New York is a nice place to live, but I wouldn’t want to visit here.
Just two generations ago, in 1940, sixty-percent of New York workers had manufacturing jobs. A generation later, in the 70’s, sixty-percent of New York workers still had manufacturing jobs, but all they were manufacturing were drugs or graffiti, so it hardly counts.
Now, the main job engine in NYC is the hospitality industry, which sounds as ludicrous as a school for lifeguards in the Sahara, since the unofficial mottos of New York City are — depending on the circumstances — Do I know you? Why are you talking to me? I’m walking here. I don’t have any spare change. Coming through. and No speak English.
The new tagline for the City, “New York: It’s waiting for you,” just doesn’t feel right, either. New York can’t even wait 45 seconds for a streetlight to change. It’s “The City That Never Sleeps.” Long Island, Connecticut, Westchester, New Jersey — now they have the cities that really are waiting for you…the cities that “Check the Cellphone Every Ten Minutes Until You Finally Get Home from Santacon.”
Sadly, it is the perfect tagline for a city with Taylor Swift as a global spokesperson. She’s 25, spent millions on a penthouse in a happening neighborhood, and six months later thinks she’s a real New Yorker. In another six months she’ll be complaining about how the newbies are ruining the neighborhood.
Still, I was a sport and showed some friends around recently. The first stop was Times Square, the only neighborhood where the zoning requires building owners to have illuminated signs. It’s familiar turf. I went to high school there. Back then, the NYC Planning Commission estimated there were more than 200 “adult use” businesses–like movie theaters, massage parlors, adult bookstores and peepshows — in the neighborhood.
And one Catholic, all-girls high school.
The local pervs surely thought Holy Cross Academy was the Promised Land, and launched an ongoing campaign to get inside. They tried enrolling as students, or saying they were substitute teachers. They tried booking rooms in the Hotel Holland next door, jumping out a side window to get into the school through the roof. Occasionally they tried the opposite tack, phoning in bomb threats to get us outside, but we gathered in the chapel instead. Nuns can teach even experienced bouncers a thing or two about a strict door policy.
As I guided my friends around the sanitized Times Square, I noticed that bogus Buddhist monks replaced the faux nuns, that Minnie Mouse is more aggressive than any panhandler, and that insufficiently cleaned costumes generate BO powerful enough to interfere with airplane signaling systems. I also caught myself pointing out where the XXX theatres used to be.
It wasn’t a matter of getting sentimental about laughing at the titles of the movies (“Butt Detective”) or how we exchanged tips on staying safe on the subway. We had fun second-acting plays and seeing celebrities, but we also saw the darker side of life. Going to class, we saw flashily dressed women with big hands and five o’clock shadow wrapping up a night’s work. After school, we saw the drawn, overly made up faces of women in doorways, the unshaven guys handing out flyers in front of Show World, the men too old for pinball loitering at the Playland Arcade. The gentrified Times Square sanitizes away the harsh truth that every real New Yorker knows — that not everyone who comes here, lives here, or is born here can make it here.
And, of course, this gentrified Times Square is the epicenter of the worst habits of visitors here — blocking the flow of pedestrian traffic. As a public service, here’s a cheat sheet:
1. Don’t congregate at corners or stop suddenly, mid-block. If you want to stop and look up, do it from a doorway. Do your post dinner goodbye hugs inside the restaurant.
2. Read or send your last text before you approach the subway entrance. Blocking a subway or subway escalator entrance or exit to check your phone is a New York mortal sin.
3. If you let your toddler take the stairs on the subway instead of carrying him, the force of the annoyance you will generate in everyone behind you will make your hair fall out. Eventually.
4. On a crowded subway or bus, take your backpack off and either hold it or rest it on the floor.
5. Love is wonderful. Save it for the hotel. Don’t mosey along hand in hand on a busy street.
Maybe the real slogan for New York should be “New York…It’s Waiting for You….to get the hell out the way!”
But don’t get me started about that.