NYC Notes, June 2014

Blowhard, Esq. writes:


I recently returned from a 10-day vacation to New York City. Here are some pics and observations from my trip. WARNING: I’ve lived in (suburban) Los Angeles my entire life and spent all of 18-20 days total in NYC on various vacations, so take my ramblings under advisement.

offheraldsquare1. For me the quintessential New York activities are riding the subway and walking the streets. You feel integrated into the city. The buildings tower above, you’re surrounded by people, the smells (exhaust, food carts, garbage), and the sounds (sirens, honking cars, conversation all around). You’re part of the flow, the electricity. (What’s the L.A. equivalent? Probably driving down the freeway with the radio on.) Once you enter a building – no matter how wonderful its contents might be (art, food, etc.) – you remove yourself from the environment.

bryantpark2. Parks are an exception. They’re halfway between interior and exterior, private and public. Bryant Park might be my favorite place in the city. The NYPL forms the eastern boundary, there’s a wonderful canopy of trees on the south side, and a grand skyscraper skyline on the north. I love the hundreds of green chairs scattered about.

3. 99% of the people on the subway are well behaved. You’re crammed in so tight that people attempt to create a sense of personal space – they read, listen to music, zone out, sleep. On one subway ride, I encountered a spectacle of craziness: 1) two Mexicans in cowboy hats and boots playing acoustic guitars and harmonizing quite nicely, 2) a bunch of teenage kids and girls flirting with them, 3) a homeless man with a practiced speech about his hard luck, 4) a crazy black dude ranting to himself, and 5) a woman blasting music. It was more amusing than annoying.


4. I was surprised and the number and variety of people I saw reading The New Yorker on the subway. While it’s a snooty lit mag to those outside the city, for those that live there it’s treated more like a local newspaper or weekly guide to goings on.

nypl5. The NYPL is one of my favorite places ever. The Strand makes every other bookstore I’ve ever been to look pathetic; L.A.’s The Last Bookstore is a like an airport kiosk compared to it. (Never been to Powell’s but it strikes me as The Strand’s only serious rival.)


6. Overheard one morning, one on subway the other at the NYPL:

“Oh, do we have a problem? You got a problem? Well, I’m going to exert my blackness. I’m exerting my blackness today.”

“How do we organize a world federation to stop the next world war?”

7. Everyone – man, woman, young, old – walks around with some kind of bag. Shoulder bag, backpack, shopping bag, duffel bag, something. On the rare occasions I saw someone without a bag, it was a white dude.

8. Speaking of, I saw a number of square white dudes who looked totally out of place. Could’ve been tourists of course, but for all I know they are life-long residents.


9. Although I’ve been there previously, it didn’t strike me until this visit that The Met is the equal of the Louvre. The Getty is impressive but it doesn’t have the scope or depth of The Met.


10. If nothing else, The Met is worth a visit for the view from the rooftop. Trust me that this picture doesn’t do it justice.

thecloisters11. The Cloisters reminded me of The Huntington, both being museum/houses set in beautiful parks.


12. I saw about three dudes (spotted near MoMA and the Garment District) whose outfits I wanted to steal: colorful shirts, tailored jackets, skinny jeans, brown leather shoes, expensive haircuts, and glasses. Don’t think I could pull it off, but apparently I want to dress like a gay graphic designer.

13. L.A.’s food is on par with NY’s. Pound for pound, at least when it comes to fine dining, Vegas beats both. I paid $6.95 for a side of coleslaw at a deli. There are so many great places to eat and drink, but man, you are going to pay. I don’t think I paid less than $14 for a cocktail. Stay tuned for a more detailed food post.


14. The food in Chinatown is fresh! These depressed frogs clearly knew they were on the way to becoming dinner. I asked Paleo Retiree, “Do they slaughter them for you?” “I’ll let you find out,” he said.

cultureespresso15. I’m no expert, but the 3 or 4 different lattes I had didn’t match the one at my local place here in Orange County.

chipotle16. It felt like there was a Chipotle everywhere. There’s clearly a big demand for inexpensive, good Mexican food. But I need to offer a class at the Learning Annex where I teach New Yorkers the difference between tacos, taquitos, and flautas.

uwscampbells17. The most shocking thing I saw during my trip was almost $3 for a can of Campbell’s soup on the Upper West Side. Holy cow, that’s twice the regular price here and almost triple if they’re on sale. And who the hell is buying Campbell’s on the UWS anyway? Do they make it available so people can buy it for the help?

gumtheft18. Gum theft is apparently a problem in the city.

broadwaybuildings19. I’ve heard people describe NYC as an Art Deco city, but it looks more like a Beaux-Arts one to me with Art Deco and Modernist flourishes. Sometimes a bit too much of the latter, unfortunately. (I’m of course talking about Manhattan. I haven’t been to the Bronx or Queens, the only part of Staten Island I saw was the ferry terminal, and my time in Brooklyn was very limited.)


