NewYorkNotes

I just moved to NYC all the way from sunny northern California (august 2003). Scotto suggested I write down my thoughts on what's similar here and what isn't, the idea being I will forget all the differences after a while. Update: I've also started collecting tips for moving to New York.

Gum on the sidewalk - so many people, so much gum - it's little black spots everywhere on the sidewalk. Not sticky or anything, but mashed into the very substance of the concrete.

The g*Damn weather! It's not that it gets too hot here (80s, low 90s). The problem is the constant 75-85% humidity. I have to wear undershirts to work because I'm always dripping in sweat. The subway and the busses are air conditioned so that helps. But, you have to walk to and from public transportation.

Farmers cheese - what the hell is this? it's everywhere in the stores. Update 3/3/04: I found out what Farmer's Cheese is! It's cottage cheese without rennet (which I believe comes from cow stomachs?) Without the rennet, you get a simple soft cheese but not the curds, so it's smooth. Whew, glad I sorted that out. Actually for some reason I found a USDA reference on the internet about how to make cottage cheese.

Heilman's Mayo instead of Best Foods. Well, that's just a different label.

Brown mustard - French's Yellow is not very popular here - everyone has the stone-ground stuff.

It's really hard to find original Coors in bars. Everyone has Coors Light, though. Ugh.

Coffee in cups and bags - I thought the flat plastic lid with the pull-back slot was horrible compared to the Starbucks raised lid with a hole. Then I realized the advantages: when you get a coffee and a bagel here, they put them both together in a paper bad with a wad of napkins. This works great because you can carry the bag easily and nothing spills. The starbucks coffee lid would spill all over in the bag. What it all comes down to is that everything here is tailored for walking around - you can transport these cups with other stuff much more easily. The starbucks coffee cups are for people who have cupholders in their cars. They don't do the paper 'egg-crate' multi-cup carrier here either.

Women dress much better here in New York - no nappy hair (or armpits, for that matter). Women wear skirts, too - no shorts (or even worse, 'skorts'). Very nice. Men dress about the same, maybe a little more formal.

Not too much surf wear, or guys with colored hair (mine is blond right now)

Similarly, not too many long skateboard riders such as myself (I've seen a few, though).

New Yorkers like to use a straw in their soda cans. They thought it was disgusting that I would just crack open a can and drink from it. Maybe I go for a quick shirttail wipe, that's it.

No Standing signs mean "don't even stop your car here for a second". Renee got a $105 ticket in one of these.

A favorite topping on street vendor hot dogs is onions in some sort of red onion sweet sauce.

The pizza is fantastic! I love new york style crust (which appears to be the only style here). Guys serving me pizza like to call me "boss", as in, "here's your slice, boss". Plus, cheese pizza is regular, so when you order, you can say, "slice of regular".

Duane Reade is the drugstore that's everywhere instead of Walgreens (like in San Fran). There are Walgreens here, just not very many.

No Bank of America! I had to open an account at Commerce Bank, the only one with decent accounts. The big guys want a minimum of $1000 in your account, or they start charging fees like $12 a month. Update: there are BofA ATMs in Loew's movie theathers. I saw one and actually felt homesick.

It's hard to find a store where you can get cash back on purchases. Also, most small stores won't take credit cards unless your purchase is at least $10.

No right turns on red lights. Makes sense since it's safer for pedestrians.

Similarly, jaywalking is expected here. No one waits for the light - you cross whenever you can.

It's very, very important to use your horn all the time to let other drivers know you exist. Driving here is basically a white-knuckle nightmare. Parking is even worse, what with very confusing street signage and twice-weekly street sweeping. The message: get rid of your car, idiot. You can take the bus or train anywhere you need to go (even Yankee stadium!).

Vermin! I've seen a few big juicy rats around the subway and out on the street. Plus, my office building is infested with big, evil, quick cockroaches. Yes, what everyone says about cockroaches really is true - they are fast and omnipresent.

Garbage collection is a casual affair. First, not "official" carts - you put whatever cans you have on the street for pickup day. Extra bags? Pile them on? Refrigerators? Rolled up carpets? The garbagemen will take anything! The downside is there is always loose trash on the streets, and slimy stains on the sidewalk. Oh, they basically don't recycle here, either. You technically can recycle paper and cans, but it's hard to find receptacles. On the plus sides, street scavengers go through your trash all the time for the cans.

