15 August 2011

A Helluva Town, Part 1

[Years ago, when I was expecting a friend from Virginia to stay in my Manhattan apartment while I was away, I started to compile a little instruction booklet for her to use to find her way around, first, the apartment and my building, then the local neighborhoods. I expanded “Rick’s Guide to New York City” little by little to include bits of info about the city beyond my cruising range, and part of what I included was a sort of list of oddities and unexpected factoids about New York City, concentrating on Manhattan. New York, as I’m sure most people know, is immense, with 8 million inhabitants (“There are eight million stories in the Naked City”) over 305 square miles. (There are as many as 10 million people in the city at any given time. Los Angeles, by contrast, has under 4 million inhabitants in 468 square miles.) The NYPD, the largest police force in the United States, consists of 35,000 officers (not counting auxiliary officers and School Safety Agents), the equivalent to as many as 3½ army divisions. The New York City school system, also the largest in the country, educates (no cracks!) 1.1 million students, the population of Dallas.

[New York’s also fairly old for a U.S. city, 387 years, so it has peculiarities and characteristics that many who don’t live here, and even many who do, don’t know about. Since I know that there are readers of
ROT who aren’t New Yorkers and who haven’t spent time here, I thought it’d be fun to publish part of my personal little “Guide to New York City” for those who’re curious about the Big Apple.]

"The Bronx is up and the Battery's down." That's true, but Brooklyn is also "down" and Queens is sort of “up” (it’s really “over”). New York City really doesn't exist. The five boroughs are actually quite separate, both physically and emotionally. Everyone knows that Manhattan is an island, for instance, and some people even know that Staten Island is part of New York City (although it's nearer New Jersey and even voted to secede in 1993). But New York City is actually three main islands (and many smaller ones such as Roosevelt, City, and Governor's). Beside Manhattan and Staten Islands, Brooklyn and Queens are actually on Long Island. Only the Bronx is on the mainland.

There are about 30 additional islands that are part of the City of New York, though not all of them are inhabited or even accessible. Some form separate communities with their own characters, like City Island off the Bronx, and others are city neighborhoods, like Roosevelt Island (formerly Blackwell’s Island and then Welfare Island), accessible by the Roosevelt Island Tramway, a cable car over the East River. (The tram opened in 1976 and was the only commuter tramway in North America until 1984. A ride across to Roosevelt Island costs the same as a subway or bus ride, currently $2.25, and the fare is paid with the MTA’s electronic MetroCard. The famous Staten Island Ferry, by the way, has been free since 1997.) Other well-known islands are tourist sites, like Ellis Island and Liberty Island (home of the Statue of Liberty, of course), or parkland, like Governor’s Island, formerly a military installation that’s become open to the public since 2003. The famous Coney Island, with its beach, boardwalk, and amusement park, is no longer an actual island as it was connected to Brooklyn by landfill in the 1930s.

The five boroughs of New York City are also counties: New York (Manhattan), Bronx, Queens, Kings (Brooklyn), and Richmond (Staten Island); it’s the only U.S. city so (dis)organized, I believe. Brooklyn was a separate city (and still claims to be the fourth largest city in the U.S.) until the 1890s, after the Brooklyn Bridge was built (1883) to connect it to Manhattan. (Many Brooklynites are still miffed about this betrayal.) Greater New York, comprising the annexed Richmond, Kings, Queens, and Bronx Counties, wasn’t formed until 1898.

