Earlier this summer, I arrived home late on a Friday night—late these days meaning after 8 p.m.—and was taking things out of my pockets after a long day. When I reached into my right front picket, I came to the realization that I did not have my wallet. My stomach tied in knots and I cried out in frustrated desperation. I knew it had been in my pocket; there would be no deus ex machina miracle of finding it in my bag or in another pair of shorts.
I knew that it most likely fell out of my pocket on my commute home. I had just gotten off the express bus—this bus was still on the road and someone could radio the driver! I immediately picked up my smart phone and dialed 311 for citywide information. The 311 operator would be able to connect me to the right person. The 311 operator transferred me to 511, which is the information number for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
After a few more transfers, I spoke with someone I was told could help me. I gave them all the information I had. I was on a QM20 bus and was picked up from 6th Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan at approximately 8:40 p.m. and was dropped off at Union Street and 26th Avenue in Flushing, Queens at approximately 9:30 p.m. This driver was probably still on their route and with the information I had given them someone should be able to get in touch with the driver ASAP!
But no such luck. The person on the other end of the line said they could not do anything unless I had the bus number. Without the bus number, they could not contact the driver. Seems a bit ridiculous. If this had been a more serious situation and people’s lives depended on finding the bus, there would have been a catastrophe.
I was asked to call back the next day after the bus had gone back to the depot and the driver may have turned in the wallet. It was a small wallet, one that held only cards. I was not out any cash, unless someone was going to town with my debit card.
I started to call credit card companies and my bank to have holds put on cards.
The next day I called the depot. Nothing.
I called back the next day, and called back later in the day again. Nothing still.
I went through with canceling and replacing my credit cards and ATM card and replacing my driver’s license.
By Monday, there was no funny business on my cards and new ones were on the way. I printed out a temporary driver’s license and ordered a new card wallet that came with a money clip. My card wallet needed replacing anyway, and this was a chance to pare down the stuff I carried with me everywhere.
A few weeks later, the same day my new driver’s license arrived in the mail, a notice from the MTA Lost & Found arrived in the mail.
“An article which contains your name and/or contact information was found and turned in to the MTA NYC Transit Lost Property Unit,” the notice began. It instructed me to report to the unit’s office at the 34th Street subway station at 8th Avenue in Manhattan. If I did not claim my property by Nov. 3, “it will be deemed to have been abandoned and you will have forfeited your right to claim it.”
The next day I brought that notice and my newly replaced driver’s license to a hidden-in-plan-sight pocket of the 34th Street subway station in Manhattan. It took some searching and asking to find the lost and found office, which is beneath the tracks of the A, C, E subway lines and without any signs leading you there except in the immediate vicinity. It’s within the subway system, so if you arrive by some other means or exit the subway before you find it, you’ll have to spend another subway fare to reach it or get a helpful MTA worker to let you in.
A small sign points the way to a set of double doors painted in celebration of the many objects found in our transit system. The office is open odd hours—and completely closed weekends and holidays, a travesty in a system that runs 24 hours—but luckily is open until 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursdays.
Inside is a small room with a very low ceiling. I’m five feet eleven inches with my shoes on, and if I had extended my arm fully above my head I would have punched a hole in the drop-down ceiling. There is a metal bench to sit on, a small counter to stand and fill out paperwork on, two old-looking computer terminals, and a thick window above a pass-through door through which one may conduct business with the MTA workers on duty.
I arrived as a worker emerged from another set of doors to hand someone some paperwork, and she took my notice and ID and disappeared in to the bowels of the lost and found. The woman who was there spoke to someone at the window and was told to check back about her property later. She left and another woman arrived to ask if a book she lost on the subway was found. She was told no and to check back later; she left. Another man arrived and looked through his paperwork to check on a claim, and while he was speaking with someone another woman arrived to check on some property she had reported missing.
A worker arrived at the thick window with my wallet. It was a different worker than I had given my notice to; it was a rotating staff of workers answering questions and handling forms. He told me to sign my name on another form and write my address the same way it appeared on the notice in the mail. He opened the door to the silver box under the window and placed a clip board inside, and when he closed his door I opened mine and filled out the form.
A minute later, the same exchange reunited me with my wallet. It looked a little worse for wear, but nothing was missing. Everything was there: my license, my ATM card, my MTA MetroCard, even the coupon for a t-shirt at the zoo. I excitedly took an inventory of my wallet while my fellow transit visitors looked on amazed.
“You give me hope,” said the young woman sitting on the bench, hoping her property would be returned.
I thanked the worker and wished the other people in the office good luck, and went back out into the bustling station. For me, lost and found had worked out well.