You stand "on line" here, not "in line". Minor update 5/04: I suspect this is gradually disappearing as the internet usage of "online" becomes more prevalent. I saw a bank poster that said, "with us you can work online, not in line".

I have never seen so many confusing, poorly-worded parking signs in my life. The entire parking setup here is desinged to extract a constant stream of money from you in the form of fines. Big fines. That is, until you finally wise up and sell your car.

I saw two big, fat, dead rats on the sidewalk today. And, there was a dead cockroach in the breakroom at work. I don't work in a dump either - this is on the 53rd floor of a tower downtown.

People generally seem to be more friendly here. It's easy to get directions - just walk around looking confused and someone will ask where you are trying to go.

I found a place on the west side of Manhattan where I can park my car for $150 a month. That's the cheapest so far. Did I mention that on-street parking is a joke? Right now I'm parking on 81st (and I live on 46th). Luckily the subway gets me back quick. The parking lot pric emight sound ridiculous, but in the month previous, Renee and I racked up $140 in parking tickets. So basically you can pay either way.

Houston street is pronounced howston, not hewston.

Jewish Delicatessens always advertise Roumanian or Rumanian beef. Haven't figured out what that is, or where, for that matter, Rumania is.

Last week I watched two teams of Hasidic Jews playing baseball at McCarren park in Greenpoint. They took off their black jackets, but they were still all wearing black dress pants, white shirts, and broad-brimmed white hats.

I'm starting to get tired of eating pizza all the time. Oh well.

There are a lot of manual revolving doors in this city. It's actually a pretty efficient way to get into a building: lots of people can go through, and the amount of heat lost to the outside is minimal.

A little old woman in the subway was carrying a backpack from skateboard maker DaKine.

I saw Melanie Griffith on my block last week - she's starring in Chicago right down the street.

My dog Annie doesn't like to walk on subway grates. Other than that, she does great in the crowds.

At the bottom end of Times Sqare in the big NBC screen with the news ticker below it. Above that screen is a giant (I mean giant, this is Times Sqare, remember) 3-dimensional Cup Of Noodles. Why? Update: the sign is actually flat and uses clever shading for the 3-d effect. Also, steam comes from the top.

H&H Bagels at the end of 46th St. (by the USS Intrepid museum) has tasty bagels. That's a scummy street, though. Plus, the bagels are expensive - 95 cents a piece, versus 55 or 65 cents elsewhere.

Columbus Day is on Monday, and there are big plans - exhibitions, parades, etc. That struck me as odd - then I realized that's because there aren't any native americans here... It seems that Columbus Day is a sort of celebration of Italian culture.

When you use a credit card at the subway ticket vending machines, they say, "Please dip your card. That's weird.

Convenience stores in Brooklyn sell ketchup flavored potato chips.

In New York they call a subway sandwich a hero. In White Plains they call it a wedge.

The backs of garbage trucks always have a brown lake of the most disgusting liquid in them. When the trucks compact the garbage, sometimes a jet of this substance squirts out the back as the bags burst.

I was walking my dog in front of my house one morning, and all of a sudden WHAM we both fell on our asses. Someone had spilled restaurant grease on the pavement and not cleaned it up. There isn't a back alley, so all the garbage, etc. has to be hauled out front. Thus, the gutter can get pretty interesting...

Wyclef Jean's motorcycle was parked on my block today. He owns the Spiderman bike built by Orange County Choppers (the comapny on the Discovery series American Chopper). I know it was his bike because it says Built for Wyclef by Paul on the fender.

Speaking of Spiderman, we took the tram from Manhattan to Roosevelt Island on Saturday. Good little tourist trip, and cheap ($4 round trip). It's part of the subway system, but you can't use your metro card on it. I believe the tram is the only part of the system that still takes tokens. This is probably to discourage non-Roosevelt Island residents from using it.

Long Island is pronounced Lawn Giland.

Celebrity sighting this week: Bernadette Peters, exiting the theater where she is performing in Gypsy.

I was walking to work today and saw somw workmen shoveling something out of a dump truck into wheelbarrows and wheeling them into a building. Couldn't figure out what it was - the stuff was all shiny black embers. Then I realized - they were delivering coal! I have never, ever seen that before.

