New Yorkers – Hostiles or What?

Based on four months of moving around New York City, I now feel equipped to address the age-old question whether New Yorkers are basically “hostile” or are they just “direct,” as many claim. I am prompted to address this, in part, because I recently received a report of an opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which encompasses New York, Connecticut and Vermont. In the legal profession, the Second Circuit is generally regarded as very influential because it decides a lot of important cases. But even the opinions on lesser matters can be revealing.

A case in point, and it’s a doozy, is Wright v. Musanti, decided April 13, 2018. The opinion consumes 25 pages and can be read, by those with stamina to slog through long discourse on court jurisdiction, here:  For”” the rest of you, and apropos of the central idea of this post, this brief description will suffice:

Wright cut in front of Musanti as they were walking to their respective Manhattan offices during rush hour. Musanti responded by kicking Wright’s legs, and a verbal and physical altercation ensued. Musanti pressed criminal charges, telling the police that Wright was the initial aggressor, but the district court, relying on video footage and the testimony of both parties, found that Musanti had been the initial aggressor and had given false information to the police. Musanti was found liable for the battery, assault, and false arrest of Wright. The district court awarded Wright nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages (totaling $15, 001). The Second Circuit affirmed, upholding findings that Musanti gave false information to the police by failing to inform them that she initiated the physical contact, and by intentionally downplaying her aggressive conduct and that in requesting that the police press charges, Musanti had induced the police to arrest Wright, because Wright likely would have been released but for her request. It was within the court’s discretion to find that conduct amply egregious to merit punitive damages. [ summary at]

Ouch. The actual opinion elaborates the facts more deeply but I will leave that to those with the curiosity to look at the actual opinion.

I do not for a moment suggest that the conduct described here is typical. Indeed, I am sure it’s not. In my own encounters with New Yorkers on the streets and in shops, I have found them, for the most part, to be helpful and often quite friendly. New Yorkers are indeed “direct” but this should not be confused with “hostile.” It is part cultural and partly, I speculate, a product of the time pressure that everyone seems to feel about almost everything. There are, for example, usually long lines in store check-outs, carry-outs and diners at popular times. People generally seem to feel they have no time for small talk. It’s “what do you want?” and “wait here.”

The key, I believe, is to not presume aggression and to smile a lot and even crack wise just a bit. I am not a gifted humorist but I generally can get a laugh or at least a smile. Sometimes, just shaking your head in an empathic gesture can draw a positive reaction from a worker who has just been disrespected by a customer in a hurry and short on manners.

On the streets, as I have noted before, I am generally the slowest walker (some elderly, of which there are many in The City, are slower than me – I’m talking about those not obviously encumbered by age or other infirmity}. It’s generally wise to stay to the right, but people in a hurry will sometimes pass you on the right even if it means going out into the street.

There is also a lot of crossing-in-front-of-you going on. People emerge from doors right onto the sidewalk as if there could not possibly be anyone walking there, when the reality is that always people are always walking by. It is also common to have people move diagonally across intersections to, apparently, save a few steps by avoiding right angles. They usually are moving faster than everyone else and yield to no one. This is expected and accepted. Those obsessed with “hurry” instinctively commiserate with others similarly afflicted.

The same is true for bike lanes. We had some bike lanes in Virginia but in the urban space of New York City, bike lanes are a critical element of commerce. Delivery men, mostly men, on bikes of various descriptions, roar by in expectation that pedestrians will not be in their way. They often move fast, with various forms of cargo on their backs, on racks, on the handle bars or even in plastic bags held in their teeth. You must remain situationally aware of the bikes at all times, as much as with the automobile traffic. [I will address the practice of horn-honking in a separate post]

All that being true, actual physical contact is rare. Not infrequently, people passing in tight spaces will say “excuse me” and if you yield to them so they can pass, they often say “thank you.” What more can you ask?

Big Disappointment Saved by a Walk in the Park

Spring has arrived and an old man’s thoughts turn to … a walk. We decide that the prospect of sun and 75 degree weather is the perfect day for a picnic in Central Park. We’ll take the subway to 79th Street, walk to Zabar’s, a well-known emporium for New York foods, get a box lunch and walk to the park for a picnic. Plan A.

