A Nice Place to Visit?
We’ve just returned from a 5-day business trip to New York City, place of my birth (sort of). I was born in Jamaica Hospital, which at the time was one 3-story building. Now it is a major medical center with its own Trump Tower. Growing up in Queens (which is like the Bronx but without the glitter) I hated Manhattan for its noise, commotion, traffic and general urban menace. Moreover, to get anywhere else you had to squeeze through its choke points, the bridges and tunnels which were always jammed. Of course “anywhere” included New Jersey (don’t ask). Now there’s a bridge to Staten Island, which in my youth was a big landfill but is now a popular place to live and a way to bypass Manhattan. Technically, I had spent many nights in Manhattan as a resident at Babies Hospital but that’s up at 168th Street, a world away from the action of “downtown”. Those nights were generally miserable, spent in a third-floor non-air-conditioned room across the street from the noisy Audubon Ballroom, later to become notorious as the place where Malcolm X was assassinated. I did enjoy an occasional Broadway show and hockey games at the old Madison Square Garden, but until last week I had never stayed in a hotel in New York’s cultural heart. (True confession: at age 14 and again at 15, I sneaked off to Times Square on New Years Eve with my friend Milton, surviving not only the crush of a million revelers but my first kiss from a very drunk older “lady”. My parents never found out!)
I am now qualified as an expert on New York. (See, the attitude is back already). New Yorkers are, I believe, not so much rude as self-absorbed. They walk quickly and recklessly, faces pinched, shoulders hunched, in a hurry, not enjoying life. The women are often beautiful, especially the ethnically mixed; they tend to have wonderful legs because they walk all day, Plastic surgery is seldom as obvious or prevalent as in Los Angeles. Except for the lawyers and CPA-types, dress codes have gone the way of the Hula Hoop. Manhattanites always talked to themselves; now they talk into their cell phones which makes them even more dangerous because their elbows stick out. White lines on road surfaces, “Don’t Walk” signs, red lights and “No Parking” signs are mere suggestions, to be ignored. A typical street might be four cars wide but five or six vehicles occupy that space at any given moment. Crossing on the green is never a given; just when you’ve dodged gridlocked taxis and cars, a kamikaze bicycle will fly by. In one of my few quiet moments of contemplation, sitting with Gucci in Union Square, I realized that if the $350 “no honking” and $500 anti-gridlock rules could be enforced, our $14 trillion national IOU could be wiped out!
We walked about 35 blocks from our appointment to our hotel. That’s not as impressive as it sounds, since New York blocks are 20 to the mile instead of eight as in most places. But the humidity – oh the humidity – makes any physical exertion like navigating through Jello. Every block has dozens of tiny businesses, restaurants and shops as small as closets; every neighborhood has its distinctive aroma: curry, sauerkraut, whatever. Trees are almost unheard of except in Central Park. Dogs are rare until after working hours. Walking a little one like Gucci would be suicidal during the day. Taxis are no longer lumbering Checkers but have been replaced by Escape hybrids and even an occasional Prius. Buildings occupy almost every available block and soar up so high that sunrise is at 11 and sunset at 2, give or take. But only tourists look up and take pictures. Also, it seemed that only tourists were overweight; most New Yorkers seem athletic and fit, perhaps because they walk so much and the food is so expensive.
My mother-in-law’s mother had an expression: “I wasn’t there yesterday and I won’t be there tomorrow.”