A constant problem on the subway is people trying to force their way onto a subway car as the door is closing. The doors are under the control of a conductor who generally sits in the third car. When the train is in the station, he or she watches out a window to see when it's ok to shut the doors. There's nothing gentle about the doors - they slam shut hard (although the edges are rubber). So, the conductor comes on the intercom and yells, the usual is "stand clear of the closin doors!". One time I had a conductor who was a bit more colorful. His words were, "don't block the doors, you're holdin up the rail-road!"

I can't think of the last time I saw a bird that wasn't a pigeon.

The whole hooker thing is pretty weird. The area around my house (west of Times Square) is traditionally a pretty seedy place where you would expect to see prostitutes. However, things have been cleaned up quite a bit over the last few years, so it's not obvious. Typically you'll walk by a normal-looking girl in a doorway and she'll say something like, "hey sugar", or wink at you. Sometimes they'll come up and walk beside you as you walk down the street and start talking to you. That really stands out because you just don't talk to strangers out on the street in the city. I never know quite how to react.

Two neat things in my neighborhood: Troma, a famous low budget horror movie company (Toxic Avenger) and the home of the Guardian Angels.

The act of being towed down an icy street by a car is called hooky-bobbing where I come from. Here it's called skitching. Fun on a bun, either way!

Two things I've noticed during our first real snowstorm:

  • Lots of people walk around in the snow with umbrellas. To keep the snow out of thir faces, I guess?
  • They put blades on garbage trucks and use them to clear the roads. Makes sense, as the garbage trucks are big and heavy and have to be out anyway.

Two things I've noticed now that the storm has come and gone:

  • Boy, do they ever love to use salt on the streets and sidewalks of New York.
  • It gets seriously dirty quickly as the snow and garbage mix.

The hot fashion footwear this season? Ugg boots. Can you believe it? Those damn floppy, ugly sheepskin boots have followed me to New York. I may have to move back to California to get away from them. At least the pleated skirts are gone - although Uggs do actually work pretty well with short skirts. Not on me, of course.

People often call my dog Annie Rin Tin Tin when I walk by. Nobody ever did that back in California. I'm familiar with the movie dog of the same name, but I don't think I ever actually watched any of the movies.

Women in New York aren't afraid to wear fur coats. Thankfully men are.

Neighborhoods are an integral part of the New York experience. In a lot of ways, Manhattan in particular is really a collection of small, tightly-defined neighborhoods, each with a very different style and "feel". However, a lot of goofiness goes on with neighborhood definitions as developers and/or residents try to bend neighborhood definitions to their own ends. Some info I've colected about neighborhoods:

  • TriBeCa (Triangle Below Canal Street), a very trendy area, used to be the Meatpacking District.
  • The Lower East Side originally covered the east side of Manhattan up to 14th street. Now, it stops around 1st street, and the East Village covers the rest. Kind of a neighborhood attempt to compete with the West Village for hipness. I like both areas.
  • My neighborhood is Hell's Kitchen, but the name was officially changed to Clinton in 1959. Whatever.
  • NoHo (North of Houston) is a recent developer's attempt to capitalize on the cachet of SoHo (South of Houston). NoLita (North of Little Italy) is a similar attempt at coolness.
  • The best neighborhood name (besides Hell's Kitchen) is Dumbo, Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. That's in Brooklyn.
  • Battery Park City (the western shore of downtown) sprang into existence when they needed somewhere to dump all the fill created by the building of the World Trade Center.
  • Neighborhood names are constantly evolving. I just read about a new name some people are using - BelDel for Below Delancy. Yet another attempt to rename part of the Lower East Side. Only time will tell if that sticks.

Roasted chestnuts are pretty tasty (kind of a meaty flavor), but they are a lot of work to get out of the shell. Once was enough for me.

I think rats in the subway are getting a bum rap. I find them kind of cute. Thus, I propose a name change: subway squirrels. Doesn't that sound friendly?

Cabbage Patch on the Tracks: Renee and I noticed a cabbage patch doll wedged underneath the tracks as we waited for the L train last weekend. Was it suicide or homicide? Hey, I think Cabbage Patch on the Tracks is either a great band name or the name of Lucinda Williams next album.