20. I really liked walking the Brooklyn Bridge but it would’ve been more enjoyable without the cyclists zipping by who DGAF.


21. This is the facade of the US’s permanent mission to the UN. I took a bunch of pictures of the exterior and for some reason a black windowless van came out of nowhere and followed me for the next few blocks. I like to imagine that when I was within a block of the building some NSA flunky was yelling, “Zoom! Enhance!” on my picture while pulling up my Facebook profile, bank account, and elementary school permanent record.

22. I can’t think of a good reason why I don’t own either a Brooklyn brownstone or Greenwich Village apartment. A Park Ave. penthouse wouldn’t go unappreciated either.


23. Keep SoHo weird! Or at least very expensive!


24. New Yorkers don’t like unnecessary noise. They’re a quiet, reserved lot, like Quakers. The sort of people who like string trios in the subway.


About Blowhard, Esq.

Amateur, dilettante, wannabe.
This entry was posted in Personal reflections, Photography, The Good Life, Travel and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to NYC Notes, June 2014

  1. peterike says:

    Excellent post! Some random comments.

    “Oh, do we have a problem? You got a problem? Well, I’m going to exert my blackness. I’m exerting my blackness today.”

    Heh. Try going to Fort Greene, home of the “black intelligentsia.” New York has a lot of very, very Left-wing blacks, basically flat out Commies. Probably most of them work for city agencies and the Department of Education.

    “Don’t think I could pull it off, but apparently I want to dress like a gay graphic designer.”

    Those guys you describe probably aren’t gay. That’s a pretty standard metrosexual / hipster look. Those guys bang super-cute skinny white and Asian girls, of which there are countless in New York.

    “L.A.’s food is on par with NY’s. Pound for pound, at least when it comes to fine dining, Vegas beats both.”

    Ahhh hells no. I can’t really speak for L.A., but Vegas?? No way. Yes, all the big shot chefs have restaurants there, and I love the dining (just ate at Bouchon a few weeks ago). But it’s all corporatized and Vegas-ized. There’s nothing interesting going on in the trenches, because nobody can afford trenches in Vegas. In New York you can enjoy “fine dining” dressed like a bum. Many, many Vegas restaurants deliver expensive mediocrity.

    “There’s clearly a big demand for inexpensive, good Mexican food. But I need to offer a class at the Learning Annex where I teach New Yorkers the difference between tacos, taquitos, and flautas.”

    Oh god please don’t. I really, really HATE how people from California, Texas, etc. get on their high horse about how good their Mexican food is. News flash: there is NO good Mexican food. It’s all basically slop. It can be tasty slop, but it’s slop. Anyway, New York is in love with it’s taco trucks. Or go get your hipster tacos at Rockaway Taco.

    “And who the hell is buying Campbell’s on the UWS anyway?”

    Old Communists living on Social Security in rent controlled apartments, that’s who.

    “I can’t think of a good reason why I don’t own either a Brooklyn brownstone or Greenwich Village apartment”

    Nothing that five million bucks can’t fix.

    “The sort of people who like string trios in the subway.”

    And a BLACK string trio. That’s not something you see every day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Re: Vegas, I was only talking about fine dining and definitely meant that to be provocative. The best expensive meals I’ve ever had have been in Vegas, but I’ll admit I haven’t been to NYC’s best yet.

      As for Mexican food being “all basically slop,” wow, OK, whatever. That’s like saying all crime novels are slop or the Mississippi Delta blues is slop. If you don’t have a taste for it, you don’t have a taste for it. But hey, if NYers are gonna get on their high horse about their pizza and delis, you bet I’ll assert my Western pride about our Mexican food. That said, the quality at the “goofy Mexican place” (to use Paleo Retiree’s phrase about a restaurant I ate at in the Village) wasn’t at all bad; it was perfectly fine. They were just confused on the nomenclature, i.e. they described what are tacos mistakenly as “taquitos.”

