Tag Archive | Flushing

Battle of the Queens Night Markets

Not too long ago, Friday nights were when I wanted to rage in abominable weekend warrior style and get home in the early hours of dawn after partying harder than Robert Downey Jr. with a 40-pound crack rock. Not so anymore. I’ve become mellowed with age and exhausted by child wrangling and by Friday evening I want nothing more than to sit at home and try to catch up on sleep.

So this past Friday I was reluctant to leave home with our brood to attend Flushing Night Out that was held on the campus of Flushing High School, not far from where we live. I did not want to deal with a large crowd and trying to supervise two active toddlers amid a mob of festivalgoers. But my wife insisted we go support this thing.

The five of us plus my mother-in-law took a bus less than a mile to the corner of Northern Boulevard and Union Street.

Flushing High School is the oldest high school in the city and unlike most city high schools, it sits on a large piece of land that has a nice lawn. That’s where the Flushing Night Out was held.

The event was well attended but not horribly crowded, a welcome relief. It was an overwhelmingly Asian crowd, which was no surprise since it was Flushing, and it was largely Flushing High School students and people active in community events. The mobs of ill-mannered drunks, arrogant thugs, and hipster abominations I feared never materialized, and while the DJ music that was there was aimed at a younger audience and therefore pretty shitty, it wasn’t hard to get away from it. Things sounded much better once the live music started.

The food offerings were impressive and things are usually $5 or less. I had some excellent classic mac and cheese as well as fried mac and cheese from House of Mac, ate a tasty scallion pancake from Seoul Pancake, a seafood and pasta mix that had an Asian name I can’t remember from Teinei Ya and an amazing banana-flavored homemade pastry from Jai NYC Eats. The food booth that caught my attention the easiest was Karl’s Balls. Karl’s balls are delicious octopus balls. Meticulously tended to by the chef, the balls lived up to the hype. I can’t wait to have Karl’s Balls in my mouth again.

There was a $1 dollar All You Can Craft table that allowed us to keep our small children occupied and allowed them to leave with some hand-made jewelry. They also enjoyed painting their own and their grandmother’s arms with paint. Helpful volunteers were incredibly good-natured and patient with rambunctious toddlers who wielded paint brushes like machetes.  Not far away, a vendor used a real machete to slice coconuts for special drinks.

There were also a lot of different vendors selling various inexpensive crafts. There was some seating available and space for people to bring picnic blankets. It was an all-around pleasant evening.

Flushing Night Out will be held several more Fridays this summer: July 29, August 12 and August 26. They run from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. It is a good way to experience Flushing and family friendly too. It’s organized by the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce.

There is also a Queens International Night Market that is held in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, on Saturdays. Our family tried to go there once but we drove and there was no parking available. My wife got out and walked through and found that the lines were incredibly long because there were not enough vendors. However, it has improved and my mother-in-law attended a more recent night market there and reported that there were many more vendors and that the crowd situation has improved.

The Brooklyn Night Bazaar was very popular and featured a lot of food vendors, beer, and music. It closed though it appears to be on its way back as its web site says it will be revived this September. Queens doesn’t need to duplicate Brooklyn to prove its worth, but these night markets can be a lot of fun if done right, and the Queens night markets are proving to be successful.

Queens has the most to offer of any borough in the city as far as food and different crafts. If something exists in the world, you can bet someone in Queens can cook it, get it for you, or show you how to make it. Night markets like Flushing Night Out are a good way to discover new foods, restaurants, or other fun things that may already be close by.


Looking like a homeless person while going to buy bagels

Doing my part to help the cause and help bring about the rise of the Nietzschean Übermensch, I am happy to report that my wife and I recently celebrated the birth of our third child, a healthy baby girl.

While my wife is still recovering and helping care for our newborn at the hospital and our older girls are spending time with helpful grandparents, I am home alone to try to ready our apartment. I came home after spending a few days at the hospital and managed to get a good night’s sleep for the first time in several days.

Hungry for something to eat before starting down my long to-do list, I put on whatever clothes were convenient and at hand and headed out to buy a bagel.

I wear a camouflage baseball cap for practical purposes, one being that horrible sweat stains that would turn a solid-colored hat into some kind of grotesque greasy tie-dye won’t show up on a hat that is already a patchwork of colors. My Georgia Bulldogs hunting camouflage hat makes me look like a backwoods redneck compared to most of New York City, and I’m OK with that. I actually do go hunting and watch college football if that makes a difference.

