April 2009


This week’s Newsweek has a great essay by historian and Brooklyn Bridge “biographer” David McCullough about the perils of the proposed luxury condo in Dumbo that would block the view of the iconic bridge for most folks on the Brooklyn side.

Sadly the project was approved by the City Planning Commission this week and now head to the City Council for final approval.

On the Newsweek Web site is a counter-essay, written partly by Kurt Soller and mostly by the development company, that argues in favor of the project. Their argument aside from pointing out that the development will include some affordable housing units and a public school in addition to the luxury condos, essentially amounts to a claim that everyone (including the Community Board and the Borough President) wants the condo except for a handful of neighborhood kooks who have “hoodwinked” McCullough, a New England resident.

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the very few New York institutions that has not been surrounded by T-shirt shops and other tourist-trap BS. In fact, a walk across the bridge is something I always recommend to out-of-towners or new transplants, because it’s so landmarky without being touristy. Living nowhere near the bridge, I don’t really have any skin in the game but I’d hate to see the view of the truly inspiring American landmark marred so that some rich developers can get richer.

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An amusingly broken traffic light on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 1st Street (photo courtesy of Ethan Stanislawski at Tynan’s Anger):

angry-dont-walk-sign

Rejected captions:

“Something’s different about that ‘Don’t Walk’ sign, but I can’t put my finger on it.”

“That’s one very cross walk.”

“Who says New Yorkers never lift a finger to help a pedestrian?”

“Crossing Delancy–now rated R.”

“New York to pedestrians: F*** you!”

“New York’s traffic signals now display the state bird.”


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Every region has its own linguistic quirks. I’m not talking about accents (don’t get me started on people who say “Lawn Guyland”). I mean words and phrases that are unique to the area. Here are some of my favorite bits of NewYorkese.

1) New Yorkers don’t stand in line. We stand ON line.

2) New Yorkers say “the floor” when they mean “the ground.” Example: you’re walking down the street with someone, and they drop a piece of food, and then they pick it up. Your response: “You can’t eat that! It fell on the floor!” Many New Yorkers do this without even realizing it. And when you tell them, they don’t even believe you, because it seems like a nonsensical way to talk. But it’s pretty widespread.

3) We call a whole pizza a “pie.” Comedian Brian Regan attributes this to New Jersey, but it really belongs to the whole tri-state area.

4) “The City” means Manhattan.

5) Queens and Brooklyn are geographically part of Long Island, but when people say Long Island they always mean Nassau and Suffolk counties. NEVER Queens or Brooklyn.

More New Yorkisms to come in a future post. Meanwhile, enjoy Linda Richman.


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Listening over the weekend to Queens native Q-Tip’s new album over the weekend left a lyric of his from a much older song in my head: “Back in the days on the boulevard of Linden …” I always mumble that line to myself when passing sign for the Linden Bouelvard exit on the Van Wyck Expressway.

But I digress. My point is, it got me thinking about some of the other gazillion popular songs that mention New York, and what my favorites are. Few, if any, cities have inspired as many popular songs as New York. I mean, just Billy Joel alone could fill a couple albums with his. (Actually, he did.)

But I already know what my favorites are. So I’m wondering what YOUR favorites are. So please leave comments telling me your faves–but first, a few ground rules:

Simply mentioning New York (“Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White Ts, “We’re a Happy Family” by the Ramones, “Check the Rhyme” by A Tribe Called Quest, etc.) isn’t good enough. You can only pick songs where New York (or some part of it) is really the focus.

Same goes for having New York in the title. “The 59th Street Bridge Song” by Simon and Garfunkel may be a great song but it’s not really about the 59th Street Bridge. Well, unless somebody recently repaved it with cobblestones and forgot to tell me.

Songs can be from any genre–rock, rap, showtunes, whatevs–but must have been performed by a professional recording artist or group. I.e., no songs written by you, or your friend, or your cousin, or your cousin’s friend.

To get you into a New York state of mind (sorry), here’s a too-broad-but-still-useful Wikipedia list of songs about New York, and a couple of videos of a couple of my faves, including the one that provided the name for this blog.


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For those of who left a bit confused by this, Murray Hill is a Manhattan neighborhood, roughly defined as the East side of Midtown from about 34th Street to 42nd Street, depending on who you ask. I worked in Murray Hill twice, for a total of about 6 years.

(Side note: My favorite nickname for a neighborhood is for the several blocks just south of Murray Hill on Lexington, informally known as Curry Hill because they house so many Indian restaurants.)

If you haven’t spent enough time in Murray Hill to appreciate the song, well, come back here tomorrow when I have something new posted.


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umbrella-man

One of my favorite things about New York is the guy in the above photo. OK, not so much that particular guy, but the fact that you can buy a crappy umbrella for $3 outside any popular subway stop.

Another great thing about Manhattan in the rain is the construction. The ubiquitous scaffolding around the city is usually ugly and in the way, but when it’s raining it can be a God-send. In some areas there’s so much of it that you can make it from office to train station without an umbrella.

