Monday, August 29, 2011

$5 Hurricane

The worst part about being trapped in Manhattan in an emergency being trapped in Manhattan in an emergency situation.

Okay, so I semi-stole that from an iPhone ad campaign, but the principle totally applies here.

I'm no stranger to Manhattan emergencies. I've survived 9/11, two blackouts, and various incapacitating snowstorms. New Yorkers are a hearty breed--they're not phased by much. But when we're sucker punched with an emergency, panic sets in and one of two things happen--people calmly take stock of the situation at hand and make informed decisions...or they flail about, making bad choices that exacerbate the issue.

I ended up doing both things this weekend. I happened to be in Boston visiting my sister and spent most of Friday entirely convinced that Hurricane Irene would be nothing more than a passing shower. I laughed at the commotion, expecting the whole thing to be like Maryland closing schools because of an inch of snow. I was scheduled to return to NYC on Saturday, but my New York friends' Facebook updates started getting jittery. And the subway closing announcement was made. And Broadway shows were canceled. I did exactly what I planned not to do. I panicked.

At that point, I had no idea what to do. I was too far away to feel the pulse of the city, and without the connection, I felt like my air supply had been cut off. Should I return to Manhattan (which I REALLY wanted to do) and go with my gut feeling that everything would be okay? Or should I take the safe route by staying in Boston and re-wearing the two outfits I brought in my backpack until Megabus was able to safely bring me back home again?

In the end, I chose to stay in Boston, and here's why: The last place I want to be in an emergency is on an island with millions of people and only a couple of exit options. It's a concept that's difficult to understand if you live in the 'burbs and have a car. Cars make you mobile. So even if droves of people descend upon your neighborhood supermarket and buy all the flashlights and batteries, chances are that you can drive around until you find what you need. Similarly, if your area suddenly happens to be in the path of, say, an incredibly destructive hurricane, chances are that you can drive to your aunt's house in Albany or your sister's place in Utica. That's not possible on an island fueled by public transportation. If Irene took a turn for the worse and all of Manhattan was ordered to evacuate, there would be no way for everyone to leave.  Especially if the Holland Tunnel and the subways weren't running. It's kind of like in the movies when a submarine floods and the commander decides contain the water by sealing the door, even though his best friend is trapped on the other side. I didn't want to be one of the Manhattanites left to drown after they sealed off the city. So I stayed in Boston.

(And by the time I decided to return, all the buses were canceled anyway.)

Thanks to the hospitality of my sister and her husband, I ended up having a delightful Irene weekend. I went to my first driving range in the pouring rain, explored the marvels and mysteries of Jordan's Furniture, and celebrated the Feast of St. Anthony in the North End. This all seems much more interesting than being confined to my apartment in a rainstorm. But I must say (now that everyone I know is safe and dry) that I feel like I bailed on my city. I ditched my worn old doll for a shiny new Barbie. I feel ashamed for taking the easy way out.

But you know, I'll take lobstahhhh over emergency ration canned goods any day of the week.

My Irene Weekend:
                                                                Lobster traps at Marblehead, MA

                                                                       St. Anthony's Feast in The North End

                                                                An animatronic big green monster eating a Yankee
                                                                at Jordan's Furniture

AAAAAAAAnd back in New York City:
                                                                       Empty shelves at a Queens store

                                                                       What to do with all your canned goods?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Back That Thang Up

A fascinating phenomenon occasionally occurs on 8th Avenue between 34th and 42nd Streets. It's called People Who Purposely Wheel Their Wheelchairs Backward and Cause Chaos With Every Turn of the Wheel.

This happens. I've seen it. Multiple times.

The first time it happened, I was shocked. I was walking up 8th Ave at a crisp pace when I spotted a wheelchair on the sidewalk in front of me. Just as I started making an arc to pass it, I realized that it wasn't moving slowly with the traffic--it was moving against it. And quickly. Towards me. I barely had time to jump out of the way. After the chair zoomed by, I immediately turned my head to follow the path of destruction--people were jumping out of the way, yelping, ooo-ing, tsk-ing, cursing, and staring. The woman in the wheelchair did not seem phased, nor did she look behind her. She was putting all her might into the task at hand--wheeling backward as fast as possible for no apparent reason.