Thank you to the Good Samaritan on the bus who turned in my wallet, and the series of honest MTA workers that made it possible for me to get my property back. For me the stars aligned this time.
This past Saturday I noticed a friend posting on social media from the dark interior of one of Hell’s Kitchen’s finer dive bars, Rudy’s.
“Uh-oh. Power’s out. Better drink all the beer before it gets warm.” That was the caption accompanying a photo of business as usual on a busy Saturday night at Rudy’s. There was never a lot of interior light there to begin with, so one had to take her word for it that there was a blackout.
A little while later, a message from work indicating a “Code Red” situation—the company’s building in Times Square was without power and this was a problem. I scrambled to join the emergency communications line, only to be told there were enough people working on this already, I could drop.
News reported that the West Side of Manhattan and a significant portion of midtown were dark. This was a major event though it was small potatoes compared to previous New York City blackouts. It was short-lived as well. By 10 p.m. power had been restored to much of the affected areas, and my employers’ building in midtown had power again but was still waiting for electricians to arrive to make sure everything was up and running.
The cause was not immediately known and Con Edison does not have a great track record of accountability when these things do happen. Several years ago, a significant portion of Astoria, Queens was out of power for an extended period of time. Sadly, an outage in Manhattan generates greater news coverage and more intense scrutiny.
New York City suffered a blackout exactly 42 years ago to the day of the one this past Saturday. On July 13, 1977 a blackout hit New York City and was the scene of widespread looting and arson.
Seventeen years ago this August marks the anniversary of the 2003 blackout that darkened a significant swath of the Northeastern United States. I was downtown getting ready for a late night of editing at work and wound up taking a 12-mile walk home over almost the entire length of Manhattan. Although incidents of looting were underreported, they were indeed rare and the peaceful evening rush hour and dark night was a testament to the transformation that had happened in the years since 1977.
Even after walking 12 miles to get home in crumbling shoes that blistered my feet, I walked around my neighborhood of Inwood in Manhattan, amazed at the peacefulness of the city at such a time. People played dominoes in the moonlight near the Dyckman Farmhouse, and the sound of steel drums and street parties filtered up from blocks away.
Power outages serve as a barometer of where New York resides along the lawlessness spectrum. Are we close to widespread chaos or will the line hold during a night in the total dark? The Manhattan blackout of July 2019 showed we are holding the line for now.
It was a relief to find that New York has not regressed to the point of making our blackouts more of the 1977 variety. But that question will always linger in the back of New Yorkers’ minds, and maybe we should get to a point that it shouldn’t be there at all. How much has to be done to create that city, that country, that world, and will we ever get there? And what is being done to make sure that we don’t lose power during critical summer months?
A relieved city needs those answers.
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.
Several years ago, while visiting the tourist sites in Manhattan around the holidays with some family, we were walking on Central Park South after a stop at The Plaza. As we passed by the line of hansom cabs, my Grandmother remarked that she had never taken a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park. My father set about rectifying that at once, and a few minutes later they were on their way in a horse-drawn hansom cab.
My dad’s spontaneity and love for our grandmother was admirable and made the day more memorable. If he visits New York next Christmastime, he may not be able to take a hansom cab ride.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged, days before his recent inauguration, to do away with the hansom cabs.
Animal rights activists, including the predictable coterie of celebrity actors, have long denounced the horse-drawn carriages as manifestly cruel. They’ve been aiming to have the carriage rides outlawed for a long time.
De Blasio was inaugurated with much fanfare from his liberal supporters who are happy to see a Democrat in office once again.
But doing away with the horse-drawn carriages is foolish pandering to a lobby polluted with fringe players and the loss of a fine tradition and lots of jobs. Cruelty to animals is terrible, but animal rights activists are never too far away from taking a hard left turn to crazy town, and outlawing horse-drawn carriages is a fringe activist power-grab that a mayor is supposed to be wide enough to sidestep.
The New York City Police use horses regularly, and there are a few stables that offer horseback riding within the five boroughs. Space for horses is hard to come by in most of New York, but so is space for anything.
Being generous and assuming for the sake of argument that conditions for the horses are bad, the solution is not to outlaw an industry but to improve and regulate the care of the horses. It’s not wrong to use horses to pull carts. It’s OK to ride horseback and it’s OK to ride an elephant and a camel. There are lots of animals that are not suitable for riding, but horses are alright. This is actually common knowledge and the fact that there’s a serious debate over banning the industry shows how a more extremist animal rights community has been successful in framing the debate. Luckily the carriages won’t go without a fight.