I was also wearing olive drab cargo shorts. Cargo shorts are considered unfashionable, but I like having pockets to put things in. I put functionality over fashion every time. I’d rather look like a slob and not lose my cell phone or wallet. I also had on an olive drab t-shirt that depicts an American flag constructed from grenades and rifles. It was a gift from my brother, a former Marine.

It might also be worth noting that I’m wearing a plastic hospital bracelet that allows me to visit my wife and newborn in the hospital, and that because we had to be at the hospital very early in the morning and I stayed there through the first night and into the second, that I had not shaved or showered for three days.

Not until I started down the stairs of my building did I realized that I looked like a homeless person and probably smelled like one too. That it reached 85 degrees by 9 a.m. didn’t help my case either. I felt the rays of the sun baking my greasy skin like a fine glaze being put on a pastry.

I felt like a load of hot garbage and hoped that the good people at JK Bakery wouldn’t recoil in horror or ask me to leave their store. I go there often enough that they hopefully recognize me and realize that maybe I’ve had a rough couple of days. It’s one of my favorite stores in the neighborhood and one of the best bagel shops in New York – I’ll put it up against any other bagel store – they make the bagels there and it’s a no-nonsense place.

JK Bakery did not disappoint. Despite my looking like an escaped mental patient, they served me promptly and I was soon enjoying a delicious bagel. I bought a few extra to bring my wife.

One of the things I like best about New York is that even though it’s a place of high fashion, it’s also a place where people make it a point of pride not to give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks of them or their clothes. And it remains a place where tired fathers can occasionally enjoy a delicious bagel in peace.

The Queens ethnic supermarket shuffle

When a local supermarket closes down, people scatter like ants seeking safety. Our area of Queens is seeing two stores close down over the next few weeks. It will be interesting to see where shoppers will go before these stores are reopened.

The scene in the Waldbaum’s on 20th Avenue in College Point, Queens was a sad one. More than half the shelves were empty. Where abundant displays of vegetables once stood were now vacant. Everything was on sale. Products in the aisles were consolidated onto a few shelves. As I was checking out, a woman asked if she could have my shopping basket when I was done; she couldn’t find another one anywhere.

Local supermarkets throughout Queens are being sold or closed after the A&P, which owned several supermarket chains, declared bankruptcy earlier this year. The local ones near where I live are supposed to be reopening. The Waldbaum’s will reportedly reopen as a Shoprite later this year. The Pathmark near our home is supposed to reopen as a Stop & Shop. Both are closing down in the meantime leaving people wondering where they are going to shop.

Food shopping, like much else in New York City, is a generally ethnically segregated affair. There was a Key Food in the shopping center right behind our home. It closed and is now Good Fortune, a grocery store that mainly caters to Chinese shoppers. All the announcements on the PA are in Chinese and many of the people who work there speak no English. Some of our neighbors refuse to go but it’s not a bad store. If you’re looking for fresh fish they have a lot of it, and they even kept a real deli, but if it’s too early in the day and the deli person isn’t there, none of the multitude of Chinese workers will help you other than to tell you in the best broken English they can that you are shit out of luck.

One thing I noticed when I first visited Good Fortune is that there is no cash register #4. The cash registers skip from register #3 to register #5. The Chinese believe that #4 is bad luck. The word for the number four is similar to the word for death in Chinese, so Chinese will go through great lengths not to have the number four in their addresses or phone numbers. Similarly in western cultures there is often no 13th floor of an office building because of bad luck associated with that number.

A few blocks down the street is the H-Mart, a Korean grocery store. It’s smaller and does not have a wide selection, though on Fridays you can go through there and practically eat an entire lunch’s worth of food in the form of free samples. This supermarket also has odd sections of electronics and other things you don’t normally find in a grocery store; maybe that’s a Korean thing. Their selection of non-Asian foods is pretty dismal and we rarely go there. A few years ago supermarket union workers protested outside of this store asking people to boycott it because it had no black or white employees. I haven’t seen these protesters in a while. I don’t normally go to this store but I’ve never seen a black or white employee there to this day.

So some people are not going to shop at the Asian supermarkets and they’ll soon get the chance to shop at their old stores, renovated and under new management. Some have taken to shopping at some of the smaller stores in Whitestone and some will shop at the nearby Target.

New York’s ethnic cauldron will continue to boil and churn. Luckily I don’t mind shopping among the Chinese and will stay well fed.

New York is Rooting for The Mets (until next April)

The New York Metropolitans are currently in the playoffs and competing for the National League Championship and the chance to play in the World Series. New Yorkers, though divided among sports loyalties, are fully behind the Mets this year.

