Slices of "The Big Apple" This is New York City Wit, Reflections & Amusements: Cliff Strome

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Motorized electric bicycles would be provided to all citizens who needed them, at cost, manufactured in New York City, of course, perhaps in our prisons and those who are most needy. The goal would be to subsidize the mass transit system from vehicular related fees and taxes that will enable us to reduce the transit fare to $1 or less. Let’s give the little people a break, they’ll spend the money and give the economy a shot in the arm. Trains . . . more trains!

Most of all, the greatest city on earth would govern itself. No more “the tail wagging the dog” and once we get control of our own money, our lives, our destiny and we are able to focus on our own problems without interference from others who have misguided and self-serving agendas with contra interests then our own then we will soar even higher, both literally and figuratively.

We’d become a country that would not only explode into never before seen greatness but serve as a model for the world as to how a city, oops, I mean country should function. If we can get the crime rate down over 75% as other cities scratch their heads, we can do anything! Yes we can! YES WE CAN!!!

Take Back a Piece of New York City

in Your Heart

Everyone comes here with their own New York City in their heads. No two people have the same template of New York City locked in their heads.

It’s all a composite of experiences, media dribble, misinformation shot straight to us from a distance, our inner selves misperceiving and rearranging the blitz, our fears, perceptions and notions of the fiction that bombards us that masks the reality.

For those who have never been here before, it's a pure abstraction, a kaleidoscope of the indirect, consequential "experiences" that have assaulted our lives from afar. The New York City they "know" is built on images, what they've read, seen on television, heard from friends and family, filtered by their own values, expectations and in many cases misplaced fears. "Sex and the City", noir movies such as "Miracle on 34th Street", "The Bronx is Burning", “Fort Apache”, "New York", “Goodfellas" “Once Upon a Time in America”, “The Gangs of New York”, “The French Connection” and countless sources that have provided the virtual backdrop conjuring up a distorted view of New York City, the old New York City.

The music we hear of New York City provides "sound images" that ring in our ears. It all conveys to us our own New York City that is locked in our heads. Who hasn't seen The Rockettes, The Empire State Building, The Lady in the Harbor, and those ubiquitous street scenes of thousands moving through traffic struggling to reach their destinations from distant places before entering “The Promised Land”? New York City is the broadest stage on earth and those who arrive here have selected those places, characters, and images and seek to put them together. It’s a preconceived matrix of exactly what they think that they will experience while they are here. They fully expect to leave with the same impression they came here with, but few rarely do.

There's romance, nostalgia, mystery and pause. We look at street images from afar; the taxicabs needless honking reveals elements of anger, road rage and people shouting at each other. We observe readers on park benches, children romping in million dollar plus playgrounds, subways roaring passed stations with many who plug their ears with endless devices, commuters running to catch a bus and bicycle messengers darting through traffic competing against themselves to complete their rounds to "make a buck" while putting thousands in harm’s way.

More people, cars, trucks and trains enter Manhattan on a typical weekday, than any other city in The United States, much more. With only twenty three square miles of terrain as its work and play ground, this segment of the City, only seven percent of the total land area of the entire City, together with its enormous structural verticality, is the center of energy, creativity and innovation on earth.

Consider this: Where else is so much happening, in every field of human endeavor, in such a relatively small place, with such diversity, in relative harmony? Name it! No doubt, many visitors fail to put that notion out in front to redefine their misperceptions of New York City. It’s more about the volume of everything that overwhelms the tourist and the choices that one has here. It’s everything from “a to z” and more of it than anywhere else. It’s the volume of life that overwhelms the newbies and many of us at times. It’s a give and take that needs personal management, introspection, reflection, self-searching and meaning.

Most visitors can’t imagine; if a resident moves one block to a new home or even to the other side of the same block, their dry cleaner will fear that they’ll lose their business because every block has a dry cleaner or two. Look at Duane Reade, they’ve got a drug store on practically every third block and they wouldn’t be putting them there if they didn’t expect that they’d make money. The density is incredible, and if you’ve got something to sell and know how to sell it then you’ll make money here, perhaps more than anywhere else.

