FOR THE HELL OF IT   Vol. 3 No. 5


For those of you coming to the APA convention in New York City, I thought it best to dedicate this blog to introducing you to New York City:

New York, these are actors, producers, engineers and other artistically gifted people.”

“Restaurant workers?”

“Some of them, yeah. Lots of them are actually making a living in the industry.”


“Well not a living that would work here – but in say…Lansing or Des Moines.”

“Ah.  Well nice to meetcha. Enjoy me.”

Okay that’s it for the intro.  Now let’s learn a few things about this fascinating city that thinks it’s the center of the universe.

New York was discovered way back in the early 1500’s by the Spanish.  This discovery came as something of a shock to the native population, who had no idea they were in need of being discovered at all.  Until the arrival of the Europeans, the indigenous people had a simple life consisting of hunting, gathering and kvetching about the neighbors.

Little changed when the Europeans first came to New York except that there was a lot more kvetching and, with the introduction of alcohol, a lot more poor choices being made at parties. (Prior to the boozing, the locals mostly relaxed by smoking peace pipes filled with a potent tobacco that is closely related to today’s marijuana…not that I would know anything about that sort of thing but I’ve heard stories…mostly from Peter Berkrot.)

Anyway little happened until the early 1600’s when Henry Hudson sailed along the Hudson River into New York Bay.  It seems a little incredible that Hudson was able to find a river named after him before he got there, but history is weird like that. 

There are 3 competing theories about what Hudson was actually looking for on his journey. The first theory, known as The First Theory, has been forgotten.  The second theory, known as The Theory That Comes After the One I Forgot, is well known but discredited and rarely discussed.  The third theory is likely correct: Hudson was trying to find a route to Asia.  To we jaded modern thinking types, it seems laughable that he would try to sail to Asia by way of New York Harbor but you must remember that Hudson was sailing without the benefit of a Rand McNally Map or a GPS.  The first iPhone with a map app wouldn’t even be invented for awhile after his arrival so we must suppress our laughter at what a big stupid idiot he may have been and, instead, laugh at his silly outfit and, time permitting, his big nose.

While Hudson failed to find Asia in New York in 1600, he’d have no trouble finding Chinatown in 2012.   Of course he’d be long dead and gross looking but if he became a zombie maybe it could happen.  (And if it did happen, all these zombie book loving bloggers I follow on Twitter would be delighted! Personally I think zombies are A) fictitious B) Gross either way C) not interesting at all.  I don’t understand the buzz.)

Anyway I should start zipping along as I’m still in the 1600s and you guys will be here in a week or so and you want to know what’s what here now.  So – in brief:  The Lenape Indians who lived here got screwed over by the white people who wanted to live here and do theater.  Interestingly the paths most often used by the Indians still exist in Manhattan but they are called by different names like Broadway, Fashion Avenue and Bleeker Street.

The Dutch were first, then the British – who named the area after the Duke of York – the Duke of Earl was up for it but opted for a catchy tune instead.  Sadly, the Earl of Sandwich wasn’t considered even though New York has today some really great sandwiches.  I’d like a sandwich right now…

That was great! In New York you can get a sandwich anytime of the day as we are chock full of corner delis or “bodegas” where you can get a nice corned beef or some brisket or a lovely tuna salad sandwich made from a batch that’s only been sitting around for a week or so. MMMMMMmmm.  In New York you can get Belgian endive at 4AM if you want – hell, you can get a whole Belgian if you have the loot.

Where were we?  Oh yeah.  The Brits held control of the island for quite some time until the colonialists decided that it wasn’t right that a bunch of rich entitled men who had no connection with them and didn’t understand them and wished only to gain great wealth at their expense should be overthrown (sound familiar?).  Since the British taxed the colonialists into poverty (again – sound familiar?) the colonialists united and under the brilliant leadership of Madison, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington and Adams (here, sadly, the familiarity ends) threw off the British yolk (you’ve gotta separate the yolk from the white if you’re gonna have a nice custard) and the United States was born.

New York was the first capital of the United States and our first President was sworn in on the steps of Federal Hall on Wall Street (you can see the very place today and meet some new revolutionaries from the OWS movement). The capital was moved in 1790 to Philadelphia to give Pennsylvanians something interesting to see in Philadelphia.  (It was later moved to Washington DC – a city built on a swampy foul smelling bug infested marsh – since by that time Americans had a pretty good idea about the kind of people politics appealed to,  and it seemed fitting to put Congress in a hell hole.)