The New York Mets will always be New York’s other team. They could win every World Series for the next 20 years and they will still be New York’s other team. It’s not the Mets fault; they are a consolation prize for people who were fans of the Yankees’ two rivals that skipped town (it’s why the Mets’ colors are Dodgers blue and Giants orange).

Fans of the Bronx Bombers look at the Mets as the scrappy but well-meaning younger brother that needs to get a beating every once in a while. They’re friendly rivals but not a threat to our stature as legends of the game. All the reasons people hate the Yankees are why Yankee fans can’t find it in themselves to hate the Mets. A significant part of all Yankee hating is envy. The Mets can’t invent a time machine and play the Yankees in 1927.

It feels like New York City reached its zenith with the subway series of 2000. It was the point in time when things were the most right for our city. Crime had been cleaned up but enough of the old New York character was still there. That both our baseball teams were contending for the world championship made New York that much more of the place to be and that illustrated once more how quintessentially American New York is.

But now the city finds itself in the rare position of seeing the Mets in the postseason longer than the Yankees, and Yankee fans find themselves rooting for the Mets. They are, after all, a New York team.

It was significant that the Mets got to the National League Championship Series by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers, formerly the Brooklyn Dodgers of course, started the series off with a controversial play that injured a key player. If the Dodgers had won the series, any accolades they won would be accompanied by an asterisk.

And why shouldn’t Mets and Yankee fans dislike the Dodgers more than one another. They are the team that abandoned New York decades ago for the sunny climes of Los Angeles, a second-rate smog-shrouded sinkhole of a city that wears its desperation on its sleeve. But these pretenders are defeated now, and four teams now vie for the crown.

The Mets are currently playing the Chicago Cubs, which are an old and storied franchise with some of the most compelling bad-luck stories in the history of the game, so much of the country is understandably rooting for them. But whatever course these games take, most in the U.S.A. can at least agree we would rather see the trophy stay on our side of the border and not taken to Toronto with the Blue Jays.

But New Yorkers stand firm. Since the Yankees are unfortunately out of the running this year, the Metropolitans must carry the torch for Gotham. We wish them the best of luck until next April.

Just another weekday explosion in New York City

It was a quiet Wednesday night and we had just managed to put our girls to bed when we heard and felt an explosion. Even though it had been raining, there was no way that this was thunder. The explosion was quickly followed by a burning smell. We looked out our windows but did not see anything. The burning smell persisted.

A few short minutes later a legion of emergency vehicles arrived. Fire engines and police cars with screaming sirens and lights ablaze rushed down Union Street. The fire trucks positioned themselves near our building as police cars rushed passed them to block off traffic coming in both directions. The problem seemed to be coming from across the street, but we couldn’t tell what had happened. Was there a burning vehicle? Did someone detonate a car bomb in our neighborhood? Was there a meth lab in someone’s apartment that caught fire and now toxic chemicals are in the air?

I decided to investigate, taking a basement exit in case police were blocking off the front entrance of our building. When I got to the front of my building there were many people on the street already there to bear witness to the events. I noticed smoke coming from an open manhole on the street. A firefighter was connecting a hose to the fire hydrant nearest our building. The hose led across the street.

I encountered a Spanish-speaking man who was standing near my building. I asked him what was going on. In thickly accented English he told me that he saw flames coming from a building across the street and he had called 911. He didn’t know what had happened but he saw flames and smoke coming from a manhole and a building. A South Asian woman wrapped in a traditional sari came by and spoke with us. She mentioned that she had been saying her prayers when she heard the explosion; the burning smell had driven her from her apartment to investigate.

After chatting with these neighbors I headed across the street where there more people gathered. One of the buildings was completely dark and it was towards there that the firefighters were all streaming. Police officers and fire officials talked to one another as more FDNY personnel arrived. A few more fire department vehicles showed up. A Q44 bus found itself trapped, hemmed in by first responders on both sides. Its driver stood outside the bus talking into a cell phone before signing off and standing there resignedly.

As I stood watching, a friend, J. Dip, approached me. He lives across the street. I know him through music: he plays guitar for New York hardcore stalwarts Bloodbeat. He lives in a building next to the affected one and told me that he heard and felt the blast and saw flames coming from the basement windows of the next building as well. He told his wife to be ready to move their kids out of their quickly and he went to investigate. We talked about other things: how we were doing and what our lives were up to. He and his wife are expecting a third child in November. We are both still playing music, but life slows down a bit when you have kids.

Another bystander said that it was likely an electrical fire and explosion caused by corroded wiring. He explained that with the large quantities of salt put on New York City roads during the winter months, some salt seeps underground and corrodes utility cables there. When it rains later in the year, water can touch those exposed wires and cause fires and explosions.

