Friday, December 29, 2017

Artists, Gangsters, Strippers, Subways & Seawalls: NYC Past and Future

As 2017 recedes into history, we are thrust into a period of time I like to call Weird Week -- those strange days between Christmas and New Year's that are a kind of temporal No Man's Land (sorry, in the #MeToo era we should call it a No Person's Land). Now that the crush of the holidays are over, there's a general sense of looseness among people, a sense of fun aimlessness, lots of folks taking time off work or traveling, indulging in all the things they didn't have the time or energy for during the year. It's a short window to "chillax" until the demands of the New Year arrive.

It's also, of course, a time to ponder the year gone by and the one ahead. Here in NYC, a city that's always changing and making history, that's an especially fun thing to do.

So here's a post that's totally Weird, Loose and Aimless, a fin de l'annee medley of links to stories about the people and places that shaped our city (for better or worse, depending on your opinion) and a couple about our city's future.

First, read this absolutely fascinating story about the life of Lorenzo de Ponte. If this guy's story was a movie, you wouldn't believe it. He was like an Italian Forrest Gump but with a higher IQ and far less morals.  He knew Casanova, Mozart, and Clement Clark Moore, and he worked and scammed his way into European and NYC history.

Then jump ahead to the 1960s. Here's a brilliant sequence of photos featuring the singers and artists of Greenwich Village, including a young Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary. If you've ever seen the great movie Inside Llewyn Davis, this is a wonderful companion piece showing you the spirit of Kennedy-era NYC, a time of excitement and creativity -- before Vietnam, crime, Watergate, and stagflation washed it away.

And, talking about time, we move into the 1970s. If you know about the mafia in NYC, then you know all about the Italian, Irish, and Jewish gangs that roamed and ruled the city for most of the 20th century. There was also, at the same time, a powerful black mafia located in Harlem that for decades ran numbers games, etc. while also taking care of the most vulnerable people in the city. But the war on drugs made it come crashing all down. If you've ever seen the movie American Gangster, then you know the story of how Harlem drug kingpins Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes rose to unprecedented power in the NYC crime world before being brought low. And this article tells the true story behind the one you see in the movie.

The Eighties: if the 1960s were exciting and the 1970s were scary, then the 1980s were sleazy -- really sleazy. Back then Times Square and Midtown Manhattan were populated by strip clubs and porno theaters. You couldn't walk around these areas without seeing them, they were ubiquitous. There was no adult entertainment space more famous or popular in 1980s NYC than Show World, the great sex palace where adult actors came to perform and New Yorkers and tourists went to ... enjoy themselves. Show World had stage shows, peep shows, and sold all sorts of movies and ... equipment. Show World's days as a pleasure palace are long over and, thanks the Internet and blue laws, has been reduced to a small store that, in addition to naughty items, mostly sells tourist chotchkies. These links here, here, and here (NSFW) tell the story of its glory days -- and end of days.

And now we turn to the future. 

On January 1st, 2017, the long-awaited multi-billion dollar Second Avenue Subway opened -- three brand new stations along the Upper East Side. As this article indicates, it's been downhill for the subways and MTA since then. This past "Summer of Hell" consisting of train delays and detours lead to furious squabbling between Governor Cuomo, Mayor De Blasio and MTA Chairman Joe Lhota about who really runs and finances the MTA. Cuomo and Lhota lied, saying that the mayor runs the MTA which led De Blasio to accurately retort that it's simply not true (the state leases the MTA from the city, finances its, the governor appoints the chairman, the chairman runs the organization, and no one really disagrees with that except the people who run and botched the subways this summer). If Cuomo runs for president in 2020, his mishandling of the MTA might come back to haunt him or, pun intended, "derail" his ambitions -- and might therefore affect the future of this nation.

Finally, the fun stuff! NYC is being affected by climate change and a swelling population. This article explores the most amazing ideas by city planners of what NYC might look like in the future. Imagine: the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn/Queens being drained and replaced by a park; sidewalks in the sky; elevated bike paths; whole parks on rooftops of buildings; massive seawalls protecting the harbor. These visions for NYC are, at best, fantastical but, if even one of them comes to fruition, the face and life of the city will be very different ... and the past will seem more distant than ever. 