With the politicians gone, New York became what it was destined to be – the center of commerce, trade, fashion and crime.  In various years one or the other of these vied for preeminence. (Editor’s note: NYC has one of the lowest crime rates in the country, and in fact, often THE lowest crime rate. What does Mr. Smarty Pants know? He comes from Chicago! Now if ya wanna talk crime…)

Ahem… Currently, New York crime rates are at an all time low – especially murder!  So it’s good that you’re coming here now to take advantage of New York’s new city shopping slogan: “Shop Here Now! Prices are Low/Values are High and You’re Far Less Likely to be Shot to Death!”

So what should you do while you are here?  Well let’s assume that you have a little bit of  time and that you still have a few dollars left after spending $250 a night for a room a little bigger than the tree fort you built for your kid back home (your construction work is probably a little better than your hotel’s – do a little research on New York City contractors and pair it with “crane disaster” and “building inspection fraud” and you’ll see what I mean.)

You should first and foremost get a New York City subway map.  The map not only shows you where the subway takes you but gives you a very nice easy to follow look at the various city neighborhoods.  The subway is the best way to get around the city. It’s quick, it’s easy, it goes everywhere and you’ll feel at home on it – you’ll see some people actually at home on it – sleeping, eating, tossing trash on the floor so subway maintenance people have something to do….some people will read out loud like you do but without the benefit of a book! 

Anyway, let us begin at the top of the island. Just above Manhattan is The Bronx. The Bronx is useful for your short trip here if you’d like to see the Yankees play. Ticket prices range from $18.00 to $500 or so and the Yankees will be hosting the Tampa Bay Rays while you’re here.  There are many options to choose from and for an extra $50,000 Derek Jeter and A Rod will spit tobacco juice in your face while you get spiked in the groin by Nick Swisher! What a great day at the ball park!

Leaving the Bronx (which most Manhattanites suggest), you come to Inwood, East Harlem, West Harlem, Central Harlem, Lower Harlem, Really Low Harlem and the Harlem Shuffle.  There’s also Hamilton Heights, Hudson Heights, Morningside Heights and Wuthering Heights. There’s Strivers Row and Astor Row and tourists in Saville Row suits.

Inwood boasts The Cloisters and Fort Tryon Park – a wonderful huge park and the site of an old Revolutionary War fort.  You can also see the Columbia University rowing team work out and do a host of other unentertaining things.  Hamilton Heights hosts City College of New York and some great architecture. Harlem is loaded with history, great new and old restaurants and some wonderful old brownstones surrounded by huge monstrosities built to handle the yuppie gentrification incursion the booming economy was supposed to produce.  The economy and housing market went bust (you may have heard about this) but the area – particularly on the west side is still largely gentrified.  Again, the subway will take you to any of these locations if the midtown and downtown area proves too touristy.

You should know that Manhattan is divided into uptown, midtown and downtown and the east-west dividing line is 5th Avenue. The island is further divided into various neighborhoods – each with its own charms…or lack thereof.

The upper East side is filled with expensive shops, fashionably thin rich white people with small dogs named “Muffin” and is less accessible than most of Manhattan…although the city is working on building a 2nd Avenue subway line.  They’ve been doing this work since the early 1800s and at this writing I believe they’ve succeeded in digging a big ditch, erecting traffic barricades and jack-hammering the neighborhood to near deafness.  We’re all very excited to think that one day our great-great grandchildren will be able to see the project’s opening delayed due to an investigation in cost overruns.

The Upper East Side has attractions like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Guggenheim Museum, many consulate offices, tons of yuppie bars and Woody Allen.  And it is the only Republican enclave in the city – another fine reason to avoid it.  The East Side is considered the region of conservative old money New York. 

The Upper West Side (generally considered just above 72nd street) is considered more creative and intellectual…although you won’t get the last bit if you actually talk to anyone who lives here.  The Upper West Side features many nannys/mothers with double-decker prams who have no intention of getting out of the way as they stroll along — running over dogs and toes while they talk loudly on the their cell phones.

