Daily Archives: 23/11/2010

Impressions of New York

You may know that I’ve been pretty down on NYC since we left; it is hard to say if it is a real feeling, greener grass ,or just my forward-looking nature.  Whatever the reason, I’ve been thinking and talking a bit of rubbish about New York.  So, spending a week there at the beginning of November gave me a great chance to try and evaluate that sentiment.

First, though, it is important to note that I was there under a completely different context.  Staying in a big Midtown hotel on East 42nd Street, hardly setting foot outside of Manhattan – that is not the same as my New York City of the past few years.  While there were pleasant familarities, both of New York and American life in general, it naturally felt different.  What was my impression?  Overall, I’d say I was reminded of why I fell in love with New York in the first place, starting nearly 15 years ago – the energy of the streets and the people, the size and scale, the subway! 

The first thing that hit me, emerging from the subway on 42nd Street near 3rd Avenue straight from the airport, is the size of the streets and the speed of the traffic.  In London, you can’t even find a motorway as wide in both directions as one-way 3rd Avenue is, much less an “ordinary” street!  The next thing I saw on the first corner was a 24-hour CVS, and it reminded me of the convenience of it all; in London, the few “24-hour” establishments are open 7am Monday through 10pm Saturday and then 11am-5pm on Sundays.  Huh?  What part of 24 hours do you not get?  The other nice 24-hour aspect of New York, of course, is transit; on Friday night, after dinner and a couple of bars, we took the subway back to the hotel at about 1:50am (at least an hour after the tube in London shuts down), and where trains on the Manhattan trunk lines basically run every 10 minutes all night. 

One of the things I’ve been complaining about a lot is the trash; by any measure, NYC is dirty.  London may not be as clean as some European capitals, but it is pretty clean in comparison.  I always remember Astrid and I walking to the subway each morning in Brooklyn and finding trash strewn along the sidewalks (having blown out of public cans, or dumped by passersby or out windows, or somehow escaped from bags left out for collection).  While I’ll admit that the public bins along our street here in London are often quite full – to the point where you risk touching other rubbish by trying to add yours – we just don’t see as much trash.  The other place it is really noticeable is in the subway/metro/underground/tube; the track beds here are literally spotless!  Still, I have to admit not encountering too much trash on this visit to Manhattan, and in some sense the trash you do see is a necessary by-product of the density and energy. 

Finally, some observations about the subway.  One of the biggest differences between the New York subway and those in the rest of the world relates to real-time information (the signs that tell you when the next train is actually coming).  Most of the world now provides it, and New York does not.  My view used to be: what’s the big deal, you have to wait until the train comes anyway; but after having it for every train, on every platform, all the time here, I think it is essential – it really changes your public transport experience!  So I was very glad to see the recent progress made in New York, where some of the stations on the numbered lines now (finally!) have electronic signs with real-time info.  Also, I have to say, i did appreciate the space on the trains – long and big trains compared to the toy trains we tend to have here.  Lastly, I have to admit some feelings (pride perhaps?) at seeing some of the results of my work; right near my hotel I saw a bus shelter that still had built-in signs for a bus route that I eliminated there!  Less negatively, though, we managed through total chance to ride the new orange (formerly brown) M train on Friday night, on the way from dinner to the Whiskey Ward in the Lower East Side.  Although the group thought I was crazy, I tried to explain how cool that was, that I had played a part in making it happen, especially when we rode over the unused-since-1976 part of the instrumental Chrystie Street Connection.  After I further explained that we were riding over the BJ tracks, the tale ended in laughter, and then it was time for Manhattans at the Whiskey Ward, so…

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the Facebook debate

We’ve both gotten a number of emails from friends and relatives asking us to join Facebook. And yes, while I totally see the attraction, most of me is pretty intimidated by social networking and the power of the private companies that run it. I thought maybe I was just a super paranoid freak (or it was a symptom of my rapidly advancing age), but then I read this article inWired UK, and it reflects almost all of my arguments against FB. 

So, sorry folks. I know it’s tempting, and I know I would enjoy cyber-stalking all those people from my past, but most of them are in my past for a reason. The people I love and care about are in my life NOW, and know about this blog, and I talk and email with them regularly … well sometimes semi-regularly…. but it’s still a more genuine interaction than reading updates on a wall.