You name it; beef from Chicago, fresh water fish from the Great Lakes, coal, wheat and all goods, manufactured, captured, fished, logged, trapped, mined or harvested came directly to New York City. That gave rise to the need for financial, insurance, legal, brokerage and transport infrastructures with all the labor that was needed to make it work. Hence, the immigrants poured onto our shores to do the work, build, fix, make and feed a growing city. This was a boom like none never before, nowhere else. Conversely, this export business colossus anointed New York City as the logical place for imports. We had become the busiest commercial port on the Atlantic and the rest, as they say, is history.
This City didn’t blossom. It burst at the seams, exploded, providing new wealth and challenges that other urban centers never dreamed possible on such a huge scale. Compounding these humongous difficulties were the numerous languages and cultures that were thrown together, living and working together, another first for “Gotham” and indeed the world.
The other significant factor that gave rise to New York City’s growth as the primate city on the Atlantic was the Dutch culture. They came here, not for religious freedom as the Pilgrims and Puritans of Boston or the Quakers of Philadelphia, whose primary concern was not commercial but rather to establish peaceful monolithic societies where freedom of religion was their primary objective. The Dutch, who came to New York City, or New Amsterdam, as they had named it, ventured here sponsored by the mighty Dutch West India Company to get rich. Their goal was to make money, and money they made, enough to provide an annual 10% return for their investors year after year. This was no Ponzi scheme; it was capitalism at its best.
Henry Hudson ventured up the river that bears his name, on September 12, 1609, in search of a northwest passage to India and China. He knew that he had found something far better, “A thousand ships could find safe harbor here.” he penned into his diary. He, an English explorer, hired by Dutch entrepreneurs, was the best example of being off the beaten path but on the right track. As he continued to sail up the river he had noticed that the water continued to remain salty, ocean water, and that the depth of the river continued to maintain its impressive depth as well. He was certain that around the next left turn the Pacific Ocean would reveal itself.
The Dutch have been a liberal and diverse culture for centuries. They welcomed those seeking refuge, a home, and an escape from oppression, despotism and tyranny. The Dutch were a driving force that drove Europe out of the Dark Ages and into the Age of Enlightenment, the Age of Reason. They contributed to the annihilation of dogmatic religious beliefs, staid and superstitious ideas that they had never embraced. They were not fervent attendees of churches as many other Europeans especially those from the southern parts of the continent.
It took the Dutch thirty years to build their first church in New Amsterdam! The concepts of liberalism, diversity, reason, pluralism, entrepreneurial drive and spirit together with their innovative, crafty and inventive ways remain the roots of New York City’s culture today.
The Dutch loved to make money, but that was not all. They loved to play hard too. They were liberal, we still are, diverse, we still are, entrepreneurial, we still are, don’t run to church on Sundays in droves. We have continued to maintain their focus on other worldly pursuits as the fulcrum of life. To them it was always the here and now, not the afterlife and Godly spirituality likened to other societies.
The capital of culture and finance in this country is where the East River and The Hudson River wrap around Manhattan and that will never change. It just keeps getting better, bigger and more spectacular all the time!
Want to see the world, come to New York City!! Welcome!
From Zigzag to Straight and Flat!
New York City is a relatively easy city to navigate, more so than most other cities. For the most part, at least in Manhattan, the majority of streets, north of 14th Street, are numbered in consecutive order, parallel and perpendicular and surprisingly flat and straight. How did that happen, on this “island of many hills”, Manahatta?
Navigating the streets of Manhattan from north of 14th Street is far simpler than south of 14th Street. The streets below 14th Street are, for the most part, not numbered nor are they parallel or perpendicular due to their construction prior to the Grid Plan or Commissioner’s Plan of 1811. Below 14th Street you really have to know how to get to where you are going or you just may wind up walking in endless circles.
The West Village is, by far, the most confusing terrain to navigate. For example, you’ll find Little West 12th Street and West 12thStreet separated by Gansevoort, Horatio and Jane Streets. Makes sense, eh? You may be walking on West 10th Street and find that you’re actually south of West 8th and 9th Street! These twists, turns and meandering streets were caused by 17th and 18th century road builders and city ordinances that allowed paths to become wider roads around boulders and rocks, depressions of earth and mounds or hills that would have been too costly to remove in an age void of modern mechanical equipment. Thus, the limitations of road construction, layout and design were quite a daunting task back then and therefore the Dutch and English trashed the task of creating streets that followed a pattern or plan.