The Upper West Side features The American Museum of Natural History (also known as Teddy Roosevelt’s museum or “that big place across the street from the Shake Shack”), Lincoln Center, the Beacon, the beautiful Hudson River and Riverside Park, Columbia University, Riverside Drive and many other truly wonderful places to see and more restaurants and bars than you will ever have time to visit.

Between the two sides is Central Park which you have to see.  It is an oasis of nature in the heart of the city.  It has fields, paths, brooks, streams, Shakespeare in the Park and a zoo.

Midtown is filled with people and big ugly buildings.  On the west side of it, is nothing of interest except for the following: the Times Square/theatre disctrict and the renamed  Clinton– (Technically this area is called Hells Kitchen which has lots of history and used to be filled with hookers, pimps and peep shows but now is filled with bars and restaurants and revivals of shows that weren’t good the first time. The  Broadway area is also snidely called the Disney Mall by the natives.)–There’s  Macy’s on 34th, Madison Square Garden, St. Pat’s Cathedral, and Bryant Park – a good place to sit for a bit.

 On the east, we have all the ridiculously expensive stores on 5th Avenue, the Empire State Building, the United Nations and you need to stroll through Grand Central Terminal– it’s truly remarkable (and downstairs is the famous Oyster Bar Restaurant.)

Below midtown we have Chelsea, Greenwich Village, SoHo (east and west), and the lower West Side on the west and Gramercy Park, Union Square, the Lower East side, the Bowery, Chinatown, Little Italy and the Seaport on the East.

Each of these areas have many reasons to visit and many reasons to run away.  Chinatown, for example, surrounds Little Italy making the Italians nervous and the Chinese aggressive. If you see window displays featuring espresso and Cannoli – you’re in Little Italy. If you see a bucket filled with live frogs slowly suffocating – you’re in Chinatown. 

Chelsea and Greenwich Village are hip mostly gay enclaves where you can shop for leather chaps and nipple rings with the kids. In fact you can bring home some lovely ball gags and penis clamps with the “I Heart NY” logo as souvenirs for your friends. You can also discover some great restaurants and stroll parts of old New York.

SoHo is for shopping and watching other people – much richer and better looking than most humans – run around actually wearing the crap featured on the covers of fashion magazines.  They look ridiculous without the air brushing.

Gramercy Park has Gramercy Park – an actual park that only neighborhood residents can use. You need a key to get in and once you’re in you quickly realize that there’s no reason to be there.  The area has great restaurants and bars and the famous Players Club where Edwin Booth used to live.  (That’s the Booth that didn’t kill the President.)

The seaport is fun but really touristy. It is abutted by the Wall Street/Financial District which features a great walking tour of historic New York. You can visit sites where George Washington ate and drank.  You can see the site of the World Trade Towers and visit the memorial. You can turn westward and south and visit Battery Park and Fort Clinton. I advise you to take a free trip on the Staten Island ferry. It leaves and returns every 15 minutes or so and takes you right past the Statue of Liberty and Governor’s Island.  You can take great photos, drink a cold beer and if you lean against the boat railing – it vibrates and that’s nice too.  (Don’t make a big deal of it – everyone knows what you’re doing and how you’re doing it and why you’re doing it but it’s not really happening if we don’t discuss it.)

Be sure to check out Al Gore’s world-wide internet and search for food and drink deals and alleged “must see” sites.  Be sure to visit one of the 50,000 authentic Irish bars in the city and wonder – to yourself – if all these bartenders actually have green cards.  You can buy a hot dog on the street from a vendor (“dirty water dogs” for $2.00 near the Javits Center which is where APAC is or for $1.00 in midtown – same dirty water, same questionable meat dogs).  If it starts to rain, you can buy $3 umbrellas for $10 from vendors who suddenly appear with the first raindrop.  You can buy “Rolex” watches and “Gucci” bags for $20.  There’s simply no end of the ways you and your money can part ways in this town.  You might as well realize it, accept it and enjoy the ride.

And if you need help, just ask a friendly New Yorker and you can hear them say: “You talkin’ to me?  Huh? You talkin’ to me? ….I thought so. How can I help youse?”

One Response

  1. Posted by Mary Burkey | May 30 2012| Reply

    Gosh, Johnny, for a guy from Glenbard East High School in Chicago – you TOTALLY know NYC! Can’t wait to get to APAC so that I can congratulates you on your inner knowledge of NYC! Many thanks!!

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