Archive | February 2014

I Can’t Drive 25

tortoiseFor most of my time in New York, I did without a car. After being poor and having cars break down on me at record pace, I was glad to be done with the world of automobiles. I was happy to leave the driving to New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, though the MTA is poorly run and will always find new ways to make you late for important events.

But time has changed the game plan and I am now one of the lucky people in the five boroughs with a vehicle. Being in one of the farther reaches of Queens, parking is not as worrisome as it would be in Manhattan or other more densely populated parts of the city.

I still work in Manhattan and take public transit to and from work every weekday and will use public transit a lot on the weekends if driving and parking will be bothersome. So I have the dual perspective on city life as viewed from both car driver and mass transit commuter. Mayor de Blasio’s plan to lower the standard speed limit in New York City to 25 miles per hour is ill-advised, unfair and counterproductive.

The administration got the idea from a committee that proposed other measures as well, such as more red light cameras that would automatically dole out tickets and more speed bumps. But if you are serious about cutting down on traffic fatalities, getting bad drivers off of the road should be top priority. More aggressive enforcement is part of the new “Vision Zero” plan, but too much is going to hedge on the speed limit reduction. And that is a punishment to the entire city.

Trying to slow down the whole city won’t work. Driving 25 miles per hour is unrealistically slow for most drivers. Soon after announcing his plans for a change, Mayor de Blasio’s motorcade was caught speeding and violating other traffic laws by CBS News.

Real, aggressive enforcement of traffic laws would put the de Blasio administration up against a variety of groups that he would normally not want to upset.

When I was living in Northern Manhattan, I once saw a livery cab drive on the wrong side of the street in front of police in order to make a light and merge into traffic. I have been in cabs with drivers who lacked English proficiency needed for a New York State driver’s license, let alone a livery license. Cracking down on unqualified and dangerous cab drivers would make our roads a lot safer, but the ideas proposed by the Mayor include needlessly punitive things such as putting devices on cabs that would stop the meter if they were speeding. Cab drivers are opposing those new proposals anyway. You might as well get on their bad side with the right proposals for the right reasons.

Really cracking down on people who consistently violate traffic laws would be an improvement, but there is some evidence to suggest this would have a disparate impact on racial minorities. It’s politically easier to punish everyone with a lower speed limit than to target the drivers that are causing havoc on the city streets.

Reducing cyclist deaths would mean really stopping and ticketing the legions of bad cyclists who ride the wrong way down one-way streets and ride on sidewalks. That would put the Mayor at odds with more of his natural political allies.

We see this kind of response on the part of city government all of the time, when making things worse for everyone can also generate results that political leaders can point to and claim credit for, public be damned.

And here’s something else advocates of the plan fail to consider: A 25-mile-per-hour speed limit would also allow the police to stop just about any driver any time for speeding. It would be a city-wide speed trap that would put us on the same page as Podunk counties in rural areas that collect a large chunk of their revenue from unknowing out-of-town motorists.

The only people who would normally drive 25 miles per hour are the obese or elderly driving motorized scooters. No fully functional driver would drive that slowly without there being traffic congestion or inclement weather. Hopefully this proposal will be kicked to the curb.

Street Carnage: Checking our “White Privilege” via Ridiculous Names

White baby of privilege, oh noMy latest piece on Street Carnage tackles the issue of “White Privilege” and figures out that the best way for whites to do their parts is to come up with their own ridiculous names. Seeing as I became a father recently, this is an opportune time for me to join in the cause of issue a giant mea culpa for being white by saddling my children with horrific names. I think I’ll pass.

But of course the one link that I should have included in the article was this gem from the Key & Peele show featuring a black teacher in the white suburbs who finds he is so conditioned to pronouncing ridiculous black names that he finds himself unable to pronounce common white names.

New York Winter Olympic Games

nyc winterThe Winter Olympic Games are taking place in Sochi, Russia at a time when New York (and Atlanta) have more snow. Few would have thought that Russia, known for its cold weather, would be having problems keeping snow on the ground for the winter Olympics. These are strange days.

During the 2010 Olympics I nearly wiped out on the treadmill at the gym while ogling the Danish Women’s Curling Team who were on a nearby television screen. Beyond that I didn’t pay much mind to any Olympics until the Russia vs. U.S.A. game came on this past weekend. It was nice to see a U.S.A. victory of the Russians, though such victories are now without their Cold War benefits.