But in general, getting around New York in the rain is no fun. It appears to bring out the inner moron in all of us. Which means I get poked in the eye, smacked in the head, and late. So here’s a few pointers for your commute home:

  1. Giant golf umbrellas are great on the golf course. But they are not OK in Midtown Manhattan during rush hour. Yes, I know the bigger size helps keep you drier, but there’s just not enough room on the sidewalk for you and that retractable stadium roof you call an umbrella. When you’re commuting, use a human-size umbrella, please.
  2. Your hands work independently of your feet. So why do you think you have to stop walking in order to open or close your umbrella? There are people behind you. Keep moving.
  3. Two umbrellas cannot occupy the same space at the same time. If you’re walking toward me, at least one of us needs to either lift or lower so we can pass each other without collision. Most people know this, but it’s hard to avoid having two well-meaning pedestrians raise umbrellas at the same time and crash anyway (kind of a vertical version of that awkward dance when two people step aside for each other in the same direction). Here’s a simple rule: the taller person should raise; the shorter person should lower. Or, even better, if there’s nobody next to you, just move your umbrella to the side a bit so we can pass by at the same height without bumping.
  4. Along the same lines, it’s important to remember that you take up more room when you’re holding an umbrella than you do without the umbrella. Just because your body hasn’t bumped into me doesn’t mean your umbrella isn’t smacking me in the face. Just be aware, is all I’m saying.
  5. I’m walking right behind you. Stopping short is dangerous for us both.
  6. After you hit me with your umbrella, apologize. Don’t just turn, look at me, and then keep walking.
  7. Don’t close your umbrella every time you go under scaffolding. For one, it makes you stop walking (see #2 above). Then you stop walking again a block later, when the scaffolding ends and you have to open the umbrella again. But also, most scaffolding leaks, so you probably won’t look too stupid keeping the umbrella open.
  8. If you don’t have an umbrella, holding a newspaper above your head will not keep you dry. Newspapers are made of paper. You look stupid. Plus, you can buy an umbrella for $3 at any subway stop.


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Citi Field

I got my first up-close glimpse of the Mets’ new ballpark, Citi Field, this weekend. Needless to say it’s a vast improvement over Shea. The views are better, the concourses wider, the sound system more audible, the bathrooms more plentiful (and cleaner), and of course it’s a whole lot prettier, inside and out. Overall, I love it. But I’m not IN love with it.

First, the good:

Jackie Robinson Rotunda
The much-hyped Jackie Robinson Rotunda is stunning, inside and out. Symmetrical curving staircases, giant paintings of Jackie, enormous windows, and lots of dark gray steel and orange brick. There’s also a 10-foot-high, 3-D, Dodger blue number 42 where people will no doubt be taking pictures all year long. It did strike me as a bit odd to have such a grand tribute to a man who never played for the Mets and had no direct connection to them, but if any player deserves such a tribute, it’s Jackie. The whole thing is truly majestic and worth walking through even if you’re parked on the other side of the stadium.

Home run apple Citi Field
The new home run apple looks great in dead center, and will look even better popping up after each Met homer. And the old apple from Shea is here too, just inside one of the outfield entrances to the stadium.

Citi Field interior
The field itself is beautiful. Gone are the dead patches of outfield grass we saw in Shea. And the outfield dimensions are quirky, with enormously deep gaps, and fences of varying height. Lots of foul ground in the infield, very little in the outfield.

Citi Field bleachers
The bleachers not only go all the way around the stadium but have multiple levels. I have to say it’s nice to see fans in the outfield. And, unlike at Shea, you don’t have to buy 100 tickets to sit there.

Citi Field bathroom
The bathrooms are located evenly and frequently throughout the building, and they’re all controlled by sensors, so you don’t have to touch anything. By midseason that will be a huge selling point.

Now, the bad:

Citi Field is kind of like John Mayer: there’s nothing specific to point to as bad, but there’s an overall feeling that it’s lacking somehow. What I mean is, it’s just as nice as the Nationals’ new stadium. And the Phillies’ new stadium. And the Reds’ new stadium. And the Rangers’ new stadium. In fact, it looks just like them. And that’s the problem. Aside from the home run apple and the rotunda, there’s little tying this stadium to New York, or even to the Mets. I feel like, with a few minor logo changes here and there, the stadium could be airlifted out of New York and dropped in any major city and fit in just as well.

The whole reason all these new stadiums were built was to replace bland, soul-less cookie-cutter stadiums. But what the architects at HOK Sport have done in several recent cases is simply replace the old, round cookie cutter with a nicer one. I expected more from the Mets, more from New York. I expected the stadium to have a soul.

Still, it’s gorgeous and comfortable and nicely appointed and modern and classic, and I’m going to truly enjoy my new summer home. It may have no soul, but its body is a wonderland.


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