This winter has been a strange one for the Northeast and New York in particular. We’ve been absent the traditional snowstorms that usually blanket our area a few times each season. We had a slushy sleet in November that snarled traffic and quickly dissipated and a few snowfalls that failed to bring much snow volume.
This past Sunday night we had our most commonplace snowstorm yet, and the predictions were serious enough for New York City to cancel its public school classes that following Monday.
That Monday morning, with the full weight of a snowstorm having made its mark on our city, I decided to not have a snow day and went to work. The snowpocalyspe that had been predicted did not come to pass, at least not on the roads in Flushing. They were clear at 5:30 in the morning and I went through my normal routine and got to work in great time.
So many were taking a snow day, it served as extra motivation to make it into the office. I could have likely remained at home and few would have blamed me. The buses and subways were less crowded than they usually are.
Enjoying the relative quiet of the hushed urban snowscape, broken by the crunching of my office-appropriate rain/snow boots on the un-shoveled sidewalks, it was a harder walk to the bus stop through the crusted sludge.
A few years ago, a snowstorm that was raging through the night and into the commuting time of the morning meant that the office where I worked declared a “work from home” day. It was one of the most productive work days I have ever had. I managed to draft an 800-word op-ed that morning on top of all my usual work, and the lack of commuting hell made everyone generally happier.
The greatest snow day I ever had was in an April of my elementary school years, when there was a spring snow storm in the Northeastern U.S. and I got to take the day off from Catholic School. No more stifling white shirt and blue fake tie with the stenciled sEs (Saint Eugene’s School, Yonkers, New York) for the day. I waged war against my own blood kin and neighbors through snowball fights, barricaded into a snow fortress that numbed my hands and feet, and cherished respite in the warm caverns of our two-bedroom apartment.
Making it into work during a snow day is an easy way to prove dedication to your job without doing any extra work. There’s a saying attributed to Woody Allen that 80 percent of success in life is showing up. On a snow day that jumps to 95 percent. It feels good to be one of the few and the brave at the office when things are quiet. In a city as crowded as New York, you take your quieter times whenever you can.
With today’s technology, the central office as we know it is due for an overhaul. With public transportation unfortunately on the decline, people who live only a few miles from their job commute for more than an hour. That hour can be spent more productively at home, and employees will be happier. We can’t say the same for schools.
What I fear now is that a deep freeze coming later this week will create an icy menace on sidewalks and roads, including black ice that can be harder to see and prepare for.
But no matter what shape our school and office lives take, the allure of the snow day will not be completely gone. Whether you take it at home or elsewhere, enjoy the snow day.
I drove to the New York Hall of Science with my children and found the usual driveway to the parking lot barricaded. A woman wearing the uniform of a U.S. Open worker stood there. There was no reason for her to be there. The Hall of Science has no tennis courts.
She quickly waved through a hotel shuttle bus but then blocked our van.
“Do you have a membership here, sir?” she asked me. I informed her that I did.
“Then you’re technically behind this guy,” she motioned to a man with car by the curb. “We’re waiting for spaces to open up. We only have 25 spots today.” I’m not sure who the ‘we’ was in this equation. “You can wait behind this gentleman or you can try street parking.” She offered to hold my place in line if I wanted to try driving around to find street parking first. Knowing the area, I could tell that was a lost cause.
The woman was exceedingly polite, as polite as one can be while telling someone that you’re getting paid to help screw people out of a trip to the science museum so pampered jerks can pay to watch tennis. I told her we would be moving on and drove away, having to explain to my kids that the U.S. Open had just cost us a trip to the science museum.
I sent an inquiry to the Hall of Science asking how this could happen, but have so far received no response. The administration there may not have had a choice and had its hand forced by the city. Last year we discovered the city using public park land as paid parking lots for the tournament.
No New Yorker who comes in contact with the U.S. Open or its fans needs another reason to hate the U.S. open. Sure, it brings in lots of money to the city, but so does selling heroin. At least heroin eventually kills the people stupid enough to use it; U.S. Open fans don’t die off at a fast enough rate.
