A New Yawka’s Guide to New York

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1.  A Tempered Welcome Warning

 

     Enthralled and confused am I, now and ever, by my childhood in New York City. When Christmas came to visit, the family loaded into the car and headed into midtown. I don’t remember where my Dad parked. We went to Rock-a-fella Center (At the time, his son was the Governor) to see the tree, wander and wonder and eat still hot roast chestnuts from paper bags. We looked in department store windows. Steam came up from manhole covers. Could I pet the cop’s horse?

     Everyone was from New York, you just knew. It wasn’t crowded like a beehive or a slaughter house. No crowd control, walk where you like, any direction, no rush. There were garbage cans to throw away your paper bag with nut shells.

     Not no more, wouldn’t be caught dead in Rock Center in December. Or Times Square, in any month.

                                        All tourists...tursts.

     Now I will apologize once and only. If I offend you, just imagine, I’m only one New Yawka. But I’m here to do you a favor. I’m gonna lay some shit on’ya you probably won’t get in the guide books—or from guides. Yeeeah, like a favor. If you are illiterate, or what I call ‘sub-literate,’ you’ll just buy or borrow 2 or 3 guide books with lots of pictures and maps and web addresses and then stand still, obstructing the sidewalks, struggling to figure out how the city corresponds to the map, great. Stare at the shiny lights while Hello Kitty picks yer pockets, just great.

     However, if you are reading this, reading me, you might be an interesting person and the following will be useful preparation for your visit to NYC. I want you to get home safe, soon and sooner than later.

     Do I have an attitude? No, I got a fuckin’ attitude, and again, I’m only one New Yawka, you bet. Let us begin.

     Attire

     Here in town, we wear black. And jeans, black and jeans. Some dark blues, grays and greens but mostly black. Got that? Black. Show no jewelry. Turn your wedding ring. Nice watch. The folks you may see wearing bright loud attire are attracting, or trying to attract attention. That’s just what you don’t want. For you, the spectator visitor, your visa is invisibility. In a time of personal crisis, a Buffalo God granted Geronimo the power of invisibility, and thus he almost died of old age.

     Dress down, way down. Your notion of what is cool, cute or attractive might not fly here. In fact, it’s part of the reason you’re coming. Sports insignia, pithy tee shirts and accessories that can be seen from space will make you look a rube or a target. Wanna be a target? “It’s our pleasure to serve.”

     Shoes, comfortable shoes for walking. We’re going to walk yer ass off. You might walk a couple or so miles a day here. I can’t speak to your physical stamina, but wear the wrong shoes and you’ll be forking over the cash to a smelly cabby with too few vowels in his name.

 

     Driving

     If you are planning on driving into NYC, particularly Manhattan, don’t, just don’t. That vehicle will be a pox on your time here. Park it outside of town, and take a train in or a bus or an Uber. Nobody here cares what you drive, except if they’re writing you a ticket or two. You can kill hours a day looking for parking, or spend the equivalent of your lodgings on garage parking, so your precious automobile may repose unmolested. But, if you just can’t be without your car, don’t leave packages visible and think they’re safe cuz you locked the doors. They’ll smash a window for a backpack of dirty laundry, and then call you names since they already had dirty laundry. Shit happens. And they tow cars regularly here, to the pound in the 30’s on the west side. Bout half the cars there have out-of-state plates and most of the rest are stolen or awash in tickets, yeah.

 

 

 

 

 

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2.  Pedestrian Danger

 

     I was once instructed in the best practice for stepping over a fallen tree in rattlesnake country. Happily, I would still go hiking in those places armed with the knowledge that there are rules, guidelines, and best practices. And, know you, at least here, the really dangerous snakes got two legs.

     There are here, dangerous places and dangerous people. I don’t go to places, dangerous places, where I don’t belong or have no business. Easy, and I’m from here. The list of those sorts of places in NYC was longer when I was young, but now, not so much. Stay out of East New York. As a child, I was told if I went to some places, I might not come back. On the other hand, some of the most beautiful blocks in NYC are in Harlem, USA. Frankly, they cause me to swoon.

     Dangerous places stay where they are, and the curious hiker can safely step over them. Dangerous people though, move about freely.

     Generally, scams, great and small, operate upon two flawed features of our natures. First is some variation of money or gain for nothing, or very little. Second is the opportunity to do some good deed. Upon these two precepts, predators seek easy scores. They’re not looking for trouble nor can they afford any. If the door is locked, they’ll try another door. Easy scores, easy money. Your trust is a weakness. Presume malevolence and watch your back. Street criminals often work in pairs—the one in front of you may not be the problem. Am I being too harsh here? No, a guide that attempts to sanitize NYC is lying to you, or trying to sell you something. We are a complex and stratified beast you’ve come to explore.