Note that the storied Dodgers of baseball were never the "New York Dodgers" but always the Brooklyn Dodgers (until Walter O’Malley moved them to L.A. after the last game at Ebbets Field in 1957). The Yankees, you'll notice, are never called the "Bronx Yankees"—though they are known as the Bronx Bombers occasionally. The Dodgers, of course, were just "The Bums"—or "Dem Bums" if you spoke the local dialect. (The hapless Mets, just to complete the trilogy, play in Queens, formerly at Shea Stadium and, since 2009, at Citi Field.) The New York Giants and the New York Jets football teams both play in New Jersey. In retaliation, the New Jersey Nets basketball team, which played in New York until 1976, is planning to relocate to Brooklyn once a new stadium is completed there in 2012. (Ironically, the site of the new stadium, the Barclay Center, is near the site where Walter O’Malley had wanted to build a new Dodgers stadium, the rejection of which led to the move to L.A.) That will mean that there’s a major league sports team in four of the five boroughs, with the basketball Knicks and the hockey Rangers both playing at Madison Square Garden (which, for the uninitiated, isn’t in or even near Madison Square) in Manhattan. (There’s a minor league baseball team on Staten Island, the Staten Island Yankees. The Mets-affiliated Brooklyn Cyclones, another Class A baseball team, play on Coney Island.)

The city’s odd political divisions make things even more peculiar. There are three different levels of political activity in New York City, aside from the federal and state politics that are part of the city’s life. First, obviously, are the city-wide politics. The city as a political entity elects the mayor, the executive, and each city council district elects a councilperson to represent it in the city legislature. We also elect a Public Advocate, a sort of balance to the mayor, as well as a City Comptroller, our treasurer. The Public Advocate is a kind of ombudsman though the office has little actual executive authority. The Public Advocate is first in line of succession to the mayor’s office if something should happen to the incumbent.

The next layer is the boroughs, and this is where things start to get complicated in comparison to other cities. The boroughs used to have much more power because the borough presidents (known as the BP, or sometimes the Beep) appointed members to several powerful boards, but the city government was reorganized by court order in 1990 and the borough presidents were relegated to little more than figureheads whose main jobs are boosting their boroughs for tourism and development. Many borough presidents have run for mayor and several have been elected.

Finally, since each borough is also a county, there are county politics. While the mayor, comptroller, public advocate, city council members, and borough presidents are all city positions, subject to city regulations and laws such as term limits, county posts are under state jurisdiction and are not subject to the same rules. The five district attorneys, for instance, are county positions. That’s why the recently retired Robert Morgenthau could serve as DA of New York County—he was often called the Manhattan DA, but that’s just common usage and actually incorrect—from 1975 to 2010, even though all other New York City officials were subject to a two-term limit after 1993. (Mayor Bloomberg forced a one-time extension of the limit before the last election in 2009 so he could run for a third term, which he did and won.) After Morgenthau retired, the two longest-serving New York City DA’s have been Charles Hynes of Kings County (Brooklyn) and Robert Johnson of Bronx County, both since 1989. (There was a really old Law & Order episode that used this little-known fact as a plot twist. The DA promised a suspect/witness that he wouldn't be prosecuted in New York County if he testified. His lawyer signed off on the deal, obviously figuring that New York County was the whole city, but after the court session, the witness was arrested. When the lawyer protested, the DA pointed out that the arrest was for Kings County—Brooklyn—not New York County—Manhattan.) Each county also has its own branch of the New York Supreme Court (the trial court in New York State) and New York State trial judges are elected (to 14-year terms), but the DA’s are the only elective county offices of any stature as there are no executive or legislative positions in the five New York City counties.

Some of the borough names have curious origins. Many New Yorkers know the lame joke about the visitor who asks, “What’s a Bronk,” for instance. The Bronx, which isn’t plural despite its sound, got its name from a Swedish settler in the Dutch colony of New Netherland, Jonas Bronck (1600-43), whose land was along the river that came to be known as Bronck’s River. The name Brooklyn is of Dutch origin, derived from the Dutch town of Breuckelen in the province of Utrecht. Staten Island, directly from the archaic Dutch name Staaten Eylandt, means State Island, named in honor of the Dutch parliament, the Staten-Generaal. Manhattan is probably the simplest (aside from Queens, of course) because its name comes from the transcription by one of Henry Hudson’s officers of the name he heard the native Indians, the Lenape, use: Manna-hata. It’s supposed to mean “island of many hills.”

