Walking around the outer perimeter of a city park shouldn't be that hard. Right?
Yesterday, I was enjoying an early morning jaunt around Prospect Park when I ventured into the incredible Long Meadow; a huge swath of rolling lawn cut through the trees. It was FIDO (off-leash advocacy group) day so there must have been a hundred dogs running around which I loved. Anyway, after enjoying a nice bagel and coffee at the FIDO table (Hmm. Do I need to report that?), I headed home; only to find myself on the wrong side of the park when I emerged onto the city streets. No worries, according to the sign I just skirt around the lake and keep right. So after walking for maybe 20 minutes I emerged on the other wrong side of the park: Equally far from my apartment. So I finally succumbed, getting back on the perimeter road that I had abandoned an hour earlier to take me home.
That was the beginning of a frustrating day of getting around New York. When returning from a reconnaissance mission to Coney Island, I misread the MTA map thinking I could get off the D train near the Brooklyn Bridge. Instead I had to go all the way to Chinatown but then I couldn't figure out which way to walk to get to my office which turned out to be quite a ways from where I was. Then I decided I could still do the bridge walk, just in reverse, so I traipse to Brooklyn with about ten thousand other people only to learn that the F train which I need to catch to get to Lincoln St. so I can take the S shuttle back to my station isn't running in that direction. The lady in the booth is entirely unhelpful so I end up riding the F train all the way to Times Square only to find that the Q train I need is least a half a mile walk up and down numerous flights of stairs. Ugh. What a day.
Today I took my stuff to my long-term place on the Upper West Side. It's an older building with a doorman; just a block from Riverside Park and five blocks from Central Park. Unlike my current neighborhood, the sidewalks are litter-free and the street I live on is quiet. I feel a little like George Jefferson.
Besides Prospect Park, the thing I'll miss most about moving is my grocery store - Western Beef. Rather than having lots of cold cases for different items, the store has a great big cold room. You walk through heavy swinging doors to a world of meat and cheese and milk and juice. The women who regularly shop there bring shawls to wear. There are things I won't miss about the store, however, like the woman who drained the juice off her whole rotisserie chickens (I'm not making this up) onto the floor! When I gave her just a tiny "look," she says it's just water. So I shouted, silently, "Even if it is just water, which it is not, it's still gross!!!!" Instead I politely informed the floor manager that there was liquid on the floor near the chicken thingee.
My first big advisory role is to help the Sanitation Department interpret the exact meaning of a new city law exempting neighborhoods that meet a certain standard of street/sidewalk cleanliness (as measured by my office) from twice-weekly street cleaning. One might think that less street cleaning is not a particularly good thing but in New York street cleaning means having to find a new parking space for your car. This onerous task apparently far outweighs the joys have having one's street cleaned twice a week. From my point of view, the new law has carved in stone a process that I was hoping to update. No chance of even tweaking it now.
I'm really enjoying getting involved in the kinds of nitty-gritty problems that cities face. Helping to figure out how the city can more efficiently adjudicate 700,000 administrative citations per year. Or helping the Fire Department understand which buildings are at higher risk of fire based on analyses of property records. Or working with departments on how to address falling performance in the face of large budget cuts.
I'm thinking trash is going to be the most fun. I got a pretty sure sign of that yesterday when I saw a brightly painted trash can at Coney Island with my name on it. (See attached photo.) If that's not a sign, I don't know what is.
Ellie Waterston recently published an anthology of her work on the Oregon high desert - "Where the Crooked River Rises." It's touching in many ways, but I was particularly struck by a piece she did on Donald Kerr, founder of the High Desert Museum. Kerr's mantra regarding creation of the museum was, "The main thing is to keep your main thing your main thing." (No need for you Stephen Covey fans to tell it's also a tenet of TQM.) I'm still trying to work out what my main thing is here in New York.
By the way, my first dip into high art didn't work out that well. In my last missive I reported that I was excited to be going to the Baryshnikov Theater to see a world premier "choreographed" event. Silly me, I thought that meant the performers would dance. In fairness, there were a couple of sequences when the performers waved their arms and torsos kind of in time to atonal music played by the band. Mostly they crawled around on the floor; put clothes on and took clothes off one of their number who pretended to look disoriented while this was occurring; and walked around the performance space followed by the audience members who stood through the entire performance.
While not that satisfying, it did give me my first idea for a possible policy change. I'm thinking that any "choreographed" performance like this that the City funds (which I'm guessing is all of them) has to be accompanied by a new NADO warning label - No Actual Dancing Occurs.
For me the Fourth of July was a quintessential New York experience. Even though one of my staff members smugly told me that real New Yorkers don't go to the fireworks, I went. Getting there was horrid. I ended up jammed onto a railing over the Penn Station rail yards looking directly at a street light
intermittently blocked by large vehicles crawling down a street clogged with people. I'm thinking this is the worst location I have ever been in, or even imagined, to watch fireworks. Yuck. Then the show started. Not only was it the best fireworks display I've ever seen but it was done six times, side-by-side, up and down the river. I watched all six displays going off in complete synchronization. Wow!