In New York City, heavy and sustained snowfall with cold temperatures have made the daily grind of life that much more difficult. The New York Times proposed a few new weather-related games. In that same vein, here are five proposed Olympic events specific to New Yorkers during a difficult winter.

Slush Slalom: This season’s snowfall has been heavy and ranks among the city’s worst as far as inches of snow received. What makes this year’s succession of storms so bothersome is that in addition to the quick sequences of snow storms, is that some of them have been accompanied by freezing rain that makes for heavier snow during the day and then ices over at night. It also produces a lot more slush a lot earlier than normal. I like to think I have mastered the nimble ballet of stepping over and around these odious slush puddles. An Olympic event could make use of these New York winter staples by letting competitors race through a slush-filled street like skiers or judging these dances of slush-avoidance as they would a figure skating competition.

Plow Wall Excavation: Snow plows in New York keep the streets clear of snow and generally do a good job. The Sanitation Department definitely does more to keep the business and tourist areas of Manhattan free of snow than it does for the outer boroughs. But wherever they operate, snow plows leave in their wake very heavy, compact walls of snow that are very difficult to shovel. Unfortunate car owners have had to spend significant amounts of time freeing their cars from these cold tombs of dense white. For an Olympic event, have a race where competitors with the same sized shovel have to dig out a car. The first team to free the car and drive it out of the blocked space wins the gold.

Improvised Sledding: There are lots of snow sleds you can buy at a store to ride down a snow-covered hill, but what’s more fun is having to improvise with found objects. Cardboard boxes, plastic fast food trays, garbage-can lids, these are some of the things that would be acceptable in competition. Anyone with a store-bought sled is disqualified. Competitors who could manage to sled acceptably with the more obscure objects would get extra points.

Bus Stop Endurance Wait-athalon: The Metropolitan Transit Authority does a lousy job shoving snow away from bus stops and subway entrances. Subway service is almost always delayed because of bad weather. City bus drivers have to contend with snowy streets and plow-wall blockage of curbs and bus stops. They also tend to run fewer busses and drivers take the liberty of avoiding stops they don’t like and letting passengers wait things out a little longer. Standing at a cold bus stop and waiting and waiting for a late bus is an easy endurance event. The gold medalist is the person who waits the longest for their respective bus without quitting.

Considerate Door Usage: Moving in and out of buildings and small businesses is an art that few have mastered. We need to get in and out quickly and open the door as little as possible to fit yourself through. Temperature gauges could measure how much cold air is let in by the competitors. Like gymnastics, this sport favors smaller competitors.

Boycotting the Irish

St. PatrickNew York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he won’t be attending the St. Patrick’s Day Parade because the parade does not let gay organizations march under their own banners.

The statement made the news, though it was not likely de Blasio’s intention to do so. He mentioned it in response to a question at a news conference he had called to announce the appointment of a deputy mayor. But the press likes controversy over cultural issues a lot more than rudimentary announcements of mayoral appointments, so there you have it.

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade does not outlaw gays. There’s no marshal on Fifth Avenue with a Shamrock Gaydar device pulling alleged homosexuals out of the parade. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is organized by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The AOH is religiously Catholic and since the Catholic Church, like almost every other major religion, considers homosexual acts sinful, it doesn’t want openly gay groups marching under their own banner.

I agree that the Ancient Order of Hibernians should allow gay Irish groups to march in the parade under their own banner, or at least give them the same consideration they would give to any other Irish group. I’m all for gays, lesbians and any and every other designation under the expanding LGBT nomenclature being treated equally under the law and given full respect and dignity.

But the Hibernians have the right to be as ancient as they like in their attitudes and parade policies. The parade even avoids certain city regulations because the parade predates the American Revolution. I would love to divorce Irish culture from Catholicism and put it on a more secular, nationalist bent. But it’s their parade and they can run it as they choose. Likewise, organizers of the gay pride parade can decide they don’t want Irish or Catholic gays marching under their own banner. That’s their right.