That seemed like the most plausible explanation, and the firemen were not evacuating any buildings, so my adventure was done. Con Ed trucks were already pulling up to start fixing things as I walked back across the street for home.

This was some excitement that one might think would make it onto the television news or merit a mention in a newspaper, but nothing doing. There were no fatalities or grisly injuries. “If it doesn’t bleed, there’s no need,” would be the appropriate adage for lack of news coverage.

So no big deal, just another explosion in New York. We live in one of the largest cities in the world and the infrastructure is always being revised. Sometimes by tragedy or accident, sometimes by design, New York always reinvents itself. As long as this metropolis stands, its story will be one of grinding, sweat and broken concrete, of taped-off work zones and slap-dash detours. We’ll face them all down, one odd weekday explosion at a time.

I Want To Be Poet Laureate of Queens

The Borough of Queens is taking applications for its poet laureate, and I’m going to throw my sweaty hat into the ring. I think my chances of being accepted are low, but fuck it. I’m as good as anyone else and I like this borough very much.

Queens was where I lived when I moved back to New York. I had been away from the Northeast for several years and hadn’t lived in the five boroughs since I was an infant in the Bronx. I grew up mostly in Yonkers and while I came to the city frequently growing up, I am by and large a child of New York’s suburbs.

In college I decided I wanted to be a great American writer in the same way that thousands of other English majors do. I was determined to get myself back to New York City as if that would somehow magically bestow some great inspiration power and let me live a charmed literary life.

I got a job at JFK airport that helped me move back here and I went looking for apartments that were a reasonable commuting distance to JFK. I found a small studio in Ozone Park at $500 per month (it soon went up to $525). It was on 101st Avenue and John Gotti’s old Bergin Hunt & Fish Club was still there and only a few blocks away. That was a selling point that the realtor mentioned. “People know not to mess around in this neighborhood,” he said. Gotti had been locked up for several years by then but the neighborhood still had some old wise guys hanging around.

I enjoyed living in Ozone Park a lot. I would walk around the neighborhood as much as I could and enjoyed how quickly neighborhoods could transition from one to another. Not far from where John Gotti plotted his takeover of the Gambino Crime Family a store sold cricket supplies to the Indian and West Indian immigrants who were moving into Richmond Hill. I was not too far from Forest Park and I could also walk to the small apartment where Jack Kerouac wrote his first novel.

While immediate literary success proved elusive, I managed to publish my first poetry collection while I was living in Ozone Park. ‘Five Borough Blues’ was a small broadsheet of poems published by New Jersey-based Lucid Moon Poetry (RIP Ralph Haselmann Jr.).

Years later, after living in Inwood for a decade, I moved in with the woman who is now my wife and that brought me to Flushing. I got to learn Northern Queens whereas Ozone Park is in Southern Queens.

The greatest borough continues to impress me. I do miss Inwood a good bit, I can’t lie. But Queens has many more great neighborhoods that are still real neighborhoods and not overpriced tourist zones.

Queens has both the greatest number of interesting neighborhoods, real residential neighborhoods with character, as well as cultural institutions and a variety of environments that the other boroughs don’t have. Do you have the beachfront and harbor areas like Broad Channel and the Rockaways in Manhattan? No. Can you find 24-hour Korean barbeque in Staten Island? Good luck.

And without fail, Queens continues to inspire me to write poetry. The entire city does, to be sure, but Queens is my home and it’s where I believe you find the most New York part of New York. It has the widest array of cultural offerings and the largest sampling of interesting people anywhere in the world. It stands between the city and its suburbs. It has all manner of terrain. It even has its own zoo.

I will gladly accept the (unpaid) responsibilities of the Queens Poet Laureate. I will let no excellent verse about this borough go unwritten. Applications are due April 24th (April is national poetry month).

But whether or not I am poet laureate of Queens, I will continue to let the city inspire to create good written works. It deserves no less.

Autumn is Coming: New York City Edition

Autumn officially begins on Monday, Sept. 22, and even though New York had a relatively mild summer this year, there are still plenty of reasons to feel good about the new season.

Fall is just better than summer, even a pleasant summer. Autumn is one of the best times of the year. It gives one a sense of renewal, of things starting over again. It is time to celebrate, dedicate oneself anew and see crisply the possibilities of the coming seasons. And this sense of renewal is one of the reasons autumn and New York go so well together. Starting things over again and exploring new frontiers, harvests and chapters of life is what New York City is all about as well.

