Barber Shops of New York

When I lived in Northern Virginia, barber shops seemed to be on their way out. I worked for the government in the late 60s, and there was a true barber shop in the basement of our building on Connecticut Avenue. It was as bare bones as you can get. Usually two barbers. Mike, the owner, was much younger than the other barber and seemed to be the favorite for most customers. There were five or six well worn and uncomfortable chairs with a small collection of Playboy-genre magazines to keep your mind busy while you waited. Often there were one or two older men in there, using the place as a social scene, just hanging out and occasionally saying something or other to Mike who was a young man of very few words. He was not into extraneous conversation but did what was necessary to be civil and not discourage these men who would, from time to time, actually get a haircut.

I continued to visit Mike’s barber shop for years after leaving the government but eventually it became too inconvenient. I believe that when that government agency closed around 1985, Mike’s business there ended as well. As is true for so many of the people who play some part in our lives for a while, I have no idea what happened to him.

I ended up going to women’s hair salons for haircuts, a practice that continued, with one interruption, until I left for New York City. The interruption occurred when a friend who was then getting “buzz cuts,” for reasons neither of us could explain, told me how inexpensive his lady barber was. And her shop was just down the street from my office at that time. I went to her three times, I think. The haircuts were no better than fair, but the last two visits she spent the entire time with a phone crooked on her shoulder, cutting my hair and talking loudly to a friend. The thought of what she might inadvertently do to my hair ended our “relationship” and I returned to the much more expensive salon in my office building.

Now to New York City. One of my early questions about moving here was “what is it going to cost to get a haircut in New York City?” And where will I find a salon? Unknown to me at the time, barber shops are plentiful in The City. And they charge half what I was paying the salon in Virginia.

I found one close to our apartment and just walked in. They were not bothered by the fact that I was pretty shaggy by then. The barber was free asked me whether I wanted “scissors or clipper,” a question I had never faced before. In my salon the primary tool was always scissors and I never questioned it. In any case, I am now a regular at Gotham City Barber Shop:

The inside of this classic place looks like this:

Here are some of the tools of the trade, precisely laid out like the instruments a surgeon might use:

 

 

 

 

 

The outward presentation of New York’s barber shops is as varied as the population. Here are some examples:

This one is below ground.

Some are located deep inside office buildings like Rockefeller Center or even subway stations:

And some have ingenious, if somewhat mysterious, names:

Just another example of the staggering variety and availability of personal services in the megalopolis.

 

 

 

Planes, Trains and … Chaos

Imagine this scenario — you arrive at the airport, any airport, check in, pass through security and then … you enter the large central space with all the other passengers and their carry-on bags, children, pet carriers, shopping bags, briefcases, etc. and you wait. And wait. And wait some more. You and everyone who is paying attention, which is fewer and fewer people as time passes, stare hopefully at the large electronic board mounted near the ceiling. You wait some more as your attention begins to wander.

Then, without warning, the information on the big board changes and a voice emerges from the speaker system announcing that your flight will be boarding immediately at Gate 1. In keeping with frequent airport design practice, Gate 1 is the furthest gate from where you are standing, down a long concourse full of other nearly hysterical travelers trying to line up according to their station (you know, first class, business class, Ruby, Platinum, Kryptonite, Silver, etc. followed by people with no station who, in earlier times, would have been placed below decks in steerage. Now, in the Age of Flight, they are merely put in window seats in the Coach section near the rest rooms.

They board last. If they bought the latest airline fare “innovation,” they may not place carryon bags in the overhead compartments. They didn’t understand this, but now they do. Seasoned travelers on the flight hate people who are trying to save money and are uninformed. There is congestion in the aisle as the flight attendants frantically try to get everyone seated with bags stowed, large electronics off “so we can have an on-time departure.”

The airport “cattle call” I have described is not, of course, reality, at least not until you board the plane. That’s why I started with the word “imagine.” But this is the reality of a train trip in New York City starting at Penn Station. The track announcements are awaited by the gathering crowds in the center hall of the station. They are posted on the centrally placed schedule board more or less at the same time an oral announcement is made over the general din that pervades the place most of the time.

