Saturday, August 28, 2010

Flip Flopping

Because I'm a germaphobe who washes my hands thoroughly and often, avoids touching subway poles, and doesn't share drinks, it's surprising that I never considered that walking around on New York City streets in flip flops could be hazardous to my health.

When a couple of friends told me that city walking in open shoes disgusts them, I panicked. Have I been overlooking a primary source of germs? Have I contracted some sort of contagious disease because of my negligence? Is it germier to wear flip flops in NYC than upstate?

Obviously, I do a lot more walking in New York City than I do upstate, so there are many more occasions to pick up whatever sort of diseases you get from foot exposure. But considering that a short-lived TV show on the Food Network starring Ted from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy proved that a typical office watercooler has more germs than a Central Park water fountain, I was still feeling pretty good about my flip flop wearing.


Five minutes ago, I googled "wearing flip flops in NYC" and discovered an article from the Daily News entitled: "Flip Flops are a Magnet for Dangerous, Deadly Bacteria." Great. Just what I needed. The article states that 93% of shoes worn for three months have fecal bacteria, which is true for any type of shoe in any location. However, a pair of flip flops worn around the city for four days contained staphylococci, Aerococcus viridans, Rothia mucilaginosa, and Staph aureus. Whatever that means. Now, this is not to say that a pair of flip flops worn upstate wouldn't have the same nastiness, but some of those germs come from saliva on the street, and I can't say that stepping over drooling, dozing, doped up folk is a regular occurrence in the Finger Lakes area.

So what's a germaphomic suburban girl to do? Well, I've always lived in a shoes-off household, and I will continue to do so. And I keep a box of baby wipes handy to wipe the dirt off my feet. (I learned that trick from Radio City, where performers often have to wipe off their shoes because of nervous animal actors.) But I just can't abandon my flip flops and sandals. I can't. I like being comfortable. I like wiggling my toes. I like judging my tan by the two pale lines left on my feet. More importantly, I live on the fifth floor and my windowsills are constantly covered in a fine layer of black soot and dirt. If the filth makes it that high, wearing closed shoes wouldn't be an effective barrier; it certainly must be coating my entire body, right?

Enough typing. I must shower. STAT.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Riding While Intoxicated

New York City undeniably reigns over upstate New York, most of the country, and many cities around the globe in one, singular, pivotal item--the yellow cab. Though not perfect, the availability and the cost of the New York City cab can't be beat. I am not a frivolous cab-taker--in fact, I rarely allow myself to take a cab before midnight--but cabs have rapidly brought me from Point A to Point B on many occasions. Sometimes the occasion is oversleeping, sometimes the occasion is safety, and sometimes the occasion is alcohol.

I am not an alcoholic, but I do enjoy a drink every now and then--sometimes more "now" than "then," based on the state of the union and my pocketbook--and although a lady never reveals her weight, I can tell you that I don't weigh enough to donate blood. Thus, just one alcoholic beverage can have a great affect on me, causing me to think twice before ever getting behind the wheel. In my mind, there are few things in life worse than driving drunk. So when I found myself in a delightful upstate martini bar, I only allowed myself to finish half of my delightful upstate martini because I wasn't sure how how much it would affect my deer-dodging drive home an hour later. On the other hand, when I went out in Manhattan last night, I felt completely secure knowing that there would be many a yellow cab battling for the pleasure of driving me to my doorstep. Oddly, this did not cause me to booze it up. I stopped drinking hours before I went home. But I just loved knowing that I didn't need to worry about having three drinks in five hours.

Now don't get me wrong--there are always things to worry about when riding in a cab. They include, but are not limited to, the following: the cabbie getting lost, the cabbie carrying on a phone conversation in a sinister-sounding language that may or may not include a detailed plot to harm you, the cabbie belonging to a culture that does not place importance on wearing deodorant, the cabbie purposely taking you for a ride (ho ho!) by "misunderstanding" your destination, the cabbie turning out to be an Islamic terrorist, and/or the cabbie refusing to drive as directed and instead hurling through Central Park at breakneck speed so you have to open the door and jump out while the cab is in motion.

Okay, the last one may be an urban myth.

However, I once saw a cabbie stop at an intersection, open the driver's side door, and gingerly dump a cup of pee into the street. True story.

But consider the alternative. I took an upstate taxi once, and only once. I believe it was called Sam's Taxi, and the one and only car in the fleet is a sedan with a velvet-covered backseat so wide that it seats five adults comfortably. It smells of stale cigarettes and Aquanet. Gone is the reassuring glass partition dividing you from the cabbie, and instead Sam makes awkward, headache-inducing smalltalk with her booming smoker's baritone.

I much prefer the mostly silent driver who brings me to my destination at an absurdly fast, yet confident, speed. How do people handle life otherwise? I can drink--or not drink--to my heart's content. I can spend the entire evening with my friends, or I can leave early by myself since I don't need to worry about traveling through the mean city streets alone. The NYC yellow cab is one of the many reasons that I love New York. As I lift my arm to hail a cab at 3am, I feel the same sense of relief that I imagine immigrants must have felt when seeing the Statue of Liberty (who, ironically, looks like she's hailing a cab herself). I open its golden door and tiredly slide into the backseat, watching the wretched refuse of the teaming shore blur by as my little tempest-tost soul breathes free.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Wining and Whining

I've discovered that Manhattanites have an unusually healthy appreciation for lines and order, which seems odd coming from a city that seems--and IS--so chaotic and nutty. Maybe it's an extension of the grid system or a need for control in the midst of insanity, but city dwellers stand in lines several times a day. And they're good at it.