I just love those who complain that the retail rents are too high! Why are they? People are paying them and like everything in nature not all survive. Finding the highest justifiable rent is the best place to open a store, right? Who wants to be on 10th Avenue, off the beaten path, waiting for trade? But, lately parts of 10th Avenue are not so terrible for retail, hum? It’ll only get better and better. Just look up! All those people who live in the sky must come down to earth for a quart of milk or a six-pack.

Frequently, I have asked visitors, who are about to take a tour with me, what their pre-conceived notions of New York City are, especially those who have never been here before. "We all come to New York City with our own New York City in our heads. What's in your head?” I ask. All that you have seen, heard, read and thought about New York City is locked inside.

How much will your New York City change by tour’s end?" I ask a few questions and people respond.

"I came here thinking that it would be dirty, mismanaged, rude, crowded, unsafe but better than before.”

My job is, through an entertaining and engaging tour experience to rearrange or enable my clients to see New York City directly, through their own eyes and reformulate their pre-conceived notions; to take back a different and better New York City then the one they brought here with them. That’s what the tour experience is all about.

Where does New York City get this bad rap? It is through media entertainment that most newbie’s acquire their negative notions about this City. New York City is a favorite place to portray the urban ghetto, crime, mafia, violence, police corruption, terrorism, disasters and tragedies. King Kong, runaway subway trains, burning skyscrapers, street gangs, and schoolyard knife fights, shootouts, car chases beneath L trains, multiple vehicular collisions, bank heists and chases resulting in gun fire and death are the themes that producers love to film here in New York City. It’s a business. It sells!

When tourists see Central Park they comment about crime. Harlem still strikes fear in many and the sound of police sirens creates swollen anxiety. Films and television series about New York City laced with violence is the overwhelming genre of choice. The sitcoms projecting New York City life such as Seinfeld, King of Queens, etc. just don’t have the power to dominate the “tube” as the action and violence of the crime dramas. Hence, people come here and that’s the image most carry, but not the one they take back home.

Regardless of where clients want to go, tours are peppered with several themes. Why did and do so many people continue to come here? Did they find what they were seeking? How did New York City succeed in reducing the crime rate so dramatically? Essentially, what were the thematic forces that drove this city in the past and what is driving it now?

What path are we going down now? Quality of public education, disparities of wealth, the underclass, opportunities, equality, health care, housing, transportation infrastructure and more. What about the future? What are the limits of vertical growth in Manhattan? What will cause the enormous building construction, in the customary and usual course of life, to come to an end?

Innovation, ideas that drive success, non-judgmental, liberalism, kindness, non-dogmatic, pride in the City, cooperation, hard work, mutual respect, goal driven people from every walk of life and most of all "reaching for the sky" literally and figuratively is what we do and what we’re about. We’re forever making it bigger, better and taking bold, taking leaping steps, always reaching for the future and, in many respects, not clinging to the past as, in most instances, our European friends do.

Our skyline is the greatest symbol of this City. It’s our footprint; our temples provide the visual archive of our past, present and future. If New York City were to stop growing it wouldn’t be the same place. Funny, how the same place stays the same only because it changes. The energy and culture demand it. It’s who we are; it’s in our DNA.

When possible, pointing out the who, where, when, why and how of places add a great deal to people's understanding of what New York City is all about. For example, we can know the height of the Empire State Building, how long it took to build, that it has 6,500 windows and 57,000 tons of steel to support it. We can discover how Wall Street acquired its name and certainly, any guidebook will give you the size of Central Park. In fact, you need not even come here to accomplish any of that! Who had the idea to building The Empire State Building and why? Knowing why Central Park was built, how the idea to build a landscaped park, magnificent, extremely costly, a technologically innovative landscaped park evolved unlike any other before. What makes it is so special aside from how beautiful it is?

