A Year In New York

A Daily Bite of the Big Apple

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Day 365: 11 Things New York Taught Me

June 30th · 9 Comments

img_68521Today I’ve been running last-minute errands and pondering what it all means, spending a year in New York City. I’ve worn through a lot of shoe leather in this crazy town and learned some hard lessons,  and now it’s time for me to pass those lessons on to you.

Here goes:

1. The World Won’t End If I’m a Jerk
. I am afflicted with the niceness that is so common among people from San Francisco. I used to treat everyone, even telemarketers, with kindness because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  Then I got pissed off at Rebecca the Mattress Saleswoman and learned that in New York brutal honesty is nothing short of essential; if you don’t raise your voice no one notices you’re there. A few days ago, the moving company tried to screw me, and I chewed them out before firing them. Felt like I’d gained a superpower.

img_032912. Manhattan Is a Childishly Easy Place to Live. Those who say life in New York is hard are only half right. Fighting through the crowds every day is hard, and if you want the corner office you have to work like Sisyphus. But those plotlines ignore what a Disneyland Manhattan is for those who can afford the ticket. Taxi? Right here, sir. Tired of the Broadway shows? Try off-Broadway or off-off-Broadway. Fresh cherries on the street at 3 a.m.? Wine at your door in ten minutes flat? Check and check. An entire life is delivered spoon-to-mouth, and this makes Manhattanites the most spoiled infants I’ve ever met. They make a Costco run look like a towering act of adult sacrifice.

3. The City Is Expensive but the Fun is Free. Often in this blog I expressed my indignation at $7 toothbrushes, $55 lampshades and $7.49 toilet paper. Looking back, these expensive staples were the price of admission to amazing moments that cost nothing at all: listening to the New York Philharmonic in Central Park, playing word games with writers, taking the ferry to Staten Island, attending a taping of the Today Show or puckering up at International Pickle Day.

img_021014. To Live In New York Is To Brave the Elements. I thought that highrise living and easy public transit would protect me from the weather. Not so. Every workday I spent at least half an hour on the street, pelted by rain, jumping over slush, and baking in the heat. Wind barrels down the avenues and the taxis disappear when it rains. I’ve spent much more time outside in New York than I did in sunny California, simply because I didn’t own a car. Which explains why…

5. I Have a New Respect for Overcoats and Scarves. As an outdoor athlete, I scoffed at the formal dress codes of the East Coast; no way would Burberry keep me warmer than the Gore-Tex, fleece and polypropylene I brought from California. Then I got my own overcoat and scarf and discovered that those suckas are warm. And I looked…quite dashing.

6. New York Humbles Your Greatest Successes. This year I wrote a long, in-depth story for Sierra magazine that would have earned me applause…if I still lived in San Francisco (see Niceness, #1). No one in New York could care less. What, the story wasn’t published in a New York magazine? And you haven’t authored a book? And it hasn’t been on top of the Amazon bestseller list? Not even for a minute? Then who the hell are you?

img_52507. Manhattan is My Top Adventure Cycling Destination. When I bought the Superstar and began cycling New York, I imagined myself a kitten being fed to pit bulls. Over time, though, I learned to run red lights with impunity, read the acceleration habits of transit buses and UPS deliverymen, and measure exactly how much handlebar can fit between two vehicles’ side mirrors. I never felt more a part of the city than when I pedaled through it, drifting alongside taxis and squiggling past pedestrians, swimming deep in the urban canyons.

8. Cell Phones Blunt the New York Experience, and Sharpen It. I can’t tell you how many times I missed out on a conversation with a taxi driver because he was already talking to somebody on his Bluetooth. I hate what mobile technology has done to New York. People hunch over their screens like gnomes instead of noticing the pageant of life around them. But they do offer the voyeur one spectacle: The Argument. Every day I saw at least one person mashing a phone to his ear and engaged in a shouting match with a girlfriend, spouse, business partner or landlord. Thank you, o clueless ones, for serving your private dramas for all to see.

img_646019. I Can Carry Almost Anything on Public Transit. Like a hundred pounds of groceries home from Trader Joe’s, or a red lounger all the way from Harlem.

10. A Vertical City Breeds Unhappiness. I’ve never seen more stressed and unhappy people than I have on the streets of New York. Why? An answer occurred to me every time I entered Central Park. The transition was dramatic. One moment my yardstick was people: hurried expressions, angry horns, towers occupied by people richer and more successful than I. The next moment, my yardstick was trees: leaves nodding in the breeze and shade beckoning me to relax on the grass.

11. The New York I’d Imagined Was A Fantasy That, Just Once In A While, Came True. In the depths of February, I concluded that the visions I’d had of Big Apple life were a bunch of stinking compost. With every passing day my desire grew stronger to leave this anthill. img_53141Then, without warning, the city would sweep me up in one of its singular moments: a poet’s unexpected ode to March, the eco-party where Selso turned from a woman into a man, the glint of sunrise on the Queensboro Bridge, weekend getaways to the Hamptons or the Poconos, the earnest chewiness of an H & H bagel.

My yearlong affair with New York is over. But she is a mistress I have every intention of visiting again.

(P.S.: Now that I’ve polished off New York City, I’m on to Washington D.C. Check out my latest stories at The Ferris Files.)

