Been there, done that

Despite the fact that I have much to say about my current state of affairs, the post I’m most inspired to write is a tangential one.

I tend to run with people who love to travel.  I suppose that isn’t too hard to do, as most people enjoy the exoticism of hopping on a plane and leaving the world behind for a few days or a week.  I can’t say if my friends travel more than most, I just know that several of my close friends make it a point to take at least one big trip a year, sometimes to far flung places like Thailand and Australia.  I have an uncle who I’ve always known for traveling, and he is making his way across the globe in a lifetime of trips, thoroughly exploring Europe, then South America, now Asia.

I love traveling too.  There is something inexplicably fascinating and freeing about standing in a city you’ve only seen on a map before, or in pictures.  Exploring the hidden corners that never make it to tourist books gives me a real sense of adventure, something that I think is hard to come by in this day and age. Continue reading

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Other things not to miss about New York

I told you there was more.  Starting with:

Winter

Summer is pretty bad, but I think winter in New York may be worse.  The humidity is still around, but it turns into a bone chilling damp that somehow gets inside your clothes.  The temperatures plummet, and in the depths of January the temperatures can reach near zero.  If you’ve not experienced near zero, it is the kind of cold that makes you want to crawl inside a tauntaun.

And it snows.  I used to love snow as a kid–couldn’t get enough of it.  But that’s because there was less of it.  When I was a kid, school closed for snow days only a handful of times, and that was only because I went to private school from K-8.  When I was in public high school there was exactly one snow closure, for the blizzard of ’96.  (Ok, that’s actually 1996, but the Blizzard of ’96 makes it sound more dramatic, like in the Laura Ingalls Wilder book The Long Winter when it snowed so much no trains could get through and they almost starved.)*

Since I’ve become a teacher, school seems to be closed for snow with much higher frequency.  Of course there was the famous time when the mayor closed schools in expectation of a storm that never came, but there have been plenty of other moments.  And then there are the days when school should have been closed but wasn’t, and getting to work was a death defying attempt.  New Yorkers get even more selfish and stupid in the snow, so in addition to the ice and general mother nature danger, the pedestrian or driver must slalom around poorly driven cars and general insanity.

New York snow is disgusting, too.  When it first falls, if you are lucky to be standing somewhere like Central Park, or Rockefeller Center with the Christmas tree, that is really magic–a silent city, a frosting of fluffy snow softening the hard edges of the buildings.  When New York is that quiet, it seems that there really could be peace on earth.  But that only lasts for half a minute.  Then sidewalks are shoveled, and drifts pile up on the sidewalks waiting  for someone to fall in.  Then some of the snow starts to melt, and because the drains are blocked by more snow, lakes of slush form at every crosswalk that only an Olympian could clear.  But dammit, I try, and inevitably get my legs splashed.  What snow remains gets mixed with ice and turns black.  Literally black with all the dirt, and you realize how seriously dirty NYC is.

The mayor

Ok, I’m not the most political person on earth.  I’m not without opinions, but they mostly come from the Daily Show and Bill Maher, and people are always bringing up examples from the news which mystify me.  But I loathe our current mayor.

He is smug and self satisfied, and he thinks he knows everything about anything ever invented, including education.  Somewhere along the way Bloomberg had a teacher that traumatized him and he has now made it a personal vendetta against all educators.  His dumbass ideas make my daily life more difficult, they keep me from doing the job I need and want to do, and they’re hurting the kids in our city, clever kids who need a lot of help, not a lot of tests.  Rah!

Chris Rock once said of Rudy Giuliani that he’s kind of like a pitbull–you really want him around protecting your house, but if no one’s attacking you, he might kill your kids.  This was very true.  Giuliani had his own brand of crazy (anyone remember when people would get a ticket for taking up more than one seat on the subway–even on an empty car?), but I can remember some things he did that made my life better, like the one fare MetroCard.  Bloomberg raised MetroCard fares.  That sucked too.

But you know, Giuliani was crazy too.  And Dinkins was just ridiculous.  I’ve decided–I’m not limiting this to our current mayor (although he is the worst of the lot to me), but all mayors.

Idiots/Inconsiderate People

New York gets a bad rap for being rude.  By and large, New Yorkers are actually good people.  I always say, stand on a street corner with a map (out of the path of traffic) and people will come up to you and helpfully offer directions.  They will even get into jocular arguments with other New Yorkers about which is the best way to go, and help you with your bags (please refrain from theft joke here).

