Everything I Know about New York City

It's my favorite big city in the world, not that I've visited all that many. Let's see:  Chicago of course, LA, Seattle, Boston, Baltimore and Tokyo. Tokyo would have to be the most populous, with 33 million people. More than all of Canada!

But I digress. Back to New York.  New York City,  specifically Manhattan, has an energy all its own(though perhaps not always the healthiest of energies). Still, it's a place in which I'd have a permanent residence--if I had the means. I love that energy. Also the grandeur and dynamism of its architecture. My kinda town. 
   
But it didn't start out that way. I went to school out East, in Baltimore MD, in the late 70's, and one early observation of my classmates was that there were basically two types of New Yorkers: 1)those from the actual area, one of the 5 Boroughs; and 2)those from the East Coast who pretended to be from New York. This latter category of folks, with their affectations, turned me off to the experience. So that was a bias I had to overcome. 
   
As it turned out, I made a couple college-kid roadtrips during that period that gave me a good look at the city. The first one was at night, and took us through the Lincoln Tunnel and put us on a crazy street which I now know as 10th Avenue. I remember a number of folks walking in the street, in particular a  black guy in a fairly loud shirt wielding a bottle of something-proof , apparently feeling no pain...
   
We made a stop at Port Authority, which is in the Times Square area of midtown Manhattan. This was a den of iniquity in the 70's,  with its porno palaces and streetwalkers and pickpockets and other concomitant vermin. A most dangerous place any time of day but, especially after dark.  My friend had to take a leak something fierce, and went in to use the bathroom, leaving me in the car. Fortunately, no harm befell me, but I did have a crazy person come up to the car spouting some sort of jibberish. I think(and thought then)that he was just messing with me. Sensing my discomfiture.
   
Back in the car, and back up 10th. Through Midtown, and across 59th street, where it becomes Amsterdam Avenue. I remember seeing what were location shots for the TV series Kojak, which was probably Harlem. And heading further north, through a very hilly neighborhood- Morningside Heights- until we finally got back on track. Definitely an eyeful..

My other 70's trip to the city was much better organized, and was with someone who knew their way around. Strangely enough, I remember less from it than I do my previous freewheeling jaunt through the city. Serendipity's for lunch, which was First Avenue and something. A couple subway rides. A walk through Times Square in the evening. This was about the time Taxi Driver was made, and that was the Times Square I was seeing. There was what I perceived to be a street gang, looking like they were straight out of the movie. Ominous..

But from there I was fascinated with the place(albeit a little bit frightened). Took me over 20 years to get back there, but I did. I made trips to the city in three consecutive years- '98, '99 and '00.I always stayed at the Edison, which is on Broadway between 47th and 48th street(or is it 46th and 47th?). It was on these trips that I learned a lot more about the city.


Midtown Manhattan is a cinch to learn because it's all basically a grid. Broadway crosses at an angle, but the avenues run north and south. The numbered streets run east and west- even numbers to the east and odds to the west. Every so often in the numbered one-way streets, you have a wider thoroughfare with two-way traffic. Let's see: 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, 57th, 72nd, 86th and 96th. Crossing one of these usually puts you in a different neighborhood or sub-neighborhood. Below 14th street is considered downtown(trendier, fringier) and above it is uptown(big business, old money). Fifth Avenue is the dividing line between east and west. And Manhattan is bounded by the Hudson River to the west and the East River to the east.

On my first visit, I ran around so much trying to see all of the city that I wore out my feet. I was gimping around not unlike Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy, and finally had to take a bus. This was around Lincoln Center on the upper west side. I must've looked discombobulated, as someone asked if I needed any help. I politely declined, and noticed that other passengers were watching this, suspecting that I was being hustled. If I was, I didn't take the bait.

As far as getting around the city and not looking like an obvious tourist, I found a certain expression, a certain mood was helpful. Pissed off and in a hurry. Even though I was hugely enjoying myself, I sometimes adopted that grim countenance. Whether or not it was due to my appearance, no one bothered me there. 


After that three-year run, I'd always intended to get back to New York, but never quite got there. I even had a trip all planned, only to get a gig on the same day, and a pretty important one(at least for here in podunk IL). So I would've had three people pissed at me. And from there just got caught up in working and somehow making it to retirement. New York had fallen by the wayside. 

What rekindled my interest in the place was a series of videos on YouTube giving you basically a cab ride through various neighborhoods, and on well-known 'main drag' streets like Houston Street and 34th Street. Houston(pronounced HOW-ston)is the dividing line for several neighborhoods, like SoHo(south of Houston)and the much smaller NoHo(north of Houston). And many of the avenues start here.Allen Street becomes 1st Avenue, Chrystie becomes 2nd Ave, Varick becomes 7th, and The Bowery soon becomes 3rd and 4th- and 4th soon becomes Park Avenue. 

I love New York. I love the energy, the 'killer views'(both the fantastic architecture and the scuzzier visuals), the music and arts, the diversity of people.. The only thing I don't like is that it's the place where you feel most strongly the gap between the haves and have-nots. As one friend has said to me every time I'm there, "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer". 

Some of these YouTube cab rides have de-romanticized the city for me, at least to a degree. I used to love those 80's movies set in New York, like Arthur, where the ending shot is a beautiful midtown location like 50th and Park which freezes 'forever'. You think of it going on endlessly. But if you take a ride up Park Avenue, or Madison, or 3rd, you find that it's beautiful only until the money runs out. Crossing 96th street, into Spanish Harlem, those elegant thoroughfares get uglier by the block. And the big buildings are no longer luxury apartments but housing projects. 

Still, it's a great place. My favorite street is 3rd Avenue, and my favorite building is the Lipstick Building at 53rd Street and 3rd Avenue(or 'fifty-toid and toid'). And thanks to the YouTube videos, there's one that takes you all the way- from its raffish beginnings as The Bowery all the way out, past The Jeffersons' "deluxe apartment in the sky" at 3rd and 85th(now a different building entirely). Beautiful, at least until you hit 96th street, where the money runs out. 









   

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