Fire in the Bronx

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Frank Zappa on SNL in 1976

In 2017, a musical appearance like this one would be outrageous and offensive. In 1976, it was cutting-edge. Zappa was banned from SNL in 1978 for an even more off-the-wall appearance. But this moment is classic.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Dynasty NYC Style

Another young man who'll be a big player in 2018 NYC will be AG Sulzberger.

Scion on the mighty Sulzberger dynasty that owns and run the New York Times, he'll be the latest member of his family to run the "Newspaper of Record" as Publisher.

It is easily the most powerful job in NYC media and the country at large. And now a millennial (he was born in 1980) will wield all power. A new day indeed.

Meet the New City Council Speaker

His name's Corey Johnson and, if this article is any way accurate, he seems to be a young man in a hurry.

Interesting side note: he'll be the first male City Council Speaker in over a decade. Come 2018, we'll be hearing a lot about him. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Power City

The USA in 2017 is a scary place for reasons that are all too obvious. Currently the Federal Government is controlled by unhinged, racist, plutocratic lunatics.

What's ironic is that, at the same time, NYC has never had more power at the Federal level. More New Yorkers than ever are serving at some of the highest levels of the US Government. 

Here's where it gets wacky: the top guy (Trump), unquestionably the ringmaster of this insanity, is from NYC. But the main people standing up to him (Senator Schumer, several members of Congress, and three Supreme Court Justices) are too.

In many ways, the battle for the soul of America is an internal-NYC battle made national. Let's just hope that the good men and woman from NYC can eventually defeat the one bad one from NYC soon.  

More Good News!

The Trump Soho is no more.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Good News!

Business at the the Trump Golf Course in the Bronx is down 11%.

Thank you golfers for your decency. Let's get that number down (or up?) some more! 

NYC & Venice: Sisters Forever

Some of you may be familiar with the so-called Sister Cities concept, the idea that certain cities share enough qualities to make them sibling-like entities. This movement began, like so many global initiatives, after World War II, and is run by a group called Sister Cities International. It might not come as a surprise to you that NYC's main sister cities are, among others, London, Beijing, Cairo and Madrid, big international cities all, that set the world's socioeconomic and political agendas.

Makes sense. But I have a different take: if NYC has a real bosom-like sister city, then it can only be one place -- Venice.

Dig this. 

Right now I'm reading (and also watching the Netflix show) about Marco Polo, the famous 13th century adventurer. In 1271, at the age of 17, he traveled from his hometown of Venice deep into the wild world of the Mongol Empire. This was the largest land empire in history to that point, swallowing up all of Mongolia and China and much of what became the Russian Empire (and later the Soviet Union, etc.). Marco spent two decades in service to the empire's great ruler, Kublai Khan. Marco's duties took him all over China, Mongolia, and Asia, including modern day Indonesia and Japan. He was one of the world's first global citizens and his book Travels set imaginations ablaze of distant worlds to be discovered (this book became Christopher Columbus' inspiration and personal bible). Without Marco Polo, history would have unfolded very differently.

And why did Marco hike across Asia, the so-called Silk Road, and into history? What motivated him? 

Money. Business. Trade. Marco came from a family of merchants in a city of merchants (The Merchant of Venice anyone?). 

Unlike other great cities, Venice was not founded primarily as a political or military capital: it was founded for commerce. It's primary raison d'etre was economic, financial, and commercial, not domination and power. It was literally built on water to facilitate the export and import of goods. Traders from around the world could easily land in and depart from this archipelago of trade. And from Venice, Marco Polo found a new world.

Sound familiar? Remind you of someplace else?

Unlike other big international cities, NYC is not a political capital (only temporarily more than two hundred years ago). NYC is and always has been a city of business. A city of commerce, not power. A city more interested in productivity, not ruling. 

And what made NYC the New World's business capital? Same thing as Venice -- water. 

