Thursday, December 13, 2007

Phone bills can skyrocket overseas

Take steps to avoid exorbitant hidden fees

When traveling, costly and unexpected charges can pile up quickly. (iStockphoto)

By Matthew Lysiak | STAFF WRITER
December 14, 2007
Web designer Dave Stolte got a very expensive shock when he came back from an overseas trip to discover he'd racked up an iPhone bill of $3,000.

"It was a minor heart attack when I saw it," said Stolte. "I was sure it was a mistake, but then I called up customer service and they informed me that the bill was correct."

Stolte said his wallet got raked over the coals by the per-use international roaming data plan, which he feels AT&T was less than forthright about when he called to discuss it on his way to the airport.

"The rep on the phone quoted me $.005 per KB but did not disclose what that would translate to in layman's language," said Stolte. "I'm a Web developer as part of my career and I couldn't even tell you how many KBs the average Web page is, no less a text message to my son, an e-mail with a photo to my mother, or a quick check of Google Maps -- and that's part one of the trap."

After posting about it on a blog his bill was finally relieved, but most people aren't so lucky.

That's because in most cases freebie features like no-roaming charges stop at the border's edge, even if a cell phone is inactive and text messages or online content are received while abroad.

In most cases consumers can be charged exorbitant amounts of money no matter how high the billΩ unless a few guidelines are strictly followed.

"If you are in a foreign country and have brought your cell phone but do not plan on using it very often and do not anticipate receiving phone calls of importance, be sure to turn off your phone," said Alan Timmons, a spokesman for the Telecommunications Action Center, a consumer watchdog group.

"Another option is to rent a phone upon arrival in your destination country which may be much cheaper than the cost of using your cell phone on a foreign network," Timmons said.

There is also another piece of advice consumers should take to heart.

"I learned one thing out of all this, ask a hell of a lot more questions," Stolte said

The Puritans get a lap dance

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Lets face it: Bay Ridge has long had a reputation for being an uptight, prudish community, but all that is about to change.

That’s because four women were kind enough to help local straphangers pass the time by doing erotic pole exercises complete with lap dances, and lots of flesh — and it was all caught on video.

But it wasn’t just for fun. The clip, titled “Sexy Pole Dance Girls in NYC Subway,” started getting noticed after it was submitted to, a Web site that bills itself as “Jackass” meets MySpace, and offers cash prizes for contestants who perform dares on camera. The perpetrator(s) of the craziest stunt can win $10,000.

The footage on the Web site (also available on YouTube) shows four scantily women, straddling various subway poles and grinding up against several guys who look like they are enjoying the ride (the subway ride — get your mind out of the gutter!).

Mouths drop to the ground as the girls show off their moves before a packed car of stunned commuters — including small children. At one point in the video, NYU theater student Marissa Lupp, 20, even performs a lap dance that would make the strippers at Scores blush.

The ladies — who call themselves the “Pole-ite Girls” — say they got their warmest reaction right under the streets of conservative Bay Ridge.

“The R-train got held up in Brooklyn so we were on it a long time and we were surprised that the passengers were so friendly and kind,” said Lupp, 20, who along with Isis, Jessica Wu, and Laura Lee Anderson hatched the scheme for the two-hour ride last March. “Everyone was so engaged, they were cheering us on and giving us lots of encouragement.”

Our community is known for many things — but wild and crazy times it is not.

After all, Bay Ridge is the place where a poster for the Showtime series, “The L Word,” which featured snuggled-up lesbians, elicited mass protests from state Sen. Marty Golden.

Of course, it wasn’t just Bay Ridge that got treated to a free show — straphangers on the N, Q, and L lines also got their two bucks’ worth, and it is hard to say exactly how many commuters were actually local residents.

But no matter how many of them were real Ridgites, it was evident that the pole girls certainly had their share of local fans — the end of the clip shows the entire car of commuters applauding, with one woman even dropping some cash in a hat.

“We missed our stop about six stops ago,” one smiling man told the camera. “We stayed on for the show.”

But don’t look for this to become a trend — Bay Ridge isn’t about to become one big strip club anytime soon. It is, after all, still Bay Ridge.

“These girls aren’t performing artists,” one woman who saw the video said. “These girls are a bunch of damn whores!”

OK, maybe the community isn’t in for a big change, but that doesn’t take away the fact that for at least one brief moment in time Bay Ridge and risqué went hand in hand, or at least lap in lap.