Here are some ways you can celebrate the coming Fall season in New York that don’t involve fashion shows or raking leaves:

Corn Maze at the Queens County Farm Museum: You probably don’t expect to find too many working farms in the five boroughs of New York City, but there are. Chief among them is the Queens County Farm Museum, located in the Glen Oaks section of Queens. Its annual corn maze (“Maize Maze”) opens this coming Saturday, Sept. 20. A few years ago I entered the corn maze there and managed to find my way out. A few times it was tempting to just break through the walls of corn and thrash my way out of there as if pursued by the Children of the Corn. But we managed to get out without losing our minds, though we didn’t stop at every check point along the way (next time, maybe). Corn mazes are quite common in more rural parts of the country, even those not famous for corn. I’ve come across several while driving through New England.

Any chance to take part in the country life while within the boundaries of New York City is an adventure you should take.

Foliage watching in Inwood Hill Park: People from all over the country come to the Northeast in order to drive through upstate New York or parts of New England to see the trees change color. Save yourself the car rental and take the A train (or the 1 train) to the “upstate Manhattan” neighborhood of Inwood and Inwood Hill Park. I was fortunate enough to live across the street from Inwood Hill Park for more than 10 years. The brilliant array of colors that the trees of Inwood present are as grand as any you’ll find upstate. Inwood Hill Park contains the last natural forest in Manhattan. Even on a day when lots of people are in the park, it’s not hard to find yourself in a quiet and remote part of the woods. Also, because New York City is warmer than upstate and New England, the trees will take longer to change colors, so you have more time to make it uptown. While you’re in Inwood you may spot some eagles or hawks in the park. Nearby Fort Tryon Park is worth a visit too, but lacks the dense woods.

Learn some new skills: Want to be more of a capable person and less of a lazy spendthrift? Well the Fall is a good time to learn some new skills and there are chances to learn how to be a more useful person. For example, New York State is offering free disaster preparedness training courses both in person and online. And this weekend in Queens you can learn how to can your own vegetables thanks to the Flushing CSA (full disclosure: my wife is a member of Flushing CSA and is helping organize this event). So you have no excuse not to emerge from autumn a better and more prepared person.

New York Summers Are For Free Shakespeare

Summer is when many New Yorkers plot when and how they are going to leave the city for as long as possible. Although this has been a relatively mild summer so far (we still have to get through the rest of August), New York summers can be a cauldron of oppressively humid heat and sweaty anger.

But New York City is also a place of free Shakespeare in the summer, and if you have not gotten to one of the city’s offerings of free Shakespeare, make plans to do so at once.

The most well-known free summer Shakespeare plays are those produced by the Public Theater in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater. But there are many others and they run the gamut. Many are done in parks and one is even produced in a parking lot.

When I lived in Inwood in uptown Manhattan I made sure to attend the Inwood Shakespeare Festival of free plays in Inwood Hill Park courtesy of the Moose Hall Theater Company. A few summers ago I was fortunate enough to attend The New York Classical Theatre’s production of King Lear in Battery Park that featured my uncle Andrew in the role of the fool.

Living in Flushing, Queens among throngs of Asian immigrants and currently out of the zones of hipsters and rapid (or at least costly) gentrification, I am fortunately still walking distance from seeing the Bard’s work performed.

The Hip to Hip Theatre Company specializes in bringing Shakespeare to the people of Queens. I was recently fortunate enough Hip to Hip’s production of Cymbeline that was performed in the garden of the Voelker Orth Museum in Flushing. I walked straight there from the Main Street stop of the 7 train and arrived with time to spare. I was able to stroll home afterwards with no trouble.

My wife and our two baby girls got there before me and the good people of the museum had us set up nicely with some folding chairs on either side of our double-wide jogging stroller (bringing a double-wide jogging stroller to an indoor production would indeed make us among the rudest people on Earth but this was in an outside park and we were not in anyone’s way, really).

The audience was at full to overflowing capacity well before show time, and more folding chairs were brought out and placed wherever people could find space without getting in the way of the actors. There was a children’s presentation before the show began. A member of the theater company brought children from the audience up in front of the crowd and put them through their Shakespeare paces, including getting them to perform dramatic Shakespearean deaths.

The show started and despite obstacles that come with performing in public, outdoors and in New York—actors dealt with microphones that cut out and fed back and they were constantly competing with the sounds of overhead airplanes and a running power generator—the cast forged through and put on a great show.