Without the vast harbor, New York would never have become a business leader and America's economic engine. Even today, in this age of airplanes and the Internet, the harbor is one of the city's greatest economic asset. Cargo and cruise ships, and all sorts of commercial vessels, come and ago every day, a whole other city floating off the waterfront. 
And NYC is also not only a place for business but a point of entry and a point of departure: for centuries, into the current day, people come to America through NYC and then out into the rest of the country, the Wild West, to discover their futures and fortunes. Manifest Destiny, and so on.

And so I think it's fair to conclude that NYC and Venice have more in common, are more sibling-like, than any other two cities in the world. They are cities of islands, business built on water, beloved by their inhabitants, visited by millions every year, that people come to and sometimes leave to discover the wider world, motivated by the adventurous spirit of these cities. 

They are also, not surprisingly, cities of culture (think of the Met and the Tintorettos), cities of great architecture (think of the Empire State Building and the Doge Palace), cities of lust (think of old school Times Square and Venetian Seduction masks), and cities of diversity (think Chinatown and the Jewish Ghetto). They are cities built upon imagination, yearning, ambition, personal accomplishment -- and, ultimately, hope for a better world.  

So without NYC and Venice, without the drive and determination of their people and the people they've inspired, without creating a culture where human initiative is its primary purpose, the world would be a different, lesser place. These two great cities fit each other perfectly. 

Sisters Forever. 

And I'm sure Venetian Marco Polo would have loved NYC. 

P.S. Here's all my Venice related blog posts from years past. As you can see, it's a city that's always captured this New Yorker's imagination and interest.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Punishing Success

The GOP Congress and their five-digitted accomplice in the White House are about to pass a horrible "tax reform" i.e. POS that will radically re-work the US Tax Code. 

It's a full-scale horror of upwards wealth redistribution.

NYC will be hit hard -- really hard -- by this awful plan. NYC is already a "donor city", meaning we send vastly more money to the Federal Government in tax revenue than we get back. Most of our hard-earned dough goes to the rest of the country. This bill will take away even more Federal dollars from NYC.

Why? Because NYC doesn't vote for the GOP. So they're robbing us to give away our money to their supporters in so-called Red States. This is thievery. Nothing less. NYC is being punished for its success -- and values. 

If you want to get a full idea of what's about to his NYC, read this. And weep. Then vote!

Monday, December 18, 2017

"Moonstruck" @ 30

Thirty years ago today two of the best movies of the 1980s, and two of the greatest romantic comedies in recent cinematic history, were released: Moonstruck and Broadcast News.

The latter is one of my favorite movies ever: a prescient expose of how news was becoming entertainment, how standards of professionalism were slipping, how looks were becoming values over substance. It's a movie as relevant today as it was back in 1987.

The former, however, is an NYC romantic comedy classic: the story of a middle-aged Italian woman in Brooklyn finding love with a baker who loves opera is a beautiful and heartwarming. Cher gave a legendary, Oscar-winning performance and it stands the test of time.

Yes, times are tough (more like scary) right now but love makes us endure. As she would say, don't be sad, juts "Snap out of it!"

Loving NYC in 2017

Here are lot, and lots, and lots of reasons why -- by month and date.

See, this year wasn't all bad! NYC will always having something for someone to love about it. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Ghosts of NYC Past

As we hurl towards Christmas Day with colored lights and wreaths displayed everywhere, perfumed trees for sale on every other block, Sidewalk Santas ringings bells for charity, we reminisce on the year coming to a close (what a bizarre year it's been!) and think about the year to come, that big blank slate ahead. 

I don't know about you but, whenever a New Year begins, I think "I made it. Another year! Another year added to my headstone!" Such lovely thoughts I have.   

But ghosts haunt us. Memories of people and places gone by. They're gone, in some cases long gone, but they imbue our thoughts and souls, never fully leaving. We remember, not always because we want to, but because we can never forget.

This is all a big fancy way of saying that you should really check out these two big articles that summon up the Ghosts of NYC Past.

One is about the relationship between the great pop artist Andy Warhol (who died 30 years ago this year) and his "Factory Girl" muse Edie Sedgwick. Was it love? Sort of. It was complicated. And sad. Very sad. One thing is sure: in these politically correct times, we shan't see their likes again.