Matthew Lysiak is a freelance writer who lives in Bay Ridge.

The Kitchen Sink
On Sunday morning, pedestrians walking in front of Paneantico, which is located on 9124 Third Ave., were greeted by a severed pig head glaring down from a top of a telephone booth. …

Someone must have slept in on Tuesday morning: workers at the Rite Aid on Third Avenue and 79th Street were having a breakfast picnic on the sidewalk as they waited for almost an hour for their tardy manager to show up. … Blogger Right in Bay Ridge may call it “the typographical topography of Bay Ridge,” but The Sink just calls it plain stupid. Whatever it is, “Joy Perfumes and Styels,” which is located at 410 86th St., needs some help with the spelling on that big red sign of theirs. …

Congrats to Susan Romero, who was just appointed to Community Board 10 by Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge). …

Spotted, by a reliable Sink source, CB10’s land-use committee Chairwoman Joanne Seminara tasting a free sample of chips and salsa at Fairway supermarket in Red Hook — and double-dipping in the communal salsa! …

Congratulations to the Xaverian High School Choir that traveled to Washington DC to sing for President Bush. We hear that “W” was, in fact, a no-show, but the only president that matters to The Sink — Borough President Markowitz — was there a few days earlier to pin the boys with his famous “Brooklyn” lapel tags (see photo below).

Warmer winter riling up raccoons


Thursday, December 13th 2007, 4:00 AM

Brooklyn residents have been dealing with an unexpected side effect of the recent climate change - raccoons.

Sightings of raccoons are way up in Brooklyn at a time when they should be down, and some are blaming the strange behavior on warm winters.

Whatever the cause, residents have had enough of the masked menaces.

"I deal with these raccoons all summer, but they are usually far less trouble this time of year," said hairstylist Chad Nardine, 28, of Bay Ridge who has had the critters hiss at him when he takes out his garbage.

"This is kind of crazy. I mean, we are in December and these crazy creatures are running around like it is July."

One inconvenient truth may be that warmer-than-usual winters are throwing raccoons out of kilter, causing confusion in their biological sleep clocks, which are set by the timing of the cold weather.

"Seasons are lasting longer and unusual things are happening," said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation spokesperson Laurie O'Connell. "It is safe to say that mild winters are one of the reasons they are still out and about."

The strange abundance of December raccoons are even leaving tracks across the blogosphere as the garbage eaters appear in a broad belt stretching from Cobble Hill to Prospect Park and down to Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights.

"I saw a raccoon running across the street ... on Marine Ave.," posted a blogger on "Went to take out the garbage yesterday and I have a raccoon lying in my garbage pail in my backyard and it scared the heck out of me."

Last spring, the raccoon problem got so bad that Councilman Vince Gentile (D-Bay Ridge) began handing out supplies of Critter Ridder, a humane raccoon repellant - but demand quickly exceeded supply .

"It's something that a lot of people are still dealing with, and the city isn't offering us any help," said Gentile. "It looks like now we might have to keep a supply of Critter Ridder into fall and early winter."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hotel Le Bleu: New luxury hotel features a gritty Park Slope view!


Tuesday, December 11th 2007, 4:00 AM

Adams IV for News

The eight-story upscale LeBleu Hotel is located on Fourth Ave.'s industrial - but up-and-coming - strip.

Rooms renting for up to $369 a night feature plasma television, a Bose stereo system and complimentary flaxseed body lotion.
This hotel has all the accommodations: 42-inch plasma televisions, Bose stereo systems, complimentary flaxseed body lotions - and a Jiffy Lube right next door.

Its Hotel Le Bleu, Park Slope's lap of luxury right in the heart of Fourth Ave.'s industrial strip, jammed between a taxi company and a car repair service.

The elegant eight-story Brooklyn hotel features 48 rooms ranging in price from $329-$369, with the higher price offering a view of the lower Manhattan skyline - and a nearby Hertz Rent a Truck depot.

But the upscale hotel in an area sooner associated with prostitution than fine living has raised more than a few eyebrows since it opened its doors last month.

"It's crazy to see this kind of hotel popping up in the middle of this area," said Joseph Panaro, a dog walker who regularly traverses the strip. "It took me by complete surprise. It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense."