At the time, I chalked it up to something I had learned when I spent a month in grand jury duty: a relatively large amount of drugs are sold on 8th Ave outside the McDonald's that advertises McDonuts. (I also learned what a glassine envelope is. And that crack is more reasonably priced than I would have guessed.) But even so, I can't imagine how many drugs you'd need to think that blindly wheeling yourself backward would be an entertaining way to pass the afternoon. 

Wheeling backward this woman did, though. I saw this shockingly handi-capable mischief-maker wheeling herself backward on the avenue again and again. Luckily, I was ready for her and had no problem jumping out of the way. I was not prepared, however, for the sight of her wheeling backward through traffic while crossing the street! I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and stared like a tourist at The Today Show. As if that wasn't enough, I later saw a second person--a man--wheeling himself backward along those same 8th Ave sidewalks. Is this behavior contagious? Did he see her and think it looked like a good time? Do they buy their crack from the same dealer?

Readers, I cannot answer these questions, and I cannot make sense of this occurrence. Can you? Have you spotted a backward-wheeler? This is one NYC trend I hope does not catch on in the suburbs.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Let's Go to the Movies!

"I'm at the movies."
"I SAID I'm at the movies!"
Longer pause.
"My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
Exasperated pause.

Sometimes bad movie behavior occurs next to good people. A rather large woman to my left whisper-screamed the above conversation into her cell phone at a theater on 42nd Street in the summer of 2002, which is also known as The Summer I Decided to Soak Up Air Conditioning at Movie Theaters Instead of Buying an Air Conditioner For My Bedroom. As you can imagine, I entered the theater feeling hot and bothered, and listening to the chatterbox yapping to my left didn't help matters any. Unfortunately, the theater was completely packed, and since I thought she might sit on me if I informed her that the majority of the audience would appreciate it if she hung up the phone, I moved to the only other available seat. In the third row.

You see, the general rule of thumb in Manhattan is as follows: If you decide to do something—anything—chances are that at least 2,000 people have thought of the same idea. Thus, the movie going experience is significantly more difficult than it is in the suburbs.

As a high school student, I would roll into the movie theater parking lot in one of my parents' matching Taurus station wagons, clutching the ticket I bought for $4.25 with my Wegmans employee discount, about two minutes before showtime. I would find an empty row of seats, which generally wasn't difficult. I could put my feet up on the seat in front of me, place my coat on the seat next to me, and generally stretch out, knowing I had at least a three-seat radius to myself.

In Manhattan, however, you can take the subway early to show up an hour before previews with your $13.50 in hand, and still be shut out of a movie. This happened to me twice with Angels & Demons. (I know, I know...I'm not sure why I cared enough about Angels & Demons to try twice.) You can buy your ticket online to be assured of a spot, of course, but because movie tickets are so astronomically expensive, my staunch bargain-hunting brain won't allow me to pay the extra $1.50 surcharge. Even if you manage to get to the theater early enough to score a ticket, you must arrive a good half hour early to score a seat. And don't even dream that the seat next to you will be empty—that'll never happen.

If you've arrived early, purchased a ticket, and found the perfect seat, you're still subjected to the very vocal whims of a host of New Yorkers. I'm not sure why they enjoy commenting on whatever action is happening on screen, but comment they do. And loudly. At times, it feels like being at a live taping of The Maury Povich Show. For example, when the trailer for Tangled appeared before some romcom I was seeing, the dude behind me, who had obviously been dragged there by his girlfriend, yelled, "Daaaaaauuuumnnn! That little girl's hair is looooooooong!"

Actually, my most perfect movie going experience happened when I went to see
Tangled several months later. A friend and I went to a tiny theater that was so far east it was practically in the East River. It was a weekday at 2pm. And for two magical hours, we were the only people in the theater! I felt like Annie when Daddy Warbucks took her to see Camille at Radio City. It was heaven.

I'm fairly certain that was a one in a million experience.

Given that movie going in the city isn’t quite the same magical experience that it is in the suburbs, why do we go at all? Well, my cousin and I went to see Crazy, Stupid, Love. this weekend. Though we were surrounded by people on all sides, it happened to be a respectful crowd. On the escalator ride out of the theater (movie theaters in NYC are tall, not wide), she looked out the giant window onto insane, noisy 42nd Street and said, “Oh! I totally forgot we were in New York.”

And that, my friends, is why we go to the movies.