But hey–it’s a city of 8 million people.  Some of them are mean and a lot of them are stupid.  Add to that the oblivious tourists and on a daily basis you can encounter enough people that when you get home you’re amazed you didn’t murder someone.

But, you say, there are stupid people where I live too!  I just yelled at some idiot that cut me off this morning.  To which I say–yes.  But imagine the sheer volume.  You’re surrounded by people on a claustrophobic subway car.  You cannot wait to explode off the train and breathe the free air where the Eloi live. You fear you are turning into a Morlock, but just as you resign yourself to surrendering your humanity because that kid has poked you for the twenty sixth time and the guy next to you is listening to his music so loudly that your own earphones don’t block it out.  But it’s your stop, and even if you don’t believe in God, this seems a miracle.  You claw your way to the doors, they slide open–and twenty people shove you further back into the car because they *need* to get on and don’t understand the idea that if you let some people off, there will be more room.  It is only through some Shark Week worthy thrashing that you find yourself on the platform as the train pulls away.

So you tumble onto the escalator.  Let us say this is Grand Central and there are enough escalators to make you think you’re braving the long dark of Moria, and you’re calming down enough to daydream of the $8 salad you’ll get for lunch.  Maybe you’ll even add the chicken for an extra $2, and live a little.  You’re nearing the top of the escalator…that tourist is staring at the downtown/uptown signs in iconic Helvetica…yes we know it’s a great font and the NYC subway is a pinnacle of graphic design…there are only three steps to fold up before you’re at the top, and the hundred people behind you.  MOVE YOU IDIOT THIS THING WILL SPILL ME INTO YOU.  But they don’t move, and when you inevitably stumble into them and begin a human traffic jam that ripples down the escalator they have the nerve to give you a dirty look.  And you just *wish* you had a Balrog’s whip of fire.

You pop into Starbucks to calm yourself, and you set your eyes on the last blueberry scone and just as you step up to the counter and open your mouth, some jackass steps in front of you, not only stealing your turn, but stealing your scone.  This is what NY is sometimes.  And endless stream of dumbassery.

Gentrification

I loathe gentrification on so many levels, my previous example of Times Square notwithstanding.  It is killing New York, and forcing all the natives out of the city.

One of my all time favorite books, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, opens with a description of Williamsburg, of the Jewish and Irish and Italian immigrants mingling together in the early days of the 20th century.  The opening passages mention the Tree of Heaven, the titular tree, and say that you might come to a nice neighborhood, very refined, but the tree is there.  And then the brownstones are hacked up into flats and mattresses push out of the windows and the neighborhood goes from refined to ghetto.  The tree flourishes because it likes poor people.

Now people are coming and hacking the tree down.  People will pay thousands today for what was a slum a hundred years ago, even twenty years ago.  My uncle used to tell us stories of his rough and tumble neighborhood–Park Slope.

What disgusts me is that people are willing to pay $2000 a month for a one bedroom tenement in the East Village, simply because it’s the East Village.  I would say let them be stupid, but what that means is there are no affordable apartments for people who grew up in New York and see it as a home and not a movie set.  The fiance talks about coming back, but then I wonder–where will we live?  Even the smallest houses on the fringes of sketchy neighborhoods are $500k.  And if a solidly middle class person can’t afford the City, then we must be creating one hell of a class war, on the scale of the French Revolution.  Except roaches could wind up being the foot soldiers here.

Sometimes I worry about the fiance.  He’s all about living in NYC, and planning to come back.  But he’s only been here as a tourist.  And he hates London, which to my eyes has a very similar style to NY.  He’s very cavalier about the winter and summer, for example.  I don’t think he knows that he won’t find any tauntauns to crawl into on those cold days.  It’s very hard to get a permit for them.  Thanks, Mayor Bloomberg.  First you take my soda, then you take my tauntaun.

*You know, when I think about it, those Little House books were pretty brutal. I should have guessed something would be up when in the first book Laura and Mary play with a pig’s stomach as a balloon on slaughtering day.  Echoes of Lord of the Flies much?

