New York City


The NYPD released numbers this week showing that the city’s murder rate is down 23 percent so far this year over the same period last year, and crime overall has dropped 13 percent.

That’s even more than the Dow, which is down a mere 11.56% year-to-date (as of market close yesterday).

Of course, there were still 80 homicides in the city between New Year’s and March 22, but hey, if you’re reading this, you weren’t one of those 80, so congrats on being alive, and on your increased chances of staying that way!

Looks like it’s time for those 5th Ave tourist T-shirt shops to stock something new.

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Today, a belated shout-out to fellow New Yorker RB, whose always amusing, sometimes poignant blog The Wicked Witch of the Web mentions, as an aside, “My favorite thing about New York is that you can cry on the street and no one will care, but my second favorite thing is that the stress that stems from getting to, or getting into, a yoga class would make even the Dalai Lama feel murderous.

I wonder if they have yoga classes at 24 Hour Fitness Derek Jeter.

Spending half of Thursday in Brooklyn reminded me of one of the things I love about the outer boroughs: the addresses. Know what’s so great about them? They actually tell you where the building is. Crazy, I know.

Today I had to go to 1601 41st Street. Know where it was? On the corner of 16th Avenue and 41st Street. Manhattan doesn’t do that. I once worked in a building at 605 Third Avenue. Go ahead, guess the cross-street. Give up? 40th. The address of the next bulding over was 633. This is helpful to no one.

Manhattanites, before you chime in, I know there’s a way to figure out the cross-street from the building number in Manhattan, too. But it’s not a simple way; it involves math, and it’s not even always accurate. Or maybe it’s my math that’s not always accurate. Either way, without scrap paper the best you can do with a Manhattan address is to know that a big number is uptown.

Queens, by the way, takes the concept of helpful address even further by hyphenating it. For example, that same address in Queens would be 16-01 41st Street, making the cross-street even more obvious.

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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.

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I’ve been on the subject of NYC landmarks lately, so let’s talk about Times Square.

It sucks. That’s right, I said it. Times Square sucks. Now, some of you may want to defend Times Square as a can’t-miss-it tourist destination, the Crossroads of the World, etc. To you I say: WRONG!

The place is overcrowded, overpriced, and overhyped. It’s overrun with tourists who believed whatever guidebook told them they’re getting the real New York experience, but any real New Yorker knows to avoid the place whenever possible.

Yes, Times Square has big–enormous–billboards and TV screens and stock tickers and news tickers, and yes, even the police station has neon lights. But all that gaudy, phony commotion just makes it Las Vegas East. I mean, the biggest billboards there are for stores and banks whose nearest outlets are miles away. Miles.

Also, no matter how small the buildings and billboards are in your hometown, what self-respecting human being takes a vacation to look at advertisements? I’ll save you a bundle by letting you stay home and watch some click-through ads online. They even blink, just like many of the ads in Times Square. You may not be aware, but there’s a lot of other stuff to do in this city.

Yes, Times Square has big–enormous–stores and restaurants. And there’s not a single one you’d even think of walking into in your hometown (and they’re ALL in your hometown, BTW). I mean, Bubba Gump Shrimp? Because nothing says New York like a pseudocreole chain restaurant inspired by a fictional New Orelans-based fishing company in a fictional movie and created not really to feed people but to sell them some logoed T-shirts and shot glasses. It’s so ridiculous that it makes the Billabong store (as in surfing gear and surfer fashion–not exactly the heart and soul of Manhattan) look like a venerable NYC institution.

Real New Yorkers don’t eat at Bubba Gump because they know a great little shrimp place. Real New Yorkers go to sample sales, not to Billabong. And real New Yorkers know that New Year’s Eve is better spent indoors, where you can drink legally and avoid frostbite.

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As much as I like to keep this blog lighthearted, today is the anniversary of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

It’s amazing to think back on the reactions to the bombing and how drastically different they’d be today. For one thing, nobody even thought it was a bomb at first, let alone a bomb orchestrated by Islamic terrorists. The article I linked to above says, “Authorities thought a generator had malfunctioned and exploded.” They didn’t realize it was a malicious act until tests found traces of explosives in the crater. Nowadays, every time somebody sneezes real hard, the first thing we all wonder is whether it’s terrorism. In fact, “Authorities do not believe it was an act of terrorism” has become the required third paragraph for every news story about any sort of disaster/explosion/crash.

Also, speaking only for myself, the bombing upset me at the time but not to a great degree. Yes, it was sad that 6 people died, but I never thought of the bombing as an attack on me. And although I paid attention to the news as the investigation unfolded–the tracking down of the van that held the bomb, the driver going to get his rental deposit back, the arrests, the trial–I was hardly riveted. Like most Americans, I had no idea that the bombing was merely one small piece of a much, much bigger and more dangerous puzzle.

Eight and a half years later, the more “successful” attack on the World Trade Center woke me from that jaded emotional distance and made the tragedy much more real and personal to me. I find myself identifying and empathizing with victims of calamities in a way I never used to.

This past weekend I watched … well, I’m too embarassed to tell you the name of the movie I watched. The important thing is not my terrible taste in movies, it’s that this particular terrible movie was made about 12 or 15 years ago and, about 15 minutes in, there’s a shot of the main character on the observation deck on top of the towers. The Twin Towers were nowhere near are regal as the Empire State Building, but seeing them on my TV reminded me how much I miss them, and how much I miss the “good old days” when I could be jaded about deadly bombings.

Today my thoughts are with the six people who were killed on Feb. 26, 1993–John DiGiovanni, Robert Kirkpatrick, Stephen A. Knapp, William Macko, Wilfredo Mercado, and Monica Rodriguez Smith–as well as with the 2,975 who were unfortunate enough to join them eight and a half years later.

[FYI, the photograph was taken by Jerry Salamone on April 14, 2001.]

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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.

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