Learning about the characters that have played vital roles in shaping this City over the last 400 years is another key element that not only provides fodder for rearranging the New York City in your head, but adds drama and excitement seldom found in guide books or heard on public bus tours.

No doubt, tourists who go to many large urban centers throughout the world have their preconceived notions re-defined after their visits. New York City is a City that, I have discovered, is most generally either loved or hated. I rarely meet someone who say they just like New York City. People express passionate opinions about this city and vocalize reasons justifying their opinions quite demonstratively. In recent times, our city has taken on quite a few more devotees then in the past.

Our efforts to clean up our act and create a much-enhanced environment and provide more of what people want and less of what they don’t want has produced the most desired results. We have, for good reasons, become the number one global destination and the sought after tourist destination par excellence.

For those who come here for the first time, or have not been here for over fifteen years, I say:

“Save some room, room in your heart because you’re going to need it. New York City will dwell deep inside you, right where you tick!” If you are the kind of person who looks, not just sees, who listens, not just hears, then the heartbeat of New York City will grab you and you’ll fall in love with this town. Those who accept and grasp the greatness of New York City, as the producer of so much that is beautiful and worthy, created by its people and given to the world will surely acquire an asset that will provide immeasurable pleasure, excitement and experiences. People who find it difficult to “inhale” the huge volume of people, traffic, noise and energy ought to caste aside those negative emotions and try grasping the City piece by piece. It’ll give them a different outlook, one that is surely not for everybody, but one that needs to be admired and enjoyed, even if only for a few days.

Those who do not welcome the City in their minds and hearts remain encapsulated within themselves. Perhaps it is too much a consequence of small town life, monolithic cultures of safe sameness, unexposed to other cultures and the values thwarting acceptance and trust of those who have different ideas, ideals and customs preventing them from opening their minds and hearts. Many are skeptical and don’t accept our values, politics and lifestyles, quite different then their own. In truth this is more common from fellow Americans who hail from the heartland, the south and rural places and due west. Europeans, Asians, Australians, South Americans and Africans embrace New York City more openly and express a wonder and excitement not often seen from many American visitors.

What creates this suspicion? Surprisingly, many visitors from places elsewhere in the United States actually believe that New Yorkers are less patriotic then our fellow countrymen even though we are the melting pot City, every bit part of the United States. We are as proud as they are to be American. Our contributions to this country are unbeatable in nearly every field of human endeavor. Certainly, some of that resentment and contempt is borne out of jealousy, our success and those who are truly unhappy with their lot in life. “Success breeds contempt”. Our “free-wheeling” ways open expression, less dogmatism, a population that de-emphasizes religion for most New Yorkers troubles others from more conservative and evangelical places. Why? We have the right to live our lives the way we want to just as they do! We do not impose our lifestyles on them. Why are they so harsh and critical of our liberalism and ideas? Perhaps they truly believe that we are sinners because we have too much fun, in their opinion. We’ll, let us go about our lives and we will let you go about yours without judgment, criticism or scorn.

If you want to see America, don’t come to New York City but, if you want to see the world, come, bring an open mind, heart and enjoy!

Eastside, Westside, Bestside?

Isn't it sort of like that universal schoolyard incantation? "Na-na-na-na-na NAH!" Remember that? "So, you live on the Eastside" and "I enjoy the Westside, that's where I live.” How many times have we all heard one version or another of that ubiquitous flim-flam, back and forth with residents extolling the benefits, praises and justifications for living on one side of “town” or the other? More than we'd like to admit, surely. We are, of course, referring to the Upper of each, not the Lower East Side, aka LES, and don’t look for the lower Westside, there isn’t one.

Although the distinction is discussed in good humor, most of the time, the Upper Eastside has traditionally been known to be more moneyed, old money derived from smokestack industries, coal, and steel, shipping, aluminum, bananas, pineapples, railroads, and iron, copper and such. People involved in finance, banking and the "well-heeled" have settled into the wealthiest zip codes in the United States, on the Upper Eastside such as the fabled zip 10022. I’ve personally had the “joy” of mailing alimony checks to that zip code for years. Still trying to get it out of my mind, 10022 or is it 10002, eh?