As if life was not difficult enough back in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries with all the grime, crime, grit, overcrowding and stench of New York City, it was a nightmare trying to navigate. With so many immigrants, vast numbers of new arrivals, speaking so many languages, encountering huge challenges communicating directions to each other was a nightmare! Imagine, an Irishman telling an Italian woman how to get to Laight, Desbrosses, Lispenard or Frankfort Streets! With people from so many countries, speaking languages that were so divergent, it must have created incredible havoc. Imagine, stopping a fellow New Yorker and asking how to get to Desbrosses Street. This was not an age when people pulled out a map. People back then could not help fellow citizens find their way as we do thousands of times a day in present times.
Enter The Grid law of 1811. The mandate was to survey and plan the streets, define their widths, routes and create exceptions from 14th Street north to 155th Street. Imagine the political hot potato that it was! A law was going to carve up properties, plan streets through owner’s estates, without reasonable compensation! It was such a hot button that the City insisted that the Albany legislature take the authority to write the law removing it from the hands of local officials, to literally save their necks. Unfortunately, many of the surveyors were shot, some with deadly consequences!
Essentially, the plan, the brainstorm of DeWitt Clinton to lay out short blocks, narrow side streets, wide north-south avenues, and intermittently wide two way traffic east-west streets to facilitate cross town traffic such as 96th 86th 79th 72nd 59th, 42nd 34th 23th 14th and so on.
Blocks were intentionally planned to be short to create more corners because corner properties are worth more money as they provide increased light, superior ventilation and two views, very beneficial features especially in an age when air-conditioning and electric lighting did not exist. Streets were numbered sequentially to facilitate communication among the immigrants. People’s queries were answered with the dab of a pencil, a number written down, the street in question was provided and those who were lost found their way. That’s all it took, no language barrier or frustration. It was a connective mechanism for the immigrants that greatly facilitated communication making it far less frustrating and consequently far more effective.
The law also mandated that roads were to be flattened, rocks and mounds of earth had to be removed before they were paved; hence, that’s why most of the hills that were on this island are gone, flat! For the most part, they’re all gone and that made Manhattan the most geographically transformed City on earth. You can still find plenty of hills laden with huge clumps of Manhattan schist located in parks and and Northern Manhattan. In certain parks such as northern Central Park, especially along Central Park West between 103rd and 106th Street, Morningside, Riverside, Highbridge, Inwood and Ft. Tryon Park, Marcus Garvey Park all in northern Manhattan there are huge clusters of rocks protruding through the soil, “outcroppings”. In fact, Central Park was planned end at 106th Street however; the rocks were so huge that it had been decided to extend the park up to 110th Street instead.
As a result, we not only have the most walkable City on earth but the most geographically transformed as well! “Island of many hills.” What hills?
Next time you take a walk around town, try to imagine what New York City was like four hundred years ago and the great transformation that was conceived and achieved enabling it to work so well today. It would have been better if the side streets were somewhat wider to facilitate cross town traffic however you can’t fault the designers since vehicles of modern day such as garbage trucks did not exist back then. How nice it would have been if alleyways were available on the avenues for trash collection via the rear of homes, rather than enduring the inconvenience of trash pickup in front of homes as it still is, cluttering the sidewalks with piles of trash, unsightly messes and smells!
As you travel the world compare our street grid system with other major cities. Despite a few glitches, our Grid Law truly is perhaps the most forward thinking and innovative geographically favorable urban roadway plan on earth. Way to go New York City! Just try to be a little patient when venturing into those narrow cross-town streets, eh buddy and lay off the horn too! No doubt many pregnancies ended, or nearly did, on side streets behind garbage trucks!
Parking Signs are Rocket Science
Recently, I saw a couple of tourists standing on the sidewalk in midtown Manhattan, nothing new and they stopped me, as I had been walking by and asked, “Are we allowed to stand here?”
“Why do you ask?” Their reply, “There’s a sign there.” Pointing directly to it, one of them continued, “That sign reads, ‘No Standing’!” I nearly collapsed and hit the sidewalk hysterically! After all, there wasn’t a sign that read no sitting, slouching, leaning or laying down.