Things not to miss about New York – Summer

Don’t get me wrong–this is not a post about bashing New York.  I actually hate it when people bash New York.  Of all the places I’ve traveled to and lived, New York was, is, and always will be home.  But I’m about to leave this home, I need some measure of comfort to remind myself that it’s not all moonlight and roses.  Ok, none of it is moonlight and roses, but a good deal about New York is really cool.    However, you can’t really love something unless you recognize its imperfections.  So in order to assuage myself about leaving, a list of things I will not miss about the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of.”

Originally this was supposed to be a list, but I got onto such a tangent about the heat and beaches that I will have to separate my posts.  Nobody complains with quite the same finesse as a New Yorker.

The past three days have seen temperatures near a hundred degrees.  At 70, New York is delightful.  At 80, a pleasant, summery warm.  But at 90 degrees, New York turns into a sticky, smelly mess.  It’s like a kid with melted popsicle all over his face–if the popsicle were BO flavored and made with sewage and garbage.  On top of that, for some meteorological reason that I do not know (best guess–proximity to the ocean), weather here is almost always humid.  I’ve actually been to Las Vegas and experienced the dry desert heat people always say makes them able to live in places like Phoenix, and what they say is actually true.  That oven like heat is far more bearable than the pea soup of New York in summer.

Ok, so bad enough that summer gets pretty crappy, but a New Yorker’s options for beating the heat are few, and of poor quality.  Inside, most people have unit air conditioners. Buildings are older, and wiring for central air doesn’t really make sense for three months of the year.  So most people have window units in their apartments and houses–you can see them sticking out as you walk down any street in the boroughs, hear their hum.  Inside, of course, the gentle hum is magnified 200 times so that it sounds like you’re sitting in a jet engine, with only a small radius of cool.

So you say–f this, I’m getting in some water.  Good luck finding some.  Pools are only for the very rich, or those with nice backyards, or people who are willing to give over their entire backyard to a pool.  If you’re really rich, you can go to a hotel pool, which seem really swanky but cost probably a few thousand dollars for a summer membership.  The other option is the public pool, but that’s really like being squeezed onto a subway car in tepid water, except there is a slightly greater chance of being the casualty of a cannonball.  I’m not really rich, nor really a masochist, so my option is the beach.

Let me be honest–NY beaches pretty much suck.  You have to walk across a mile of sand to get to the water, and not only is it really difficult to walk across mounds of dry sand (garnering new respect for camels), this sand is also scorching hot, so that by the time you reach the water, the soles of your feet are seared a nice medium rare, complete with grill lines.  But of course, finding a place to set up your towel and chair is virtually impossible because every one of the eight million inhabitants of the great city of New York has decided to go to the beach.  Several loud boomboxes compete with each other, and children scream at a pitch far louder and shriller than seagulls.  But you can’t go back without dunking your feet in the water at least.  You came so far!  So you squeeze your towel in between two others much like wedging yourself into a seat in the subway* and go down to the water.  There are fabled beaches all over the world with glittering water in variegated shades of azure, turquoise, ultramarine, and cerulean lapping gently at bright white sand.   The New York beaches boast miles of dun colored lava sand, as I described, and gorgeous gray, opaque water which crashes onto the sand with such force it’s surprising more of Long Island hasn’t been pulverized into sand.  When I was in Nice they would shut down all the beaches for waves half the size of those at Jones beach.  And should you actually decide you have the superhuman strength to swim these tempestuous waters, you get the delight of experiencing water so cold Jack’s quick death in Titanic makes a lot of sense.  And then an unidentifiable clump of what might be seaweed or human hair brushes against your leg.

The fiance complains how tourist ridden Tenerife and the Costa Brava are.  I don’t get it and I do.  To me the Canary Islands and Spain are exotic destinations.  But when I told him I would be thrilled with a honeymoon in the Mediterranean he scoffed that that was a weekend trip.  I struggle to see the world this way, but yet I understand.  If someone suggested a honeymoon on the Florida beaches as someplace exotic and far flung, I would scoff at them.  I just have trouble aligning Mallorca with Tampa.  However, at all of the above the beaches are better than New York.

England doesn’t do summer with half as much punishment.  Arguably, they barely do summer at all.  The next ten days show temperatures in the mid-sixties with plenty of rain–i.e. April.  I might miss the 80 degree days of basking in pleasant warmth, but after a heat wave, I can honestly say goodbye to New York summers with a smile on my face.  Which might melt off if I step outside.

*Ok, I know I used this simile twice, but it was too apt in both cases to change.