For 7 train commuters or neighbors of the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, the Open is the most miserable time of the year. The train is filled with tennis fans that are clueless, without any sense of their being among others. Oblivious to the basic courtesies required of city dwellers, the subway is a big joke to them, other passengers who need the train to get home from work are lucky to be witness to their charming afternoon of slumming.
The tennis fans that clog our city are Exhibit A of the decline of Western civilization, the well-heeled and soft-minded excreta of a decadent and depraved society. These obnoxious Eloi offer nothing redeeming beyond commerce, and exude only ignorance and weakness in everything that they do.
Perhaps I am painting the Open and its fans with too broad a brush. I know several people who are great human beings who are true tennis fans and make it a tradition to attend the Open. The tennis center’s centerpiece stadium is named for Arthur Ashe, who set the gold standard for how professional athletes ought to be.
But most of the tennis fans who come to the open are not like the few good eggs that I know. It’s a time of year where rich jerks come to town and the city is more than happy to extend a big middle finger to the working people who actually live here. In short: the U.S. Open represents the antithesis of all that is good about our city and is potent refinement of the worst contemporary society has to offer.
Perhaps the answer is some good old fashion capitalism, such as selling tennis fans tickets to the VIP 7 train cars that don’t exist. I would like to adopt a temperamental Rottweiler so I can name it “Serena Williams” and charge people $100 dollars for a special VIP lounge meet and greet (the VIP lounge will be a cardboard box behind a White Castle—I shall feast like a king).
If the powers that be want to flood our city with the dregs of the pampered class, the rest of us can make a quick buck sheering these sheep. Improvise, adapt, and overcome. Either way, it will be over soon, but not soon enough.
New York is a very walkable city. We have horrible traffic that makes driving regularly in the more densely populated parts of the city nearly impossible and a grossly imperfect but extensive mass transit system that makes owning a car in the city unnecessary.
Walking the streets of Gotham is mostly a joy. But there are also a lot of frustrations in getting about on foot, as not everyone is up on their pedestrian etiquette.
I think we can safely exempt tourists from some of the walking rules, because we need their money to keep the city’s economy afloat and many tourists are from far-away places that don’t have the same customs or don’t have the same walking-friendly infrastructure. Lots of American suburbs, for instance, don’t have sidewalks in their residential area (something that threw me for a loop when I moved from Yonkers to Yorktown Heights).
Here are five essential rules for how to be a pedestrian in New York City:
Keep to the right of the sidewalk or stairs. In most countries people drive to the right. The same applies to pedestrian traffic just as it would automobile traffic. Walk to the right and you don’t have weave around a million people going the opposite direction. It’s a very simple concept and usually works well for motorized traffic.
Stay focused on walking. You may be a master multi-tasker when you are behind your desk at work or in the kitchen of your home. The sidewalks of New York are a different place. Do not look read a book or mobile phone while walking. You don’t look like a deep literary soul when you try to read a book while walking, you look just as stupid as a smart phone zombie but twice as pretentious.
Keep your eyes ahead of you and avoid gawking. There a millions of dazzling sights and no city in the world makes for better people watching than our bustling Gotham. It’s tempting to soak in all that’s around you and give in to the wanderlust and marvel at the vibrant life of our city, but some of us are trying to get to work or catch a bus or subway. If you keep your eyes straight ahead and let the foot traffic ebb and flow around you easily, you’ll get to where you are going with much less of a hassle. The bearded strangers trying to make eye contact with you are likely panhandlers and not the next Walt Whitman.
Remain considerate of others. Walking three abreast is OK in some places, but we have limited sidewalk space and if you are traveling in a group, others are going to be moving quicker and need to move around you. Our sidewalk cut-ins are often limited and not as easily maneuvered by people in wheelchairs and the elderly, so go ahead and step upon the curb like the healthy person you are.