The other is a 30-year retrospective on the great Tom Wolfe novel The Bonfire of the Vanities. Set in a nightmarish NYC, it's a tale and a document about another city in another time. Some things are still relevant (racial tensions) but the idea of this city being a boiling cauldron of rage seems totally dated. I shared my thoughts about this book ten (10!) years ago and it seems more distant than other.

NYC will always have these ghosts and, in my opinion, they are a crucial part of our identity and our future.  

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Memo from NYC

To: The People of Alabama

Re: Special US Senate Election

From: The People of NYC

Thank you! Thank you! A million times thank you! You've restored a shred of faith in decency in America! 8.5 million people (or least most of them) can't thank you enough! 

We are all Alabamans today!

Roll Tide!

NYC's Other Finest

The NYPD is (a few notable exceptions aside) an outstanding organization. They keep 8.5 million people safe every day, not to mention an uncountable number of other millions visiting from around the region, the country, and the world. And when incidents like the explosion in the Times Square subway happen, they're on the scene. 

But they have brothers and sisters in arms: the Port Authority. On Monday, when that dope detonated that bomb, four Port Authority cops rushed into the passageway where it happened, captured the suspect who literally had wires coming out of his clothes, and secured the area. They did lightening quick and, as a result, a near-catastrophe was averted, the bad guy arrested, and life in NYC went on as (almost) normal. It was an amazing feat of professionalism and courage. 

The Port Authority has had a rough few years, mainly thanks to the shenanigans of the can't soon-enough-to-be former Governor of New Jersey (Bridgegate anyone?). But that black-eye was due to the corrupt political leadership of the Port Authority that uses the public utility as a patronage mill and cash cow. When it comes to the lifers that actually work for the organization, however, professionalism reigns, and we can all go to sleep at night thankful that it does and safer for knowing it. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Beyond the Green Light

Over the years I've blogged about my love for F. Scott's Fitzgerald's novel 1925 The Great Gatsby.

Yes, it's the Great American Novel, one of best in all of American and world literature.

Yes, it's a beautifully written snapshot of life in Roaring Twenties NYC -- the parties, the bootleggers, the indulgent affluence leading to the Great Depression and the Second World War.

Yes, almost everyone reads it in school and either loves it or hates it (or, more accurately, either "gets it" or doesn't).

Yes, it's been made into movies, including the 1974 version with Robert Redford and the 2013 with Leonardo Di Caprio, two of the biggest stars ever.

Yes, it's the final word on the promise and tragedy of the American dream.

And that's where the novel's "greatness" lies. It shows that the American dream lies betwix and between tragedy and promise, between hope and loss, that both are true at the same time. After all, we're the same nation that declare freedom and human happiness the keys to human dignity in our nation's founding documents -- yet affirmed slavery at the same time.

Jay Gatsby, poor boy from North Dakota, reinvents himself as a Long Island millionaire (thanks to bootlegging) in order to win the heart of his lost love Daisy. But it all goes horribly wrong and he dies. He hope, as Fitzgerald writes, to recreate the past and, even though he fails, the hope endures. It is symbolized by the green light at the end of Daisy's dock that Gatsby stares at, night after night, his hope of winning her love back never dying. Love endures, hope endures, even when tragedy is everywhere.

Another thing that attests to the greatest of Gatsby is that you don't have to be an American to appreciate or be moved by it. Australian Baz Luhrman, who directed the 2013 Great Gatsby, writes movingly here about his love for the novel. Best of all, he reminds us that, as free people, as hopeful people, we should all "live for the green light."

F. Scott Fitzgerald couldn't have said it better. And these days, like the novel itself, it's more relevant than ever. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Whaddya' Know About Da' Restaurant Business?

Like Paulie Cicero, the mob boss, asked in Goodfellas, "You know anything about this fucking restaurant business?"

Me neither.

Want to open a restaurant in NYC?