While waiting for the train, we were treated to this young man prodigiously playing complex classical music on his electric piano;

This kid can flat out play! After each piece he would quickly stand, stiffly bow without expression and sit to resume playing. Sad to see such a talented young person playing for tips in the subway, but we showed our appreciation for his gifts with loud applause and money for the hat. The arrival of our train interrupted our reverie but it was a great start to the day.

We arrived at Zabar starving so we decided to eat lunch there. It’s a small place but we found seats and had a nice lunch.

Then we went next door to the Zabar market. This is the sign we saw there:

My wife and I traversed the store twice and filled a basket with about $100 worth of goodies, planning to have them delivered to our apartment later, so we could continue our plan to walk through Central Park. We asked the checker up front to confirm that they would deliver to us on West 59th Street, given the slight ambiguity in the sign’s meaning. I read it to mean that delivery was $6 but if you ordered more than $75 worth, you could get delivery free within the described area. That’s why, I thought, there was a line below the $6 Flat Delivery part of the sign.

Wrong. The checker called the manager over and, after we explained that lived one short block beyond the southern boundary described on the sign, he said “no, we don’t deliver to West 59th.” Wow, for one block, which isn’t even occupied for the most part (60th in that area is mostly commercial), they declined $100 or more in business for which we would have paid the $6 if necessary, plus the loss of all future delivery orders we might have purchased there. An odd business decision, in my judgment, but there it was.

Had it been up to me, I would have just left the basket of food and walked out, but my wife kindly retraced her steps and returned everything to its original location. We couldn’t un-slice the Black Russian bread, but they presented no argument.

Not to be deterred, we walked to and through Central Park on the most glorious day of the year so far, as attested by the massive crowds on foot and bicycle, snoozing on the grass and just soaking in the scene. We saw beautiful spring flowers.

Many people rented row boats and cruised the lake with some Canada Geese for company.

We came upon this jazz band laying down some great trad jazz tunes to a small audience of admirers;

More money for the hat. We sat in the sun and absorbed the music, then walked toward home, only to pass this scene in the Sheep Meadow:

I first I thought it was a protest march of some kind. How could I have missed that? But, no, just a lot of New Yorkers soaking up the rays and having a relaxing Saturday afternoon doing not much of anything. No rushing.

So, as puzzling as was the Zabar manager’s decision to refuse to deliver our order one extra block, our perseverance was well rewarded in other ways.  Alas, the weather forecast for Sunday is rain and 44 degrees. We shall remain upbeat, notwithstanding the cruelties of New York weather. The next day, as the saying goes, is another day.

There’s a City Out There

The photo immediately above is out my office window. If conditions were normal, I would be able to see the Time Warner towers shown, at night, in the header photo.

The Weather Channel forecast for New York City for today looks like this (I am not making this up):

Now                 45

11 am               57 & Rain until 2:00

2 pm                Wind Advisory in effect until tomorrow

Sustained winds 20-25 mph; gusts to 50 (50 mph!)

6 pm                Full sun

Tomorrow      Full sun

Friday              60 & rain

Saturday         40 & SNOW (yes, 40 & snow at same time)

Sunday             44 Party sunny (partly cloudy if you prefer)

Monday           43 & cloudy

Tuesday           46 & rain

Wednesday     49 & partly cloudy/sunny

Thursday         53 & partly cloudy/sunny — if you believe in miracles

Can this be normal? It’s April 4. Can humans survive in such conditions? Apparently, they do.

Now, in fairness, these bizarro weather patterns are not unlike those in Northern Virginia from which we moved a few months ago. My former regular tennis partner and I always used to say that spring officially began on April 1 and we usually played that day each year. But it was no uncommon to see snow during the match. Conversely, we often were able to play on New Year’s Day because the temperatures were so warm. Ah, those were the days! And the current Weather Channel forecast for Alexandria over the next week shows two high wind days, TWO SNOW DAYS and daytime highs ranging from 67 to 42. How is this possible?

Anyway, the fog is beginning to clear and the Time Warner towers appear through the gloom like two monuments left by aliens. If you believe in that sort of thing. If you do, it’s probably ok in light of some of the truly weird stuff people believe is true these days. But I won’t go there. This blog is not political.