Watching Shakespeare in summer twilight is special no matter where you are. The changing light signals a cooling of the air and the start of night and new possibilities. Dusk ushers in with it the promise of adventure under the cover of night and hearing the poetry of Shakespeare’s plays as the sun sets is magnificent and is a joy that can’t be duplicated.

Watching Shakespeare’s Cymbeline in the summer night was outstanding. Even though we wrestled with two baby girls the whole night and even had to take them to the back when they started getting noisy (they liked the show and got excited), it was still possible to get lost in the beautiful language of the play. And Cymbeline has everything: romance, long-lost relatives, bloody swordfights, the works.

Once the show was over, audience members and actors alike paid compliments to our twin girls. I am proud that they went to their first Shakespeare performance when they were only six months old. The Hip to Hip Theater Company is to be admired for so ably fulfilling its mission.

Don’t miss the chance to see some Shakespeare this summer.

The Horror That Is The 7 Train

Speaking in 1999, Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker said the following about New York City:

“Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing…”

Saturday Night Live’s Colin Quinn, doing the weekly news spot, said this about Rocker: “He might be a bigot, but he’s definitely been on the 7 train.”

Despite all the romantic notions you may have in your head about New York, there are some traditional New York experiences that are never pleasant no matter how much you romanticize them. Being mugged is never fun; neither is stepping in dog shit or having to smell a homeless person.

Another old New York tradition that is no fun is the 7 train. The 7 train is a human cattle car of endless misery and inconvenience. It perfectly combines all the incompetence of New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority with the rancid overpopulation of our city that makes New York the cultural calling card of the dying American empire.

I live in Flushing, Queens and work in lower Manhattan. I have an hour-and-15-minute commute each way when things go well, but things rarely go well. I take a bus to downtown Main Street Flushing, which has a crowd density similar to that of Times Square, and board a 7 train that takes me to Grand Central, where I take either the 4 or 5 train (also no joy) to the Bowling Green station near where I work.

Today I managed to get down the overcrowded stairs to the train platform only to miss the closing doors of a not-very-crowded 7 train by seconds. The next express train arrived soon but sat on the platform for 10 minutes and didn’t leave the station until it was wall-to-wall people.

Sometimes the 7 train likes to quit on you and dump all of its passengers out a random stop. “This train is out of service! No passengers!” the conductor will announce. Sometimes the express 7 train decides to go local, sometimes without telling its passengers until they’re at a stop they didn’t plan on making. On the weekends, the 7 train doesn’t run any express trains at all and often will have large service gaps that will leave its passengers scrambling to shuttle busses or trying to find alternate trains to take.

In September, when the U.S. Open is happening at the U.S. Tennis Center, the 7 train is flooded with tennis fans who are clueless as to where they are going and completely unschooled in subway etiquette. Sometimes a perfect storm of passenger clusterfuck will happen and you’ll have Mets fans and U.S. Open fans cramming the same trains heading to the Willets Point station.

The 7 train will often stop service entirely or delay service torturously or decided it doesn’t want to run express trains at the height of rush hour. Often the reason the MTA gives passengers for this is “signal problems.” One winter I asked an MTA worker on the platform why express service was abruptly canceled and he answered, “It’s cold outside, sir.”

I don’t bother trying to get a seat on the 7 train. Those are the dominion of sharp-elbowed Asian women who push their way onto the trains before the unfortunate souls who have to commute to Flushing can exit. I actually prefer to stand. I’ll actually have more room standing and the ride isn’t that long. Besides, I sit on my ass for eight hours at work. I usually try to position myself directly between two car doors in the center of the car, where the crush of passengers will be slightly less.

It is often standing-room only before the trains leave its first stop, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to cram themselves on to the train at later stops.

The 7 train is one of the oldest lines in the city, so its rails are close together and the cars that fit on the tracks are narrow and without as much room as other trains. It is also the only subway serving some of the most densely populated parts of the city and it terminates (for now) in Times Square.

And the 7 train is about to get worse. The geniuses who run our transit system decided it would be a good idea to cram 15 pounds of ham into this 5-pound bag instead of 10, so the 7 line is being expanded all the way to 34th Street and 11th Avenue. This means more crowding on a subway line that can barely handle what its current ridership. Joy.

There are some upsides to the 7 train. Most of it is above ground, so you can see some beautiful views of Queens and Manhattan that you won’t see from any other train line. Also, while it is regularly packed to the gills, most of the riders are working New Yorkers who are not there to cause problems; you don’t have the thug element of the A train or the hipster abominations of the L line. Because the trains are so crowded all the time, you have fewer homeless and crazies. I have never seen a “Showtime!” subway dance troupe try to ply their obnoxious trade on the 7 train.