This is an eye-opening expose of what it takes.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Woody Allen at the Oscars 2002

Today is Woody Allen's 82nd birthday. The legendary filmmaker has been nominated for and won numerous Oscars but has made it a habit never to present or accept Oscars or any awards. He has said he doesn't believe that awards should be given to art because quality is all basically subjective. 

However, in the months after 9/11, Woody made his one and only Oscars appearance where he encouraged filmmakers to keep working in NYC. He also presented a tribute film. As usual, Woody was brilliantly funny and one only wonders how much better Oscar shows would have been had he gone to them more often. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Who Will be City Council Speaker?

Now that the municipal elections are over, it's time for the newly elected and re-elected members of the City Council to choose their leader, the Speaker. 

There are currently eight people vying for the job and, for whatever reason, they're all men. After the mayor, this is the most powerful job in city government, since the Speaker decides which legislation gets voted on in the Council. 

Like a Papal Conclave in the College of Cardinals, the Speaker's election falls into the hands of a small elite club where they choose, mostly behind closed doors, which one of them gets the top gig. Let's hope they choose wisely -- our city's future depends on it. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Consolidation & Andrew Haswell Green

If you want more info about how NYC consolidated in 1898, go the Bowery Boys website and download their great podcast episode about how it happened.

In essence, it comes down to one man: the father of consolidation, the one who got the ball rolling, is someone who most New Yorkers probably have never heard of: Andrew Haswell Green. And yet, if we seek his monument, look around us.

A 19th century lawyer, Green became parks commissioner and, like Robert Moses a century later,  was also a city-planning Svengali: he created the Museum of the Metropolitan Art, designed Columbus Circle, financed the creation of the New York Public Library, and facilitated the creation of Central, Riverside, Morningside, and Fort Washington Parks. Eventually he was appointed by the New York State Legislature to design a plan for consolidation and, although he didn't over "the final product", Green's efforts created the template.

His vision for the political, physical, recreational, and cultural life of NYC is the city we live in today. 

Greater Gotham: A Discussion

Interesting discussion with author Mike Wallace on his nearly twenty-years in the making sequel to his 1998 book Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize). 

His new book, Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919, covers the first two decades after NYC consolidated into the five boroughs, struggling to find its identity as a massive, sprawling city. In this period, NYC transformed into a financial capital, survived the First World War, and saw the rise of Prohibition. 

Fascinating tidbit: why did NYC become the big, sometimes illogically-constructed city of five disparate counties? 

The reason: the harbor. In the late 19th century, NYC and the City of Brooklyn were competing over control of the harbor and this was diminishing the economic clout of the region and assisting the rise of that Midwestern city called Chicago. So as not to be overtaken as the nation's premier city, as well as its financial center, NYC and Brooklyn decided to put aside their differences and get together -- bringing Staten Island and Queens along for the ride (the Bronx was already part of NYC) which also had claims to the harbor. 

The result is the city we live in today. But, as this new book and discussion show, there were birthing pains and it took decades for NYC to realize itself as a functioning five-borough empire.

In many ways NYC is still an empire, a collection of different towns and villages and whole cities that make it like nowhere else in the world. That's what has and will forever make NYC fascinating. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Recreational marijuana is now legal in eight states. Most are out west (like Colorado, California, and Nevada) and the closest state with legal weed to NYC is Massachusetts.

But that's set to change: the newly-elected Democratic governor of New Jersey has said that he will sign a legal weed bill if the legislature passes one -- and the legislature seems poised to do it. So we may very well have legal weed right across the Hudson River within the year. 

The reasons for legal weed are clear: it's safer and less addictive than legal tobacco and alcohol, it will generate massive amounts of tax revenue which will fund the government without raising other taxes, it will vastly reduce the number of arrests that will decrease the cost and increase the efficiency of our criminal justice system, it will give jobs to weed farmers, it will put dispensaries in business, and young people and minorities will no longer have their lives ruined just because they want to toke and got busted.

Only someone with a dishonest, mean-spirited agenda could oppose legal weed. Besides, how do you outlaw a plant?