      When are those Commies going to revolt and demand affordable Campbell’s for the masses?


    • “there is NO good Mexican food” you sir are invited to visit with Sir Barken in Arizona, and you will happily admit your error.


  2. agnostic says:

    Thank God the Met, the Chrysler, etc., are big enough to withstand the siege that would convert them into Target-Apple SuperStores.

    Anything smaller than that, though, has been vaporized — as in, without a trace. (The only way anyone could get turned onto them is from reading or hearing stories.)

    In their place is not a new setting for a new scene to grow and to thrive, but yet another bunch of crud-hawkers serving the small minds who just couldn’t feel at home in a new city without a cocoon of forgettable stores stocked with inoffensive merchandise.

    It’s bewildering how there is so little sense of place left in Manhattan. So little pride and loyalty to the neighborhood. More than at an exurban big box center? Sure — but what kind of standard is that?

    It isn’t hard to see why: every resident is striving to out-New-Yorker the other New Yorkers. Like there’s this single, Platonic ideal that each of the primary types are mere reflections of — the hipster, the banker, the PR leader, etc. There’s so little variation across these types that they’re more like toy dolls dressed up in different outfits — hipster Barbie, banker Barbie, PR Barbie, etc. Each of the strivers within a primary type are mostly interchangeable, secondary reflections of the Platonic New Yorker.

    With everyone striving to be more or less the same kind of person, the environment that responds to them — parks, buildings, merchants — begins to look more and more homogeneous, no matter where you happen to find yourself.

    When the status-striving impulse drives everyone’s behavior, there has to be a single standard of success that they can all measure themselves and one another against, to impartially declare a winner — or at least, a winning 1%, 10%, and so on.

    Not so long ago, different people had different ideals that they held themselves to, leading to palpable regional variation, color, and character.

    I guess you could say this about other cities and even of the suburbs and small towns. But for New York it feels like bizarro world has broken into and swallowed up the normal world.


  3. Bob Howe says:

    Loved this. I’m a native New Yorker, but I’d take Powells over the Strand any day of the week.


    • Looks like I need to get up to Portland ASAP.


      • Bob Howe says:

        I lived in Portland for two years and loved it, not least for Powells. The main store is a full city block–a large, industrial block. New and used books are shelved together, so you don’t have to shop different sections for the same title; the staff is very knowledgable and helpful (the staff at the Strand is all over the map); and the immense inventory is organize in a way that you can actually /find/ what you’re looking for (as opposed to the Bookmobile collision system the Strand uses). So yeah, I’m a fan.


  4. agnostic says:

    I like good food as much as the next guy, but this whole foodie phenomenon is a symptom of the disintegration of a sense of social and cultural belonging, which in turn erodes the distinctive sense of place. New York, as one of the central arenas of the foodie competition, has been struck especially hard.

    Breaking bread could foster a spirit of togetherness — feasts, banquets, drinks all around… however, the people must be up for revelry. Letting go of your self-focus, mixing it up, and merging yourself into something larger. Even something as simple and formerly common as a Cheers-style bar, or packs of teenagers filling up a pizza parlor.

    The foodie thing is instead a status contest, to see who’s the most in-the-know. (I think the financial / conspicuous consumption angle is secondary, since you can be a foodie while spending what other folks spend on cable TV, gas, etc.) Constant self-monitoring and other-monitoring — to figure out where everyone ranks with respect to one another — keeps the mind locked in individual-level mode, and prevents the sense of joining up with your fellows.

    Like, when do you walk into a foodie establishment and the other people there give you a sign of recognition, however inconspicuous, of your shared group membership in the foodie scene or community? It’s more like being sized-up by competitors to see how much of a threat you pose to their status (or given the cold shoulder / “I’ll size him up later when he won’t see me looking”).

    There are certainly more corrosive forms of status competition, ones that could even blow up the global economy (like real estate speculation). But I think it’s time to recognize how the foodie phenomenon has mostly been a trend for the worse, especially when we’re talking about a city where every couple of blocks used to have its own particular scene.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like you’re going to love the foodie follow-up that I’m working on!