Alleys: most people have a mental image of large cities as containing alleyways. I think we get that from movies and TV - you know, where criminals lurk, etc.

However, Manhattan is so dense that there are no alleys at all. Out in the Bronx or Queens I suppose it's a different story.

I found out that a dead body was found near my apartment a few months ago! Some workers were cleaning behind a building on my block and discovered a skeleton wrapped in a carpet. It was a while woman around 25 years old, and she has been dead for at least 15 years. The sad thing is that was six months ago, and the police still haven't figured out who she is.

It's freakin cold this week.

There are a lot of cops walking beats in this neighborhood. They always walk in pairs... tonight I must have passed 4 sets in 4 blocks of walking. I find it comforting knowing a cop is nearby.

Sometimes it seems as if life is just extra difficult here in NY for no particular reason. Case in point: I take my laundry to a laundromat right around the corner. There are other laundromats nearby, but the people who run this one are friendly. So, I go there every few days.

Naturally you have to use the wheeled carts in the laundromat to move your clothes between the washer and the dryer. The pain is that the wheels are jammed on every single cart. Thus, you have to drag the cart across the floor.

Why? Everyone wastes so much energy when the fix is as simple as buying a few wheels for the carts.

A Prayer for Owen Meany is my favorite John Irving novel. It revolves around a bizarre boy named Owen Meany who is somehow supernatural. He convinces the narrator (a friend who grows up with Owen) to perform all this odd athletic training, like lifting Owen so he can throw a basketbal, over and over again. All the time, Owen times their maneuvers.

At the end of the book, it turns out that Owen had a vision of his own death, and he made his friend train with him to accomplish it. Owen has to grab a grenade from a man and throw in out a window to prevent the deaths of a group of Vietnamese orphans.

Since my dog Annie was a pup, I have picked her up and carried her around cradled in my arms. She still lets me do it, even though she's now a full-grown German Shepard. It's pretty funny to see my carrying a 65 pound dog around like a little puppy.

Annie has a bad hip, so it's hard for her to climb stairs now that she's eight. Our apartment here in New York is at the top of a set of stairs. So, I have to carry her up the stairs a lot when she is too sore to do it herself.

That's my little Owen Meany moment.

New York is the first place I've ever lived where the sense of 'uptown' and downtown' are concrete. Most US cities exist in some form of radial pattern. 'Downtown' means closer to the center of the circle. 'Uptown' just means the fancier areas of the city.

Since New York is oriented on Manhattan island with a mostly north-soth axis, the two terms take on a completely different meaning. Uptown is whatever is north of you towards and including the Bronx. Downtown is whatever is south of you, towards Brooklyn.

Thus I currently live uptown (Hell's Kitchen, not a glamorous area, but decent) and work downtown (at the bottom tip of Manhattan). Well, actually I live in midtown, but that's close enough for the point I'm trying to illustrate.

I assume our current understanding of uptown and downtown originated in New York and have been modified by the design of other cities. Uptown does mean fancy or higher-class in New York since the better living areas of Manhattan are uptown, around Central Park (But if you go too far you're in the Bronx!).

A remake of The Manchurian Candidate is being filmed in the Regency Hotel on Wall Street next to my office.

If you work in downtown Manhattan, you get to call Wall Street The Street. This refers to the financial business that happens here, not the physical street.

Similarly, I live in Hell's Kitchen, so I get to call it the Kitchen.

The Christmas tree in front of the NYSE was much better than the one at Rockerfeller Center. It had big ornaments in addition to the lights. Plus there wasn't a crowd around it.

New Yorkers have generally never heard of the term trustafarian. Which makes sense, I think.

If you walk by a stranger on the street and he says "how ya doin?" he's probably trying to sell you drugs.

Not to stay on the drug tip too long, but I totally saw two guys smoking crack in a phone booth by my house last night. It was one of those modern little phone booths too - not like they were hiding anything? They for sure weren't smoking weed, either.

As I walked to the subway today in a foot of snow, I contemplated the joy of not owning a car and not having to scrape the ice off the windows.

A pickpocket on the subway that targets sleeping drunks is called a lush worker.

Police cars in New York have really, really cramped back seats. All the cops drive Chevy Impalas. And no, I didn't get arrested to discover that tidbit.