Hopefully, if and when it happens in New Jersey, the usually New York State legislature will get its act together and legalize recreational pot ASAP. I can't imagine that New York City and State politicians will want to see all that business and revenue go to New Jersey and not here. A two-thirds majority of New Yorkers want  their weed legal -- so let's go ahead and do it! 

"The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"

Looking forward to seeing this: it's a new Amazon show about a female stand up comic in 1950s NYC. This is the era that produced Joan Rivers who the titular character is apparently based on. I've seen posters for it in the subway so it's sparked my curiosity. Hope it's good!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Making NYC Radio Great Again

92.3 FM, the old K-Rock, which years ago abandoned rock music to become a pop station, is now a rock station once again

Sadly it won't be a resurrected K-Rock, instead calling itself Alt 92.3 and playing "alternative" rock. Back in the day, it used to be classic rock (until 1996), then became "modern" rock and then, after Howard Stern left, it became a short-lived "hot talk" station before becoming a modern rock station once more and then, finally, a pop station. It changed its call letters to WAMP and completely abandoned it's rock'n'roll identity -- until now. 

I guess K-Rock is gone for good but at least a great frequency is rightfully returned to its place in the NYC cultural firmament. 

*In 1996, when K-Rock flipped from classic to modern rock, Howard Stern was the first DJ:

Free Melania!

If you love trashy gossip -- and there's nothing trashier and more gossip-prone than the vile man currently "serving" as POTUS -- then you must read this exhaustive profile on his wife, Melania.

It's a perfect example of how getting what you want can sometimes backfire -- horribly.

The Slovenian-born former model married her husband in 2005, thinking that she had signed up for a life of luxury and ease. She got the luxury but ease is a little hard to attain when married to a world-famous narcissist. However, when that world-famous narcissist becomes president, the ease vanishes -- and now Melania is living a life she hates with a husband she hates as an against-her-will First Lady.

It's gotta suck. She traded one gilded cage (Trump Tower) for another (The White House). But at least the former one was located in NYC and not DC and she had her privacy (apparently there's always a Secret Service agent located outside whatever room she's in. That must get stifling). 

I worked in DC one summer many years ago and have visited many times and, let me tell you, it's like living in a post office. It's a bland, boring city that revolves around its one industry. As a kid I found DC fascinating -- the nation's capital -- but three months there cured me of that fascination.

Apparently the POTUS and FLOTUS live separate lives and a divorce has been rumored. I'm quite sure, out a sense of propriety, Melanie won't file as long as Donald is president. But as soon as he loses his office (the sooner than better!) I won't be shocked if he then quickly loses her.        

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ya'll go to Times Square now! Ya' hear?

How much is NYC changing? Here's one example of a change that's coming ... or, alternatively, a'comin': the Grand Old Opry, that venerable institution of country music and favorite of the Grand Old Party, is opening its first satellite in, you guessed it, NYC. 

Specifically, Times Square.

Next week the Nashville-based music mecca will open a restaurant/music hall in the former den of satan that is geared towards, you guessed it, tourists. A place created by outsiders for outsiders.

The world of The Deuce has never seemed more distant. 

I know ... I know ... we're not supposed to say we don't like this. We New Yorkers, after all, pride ourselves on our cultural diversity, we all started out as outsiders, and a honky tonk from Nashville setting up shop here is diversity ... sorta. To say you don't want the Grand Old Opry in NYC is ... elitist ... snobby ... looking down on the "good solid folks" of the South -- ya' know, God's Country. 

And hey, that Dolly Parton is sumpin'! She wrote that song from The Bodyguard after all, sung beautiful and made famous by one of ... those people (who's now deceased). 

So let's welcome the Grand Old Opry to NYC! 

But ... really? Really? The Grand Old Opry in NYC? Why here? Why not Vegas? Why not Hollywood? Those places seem more appropriate.

As if the fact that Trump is from NYC weren't bad enough! 

If this new Opry-land succeeds here than you'll know NYC has really changed. But if it fails, perhaps our city's spirit hasn't been totally bleached.

That said, the great 1975 movie Nashville, directed by Robert Altman, has many scenes at the Grand Old Opry -- and one of the greatest opening credit sequences of all time. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Downton Abbey in NYC

Everyone's favorite British TV show went off the air almost two years ago but now you can re-live Downton Abbey in NYC.

