Archive | May 2016

Half-assed soccer hooligans unite! Why New Yorkers should support NYCFC

It’s an encouraging sign for soccer in America that we are starting to have riots outside of games. This past weekend supporters of NYCFC and the Red Bulls clashed outside Yankee Stadium before a game. It was incredibly tame stuff by soccer hooligan standards; we are still behind Europe in both soccer skills and organized gang violence among soccer supporters. But it’s a start.

I have not been to a professional soccer game in my life and I could not name a single player on NYCFC. But I believe that you have to take sides and stick with your team loyalty. There is no room in this world for weakness and indecision. I chose to support NYCFC as my local soccer team and here’s why.

Reasons New Yorkers should support NYCFC as your New York soccer team:

NYCFC plays in New York City. NYCFC plays at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx. Their rival “New York” teams the Red Bulls play at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and the Cosmos play outside the city also at James M. Shuart Stadium on the Hofstra University campus in Uniondale, Long Island.

NYCFC is not named after a shitty energy drink or failed team of the past. I’ll admit NYCFC is not a very original name for a soccer team. It simply stands for New York City Football Club. But the Red Bulls are named for a shitty energy drink after initially being called the MetroStars. And while the Cosmos at least have some history in New York prior to their revival in 2010, it is as a failed attempt in the 1970s and 1980s to get Americans interested in soccer.

Getting on the ground floor of fandom. New York City FC started just last year. It’s early enough in this team’s history to get in on the ground floor and be able to tell your grandchildren you were there from the beginning.

Better aesthetics. A team should have a logo and colors you are proud to wear, especially if the team doesn’t do so well. NYCFC has a better color scheme and logo than its rivals. That their team is named for an energy drink makes Red Bulls fans pathetic enough. The New York Cosmos are trying to relive the 1970s, which is good in some respects maybe but not when it comes to sports jerseys and logos. The Cosmos designs should have gone the way of the line green leisure suit.

They can only get better. NYCFC lost to the Red Bulls 7-0, which is a humiliating defeat in a traditionally low-scoring game such as soccer. So the team can only get better. And for Yankee fans, we finally get to experience what it’s like to have the camaraderie of the underdog. I no longer have to think about the Jets to experience that. NYCFC has yet to experience any glory days. Our best days, and even our mediocre days, are still ahead of us.

So I urge my fellow New Yorkers to support NYCFC. It is at its beginning and will eventually achieve greatness.

Popping Up Near You

This past week I managed to catch up with a friend of mine, who is a former coworker and neighbor. In true New York City fashion, we lived in buildings next door to each other and worked in the same office for nearly a year before we realized we were neighbors.

We met in Hell’s Kitchen at a pop-up restaurant. It was a pop-up called Pop Up Ramen that was being hosted by BQ Ramen in a restaurant called Co Ba 53 on 53rd Street near 9th Ave. The BQ of BQ Ramen in this context means homemade, authentic Japanese food—I had no idea and assumed it was some kind of fusion place that mixed barbecue with Ramen noodles. I was completely prepared to see a pig roasting on a spit. There was no Southern style barbecue there but I was not disappointed. The food was great.

It was my first pop-up restaurant experience, at least that I’m aware of. I may not notice these things. At first glance the pop-up trend could be viewed as a silly fad and you most often hear about it in the context of very trendy things that life on hype and excel and taking money quickly from ignorant hipsters and tourists. But pop-ups can serve a real purpose.

My friend knows the husband and wife team who were running this specific pop-up and theirs is a great New York story. They each arrived in New York from Japan during the city’s crime-ridden years of the yearly 1990s with little money and almost no proficiency in English and they each became successful in their respective fields.

This pop-up is a way for them to generate interest in their business. To open a restaurant in New York is extremely expensive and risky. The costs of renting or buying real estate on top of investing in equipment and staff means hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential debt, and the restaurant business is extremely competitive. Other kinds of stores face similar odds and large costs. A temporary restaurant or store can prove a business model to potential investors while establishing a customer base. Pop-ups themselves are a good way to let good ideas thrive and bad ideas fail before anyone has lost too much money on it.

The dinner at Pop-Up Ramen was outstanding and it was delicious food with conversation that veered from city living to religion and politics and back again to city life. I regret I couldn’t stay longer but I had a long journey home. If there is another Pop-Up Ramen or BQ Ramen restaurant established I will be sure to go there.

Hell’s Kitchen is a vibrant place and while it has a great nightlife and restaurant scene, it’s avoided the kinds of obnoxious crowds that now over populate the city’s more trendy neighborhoods of Williamsburg and the Lower East Side. It was a weeknight and the spring air brought people outside and the neighborhood has still kept some of the grit that made it interesting even though it’s suffered some of the same gentrification and commodification that’s affected the entire city.

I made my way through the Hell’s Kitchen night with a promise to return.

Exploring the Abandoned Rockaway Line

Because New York City is constantly being remade and revised, pieces of the city’s past can often linger around and become subsumed into the present, sometimes barely noticeable. These totems of city history are treasures often right in front of our faces.

Such is the case with the abandoned track of the Long Island Railroad’s Rockaway Line, which has been a tempting forbidden zone to Queens residents since the early 1960s when this part of the LIRR stopped operating.

