NYC Impressions

email from Wade H. Nelson to his friends

New York City is the greatest place in the world. To bleed to death out your wallet, that is. The city has unbeatable restaurants of every persuasion. There are places you can nurse a cocktail with a seventy floor view of the city lights. There's great shopping in neat stores. There’s endless entertainment including Broadway shows, first-run movies, and wonderful concerts. You pay for every ounce of pleasure however. Your wallet takes a bite every ten minutes. "Ka-Ching!" "Ka-Ching!" "Ka-Ching!"

Wherever you go in New York City you're always juggling time vs. expense. To park might cost X, A taxi would cost Y. It might take you a half-hour to get to Z by train, which means you'd have to spend Q on dinner later or eat lunch now for R. Seeing a show might mean having to wait in a ticket line for T minutes, thereby earning a parking ticket costing F, or you decide to go move the car again, to a lot charging V. I'm ignoring tolls for the roads and bridges and tunnels, and hot dogs from the pushcarts. By comparison to everything else for sale in NYC these items are free.

Forget Harvard. Forget Yale. If you wanted to learn a set of skills that would allow you to solve the world's greatest economics problems and in the process acquire a taste for Hebrew Nationals, the finest hot dogs in the world, NYC is the place. NYC is one gigantic equation you learn to optimize in real time. If people didn’t, they’d go broke.

NYC is not only about hemmoraging money. It's about lines. You have to wait in lines for everything, especially to buy anything (like theater tickets) or go to the bathroom. Bathrooms are scarce. Whenever you see one you go ahead and go because it might be hours before you see another one. I'm proud to say I peed in some of the finest hotels in NYC...simply because they had bathrooms that are quasi-open to the public. The womens' all had lines out the door. The theater we saw "Rent" at had, literally, two womens potties for something like 1000 theater seats. They had (I kid you not!) a "traffic cop" in the womens bathroom directing traffic, trying to keep everything flowing.

NYC, I discovered, isn't a place for children or old people. Even walking. After an hour or so you automatically acquire the blitzkrieg pace needed to survive in NYC. If you don't move fast and keep your stare straight ahead you automatically end up being the "softie" that everyone else cuts off. You start cutting off the aged and infirm. Accidentally at first, and then intentionally, and finally, unconsciously. There's no time to be nice, pedestrian-wise. You'd never get where you were going. You'd better have a good pair of walking shoes for the city or you're gonna be sorry, blister-boy

My friend Geoff commented later "New York City is the only place where you've got to look both ways coming out of a doorway and accelerate into traffic."

The city not only never sleeps, it doesn't even slow down.

New York rewards those who master it. There are great places to eat without spending a fortune. There are "halfers" for Broadway shows. Instead of paying $12 to go up to the observation deck of World Trade Center building#1 with the rest of the yahoos I belatedly discovered you can go up to the restaurant of WTC #2 and buy a $7 drink instead. Of course, as soon as all the tourists discover all the good cheap places to eat, drink, and park, the prices go up and the bargains re-appear in new places known only to insiders and their friends.

If you read the paper and ask around, you’ll find there’s also a lot of free stuff to do in NYC. The ferry out to the Statue of Liberty is free, I found out. There seems to be at least one free concert every weekend, somewhere.

I know, I know, NOBODY takes a car into NYC. It wasn't my decision to make. In New York City everybody either takes subways or taxis, or trains. Absolutely do not go into the city without a decent pair of walking shoes.

Parking can easily run you $25-50 a half-day. Imagine my surprise when I realized that it wasn't $8 to park, but $8 per hour, plus some ungodly 18% parking tax. That's in a cheap lot, the one which fills up first. A quarter buys you ten minutes on an hour meter on the one-in-a-million chance you actually found on-street parking. Parking tickets cost more than the parking garage would have. Go around the block for a parking space you spotted and a guy in a silver pickup truck will zoom past you on the outside going 70 in order to beat you back to the already-filled space.