There are also several rivers, aside from the famous Hudson to the west, separating Manhattan from New Jersey. There are the Bronx River and the Harlem River, both in the north. (The Bronx River, the one named for the Swedish settler, is the only one that’s entirely fresh water.) The East River, in reality, isn't a river at all. It's actually an arm of the ocean, is salt water, and has tides like the harbor. Because it's narrowed by Manhattan Island on the west and Long Island on the east, connecting New York Bay with the Long Island Sound, it looks like a river.

When New York City was consolidated in 1898, it obviously incorporated towns and villages that had been separate communities in the counties of Bronx, Queens, and Richmond. (By the time of the consolidation, Kings County was pretty much coterminous with the city of Brooklyn, but in the 17th century, Breuckelen was just one of six Dutch towns at the western tip of Long Island.) Many of those villages are still more like suburban towns than city neighborhoods, though others have been absorbed into the metropolis. In Manhattan, however, there are two neighborhoods that used to be separate villages—centuries ago, to be sure—and though the city around them has grown right up to their former borders and pulled them into the big city, they still retain much of the flavor and character of the villages they used to be before New York City became a megalopolis.

The northern Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem, annexed to New York City in 1873, began as a Dutch village named for the town of Haarlem in the province of North Holland. New Haarlem, as it was originally called, was founded in 1658. (Jonas Bronck, who gave his name to the river, county, and then borough now known as the Bronx, was one of the original settlers in 1639.) When the British conquered the colony of New Amsterdam in 1664, anglicizing the Dutch names in use in the former New Netherland, the village at the northern tip of the island became Harlem. The site of a Revolutionary War clash (the Battle of Harlem Heights, 6 September 1776), Harlem was mostly farmland until the mid-19th century; for most of that century, Harlem was known as the site of elegant living. Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, had an estate in Harlem. The rest of New York City still concentrated at the southern end of the island, terminating at about what is now Washington Square, the territory between the city and Harlem was either wilderness or outlying farms until quite late in the city’s history. Travel between the two ends of Manhattan was effected by boat up the Hudson, an hour-and-a-half trip in the days of steam. When the river was iced over in winter, the stage coach served as an alternative. The New York and Harlem Railroad, which became Metro North, was inaugurated in 1831. In the middle of the 19th century, when the land became over-farmed, the area became blighted and property values dropped as residents abandoned Harlem. When the elevated rail line was introduced in 1880, Harlem’s fortunes picked up again, however. Over-construction and a delay in extending the subway service to Harlem reversed the trend to elegance, wealth, and culture in Harlem by the end of the century and low real estate prices attracted new immigrants, mostly East Europeans. Harlem was becoming a center of African-American life and culture as the black population grew starting in the 1880s, increasing to a flood in 1904 because of another drop in property prices and rising racial exclusion in the rest of the city. By the 1920s, fueled in large part by the Great Migration from the Jim Crow South and the search by northern industries for factory workers as the World War I draft took so many of the traditional laborers, working-class whites, into the military, the percentage of Harlem‘s black population increased rapidly, giving rise ultimately to the Harlem Renaissance in art, music, and literature. Since then, the neighborhood’s fortunes have risen and fallen with the cultural trends that effected America’s black population and the economy in general.