I'm sure mega-fan P-Diddy would approve. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

The MTA: Decline and Fail

In the first chapter of his legendary biography of NYC master builder Robert Moses, Robert Caro quotes Sophocles: "One must wait until evening/To see how splendid the day has been."

Specifically, Caro wrote about how, in the evening of Moses's life and career, the  disastrous legacy of his transportation projects, housing initiatives, and various public works became clearer and clearer for all to see. It's a reminder that systemic failures take years, even decades, to become apparent and, once they do, they're almost impossible to correct.

This is especially true of the MTA.

This past summer in NYC was one of public transportation meltdown: stalled trains, signal malfunctions, derailments, and on and on. Governor Cuomo declared it an emergency ("the summer of hell!") and ordered massive improvements to the subways and trains. However, this is a Band Aid to a much larger wound. Well, not exactly a wound -- more like a starvation.

For the last twenty-five years, governors and mayors of both political parties have starved the MTA of billions of dollars in funds and much needed structural improvements. The result is the outdated, rickety system that's supposed to serve millions and millions of people every day. 

Why this starvation? Politics, naturally. These governors and mayors favored tax cuts or spending on other projects, including on opulent station makeovers that had nothing to do with improving service. It's a story of misplaced priorities, wasteful spending, and raw, short-term self-interest. 

The MTA is not of the cause of NYC's transportation woes -- it's the victim, as are all the rest of us.

You should read and listen to the authors of this exhaustive report on how the sorry state of the MTA came to be -- only twenty-five years in the making! 

Oh, and the MTA is bringing back "vintage" cars for the holidays -- 'cause, you know, that's worth spending money on! 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"... This has been one of them."

"There are eight million stories in the naked city ..."

If you ever wondered where that famous line comes from, it's from the 1948 movie The Naked City. It's about a murder and the detectives who solve it, a pretty simple story. 

It's a fascinating movie. As the narrator of the film indicates, it was shot in the streets and inside the buildings of NYC. If you want to get a sense of what day-to-day, on-the-street life was like  in the city back in 1948, this movie is a perfect guide. Not only is it a great NYC film but it's also really ahead of it's time: the story is told in a neo-realist, almost documentary style that was revolutionary at the time, and, if you ever wondered how procedurals like Law and Order and it's countless imitators came to be, this movie is the Rosetta Stone. 

Of course, today there are now 8.5 million stories in this town so it's a tad outdated. And talking about NYC stories, here's one more

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Their Stories

If you've seen (probably more likely heard the soundtrack to) the musical Hamilton, then you know the song that concludes it: "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Stories."

We all live, we'll all die, and, if we're lucky, our life stories will be told -- by our children, our families, our friends, anyone who thinks our life story is worth passing on to future generations. No, we won't all have great musicals (like Hamilton) or movies (like Goodfellas) made about us that enshrine us in cultural legend -- but, if we're lucky, someone who thinks we're worthy of being remembered will talk about us. I think about my great-grandmother, dirt-poor immigrant from Ireland who raised eight kids and managed to give them good enough lives that one of them graduated from college and now her grandchildren and great-grandchildren have achieved the American dream. Her story was worth learning for me and, in my opinion, she'll live forever (even though she died in 1959).

There are 8.5 million people in NYC and all them have great stories. We can't know all of them but these two articles, one about an artist, another about a young man killed in the recent Halloween terrorist attack, tell the stories of interesting lives. We should remember them because, in many ways, they were just like us. Their stories were told and, more importantly, will hopefully be remembered.   

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Big Town, Big Time

While I'm not the biggest fan of tabloids in general, the Daily News does have one big virtue: it is truly NYC-focused. More than that, it still practices hyper-local, on-the-ground, beat reporting, covering on what's happening on the streets as much as the halls of power. 

It understands that events, the daily grind (or the news) shapes our city and our lives.

That's why it's really cool that the Daily News has a continuing feature called Big Town, Big Time: An Amazing History of NYC. It is a comprehensive index of some of the most famous and important events in the history of NYC. It's a collection of pivots points and it goes all the way back to the year 1600 to today.