Parking is so bad they even have those little "car elevators" They use these to can stack cars on top of each other in the small lots. I'm not kidding. Next year they'll figure out a way to build triple deckers. The guys running these little parking lots slide cars around like so many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. When you park they'll ask you "when'll you be back?" and darned if when you get back your car isn't on the front row, ready to drive out. It’s the coolest thing about NYC. Whatever it is people do, they tend to be darned good at it."

How bad is crime in NYC? Well, I learned from my "tour guide" that we couldn't go biking in Central Park unless we wanted to drive there, unrack and ride the bikes, re-rack ‘em and then drive directly home. Bikes and the rack itself wouldn't last an hour on the street, she said, and parking garages refuse to take cars sporting them. If it's not nailed down, it's gone. Garages don't want the liability. You can take bikes on the trains, but only with a permit.

This same friend’s had her Volkswagon Jetta broken into twice. She’s got this ten minute ritual she goes through now every time she parks. First she unscrews the radio and cellular phone antennas and hides them under the seat. The phone itself goes in the trunk. The face to the CD player into her purse. The quarters and toll-booth tokens have to be removed from the little coin holder and hidden from view. Then she hides anything remaining in the cockpit with an innocuous looking piece of black felt matching her upholstry.

Many people, I was told, simply purchase a "city car" devoid of anything removable by crowbar and sporting locking lug nuts and a chain restraining the hood, hence the battery. New Yorkers don’t keep spare change in the ashtrays like the rest of us.

My friend once had a flat tire changed by a kindly black gentleman who was otherwise occupied stripping a car alongside the freeway. You want to know why tire companies are designing all those run-flat tires? It's for NYC residents driving past Harlem on the Westside Expressway. Kryptonite bike locks were designed for NYC. A lot of things were or are designed for use in NYC, one quickly comes to realize. It’s the reason why the cops in NYC still ride horses and not mountain bikes.

Despite all this, I felt completely safe on the New York sidewalks. On the Saturday I was there, it seemed like half the people in Times Square were tourists. There were fewer homeless people begging and "creepy" people than I've run into in say, downtown San Francisco. There were a lot more "interesting" people. I marveled at the number of beautiful women in NYC and how well dressed so many of them were. Blue jeans? No way. Ninety percent of them are wearing some black number. Basic black seems to be enormously popular there with both men and women.

A week after getting back from NYC I get this Brooks Brothers catalog in the mail with the perfect jacket for the city: Black mohair. Only $598. For that kind of money I think I’d rather buy a parking space - for an entire week!

You don’t touch people in New York, or bump into them. Everyone’s got their force field on "max." At one point while I was walking in Times Square I thought someone was trying to slash the strap and steal my backpack. So I gave it a mighty yank. It wasn’t until a few minutes I realized what had actually happened. The strap was hanging down and I'd almost upended a guy who had stepped on it. He’d given me a surprised look, not at all what I was expecting from a thief who'd just been foiled. paranoia....

I gave a buck to one homeless guy because he made me laugh. That's something none of the beggars in other cities have ever tried, humor. There are a lot of street people in NYC who have learned ways to get by. Whether they're squegee men, selling phony Rolexes or whatever, I admired their ingenuity and willingness to do whatever it took to make a buck. Everyone hustles, from the Wall Streeters down to the bogus-Rolex-men.

NYC is definitely not California. Everyone's ethnic or dark skinned or dark haired. In California everyone's blond, whether they are or not. Including a lot of guys. I didn't see one hot pink or kool-aid piece of apparel in NYC. New Yorkers are colorifically deprived, I'm afraid. And they all talk funny. Their warped idea of status is arriving in a Lincoln town-car limo rather than passing anything and everything else on the road in a ticket-me-red Porsche 911.