De Blasio is being consistent with his refusal to march in the main parade; he didn’t march as a councilman or as Public Advocate for the same reasons. But this consistency is now a problem. He’s not a councilman or the Public Advocate anymore. The job description changes when you are mayor. Mayors represent the entire city and to get drawn into battles over ethnic parades should be beneath them. Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican mayor who was pro-gay rights and first legalized same-sex unions in the city, marched in every St. Patrick’s Day parade as mayor.

I’m also curious as to how consistently political figures who avoid the mainstream St. Patrick’s Day parade are with their insistence on inclusion. There’s a Muslim Day Parade and other overtly religious parades that may also disapprove of gays. If they don’t have an openly gay group among their marchers, are they verboten also?

Taking the activist left position on everything only paints you into a corner. Though to be fair, there was an effort to convince the Mayor to ban city workers from marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in their uniforms and de Blasio didn’t take that left turn to crazyville.

By avoiding the St. Patrick’s Day parade, de Blasio doesn’t stand to change anything but lower his own standing. Lots of New Yorkers, Irish or otherwise, will look at him not as a more liberal-minded manager but as the white David Dinkins, involving himself in a well-tread skirmish in an old and tired battle.

Stop Horsing Around

Heroin_bottleNew York’s attempt to think about stupid stuff for a weekend came to an abrupt halt early on Super Bowl Sunday when word was leaked that Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead of a heroin overdose.

Hoffman was a highly celebrated actor and I had the good fortune to see him on stage several times. His most well-known role was his Oscar-winning performance as Truman Capote in Capote. My personal favorite Hoffman film performances were his turns as the millionaire Lebowski’s assistant in the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski and as the furiously masturbating crank phone caller in Todd Solondz’s Happiness.

Heroin is one of the absolutely dumbest drugs you can take. It is horrifically addictive and even people who have been rid of it for years find themselves drawn back to it, as was apparently the case with Hoffman. I can think of several good people I knew, people I thought were too smart for it, people who were streetwise and experienced and with a lot of talent to offer and good years ahead of them, who have overdosed on smack. It’s one of the most senseless and undignified deaths imaginable. It’s an admission to the world that you were weak, that you let a small envelope of powder determine your fate.

It is immensely frustrating to see people with great talent and success piss away their lives with drugs or alcohol. But they have done so endlessly. The litany of great artistic drunks and drug addicts outnumbers the roster of brilliant teetotalers immeasurably.

One can argue that for big movie stars like Hoffman, arrogance and success drive them to drugs. I disagree. Hoffman likely began his life with drugs when he was little known. Most of the artists who die from drugs and alcohol are not famous people but nameless nobodies without much to their name.

Artists are drawn to substance abuse because they are constantly seeking transcendence. That’s why they are artists; they want to exist outside the humdrum of everyday life. Every creative person, myself included, has a star-gazed idea of themselves that rarely matches reality. Creative people almost always want to be something other than what they are. And for an artist, the worst thing in the world is to look in the mirror and realize that you’re a normal person like everyone else. Drink and drugs can keep that fun-house mirror in front of your face a lot longer than your brain can by itself. That’s the deadly trap of getting drunk or high. It’s a lot easier to sit in a pretty café and drink yourself into oblivion like Hemingway than it is to sit over a keyboard and write a novel like Hemingway.

As one of the world’s legion of frustrated writers, I have spent most of my adult life on the drunk list but became a teetotaler in recent years. I can say with confidence that you can excel at being creative while not indulging in substance abuse. I like to think that if I can quit drinking, anyone can quit anything (and without becoming a religious Alcoholics Anonymous zombie either, but that’s a topic for another time). Even Charles Bukowski, who made his reputation on being a habitual drunk, was able to quit drinking later in life without it damaging his writing output. A biographer quoted him as saying he hardly missed it.

Some people are determined to be junkies or drunks. There’s no excuse for it. Trying to make sense of it will break your heart. It doesn’t degrade the art they leave behind, but the loss of their talent makes their passing much more contemptible.



An Article About Baby Poop

Street Carnage logoI am glad to say that baby feces has its own useless scientific name. Meconium is the waste produced after a baby ingests nothing but amniotic fluid for several weeks or months. I don’t know why it gets its own name. Early baby poop is still poop. Anyway, the good people at Street Carnage published my musings on the subject. You can read the article here.

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