The other separate town that became absorbed into New York City is still known as a village—in fact, “The Village.” That’s Greenwich Village, of course, which in the 16th century was an Indian tobacco field along the Hudson in lower Manhattan a few miles above the original New Amsterdam colony. In the 1630s, the Dutch turned it into a pasture which they named Noortwyck, largely used again to cultivate tobacco. After the English conquest of New Netherland in 1664, the British formed a separate settlement from the main colony to the south and renamed it Greenwich Village, which was first established as a village in 1712. Breakouts of yellow fever in the city in the 1820s and smallpox in the 1830s forced many to flee to the fresher air of Greenwich Village and there was a housing boom in the hamlet in the 1830s. The elegant homes around Washington Square, which had been a potter’s field in the 18th century, were built around 1832 and established the Village as a center of fashion and gentility (as celebrated in Henry James’s 1880 novel Washington Square and the 1947 stage adaptation, The Heiress by Ruth and Augustus Goetz). In the early 20th century, the Village became the New York center of progressivism, the avant garde, bohemianism, and even radicalism in politics and the arts. The little theater movement, which grew into the regional theater movement across the country and the Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway movements in New York City, was initiated with the births of the Provincetown Players (1915 on Cape Cod; 1916 in New York) and the Washington Square Players (1916). By the 1950s, Greenwich Village was the New York seat of the Beat Generation and a decade later the base of New York’s hippies. Jazz clubs, coffeehouses, rock clubs, and other venues sprang up all over Greenwich Village and its offspring, the East Village, all through the second half of the 20th century. Artists and writers flocked to the neighborhood until the real estate costs grew too high for them to afford, and there was always a veneer of upper-class bohemianism in the Village. It became the center of New York City’s gay community in the ‘60s—the famous Christopher Street is one of the Village’s main commercial thoroughfares; the site of the Stonewall Riot which launched the gay rights movement in 1969, the Stonewall Inn, is in Greenwich Village. Today, the gay community has moved uptown to Chelsea for the most part and the artists’ studios and galleries moved first downtown to SoHo and, when that got too expensive, to Chelsea also. The Village is still a center of theaters, restaurants, and boutiques, and it’s always a pleasant, interesting, and fun place just to amble, with many small residential streets that even now feel much like the small hamlet Greenwich Village once was, with old brownstones and trees lining the narrow, picturesque lanes.

Have you ever heard of SeƱor Wences Way? Would you know where Minnelli Way (as in Liza with a Z) is? If you mailed a letter to Leonard Bernstein Place or Joe DiMaggio Highway, would the post office deliver it? If you never heard of any of these New York streets, don’t feel embarrassed—most New Yorkers wouldn’t be familiar with them, either. They’re honorary names for parts of regular streets in the city, often temporary but sometimes permanent—though always only symbolic, so the USPS (the folks who deliver snail mail) doesn’t recognize them and taxi drivers can’t find them on any map. I think there are some other cities that do honorary street renaming, Chicago for instance, and they probably all do it similarly to New York City, but I’d guess we have more of them, for more people, organizations, and events than any other town in the U.S. Some commemorate people who truly deserve to be honored for their accomplishments, some are obviously politically motivated, and some are just plain silly (or, perhaps worse, commercial). The City Council approves honorary names, but it’s pretty much pro forma after the local Community Board recommends them; some CB’s are easy on approvals, others don’t seem to like the idea at all. (The widow of Jerry Orbach, the actor beloved as NYPD detective Lenny Briscoe on Law & Order but who had a long career on the stage, including four Tony noms, before that gig, wanted to get the corner of 53rd and 8th Avenue, near where they lived for a quarter of a century, renamed in the actor’s honor. The local CB, however, routinely rejects all such requests and played true to form this time, too. So Elaine Orbach went to the neighboring CB, which oversees the opposite corner of the same intersection, and she succeeded in getting Jerry Orbach Way approved. Location, location, location!)

All these honorary street names have two street signs, one with the regular, permanent name (for example, 7th Avenue) and one for the honorary name (some of which are also permanent, but still not official as far as the post office is concerned, like Fashion Avenue, as 7th Avenue is designated between 34th and 39th Streets in Manhattan because that’s the main drag of the Fashion District, the center of the women’s clothing industry here). Permanent honorary street names have green signs just like the regular signage; temporary signs are blue and remain for several weeks or several months; brown signs mark a historic name, often an old one from when New York City was still forming. A few double names are both accepted and recognized by the post office and city maps and so on, such as 6th Avenue/Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan or Lenox Avenue/Malcolm X Boulevard above 110th Street in Harlem. Other official second names are not accepted by USPS but are nevertheless recognized by everyone who lives in or knows the city, such as the blocks in Midtown Manhattan between 9th and 10th Avenues on 42nd Street and 8th and 9th Avenues on 46th Street which are universally known (and signed) as Theatre Row and Restaurant Row respectively.