The crowd then surges toward the named gate and forces its way down the escalator to the track below. curbed.com says that about 650,000 commuters pass through Penn Station daily so it is not hard to imagine the scene. In the Amtrak section of the station, there are 27 gates, accessed through 14 gates/escalators, about half of which are designated “east” and the other half “west,” so it pays to no your directions. Still, your chances of being trampled are pretty good unless you are quick on your feet and can handle your luggage adroitly. If not, you would be wise to hook up with the Red Caps in the Amtrak Waiting Area.

The Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit also serve Penn Station. If you’re good with maps, you can see a visual layout of Penn Station at https://bit.ly/2JbpdXS but you have to experience it to believe it.

Some of the “storied” history of Penn Station can be found at https://bit.ly/2wU3I7h along with the “plans” for its future. I am already a cynic and I’ve only lived here six months. But I’ve used Penn Station dozens of times over the years so my cynicism is at least somewhat justified.

One must wonder why they can’t determine the track assignments at least somewhat in advance of a train’s arrival. I have asked the Red Caps a few times but never got an answer that made sense to me. It is the age of computers, after all, though I suspect Amtrak’s computers are just plain aged. Forewarned is forearmed, so be prepared. And just be glad the railroads don’t run the airlines.

Footnote:  If you are coming on Amtrak into Penn Station from, say, Washington, you have a different issue. First, you will exit the train (minding the inevitable gap between the train and the platform) and, usually, take the escalator up to the main hall of the station. Then your challenge is: take a taxi or take the subway? If subway, you just follow the relatively obvious signs to the subway station you want. If you want a  taxi, you face the question whether to exit at 8th Avenue or 7th Avenue. Bear in mind that 8th Avenue runs one-way going uptown and 7th Avenue is one-way downtown. Also, the never-ending construction around Penn Station may alter the location of taxi stands, so be prepared for that surprise too. But, hey, you’re in New York!

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.

Talking Trash in New York City

I promised to cover “filth” in my inaugural post and, aspiring to be a man of my word, herewith we talk trash.

It may surprise you to learn, however, that after some reflection and observation, albeit not a scientific sample of the possibilities (which are vast), I don’t think New York City is afflicted with more trash than any other American city of comparable scale and population density. Of course, there is no such place but there are a few pretty big cities to go around and each of them has its trash-ridden neighborhoods. If you look, you can find them in New York as well.

However, I currently believe (and reserve the right to believe otherwise with greater experience) there are several contributing causes of the perception that New York City s filthy and one overriding explanation.

With population density of more than 27,000 people per square miles, trash will inevitably appear on the streets. That many people simply cannot be expected to be responsible about what they do with their trash. Cigarette smokers, of which there remain plenty in The City, are not going to carry ashtrays or go out of their way to find a place to stamp out their butts. So, they end up on the street and sidewalk.

Another major culprit originates in the hundreds of Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and newsstand/food truck/food carts that are ubiquitous in New York City. These venerable establishments produce tens of thousands of cardboard coffee cups and paper wrappers for pastries, hot dogs, hot nuts, pizza, halal and an almost infinite variety of other “snacks” that are consumed voraciously by New Yorkers on the move. As the photo below demonstrates, these items most often end up in trash bins

It may surprise you to learn, however, that after some reflection and observation, albeit not a scientific sample of the possibilities (which are vast), I don’t think New York City is afflicted with more trash than any other American city of comparable scale and population density. Of course, there is no such place but there are a few pretty big cities to go around and each of them has its trash-ridden neighborhoods. If you look, you can find them in New York as well.

However, I currently believe (reserving the right to believe otherwise with greater experience) there are several contributing causes of the perception that New York City s filthy and one overriding explanation.

With population density of more than 27,000 people per square mile, trash will inevitably appear on the streets. That many people simply cannot be expected to be responsible about what they do with their trash. Cigarette smokers, of which there remain plenty in The City, are not going to carry ashtrays or go out of their way to find a place to stamp out their butts. So, they end up on the street and sidewalk.