I am beginning to believe that the “snowbirds,” who live in the deep south during the winter and move north during the summer, are on to something. The expense and logistics of that are, however, too intimidating for someone who hates to move. I am exhausted just thinking about it. So, I won’t.

Deli Experiences in New York City

If you have been to New Orleans, you may have experienced Mother’s. It is an institution and a scene, but one that is easily grasped. You enter at what appears to be the back door. This is a photo of the front, or exit, door.

You get in line, if indeed you have not already been in line that often extends outside at busy times (i.e., whenever it’s time to eat, which in New Orleans is any time at all, a reality Mother’s accommodates by serving breakfast all day). Upon entering the door, you get a menu and start reading fast in an attempt to grasp the vast array of offerings.

You may be struck right away by the presence of Debris on the menu. Debris is defined by the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary as “broken or torn pieces left from the destruction of something larger,” giving as an example of use in a sentence: “After the tornado, debris from damaged trees and houses littered the town.”

That doesn’t sound too appetizing and clearly it must mean something else. Cambridge Press came close, but no cigar, probably because they’ve not been to New Orleans.

Anyway, Mother’s defines Debris on the menu, along with Black Ham that you simply have to try to appreciate:

Debris \ˈdā-ˈbrē\ n. The roast beef that falls into the au jus gravy in the pan while roasting in the oven. A Mother’s original. Black Ham \ˈblak ˈham\ n. The seasoned, caramelized crust sliced from the World’s Best Baked Ham. *Available in limited quantity, usually at breakfast.

You move through the line in a semi-orderly manner and when asked by the ladies behind the counter, you give your order. You pay up front, sit down and your order is delivered to your table.

But I digress. This post is not about New Orleans.

No, this is about Katz’s Delicatessen, established in 1888. Yes, that’s 1888. Katz’s sits at 205 E. Houston Street. By now most of you know that as Howston, not, never, absolutely not Hewston. Hewston is in Texas. Houston is in New York City. SoHo means “south of Houston,” which in Texas would mean the Gulf of Mexico or … oh fuhgeddaboudit.

So, we were talking about Katz’s. The place where the famous orgasm scene with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan was filmed.

We went for Sunday lunch. The line was out the door until suddenly everyone was admitted at once. Inside, bedlam. A “scene,” if you will. How to explain. Even pictures do not convey the full impact.

Immediately upon entering you are handed a ticket with a loud verbal warning that if you lose the ticket before checking out at the end of your meal, you will pay $50 per ticket. “DO NOT LOSE YOUR TICKET!!” OK, I got it. Lose the ticket and you will be financially ruined when you check out. Maybe, I think, they won’t even let you leave if your credit’s bad. At your table, halfway back in the large room, over the roar of the crowd, you can still hear the warning up front to entering customers: “DO NOT LOSE YOUR TICKET!! YOU MUST HAVE YOUR TICKET WHEN YOU LEAVE!! DO NOT LOSE YOUR TICKET!!”

The concept of this place is that you order food you want at individual stations lined up along the right wall as you look in.

If possible, you do not want to sit near the food stations.

The man at the table next to ours had a wife and three kids, each of whom wanted different foods. He came and went perhaps six times, procuring food at different serving stations. To his wife, he finally said “This is the most inefficient set up I have ever seen and I can assure you I will never see it again.” He was, however, still smiling.

I, however, who abhor lines, was not smiling.

At the end of meal, which was OK except that the soup was lukewarm by the time we got to eat it, we went to the front, turned in our tickets, which I DID NOT LOSE!!, and paid. Total for two bowls of soup, a platter that we wanted with corned beef but which in the chaos ended up being brisket, and two soft drinks came to $66.25! If you like a scene, this place is for you.

The next weekend we participated in the March for Our Lives. During a break from standing in an unmoving crowd of thousands, we sought refuge at Fine & Schapiro on West 72nd Street. F & S only dates back to 1927, a relative newcomer in the New York Jewish food scene.

It’s a really small place, shaped like a train car with small booths on each side and a few tables down the middle. The menu is extensive. The concept is like a regular restaurant. You sit, someone takes your order, you eat, you pay at the front and leave. No yelling.