Some of what's covered: how Brooklyn went from its own city to one of the five boroughs, the ticker tape parade for Charles Lindbergh, the Hoovervilles of Central Park -- and the death of former New York Governor and US Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller in 1979. 

His death was a scandal. The official report is that he had a heart-attack while working quietly on his memoirs. The real reason? He was a dirty-old man who was shagging his very young secretary and, uh ... got overwhelmed. The story of how this titanic figure -- one of the richest men in the world, scion of a legendary family, four-term governor, vice-president, you name it -- died while "doin' the nasty" is just too perfect. It also reveals how, once upon a time, the rich and powerful could keep their scandals, it not out of the press, then at least toned down. 

Today? Not so much.  

The times are always changing. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Liz Smith RIP

Back when the world felt like a classier place (it wasn't really, but never mind) part of the reason was because of people like Liz Smith. She was the doyenne, the grand master of NYC gossip. Her brand of gossip wasn't scandalous rumor mongering, attacking or embarrassing people -- it was good old-fashioned "dish". She had the "inside scoop" or "the goods" on what was going on in this town, and she told everybody it first in her column. Before the Internet, before social media, columnists like Liz Smith were real sources of, as you might say, all the rest of the news that was fit to print.

Liz Smith came to NYC from Texas, a young woman who got on a bus with little more than a dream to her name. She could have made it anywhere but she made it here, the classic-up-from-your-bootstraps American dream, and she was the ears and eyes for NYC society for decades and decades. She knew everyone, everyone knew her, she was the pulse of what was going on. Like many a New Yorker, she was itinerant, working for the Daily News, Newsday, and the New York Post, and appearing on TV all the time. She was the brassy dame who could hold her own with any man -- and often got the better of them. 

I loved Liz Smith, what she represented, and what she meant to this town. I wrote about her several times on this blog and you can find those posts hereLiz Smith died yesterday at the age of 94. She was too young in my opinion. Doubtless she was dishing until the end. This city will be lesser place without her and her particular voice. 

Liz Smith loved NYC and NYC loved her.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Mr NYC Just Keeps on Truckin'

It's been a crazy week in NYC and elsewhere. Lots of events -- some happy (like the elections), some sad (more great artists that I admire turning out to be dirty pervs). Lots to look forward to, other things to ... well, not fear exactly but not look forward to. 

Still, we go on. Like K-Billy of Super Sounds of the 70s ... we just keep on truckin'.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Art of the Deal ... Sorta

Once upon a time, roughly 340 years ago, a business and a government got together to do a deal. The English East India Company controlled an island off the coast of Indonesia called Banda or Run -- and the Dutch government wanted it. 


Because it had nutmeg, lots and lots of nutmeg. Nutmeg, and other yummy spices, could only be found here, and they were tres valuable. So much so that the Dutch sent ships to the other side of the world to try to get control of this and other "spice islands", and the British returned the favor by sending ships to take away the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in North America.

Deadlock. Stalemate. So they played let's make a deal.

In 1677, the British gave the Dutch control of Banda (Run) island and the Dutch gave the British control of New Amsterdam, an island otherwise known as Manhattan. 

Yeah ... that happened.

These days, of course, Banda is no longer controlled by the Dutch and Manhattan is no longer controlled by the British. Still, it's amazing to think that what is now the financial and cultural capital of the world was considered less valuable than a small (albeit gorgeous) Polynesian island. Once upon a time, such a world existed. Who thought it would ever change?  

It did, as it always does. But to think, if not for nutmeg -- nutmeg! of all the friggin' things! -- if not for that particular seasoning you can find on your spice rack, Manhattan would probably have remained under Dutch control and the course of American history would have been very different. It's crazy to think about. But of such trivial things are the pivots points of history made.

Oh, that reminds me, if you've ever heard the great song "Instanbul" but They Might Be Giants,  you know the lyric:

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam

Why they changed it I can't say
People just liked it better that way

Well, now we know why they changed it: nutmeg.