Just as  upstaters lack sidewalk etiquette (i.e. Sidewalk Rule #1: If you are walking slowly or in a group or are consulting a map, STAY TO THE RIGHT!!!), they also lack line etiquette. I discovered this at the Riesling Festival today.

Get this--some brilliant individual dreamed up a giant wine tent at which you pay $10 to get a commemorative wine glass, a Wegmans (!!!) six-pack wine bag, and samples of Riesling from a host of local wineries. Is that not the most magical idea ever?! Accordingly, the tent was full and there was a line of 30 people waiting to get I.D.'ed on the way in. I was just four people away from the entrance of the tent and could already taste the ice cold white wine hitting my lips in the midst of a hot, sunny afternoon when the four people in front of me had second thoughts about paying $10 each. Now, I understand that in upstate NY, $10 goes a long way (I mean, you can buy a house--a whole HOUSE--for under $100K), and thus, paying $10 for wine is more of a commitment for an upstater than for a downstater, who may consider a $10 glass of wine a bargain. But for Pete's sake, if you're struggling with your decision, don't hold up the entire line! Step to the side and wave people past until you make a decision. Since their decision was to stand in the way and clog the I.D. process, I decided to sidestep the whole thing and thrust my license in the face of the nice volunteer who was slightly shocked at my boldness.

I must have arrived at the height of wine time because the tent was packed. The wineries were stationed at long card tables facing into the center of the tent, and there was a sizable line snaking in front of each table. They really could have used some Trader Joe's-style employees standing at the end of each line with a giant sign to direct traffic. Wanting to play by the rules, I found each winery that interested me; looked for the appropriate line; spotted the final person in line; asked her to confirm that I was, in fact, at the end of the correct line; and waited. Many others weren't quite so courteous. There were lots of line cutters.

Line cutting is quite prevalent in NYC, as you may imagine. But New York City folk don't often stand for that kind of behavior. The chain of events for NYC line cutting is as follows:
1. Someone cuts the line.
2. At least one person will passive-aggressively say just loud enough for the line cutter and select others to hear: "Can you believe da nerve o' dis guy?"
3. Line cutter will pretend he didn't hear.
4. Rumblings ensue in the surrounding crowd.
5. Someone will tap the line cutter on the shoulder and say, "Hey buddy, we bin waitin' a while. The end o' da line is back dere."
6. Surrounding crowd glares at the line cutter.
7. Line cutter either (A) slinks sheepishly to the end of the line, or (B) or spouts some choice curse words and waits for someone make him move to the back of the line. But A is often the result of this confrontation.

After waiting in several long lines in the wine tent, I was hot, slightly buzzed, and completely annoyed when a gentleman stepped in front of my line of 12 people and asked for his sample of semi-sweet Riesling, seemingly ignorant of the patient people he just trampled on. Since no one had said anything when the guy's wife did the same thing five minutes before, I decided that these upstaters needed my help. I smiled sweetly, leaned forward, and said, "Excuse me, sir, but I just thought you should know that there's a line at every table, and we've all been waiting for a while."

He gave me an I-know-what-I-did-but-I'm-going-to-smile-and-play-innocent look (which I am generally the queen of) and said, "Oh...sorry! I didn't even notice. Should I wait until you're finished?" I was six people back in line at this point and I was not at the end of the line.

I gritted my teeth, smiled generously and said, "Oh no, that's okay. You go right ahead." Which he did. And of course, the people between us in line were chatting away and missed the whole exchange. They continued chatting when it was their turn for wine, leaving me standing there--glass empty--fuming about the wait and replaying the scene in my head. Did I do the right thing by saying something? Was the line cutter at fault for cutting the line, or was I at fault for pointing it out? Do I need to have a little more patience, or does everyone else need to get with the program? Have I become one of those mean New Yorkers that are a staple on every reality television show?

Johnny Carson described a New York minute as the time it takes “From the (traffic) lights to turn green, till the guy behind you starts honking his horn.” I guess when I'm upstate, I miss the honking.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Is Homesickness a Genetic Condition?

I'm part of the third generation of homesick women in my family.

My grandmother left Italy at 18 to follow my grandfather to America. He had come  back to his village to find a wife, and she agreed, thinking that America wasn't much further than Rome and she would return home every year or so. Much to her surprise, the next time she went to Italy, she had four children in tow and another on the way. While she was teaching me to make sauce and eggplant Parmesan this week, I asked where she went on her honeymoon. It turns out that she and my grandfather cut the honeymoon short because she was so upset by their impending departure from home. She said, "I don't know where we went. I didn't see anything because I was crying all the time."

My mother only moved about two hours away from home, but to someone who lived in a house full of people and commuted to college, the distance was huge. Both of my parents (who grew up a mile apart from each other) are crushed that they can't be at every Sunday dinner, birthday party, and school play. They packed us in the car for every holiday to make the two-hour trek, and for many weekends as well. I'm not sure how they got the three of us in the station wagon along with all the presents from Santa without us figuring out Santa's identity, but they did. They constantly toy with the idea of moving back--they've actually been thinking about it since I was eight--but they still think doing so would "uproot" their three adult children who don't live at home.

Then there's me. I went away to college, I went away to grad school, and I went away for a job. But it kills me each time. And even now, when I leave home to get back on the plane, train, or bus that will take me far away from the people I love, my parents say, "Are you sure you have to go back? You don't have to leave, you know. Wouldn't you rather stay here with us?" And each time I leave, for the first five minutes on the plane, train, or bus, I can't see anything because I'm crying the whole time.