If you have a PhD, are a fortune teller, roll dice, win at three card monte, yeah right, bingo and the lottery then you have a shot at parking for free in New York City. Throw in a brother-in-law who’s a judge in traffic court, a cop who was the best man at your wedding and for closers, toss in your first born child, which some may actually want to do to avoid a paying a parking ticket. With your fingers crossed, a dream, and a prayer, you’ll walk away from a fine for not understanding the signs posted down the block where your car was grievously parked. There’s no doubt that the cost of so called public street parking in New York City soars over time. The cost exceeds the value per square foot of an apartment rental, even in The Bronx! Currently, metered parking is 50 cents for ten minutes on Columbus Avenue off of 97th Street. That calculates to $2,110 by the month for a space that’s six feet by twelve feet.
Ever wonder what glove compartments are for? Not for gloves but rather a place to stash all those yarmulkes from bar mitzvahs and weddings passed and all of the parking tickets that you haven’t addressed. We all know that parking tickets don’t just go away; it’s sort of like herpes, except with parking tickets the City can’t help you and with herpes they do try. Perhaps that’s why the cost of parking tickets is so huge in New York City; to provide funds to cure herpes? It takes a lot of effort to make them go away, that is, unless you just pay. And even then you could be picked up by the police, and thrown in jail overnight! That may spell tickets and bedbugs, a nice sidecar for your car ticket trouble.
A son of a friend of mine suffered that fate, and met a variety of very interesting people who do and say things that you never knew. A friggin’ parking ticket! Lock ‘em up without bedbugs and herpes! Let’s figure out a way for the bedbugs to get herpes! That would take care of that problem, right? Better yet, put a sign above your bed, “No Parking for Bed Bugs”.
Let’s say that you’re in the City, looking for a place to park, in midtown, and need to run into a tuxedo store or pickup a package, a cup of Joe, whatever, and after twenty minutes of circling the block you decide to take a shot. You call the retailer, tell them you’re about to run in, that you’ll be double parked, and want to grab your tuxedo post haste. You have their full cooperation; after all, you’re their customer. You find a spot alongside a truck that’s parked directly in front of the establishment. You check your rearview mirror, side view too, look up ahead, check for meter maids and you’re in the clear, or are you? You’ve read the signs, that took only about four minutes and you don’t see “No Double Parking” signs but, there are No Standing, No Idling, Snow Emergency Street, there’s no snow so that’s not an issue, No Commercial Traffic, and there are no “Do Not Park Driveway” signs and not a hint of “Don’t Even Think of Parking Here” signs, Not even a “Don’t Honk $300 fine” sign, nor do you see a “No Idling $2,000 fine.”
You dash out, run, trip on the curb, weave through the foot traffic on the sidewalk, enter the store, present your receipt, are greeted with a smile, the clerk retrieves your package in record time and it’s packaged before you enter. You provide your fastest scribbled signature, say your good-bye as you dash out like you’re running thirty yards in the Super Bowl and as you see your car a Traffic Cop appears who has already written you a ticket, this time with the benefit of a computerized handheld device. You know the kind that’s got the data bank that just happens to have you in it. Total elapsed time from exiting and returning to your car, fifty nifty seconds! Not bad, but not quite good enough! Where’s OJ when we need him; where he belongs, in the slammer. He can’t help you now! How’s that for mixed emotions?
You confront the officer and she cites the violation as number 46 of the violations code without taking her eyes off the citation as she enters your license plate number, digitally, time of day, location, date and other unknown evidentiary data into her hand held. Worst of all, judges’ love these devices, they’re never wrong!
‘What’s 46?” you exclaim at a roar just slightly above a shout!
