Sunday, February 13, 2005

"New York...just like I pictured it...skyscrapers...'n everythang."

"New York...just like I pictured it...skyscrapers...'n everythang."

Stevie Wonder, Living For the City (1972) See: and

My Day In The City (that's New York City, ya moron!)

Suburban Cowboy drove from suburban Washington DC to suburban NYC to spend the day with my 18 y.o. son Daniel, and that’s always a lot of fun. Daniel's a great kid with a wicked sense of humor and a keen mind—in other words, he's my kinda person! Deciding to do something that we haven’t done in awhile (about two years, actually) we opted for a day-long visit to New York City. All bode well: the sky was clear; the air temperature somewhat comfortable for this time of year, and even the dreaded New Jersey humidity complied with us. It was a good day for a trip to the city.

As the first leg of our planned NYC adventure we jumped into my car and sped off to Hoboken, NJ. Chatting as we cruised down a stretch of New Jersey’s most shockingly grotesque roadway (Route 22, right outside of Newark) we arrived at Destination Hoboken only 40 minutes later. Hoboken, NJ, situated right across the Hudson River from Manhattan, is an ideal place to park a car if you wish to avoid interacting with the (how shall I put this?) demented drivers roaming the streets, avenues, boulevards, sidewalks, and alleyways of NYC.

Knowing from too-much experience just how true the above statement is, we avoided the whole situation by stashing the car in a convenient Hoboken parking garage, which in true New Jersey style, yelled at us. Yes, that’s right; the garage’s ticket-dispensing machine yelled at us, loudly and obnoxiously. This man-versus-machine scenario started innocently enough: entering the garage, I lowered my car window to take the parking ticket-receipt that Daniel and I would need to retrieve the car after our NYC sojourn. But before I could even reach out to grab hold of the paper ticket, a voice blasted out of the dispensing machine and in the dulcet tones so characteristic of northern New Jersey, demanding that I “PRESS TH' BUTTON ‘N TAKE TH' TICKET!!! Startled, I hesitated for a split second, only to have the machine scream at me again, even louder, “TAKE TH' TICKET!!!!” Ah, yes, gotta love it—Hoboken, NJ, where even the machines cop an attitude… Thank God I didn’t have to utilize an ATM—it might have mugged me!

From that inauspicious start Daniel and I ventured down the winding queasy-greenish-blue-colored tunnel leading to the antiquated, rickety PATH Train. This was the second leg of our trip. The present-day PATH Train (Port Authority Trans-Hudson Train) is the descendant of the original 1908 NJ – NYC subway, charmingly referred to by the locals as “The Tubes”. Then, as now, the PATH train connects NYC to the rest of the continental USA (or, as the residents of New York City call it, “out there”). Suburban Cowboy has ridden the BART Train in San Francisco and the Metro in Washington DC, and while neither of those light rail lines is exceedingly comfortable or quiet, they are light-years ahead of the infamous PATH train in terms of sheer avoidance of brutality to the riders’ ears, noses, and general sanity. Thankfully, only ten minutes after boarding the nightmarish train we arrived at the PATH station located at 9th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood.

Suburban Cowboy lived for years in Manhattan, in this very neighborhood, but I was still fascinated by what I saw yesterday. I saw the air…or, rather, I experienced the air. Ah, the diabolic New York City air! Has ever a more toxic brew of inert gases and rare earths been concocted by the likes of man? Composed of equal parts sulfur, lead, Dioxin, and ozone (with, possibly, traces of oxygen and nitrogen) it assaults the visitor’s olfactory sense steadily, powerfully…unrelentingly. Like the deadly march of Amazonian Fire Ants, which devour every living thing that has the misfortune to fall into their path, the air of NYC engulfs the unfortunate breather, chokes his nasal airways, and finds its way into even the most subtle and discrete of pulmonary alveoli. Live in NYC long enough and your lungs will resemble nothing less than a ragged piece of cheesecloth soaked in coal oil. Wheeze! Hakkkk! (excuse me!)

Pushing through the Saturday afternoon crowds of sightseers and ghostly-pale, sunken-eyed native New Yorkers, we searched for a place to sit down, eat and enjoy lunch. As we stood on the corner Broadway and Spring Street, I idly ran my finger a few inches over a pane of glass fronting a trendy boutique. I glanced at that same finger and marveled that it was now filthy. There exists a ubiquitous haze of fine particulate matter in NYC. This oily micro-dust democratically coats everything, everywhere, and is, perhaps, the origin of the well-known “New York flavor” that residents are so fond of proclaiming!

Thankfully, downtown Manhattan was less congested yesterday than usual (though the population density still seemed to hover at around 10 persons/sq. ft.) because of the highly touted opening of NYC’s latest middlebrow “art happening”, called, descriptively, “Gates”. Winding through 23 miles of footpaths in Central Park, Gates is comprised of 7,500 eleven-foot tall, eight-foot wide metal arches. Each arch is painted saffron and is festooned from the top with a like-colored piece of nylon. Each arch resembles a gibbet as envisioned by a colorblind Bollywood set designer. This eyesore / inconvenience is the latest creation to spring forth from the fecund Warhol-like minds of the artists affectionately known by the single soubriquets Christo and Jean-Claude. Christo, with his furrowed Slavic mien and corona of white cotton-candy hair, and the harlequinesque Jean-Claude, who is his wife and collaborator, look every inch the Serious Artists. They petitioned the NYC government for over twenty-five years to erect this thing, and in the end they won, due in large part to the vigorous support of New York City’s dilettantish billionaire Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. So yesterday it was erected, and immediately it was a hit. But then, New Yorkers like that sort of thing. It makes them feel, well, superior to you and me. They think: you are simple middle-class Red Staters, and you might have culture of a sort—but do you have 23 miles of horrible ugly junk lining your public spaces? I thought not. Yes, blighted, benighted Red-Staters, you are stupider than us!

And so, all over New York, the cry was cast, “Gates? Oh, Gawd it is GAW-JISS!”



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