For all its faults, the 7 line has stood the test of time, and if overcrowding doesn’t bring it crumbling to the ground this year, someone will be bitching and moaning about it 100 years from now.

Parking in New York: A New Path to Anger and Disgust

When I moved back to New York City years ago, one of the greatest benefits was that I didn’t need a car.

My luck with cars has been terrible. My first car, a 1987 Plymouth Horizon, broke down constantly. I was a broke college student who couldn’t afford a new head gasket when my car put itself out of its misery via self immolation.

I bought my second vehicle from a shirtless man in the back woods of Georgia who was drunk at two in the afternoon and called his son “Molson” even though that wasn’t his name. My giant 1977 Plymouth Voyager van was mustard yellow with a big white strip. If you viewed it at the right angle you could still make out the lettering from the church that used to own it. It didn’t perform much better than my old Horizon. Its drive shaft fell off on Interstate 285 in Atlanta once.

My 15-year car-free life came to an end a few years ago when the wife and I bought a used truck. I don’t live in Manhattan anymore and Eastern Queens is not as much of an automotive purgatory as Manhattan. And being involved in music means I have to haul large speaker cabinets, guitars and drunk musicians throughout and beyond the five boroughs.

But the conveniences of city car ownership are paid for with the wages of anger and aggravation.

The roads are full of bad drivers and New York City is rife with people who not only drive terribly but feel entitled to do so. I’ve seen people in Inwood triple park rather than walk an extra 20 feet to a supermarket. I’ve seen cab drivers wait until they have a red light to drive across an intersection.

And parking in New York City is a misery that never goes away unless you are somehow incredibly wealthy. The city’s parking laws are a Byzantine morass of prohibitions that are consistently poorly-signed. A liberal interpretation of a sign can get you a fat ticket or worse, towed. I have not had the experience of paying vehicular ransom at a city impound lot, but every account I have heard from survivors indicates it is a Kafkaesque nightmare that can make someone hate our city for life.

My wife has lived in the co-op apartment we share for more than twelve years and was on a waiting list for a parking space for five years.

We thought our parking troubles were mostly over. We have a regular space. But the perpetual douchery of New York City driving revealed itself again just this past weekend.

My wife had taken our baby girls to visit relatives in Nassau County and returned home from three hours of tied-up traffic on the Long Island Expressway. to find someone had parked in our spot.

Normally the travails of someone with a reserved parking spot would fall firmly in the confines of “First World Problems.” But when you’ve waited five years for that spot and you’re a barely middle-class family with no margin for parking tickets or private garages and someone rudely parks their Mercedes Benz in your spot, violence is justified.

If someone had left a note on the car with their contact info and let us call them to move the car, it would have been no problem. We would have been annoyed but impressed by their willingness to be decent upon notice. Because of the late hour and our building management’s inability to get a towing company right, we were stuck without legal parking for the night.

Normally this would be license to get creative with vandalism. If this car had a sunroof, my dream of justifiable shitting through a sunroof of a snotty dickhead’s car would have finally been realized. I would have loved to stick bananas in the tailpipe, pissed all over the door handles and leave a steaming log of justice on the windshield. It would have given me joy to superglue some tasteless gay porn all over the windows and scratched giant curse words into the expensive paint job.

But since our space is reserved, the authorities would have us as their prime suspects easily. There was little we could do but leave a tersely-worded note stating that they were parked illegally and we had been forced to call the towing service (which was true, even though the towing service was out of business).

So justice has not been served. If you see a dark-colored Mercedes Benz S550 with New York license plate FTX-2898, please vandalize the shit out of it. Thank you.

Revenge of the Outer Boroughs

This past weekend the wife and I attended a co-ed baby shower for my friend and spiritual advisor Rabbi Jay Levitz and his wife Sarah. We were in Oceanside, Long Island, New York, a short drive outside the city for us, as we live in Eastern Queens. As we talked with Jay, the conversation turned to what constitutes the “bridge and tunnel crowd.”

We all agreed that the term was more of a cultural construct than a geographic one, though we acknowledge that the two go hand in hand in many ways. Where I live now in Queens is not a trendy area at all and is too far from any of the celebrated night life to become popular among the moneyed classes or the upwardly mobile youth any time soon. That is actually a blessing. We happen to have decent access to public transportation, though getting into Manhattan always involves at least one bus and one train. My commute to work is at least one bus and two subways, and it is terrible, subject at all times to the fickle whims of the increasingly incompetent MTA.

