By Lynn Ashby 6 June 2011
NEW YORK CITY – Years ago, when I first arrived here, I walked into Times Square, saw the famous names in lights and on billboards, the hustle and bustle of the crowds. I put down my suitcase, shook my fist at the sky and yelled, “I’ll lick you yet, New York!” When I looked down, my suitcase was gone.
The town has changed since then, so take notes and save yourself trouble the next time you visit. (I’ve noticed virtually every Texan has visited NYC, but practically no New Yorkers have ever visited our cactus, cowboys and Indians.
Today NYC is cleaner. Not clean, mind you, but cleanER. Even the muggers take monthly baths. Smoking has been prohibited in restaurants and bars for some time now, but in May smoking was banned from beaches, parks, recreation centers, pools, part of Times Square, Coney Island Boardwalk — any place under city jurisdiction. Fifty bucks fine for lighting up.
You no longer hear the constant car honking. It is now a fine of $350 to honk except in emergencies. My cabbies are involved in many emergencies. A city ordinance apparently prevents cab drivers from speaking English. They still drive like maniacs, but never collide or even scrape. Riding in cabs – my wife has a hurt foot, so no subways or buses, darn — is not for the weak, nor for the cheap. In seven days I went through $758 in cabs, doormen and large black sedans with opaque windows that once belonged to the Godfather.
After 9/11 then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani proposed that he stay in office for another year or so until the situation settled down. Didn’t fly. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg, reputed to be the richest person in town, served his allotted terms, then changed the law so that he could run again. Isn’t being president-for-life limited to Syria?
When it comes to politics, New Yorkers have no pride about carpetbaggers, perhaps because they invented the title. When Bobby Kennedy wanted to run for the Senate, the Massachusetts pol leased a house on Long Island, installed his family there, and campaigned as a native son. He saw the humor in this, beginning speeches with, “My fellow New Yorkians.” He won. Hillary Clinton looked over the 50 states to see where she could parachute in and take over. Which people had so little pride and trust in their own politicians that they would prefer an outsider? NY, of course. She won, too.
It’s odd to open The New York Times and see the local TV schedule. The editions we get in Texas obviously don’t have them. One thing hasn’t changed: all night long I hear sirens. When You’re a Met You Are Wet All the Way: Never visit the Met when it rains. The museum is jammed. Brooklyn: If you have to live here, Park Slope is the new hot spot – a beautiful neighborhood filled with writers, young professionals and probably a few drug lords. The Plaza Hotel: It’s slowly closing down. The Palm Court is half empty.
Ground Zero: Tourists flock here, but mostly they just see walls. So find a friend, in my case, Jeff, who works high up in one of the many buildings surrounding GZ. Convince him to take you to his office on a weekend when the place is empty, and look down at the two pools that are being built in the footprint of the Twin Towers. Take in all the construction – they work on weekends, too – and get a feel for the place. Otherwise, don’t bother.
Chinatown: Again, get a Natty Bumppo to guide. Jeff takes us to a restaurant where my wife and I are the only non-Asians. He orders in Chinese and the food is fantastic. A little of this, a dab of that. Jeff also does all the haggling in the shops. “There is one price for white faces, another for us,” he explains.
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral: Sunday morning, the acoustics are not good, but the church is worth visiting. And tourists do. You don’t often see worshippers carrying shopping bags. I, being the only Presbyterian in New York City, stand when everyone else sits, sit when they stand, kneel. I still can’t get it right.
Broadway: Went to see “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Still a great show. Oscar Wilde first staged it in 1895. Wonder if any plays written today will still be popular in 2127?
“The David Letterman Show” always leads with the announcer proclaiming the show comes from New York City, “The greatest city in the world!” It is, but problems remain. The press reports that black male joblessness is almost 50 percent. The nightly census of the homeless is just under 40,000, the highest since the Great Depression. Demand on food pantries is in a “geometric expansion.” Bloomberg hired a researcher who found that the real percentage of New Yorkers in poverty in 2009 was not 17.3 percent, as the federal measure stated, but 19.9 percent. The impoverished in New York equal the population of three Bostons.
The mayor contrasted New York with hollowed-out American cities, which relied on fading manufacturing plants. The tourism industry “is our answer to the old-time industries’ declining.” Hospitality is, indeed, a job leader, accounting for 27 percent of the city’s recent growth. It is also a low-paid industry: the average wage is 59 percent below the city average. This explains the surly waiters.
Not to get too condescending, there was once a Texan living in New York City who was broke, so he went to Central Park and kidnapped a child, pinned a note to him which read, “I’ve kidnapped your kid. Put $1,000 in a bag and tell him to bring it to me at the zoo in Central Park tomorrow– a Texan.” The next day, sure enough, the kid comes back with $1,000 in a bag, and a note: “I can’t believe a fellow Texan would do this to me.”
Ashby tours at firstname.lastname@example.org