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→ 9 CommentsTags: Deep Thoughts · East Coast v. West Coast · Encounters with Nature · Getaways · Sights & Scenes · The Rat Race · Urban Survival · Why I Hate This Town · Why I Love This Town

Day 364: A Dash to the Other Side

June 29th · 1 Comment

img_0394_2At 6:30 this morning, a small family of raccoons crawled from the shrubs in Central Park. Mom flattened herself under a green wire fence while two little ones scrambled over. They had just collected themselves for the journey across East Drive when they looked up to see a giant! Their mouths almost formed into little cartoon gasps. [Read more →]

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→ 1 CommentTags: Deep Thoughts · East Coast v. West Coast · Encounters with Nature · Sights & Scenes · The Rat Race · Urban Survival · Why I Hate This Town

Day 363: How a Hawk Sees Midtown

June 28th · 1 Comment

img_7947Last week I paid a visit to a friend from high school, the actress Tina Stafford, who lives on the 40th floor of an apartment building on Tenth Avenue. The apartment has a porch, a roomy one, with a sweeping view of Hell’s Kitchen, the Hudson and the northern half of Midtown. Tina spends a lot of her free time on that porch, as would I, watching New York go about its business. She’s noticed some surprising things.

[Read more →]

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→ 1 CommentTags: Deep Thoughts · Encounters with Nature · Sights & Scenes · Urban Survival

Day 362: After the Taking of Pelham 123

June 27th · No Comments

imagesMy colleague Rebecca and I stepped onto the Pelham-bound train with our eyes darting suspiciously this way and that. Just moments before we had left our seats at the Union Square movie theater, where we saw “The Taking of Pelham 123.” Taking the subway after seeing that movie is akin to watching “Deliverance” deliverance-741464right before paddling off through the Georgia backcountry. [Read more →]

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→ No CommentsTags: Entertainment · Sights & Scenes · Urban Survival · Why I Love This Town

Day 361: What New York Throws Away

June 26th · No Comments

img_7971_2img_7980_2I live across the street from one of the neighborhood’s grocery stores, a Food Emporium. Every midnight after the place closes, a pile of retired produce and collapsed cardboard boxes four feet tall is left at the curb. Garbage trucks come and take it away, and in the morning delivery trucks arrive with new produce and new boxes.

New York is just too crowded for trash to be hidden the way it is in other American cities. In the suburbs, the rejecta leaves the house in bins once a week; in less dense cities it might end up in a Dumpster; in New York the black Hefty bags wind up on the curb, three days each week and more often at grocery stores. There’s nowhere else to put it. [Read more →]

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→ No CommentsTags: Deep Thoughts · East Coast v. West Coast · Sights & Scenes · Why I Hate This Town

Day 360: Top 6 Music Moments of AYINY

June 25th · 1 Comment

New York has so much music that it regularly bursts out of the auditorium and into the streets. For your enjoyment, here’s a sampler of some of the best found performances I saw this year. Which is your favorite?

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→ 1 CommentTags: Entertainment · Sights & Scenes · Why I Love This Town

Day 359: Confessions with a Concierge

June 24th · 1 Comment

uppereastI have a story to tell you, but in order to do so I have to make two confessions. The first is that I live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The second is that, as of July, Joo and I are leaving New York and moving to Washington D.C.

I haven’t owned up to where I live because Joo and I feel like impostors, living far above our pay grade in the city’s ritziest neighborhood. [Read more →]

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→ 1 CommentTags: Deep Thoughts · Personalities · Sights & Scenes · Why I Hate This Town · Why I Love This Town

Day 358: Obama in a New Light

June 23rd · No Comments

img_7828Recently I headed to Williamsburg in Brooklyn to see an exhibit by Joe Mangrum, an artist friend who creates fantastic visions from everyday things. He and I moved from San Francisco about the same time.

Joe unlocked the door of Chi Contemporary Fine Art and showed me around just after the place closed for the night. I felt the thrill of a break-in. As someone with no inroads into New York’s art scene, I am accustomed to viewing my art at the Guggenheim or the Met, places with hefty entrance fees and guards. How refreshing, then, to have a tour by the artist, and to hear him explain that that golden sun on the wall is in fact a giant wok he acquired 14 years ago from an abandoned Chinese restaurant. [Read more →]

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→ No CommentsTags: East Coast v. West Coast · Museums & Art · Personalities · Sights & Scenes · Why I Love This Town

Day 357: Why I’ll Miss My Trash Chute

June 22nd · No Comments

img_7880The chore I most enjoy in my New York apartment is carrying the trash across the hallway to the refuse room. I drop the bag down the trash chute, and instead of walking away, I hold the door open and listen.

The bag bangs and rattles down the chute in a loud and satisfying way. It is a journey of only five floors but seems to take forever, long enough for me to reflect what makes this chute so much better than the trash cans I have known. [Read more →]

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→ No CommentsTags: Deep Thoughts · Why I Love This Town

Day 356: A Stone Oasis in the City

June 21st · 2 Comments

img_7912Today Joo and I visited the Cloisters, a few acres of European monastery grafted onto the northern cliffs of Manhattan.

A branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters bills itself as a museum of medieval history, but it looks and feels like a place for prayer. It sits in Fort Tyron, which was rescued from development in the early 20th Century when John D. Rockefeller bequeathed it to the city. The Cloisters came about at roughly the same time when a collector, George Grey Barnard, purchased parts of five different French monasteries and shipped them to New York to be reassembled, stone by stone.

The effect is one of overwhelming peace and silence, especially after emerging from the A train at 190th Street. Even the most obnoxiously dressed tourists moved at a hush among the 14th-century stained glass windows and the tapestries that lay against the cool stone walls.

img_7901I sat for a long spell at the edge of the largest courtyard, or cloister. As a recording of Gregorian chants played in the background, the sky erupted in a cloudburst. I watched tendrils of lavender sway in the breeze and noticed the way a leaf twitches when pelted by a raindrop.

June has been a wet month, and everywhere I walk raindrops have been crash-landing on leaves. But I never had the bandwidth to notice. This was the best part of the Cloisters, having time to notice without worrying about panhandlers or the bleat of ambulances.

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