Tuesday, February 25, 2020

A long walk in a new city.

My old man, may he rest in peace, had a quip for every occasion. 

When we were heading cross town in the city and invariably stuck in traffic, he would say, “The only way to get across town in New York is to be born there.”

I’ve tried that line out myself on more than a few cab drivers from a veritable United Nations of countries, and though I first heard it probably 55 years ago, and it was old even then, today in 2020 it still gets a laugh. 

I know jokes and one-liners have fallen out of favor among the comedy cognoscenti (they prefer observational comedy) but that line has handed cabbies from Afghanistan to the Ivory Coast to Sudan to Ecuador a laugh. Maybe it ain't Esperanto that's the universal language. Maybe it's Henny Youngman.

Yesterday morning I arrived early at the office. I don’t have a pass to let me in--and I knew no one was there yet--so I decided, it was a beautiful spring-like day, to take a long walk along the Hudson River.

Another thing my old man used to say is that “New York would be a great place to live if they ever finish it.” I’ve been in New York since Eisenhower was president and they seem to be about a millennia from finishing the burg.

There are more construction cranes and day-glo colored construction vests on burly men balancing cigarettes, or joints, on their lower lips than there are ear hairs in a nursing home. 

1983 saw this murder and 1621 others in New York City.
It seems, since the revival of the city after it bottomed out during the default of 1975, the riots and looting of 1977, the murder sprees in the 1980s and 1990s (there were 2,245 killings in 1990; in 2019, just 318) that the city has grown new buildings like a porcupine grows quills. In fact, if you’re an old man like I am with a sixth-sense for the city, there are so many construction scaffolds, I believe I could walk ten miles through New York in the pouring rain and not get wet.
I spent six months a decade ago working with a friend who has a small agency on Christopher right across West Street from the Hudson. But during those days, I never ventured to the river.

When I was a kid, the piers on the waterfront were a scary place—a place better avoided, so I avoided the area my entire life. Now, as the prospects for the world darken, the prospects for New York City seem to brighten—at least for the affluent.

The city is safer now. And with all the mayhem and terror in the world, it’s a safe place for the megawealthy to park their narco-dollars or petro-dollars or money-laundered-dollars or any other of a number of varieties of ill-gotten gains. Their unoccupied $100 million apartments attest to this.

Sure, the city if you’re not megawealthy is less livable now. The roads are blocked by triple-parked Lamborghinis or Bentley SUVs. Mom and Pop stores are all but gone. And even Madison Avenue in the 70s and 80s is being slum- cleared so the real estate moguls can replace pre-war 15-story buildings with 37-story mirrored glass towers. They're mirrored, I presume, so the resident potentates with 7,000 square-foot duplexes can adjust their prosthetic noses, eyebrows, cheekbones and teeth, so they look just right when the paparazzi pops their razzis.

Nonetheless, none of that glitter, bothered me on an early Monday morning as I walked four miles along the river.

In the distance, Freedom Tower—symbolically, 1776 feet high. Still farther, allegedly on the Jersey side, sat Bedloe’s Island, the spit of rock that holds up the Statue of Liberty (void where prohibited.) 

Young people don't call it Bedloe's anymore--to them it's Liberty Island. Maybe they also call the Triboro Bridge the RFK and the Tappan Zee the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. 

Maybe they call Sixth Avenue Avenue of the Americas. Maybe when they get coffee they ask for a Venti or a Grande. But my tongue tangles if I try those words. I'll call Citi Field Shea Stadium for the rest of my life. And I'm not about to call LaGuardia airport anything but LaGuardierrr. It's just not right.

At least I stopped calling Shea Stadium Che Stadium, when the Rutles broke up.

The water gurgled below, green and murky and cold. A far cry from the clearness of the Hudson’s source some 200 miles a way in the Adirondacks, a brook-fed lake with the most poetic name in all of lakedom: Lake Tear in the Clouds.

A million pairs of spandex ran by, almost all of them unable to hear the roil of the sea thanks to their $200 headphones drowning out the waves. There were moms pushing strollers. There were old friends playing tennis and gaggles of kids scootering their way to too crowded high schools. Dogs barked in dog runs. Bums looked for food in garbage cans. Old men did that oldest of old man things, they read a newspaper. Not on their phones. They liked the ink smudges on their hands.

I walked and walked. By my calculation, I’ve walked nearly 200,000 miles in the city, counting the 11 marathons I’ve run here.

And while the city is my city, I’ve never stepped out into the same city twice. You can’t.

Because as my old man would have declared, “they’ll never finish it.”

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