What’s more, de Blasio is potentially putting hundreds of working-class New Yorkers, whose Teamsters Union endorsed him, out of work. For a politician who came into office on a platform of fighting for middle and working class New Yorkers with the nebulous pledge of ending “inequality,” putting hansom cab drivers out of work is the political equivalent of crapping in an inaugural ball punch bowl. Mayor de Blasio likely knows this, so hence the announcement during the holidays and before the hullaballoo of his inauguration.
There have definitely been drivers who overworked or abused their horses. One driver was even arrested for animal abuse when found to be working a horse that had an infected hoof. But the carriages are regulated and inspected and have been under significant scrutiny for years.
If we let animal rights activists start calling the shots, we’ll start on a slippery slope to becoming a city of pathetic vegetarian tree-huggers.
New Mayor: Bill de Blasio is the first Democrat elected mayor in New York in more than 20 years. He managed to unite New York Democrats and ran a very smart campaign. He’s inheriting a shit show from outgoing Mayor Bloomberg in the form of multiple city worker contracts that have expired. Thousands of city workers have been working without a contract for years and they expect their liberal Democratic mayor to pay up and fast. De Blasio knows he can’t give his many supporters everything they want. He’s got to walk the tightrope of trying to hold together a liberal coalition that wants to increase taxes on the wealthy without scaring away the rich New Yorkers who provide the city’s much-needed tax base.
Super Bowl: The Super Bowl will bring more money to New York City, even though the game is being played in New Jersey at Giants Stadium or MetLife Stadium or whatever corporate behemoth blows a wad of cash to put its name on it by next year. Of course, the powers that be are hard at work making sure that the game will be expensive and less fun than your average Jets or Giants routing that normally takes place there. They have banned tailgating at the game, which is like banning praying in church.
Extended 7 Subway Line: The No. 7 subway line is scheduled to open in June 2014, but the authorities ran a special train just so outgoing mayor Bloomberg could ride it before he left office. It currently runs from Flushing, Queens to Times Square in Manhattan. The extension will run to 11th Avenue and 34th Street, near the Javits Convention Center. As a commuter who takes the 7 train every day to work, I loath this upcoming extension. The 7 train is a crowded clusterfuck of a subway line. Unless the MTA has a magic train fairy ready to plop massive double-decker trains on the line right before the extension opens, they are about to make a bad situation much worse. The silver lining is that it will make it easier for people to get to the Javits Center for conventions. But really, slow-moving tourists who don’t know where they’re going is not what we really need more of on our subways.
Fulton Street Transit Hub: On the good news end of public transportation grand openings in 2014, the Fulton Street Transit Hub in lower Manhattan may open in 2014. The Fulton Street subway station has been a maze of construction closures for close to a decade now, and some of the improvements are already evident. It has been delayed and scaled down from its original, more elaborate plans, but it will be a vast improvement.
Real Community Organizing: We’ll see more real community organizing in New York in 2014, and by community organizing, I mean citizens getting together outside of government institutions to do things for themselves. Most people think of community organizing as people getting together to petition for increased benefits or air grievances of one form or another. But as our fractured city and nation find official institutions continually lacking, more New Yorkers will see the wisdom in doing things for themselves. You’ll see more Community Supported Agriculture (not just for hippies anymore), more home schooling (not just for religious fanatics anymore) and the like. New Yorkers are resilient and inventive. That won’t change.
I sat in a room full of very well-behaved financial professionals and analysts wondering why no one was going insane. It was a day like any other and it was a financial conference in Manhattan didn’t suddenly give in to the orgiastic wills of the dozens of assembled people.
Most of us lose our minds at one point or another but almost always too slowly to register to the outside world. We let our own fears and disappointments torture and kill us, carving our minds and souls to shredded pulps.
Given the state of the world, I’m surprised more and more people aren’t dropping out of civilized society by going crazy. Many times I find myself in a situation where people’s acceptance of what’s given to them or the state of their surroundings is maddening and ought to result in a violent outburst of creative violence, but it never happens. And if it did, it would never be contained enough to be justified and righteous.
So even though I sympathize with crazy to the nth degree and feel the temptation to bring that measured and sane violence to our insane world, I can’t stand the people who force their insanity on the world around them.
The people who scream and rave in public, who throw themselves in front of trains or off of buildings, are childish egotists who think they are special enough to force others to notice them and rearrange their lives for them. You have every right to be crazy and are probably right to be insane, but force yourself on others and you’re not better than the rest of the cruel, cruel world, probably worse. That is one reason we have art, music and literature: it’s how we turn the pain of being alive into something worth living for.
You have to embrace your insane rage in the right way. The only worse than letting your insanity kill you is letting it make you an egocentric asshole first.