Another major culprit originates in the hundreds of Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and newsstand/food truck/food carts that are ubiquitous in New York City. These venerable establishments produce tens of thousands of cardboard coffee cups and paper wrappers for pastries, hot dogs, hot nuts, pizza, halal and an almost infinite variety of other “snacks” that are consumed voraciously by New Yorkers on the move. These items most often end up in trash bins, but the volume overwhelms the bin supply and the near-constant wind takes care of the rest.Thus, you end up with this:

I conservatively, and unscientifically, estimate that in any group of 100 pedestrians, at least 10 will be drinking coffee and/or eating while walking. When they reach the subway steps, of course, many of these items end up on the street or on the steps themselves.

None of this is surprising and, at least for today, I have the overall impression that New York City is, relatively and in the circumstances, clean.

The overriding single reason people tend to think otherwise is, I suggest, that New York City is just plain old. The sidewalks and streets of Gotham were, by and large, laid down a long time ago. Same for most of the subways. This means that the remains of long-ago discarded food items have been ground into the pavement, there to remain as discolorations and, if you will, marbleizations, of the pavement. Much of the city simply looks dirty even when it’s not.

It is also at least arguable that the vast amounts of trash generated by the vast number of humans in the vastly large towers of Manhattan create a visual impression of dirtiness that overwhelms the senses even when the street itself is actually quite spotless. See the header photo for this post. And this:

My apartment building, comprised of 700 apartments produces each week an astonishing amount of trash that appears on the street behind the building in black plastic bags or simply in piles of construction materials from the renovations that are on-going. On trash pick-up day, these piles of black plastic bags will appear on some streets every few feet for many blocks.

Overall, New York City “generates” more than 14 million tons of trash a year. The details of what is done with it are summarized at http://bit.ly/2efzqPj   If trash disposal really interests you, and it should, a great 2014 video on the subject as regards New York and other places, can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6LzB6rMDtA. The video covers the history of trash disposal in New York City and some of the latest advances in compostable recycling.

As a closing note, the history of The City shows that a large portion of it, south of Liberty Street, was built on landfill of the trash the city itself produced. If we don’t figure out better ways to deal with trash everywhere, someday we may all be living in, or on, a dumpster.

 

 

New Yorkers Rushing Everywhere — Explained

One of the first things one notices about New York City is that everyone is in a big hurry to get somewhere. This is not an illusion. People are literally rushing by walking very fast and often actually running. You get the impression that everyone is late for some important event, a meeting perhaps, though you have to wonder why so many are on the street during the work day. Locals might say these are all tourists, but the tourists do not seem to be in such a hurry. Why would they be? A good deal of the time, they have no idea where they are or where they are trying to go. And they are not dressed like most New Yorkers. That, however, is the topic of another blog post.

Someone once observed, more or less, that if everyone stands up to see the parade, no one will get to see it. Something analogous may apply to the people rushing through the streets of New York. There is an apparent level of feral aggression in the way New Yorkers navigate their city spaces. One interesting observation is that the “rapid ants” pace does not appear to result in actual collisions or angry exchanges. Everyone seems to understand that this is just how things are. If, like me, you always are moving more slowly than the vast majority, they simply swirl past you without a glance, like water around a boulder in the stream. They also cut in front of you, which raises the issue of “right of way” that I will also address later.

A friend who lived here once suggested that the rushing is a result of the vast distances involved, but that explanation doesn’t quite fit the facts. For one thing, the city is criss-crossed with a vast subway and bus system that runs 24 hours a day and can deliver you close to almost any destination you choose. Of course, there are many issues with the subway system, the subject of future posts, and that seems to contribute to the rushing. You slow down on the stairs into or out of the subway at your peril (yes, stairs mostly, with a few escalators and elevators that often stink so bad you cannot breathe in them, so, yes, stairs). Missing a train here is a major issue. You do not want to be the cause. So far, I have not been.

Also, the truth is that the distances are not that great. They only seem so. I believe the canyon-like quality created by New York’s skyscraper architecture enhances the feeling of long distances. Partly it is the adopted, and entrenched, terminology: there are “short blocks” (the distances along the major avenues between the east-west streets) and “long blocks” (the distances along the east-west streets between the major avenues). Right off, you are aware that some distances are “long” and so indeed they seem that way.