Some honorary street renamings have been for commemorative purposes such as the scores of honorary signs that went up all over the five boroughs to acknowledge the police officers and firefighters who died at the World Trade Center on September 11. Others remember historical figures, such as Harriet Ross Tubman Avenue in Brooklyn or Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton Corner in Manhattan. There are even honorary names that commemorate events, sometimes for political reasons, such as the renaming of the intersection of 12th Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan as Tiananmen Square Corner in remembrance of those who died there in 1989. Even organizations can get a street name: The Order of the Sons of Italy Way in Manhattan and Sisters of St. Joseph Boulevard in Brooklyn. This doesn’t preclude the use of the renaming process for commercial or promotional purposes: Hammacher Schlemmer Way, MTV Music Awards Street, Bike to Work Week Boulevard, and the intersection of Beauty Way and Beast Avenue, usually known as 47th Street and Seventh Avenue (right near the Palace Theatre, where Disney’s Beauty and the Beast opened).

Some more oddities of New York’s grid:

  • 3rd Avenue, below Astor Place, is the Bowery (from the old Dutch word for ‘farm’), famous for bums and derelicts.
  • Lexington Avenue starts at 21st Street (Gramercy Park) and continues north. Between 14th Street and 20th Street there’s a charming little street called Irving Place (named after Washington Irving in 1833) where Lex should be. (In Herb Gardner's play A Thousand Clowns, he mentions "14th and Lex," an intersection that doesn't actually exist.) Irving is said to have actually lived on Irving Place for a while (probably before it was named for him), at 122 E. 17th Street, also known as 49 Irving Place, on the southwest corner of 17th and Irving.
  • 4th Avenue exists only from 14th Street south to Astor Place (ca. 8th Street). Below Astor Place it's Lafayette Street (location of the famous Joseph Papp Public Theater). Along the Square, it's Union Square East, but between 17th and 34th Streets, it’s Park Avenue South. It used to be 4th Avenue, and the house numbers still act as if it were. Above 34th Street, it’s Park Avenue, with a new numbering system starting at 34th Street (1 Park Avenue).
  • Everybody in New York City talks about 6th Avenue, except the post office and the street signs. They persist in calling it "Avenue of the Americas" (to which the street’s name was changed in 1947). No one uses that, not even the subways and busses—but you'd better know it, or you'll get lost. Ed Koch, when he was mayor, wisely had the street marked with both names. Below Canal Street, 6th Avenue merges with and becomes Church Street.
  • 7th Avenue below 14th Street is 7th Avenue South. Below W. Houston Street, it becomes Varick Street.
  • At Abingdon Square in the West Village, 8th Avenue merges with Hudson Street.

On the Upper West Side, at 59th Street, several changes take place:

  • 59th Street itself is called Central Park South (CPS) between 5th Avenue and Central Park West as it runs along the southern border of Central Park.
  • 8th Avenue becomes Central Park West (CPW); above 110th Street (also known as Cathedral Parkway), it becomes 8th Avenue again or Frederick Douglass Boulevard.
  • 9th Avenue becomes Columbus Avenue; above 110th Street, it becomes Morningside Drive.
  • 10th Avenue becomes Amsterdam Avenue.
  • 11th Avenue becomes West End Avenue (WEA).

110th Street is called Central Park North (CPN) as it runs along the northern border of Central Park; it’s also called Cathedral Parkway elsewhere because the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine, is located along it. 6th Avenue ends at CPS, of course. When it starts up again above Central Park at 110th Street/Cathedral Parkway, it’s renamed Malcolm X Boulevard. It’s also known as Lenox Avenue and bears signs for both names. 7th Avenue behaves much the same way, continuing above 110th Street as Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.

