Posts Tagged With: Antarctica

So 10,000 Santas walk into a bar . . .

Yesterday was the annual event known as Santacon in New York City. Thousands and thousands of people clad in Santa suits, as well as other seasonally appropriate costumes (Buddy the Elf is a perennial favorite, and for those of the Jewish persuasion, some human dreidels can always be counted on to show up), cavort throughout the city. And sometimes the outfits bear no discernible relation to this time of year. For example, one of my favorite participants yesterday was the person dressed as a giant Chiquita banana. So the sea of red was interrupted by a giant yellow fruit.

The movements of the thousands of Santas are not random. A mysterious behind-the-scenes leader periodically tweets instructions indicating where in the city the throng should next assemble (an example of an actual tweet from yesterday is “Santa’s on the move! Point your sleigh toward the red steps at Times Square.”). In between those official check-ins, the Santaconners file into bars that are near the previous meeting point. Sometimes the organizer tweets suggestions as to where the Santas should imbibe. Said imbibing begins as early as 10:00 a.m., and is, of course, a major part of the day’s activities. However, Santacon is so much more than a mere pub crawl.

As with a more conventional pub crawl, the actual getting around involves a considerable amount of walking. Sometimes, however, the distance to be traversed is just too great, and the Santas must descend underground to ride the subway. Chants such as “Santa rides the 6!” (a reference to the number 6 subway line that serves the East side of Manhattan) are not uncommon in that situation. Hordes of Santas pour into the subway trains, much to the befuddlement of the non-Santacon-affiliated passengers on board; and the rides tend to be punctuated with (often dissonant) caroling.

The greatness that is Santacon is not confined to the Big Apple, although New York City’s version of this festival of debauchery is by far the biggest (I have not yet seen any attendance figures for yesterday’s iteration of the New York City Santacon; but I’ve heard that in 2010 the turnout was estimated at 10,000). While other cities cannot match New York for sheer volume of participation, Santacons are now held in 32 countries around the world. According to the offical website, even denizens of McMurdo Station in Antarctica participate in one (yes, McMurdo Station is the same place to which I aspire to travel to make Antarctica the seventh continent on my World Karoke Tour. And yes, the good people down there are really on the wrong pole to be hosting a Kris Kringle-oriented event).

This was my fourth consecutive year taking part in Santacon. Even so, I’m an upstart compared to my friend Laney, who was Santaconning for the seventh time. I’m also known for my stubborn refusal to attend in costume: I wear a Santa hat, and that’s it. I always justify my costumelessness by saying that I’m along to shoot photos and videos that I will then upload to flickr and Facebook (and now I post them on my blog too!). So I still add value to the event. ūüôā

For the 2011 edition of Santacon, the day began at two different starting locations: one at a marina on the Hudson in lower Manhattan, and the other in Brooklyn Bridge Park. I chose the location in downtown Manhattan, since it would be somewhat easier to get to from my Upper East Side apartment. I joined a sizable contingent of Santas at Marina Cove, a pleasant waterfront area on the Hudson River, behind the World Financial Center. Eventually (after some time spent in various watering holes near the Marina Cove), it was time for all the Santas to move on. The word went out over Twitter that all the Santas were to converge on the South Street Seaport. So thousands of red-costumed revelers, together with their assorted sidekicks, made their way through the tangled warren of streets in lower Manhattan. Meanwhile, the Santacon cohort that had started in Brooklyn Bridge Park trekked across the Brooklyn Bridge to also end up at the South Street Seaport. I kind of regretted not beginning in Brooklyn myself (even though to do so would have required me to awaken at a ridiculously early hour), as it would have been nice to see all the Santas marching across the Brooklyn Bridge. Maybe next year . . .

Incidentally, one of my all-time favorite Santacon moments occurred during the stroll over to the South Street Seaport. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Santas were walking down the street. A young kid, maybe eight years old, was standing in front of a building and watching the procession of Santas. The kid yelled out, “Are you the real one?”

Anyhoo, after a long interlude at the Seaport and some of its many bars and restaurants, the Santas moved on to occupy City Hall Park. Or at least they occupied it until the NYPD arrived on the scene and announced that the park was being closed. Then the scene shifted to Grand Central Terminal. The concourse at Grand Central is famously crowded; indeed, the very name of the station has become synonymous with huddled masses of humanity. But even during rush hour, you will rarely see the cavernous room packed as tightly it was yesterday afternoon. And amid the profusion of Santaconners, a brass band was present to to provide live entertainment to whoever was lucky enough to be on hand:


This musical ensemble was the Hungry March Band, based in Brooklyn.

Following Grand Central, the next announced stop on the itinerary was the steps of the nearby New York Public Library. Those stairs are famously flanked by the twin marble lions, Patience and Fortitude. Sadly, by the time I had arrived in front of the library, the Santas were gone from the steps. In their place were some of New York’s finest, standing watch. It appeared that what had occurred in City Hall Park had happened again. There was only one thing to do: repair to a nearby bar for some much-needed libations.