Chastened by our experience at Katz’s, we shared a corned beef sandwich and a single, very large potato pancake with apple sauce. BUT the pickles and a large bowl of tangy coleslaw were on the house. All in all, a very filling meal. With two soft drinks, the bill came to $28.00..

F & S was also quiet. We could talk without shouting. I like that. I said I LIKE THAT!

Anyway, that’s the story. There is a clear choice to be made here, though, of course, there are many other such places in The City. Probably none like Katz’s. A real New York institution. The number of delicatessens and just plain “delis” is declining, however. More about that in a future post.



Phoenix Risen

Everyone by now knows that the new World Trade Center was built on the site of the Twin Twin Towers destroyed in the attacks of September 11, 2001. In Egyptian mythology, “phoenix” refers to a bird that lived in the desert for 500 years, then consumed itself by fire and rose again from the ashes. The term also means a “thing of unsurpassed excellence or beauty; a paragon.” In the sense I use it here, both terms may apply.

Every morning before the museum there opens to the public, a member of the staff checks a register of names and places a white rose on the engraved name of the person born on that day and lost in the attacks. According to the /11 museum website, “Mikey “Flowers” Collarone of FloraTech, a downtown florist and former emergency medical technician that responded to 9/11, hand selects the roses from a local flower market and donates them to the 9/11 Memorial Museum.”

Simply put, the new World Trade Center is a stunning memorial and architectural masterpiece. I visited it recently with my wife and again with my daughter. Rather than try to talk about something whose grace and power comes from visual impact, I will let the photographs do the talking. Solely for context, the night and long distance pictures were taken from my apartment in the Columbus Circle area. Otherwise, the photos are on site or from the observation decks at the top.


Adjacent to the World Trade Center is the Oculus, a combination transportation hub connecting railroad and subway lines and an upscale shopping mall of enormous proportions. Here are views from outside and inside the Oculus:

Looking Down on New York

Some days The City is almost mystically quiet when seen from our 50th floor apartment. The eerie silence is always interrupted, though, after a short while. Usually, it’s one or more sirens. Our building is adjacent to Mount Sinai West hospital and there is constant but irregular coming and going of ambulances in full-throated wail trying to intimidate their way through automobile traffic blocking every lane, seemingly indifferent to the person whose fate depends on the ambulance or fire engine arriving as fast as possible.

And then there are the pedestrians who seem to regard the imminent arrival of an ambulance or fire engine as an opportunity to dash across the intersection in the gaps created by the few cars who are actually trying to make way for the emergency vehicle.

Then, the hush returns. The other frequent sound is an often shockingly loud crashing of a truck bed separating from its foundation as the truck encounters, and ignores, the so-common fissures and cracks in the streets. New York City is very old and its base infrastructure suffers mightily under the burden of tens of thousands of vehicles passing every day on many of its streets. The booming sounds made by these truck-street interactions would be easily ignored in times past, but in the age of terrorism, the mind is instantly drawn to the idea that the sound could as easily be a bomb.

There are no sounds at all from the thousands of windows I can see from my apartment.

Behind those windows, in just the buildings I can see, labor hundreds of thousands, millions, of people talking on phones and in meetings and, of course, clicking away on the computers on which modern commerce totally depends. It is a bit surprising to think that the aggregate of those conversations and keyboard click/clacks does not escape into the atmosphere to make at least a faint impression on the observant eardrum. But they don’t. The city, viewed above street level, might as well be devoid of all life, home to little else than the proverbial church mouse (or, in the case of New York, perhaps the church rat) and the strange ever-present parade of paired red lights creeping south on Ninth Avenue.

The windows of the massive twin towers of the Time Warner building sit opposite my living room windows. In the afternoon sun they are as opaque as a solid wall of black glass.

After dark, on the other hand, the towers light up in the brilliance that we have come to associate with The City at night.

As I walked by one of the towers the other day, I observed a uniformed doorman speaking to the driver of a black Secret Service-style van: “This is a condominium, not a hotel. And all the people who live here, I know.”

This is not an exaggeration. The doormen in our building, one of two towers holding 700 apartments, knew us on sight, by name and apartment number, the second day we were here. There’s a certain comfort in that, but also a bit of a chill to think that we are that recognizable to people who were total strangers only a day before. But it is their job and they do it well.