Travelers have to be careful, especially in the Village: there are both a Washington Place (southern edge of Washington Square) and a Washington Street (far west in the Village, parallel to the Hudson), not to mention Washington Mews (a private street north of Washington Square, property of NYU). There are also a Greenwich Street (one block east of Washington Street) and a Greenwich Avenue (running from 9th Street and 6th Ave. to 14th Street and 8th Ave.). There is Broadway and also West Broadway (running from Canal Street to Washington Square; its last block, near NYU, is called LaGuardia Place) and East Broadway (on the Lower East Side). There is MacDougal Street and MacDougal Alley (both near Washington Square), Minetta Street and Minetta Lane (both near 6th Avenue south of Washington Square) and Jones Street (West Village) and Great Jones Street (East Village). Along with Park Avenue, there's also Park Row (near City Hall), Park Place, and Park Street (near Ground Zero, the former WTC site); there are also both a Madison Avenue and a Madison Street (Lower East Side). There’s also both W. 12th Street and Little W. 12th Street (in the West Village meat-packing district). This isn’t even counting the name duplications between one borough and another, such as 5th Avenues in both Manhattan and Brooklyn. Fulton Street in Manhattan is downtown near City Hall, but Fulton Street in Brooklyn, which is mostly a pedestrian shopping mall now, is in Fort Greene, not far from the Brooklyn Academy of Music; there are subway stops (on different lines) in both areas with identical names.

  • Broadway cuts across Manhattan on a diagonal, starting in the Financial District, running up the Lower East Side, crossing 14th Street at 4th/Park Avenue creating Union Square. At 23rd Street, it crosses 5th Avenue and makes Madison Square. At 6th Avenue and 34th Street, the intersection of Broadway creates Herald Square. When it meets 7th Avenue at 42nd Street, Times Square is formed. (Father Duffy Square—recently dubbed "Actors' Square"—with the statue of George M. Cohan and the TDF TKTS booth, is the north end of Times Square.) At 59th Street and 8th Avenue/CPW, Columbus Circle is formed (the only traffic circle in Manhattan).
  • On the Upper East Side, at 53rd Street, east of 1st Avenue, Sutton Place replaces Avenue A. This is not a name-change, since the three lettered avenues end at 14th Street because the East River cuts into the land. At 60th Street, Sutton Place (New York's highest rent street) becomes York Avenue.
  • Madison Avenue starts at 26th Street (Madison Square, where Madison Square Garden was first built; it has moved twice to get to its current site).
  • Riverside Drive (RSD – lovely old mansions and once-elegant apartment houses overlooking the Hudson River) starts at W. 72nd Street and meanders along the river (and Riverside Park) on the far West Side.
  • South of 8th Street (Greenwich Village, SoHo) and north of 110th Street (Harlem, Ft. Washington, Morningside Heights), things get very screwed up. You need a map or a native guide!
  • W. 4th Street is a weird little street. Though numbered like the others, it is not straight and actually intersects with 10th through 13th Streets in the West Village. It is still called West 4th Street as far east as Broadway in the East Village, when it finally straightens out and becomes E. 4th Street, and fits neatly between E. 3rd and E. 5th Streets. It also becomes Washington Place when it forms the southern boundary of Washington Square Park. You go figure it out. W. 3rd Street is very similar to W. 4th. In both cases, the house numbers are as unruly as the street itself. Be careful looking for addresses on these two Village streets. Or the streets themselves, for that matter.
  • There are no numbered streets below 8th Street on the West Side (except the above-mentioned W. 3rd and W. 4th Streets): 1st through 7th Streets only exist east of the Bowery in the East Village.
  • 8th Street between 3rd Avenue and Avenue A is known as St. Mark’s Place (in honor of nearby St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, where Peter Stuyvesant is buried).
  • The intersection of, say, W. 4th Street and W. 10th Street is a peculiarity of the Village. But more peculiar even than that is the intersection of Waverly Place and Waverly Place. It happens at the Northern Dispensary near Sheridan Square, and—I would venture to say—nowhere else in the world. Now that's Greenwich Village!
  • In Harlem, there are intersections of 125th Street with 130th, 126th, and 127th Streets.