Most residents were surprised, but they're quick to agree that this isn't your father's Fourth Ave. - especially since the trendiness of Seventh Ave. has crept down to Fifth Ave. in recent years and seems to be unstoppable.

"We thought it was weird at first, but this area is changing," said Susan Cee, 46, who works at Staples on the next block.

"Look around. This is not an industrial area anymore," said Steve Winson, who works at Taxis Needed, next to the new hotel. "We are up and coming."

Hotel owner Joe Tonacchio said people laughed at his idea to build a hotel surrounded by noisy construction and a Jiffy Lube - but he could end up with the last laugh.

"Mark my words, within five years Fourth Ave. will be the next Park Ave.," Tonacchio said.

That's because the industrial buildings and smokestacks that formerly marked the strip are giving way to condos as the historically gritty stretch is in the midst of a face-lift to accommodate the growing demand for housing overflowing from Manhattan.

Tonacchio, who also owns a condominium directly across from the hotel, says get used to it.

"Parts of Fourth Ave. are still industrial, but in the next year or two, 3,000 apartments will be nearby," Tonacchio said.

"Most of these people don't have enough room to house guests from out of town."

Of course, there also will be the Manhattan business class looking for a slice of Brooklyn.

"It's different, but I like it," said first-time Le Bleu guest Joel Billings, who was on a business trip from South Carolina. "It is kind of eclectic and it is cheaper than Manhattan. I have to say we are satisfied."

Subway pole dancers enrage MTA


Monday, December 10th 2007, 4:00 AM

Giancarli for News

Talk about a steam train! 'Pole-ite girls' Marissa Lupp (l.), Laura Lee Anderson and Jessica Wu (kneeling) are burning up Web with subway strip show video.

Video still from girls dancing on train on a dare.

Video still from girls dancing on train on a dare.
The N train may need to be changed to the NC-17 and the L could be dubbed the lap dance express.

That's because commuters on the lines got their two bucks worth - and then some - when four leggy New Yorkers set out to turn the subway cars into strip-club Champagne lounges.

On a dare from a Web site promising $10,000 for the best pole dancing in public, the quartet took a ride on the wild side and their winning video has become a rage on the Internet.

"It was literally get on the train and go," said Laura Lee Anderson, 24, of Queens, one of the vivacious vixens videotaped performing Scores-type moves on a Manhattan-bound N train.

Gal pals Jessica Wu, Marissa Lupp and Isis Masoud joined Anderson for the hip-grinding stunt that had male riders ogling and skipping their stops, females smirking - and the MTA fuming.

"The last thing we want is for anyone to turn our subways into roving burlesque stages for crude exhibitionists," said NYC Transit spokesman Paul Fleuranges.

"While the rules don't specifically state lap or pole dancing ... what is depicted here is disorderly conduct," Fleuranges added.

The N train divas had no regrets and saw their cleavage-baring act as a golden opportunity.

"Strip dancing in public can be a little nerve racking, but we were all broke and in between jobs and it seemed like a good way to make some cash," said Masoud, an aspiring actress and choreographer.

Armed with a boom-box blasting Prince's "Erotic City" and bolstered by shots of vodka, the self-described "Pole-ite" foursome stood clear of the closing doors March 1, stripped off their coats and got jiggy with metal aisle poles.

Dressed in a skimpy mini dress and leotard, Lupp, 20, a New York University theater student, gave new meaning to the word straphanger.
Dangling from overhead handrails, she lowered herself on a male rider, who eagerly accepted a lap dance.

Dangling from overhead handrails, she lowered herself on a male rider, who eagerly accepted a lap dance.
In a midriff-revealing blouse and short plaid skirt, Wu, 25, of Queens, punctuated her acrobatics with a leg split. "Don't tell my mom," the NYU grad said.

Filmed with a Sony Handycam and edited by Masoud, the women submitted their video to and collected the grand prize.

When it was downloaded on YouTube, the four-minute clip - titled "Sexy Pole Dance Girls in NYC Subway" - became a four-star hit, attracting more than 61,000 views.

"They won because sex in a public place always sells," said Darren Niermerow, 29, co-founder of the Web site.

But Lupp's parents said they never dreamed their daughter's celebrity would hinge on her subway pole dexterity.

"We're traditional conservative people and I was a little chagrined when I saw her do a lap dance on that guy," said Marshall Lupp from his Essexville, Mich., home.

With Pete Donohue and Clare Trapasso

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