Fifth Avenue, long referred to as the "gold coast" contains coop apartments that run into tens of millions of dollars with very unreasonable and demanding coop boards that scrutinize the wealthy and in many cases require many times require much greater net worth, liquid, in addition to paying cash, no mortgage allowed, to acquire those apartments.

East of Fifth Avenue is Madison Avenue, the Rodeo Drive of New York City, currently home of the upscale global clothing, art and accessory stores that sell less for more. Presently, many of them have gone empty but they’re coming back. The Eastside’s wider terrain, stretching from Fifth Avenue to East End Avenue, a broader swath than the Westsid, puts many residents much further from Central Park, and subway, presently, there’s only one “line” on the Eastside. What a shame! Their East River Park is a pinch park compared with Riverside Park, wider by far on the Westside, which runs the entire distance of the Upper Westside, another Olmstead and Vaux masterpiece.

Take a look at Fifth Avenue, a one-Way Street since 1966, narrow compared to Central Park West, and with far less human activity. Sure there are lots of dog walkers, doctor’s patients, domestics, building employees, people on their way to and from work, and the usual flock of museum goers. The neighborhood does not have the energy, bounce, spark, diversity and feel of Central Park West. Frankly, it’s a bit stiff. Nice people, I suppose, who pay a lot of taxes, just the right amount, right? Hum!

Historically, cities settle on the eastside first because the westerly direction of the morning commute puts the sun behind them. On the way home, at the end of the workday, the easterly direction puts the sun behind commuters as well. This has been the case before the advent of automobiles. Horses hate sun glare too. They’re only human!

"White, bright and polite" a phrase that has characterized the Upper Eastside, tongue and cheek, has much truth. It is far less diverse than the Upper Westside and more inclined to be snobbish, dotted with its brash neighborhood restaurants, boutiques, banks and shops. Bloomingdales, several Ralph Lauren’s, three is not quite enough, art galleries, Dean & DeLuca’s, Dylan's Candy Bar, Serendipities and all the rest, have given this neighborhood less of what New York City is really all about; democratic politics and diversity. It seems to have more of the Republican, Tea Party spin with the Fox twirl, Rush Limbaugh hoopla and horse and pony show. Hello! Still, it is a well-loved part of town, not nearly as much as before. New and trendy neighborhoods have emerged and compete with The Upper Eastside for the dollars of the gilded “1%”. Still, it is a safe haven for new comers and those whose parents or trusts are footing the bill, for sure. “You’re not living on the Westside, it’s not safe!” What a myth!

The Westside packs the most creative energy, actors, musicians, composers, writers of all kinds, choreographers, designers, artists and more of those who think outside the box, except when it comes to politics, which is generally liberal Democratic. There are far more parks; it’s the center of the creative, liberal and intellectual universe. It tends to be younger, I believe. Broadway has it all, wide, open, plantings, benches in the center medians, more subway lines, red, blue and orange, theatres, Columbus Circle, Time Warner Center, Lincoln Center, Julliard, Columbia University, CCNY, St. John the Divine, Grant’s Tomb, Washington’s HQ, Tomb of the Amicable Child, Pomander Walk, better and less costly food stores and no shortage of fine dining, movie theatres and great housing stock, which is, cost wise, just about parallel to most of the Upper Eastside nowadays. Its diversity, creativity, liberalism and less pretentious feel are its primary distinctions compared to the Eastside. There is more friendliness, less judgmental residents and acceptance of every ethnic group. Ever since the construction of Lincoln Center and the gentrification of Lincoln Square, the Westside began to shed its stigma as a less affluent, dangerous and hostile environment. Those days are over, unless and until change comes, and in New York City, hey anything can happen!

