Culture

New York City: The Good, Bad and Ugly

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There were too many “good” things to squeeze into this post, while the “bad” and the “ugly” run together:

Way more homeless people than we saw in 2011, perhaps because they’d been cleared out during the 9/11 anniversary.

Speaking of which: the tourist behavior at the WTC memorial is every bit as depressing and infuriating as you’ve heard. We couldn’t wait to get out of there.

(Hint: When Vice Magazine thinks you’re out of line…)

LaGuardia still looks like a 1970s bus terminal.

Times Square is my idea of hell.

But back to the “good” stuff:

THE GOOD: STONE STREET 


The first time we visited New York City, we were there to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

We chose a hotel close to Ground Zero: the boutique-style Wall Street Inn, across from the famous Delmonico’s restaurant.

We loved that hotel, but this time we wanted to stay uptown instead.

(We got a deal on the Carlton Autograph on Madison Avenue, and it was terrific. Not one complaint.)

However, Arnie and I were soon drawn back downtown by the lure of “our” hidden haven behind the Wall Street Inn: Stone Street.

Stepping onto old Stone Street for the first time feels like stumbling onto your very own secret oasis in a jungle of glass towers and honking car horns.

That short cobblestone lane is now a cozy, car-free stretch featuring quaint restaurants of all kinds on both sides of the street

Between April and October, locals and tourists alike enjoy lunch, dinner and late night drinks outside on picnic tables set out on the road, but of course, the cafes and pubs are open all year.

We still haven’t tried every restaurant there, so I’m looking forward to going back.


THE BAD: TOUR GUIDES

Would-be London cabbies study “The Knowledge”: the encyclopedic compendium of historical facts and complex driving routes they must master to get their license.

In Israel, all tour guides are similarly trained and licensed.

Nanny state New York City hasn’t instituted a similar regime for its double decker bus tour guides, and, against everything I believe in, I reluctantly wish they would.

After a couple of visits to NYC, I’ve noticed that the older the guide, the better the tour. I assumed our grey haired Brooklyn Loop guide was a mixed up bag lady until she picked up the microphone. Turned out she’d been born and raised in Flatbush, and it showed. We learned a lot. Hippies are good for something after all!

We also had two younger guides this time.

One was knowledgeable but distractingly high. The other was keen and conscientious, but…

The first time this guy referred to the “Astoria Waldorf,” I figured he was just flustered. The third time, he informed us that the storied hotel’s famous guests included “the author of The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Arnie and I giggled as we wondered aloud whether or not this Anne Frank only walked around her room at night…

“That old building’s been abandoned for years but I don’t know what it is,” he later “informed” us. Even a foreigner like me recognized the slightly spooky structure on First Avenue as the original Bellevue, the psychiatric hospital whose name has been a universal byword for lunacy for over a century.

Our guide was certain of one thing, however. College was expensive. He was a student at Columbia, you see, and still had to come up with most of his $50,000 annual tuition; luckily, his “good grades” in high school had gotten him a $15,000 scholarship.

Have I mentioned lately that college is a waste of time and money?

The best tour guide we had was the least likely one:

An African immigrant who pulled our pedicab through Central Park.

He carefully repeated every chunk of carefully memorized park lore three times – perhaps to make up for his accent – and everything he said was accurate.

(In fact, he politely corrected me when I got cocky about one statue’s identity.)

At first, I felt creepy having some guy pulling me around in a little wagon on a hot day.  But this fellow was so upbeat and entrepreneurial, my guilt (mostly) evaporated. (The generous tip we gave him helped.)

Anyway, no matter how corny you think they are, I still recommend the “hop on, hop off” double-deck bus tours through New York City.

Travel one “loop” to get to know the area you’re staying in – uptown, downtown, Brooklyn — then ride the rest to explore the other boroughs. Most companies offer night tours, harbor tours and more.

Even if the guide is terrible, you’ll see the city from a superior vantage point while giving your feet a break. Pack water and a hat.

THE UGLY: THE DIRT

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rt1m47SR3Dc

My usual skincare routine has almost as many steps as a NASA countdown sequence. After every out of town trip, the second thing I do after getting back home – after hugging the cat – is get that routine back on track.

(I took travel-sized products with me to New York but that’s just not the same. For one thing, I’d left my Olay cleansing brush behind.)

Back in my own bathroom, after taking off my makeup with cleansing cloths, I swiped my face with a cotton pad soaked in toner, as usual, to take off any residual powder and grit.

Normally, the white cotton pad comes up light beige, if that.

The night I returned to Toronto from New York, it was black.

I repeated the procedure. The second time, the cotton pad was grey.

It took a few more “repeats” before every trace of whateveritwas was gone.

That never happens to me in Toronto, or anywhere else I’ve visited.

Dear New York City – Here’s my last nanny state-ment for the day:

Whatever it is that’s floating around in your air, you might want to look into it.

*****

image illustration via shutterstock / maxicam