     Don’t think that because someone sports a feminized appearance they don’t hit like a man. They’re not just sissies. They are hard boiled prostitutes and pickpockets, which can be synonymous. Keep your distance. Don’t believe the necktie or visible cross or shiny shoes either.

     Don’t count or show your wad on the street. Keep a few bucks handy if say, you stopped to buy a hot dog, however, I don’t recommend that either.

     ID, cash, and cards in your front pocket or a pocket with a closing device. Your wallet on a chain is essentially an ad. Have nothing of value in a backpack.

     If you have to use your communicator, pull over as you might on the highway, I hope. A kid could grab your phone running and vanish. I’ve seen that happen. Anyway, did you spend all that time and money to come here and talk on your phone?

     Don’t walk around with headphones on or earbuds in—you need to hear where you can’t see.

If it’s too good to be true, likely it ain’t.

     Walk This Way

     Walking is how you best see the city. Of course, geographically it is a huge city, and I do not expect you, myself, or anyone else to walk from midtown to Brooklyn. That is an unreasonable expectation. But in the confines of a neighborhood or district or park, prepare to walk. Doctor says it’s good fer ya. On the other hand, riding a bike here is as dangerous an activity as you might ever engage in. My advice here is just don’t. I ride a bike regularly, and it is dangerous as hell. For the neophyte, it would be like swimming with sharks. Walking is dangerous enough.

     Crossing the street while talking on your phone is like picking your teeth with a loaded gun. Contained in the street but somewhat separate is the bike lane. You might remember from 4th grade the technical term S.B.D. Well the delivery guys on electric bikes are just that—silent but deadly. After clipping you, they’ll split because they often do not conform to the civil fabric and don’t want to be deported for the minor infraction of shattering your skeleton. Before stepping off the curb into the bike lane, you had better look both ways. Your life and your vacation depend on it.

     Don’t walk 3 across on the sidewalk. We’re not Sex in the freakin’  City ova heah.

     Don’t stop to talk or look at your phone while standing in the sidewalk cuts at the corners. Someone in a wheelchair or a walker or a stroller or a schmuck pushing a bass fiddle might need to use that cut. Generally, don’t block the sidewalks. Would you just stop on the highway?

     If you hear or see a commotion up ahead, stop, try and see what’s goin on, don’t just wade in. You might get wet.

     There is a ton of really cool shit to see here that you have to find by accident, just walking around, and maybe, being lost. Lost is best. You’re hyper-alert, noticing everything, and then things may appear. You’re walking down Lexington Ave and notice a bronze plaque on a wall. Says Chet Arthur took the oath of office here after Garfield succumbed to assassination. Keep your eyes open and your wits about you, Garfield didn’t.

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3.  Subways and Buses

 

     One might have to grow up with the subways to find its irregularities regular, and thus the whole system in a way benign. Otherwise, it is an impossible beast. I was not allowed on the train unescorted until I was 12. Here are some things about ‘the train.’

     On the weekends, all bets are off. Forget schedules, routes, maps, announcements, and whatever worked for you during the week. Basically, good luck and go fuck yerself. Everyone running the trains from Friday night until late Sunday night be tripping, and of course this extends through 3 day weekends. If you have a specific time objective like the theater or a tip-off, give yourself at least an extra ½ hour.

     In Manhattan, things are closer than they might seem on the map. Transferring trains is difficult and maybe time consuming. Get close to your objective and walk the rest. When you have to take the train, do so, otherwise fuck it, walk. You’ll live longer.

     In the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, we have ‘Els,’ elevated trains. To my knowledge, none have fallen down or trains fallen off. They are a fine means for taking in the vastness that is this place. When I say vast, not only do I refer to the geographic visual available on the Els, but the entirely vast ethnic diversity to be seen commuting to and from the extremities of the boros, and this is a beautiful thing. There is a neighborhood smack in the middle of Brooklyn that residents there refer to (with no small amount of pride) as the most diverse neighborhood in these United States. I get kind of creeped out when I visit places where everybody is the same color, and then I long to be home. I especially like the 6 train to the top of the Bronx, the A train out to Rockaway (You can spend a day at the beach and not leave NYC. The D/F/N/Q train to Coney does this as well.) The 7 to Flushing is cool too. You can go on an Asian eating safari. There’s a very old house out there.

     DO NOT just sit down when you get on the train. Look first, don’t make someone else’s accident your own. Additionally, when you get up to get off, look back. Distractions make one careless. You might need that umbrella.

     Don’t freak out if the train stops in the tunnel. Shit happens. If the train stops and the lights go out and you smell smoke, be my guest, freak out. All three have never simultaneously happened to me, but I’m still young.

     There are rats and mice in the subway, there just are. Mostly they stay down on the tracks. There are also folks who live down there as well, but lately they’ve been discouraging that. Rats and mice resist trends.