From that pitstop, it was on to the red TKTS steps at Times Square (the subject of the tweet quoted above). Here again, the Santas had already been banished from the steps by the time my friends and I showed up. This was becoming a recurring theme. So we boarded the subway and headed to the final official checkpoint of the day: Tompkins Square Park in the East Village.

Despite the repeated appearances by the police, there were few incidents of the type that would put Santacon in a bad light; and none of the evacuations directed by the NYPD resulted in any confrontations or violence. For a humongous aggregation of drunken and exuberant Santas, Santacon tends to be remarkably devoid of misbehavior. Sure, there’s the occasional Bad Santa; but most people who participate are just trying to spread holiday cheer, and remain well-behaved. The worst offense that most Santaconners are likely to commit is a violation of the open container law (I may or may not have committed that offense myself). ūüôā I want to stress, though, that I understand where the police were coming from in their efforts to maintain order. I have a great deal of respect for the NYPD, which has done so much to keep this city safe — especially in light of the threats we’ve faced from would-be terrorists in recent years; and I’m sure the NYPD would rather not have to deal with the headache of the potential for undesirable outcomes that is inherent in a sizable flash-mob such as Santacon. And the important thing is that Santacon went on, and a good time was had by all.

Naturally, given the subject matter of my blog, my day of Santacon would somehow have to culminate in karaoke. So, I eschewed the “official” Santacon afterparty, a ticketed event in Brooklyn that I strongly suspected would be too hipsterish a scene for me. Instead, after making an appearance in Tompkins Square Park, I remained in the East Village. I hit two bars in that area. The first was just some random pub, where I had a nice enough time and met some interesting people. The second was Sing Sing, a popular karaoke establishment on St. Marks Place (Sing Sing has an additional location nearby on Avenue A).

So, during karaoke, some guy started singing the Blink-182 song, “All the Small Things.” Suddenly, an admittedly attractive young woman just grabbed the microphone from his hands, carried it to the other end of the bar, and started singing the song herself. She hijacked his song! Eventually the original singer reclaimed the mic and finished singing. He then approached the woman and asked her why she had committed her brazen act of microhpone-thievery. “I’m better than you,” she responded. She may have had a point (although, curiously, she didn’t submit any songs of her own to sing).

Given that I was trying to make a good impression on strangers, my own set-list at Sing Sing included three
H-Bomb standards: “New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel; “La Bamba” (the Los Lobos version from the soundtrack of the 1987 movie); and “True” by Spandau Ballet. No one dispossessed me of the mic while I was singing.

Below are some additional photos that depict a few of the highlights from the latest NYC Santacon:

Santas processing through lower Manhattan, near Bowling Green Park.

Santacon's answer to the Three Musketeers.

The Abonminable Snowman.

Gingerbread men (and women) are frequently seen at Santacon.

A Christmas tree finds comfort among his own kind, but is besieged by the evil Grinch.

This hombre, who was rocking a giant sombrero in place of St. Nick's usual headgear, called himself "Santa Fe." : )

This woman dressed as a fireplace. She even used an iPad to provide continuous video of the Yule log!

The youngest Santa!

Some of the get-ups are quite irrreverent. The birthday boy can always be counted on to make an appearance.

Some of the get-ups are quite irreverent. The birthday boy can always be counted on to make an appearance.

Some of the Santaconners who ended up at karaoke.  Is that a Viking Santa on the right?

Some of the Santaconners who ended up at karaoke. Is that a Viking Santa on the right?

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It’s time to get things started!

Shown here is my most recent international singing experience, in Mexico City in May 2011.¬† The scene depicted¬†in this photo occurred¬†at a bar called “Pedro Infante no ha Muerto.”¬† The name of the bar means “Pedro Infante hasn’t died.”¬† In case you’re wondering who Pedro Infante is, Wikipedia states that “Jos√© Pedro Infante Cruz . . ., better known as Pedro Infante, is the most famous actor and singer of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema.” Wikipedia also tells us that notwithstanding the optimistic outlook of the bar’s proprietors, Se√Īor Infante departed this world in 1957. Anyway, I think that “Pedro Infante no ha Muerto” is a pretty cool name for a watering hole.¬† What wasn’t cool was how, when I was trying to get back to my hotel at the end of the night, my cabdriver robbed me, forced me to get out of the taxi, and left me in the middle of nowhere.¬† But that’s a story for another time.

Hello and welcome to H-Bomb’s Worldwide Karaoke!¬† This site was created to document my ongoing World Karaoke Tour.¬† I have sung karaoke in 23 countries on six continents, plus Easter Island; and within the United States¬†I’ve performed at karaoke venues in 12 states plus the District of Columbia.¬† You may have noticed that I mentioned six continents, one fewer than the total number that the Earth has.¬† The missing continent — for now — is Antarctica, but I will get there eventually.