      • agnostic says:

        Like I said, I dig having all of these funky new places to grab a bite to eat, that didn’t exist 15 to 20 years ago.

        However, they did not colonize an empty cultural continent. And the losses from what they displaced have been greater than the gains from what they have brought.


  5. Callowman says:

    At the risk of sounding like a snob, I am troubled that you know how much Campbell’s soup costs.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. agnostic says:

    Case in point — what the hell happened to St. Mark’s Place? If you google the street name, do the results clue you in to music stores there? Nah. BORING. People want to know what foodie spots there are — purely in order to check off some more boxes of “famous places where I’ve had a bite to eat.”

    And what culinary delights await you? Quirky sushi, quirky hot dogs, and quirky frozen yogurt. It’s like a food court — only quirky! “After all, we wanted to do justice to the historical spirit of the neighborhood.” AKA, re-branding the street to gobble up the lunch money of the JAPs at NYU.

    St. Mark’s used to be a holy destination for adherents of just about any music scene, as long as it was offbeat. Not only to discover treasures that you couldn’t find anywhere else, but to LOSE YOURSELF into the larger street-spirit, something that was only possible because everyone there was a member of the greater community. All were making the same pilgrimage for the same purpose: to renew the faith in an intense atmosphere — so many holy sites concentrated into those couple of blocks! — and to celebrate the brotherhood as you’re all milling around the stores and the sidewalks.

    I started making the pilgrimage to St. Mark’s in high school, during the twilight period of the mid-to-late 1990s, along with other DC-area fans who went on road trips to enjoy live music in the East Village-y area. And y’know, I don’t recall ever feeling like St. Mark’s was a status contest to see who could name-drop the most obscure band, who could wear the most obscure punky-alterna clothing, or anything like that. Music fans all have their moments of holier-than-thou preening, but not then and not there. It was just too damn exhilarating to be exploring sacred ground with your fellows in faith!

    In fact, I knew quite a few of those self-righteous indie music geeks in high school, and I don’t think they ever made the pilgrimage. At least, they weren’t driven to. They really were like today’s foodies, where it was always a status contest, of varying intensity. They would’ve felt their big-fish-small-pond status threatened from being surrounded by so many other devote followers, and would’ve been wracked with anxiety rather the whole time. The poor pathetic souls.

    Well, those-minded people eventually won out. Every time I dropped by during the early-to-mid 2000s, it seemed like there was one fewer music mecca, and one more quirky foodie joint. I haven’t been since 2006, so at least I was spared having to witness its terminal stage of consumerist desecration. But already by then the writing was on the wall.

    Now, this is just one little example from something I experienced personally. There must have been other little thriving scenes all around the city, not related to music, that have since been razed and built over by more and more arenas for status competition.

    Music fans tend to be more reverent about conserving and studying history, but what about those other scenes? It blows the mind to think of how many there may have been that will be lost to history, with no long-winded internet commenters to preserve their memory.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Fake Herzog says:

    “They really were like today’s foodies, where it was always a status contest, of varying intensity.”

    I wonder if this is a coastal thing. Here in Chicago (I still expect to host a Blowhard one of these days — just drop an email — I’ll give you the full tour) the foodie scene is thriving and yet doesn’t feel pretentious or full of status-seeking hipsters. Instead, people seek out good food, talk and write about their favorite places, and are happy to share with others in the experience. Local famous ‘encased meat’ specialist (i.e. hot dog joint) “Hot Doug’s” is closing this year and there are three hour waits daily for lunch. Apparently the lines are fun and all sorts of people meet and greet one another and socialize while waiting for a gourmet hot dog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I make it out to Chicago one of these days, I’ll definitely be contacting you beforehand, bro.

      “Instead, people seek out good food, talk and write about their favorite places, and are happy to share with others in the experience.”

      Yup, that’s always been my experience too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • peterike says:

      So far I’m 0 for 2 in Chicago eateries. I tried Graham Eliot Bistro and the highly rated Blackbird, and neither was that good. GEB was just lame. Blackbird had a couple of good things, but it wasn’t anywhere near worth the $400+ dropped on dinner.


  8. amac78 says:

    This post and its comments will be required reading, next time I chaperone a bunch of school-aged kids from here in flyover country for an on-the-cheap visit to the Apple. Thanks for snapping and sharing, Blowhard.

    Liked by 1 person

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