     Forget bathrooms. Period.

     MetroCard is a biggie. I don’t know how much a weekly is and, it changes. Unless you’re sure you’ll be taking the bus or train everyday you’re here, it might, MIGHT be cheaper to just put 10 or 20 bucks on a regular card. You do get a free transfer from train to bus or vice versa. Whatever you choose to do, take good care of your card. If bent or the black strip is scratched (As I write this morning, news of bad and unpredictable shit happening on the subway dumps down on me from the radio. Gods forbid nothing.) the card will not work. So you take it to the guy in the booth, and he gives you the dreaded envelope. Now you can mail it somewhere and get a repaired card back in like 2 months. Great. Take care of your metro card.

     Panhandling (I’ve failed to nail down the etymology of that term) is expressly prohibited on the subway, so don’t panhandle and, don’t give money to those who do. There are in the subway, both on the trains and on the platforms, ‘minstrels.’ Depending on your tastes in dance, poetry, or music, these affairs maybe be pleasant or a pain in the ass. If the former, give them a buck, I have no objection. Indeed, I encourage reward for a life of Art.

     On returning to the manor last night, I was informed the ‘person of interest’ from the subway was acquired while enjoying the fare at Mickey D’s. This I think a fine segue to eating while you’re here.

Image by Chris Cooper

4.  What's Good Here?

I’ll confess here, I have some pro food creds. Also may I tell you, ‘dining out’ has ceased to be a form of entertainment for me. Home spreads out from a kitchen.

Having said that...

Whatever you budgeted for eating here, say daily, NYC can rip through that half way into lunch. No kidding, you are warned. Manhattan restaurants are overpriced because their leases are overpriced, plain talk. So it is difficult but not impossible to find a bargain eating in Manhattan. Even dollar pizza is $1.25. In Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, there’s great stuff if you have the time and nature to explore. I can’t tell you about Staten Island. Only people from Staten Island know the place. Terror Incognito.

Stay away from hot dog vendors, and in warm months, stay far away. Specialty vendors with fancy equipped trucks can be alright. If you see no prices on the signage...that’s a problem.

No mayo salads from delis (trust me—pro creds). Tuna, potato, egg salad, etc., all strictly verboten. Bad mayo is a good way to spend your visit on the toilet.

The diners are variously safe to good and safer if there seems to be robust business inside. Old homey bars, I think, can be very good for burgers and bar food, which might not be particularly good food, but we all know the deal there.

No shellfish on Monday and Tuesday, anywhere!

There are fruit & veg stands where you can get bananas 3@ $1.00. If you’re carrying a bag or backpack, a big refilled bottle of ‘free’ tap water is useful for maybe washing some blueberries or the like.

My precious recommendation (which I don’t share much so I don’t trip over you) is this: good feta, good olives, fresh bread, dates, thinly sliced Soppressata, and a thermos of iced tea on one of the lawns in Central Park, weather permitting. Don’t get no better than that. If you wish to add grape to that menu, you’ll need to be a touch devious.

All the restaurants, almost all, put their menus in the window. Excepting prices, these mean nothing because all the joints got the same food. Different lipstick, different tie, but pretty much the same food. Make your evaluation on the business they’re doing. If it’s an ethnic sort of joint and you see people of that ethnicity eating there, eat there.

If you find a joint you like, say, near where you’re staying, tip the server good and stay with that joint and that server. They can become a valuable resource for you.

There is a nationally renowned coffee emporium well represented in Manhattan. I always think their coffee tastes burnt. That’s just me, plenty of folks think that’s good coffee. However, I don’t give no fucking body 4 fidee for a short cup’a coffee (unless I’m in an airport maybe) and you don’t have to neither. Now we have lots of wannabee coffee joints striving to join those ranks of renown with rows of “up’n’comers” sucked into their laptops, drinking 4 dollar coffee, writing screen plays or resumes or lyric cantatas for the gods of advertising and insurance. I look into those clean windows as I would a fish tank. You can buy coffee anywhere for what it should cost.

There are a lot of little seemingly secret little parks where a building used to be, but nobody wanted to develop the space so they made it a little parklette with some seating and maybe a fountain and a parkee to run the bums out. These are fine places to eat a lunch or breakfast. They are locked tight at night. As they should.

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5.  Navigation

 

     If there is such a thing as ‘essential reading’ for a trip to New Yawk, an excellent example would be “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn” by Thomas Wolfe who collapsed in the street between the bar (which still exists) and his hotel home (which kinda exists) and was taken to a big hospital (which don’t exist no mo’) where he too ceased to exist. Point of the story? Only the dead know Brooklyn. Unto itself, it is larger in area, population, ethnic diversity, property value, crime, and important or famous sons, daughters and residents past and present than most larger cities in the USA and a few states to boot. And, it is impossible for a visitor to navigate. Why? In part because the neighborhoods (of which there are many many) are all crooked to one another. Why? Because they represent the farms, fresh water resources, estates, and communities established in the 18th and 19th century. The city planning grid was not yet a thing.

