power systems. Also inside is a miniature vegetable greenhouse, growing tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, arugula and various herbs -- all of which are sold, if I remember correctly. The scientists experiment with new growing methods and soil types, using the residual waste from an on-board fish tank to fertilize the plants. Water recirculates from plants to filtration back to plants, leaving absolutely no run-off from the ship into the Hudson River.

No run-off? Well, what about human waste?

The answer, which I feverishly procured, is that there is no restroom aboard The Science Barge. Alas my fellow small-bladdered females, you must be prepared to hold it in for the duration of your tour. Fortunately, wherever the barge docks in the park, there is always a nearby bathroom facility. In order to have a functional restroom sans run-off, the barge would need to have a compost bathroom, which is very expensive and difficult to maintain at this point. Perhaps a future endeavor?

And no, I really didn't have to pee.

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