Truthfully, I am not claiming that one side is better than the other. They're different and depending on who and what you are, either one is a better fit, your choice entirely, unless the rent is paid by someone with a bit of influence on you. Certainly, many Eastside residents would find the Westside a better fit for them but preconceived notions, advice, fear, listening to mother or friends who have their own thoughts, who push opportunities or a sense of prestige, and “it’s safer” drove them there, east.

Just because someone lives on either side doesn’t mean they fit these commonly believed stereotypes. The Upper Westside is more of a bastion of liberal wealth, one of the few left in the country. If that suits you, then you had better "go west young man” or woman, or if you prefer go east. East End Avenue is a long way from the Lexington subway line and the Second Avenue line will take a long time to complete! So if you love burgers, banks, bars, books, nail places, Chinese takeout, dry cleaners, hardware stores and baby strollers then east might be best for you.

The west is for the rest. Oh yes, and if you decide to sit down on a bench in the median on Broadway you’ll notice a lot of interesting characters to talk with. On Park Ave, you can do the same thing except the flowers don’t talk.

The New York Wawk

Observing people walking, crossing the street, using escalators, climbing stairs, crammed, jammed and rammed for years in New York City has always been quite amusing to me. By now, I have the "rules of the road" down pat! There are so many telltale traditions and you too can become an expert if you watch, mimic and give it a shot.

New Yorkers are the world’s greatest walkers. We have to be. We don’t have cars, less than any other large American city, by percentage. Why? Because the streets are flat, very walk able, parking is scarce and there’s great public transportation at low cost, widely available. It’s the way to go. Most people in New York City, most notably Manhattan, have no use for a car, seen as an unnecessary expense, a burdensome useless piece of equipment.

Not that The City, especially Manhattan, was flat when Mr. Hudson arrived, but thanks to the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 requiring streets and homes to be built on flat ground thus, all the rocks had to be removed. “Oh, New York City is such a great walking city, it’s flat, and the streets are numbered, parallel and perpendicular, so easy to navigate!” Tourists are not the only ones who don’t know why. New Yorkers generally, don’t have a clue either! The Grid Plan of 1811 was the most innovative and forward-thinking man-made factor, aside from The Erie Canal and subways, added to our cultural and natural advantages that have enabled this town to expand so impressively. Streets were numbered, according to the plan, to enhance communication among the masses. Those seeking directions were more at ease by accepting a piece of paper from a stranger with the street number written upon it than to have to decipher one of nearly sixty languages back then to find their way.The street blocks are extremely short, providing more corners simply because corners are worth more money corners provide an abundance of light, views and air. This resulted in the creation of perhaps the best walking city on earth. All the rocks had to be removed to build homes, schools, hospitals, commercial buildings, etc., pave the streets, hence, the most geographically transformed city on earth, right here in Manhattan, “island of hills.” Oh, I never knew that!

Observing the rushers, not walkers, they appear as though they are skating on their shoes as they do The Blue Danube Waltz gliding and maneuvering, through throngs of sidewalk traffic. Perhaps it’s rather a ballet of sorts choreographing every step measured in nanoseconds searching for their path, selecting turf 20 or 30 feet ahead is far more amusing and entertaining than formal theatrical dancing. It’s a science, a sport, a weave to the left, no not there, the tandem strolling tourists are blocking the entire width and perhaps I’ll step off the curb and bypass this trudging herd of “Large Marges” uh! It’s almost a contest, with yourself, to be the first one to get to the end of the block, synchronizing your steps, not breaking stride, checking out the street lights to know whether or not to “do the diagonal” which is to start crossing where the cars are about to face a red light within a few seconds, judging from the unblinking don’t walk orange signal, and if the cross street is vacant then “diagonal it” and make that cross a “double cross”, because the shortest distance between two points is a straight line or nearly straight. Northeast corner directly to Southwest corner without breaking stride, we do it all the time, and we twist our necks peeking at the tourists behind us waiting like good little school children.

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