Memories of New York

NEW YORK — I know where I am because there’s no place to use the restroom, I can’t buy food with my beloved trans-fats in it, and a pack of cigarettes costs eight bucks.

Eight bucks! And just try to find someplace they’ll let you smoke it.

On 39th Street just off Fifth Avenue, I come upon a small park: an “Urban Plaza,” according to the large sign provided. And I don’t really have to describe this “Urban Plaza” because the sign does it for me:

FIFTH AVENUE TOWER URBAN PLAZA
This Urban Plaza is open to the public at all times. This Urban plaza is accessible to persons with disabilities. To ensure compliance with the requirements of this Urban Plaza, a performance bond has been posted with the Controller of the City of New York. This Urban Plaza is owned and operated by…

And then:

Required Amenities:
Litter Receptacle: 2 cubic feet.
Planting: 4 planters
Seating: 113 linear feet and 40 movable chairs available from 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM
Trees within space: 4 required
Trees on street: 7
Water feature: Fountain with lattice screen along eastern and northern walls, bubbler fountain along colonnade
Other: Colonnade

I’m sure there was a day when parks did not require such lengthy explanations. Luckily, the “required” trees are all there, or else perhaps the whole place would just disappear. But the sign, almost as big as the urban plaza itself, completely ruins the experience for me.

Ah, New York! My host was just being gracious when he asked me, “What do you miss most about living in The City?”

I replied instantly without even thinking about how rude it was: “I don’t.”

And I really don’t. I’ve been back all of three times since I left in 2001. But The City has a way of seeping into one’s bowels and staying there for years. That’s my excuse, anyway, for telling off that kid yesterday who was panhandling in Union Square, wearing nicer clothes than I own. It’s why I step in front of people at street-corners, keep my eyes straight ahead, and walk as though there’s a tribe of screaming cannibals on the block behind me.

It’s why I could not resist looking at the Subway map for five minutes to figure out how the new (as of 2002, I think) train lines would have affected my old daily commute from Midtown to Bay Ridge.

Just a few friendly hints about the Subway for Washingtonians: Don’t expect to understand a word the conductor says — it’s actually against the law for them to speak English or any other recognizable language over the train loudspeaker. Don’t refer to the trains by colors, don’t stand back to let people off the train, and DO NOT call it “Metro.” Most importantly, don’t smile or act like you’re happy about life while riding the Subway, or else everyone will know you’re from out of town and you’ll definitely lose your wallet.

Let’s see…the 6 to Bleecker Street, the B to Pacific St., the N to 59th Street, the R to 86th Street — ah, I’d have one less step in my commute if I still lived here. That is, unless there’s a track fire, or my train derails, or some idiot pulls the emergency brake and costs me 30 minutes on my ride home.

New Yorkers, like Washingtonians, are self-centered. But I will always give them the fact that they do not have the overweening sense of self-importance that we do. In New York, they are merely oblivious to the fact that there’s a place outside of town called “America.” In Washington, we have the same problem, but we also think that our town’s business makes the world go ’round. I would be very disappointed if it actually did.

David Freddoso is a political reporter for the Evans and Novak Inside Report.

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