Years ago, when I lived on 101st Avenue only a few blocks from the abandoned Ozone Park station, I would walk by the abandoned tracks, which are elevated for much of its stretch through Queens. The city rents out the space beneath the tracks to some businesses along the way. And one auto parts business near Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue welded a large spider sculpture together from used auto parts and suspended this from one of the trestles over the track. It has since fallen down. While I was living in Ozone Park, a motorcycle club rented out one of these spaces beneath the tracks, and would have parties in their clubhouse there.

The success of the High Line in Manhattan has encouraged communities in Queens to push to make a three and a half mile stretch of this abandoned LIRR line into a similar park. The QueensWay is a plan to turn the abandoned line into a “family-friendly linear park and cultural greenway.” Others would like to revive the tracks so they can be used for public transportation again. This plan would meet a lot of resistance from people who now live near the existing track, and face an uphill battle for funding. The prospect of a 20-minute commute to midtown is enticing and New York’s transportation system is in such a shambles that any stretch of track should be welcomed with open arms. Maybe some long-term compromise can be reached, whereas much of the railroad is revived and used for transportation again but some segments are made into a park.

But I have long wanted to walk along some of this abandoned track and this weekend I got my wish in Forest Park. Not far from Woodhaven Boulevard, there is a paved road that looks like a regular street but is closed off to regular traffic. This road traverses an overpass that runs over a segment of abandoned track. With a two-year-old girl in a carrying pack on my back, I walked down a steep drainage gutter that runs along the overpass.

There were some N.Y.U. students there filming what they described as an experimental film, and they looked more nervous about filming on off-limits abandoned property without a permit than about the critical success of their film. They had camera equipment and enough food and beverages there to be a proper film crew. I discreetly made my way around them and started walking on some of the abandoned track.

The tracks are overgrown and the rails are rusted. Trees both grow out of and in some cases lay across the tracks. There is a lot of graffiti on the concrete surrounding the tracks and even some on the trees. Rusted wire towers stood sentry along the line; some of them have topped over. The lush greenery is also dotted with signs of the tracks being a party place. There are empty beer cans, and sadly, traces of a poorly-tended campfire.

A second overpass is more remote to pedestrians and has more elaborate graffiti. A collection of discarded spray paint can tops sit together among the leaves and other detritus.

It feels like stepping into part of history, even poorly preserved history from 50 years ago feels significant. It is a feeling of pleasant quiet and secret entre among the bustle and grind of our five boroughs.

Someday the Rockaway Line will be busy again, either with park-goers, tourists, or even trains. Take some time to explore it before this piece of overgrown history goes away.

Judge the livability of your city using the White Castle Index

At a proud moment last year, I won the Literary Open Mic competition hosted by my comrade-in-arts and Renaissance man Filthy Phill Lentz at The Cobra Club. I decided to celebrate my victory with a late-night snack before heading home. I drove to where my navigation system indicated was the nearest White Castle, only to find a construction site in its place.

It is at least the second White Castle to be purged from the popular and overrated borough of Brooklyn. The much-valued Castle in Williamsburg on the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and Humboldt Street was closed nearly two years ago to make way for more overpriced apartments.

Before I got married, I made sure my bachelor party ended with a visit to White Castle to cap off an evening of Yankees baseball, strippers and punk rock. When my band plays shows near a White Castle we are sure to stop by for some sliders on the way home.

I wouldn’t advocate eating junk food regularly, and I limit my White Castle visits to special occasions and balance with attempts at a healthy diet and regular exercise. But after a night of victorious effort, whether that be in producing great art, achieving a career or personal victory, or otherwise exerting yourself above and beyond the call, it is suitable to indulge with some excellent excess, and you should be able to safely do that in multiple locations around any major American city.

New York City has fallen behind in its White Castle Index, meaning that low-cost good food at all hours is increasingly unavailable. Williamsburg was once a haven for artists; it’s now home to the $150 doughnut. Williamsburg managed to strike it rich and still slide into the sewer.

I prefer White Castle, and I’d be happy to expound on its excellence both culturally and calorically, but there are other options that are similarly convenient and meaningful. Regionally there are many differences and the White Castle chain does not ready many parts of the U.S. But every region should have its own version of White Castle. Waffle House often fits the bill in many parts of the country. It is open 24 hours a day and has plentiful offerings of quickly made indulgent food at a relatively low cost (it might be useful to call this the Waffle House Index in the Southern U.S. I don’t know any Waffle House restaurants north of Pennsylvania). And diners are a great American institution that are being priced out of existence as well.

Everyone should be able to have an all-night restaurant that they can go to relax among their own kind (leaving it up to each person who counts as “their own kind.”)

If the all-night party isn’t available at an affordable cost, then something is wrong, and we are getting to the point in New York City where only the extravagantly wealthy can afford to live life to the fullest. That leads to a decline in the character and long-term viability of the city. Without strong, vibrant, working and middle classes, the cultural and physical rot of its society becomes evident very quickly.

The world’s best artists do not emerge from the pampered class that looks down their noses at the common people. The arbiters of taste and culture should not be people who’ve never waited tables, washed dishes, or dug a ditch. With fewer and fewer working Americans able to find a rewarding life in our urban centers, cities will cease to be engines of creativity and genius.

As goes the working class, so goes our city. Luckily, there are still numerous White Castles to be found in the outer boroughs. I’ll see you at one.

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