They do talk kinda funny in New York. Ask someone "Where’s the potty" and he’ll tell you it’s Friday night at Vinnies. If you were to crash the party, you’d probably hear "Gidaddaheeah, you wasn’t invited!" followed by an invitation to come in. "Gidaddaheeah" is the locals’ expression of amazement or disbelief, and isn’t necessarily a request to leave. While you’re out walking the streets of the city be sure and listen for a good "gidaddaheeah" or "Fuggidaboudit"

The thing you do every chance you get in NYC is sit down and rest your dogs. The city needs ten thousand more park benches and other places to stop and put your feet up a moment. They could blow a giant siren at five minutes before each hour and play a city-wide game of musical chairs, in something akin to the 7th inning stretch. They could call it the five-till break. You hear the siren wail and either find a place to sit or go pee, or jump out of your taxi and stretch. Everybody at once. Wouldn’t that be great?

I didn’t see any steaming manhole covers in NYC, like in every TV show ever filmed there. I was really dissapointed about that. Someone told me that they only steam in the wintertime. I’m not quite sure why the manholes in NYC steam and manholes in other towns don’t, but not seeing ‘em steaming for me was kind of like seeing a cable car in San Francisco without a Rice-a-Roni sign.

What I want really to know is, in NYC, if you just wanted to go into the bathroom and wash your hands or ask a ticket seller a question (Why isn't Seinfeld's show listed on the sign, do you have tix for that?) is cutting lines permissable or does everyone else in line go ballistic. I was afraid to find out so I always waited. The one thing you do not EVER do in New York city is get to the front of a line and not know what you want. Read the menu and make up your mind way before you get to the front. Or else.

New Yorkers don't honk the horn. No "toot-toots". Ever. They LAY on the horn. A five to ten second blast is the minimum. Many drivers lay on the horn continuously until the problem clears. There's never anywhere to pull over so everyone does their loading and unloading from the traffic lane. So there's always a lot of honking.

Despite what you may have heard about Mayor Guiliani (jewel-ee-awnni) cracking down, everyone still jaywalks. I really wanted to slam my palms on the hood of a car turning right and say "Hey, we'rah WALKING heeah" but I never got the chance. Right turns on red are now illegal in NYC, can you believe that? I guess too many pedestrians were getting hit.

New Yorkers aren't bad at all. Some of them have that brusque exterior but you know, most of 'em I talked to were pretty darned friendly and helpful. The guy in the elevator to the World Trade Center was the best. He had a whole schtick he did on the way up and down, asking everyone where they were from. He made the otherwise boring 60 second ride fun.

There are lots of cops in NYC. You actually see precincts. There are cops standing on the street, cops in cars, cops on horses, cops everywhere. Cops actually direct traffic whenever some truck's unloading or blocking something. They're the most visible cops in the world. They're second in visibility only to the taxis. You've already read about there not being a single english-speaking taxi driver in all of NYC and how badly they all drive so I'm not going to bother re-telling the story here.

They have these great, open-topped, double-decker tour busses in NYC. For like $40 or so you get a tour of the city, and can get off at any stop, and get back on the next double-decker going by a little later.. If you go on a day when the weather is decent, to me, this looks like the way to see the city. I’m not sure which bus line’s the best. There seemed to be several of them competing with each other.

What I liked best were all the street vendors selling t-shirts, knock-off garments, bogus Louis Vuitton handbags, and phoney Rolexes for $20. Often times they were standing right in front of the stores that sold the real thing. The watches actually looked pretty good. Wouldn't it be great to have someone steal your $3000 Rollie at the gym and know that all they really got was a cheap watch that probably wouldn't run any longer than it takes the phony gold plating to start peeling off? I bought five.

Should NYC really be considered part of the United States? It is as different from small towns in Iowa as are cows from taxis. My date and I were walking down a street where some dark skinned workmen were putting up little tents, booths, for some sort of a street fair. We asked what the fair was all about and when it began but they couldn’t tell us. They looked like union guys, but not one of them spoke English. I recall thinking at that moment: "I love America. And I love New York."