Remember when cars and other vehicles have the right of way. Pedestrians have the right of way, except when they don’t. It’s OK to cross against the light when there are no cars coming, but if there are, stay out of their way. Pedestrians who blindly walk into traffic like they haven’t a care in the world are the ones I prefer to see smooshed.
So please be alert. Everything in New York requires thought and mastery, even walking from place to place. Life is too short to stumble through it cluelessly. If you focus on where you’re going you’ll be a happier person when you get there.
Among the many holiday traditions that we go through are finding the fine balance between indulging in all the requisite holiday traditions with children while not creating a burning hatred of the holidays within yourself.
Considering that I live in one of the largest urban centers of the known universe, I am very much averse to crowds and would rather not go where there is a crush of people. And it’s not that these are New York crowds that makes my hatred of crowds so strong, I’ve found that in places like Atlanta, where the crowds are often suburbanites with not concept of urban life or shared space, people are more likely to get on your nerves and not know how to move or act in a crowded space. New York has more than its share of clueless retards who don’t know how to ride an escalator or even walk down a hallway, but there is at least a baseline population of those that do that can make life here bearable.
So the holidays tend to bring the tourists and other urban amateurs within the five boroughs to see the sights and sounds. We need their tourist dollars to help keep this show afloat, but we can see a lot of beautiful holiday stuff without having to endure the hoard of vapid slow-walkers that make visiting our beautiful city a shit show.
When some of my family wanted to head to Times Square the day after Christmas a few years ago, I thought they were out of their minds. I still went along with them anyway because I didn’t want to miss out on spending some time with family. While I was trying to navigate my way out of the giant M&Ms World store, I vowed to no god that I would avoid crushing holiday crowds at all cost.
I am very lucky and in a rare position as a New York City dweller in that I have regular access to an automobile. Part of that is a function of where in the city I live. I’m in a more suburban part of Eastern Queens. I’m still in the thick of a crowded city, but I’m in an area where driving a car is not the abysmal insanity that it is in Manhattan or parts of Brooklyn. That gives us options to get to places that are off limits to a lot of my family and friends, including people with kids, so take my advice with a grain of salt.
I had a day off of work and we managed to get our brood, along with the help of grandparents, to Hicks Nurseries on Long Island. It has a lot of beautiful holiday stuff there – really nice trees and ornaments that lend dignity and beauty to the holiday. They also have a lot of the schlocky crap you’d expect people from Long Island to love (sorry Long Island friends but it’s true).
Hicks Nurseries on a weekday is a good time, on the weekend it’s a madhouse. It’s a nice madhouse and a nice place to get Christmas stuff, but a madhouse nonetheless – their credit card readers are also ancient and it declined my credit card even though it wasn’t overdrawn or anything.
While I try not to simply phone it in for the holidays, I want to lead by example for the children. If your kids see you going apeshit over Christmas, they’re going to go apeshit over Christmas too. If you act like Santa is maybe no big deal, then your kids won’t ask to stand in line for an hour to meet a man in a Santa suit. So when I saw people lining up an hour ahead of time to meet “Santa” at Hicks, I knew I didn’t want to linger. We did buy a tree though despite their credit card malfeasance.
For a good Santa with little to no waiting, head to Old Westbury Gardens. It’s a worthwhile place to visit any time of the year. It’s the former estate of wealthy attorney and industrial heir John Shaffer Phipps that is now open to the public and well preserved. There are interesting events there all year round. We brought our kids there for an arts & crafts event and discovered that they have a Santa Claus there on the weekends. There was no waiting. It was free (with admission to the grounds) and the Santa was friendly. Our girls did not want to sit on Santa’s lap and even expressed some skepticism afterwards (“Santa didn’t say ‘Ho, ho ho,’” one of our girls observed).
I’m very much looking forward to the holidays this year, and not just because I’m going to be getting some nice gifts and eat delicious food, but because I’m going to be spending more time with family, including my smart and tough daughters. Our family has had a lot of down moments this year, with death and illnesses putting a damper on everything. But getting to take time away from the busy workday and put in time with family, where it counts, is something to be joyous about, even in the most jaded of times.