While the length of Manhattan Island from “northern to southern tip” is a considerable distance – 13.4 miles – the island is only 2.3 miles wide at the widest point (near 14th Street). The average walking speed for an adult is 3.1 miles per hour, so an “average” walker can traverse from one side of Manhattan to the other and be well on the way back in an hour. At a “brisk” pace of 4 mph, one can almost do a full roundtrip at the widest point. Brisk is what New Yorkers do most. And then some.

No, I believe the explanation for the omni-present sense of urgency lies in the population density that exceeds any other American city by a huge margin. People who perceive themselves as “hemmed in” or “blocked,” will usually respond by increasing their pace. It may be a fool’s errand in midtown at noon or at the end of the workday, but the effect is likely to be strongest when the crowding is the most extreme. And once one develops the mental set that the only way to get anywhere is to rush ahead of everyone else, it tends to show itself in all circumstances.

Therefore, you don’t see people slow down once they are “in the clear.” Indeed, at intersections, being in the clear often leads to pedestrians running into the traffic in an apparent effort to separate from the crowd encroaching from behind. By the way, the ubiquitous New York yellow taxis are the parallel universe for this phenomenon. This too will be discussed at length in a future post. There is so much to cover.

So, right or wrong, that’s my theory for now. To some extent, at least, the entire rushing thing is futile. About a month after moving here, when it was still very cold, I was walking home to Columbus Circle after returning an item at a store on Lexington Avenue. A group of young Asian tourists, poorly dressed for the weather, were moving ahead of me, talking animatedly. I caught up to them at every stoplight, then they surged ahead until I caught them again at the next major intersection. They, of course, never noticed me.

Here are some other interesting facts I have learned about the population in New York City:

  • With a July 2015 population of 8,550,405, New York (all five boroughs) is more than twice the size of the second largest city, Los Angeles.
  • About 1 in every 38 people living in the United States resides in New York City.
  • New York has the highest population density of any major city in the United States, with over 27,000 people per square mile.
  • Over 3 million of New York City’s residents are foreign-born; over one-quarter arrived in 2000 or later. More about these folks in a future post.
  • Nearly 2 million New Yorkers are under the age of 18.
  • New York City has more people than 40 of the 50 U.S. states.
  • New York City comprises over two-fifths of New York State’s entire population.
  • New York City has grown by over 1 million people since 1990. Make that 1,000,002.
  • The 2014 median age in New York City was 35.8 years, almost two years lower than the national median of 37.7 years. A city of youngsters, at least compared to me.
  • There are nearly 400,000 more women than men in New York. While this would seem to be great news for the men, apparently the social scene in New York City leaves much to be desired.
  • There is a birth in New York City every 4.4 minutes. That’s a lot of births and seems to run counter to the belief that the social life in The City stinks. Moreover, there is a death every 9.1 minutes. Population growth, therefore, comes from new people moving here. Like me.
  • The borough of Brooklyn on its own would be the 4th largest city in the United States; Queens would also rank 4th nationally.
  • Approximately two-thirds of dwelling units in New York are renter-occupied, over twice the national average. Easy to understand if you’ve looked at the price of ownership here.
  • New York City has the largest Chinese population of any city outside of Asia.
  • More persons of West Indian ancestry live in New York City than any city outside of the West Indies.
  • New York has the largest Puerto Rican population of any city in the world.
  • More Dominicans live in New York than any other city in the world, barring Santo Domingo.
  • Over 2.4 million Hispanics reside in New York City, more than any other city in the United States.
  • The Black non-Hispanic population of New York City numbered 1.89 million in 2014, more than double the count in any other U.S. city. All of these ethnicity facts make New York a polyglot of cultures unlike anything in the world.
  • Half of all New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home.
  • Over 200 languages are spoken in New York City. None of these is English. Joke, joke. New Yorkers speak their own brand of English, but this is fine. So do most of the other people in the U.S.

https://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/data-maps/nyc-population/population-facts.page

We are in for an interesting time. This is only the beginning.

My next post will talk about the filth.