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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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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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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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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Even if you’re not a baseball fan, bear with me on this for a minute.

The triple is widely considered the most exciting play in baseball. Why? Well, a home run is exciting, but it involves, at most, three players: the pitcher, the batter, and the helpless outfielder. It excites only the fans of the batter’s team, and the outcome is known within a split second of the batter’s swing. It’s an exciting split second, but it’s no triple.

A triple is exciting for everyone. Fans of the batter’s team are watching to see if he can really get all the way around to third base. Fans of the defensive team are hoping they can get him out, turning a big hit into an out. And everybody on the field is moving: the runner is churning at top speed; the outfielders are chasing the ball; one infielder covers second base in case the runner stops there (or turns back); one runs out toward the outfield to take the cut-off throw; the third baseman gets ready for the throw and tag; the pitcher runs to back up third, and the catcher gets ready just in case a wild throw allows the runner to try for home. Even the umpires all have to hustle into position, ready for any of several possible outcomes. The stakes are high, and everyone on the field knows that if they do their job perfectly, they just might be able to make things come out in their favor (and, simultaneously, that even if they do their job perfectly, it still may not be enough).

New York City is the geosociological version of a triple. I don’t just mean that it’s the most exciting city in America, though you’ll have a hard time convincing me it’s not. I mean that everyone’s in motion, the stakes are high, and the outcome is unknown. Everybody’s got a job to do, everybody’s got a place to be, and there’s no time to lose. Some of those jobs complement each other (the guy wheeling stacked trays of fresh-baked bread from his delivery truck across the street is throwing the ball to the cut-off man who runs the 24-hour deli on the corner), some of them compete (crowds trying to get on and off the subway at the same time). And everybody knows that their actions may tip things in their favor, or may go for naught. Just like the movement of fielders, runners and umpires, it looks like chaos to the casual fan (i.e., tourist), but in actuality everyone’s got a specific purpose, a specific destination, a specific task–everyone’s part of the play.

Some days, you hustle and you manage to slide in safely. Some days you take your eye off the ball for just a split second and you get burned. Some days no matter how hard you play and how well you execute, things just don’t go your way. But the best days … the best days are when you somehow manage to stop paying attention to whether you (or the runner) are safe or out and, instead, just enjoy watching the play unfold in front of you and appreciate the poetry of it all: the music of the honking car horns and the vocals of the guy handing out AM New York outside the subway station; the dance of the dude from Guy & Gallard pushing a cart full of muffins and fruit platters to the breakfast meeting that placed the order; the bright colors of the fruit guy; the thunder of the pedestrians rushing to work or home; the smell of the coffee carts in the morning and the halal carts in the afternoon. Some days you just look around, soak it all in, and think to yourself, “New York is a triple.”

Today was not that day. Today I got thrown out at third. @#$%^&!


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