First time visitors to New York City often observe that there is so much packed into such a small space. Each block can hold a whole town’s worth of experiences and around every corner you’re likely to find something new. Although this was not my first trip to NYC, I was definitely looking forward to the treasures I was certain to find.
I arrived at JFK (which is an experience in itself), found my rental car, and made my way across Brooklyn to the Box House Hotel. The neighborhood I was staying in is called Greenpoint. It’s the northernmost neighborhood in Brooklyn, and due to a rezoning effort in 2005, has begun changing from a primarily industrial area to a residential area. In fact, the HBO series Girls, depicting a group of very trendy twenty-somethings, is set and filmed in Greenpoint. The Box House Hotel definitely fit the neighborhood vibe. The building was originally a door factory, and was converted into a hotel with rooms that closely resemble Brooklyn-style apartments.
Eric Roberts from AA NationaLease picked me up at the hotel, and we drove across the Pulaski Bridge into Queens and the neighborhood of Long Island City for dinner. This neighborhood is also going through changes, as more people move into the area, which is just a short subway ride to Manhattan’s Grand Central Station. I would contend that the views from Long Island City are some of the best in the city, as you can look across the East River to the spectacular Manhattan skyline. Also, this neighborhood has become a top area for television and movie studios. Lots of shows have been filmed here, such as Law and Order and Blue Bloods. Eric and I had dinner at a chic new Mexican restaurant called Tacuba. Despite only having been open for a couple of months, both the food and service were fantastic! After dinner, Eric showed me around the area to make sure I could find my next day’s appointments before dropping me off at my hotel.
In the morning, I ventured out to find a coffee shop. Two blocks down I found Champion Coffee (no chains here!), a tiny, no-nonsense coffee shop where the locals grab a cup on their way to work. I had strategically chosen my hotel based on its proximity to a couple of our members, so it was a short drive to my first stop, Mendon NationaLease. Barry Haskell and Wally Slivonik met with me, and we chatted about a number of the NationaLease programs, including the Supply Management programs. We discussed the Webinars that NationaLease provides to members on a number of topics, including information about supplier programs. In fact, there is an upcoming Grainger Webinar on January 15 and a Webinar with Continental on January 29. We also have all of our Webinars archived on the NationaLease Website, so members can go back and listen to any they might have missed. They also shared with me a little about the history and founding of Mendon by two good friends, Mendy and Don. As I mentioned to Wally and Barry that I was surprised at the number of movie studios in the area, they told me that they had an episode of Madame Secretary filmed at their building. In fact, in the show, their building is supposedly the Yemen Embassy and they had “protesters” in the street right outside.
I had a couple of hours before my next meeting, so I went back to the hotel. The folks at the front desk recommended a nearby Japanese cafe, so I walked down the block to Ashbox Cafe to have some lunch and answer some e-mails. It turned out to be not only a great place to eat, but an even better place to people-watch. The eclectic mix of young couples, business people holding lunch meetings, and creatively dressed hipsters kept me entertained the whole time I was there.
Crossing the Pulaski Bridge again into Long Island City, I headed to Public Service Truck Renting, Inc., a NationaLease Member. I met with Charlie, Barbara, and Andy Sommer. They took me to dinner at a fabulous Italian restaurant in Long Island City called Testaccio. We had a chance to talk about their business and some of the challenges of running a truck leasing company in New York City. One of the most remarkable things about their business is the incredibly small space they are able to work with. Our members in the Midwest and West would truly have to see it to believe it. Due to the lack of available space (and the exceedingly high prices) in the city, they cram more trucks onto their property than anyone would think is possible, and yet are able to provide a high level of attention and service to their customers.
After my day in the city, the next day brought a totally different experience. I headed north from Brooklyn and drove an hour through the quickly changing landscape to Jim Reed’s Leasing, Inc. a NationaLease Developing Member, in Cortlandt Manor. It’s hard to believe that it is less than 50 miles from New York City. Located along the Hudson River and near Bear Mountain State Park, Cortlandt Manor is a beautiful residential community with big houses, wide open spaces, and breathtaking views of the mountains and river. As far from the city as it seems, many people who live here take the train into Manhattan every day. I sat down with Bill Reed to discuss the variety of programs NationaLease offers to its members. Bill gave me a tour of their busy shop and introduced me to several of the team members. I was also fortunate to have a chance to talk with Bill’s dad, Jim, who started the business in 1965 after a successful car racing career. In fact, Jim is a five-time short track NASCAR champion. Jim told me some of the history of the business and the challenges he has overcome in the nearly 50 years he has been running the business.
From Cortlandt Manor, I crossed the Hudson at the Bear Mountain Bridge, and headed south to New Jersey to visit Passaic-Clifton Driv-Ur-Self System, Inc. a NationaLease Member. You may not be familiar with the towns of Passaic or Clifton, but anyone who watches NFL football has heard of East Rutherford, New Jersey. Even though the stadium where both the NY Jets and NY Giants play is now called MetLife Stadium, I can still hear the announcers saying, “Welcome to the Meadowlands!” Passaic is situated about 2 miles northwest of the stadium, and that’s where I went to meet with Andy Kanter. In addition to truck renting and leasing, Andy also has a car rental business, so I found him very busy as I arrived. Near the holidays, demand for both car and truck rental is at a high point, and there were no shortage of customers coming and going that day. When Andy was able to get away, we had a chance to discuss his business and the challenges of finding enough qualified people to help them continue to grow. We talked about some of the resources available to NationaLease members to help them with recruitment, including our Careers page on our Website.
I left Passaic right around rush hour, so I summoned all my patience as I headed back toward Brooklyn. My GPS told me that the 15 mile journey would take about an hour and a half in current traffic conditions, and that prediction turned out to be accurate. I made it back to the hotel in one piece, and by now feeling like a local, I walked down the street to a Mexican restaurant called Acapulco for some tacos and guacamole before turning in for the night.
My last day in New York took me on a drive in a different direction–out to Long Island. Unfortunately, even though I was driving away from the city, traffic wasn’t much lighter. I had given myself plenty of time, so I took a deep breath and headed east to Farmingdale, where I met with Bob Slater and Ken Tirone at Hub Truck NationaLease. I had a great conversation with them about several of the NationaLease programs including purchasing, Reciprocal Service, National Accounts, and the NationaLease meetings, including the recent Financial Officers Meeting for which Donna Blanc of Hub Truck NationaLease served as meeting chair, and the upcoming NationaLease Spring Business Meeting in conjunction with TRALA, which will be in Amelia Island, FL on March 15-18. Bob and Ken also gave me some great input and ideas, which I always appreciate. I left Farmingdale and headed back toward JFK for the last stretch of traffic I would face on this trip to New York.
So much packed into a small space… It’s a good way to describe NYC, and it’s a good way to describe my trip. From the trendy Greenpoint to the beauty of the Hudson River Valley, I felt like I had a whirlwind of experiences in a very short time. Just as I expected, I found treasures around every corner. The unanticipated treasure of the cool and hip Box House Hotel, the revelation of the unique and trendy Champion Coffee and Ashbox Café behind somewhat dingy facades, the surprise of a stunning vista of the Hudson River around a twist in the road—all of these definitely make my list. However, what I most treasure about this trip, and all of my others, are the people I meet. The treasure of wonderful dinner conversation that outshines even the best restaurant, the treasure of learning about the history of one of our member companies or meeting the founder, the treasure of great discussion and feedback, the treasure of seeing dear friends that I don’t see nearly often enough—these are the real treasures and the ones I most grateful for, in NYC, and everywhere else.
Image source: wikipedia.com