Archive | April 2015

Down on the Farm, in New York City

No city is as emblematic of the urban life as New York City, so it may be a surprise to find that there are several farms operating in the city. There’s a working farm in Queens, the city’s largest borough.

The Queens County Farm Museum is a real working farm located in the Glen Oaks neighborhood of Queens.

The farm dates all the way back to the late 1600s and is the longest continually farmed site in New York State. It started as a farm during the days of the Dutch settlers. For many years it survived because it was run by patients of Creedmoor State Hospital, a mental hospital. Creedmoor is still in use today even though some of its buildings are abandoned. It’s fitting that farming survived in this area of Queens because of inmates from an insane asylum.

The Queens County Farm Museum is open to the public and while it is largely used for educational purposes, it is still a legitimate farm. You can buy fresh eggs laid by their chickens and eat vegetables grown there. When you go to visit you’ll see workers moving wheelbarrows of dirt and feeding animals.

The farm is visited by school groups and has lots of activities for students and volunteers. You can take classes there on a variety of topics. You can also rent space for parties. In the autumn, the farm grows an elaborate corn maze and the public is challenged to work their way through it with a map. My wife and I entered the maze a few years ago and it was not easy to find your way out.

This past weekend, they held a carnival there and the wife and I took our 15-month-old girls there to meet up with the in-laws and enjoy the nice weather. They got to pet rabbits, feed goats and sheep, ride ponies and take a hay ride. The girls got free balloons from the Glen Oakes Volunteer Ambulance Corps. We were able to take the girls up on a large tractor and got to see a great magic show by Cordone.

The five boroughs used to be covered in farms. New York City at one point did not extend far beyond the downtown area. Where City Hall is now was considered the remote outskirts of town (when they renovated City Hall Park in the late 1990s, workers unearthed graves from a poor house that used to be there).

In addition to the Queens County Farm Museum, there are urban farmers growing vegetables and raising chickens on small plots of land throughout the city. Staten Island has several working farms, though not open to the public. And there are people trying to preach the gospel of organic food by carving gardens out of abandoned lots and any scrap of space they can find.

The city currently doesn’t have enough arable land to make a dent in the agricultural markets, but it’s nice to know that people who live in this hothouse of a metropolis can get a taste of the farming life without leaving the city.

How to Do Spring in New York

Even though the first day of spring was officially several weeks ago, we are only now beginning to get real spring-like weather in New York. That’s fine by me. I hate the heat and like to keep as much distance between myself and summer as possible.

Spring is a great season to be in New York. The blanket of cold is lifted and the blanket of overheated humidity has yet to descend. The hum of outdoor social life returns and the parks become alive again.

I know that summer is coming and that it will be several months of sweltering misery, so let’s enjoy the spring while we have it here. Here are some ideas of how you can best enjoy the springtime in New York City:

Go to Coney Island before it gets crowded. Coney Island is a fun place to go and enjoy the amusements and atmosphere. It gets choked with people during the official summer season (though if you walk far enough along the boardwalk you can find your way away from the worst of the crowds. Ride the Cyclone, visit the freak show at the Coney Island Circus Side Show and visit its freak museum. Get a hot dog at the original Nathan’s. There’s even the New York Aquarium there.

Go bird watching in Inwood Hill Park. Inwood in northern Manhattan is one of the city’s great treasures of a neighborhood and central to that is Inwood Hill Park. Where else in Manhattan can you see eagles and hawks and get lost in the woods? Bird watchers get to see a lot of interesting birds in the park, and not just eagles and hawks. Eagles were hatched in the park years ago to increase their likelihood of returning as adults. Hawks are long-time residents of Inwood (and other city spots). So go and enjoy watching nature’s predation at its most beautiful.

Visit a botanical garden. The city’s largest botanical garden is in the Bronx near the Bronx Zoo, but did you know that Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island all have their own botanical gardens also? Lots of abundant park land and plant life abound at the botanical gardens, plus they often have special exhibits.

Take a historic walking tour. No matter what your interests are, there is history in New York for you. Interested in learning about the American Revolution, gangsters, labor strikes, punk rock? There’s a walking tour for you. When you can walk past something and tell someone something interesting about it, that’s makes you a better traveling companion. You might learn something interesting and historic about spots you walk by every day.

Enjoy some free outdoor theater. There is free Shakespeare in many public parks throughout the city and it’s a shame not to take advantage of that. There is so much good theater, art and creativity to sample for free that you should never jones for your theater fix. The New York Public Theater, New York Classical Theatre and Hip to Hip Theater Company all do a great job bringing free theater to the people of New York.

Being the Sleek Impostor

This past Friday I had a work meeting to go to even though I was officially off from work. I had no one to blame but myself. I set up the meeting and I hadn’t realized that our office was closed that day. But it was an important lunch and it fit everyone’s schedule, so it was less of a hassle to see the thing through.

It was a work lunch at the Algonquin Round Table Restaurant, site of the famous Algonquin Round Table group that rose to prominence in the 1920s around a nucleus of writers and editors that included Dorothy Parker, Alexander Wolcott, The New Yorker editor Harold Ross and others.

If the event went well it was all good and fine but if it didn’t go well it was trouble at work for me. I put on a suit and tie and rode the subway into Manhattan with nervous apprehension.