With all those streets, it’s no wonder that New York is a city of parades. I suspect New York City has more parades than anywhere else in the world; I can’t prove it, and maybe Moscow in the days of the Soviet Union, where they loved a military display, could beat us, but I doubt that—and even if they could, those days are gone. Most parades in New York are in Manhattan, but not all. And most parades in Manhattan go down 5th Avenue—but not all. (The famous tickertape parades for designated heroes, either actual, like returning troops or astronauts, or sports champions, like the Yankees when they win a pennant, go up lower Broadway in the Financial District while spectators throw paper waste down on them from the tops of skyscrapers.) New York City has three general kinds of parades, starting with the many organized processions, like the Thanksgiving Day Parade and St. Patrick’s Day Parade (the oldest parade in the U.S., and the oldest St. Patty’s parade in the world). These are organized by some group or other formal entity (like Macy’s, who does the Thanksgiving parade) and they determine who marches and what the rules will be. These are, of course, formal parades, with police security lining the route and traffic halted along the parade streets and many officials turning out to walk along and be seen. Then there are the semi-organized parades, like the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. I think that’s the only one of its kind in New York (though the Coney Island Mermaid Parade may have similarities), and anyone who shows up can march and no one plans the costumes or the order of march. The route’s determined and there are police barricades along the sidewalks and other official trappings, but the rest of the procedure’s pretty much ad hoc. Finally, there’s the world-famous Easter Parade, popularized by the Judy Garland song (which wasn’t originally about New York City, but who’s gonna complain?). This is a completely ad hoc promenade: there’s no organization, no monitoring, no official anything. You just show up and walk—preferably wearing an elaborate hat, often homemade and silly. In any case, New York loves its parades. We better: we pay millions for the cleanup afterwards!


[The following comment by Andrew H. Malcolm was published in the New York Times on 19 April 1991; it's rather appropriate. ~Rick]

One striking thing about New York City is its residents' willingness to tell visitors where to go, whether recommending a good restaurant or responding to comments on their civility.

But here is a non-New Yorker's advice for visitors who don't know what questions to ask:

New Yorkers don't actually think they are more important than anyone else. They know it. What else could explain why they came here? And look at the geography: New Yorkers live where the Passaic River and the Gawanus Canal merge to form the Atlantic Ocean. Enough about import.

New Yorkers are not happily ignorant about the rest of the country. They recognize there are 50 other states. They know the H in Ohio is silent so it comes out Iowa.

Next, something about city geography. New York City is Manhattan, period. The other three boroughs—Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx—were allowed in because the subways had to end somewhere. Staten Island, which is trying to get out, was needed to keep New Jersey at bay and to support the wrong end of a bridge named for the explorer Verrazano, who left too.

Now about crime. Some people think that a city where 5.5 people are killed on the average day should be called Detroit. This is ridiculous. New York is a fine name. New York remains one of the region's safest island cities. And the New York Police Department, with the uniformed personnel equivalent to two full Army divisions, is determined to keep the city as safe as it already is.

Some fashion tips: wear running shoes everywhere, as New Yorkers do; yes, it looks funny, but so do life jackets. Wear all luggage like bandoliers. Do not take photographs; that's what those nifty Big Apple postcards are for. Wear jewelry only indoors. For streetwear, don a Walkman; in groups, everybody don a Walkman. If you run low on incense, go to Times Sq. Do not say hello to people, even if you know them; it's too Des Moines. And places like Idaho don't even have subway cars to deface. If someone says hello to you, use those shoes; he's not from Des Moines.

Also, do not admit to possessing a driver's license; it hurts the environment and New Yorkers oppose pollution unless it's in the Hudson River. Do not expect New York bus drivers to accept United States currency. Walking in groups of 500 or more for safety requires a parade permit, which explains Fifth Avenue's closure every 15 minutes.

Above all, do not try to trick these big-city people about the pigeons. New Yorkers know they're just grown-up sparrows.

[Andrew Malcolm captured an attitude that many see here in the Big Apple. I hope you all take it in the humor it’s meant and have had as much fun contemplating how strange this huge town can be. But my list of New York City oddities has grown too long (and won’t ever include all the peculiarities of this great city). So I’m going to break here and pick up again in a few days. If this coverage of my town’s curiosities and idiosyncrasies amused you, come back to ROT and see what else I’ve dug up.]

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