Tourists


Fleet Week 2009

It’s Fleet Week in New York and, like most New Yorkers, I love seeing scores of sailors in bright white exploring the city, and not just because this blog takes its name from “On the Town,” the underrated musical about three U.S. Navy sailors who find love and excitement while on the loose in New York.

My favorite staples of Fleet Week, in no particular order:

  • The requisite photos in the local papers of sailors in full uniform with Times Square mainstays like the Naked Cowboy (yesterday The New York Times had some guys with the Naked Cowgirl on their front page).
  • The Fleet Week sailors on the morning shows. (Friday morning they were on pretty much every channel, and on Saturday The Today Show will feature Navy vs. Marines tug of war.)
  • The large group of uniformed sailors at the Mets game (or Yankees game). I love the big applause they always get from the rest of crowd almost as much as I love the chants and cheers they do when one of their own throws out the first pitch, or gets shown on the big screen. It’s too bad they can’t do it this year, because the Mets were out of town and the Yankees are just too damned expensive.
  • The jokes about Fleet Week on late night television. Highlights of Letterman’s “Top Ten Things I’ve Learned During Fleet Week In New York City” last night include “Katz’s Deli has knishes that’ll make you plotz” and “I spent a month’s pay on Yankee tickets.”


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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.

welcome-to-new-york1

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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times-square

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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34th-street

I LOVE figuring out new little lifehacks like that to make my commute/day/life that tiny bit better. In fact, it’s fair to say that lifehacks are something of a hobby of mine. I don’t mean Lifehacker as in the tech-oriented Web site, I mean real life’s little shortcuts, tricks and tips—cheat codes—that make everyday life a little easier, cheaper, better.

Every New Yorker, whether they realize it or not, knows plenty of lifehacks specifically applicable to the City—how to get a cab faster, how to find sample sales, where the best/cheapest coffee cart is, etc. I’ll be sharing some of mine here from time to time, including this one (my newest):

I recently made a small change to my commute that’s made a big difference to my peace of mind: instead of walking east from Penn Station via 32nd Street every morning, I now take 34th Street. It’s a completely counterintuitive route to my office, because it’s less direct than 32nd and it’s extremely crowded and it’s Tourist Boulevard, which means that it’s not merely crowded but crowded with people handing out useless things like free crappy newspapers and flyers for interchangeable tuna avocado wrap–heavy lunch places, and crowded with small groups of people who are all together and thus moving very slowly and impossible to get around and who suddenly stop short to stare at a store or take a free crappy newspaper and then make a sharp right turn and, just as you’re finally getting around them, one of them sticks out an arm in full wingspan mode to make the universal “I think it’s this way” gesture of mildly disoriented sightseers.

[Deep breath.]

But it’s still better than taking 32nd Street, because:

1) it’s cleaner;

2) it’s prettier;

3) it’s got wider sidewalks which, despite being filled with more people, are actually less full;

4) the traffic lights are timed better for my natural walking speed (on 32nd, I have to jog the last 10 yards of every avenue to make the lights).

That said, on the way back to Penn every evening I still take dirty, ugly, crowded ole’ 32nd Street, because, like I mentioned, it’s more direct, and the foot traffic on 34th is much slower at night thanks to a higher percentage of tourists. Scenery be damned, I ain’t missing my train home.


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citysights1

Outside the Empire State Building and a handful of other big NYC landmarks is always a small army of neon-clad guys from City Sights NY trying to convince tourists to hop on one of those double-decker tour buses. What amazes me is how well these guys use tourist profiling to to save themselves time and effort

Yes, tourist profiling. It’s like racial profiling, but less offensive, and less about who’s holding a bomb than about who’s willing to pay for an overpriced, narrated bus ride. And I’m claiming coinage of the phrase.

Some tourist profiling is easy: any family walking around the ESB on a weekday morning is likely to be from out of town, and anybody dressed business casual and carrying a briefcase is clearly on the way to grab a supposedly gourmet coffee before work. But I often wonder what those tourist-profiling City Sights guys are looking for specifically. Is it a style of dress? A way of moving? A certain je ne sais quoi?

I think it’s the walk. Regardless of who you are or what you’re wearing, the way you walk can be a dead giveaway of whether you’re a tourist.

I once had a conversation with a bunch of coworkers who were originally from other parts of the country about when a person who lives in NY becomes a New Yorker. I think it has a lot to do with how you walk. It can be hard to walk slowly and aimlessly through bustling, destination-driven midtown crowds even if you just arrived from a small town. But if you still walk like a New Yorker when you’re in some other city or town, well, then you’re a New Yorker, my friend. Now get out of my way, I have a train to catch.


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