Went to a rock show last night with Sean O'Conner. I've been meaning to go see shows ever since I came to New York - this is pretty much the capital of the music world, right?

Sean called me yesterday and initially I said no... then I thought it over and said what the hell, I need to get out. Sean wanted to see some band called Flatliners at the Mercury Lounge, but it turned out that he had been reading last week's Village Voice. We went to Mercury Lounge anyway to see 4 bands for 8 bucks we'd never heard of.

When we paid at the front, the ticket-taking woman asked what band we were there to see. Sean looked at her list and said, Shout Out Louds for both of us. I couldn't figure out why until I looked at her tally sheet - that band had far fewer marks than any of the others. Nice guy, that Sean. He's a musician too, so I guess he's more sensitive to how it must feel to not get the love at a show.

First band was Changes, from Chicago. I envisioned them starting out as a Police cover band... then they listened to too much of the Strokes. Drummer with a lot of energy. I'm still not sure how I feel about bands with 3 guitarists. Usually the rhythm guitar could be removed and the band would be just as good (and less complicated). Sean had an interesting observation: the drummer played to the crowd, and the lead singer/guitarist played to the band. You could really see how the drummer was throwing it all out there for us, while whenever the lead looked up from his mic, he looked back at the band for support.

Next up was Child Ballads, a two-piece one guy, one girl. Going for that old-timey look of suspenders and fedora. Totally fumbling around for 25 minutes setting up. At one point they knocked over a drum machine and there was a heavy backbeat running for five minutes until they figured out how to turn it off.

Their music was a mix of the White Stripes and Lucinda Williams. Also a little Cracker thrown in (specifically the guy's singing and lyrics).

They only played three songs. By then it was 9:30 and I had to get home to get to sleep for work the next day.

New Yorkers don't like spicy food. Food consdered to be spicy here would be considered bland in California.

Renee and I went to Fiddler on the Roof tonight at the Minskoff. Great show, and Alfred Molina as Tevea was amazing. Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith are sitting four rows in front of us. As we're walking out behind them, I hear Antonio say, "man, that second half really hit me! I couldn't figure out why, but then I realized it's because I'm a father of a daughter now!". Read that in the Antonio accent for best effect. What a cool thing to say.

Also, Kirsten Dunst was sitting in front of us as well and had a smoke outside. at intermission. She's quite petite and looked a little pale. Props to her for being very patient with an annoying fan who accosted her. Good celebrity sightings all around.

The bar 2x4 (I'll let you guess the address, hint it's in the name) serves $2 cans of PBR and has a pool table. Plus, the barmaids really skank it up, and I don't mean like ska either.

I've noticed several fittings on the fronts of fast food restaurants that say danger! high pressure gas. What, is there a mini hospital intensive care in the back? Then I realized that's how they get their carbon dioxide delivered for the soda fountains, instead of the old pressurized bottles. Makes sense. Hey, did you know that soda water forms horrible nasty carbonic acid when it contacts copper pipes? All soda fountain fittings have to be plastic or stainless steel. Stick a chicken bone in that one.

Went to CBGB's twice this weekend, so I believe that qualifies me to wear a CBGB's t-shirt now. First went with Sean to see three bands Friday night. First was Lourdes, a standard rock band with a chick singer. Next was some band I forgot. Final band was One Day Left, a pretty good rap/metal act. By rap/metal, I mean PE + Anthrax, not Limp Bizkit.

Then Monday I went to CB's Gallery to see Sean perform. He's doing a one man guy w/ guitar thing right now. Gave a hell of a good energy performance for the 10 or 12 of us who showed up to support him. Sean has definitely improved since his demo CD. I would say his style reminds me of that Staind its beeen a-while guy.

I'm really craving a burger from In 'n Out or Foster's Freeze this week.

Do they make up the names of fish here on the east coast? In Whole Foods last week: smelt. Tonight on a restaurant specials list: broiled scrod.

As I was walking home from the laundromat tongight, a gay guy walking behind me said, nice laundry bag. I'm glad he appreciated my cleanliness.

Random small observation (like the rest of this page): apartment numbering in NYC is a little different. Instead of the simple 1,2,3,4... or 1xx, 2xx, 3xx... indicating what floor an apartment is on, Lots of buildings are numbered 1F, 1R, 2F, 2R... indicating front or rear. I've even seen 1FL, 1FR, 1RL, 1RL... at a friend's place.