Yes, there’s a place to sing in Antarctica. Gallagher’s, a bar located on the scientific research base¬†McMurdo Station,¬†offers weekly karaoke nights.¬† It’s not easy to get there; most tourists who visit Antarctica arrive by sea, and¬†McMurdo is on the opposite side of the Antarctic continent from the place where you would alight if you arrived on a cruise ship from South America.¬† So transportation is a challenge, to say the least.¬† And it’s no easier to find lodging for such an extreme destination. There are no hotels on Antarctica — let alone at McMurdo Station — that you can book through a site like Expedia or Orbitz. Well, to be more accurate, there are no hotels at all.¬† But despite such daunting obstacles, singing on the seventh continent is absolutely a bucket list item for me.¬† I will find a way to make it happen.

I sing karaoke under the stage name “H-Bomb.”¬† I’ve been performing under that nom de guerre since the fall of 1992.¬† Back then — in the mists of time, when the United States was the only country in which I had ever done karaoke — I was a first-year law student at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.¬† On Thursday nights I would sometimes go out for karaoke at an establishment called the Jennifer Street pub, in the Dupont Circle neighborhood where I was living.¬† My actual name is Harvey, and so naturally I would write that name on the song slips that I handed to the KJ.¬† On one such Thursday evening, the KJ didn’t care for my singing.¬† Each time that it was my turn to sing, when he would call me up to the stage, instead of calling me by the name I’d written down, he would summon me as “H-Bomb.”¬† He meant it as an insult.¬† But I immediately saw the possibilities of becoming a weapon of mass destruction.¬† Despite the origins of the sobriquet, I readily embraced it, and I’ve been singing as the H-Bomb ever since.¬† My identity as the H-Bomb has permeated my life; my handles on internet message boards usually begin with those letters, and even at work, it is not unusual for colleagues to refer to me as the H-Bomb.

I said that I’ve been singing as the H-Bomb since 1992.¬† And that is mostly true.¬† But there is one exception:¬† In 2008, when I visited Japan, I thought that to sing under the name of an atomic bomb might not show sufficient respect for cultural sensitivities.¬† : )¬† So, at those Tokyo karaoke bars, I sang as “Godzilla” instead.

My next scheduled international trip will take me to Lisbon, Portugal for New Year’s weekend 2012.¬† I also¬†am scheduled to¬†travel to Egypt in February 2012¬†for a cruise on the Nile (I was originally supposed to go¬†to Egypt¬†in February 2011, but as you probably know, a revolution erupted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in the early part of that month.¬† Egypt’s version of the Arab Spring resulted in the cancellation of my tour, and I went to Morocco instead, while rebooking the Nile cruise for one year later.¬† As my delayed Egyptian vacation approaches, the political situation in Egypt continues to be unstable, and I am monitoring it closely).¬†I hope to fit in some singing during both of those upcoming excursions.¬†¬†As¬†I add additional locations to my World Karaoke Tour, I will post updates on this site — with photographs and videos!

And the updates will not only be about my singing.¬† My karaoke wanderlust is about satisfying two of my great passions:¬† karaoke and travel.¬† So when I am on the road, I will blog about the sights that I’m exploring during the daylight hours, as well as the venues where I grab a mic in the evening.

Between trips, I will use this site to report on my karaoke adventures on the home front; and in the beginning¬†while we’re getting caught up, I will reminisce about my international karaoke experiences to date.¬† Much has happened since the magical night in June 1993 when an outing to the Duke of Argyll pub in London made the United Kingdom the first foreign country on my World Karaoke Tour. : )¬†¬†I will also¬†blog about my general thoughts on all things karaoke.

I envision this blog being interactive.¬†¬†I’m generally very good at finding karaoke spots in my travel destinations — usually well in advance of my departure.¬† But sometimes, especially in non-English-speaking countries,¬†finding a singing venue is quite challenging for me.¬†¬†I look forward to a time when my readers in far-flung locales will advise me — and each other — on where to sing in every corner of the globe.¬† Maybe I’m being unduly optimistic, but that’s the way I roll.

Last week, I visited the Louis Armstrong house in the Corona section of Queens, New York. This unassuming brick edifice (seen in the photo on the left) is the actual home in which the great Satchmo lived with his wife, Lucille, for the final 28 or so years of his life (Lucille was actually his fourth wife, but by all accounts she was the great love of his life). You can see the rooms of the house, preserved as they were several decades ago when Mr. Armstrong was in residence. It was a fascinating tour. So, the tour guide was mentioning how Mr. Armstrong was the first musician who traveled all over the world to perform. That tidbit has provided further inspiration to me as I continue with my own, much more humble musical wanderings. And another thing: the guide claimed that Mr. Armstrong appeared on “every continent.” However, I strongly suspect that he never made it to Antarctica. So if I can make it down there, I have an opportunity to do something that even the legendary Louis Armstrong was unable to achieve. : )

Well, that should suffice for an introduction.¬† Thanks for your visit, and I hope to see you back here soon!¬† And¬†I apologize for kicking things off with one of those cliched “hello, world!” posts.¬† I promise that some exciting new content is coming soon. This is only the beginning!

Happy singing,

H-Bomb

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