Saturday, December 4, 2010

As the City Turns

As you may have seen from my latest Tweets, Woody Allen turned 75 years old this week and Elaine Kaufman, owner of the celebrity restaurant Elaine's that he made famous in his 1979 classic Manhattan, passed away at age 81. There's something poignant and sad about Elaine passing in the same week that one of her most famous customers turned three-quarters of a century in age. The sadness if obvious but the poignancy, for me, comes from the fact that both events mark the passing of time. 

Old-time New York and New Yorkers are getting even older ... and disappearing.

And it's not just people. Case in point: the Scobee Diner in Little Neck, Queens. This little diner is about as far away from Elaine's, geographically and culturally, as you can get while still remaining in the borders of NYC. Thanks to rising rents, the Scobee Diner went out of business this week and it's many longtime patrons are, understandably, very sad. Like Elaine's, it was a place where lots of people could congregate and have good food and enjoy one another's company. It had a perennial quality, the kind of place that makes people happy, and in its quiet way it was as much a part of the city's fabric as the Empire State Building. Now it's gone. 

Elaine's catered to the rich and famous of Manhattan while the Scobee Diner catered to the working classes of Queens. But both restaurants were places with heart, places people liked going to for the community as much as the food. And while Elaine's remains open, it just won't be the same without its legendary proprietress. Same goes for Little Neck without the Scobee.

Just part of the old city that's slipping away.

Oh, but fear not dear New Yorkers and New York lovers. A new city is rising! A city where the likes of Cathy Black, an uber-wealthy business executive with no educational experience can be appointed to run the NYC public school system. A city where the working classes are not only being squeezed out of their  homes and neighborhoods but even their favorite dining and watering holes are being rendered kaput. And this week, Times Square officially sheds it unique past and firmly embraced its transformation into a Disneyland/Las Vegas-type playground. The last glossy office  building, 11 Times Square, is finally complete and will open for business in 2011. This marks the end of a 30-year transformation to "rejuvenate" Times Square and make it what it is today: a soulless, corporate, neon plaza -- safe for tourists -- instead of the sleazy and wonderful thyroid gland where New Yorkers could roam free and entertain themselves. 

Yes, the Times Square of yore is gone, the hookers and pimps and drug dealers and porno palaces have been vanquished, replaced by a newer, more respectable class of criminals: real estate developers and Disneyland. 

Old New York is disappearing, in ways big and small, obvious and not, right before our eyes. Our eyes have been closed way too long and hopefully one day we'll wake up.

Who said this is the city that never sleeps?

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