The “bridge and tunnel” term may have been initially meant to denote people coming from outside of New York City—especially from New Jersey, considered by many to be a cultural leper colony filled with only guidos and hill people. But my current settings would qualify me as a bridge and tunnel crowd person when I venture into Manhattan for cultural events.

Manhattan was once the undisputed epicenter of New York City’s cultural life. Now that cultural life is much more diffuse and spread through the outer boroughs, most prominently in Brooklyn. New movie theaters, restaurants and music venues are more likely to be opening in Brooklyn or Queens today than in Manhattan. Accordingly, real estate prices in the outer boroughs are still going through the roof.

This shift has made use of the term “Bridge and Tunnel” a bit outdated, but the cultural chasm between whose who perceive themselves as cultured city residents and the people who travel to the city only on the weekends to party is not gone. Someone who takes the Long Island Rail Road from Mineola to see a concert in Brooklyn is considered part of the bridge and tunnel crowd, though they did not use a bridge or tunnel (yes, I understand that the LIRR in Brooklyn does use subway tunnels and uses overpasses on its way to the city; shut up).

And these social demarcations between what is city and what is not stretch to the outer boroughs as well. I mentioned that I drove to Long Island to attend a baby shower this weekend, but as I live in Queens, I already live on Long Island. When New Yorkers talk about “Long Island” they don’t mean the Island itself but Nassau and Suffolk Counties, the parts of the Island that lie outside of the border of New York City.

I could never justify the expense of living in a more trendy or celebrated area of Manhattan. I had a chance to move to the Upper East Side one time. I looked at an apartment in Yorkville and realized that I would be doubling my rent and would still not be able to fit the modest furniture from my small studio in Ozone Park, Queens into the new place. It wasn’t worth the money. I could have said I lived on the Upper East Side, but I’d be living like a hobbit.

So while proximity to Manhattan is become less and less of a cultural touchstone to judge a neighborhood, I propose a new measure of the value of where you live: proximity to live Shakespeare.

A good measure of the value of any place to live is how far away you are from some free Shakespeare. When I lived in Inwood in uptown Manhattan, it had yet to become a trendy place to live and people hadn’t heard of it. But I lived across the street from Inwood Hill Park which had free Shakespeare plays every summer. Score.

I can’t easily walk to free Shakespeare like that, but I am a very short trip from more than one of the venues of the free Shakespeare in the Park in Queens.

Some will argue that this Shakespeare standard is an unfair way to judge where you live, but I don’t think so. I don’t want my children to live in a world where they can’t easily see some free Shakespeare every summer. I’ll be dragging their soggy asses to Two Gentlemen of Verona this season; I won’t need a bridge or tunnel to get there.

The U.S. Open is Dumb and Depressing

???????????????????????????????????The U.S. Open is getting underway not far from where I live in Queens, and it means that life for some subway commuters is going to get more difficult for the next few weeks.

There’s not much of a reason to watch tennis except to gawk at women in short skirts, and you can do that anywhere for free. I’m sure for fans of the sport in New York, the Open is a great opportunity to see some great masters of the game up close, but it’s not an interesting enough game for the price you pay. You can watch it on TV for free.

What the U.S. Open does for the many riders of the 7 train is flood our already overburdened subway with gaggles of U.S. Open attendees who do not know how to ride the subway.

I’m sure you’re thinking, ‘Riding a subway is easy. How can someone mess that up?’ Well, they manage. The tennis fans headed to the U.S. Open are easy to spot on the 7 train. Whereas the afternoon and evening 7 train is usually filled with haggard working people tired after a day at work and quietly waiting to get home, the tennis fans move as gaggles of cheery chatterboxes, filling the air with their inane conversations.

Tennis fans have every right to their inanity of course, but they are thoroughly unversed in the concepts of being courteous to others in a public space. Riding the subway is a quaint slumming experience for them, and their mannerisms betray them at every turn. They constantly lean on subway polls or spread out over spaces meant to accommodate several people. They constantly delay trains by hesitatingly getting on and off of a subway as they are unsure if they are on the right train or at the right stop.

On Main Street, Flushing the other day, I made my way to the subway for the second leg of my three-leg commute to work. A pair of older gentlemen made their way down the sidewalk among the throngs of Asian immigrants. They wore overpriced athletic gear though they looked like they had not exercised in years. One of them was bald but had hair around the edges of his head, and that hair had been dyed the color of a tennis ball.

Something about the soul-deadening luxury of the event and the blank eyes of many of the tennis fans that makes me vow that if I ever have enough money to attend the U.S. Open, I still won’t. I’d rather not be among people who can’t figure out how to use public transportation.

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