     And lower Manhattan is older. The streets and avenues bear the names of intrepid and pious settlers.

     Wall Street was actually a wall to keep the savages out—a concept still, to this day, dear to some hearts. The names are alternately Dutch or English. As NYC expanded north into the 19th century (NYC then limited to the isle of Mannahatta) the grid (now something of a Matrix), came into ascendancy. From 14th St up is all right angles and numbers until you get way uptown, excepting Broadway which was the north to south road that had to veer around the swamp which was and still might be Times Sq. Of course, anomalies and exceptions shall be found.

     Now above 14th St, we encounter the east-west address issue. First, you might call 14th St to 59th St ‘midtown,’ though someone else will say, “Dis guyz off ‘is rocka, midtownz higha up an in duh middle.” Maybe. So now, you have this large rectangle in the middle of the island with the rivers on the east and west extremes. This box is divided in half by 5th Avenue and street addresses go up (in number) from that central point/avenue. So, you will have  27 East 31st St AND 27 West 31st St. Hence the eastside and westside. The park begins at 59th St. The east side of the park (which is 5th Ave) is east addresses and the west side (Central Park West) is the west addresses. The park goes up to about 110th St. Now you’re in Harlem where the east-west things continues, but more of the avenues lose their numbers and take on names. Above 168th St or so is duh Heights and Inwood. There is a patch of forest in Inwood that is the only patch of un-landscaped anything on Mannahatta. You may also find, close to that forested region, the intersection of Seaman & Cummings St. A photo op if ever there was one.

     An equivalent explanation of how to navigate the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens is not on tap here because there ain’t none. And, getting lost can be fun, in daylight.

     Still in this navigation biz, I’d like to address cabs, yellow cabs. Ubers function differently than regular cabs, yellow cabs. Two things about them: if you stand in the street with your arm up waving at every cab that goes by, you’ll only accomplish looking like a nazi that lost the rally. Cabs with no light on have a fare and thus won’t stop. If the light on top is ‘on’ wave at that one but if it shows two little lights, then he’s off duty and may not pick you up. Second, if you’re headed uptown and get in a cab on a downtown avenue (avenues are uptown or downtown specific...mostly), then you might be taking the scenic route. Get into yellow cabs roughly in the direction you’re going, or else.

     Bringing Children to NYC

     We have no water parks. Instead, we have parks with water, but we calls’em ‘beaches.’ Did you come here to go to the beach...I think not. NYC is hard for children and germaphobes. Problem for kids is their parents ‘restrain’ them as if 10 feet of unfettered distance will be a signal to grab the child for a cannibal sabbath. Of course, the more restrained the more combustible the child. We do have great parks and ‘not’ Art museums, zoos and assorted sight-seeing stuff that could be of interest to yer youngins, but if you think the place so lethal, then just stay home and take the child to a water park, what could possibly go wrong there. Gotta tell ya, we who live here think way more bad shit happens everywhere else in the country. The news does indicate this, subway shooter be damned.

     In Conclusion

     I don’t have much more to tell you. There’s plenty of guide books or friends and neighbors to tell you all the things you just have to see or do in NYC. I’m not here to contradict any of them, nor would I presume the things I engage here hold any interest for you, and that’s okay. But know this, except for train fare and 3 bananas for a dollar, you can spend an exhausting and eye-opening day here and NOT put your hand in your pocket, almost not. Just as easily, you could drop 3 bills before dinner and 5 before lights out. That’s up to you. Walking across a bridge is free, and best at sunset. Put your phone away. Stop taking pictures of yourself, you look like a moron.

     The thing you might take away from this place is how incredibly cosmopolitan it is, which, I think, scares some visitors. Again, I think it’s beautiful which is not to say ‘I love everybody.’

     I can’t tell you about lodgings here, because how the hell should I know, I live here. If you have some specific question I might be able to respond to, please get in touch by the contact page. I do know some stuff like where was a scene in this or that movie shot. Escorts, smack, and card games you’re on your own.

     If you are reading this and you’re from NYC and feel I missed something or feel I’m wrong about something, which of course never happens, then you get in touch, and we’ll attempt to post what you send. Please specify if you wish to be anonymous (invisible).

     And, while we’re here, if you recently visited and might like to share some bizarre shit that happened (good or bad), then send that.

     If you have a candidate for “essential reading” on NYC, send that. Not guide books please. Real books, like, “The Power Broker” or “Homer & Langley” or the poem “Mannahatta.”

     That’s it. Now I’ll get on my bike and ride up along the river and sit on a rock under the GW bridge.

                                    I, you see, love New Yawk.

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