I was early in getting to Grand Central Terminal on the 7 train. Whenever I’m at Grand Central Terminal I rarely need to go through the large central hall but I can’t resist doing it. Even when it is crowded with travelers and teeming with tourists, it’s a crime to be so close to such a beautiful room and not go in it. So I walked into the room and took up a spot along an unused portion of counter at an unused ticket window, where soldiers stood at patrol and tourists stood with cameras or huddled over cluttered luggage.

To look at me in my dapper suit, raincoat and hat, one would think that I had some important financial reports or lucrative financial plans in my carrying case. But since I was due to go to a Blackout Shoppers rehearsal after the lunch, my briefcase contained an instrument cable for a guitar (in my case bass guitar) and a tuner. It also had a notebook for poetry.

I fished out my notebook and scribbled a messy draft of a poem, “Impostor” there in the main hall of Grand Central. I felt like I was some secret poetry agent making some kind of illicit blueprint. My outfit screamed that I was a self-important financial person or lawyer but really I was a scatterbrained poet longing for leisure and rest.

But not to let anyone be the wiser, I quickly concluded my sweet soul arson, packed up and moved along.

I got to the Algonquin Hotel early and found our round table waiting for us. I stood waiting in the lobby of the Algonquin, under the watchful eye of s caricature of Dorothy Parker, and met people for the lunch.

The lunch went very well and I sat through it all politely, in some small way hoping no one caught on that I book-ended my lunch meeting with poetry and punk rock. Then again, I had no way of knowing the secret artistic endeavors of all of my lunch mates. No doubt some of them were heading on to sneak in some good works that will ignite great imaginations and destroy the corrupt worlds of succubae. That’s part of the beauty of living in the world and keeping a professional bearing at all appropriate times: you may be daydreaming about sex with supermodels, time traveling or what would happen if you mated Michael Phelps with an orangutan, but everyone around you is having similarly inventive dreams. Count on it.

When Walt Whitman wrote “I contain multitudes,” in his poem “Song of Myself” he was speaking for all of us in a way. We’re all the impostor in one instance or another, we all have different selves that we find most comforting and most appropriate at different times.

The trick is not to hate any one element of yourself but to embrace them all. Be that guy at the fancy lunch and act like you belong there. Play that ruckus music until you make someone’s ears bleed. Live you live by the spitfire lines of mad, mad poetry, cavort with all manner of hearty souls and don’t look back.

In New York, no one is really any more of an impostor than anyone else.

New York Means Expected Excellence

A recent report from the New York City Comptroller found that New Yorkers work the longest weeks and have the longest average commutes in the U.S. What makes the report so disturbing is that the two top cities with the longest commute times: New York and San Francisco, are cities that have some of the most extensive public transportation infrastructures.

And not only do New Yorkers have long commute times for the many millions who live outside the five boroughs and commute in every day, New York City residents who live and work in the city have long commute times.

I am one of those New York City residents that have a long commute. I live 12 miles from where I work. Google Maps tells me it takes 24 minutes to drive that distance without traffic. It takes me over an hour to get to my office each day even when things are running properly (which is rarely).

New Yorkers tolerate these long commutes (which are getting worse and more expensive at the same time) not because we are suckers for punishment but because New York is worth it.

We expect a certain level of excellence in New York. Things that are acceptable or even considered excellent in other parts of the country just don’t make the cut here. That’s not being snobby or cruel, it’s just the cold hard truth. New York excels at smashing people in the face with cold hard truth at every opportunity.

I definitely notice that borderline New York snobbery creeping up on me in certain circumstances, especially at restaurants when I’m traveling. I’ve been to enough good restaurants in New York that when I go outside the city and stuff just isn’t right I notice right away. I know I wouldn’t have noticed if I had been living elsewhere.

The reputation for New Yorkers as being rude is tired and not entirely true. There are plenty of rude people in the city, absolutely, but what many people take for rudeness is actually just a brusque sense of not having time to waste. As the numbers show, New Yorkers are in a hurry and have less time to dawdle. That’s a testament to people being at the top of their game and playing for keeps.

There are reasons the city is teeming with people, many of whom were born elsewhere. It’s because New York is a symbol of the very top of everything: music, art, culture, dining, literature, you name it. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere—the adage holds as true today as it ever did. Our homeless are even better than other cities if for no other reason than they have to be smart enough to survive the cold weather and that weeds out the extremely feeble-minded.

And, while it certainly is not justified, city residents almost always feel a twinge of schadenfreude when a friend or acquaintance leaves the five boroughs. Just the act of staying and surviving in the city gives you a feeling of accomplishment all on its own, no matter how dreary the circumstances of your life might be. That can be a destructive attitude as well – staying in one place at all costs just to prove a point can be just as harmful as habitually moving all the time. No other city carries that same emotional baggage with it. No one pats themselves on the back for eking out a living in Jacksonville, Florida.

Which is why the public transit system is going to have to change. It has never run well and it has run with minimal competence for decades. This latest report by the New York City Comptroller illustrates in raw numbers the fact that New York’s transit system is operating far below New York standards.

The latest data is proof that New Yorkers are getting the shaft (again) from our own transit system. The silver lining is that New York is too good a city to let this slight go unchanged.

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