Well, she was not about to provide an answer, it’s one of those, “see you in court” moments. I’ll tell you what it is, here and now, right off the NYC.gov website:
“Standing or parking on the roadway side of a vehicle stopped, standing or parked at the curb; in other words, (that’s my favorite part, in other words) “double parking”. A person may; however, stand a Commercial Vehicle alongside a vehicle parked at the curb at such locations and during such hours that stopping, standing and parking is not prohibited when expeditiously (and who’s the judge of what is expeditiously?) making pickups, deliveries or service calls, (What’s a service call? Servicing what, who and how, hum?) provided that there is no unoccupied parking space or designated loading zone on either side of the street within 100 feet. “Double parking” any type of vehicle is not; however, permitted in Midtown Manhattan (the area from 14th Street to 60th Street, between First Avenue and Eighth Avenue inclusive). Except where otherwise restricted, midtown double parking is prohibited between 7 am and 7 pm daily except Sundays. (See Code 47.) (Where’s that? I guess directly after 46 and before 48. How many codes are there?) Now that clears it up, right! And to think that I’ve been driving in New York City all my life and I never knew that! Who writes this stuff and how are we supposed to know it all? As has been said, “Ignorance is no excuse for the law!” Fine: $115, next case. Oh yes, and don’t forget about the other ticket for using a handheld phone while circling the tuxedo shop, bing, another $115!
Who stops to measure 100 feet, or who decides if a delivery or service call is “expeditious” and what if the curbside space suddenly becomes vacant while you’re doing your thing, like going to the bathroom? Every motorist, even from “Jersey” is supposed to know the geographic boundaries of midtown, “inclusive” right? You want to be a smart parker? Put the car in a lot and chances are statistically, that you’ll save a fortune.
I just love when people from the hinterlands, you know, Jersey, Connecticut or out of towners are just passing through in a new Mercedes, BMW or Lexus and circle the block twelve times looking for a parking spot in a City where the parking signs might as well be written in Chinese, just to save a few lousy bucks! How about the possibility that your $95,000 car gets hit by the adjacent parker on the street and you didn’t have a De-Fender, that rubber drape that protects your precious rolling stock and those valued “wheels” get crunched? “Oh Shit!! I should have put it in a lot Honey!” “You’re damn right you cheap bastard, it serves you right!”
“Yes, Honey, and where were you when I was circling the block for half an hour searching for a spot?”
“Don’t blame that on me dear, you made your choice, it wasn’t my fault!”
“Since when did you crawl under a rock? You have a mind and a mouth! The one time I would have appreciated your advice you clam up!”
“Don’t talk to me like that, it’s your fault, you pay the ticket and next time, try a parking lot, you penny pinching cheap creep!”
“I’m outa here! I’m not spending this evening with you! I’m going home.”
Another night on the town, that’s the fun of it all!
Put the “wheels” in a lot, save time, spend it on friends, eat, drink and be merry. Get a life, not a spot you cheap millionaire, accountant, dentist, pharmacist, doctor, teacher or looser. Why are some people so well, you fill in the blanks? I don’t even want to go there because, I have a great spot, I live in Manhattan, and am totally carless, not clueless! Wana avoid a parking ticket, don’t park, don’t drive!
A Few Parting Thoughts
I do hope that you enjoyed this tour as much as I did putting it together. No doubt, you have learned lots about New York City; trivia, how we live, our cultural mores, how things get done here, how we evolved and much more.
Perhaps you have a new sense of New York City, a better understand of us, as multi-cultural City that breaths life into everything we do. We are not the arrogant, rude and crude society that we have been known in the past. New York City has evolved into a place where kindness abounds, innovation is found everywhere, creativity thrives and artists, of all kinds produce perhaps the greatest abundance of gifts to the world.
We’re movers and shakers, we are prideful, embracing, demonstrative and inquisitive. This is the place to come to; to play, work, love, think and expand your life in endless new and different ways. It’s a place to try new things, embrace new ideas, open your mind and heart and become a part of the greatest City the word has ever known.
Visit us for the first time or come back again and if you do you will take back something big, very big; a love for a place that you will always yearn to visit again and again. Join 50,000,000 yearly visitors and feast yourself to the world’s biggest playground for young and old that the world has ever built.
Yours very tourly,
Cliff Strome lives on the Upper
Westside with his wife, Aline
and their Yorkshire Terrier, Moe.
Aline and Cliff Strome operate
a unique high-end custom and
private tour business for those
seeking the finest luxury tour
experience in New York City. For
you, your friends, family, business
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Together with their associates, the best licensed NYC guides, they provide tours in virtually every major language, any topic of interest in any vehicle imaginable, chauffeur driven, from a luxury sedan, SUV, Luxury Van or minibus suiting your preferences.
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