Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade – Part 2: Parade

As reported in the previous post, and against all reason, we went into the cold night air to look at a bunch of balloons moored with giant nets, in anticipation of one of the world’s most famous and enduring public spectacles: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

So, with the temperature hovering around 20 degrees F and winds of unknown but predicted seriously dangerous to people and possibly the balloons, we left home with high hopes. Our apartment building is almost exactly .25 miles from Columbus Circle around which the parade was reputed to pass on its way from the Upper West Side at West 77th Street to its destination at 6th Avenue and West 34th Street where sits … Macy’s Department Store. More about Macy’s in a future post.

Understand that the Macy’s website should be/must be the most precise and authoritative place to find information about the parade. It said that there was “no public viewing” of the parade at Columbus Circle. Yet, when we arrived there, hundreds or thousands of people were arrayed around the police barricades set up to keep viewers from interacting with the parade. Concerned that the police might clear the area at any time (“no public viewing”), we set out to find a place from which to watch and take some photos.

Aha! You can’t cross most of the streets in the area. They are blocked up with more barricades. The City of New York must hold an inventory of literally thousands of these gray aluminum contraptions that they haul out for every disruptive event in the city (they occur on average every week somewhere – street fairs, parades, protest marches, etc.). Anyway, keep walking away from the parade route to find a place to cross the street to find a place to watch the parade. We arrive finally in the middle of a crowd stacked up on 7th Avenue with a view of sorts of West 59th Street, the path of the parade after its circumnavigation of Columbus Circle.

From this place we could indeed see the giant balloons as they passed, although the band members (biggest bands in the world, comprised of seemingly hundreds of performers) could only be seen only if they were wearing tall hats or playing tubas. We also encountered my favorite kinds of people with whom to watch a parade. Some of them had camped out there since well before the parade started and left their folding chairs open so as to prevent other people from standing there. Others, including a particularly tall young man to my right, believed they could not be out on the streets of New York without a full backpack of … something. Every time this young man turned to speak to his friends behind him, his backpack collided with me. He never noticed this until I decided to stop being pushed aside and stood my ground. Still, he did not seem to notice that now he could not just swing around whenever he pleased. He actually had to turn his head. Victory was mine!

Meanwhile, the parade continued and we saw a lot of wonderful, gigantic balloons being pulled/handled/managed by teams of many people holding cables/ropes as best they could. The predicted wind did not seem to be a major factor and the crowd was so packed together after a while that their collective body heat effectively fought off the 21-degree air.

After more than an hour of this, we decided that coffee was in order, so we left to find same at one of the ubiquitous Dunkin’ Donuts shops on West 57th, then repaired toward Columbus Circle to return home. However, by now, for reasons not clear, a large percentage of the crowd had left the Circle and we were able to watch the last quarter of the parade there. This included the Grinch balloon, the Singing Christmas Tree and, of course, Santa Claus and his reindeer at the end. So, below is a gallery of photos that I hope you, who had more sense than we, will enjoy from the warmth of your post-Thanksgiving holiday.

I actually do recommend that anyone in New York City at this time of year should make the effort, and it will be an effort, to see the parade. Once may well be enough, but it is indeed a spectacle to remember.

A Classic New York Tale – The Taxi Ride

I am headed out in mid-morning to a business meeting downtown on Broadway to which I am anxious to arrive as planned. I exit my apartment building and walk a few hundred feet down West 59th Street to 9th Avenue. A truck is sitting at the curb, so I move to the left, toward uptown, on 9th to hail a cab. There is one right there and I hop in.

He immediately turns right on West 59th. Taxis and Ubers often do this to go downtown on 11th Avenue that is often less congested than 9th, so the turn is not completely unexpected. I am a bit surprised when the driver stops on 59th to consult his phone regarding the route to take to Broadway, but maybe he’s just checking traffic flows.

I settle into the minimalist back seat area left to the passenger from the thick divider that separates the front and back of many New York City taxis and houses various electronics central to a modern taxi service. I pull out my trusty phone and, as often happens, fall into the magical reverie of news and other things that it delivers wherever I am.

Then, something tells me that we aren’t moving as I had expected. I look up. Instead of turning downtown on 11th Avenue, the taxi has turned right on 10th, right on 62nd and is back on 9th Avenue but further uptown than where he picked me up initially! We have been moving for about 10 minutes, there is $5.00 on the meter and I am further from my destination than when I got into the cab!

I ask the driver who at first seems oblivious to my presence but then acknowledges that, yes, we are back on 9th but he’s going to turn east on West 60th. Now I get it. We have circled around multiple blocks so he can enter Broadway at Columbus Circle that happens to house the subway station that I could have walked to and been at my destination by now. We drive through Columbus Circle. The meter now reads $9, just to get as far as West 58th and Broadway that is .2 miles from my apartment! We have driven .9 miles to get to Broadway!

Fortunately for me, the rest of the ride went fairly quickly with the usual dodging, swerving and mutual horn honking that accompanies a taxi in a hurry. The final tab turned out to be $10.80. I resisted the urge to leave a tip, something I hate to do. This was, however, too much to bear. Do I look that much like a tourist ready to be taken for a ride? I suppose it’s possible although I have been approached many times since arriving in this great city by people who were obviously lost or at a loss to navigate the street grid.

It happens even on the subway. I was really impressed the first few times that someone, anyone, would approach me to ask directions, often in a foreign language. A few days before I had taken the subway back to Columbus Circle from somewhere and observed a late-middle-aged couple in the belly of the Columbus Circle subway station clearly unclear as to how to get out and where to go. I offered to help, with a smile to assure them I wasn’t a hostile. They seemed to have German accents and said they were looking for the Plaza Hotel. I said, “You mean THE Plaza Hotel? That’s really a fancy place.” They looked at me like I was an idiot, with no apparent interest in a conversation about their taste in hotels. They just wanted directions. I gave them and left them to their fate. When I emerged from the elevator into the Circle, there they were stepping off in the direction I had indicated. The scales of injustice were balanced.

This story has no moral, though I think it helps explain the popularity of Uber, Lyft and the other ride-hailing services in this city. The cars are generally more comfortable and, in my experience, you don’t generally get the “drive around” because the fee is set before you start. Well, maybe there is a moral. Pay attention!


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.

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

My next post will talk about the filth.