Friday, October 19, 2012

New York, New York

Grand Central Station

There is much in this world we don’t understand. Things like: Why does gasoline go up fifty cents overnight? Why with full airplanes, they don’t add more flights? Why newspapers get thinner and thinner when there is obviously more and more news? Why my stocks go down when the market goes up and conversely why they go up when the market goes down? And lastly, why do so many people like New York City?

I am a provincial soul from California (actually Northern California). Here the weather and the politics are mild, pot in some form or another is legalish, restaurants open and close with regularity, and we believe in the tooth fairy, earthquakes that never happen, and that actors make great politicians. Ho-hum.

Take America’s number one or two vacation destination (depending on the poll), San Francisco. Wonderful weather, cool afternoon fogs, bright days, pleasant winds; when it rains it is soft with little insult. Streets are moderately clean as are the people. We are a melting pot (gruyere cheese please) of nationalities, refugees, languages, and apartment dwellers. It is never difficult to find some minority group in the Bay Area that represents a country that has had some sad unfortunate event occur in their home country, if there were refuges from Antarctica, there would be three families living together in an abandoned walk-in freezer south of Market Street. We take everyone.
A Little Bit of Heaven!

And now back to New York!
We non-New Yorkers are pummeled nightly by shows about New York. CSI New York, Person of Interest, 2 Broke Girls, Suits, Blue Bloods, White Collar, Mad Men, Law and Order (and the whole never ending series), and many others in all too never ending syndication. And don’t even start with movies and reality shows. As we walked the streets of New York, I thought I had been there before - like last night.

We were staying an elegant hotel near Central Park, good to great restaurants within blocks, but, good-God, meals were tough to keep below $125 for two – and we tried. Now I know, if you’re going to New York you expect this, everything is expensive. But it is made up for by the very, very, inexpensive baubles (designer handbags, scarves, Rolexes) on the street – so I guess everything balances out.

It is crowded, swanky, low-brow, high-brow, glittery, schmaltzy, stylish and plain, overrated and underrated. From the still under construction Ground Zero Memorial (which will take your breath away), to the top of the Empire State Building (millions and millions have gone before), it is a place of large scale thoughts and dreams. It is also tired and worn-out neighborhoods – East Village, Greenwich Village, SOHO, all showing empty store fronts, closed restaurants, and busted sidewalks.

Wall Street Bull with Admirers
It is a four story town with skyscrapers, like your mom looking over your shoulder, staring down on you while you do your homework or listening while you talk with your girlfriend. It is tourists with folded maps posing as targets for hippsters, hucksters, and hooligans. It queues waiting for the next hop-on/hop-off bus. It’s twenty-somethings (seems to be the dominant demographic) wandering about with the latest styles or the latest knock-offs in a bag. It’s hip-hop dancing on the street corners and horse drawn carriages. It’s the last place in America where men wear suits when they go to work. It is where retail comes and goes so fast the streets are perpetually covered in scaffolding. It’s a clean smelling city after a rain – not like San Francisco when it is ripe from a long rainless summer. It’s a thousand tourist’s rubbing the bull on Wall Street’s balls and having a Kodak moment. It is Chinatown where some haven’t left its twenty square blocks in years and play mahjong every day – rain or shine. It is the Hudson River side with parks, bikeways, and cruise ships. It is Bryant Park, Central Park, Washington Square, Battery Park, and Rockefeller Center, each saying much with just two words.

The Cascade at Ground Zero
And it is the Ground Zero Memorial with its twin central square cascade pools that seem bottomless and eternally deep.

New York City’s intensity is something, I guess, that you have to be born to, like an English Manor. It is hard, very hard, to walk in on. Too much information, too much noise, too much, much. I understand that it is a rite of passage: high school, college, degree, the West Village. Something for your resume, something to tell the grandkids. San Francisco is like that; I did that, for twenty years, and then decamped to the suburbs. Others are still doing it today (part of the reason for SF’s almost 10% increase in rents during the last year).

New York Checklist:

  • Did I enjoy the visit? Yes.
  • Did I eat and drink well? Yes.
  • Was it interesting? Yes.
  • Would I recommend it to my friends? Depends on the friend.
  • Will I go back? Yes, sometime.

Stay Tuned . . . . .

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