I saw fireflies for the first time in my life in Prospect Park, Brooklyn in August 2003. I was 30 years old.

A Therm-a-rest camping mattress makes an excellent napping surface at work.

During the low, quiet times, I fear that I'm selling my soul to the devil one five dollar bottle of budweiser at a time. Or maybe that's a sign I shouldn't go to so many bars in New York.

Soup Dumplings! Have you experienced the delight of the soup dumpling? We go to a little place in Chinatown called Shanghai Cuisine (on Mulberry and White) for them. A soup dumpling takes the normal relationship between soup and dumpling and turns it on their head. Instead of the dumpling being in the soup, the soup is in the dumpling! You get 6 or so little dough pouches in a steamer, and the technique is to put one on a big spoon and bite a little hole in it. Inside the dough is a ball of meat or fish swimming in a pool of soup. What can I say except it's a taste explosion in your mouth, and in a good fireworks way, not a bad land mine way!

Just back from a one week vacation in sunny Santa Cruz, CA (85 degrees, to be exact), and I can now say with confidence that I am a New Yorker. While I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with friends and family back in the old home town, I was glad to be back in the city. I love the excitement and the non-stop action of this giant crazy metropolis. At least for a few years, anyway.

One other small item - I've realized that I don't really notice or apologize any more when I bump in to people on the street. It happens so much in New york that you just start ignoring it. Oh, and my friends back in Santa Cruz tell me I mumble more now. Got to work on my diction.

Saturday night 3/20/04 - We went to the restaurant Olives (in the Union Square W hotel) for Renee's birthday. Incredible! Our best NYC friend Jake works as a chef there. The secret if you are going to Olives is to ask to sit at the counter in the kitchen. This small counter looks right over the kitchen and seats two or three people. A front row seat in the kitchen means dinner plus entertainment. We are friends with several of the other chefs too, so they delighted us with some amazing dishes like a beet salad I actually liked, and a grilled squid and octopus combo. After all the appetizers, we ended up taking our entrees home with us in the fanciest doggy bag I have ever seen. Great restaurant, great food, great atmosphere.

Celebrity Update! I was walking my dog Annie last Saturday night on 47th between 7th and 8th around 11pm when a woman stopped me to pet my dog (happens a lot). She was all over Annie, thought she was a great dog, etc. Know who it was? Heidi from the Apprentice! Very nice woman. She was with Katrina, who was fired from the show just last week. I didn't talk to Katrina because she was on the phone (I heard something about "I've had lots of offers"). that's the celebrity sighting for this week.

For some reason I have become a semi-compulsive hand-washer. Every time I enter my house, I feel this total need to wash my hands before I do anything. Must be some sort of unconscious response to the filth & grime of the city. Guess I'll start getting more worried when I purchase a big Costco box of disposable latex gloves.

The answer to avoiding crazy people on the street: headphones! I found an old Rio500 mp3 player that I had and decided to start listening to it while I rode the subway to work every day.

Then I noticed that I don't hear beggars and crazies on the street any more! Lots easier than ignoring them uncomfortably while I walk by.

What an Easter Sunday! We got to go see The Boy From Oz on Broadway this afternoon. Great show. The lead was played by Hugh Jackman (better known as Wolverine to you Xmen fans). The story was based on the life of the singer/songwriter Peter Allan. He went from a tiny town in Australia to being married to Liza Manelli. In the meantime he wrote a bunch of very successful songs for other performers. Ultimately he died of AIDS so the story could have ended on a sad note. However, they managed to keep it forcused on the goodness of life so it was ultimately an uplifiting tale. Lots of singing and dancing too, of course.

The subway vigilante Bernard Goetz shot four young men on the 2 train at the Chambers Street station in 1984. I ride that train every day to and from work.

Celebrity sightings this week: Renee: Anna Pacquin in midtown. Me: Al Franken on the subway platform. Al Franken has a big head.

Went to a barbeque at our friend Irv's house in the Bronx this weekend. The Bronx really is like it looks in the movies. Renee and I were walking to his house from the subway and a kid on the street says, cracker in the Bronx! That was pretty funny because it was so painfully true.

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