My wife’s cousin Erin ran the New York City Marathon and several of us planned to go meet her along the route. Erin had arranged things so that friends and family would meet her at several points along the 26.2 mile run. We were scheduled to meet her about halfway through the run in Long Island City, Queens.
Taking two toddlers onto the 7 train is one of the most torturous mass transit experiences you can have. We gave them munchkins from Dunkin’ Donuts and that sated their hunger but made them thirsty. We had no water for them, only giant coffee drinks that they couldn’t have. They cried and tried to wrestle free. Where on the 7 train they intended to go we had no idea, but they cried and screamed to be free of us.
Time slows down when you are the couple who brought crying children on the subway, but we eventually reached the Vernon-Jackson stop on the 7 train in Long Island City. Not wanting to take a double stroller onto subway, we brought backpack baby holders to carry them around in, but we had to hustle off the train to have space on the platform to wrestle the girls into those. We emerged from the subway stop into the cool November air. The weather was perfect for the race, and the marathon was close by and well under way.
The New York City Marathon is a somewhat of a crazy carnival. People show up with funny signs and runners often jog by in odd costumes. People show up to push their own causes: people handed out pamphlets for Bernard Sanders and solicited donations; the Jewish group Chabad had a space set up with a PA and hospitality to cheer on the runners.
There were a plethora of inspirational signs: ‘You CAN even!’ and ‘Run like the METS Depend on it’ were two of the more clever ones on display in Long Island City. A few held up signs that read, ‘Welcome to Queens!’ A few groups had enlarged photos of their friends and loved ones in the marathon. A couple near where we were standing had two large neon-colored Ls, their daughter’s initials. She gave them big hugs and was moved by their presence.
The runners reflect the city’s diverse patchwork of oddities as well. There were lots of runners dressed in the spirit of Halloween. I saw one competitor wearing a sheep suit and many more dressed superheroes such as Superman or Iron Man.
The runners are also an inspiration and represent all that is good about New York. They showcase the perseverance of the human spirit. There were runners that looked like they had to be in their 60s or 70s, including one elderly runner hobbling along with forearm crutches. One marathon runner was blind and was being helped along by some guides.
Lots of runners had their names on their jerseys and it was easy to root for them by name. More still had ear buds in their ears and were listening to music and so shouting encouragement to them was in vain. I decided I would shout, “Vive La France!” at French runners. They seemed to appreciate my support.
After tracking her via smart phones, our family group saw my wife’s cousin Erin as she approached us. She was in great spirits and chatted with us for a bit while waiting for her running partner. She munched in a snack, gave us hugs, and was off again. She finished the race in good time.
Here’s to all the marathon runners and everyone hitting the pavement and chasing your dreams.
Topless women in Times Square have their bodies painted to retain a bit of modesty and offer to let tourists take their photos with them for money. That can cause a lot of problems as the opportunity to see a topless woman for free is quite alluring (strip clubs are quite costly and a Dad can’t gracefully lead his family to have lunch in one).
But the idea that’s been circulated by the mayor is to actually demolish the Times Square pedestrian plaza, and this idea is lunacy.
As a rule, topless women should be encouraged. Sure, they attract a lot of idiots and earn the disapproval of prudes, but that can be managed. The Naked Cowboy became a Times Square attraction and was quickly copied by more than one Naked Cowgirl. The painted women are not much more revealing than those performers.
There’s definitely a need to regulate the crowds and keep a sane amount of these kinds of solicitation performers to a minimum. When every unemployed landscaper and his brother decided they could rake in cash by being Elmo, chaos ensued. Police put limits on costumed characters. If they have to do something similar with the topless women, so be it.
But don’t do away with the pedestrian plaza. That would be incredibly stupid. The solutions to the overabundance of performers is to put limits on them like has already been done with the people wearing large costumes. A permit-based system is used by the MTA in the subways to make sure there aren’t too many subway musicians making too much noise.
Closing the pedestrian plaza in Times Square would be an admission that the city is one of decay and hopelessness again. I remember when the city was like that and while we may want to romanticize and glorify the past, we don’t want to return to the pre-Giuliani New York, trust me.
