The Flatiron district is an interesting place to work. It has a much more mixed milieu than working in midtown or the financial district. Most of the people you see on the street are not office workers involved in the capital markets. While there are financial people from Credit Suisse and the other firms that inhabit the old Metropolitan Life Tower Building, you also have college students from Baruch College, shady characters from the St. Francis Residence on 24th Street, hopeful comedians in the evening performing at the People’s Improv Theater, and a host of well-off residents who live in the area. You’ll find rock starts getting ready to play at the Gramercy Theatre. One evening my coworkers and I were at Black Barn on 26th Street across the street from Madison Square Park when we saw Hilary Clinton come and go with her Secret Service escort (her daughter Chelsea Clinton lives in the building above, as does Jennifer Lopez, a waitress told us).
I try to make it a point to go for a short walk at lunch time, going to Madison Square Park. There is always an unusual art project in the park, and when the weather is nice there are musicians there. There’s a jazz trio that often busks there and I once saw a visiting Algerian theater group Istijmam that was singing in front of the statue of Admiral Farragut.
One day this past week there were few visitors in the park on account of the cold. That didn’t stop people from lining up at the original Shake Shack to pay for the honor of eating over-hyped food outside in the bad weather.
I exited the park on the Southwest by the statue of Roscoe Conkling and headed East on 23rd to get lunch and head back to the office.
On the corner of 23rd Street and Park Avenue was a person in a giant costume, yellow with a big happy face head. The giant happy face was waving and giving the thumbs up to passersby. At first I thought this was one of the costumed people from Times Square that take photos with tourists for tips and have become increasingly aggressive and competitive. Did this person decide to branch out from Times Square? The Flatiron district is not as tourist-heavy as Times Square but may be touristy enough to support one person in a costume? I didn’t see anyone taking a photo with the big happy face, which seemed exceedingly jovial despite not having any commerce.
I thought perhaps this was a promotion for something. A few months ago a parade of Yeti made its way down the sidewalks of 23rd Street to promote a television show about looking for the elusive creature. But I saw no sign that indicated what this might be for and no overt promotion was evident.
As I walked by, I noticed a few young men positioned discreetly near the smiley face watching people pass by. Each held a small stack of business cards in their hands.
I stopped by one of the men and asked if he was with the happy face and if he knew what it was for.
“Yes, we’re here promoting this service,” he said, discreetly handing me one of his business cards. The sleek black card had a smiley face on one side. On the other side was a phone number for a marijuana delivery service “For Major Connoisseurs & Enthusiasts” that is available “For Residents In Manhattan And Select Brooklyn Locations.” “Listen to greeting for instructions.”
I’m not a fan of marijuana. The last thing I need is to be paranoid and compelled to eat more. But I think it should be 100% legal in all states in America and it’s a national shame that anyone is in jail for simply possessing or selling it.
The happy face gave me a thumbs up. Part of me is glad that this was not some group of religious zealots or other do-gooders trying to make everyone happy for the sake of it, and I am happy that industrious New Yorkers are flouting an unfair law and making a profit on it. I wish this business success and thank them for bringing some additional happiness to our corner of the Flatiron district.
Summer vacations are best taken after Labor Day, when the summer season is considered over and people are back to the grind. Leaving New York City after Labor Day is a reward for sticking it out in the horrendous heat of this summer.
My family went to Long Beach Island, New Jersey, a tourist mecca that becomes much quieter after Labor Day. The weather was wonderful over the weekend and we enjoyed relaxing on the beach while our toddler girls were mesmerized with experimenting with water and sand. I had no idea such simple ingredients could keep children entertained for hours and have a new appreciation for the beach.
While we were enjoying the ocean air and seafood, we saw the news of the string of bombings that happened in New Jersey and New York City. Long gone are the days when news like that would have sent us running to turn on the TV news. We’ve become much more accustomed to these kinds of events. But before long the damage was assessed with no fatalities, the usual Internet debates sprung up before the dust settled, and within hours of the bombing in Chelsea the authorities had their suspect.
