Commute


Dinette set

Sitting behind me on the LIRR, a clearly appalled girl in her 20s exclaims to her friend:

“She advertised it as a dining room set, but it’s a dinette set at best!”

Now, I get as infuriated by classified-ad exaggerations as the next guy, but judging by this girl’s obnoxiouly loud voice and completely-void-of-irony indignation, I’m guessing she doesn’t have enough friends to require the extra leaf and two chairs she’d been expecting.


Bookmark and Share

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.

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.”


Bookmark and Share

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.


Bookmark and Share

train-to-babylon1

I was out late last night and found myself, as I often do, in Penn Station looking for a train home to the burb. When I looked up at the big board, I could swear I saw not one but two trains to Babylon listed, one after the other. Now, knowing that after a drink or three my reading ability might not have been at its peak, I did a double take, and then a triple take just to confirm that there was indeed a train leaving Penn Station for Babylon at 11:31 p.m., and another one right on its heels, at 11:34.

Perhaps I’m grossly underestimating the number of drunken Babylonians heading home from Manhattan late at night, but the trains to my town run only once an hour, and fares are constantly being raised and service cut. Babylon seems like an odd basket to place all one’s eggs.

By the way, my crappy camera phone makes it hard to tell, but that big board in the photo lists 7 trains. Three of them are bound for Babylon.

It’s not often you’ll find me quoting the bible, but a quick SweetSearch turns up this wish for the future:

“And Babylon shall become heaps, a dwellingplace for dragons, an astonishment, and an hissing, without an inhabitant.”

Sounds like the LIRR is gonna have a lot of trains to cancel.


Bookmark and Share

One of my favorite things about New York is that everyone knows the rules. The subway and elevator are perfect examples: generally speaking, people stand aside to let you off the train before they get on. Same for elevators. People are so good about this that you get spoiled. I had the misfortune of working in Hoboken for about a year, and the most frustrating part of the horrible commute was relearning every morning that people who live in Hoboken do not know the rules. You’d think that they’d pick up a thing or two working in Manhattan every day, but no: every morning, to get off the PATH train in Hoboken, I had to push through a crowd of people trying to get on before I got off.

The one rule that not enough people follow in New York is the escalator rule. Maybe it’s because we’ve got too many elevators and not enough escalators so we’re not getting enough practice, but whatever the reason, not enough of us know that if you’re going to stand on one step of the escalator, you should stand to the right so the walkers can pass by on your left. This is a great rule. It’s simple, it allows for variety (lazy people in no hurry, right lane; restless and/or late people, left lane), and it turns escalators into mini pedestrian highways.

I had a friend who took a two week vacation to London, and when he came back one of the first things he said about his trip was how impressed he was with how everyone in London follows the rules, and stays to the right when riding escalators. I’ve never been to London but is sounds like paradise.

No discussion of escalators would be complete without mention of Mitch Hedberg, the late comedian who said:

“An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. You would never see an ‘Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order’ sign, just ‘Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.’”

I couldn’t find a video clip of his escalator joke, but here’s a couple of minutes of Hedberg on Letterman.


Bookmark and Share

empire-state-building

The photo above is the view out of one of the windows in my office today.

I never appreciated the Empire State Building when I was a kid. I think I must have been about 16 before I even went inside for the first time. And even as a young adult I took it for granted. In my defense, though, the countless movies, the millions of postcards, and the urban legends about killing people with pennies have unfortunately had the collective effect of turning the building into something of a cliche.

But after September 11, 2001, well, without getting too weepy, the Empire State Building took on a new significance. Not just by retaking its crown as the city’s tallest building and as the true anchor of the New York skyline, but by truly embodying the best of New York. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s brash. Looking at the skyline in a certain way (literally or figuratively), you could even see the Empire State Building as a giant middle finger extended to the rest of the world. But it has the game to back up the trash talk. And it’s so much more than just brute strength and attitude; it’s a beautiful and elegant example of New York architecture at its best.

The building has had its share of tragedy, including a deadly accidental plane crash in 1945 and the almost-as-unforgivable 1976 King Kong remake starring Jeff Bridges.

But for the past two years I’ve been lucky enough to see it up close every day as part of my commute, and I’ve come to truly appreciate both its gargantuan scale and its quiet grace.

(Side note: You know that old joke about something being so big it has its own zip code? It probably originated with the Empire State Building, which does in fact have its own zip code: 10118.)

(Side note, take 2: Several years ago I was in St. Louis for the day and saw a restaurant called the Empire Steak Building. Needless to say I had no choice but to eat there. Sadly, I hear the place is no longer in business.)

Every morning, when I walk into my 28th-floor office, the first thing I see is the view we have of the ESB. It’s not a bad way to start the day. This winter has been an especially overcast one with very few sunny days. (I’m speaking literally here, about the local weather, but if you want to take it as a metaphor for the country’s woes, I won’t stop you.) Needless to say I’ve been enjoying the sunnier skies this week, and the great view of New York’s middle finger.


Bookmark and Share

Next Page »