New York prided itself on cleaning up and turning itself around. Times Square used to be a notorious place full of criminals, drug addicts and the homeless. Theaters that were once beautiful were run-down porno houses. When Disney announced they were going to be putting a store in Times Square in 1995, cartoons depicted Disney characters passed out drunk or dead with syringes sticking out of their arms. But no one would think that now. Times Square is probably one of the safest places in the city.
Doing away with the current Times Square isn’t a solution to any current problem. It’s what people who can’t or won’t do what needs to be done. When there was too much crime in Central Park, we didn’t pave over Central Park.
The pedestrian plaza in Times Square was created because of the success in cleaning it up. Walking through Times Square used to be an even worse nightmare than it is today because you were dodging crowds on sidewalks that were not built to accommodate that many people. Driving through was no picnic either as jaywalking pedestrians held everything up.
Now Times Square is still an overcrowded hellhole, but not to tourists. If you’re a New York resident trying to get somewhere, you generally already avoid Times Square like the plague anyway during regular waking hours.
The Bronx Zoo is not on everyone’s to-do list but should be. No year in New York City is complete without at least one long visit to this great zoo, which insists on calling itself the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The Wildlife Conservation Society has a Run for the Wild 5K run/walk every year to help raise money for its conservation efforts. Each year has the theme for some endangered animal and this year it was gorillas. In the past it was fun to run the 5k and then spend the day at the zoo. Nowadays the wife and I walk the 5k with our babies in a jogging stroller and then spend as much time as possible at the zoo until our offspring become too tired and cranky to make the zoo pleasant.
So it was a fun family trip to the zoo and we of course got there much later than we expected. We parked in a field farther away from the starting line of the 5K than we had hoped but in the process of finding our way to the 5K starting line, we happened to walk on the Mitsubishi Riverwalk, a nature walk with a lot of informative displays about local wildlife. It opened in 2004 and totally free and open to the public every day.
It’s a rarer thing to find stuff to do in New York that is both family-friendly and free. It was nice to see waterfalls and woodlands and know that you are in the Bronx.
We did a brisk walk for the 5K though there were lots of slow-moving people, parents and grandparents seriously lacking in stroller-parking etiquette, and mobs of people stopping to gawk at the animals.
We still finished the 5K walk in good time (I assume, who really gives a shit) and we collected our prizes, which included stuffed gorillas for our girls. Then we began traversing the zoo and seeing as much as we could while letting our 15-month old girls walk. Walking with them while also steering a double-wide jogging stroller is a new and unique challenge. It is like other parenthood skills in that you will master it just in time to not need it anymore.
The Bronx Zoo now kind of nickel-and-dimes you at every turn though. Lots of the cool exhibits cost an extra three or four dollars, which can all add up if you want to see the more popular animals. We were lucky in that we got a zoo membership as a gift, but also running the 5K gets you discounts during your zoo trip.
There were long lines at the World of Asia Monorail line, and you get to know people waiting in line just because your kids are interacting with one another and you have to be minimally sociable. A couple of parents with very well-painted faces were asked a half dozen times where they had their faces painted. A bald father with tattoos on his head berated his children and joking (I hope) offered to exchange his daughters for ours, although his daughters weren’t behaving badly at all. An Asian grandfather in the family ahead of us shot me a look of insulting contempt every time my crankier daughter cried and fussed. I hope my devil baby put his panties in a bunch. Full disclosure: his infant grandson was an absolute angel.
For all her fussing, my older daughter became quiet and seemed to be enjoying seeing the animals on the monorail, but that was because she fell asleep. That was our signal to head home after the monorail ride.
Luckily we got to swing by the bison on our way out. After viewing animals from every corner of the globe, it feels right to visit the bison, the great and very American animal that we have here in our own land. They are not native to New York, of course, but I vow that one day I will travel west and see buffalo in the wild. Until then I will be happy to conclude my Bronx Zoo visits with them.