As night falls, I hear a discordant rat-a-tatta-tatta machine gun-like sound from far below on the street. One of the seemingly infinite NYC construction jobs is still going well after dark, further rending the concrete for some purpose. There seems to be a construction project underway on every other corner and we are blessed with several in our neighborhood. Often the scaffolding gives away that yet another building is going up, but many times the goal is simply impossible to know. The work blocks lanes of traffic, adding to the frenetic battle between the ubiquitous armada of yellow taxis and the other cars and trucks maneuvering for advantage along Ninth Avenue.

I can’t help but marvel at this mostly silent scene. All those people, cars, trucks, going about their business. Somebody’s business. The business of The City is business. According to Investopedia, New York City is the is “the leading job hub for banking, finance and communication in the U.S. New York is also a major manufacturing center and shipping port, and it has a thriving technological sector. There are more books, magazines and newspapers published in New York than in any other state in the country.”

The employment figures boggle the mind:

Financial services                    330,000

Professional/Technical           647,800

Retail workers                         800,000

And who knew that NYC manufacturing leads in railroad rolling stock and, of course, garments, New York City being the fashion capital of the country. It’s also a major producer of … yes, elevator parts and glass. A walk down any major street will tell you why.

Those numbers are only part of the story. Wikipedia, the source of all truth in the Digital Age, reports the presence of almost 600,000 university students at 110 colleges and universities. You likely recognize names like Columbia, Barnard, Fordham and New York University, but there are dozens more. I wonder how many athletic teams are fielded by city schools each weekend. And where do they practice?

They don’t make much noise, I can tell you, at least not up here on the 50th floor. No slapping of shoulder pads or blowing of whistles. People, people, everywhere and not a sound to hear.

Rain, Wind and Fire in the Mountains of New York City

Winter continues its grip on New York City. Every break in the forecast is promptly followed by a reversal, including snow and, usually, wind. The thing about the wind in The City is that it ebbs and flows in bizarre patterns that are “controlled” by the unique “geography” of metropolis. The root of the problem is, I believe, that, like mountains, the skyscrapers of New York City “make their own weather.” Note: if you don’t believe this, visit the top of Haleakala on the Hawaiian Island of Maui. Take a coat. Take two coats.

What happens is that the concrete canyons created by the rows of very tall buildings have the same effect on small amounts of normal wind as a small hose does on water from a faucet. In order to maintain the flow rate through a constriction, the speed must increase. As a younger person doing yard work, you used this principle by pressing your thumb partially over the hose end when watering the lawn. This is Bernoulli’s Equation and the Venturi Effect for those who survived high school physics and remember doing so.

Anyway, when the wind, normally pushed by the prevailing westerlies, hits New York City’s rows of skyscrapers, it has only two means of escape. One is vertical and the other is to move faster in the direction(s) the gaps between and among buildings allow. In the process the wind faces a narrowing passage, which results in higher wind speeds. There are other forces at work, of course, including friction, but that is far too technical for the point I am struggling to make.

Suffice to say, that you can be walking along in relatively still air, maybe even enjoying the lingering 40-degree day if the sun is showing, turn a corner and WHAM! Your eyelids are shoved back and your hair, if you have any, is rearranged. See the header photo at the top of this post. And this:

The effect is similar to walking into a freezer with a large exhaust fan blowing in your face. The effect may last for blocks.

I have not discovered whether New Yorkers have a name for this wind. At first, I thought of Mariah, inspired by that great song from Paint Your Wagon, but Mariah (misspelled everywhere as Maria) just seems so … not New York. My personal favorite is the one syllable word starting with ‘F’ that this blog is too polite to use. But, if asked, I am sure New Yorkers would tell you, as I am now doing, “do not walk with coffee with no top on the cup.” Wind has the same wave-creating effect on an open coffee cup as it does on the surface of a lake or on the ocean. Turn the corner into the wind without a lid and get a coffee bath. Who knew wind could be so troublesome?

Of course, when winter’s icy grip is finally dispatched by spring and then summer humidity arrives, the wind will be a welcome guest again. I am waiting. Any day now. Really.