And has been noted before, New York does not scare easily and we overcame fears of bombs years ago. Maybe you can scare a smaller city like Boston or San Francisco with a homemade explosive, but that’s plainly piddling stuff for the Big Apple.
Some of the best comments to win the Internet noted that the bombing brought New Yorkers of all kinds together to acknowledge that 23rd and 6th is not Chelsea but the Flatiron neighborhood. No doubt plenty of real estate brokers will consider it Chelsea to jack up the rent, but you have to get to 7th Avenue to be considered Chelsea. Sorry terrorists.
That the device was planted in what was mistakenly thought to be Chelsea could be a sign that the bomber wanted to target gays, since Chelsea is known as a gay neighborhood. Then again, the suspect in custody put it close to PATH train stations in both Manhattan and Elizabeth, which could mean he was too lazy to walk far in Manhattan. Seeing as he’s spent most of his time in this country working at a fried chicken restaurant in New Jersey, I’m guessing the latter. You don’t have to be hard-working to be a jihadist, just a delusional lunatic.
What warms my heart about the incident the most was not that there were no fatalities or that the suspect was quickly apprehended—and hats off to our first responders for all of that of course. What makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside and have faith that the New York of my youth is not completely gone is that the second device left in Manhattan was discovered when people tried to steal the suitcase it was stored in. That lives were saved by old-fashioned larceny means that the grit and crime that characterized our streets for decades lives on and in some small way redeems us. It figures this clown came from New Jersey; real New Yorkers know an unattended bag is going to be stolen faster than any detonator.
But like our overcoming the horrors of the September 11 attacks, it fills Americans with pride that New Yorkers did not wallow in horror or self-pity at this incident. We simply kept performing the never-ending calculus of planning around delays and diversions that becomes second-nature. Don’t lead the newscast with a body count, New Yorkers say, tell us which subways are closed.
Islamic terrorists planted bombs thinking they can stop New Yorkers from drinking in bars. Better people have died trying.
There’s been a lot of discussion in the news of recent political violence in this country. Scuffles have broken out at political rallies between protesters and supporters of rival candidates. Protests have gotten ugly. The overwhelming majority of Americans deplore violence of all kinds.
We’ll have no shortage of political ugliness in New York. Some of it has already gotten under way in earnest. But our Gotham is full of human abominations that people of all political affiliations can agree ought to be subjected to swift and brutal physical punishment on sight. Here is a catalog of the top five worthy subjects:
People who stand on the left side of the escalator. Sometimes people don’t realize that they have committed this infraction and there are people who come to New York from parts of the world where escalators are rare (watching Haitians attempt to board an escalator at JFK airport was an eye-opening experience), and they are usually sensible enough to move aside when you say “excuse me.” But some people think that an escalator is an amusement park ride, and they ought to have some common sense and manners beaten into them frequently and without mercy.
People who read their smartphone, kindle or book while walking. You can see these zombies a mile away and each one of them thinks they are the rare exception that can pull it off and not be that plodding imbecile impeding the progress of our precious Gotham. They are wrong. Trample them underfoot. They are not fit to live here.
People who use public transit seats for their luggage. Unless your purse or backpack paid $2.75 to ride this crowded bus or subway, let it sit on the floor or on your lap, or else you will find a host of volunteers willing to cram it up your ass.
Cyclists who ride on sidewalks, run red lights and ride on the wrong side the road. It is never these rancid, entitled brats who are dragged to their deserved deaths by garbage trucks or city buses, but it should be. If I’d go to jail for doing it with a car, don’t you dare try it with a bicycle. What’s most galling is when they yell at pedestrians to get out of their way as they are preparing to run a red light.
People who listen to music or watch videos in public spaces without earphones. Some people are not content speaking on their cell phones in theaters, they want to bring the theater experience with them and everyone within earshot. Simply inform these people that their earphones must be broken since you can hear their sports event/Chinese soap opera/rap mix tape, etc. If they don’t get to the hint, see to it that their devices and jaw is broken as well.
Can we all get along? Yes, we can all agree that some people need to learn some manners. New Yorkers can unite around these common enemies.
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.