Queens


World Trade Center

For a New Yorker who was working in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, I don’t have a harrowing or even very interesting story. I was not near the Towers; I was not near death. I did not see the planes. My life was not saved by a delayed train or by bringing my child to school or by voting in the mayoral primary or by stopping for coffee or by a heroic act by a fellow New Yorker.

I was at my desk in Midtown when the planes hit. As word spread, I gathered with coworkers to watch, horrified, on the news as the Towers burned and then fell, as the Pentagon smoldered. With thousands of others, I walked to Queens over the 59th Street Bridge, and then I got a ride home from a coworker. It was a sad, even terrifying day for me, but not a particularly dangerous one.

Eight years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, I find myself still in awe of the brave passengers who crashed their plane in Pennsylvania. Still in awe of the firefighters who climbed the Towers to rescue my friends, relatives and neighbors despite the obvious dangers in doing so. Still in awe of the ordinary citizens who, simply by being employed in New York’s two tallest office buildings, became unwitting soldiers in our constant battle against hatred and destruction. Still in awe of the scores of volunteers who sifted through the rubble while I watched on TV from the safety and comfort of my home and my family.

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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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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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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willets-point-subway1

I read in the paper this morning that the subway station that used to be called Willets Point Blvd/Shea Stadium will not include the name of the new stadium in its title. I assume that it’s because the MTA, like me and plenty of other people, are more than a little skeptical that Citi Field will retain its name for very long, and they don’t want to bother changing all their signage every year or two when the stadium gets a new corporate sponsor. That and maybe the MTA doesn’t want to be associated with the stink of bad PR that Citigroup has gotten for spending a bunch of its TARP bailout money on the naming rights.

I wonder, though, why the station’s name has never included the tennis stadium. Arthur Ashe has a pretty stellar reputation, and is not exactly in danger of going out of business or wasting taxpayer money.


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gagnon-bus

When I was in high school, I lived in Queens and went to school in the Bronx. It was about a 35-minute drive, but the only way to go via public transportation was through Manhattan, making the commute about 90 minutes each way.

Enter Gagnon Transportation, a school bus company that existed for the sole purpose of taking Queens kids to and from the Bronx every day. On Sunday Gagnon announced, apparently to only some of its customers, that it no longer exists, thanks to what it described as a very successful arson at its terminal.

Gagnon has always been a bit sketchy, so even despite the cool photo of a burned-out bus on the company’s homepage, I’m not sure I believe their story about the fire (although setting fire to all the Gagnon buses was a not-so-secret fantasy for many a student over the years). Neither do some of the angry parents, according to NY1.

Still, for thousands of kids from Queens and former kids from Queens, it’s the end of an era. And for regular riders of the R train and 4 train, the morning commute just got a little more crowded.


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Millions of Mets fans witnessed the collapse of ’08 and The Collapse of ’07. Today only a few dozen fans were on hand to witness the collapse of ’09, as the last chunk of Shea Stadium (a tower of what used to be exit ramps) was knocked down to make way for Citi Field’s parking lot.

There’s not much I can add to what’s already been said about the 45-year-old blue concrete doughnut. Like many others, I felt great joy and great pain in that building. For all its flaws (and there were many), it was, to me and to millions of New Yorkers, a de facto summer home for an extended family at times exhilarating, at times frustrating, often dysfunctional but usually worth the price of admission. At once, I miss the big ole’ eyesore and I look forward to falling in love with its replacement.


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