New York City

New York City is a fascinating place. Very different from Paris or even London. It’s a huge collection of very tall buildings punctuated by a few parks, lots of concrete and a huge melting pot of different kinds of people, all fighting for walking space. It never ceases make me wonder how at least 50% of the people I see perambulating down the sidewalk can afford to live there. Very few look like they can afford $1800.00 a month or so and up for a bare bones studio apartment anywhere in Manhattan. It’s impossible to live there and work at a minimum wage job. I have no idea where they live and what they’re doing in Manhattan but there a lot of down-and-out appearing types all right there on 5th ave.

The Neurocritical Care meeting up at Columbia was excellent. Stephan Mayer puts his heart and soul into it. I was involved in proctoring computerized mannequin simulations for hypothermia protocols and treating increased intracranial pressure which was fun and interesting. There were a lot of attendees and all were very enthusiastic participants.

When in Manhattan, I usually stay at the Bedford in mid-town, it’s clean, reasonably priced (by NYC standards), and very well located. So I awoke the first morning to what appeared to be an air conditioner malfunction creating a bellowing noise. I listened to it for a while making a mental note to call down to front desk to have it checked. It was quite annoying. When I finally got up and went over to the window unit to check it out, I turned the unit off and the howling persisted. It was coming from outside. I opened the window and discovered the origin.

It was a big black guy, holding a placard decrying the evils of American Airlines, pacing back and forth in front of the AA office on Lexington and 40th. Howling at the top of his formidable lungs the real or imagined transgressions of AA. Didn’t look like a typical union stunt; this guy seemed to have a personal axe to grind with AA. This guy had a set of pipes that could be heard two blocks away, through a closed window with an air conditioner going. He stayed there pretty much all day, echoing through the canyons of the city, for the four days I was there. (see brief clip). I have little doubt AA would like to have him killed, but there was apparently nothing anyone could do. Freedom of speech, you know.

Traffic in NYC bears mentioning. Once I come into the City, usually through the Lincoln Tunnel my blood pressure tops out at about 220, my eyes get real wide and I turn into a raving monster, like every other driver around me. It can’t be compared to Hanoi or Saigon; maelstroms of scooters and mo-peds all creating their own rules of the road as they go along. It’s hundreds of real cars per block, about two thirds of which are taxis, all following the maxim of the most aggressive gets the prize, and the prize is forward motion. The timid never actually move. they just get honked at. Some burst into tears.

On any given day, there is either construction on every cross town street or double and triple parkers, cheerfully blocking a lane for as long as they like. Since there is absolutely no place to park at all anywhere in mid-town, the only option is taking chances double parking and hoping for the best. This slows cross town traffic to a crawl, and creates situations where drivers will take incredible chances to get one car length ahead of the competition. This usually means honking, obscene Italian hand gestures and top-of-the-lungs screaming is the default. It took me 30 minutes to get from Lexington to the Lincoln Tunnel on the West Side and by the time I got there I was ready to kill anything that got in my way.

As I previously mentioned, about 2/3 of all the traffic are taxis and the drivers thereof are an order of magnitude more aggressive and obnoxious than the average driver, putting them into the rarified air of City drivers. Almost all of them hail from the Near-East, India, Pakistan and various Arab countries and they drive in New York like they learned to drive in Delhi or Riyadh, which means they are wild eyed beasts behind the wheel. Wild eyed beasts that know how to gesture and scream at each other in exotic languages.

A specialty is exotic and colorful variations on the theme of “WHAT THE &%$#”. After getting creatively cut out of a traffic line they’ll roll down their windows and simultaneously scream “WHAT THE &%$# WAS THAT #*%@” in Arabic or something similar. Then issue dire threats of a very unpleasant afterlife to the other, devoid of virgins. This is all very amusing to passengers until they get underway again, following which passengers turn ghastly white as the cab weaves in and out of traffic with millimeters to spare and hurtle down streets at 70 mph like an adventure video game.

You would think with so many cabs on the road, getting around would be otherwise easy. But when rush hour arrives, it becomes apparent that they are either all filled with passengers or they start getting really picky. It was 5 pm on a Thursday night and I had my gig stuff on a small hand trolly. Amp and speaker cab, foot pedal board, two guitars and a bag full of stuff to hook it all together. I stood on Lexington Ave for 30 minutes watching cabs full of people stream by. Then I watched some with their top light on (available for hire) pass my by without stopping. I couldn’t figure out what was happening. I was obviously in need of a cab and they were obviously available.

During rush hour there is also a lot of competition to hail cabs. Each would-be passenger trying to upstream the competition without being obvious. So they are in constant motion, each one moving further upstream. As I stood there with my arm out, two young women came up 40th, stood ten feet upstream from me and stuck their arms out for a cab. Didn’t even notice me. I gawked at them incredulously and made some very loud, rude remarks as to their lineage and heritage whereupon they appeared shocked and moved down the line. One turns into a “New Yorker” quickly when trying to hail a cab in rush hour.

Finally, I figured it out. I clearly had junk that needed moving, and this added to their potential work load. They could make more money doing short hops than carrying some guy with luggage not heading to an airport. So they just ignored me. I think it’s illegal for them to pick and choose fares, especially in rush hour but they all seem to do it. Finally, one pulled up on 40th Street and let a passenger out, then turned on his top light and pulled up to the light at Lex, ignoring me. So I pulled the trolly to the front of his bumper, raced to the driver’s window and told him to pop the trunk. He demanded to know where I was going (whichever way it was wouldn’t be the way he was going) and I told him I’d let him know from the back seat after I gut my junk in the trunk. He looked like his dog just died but had little choice but to take me.

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