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Return to the Big Apple

This is the fourth and final post in the Ultimate Planes, Trains & Automobiles Trip series.

As you may know, every time I visit a city I try to post a few observations when I return home. My recent trip to New York City was no exception. This was my second trip to New York, you can read my previous thoughts here.

Hello, Williamsburg
On Friday night two friends of the blog and I took the L-line subway over Williamsburg. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. By some accounts it's a fantastic gentrifying neighborhood; by other accounts it's a place overrun by annoying hipsters. While I enjoy a good cup of coffee and other nerdy things in life and I dislike big corporate chain places, I'm hardly a hipster by New York standards. That said, the three of us had a lot of fun in Williamsburg.

One thing I like about Williamsburg is that there are so many great venues, and many of them go out of their way to be unique in some way. Just look at Barcade, quite possibly the coolest place I've been in New York. They have tons of unique beers on tap and old-school video games that only cost a quarter. Where else can you find a place like this?

(from Flick user theleetgeeks)

It also seems like a plethora of Williamsburg bars and cafes have weekly trivia competitions. One bar has a skeeball league. It's the kind of thing that makes me look at the place where I live and wonder, why can't we have things like this back home?

Honk! Honk!
On Saturday night we were walking down one of Manhattan's streets when a couple hailed a cab. The cab stopped, and a luxury car pulled up behind it. Immediately the motorist started honking obnoxiously for the couple to hurry up and get in the cab. Now, there is no doubt in my mind that the motorist's honking caused the couple to move more slowly than they otherwise would have. And the longer they took to get into the cab, the more the motorist honked. Why people can't realize that the world does not revolve around them and that aggressiveness is often retaliated against, even passively, is beyond me.

Cost of Living
Ask anyone who doesn't live in New York about the prospect of living there and they will tell you the same thing nine of out ten times: it's too expensive, only the richest of the rich can afford it. It's the kind of attitude that might lead you to believe that the majority of people hanging around New York City at any given time are bankers, lawyers and doctors. Of course, you only need to spend a little time walking or take a ride the subway to realize that New York is an incredibly diverse place with a wide range of people living there. That's not to say it isn't expensive. That's not to deny that some of those people benefit from rent-control and other benefits. But to say that it's impossible for a regular person to live in New York is highly debatable.

New York is also a city that has more cheap food than just about any other city where I've been. From papaya dogs to thin-slices of pizza to bagels to hole-in-the-wall dives, it's possible to eat for cheap in New York without going out of your way.

(from Flickr user wallyg)

Now, I'm not saying this is the kind of food you want to eat all the time, and I won't deny that it's some of the unhealthiest stuff out there - but it is there.

Spacial Dimensions
I overheard an interesting conversation while I was sipping coffee on Saturday in the West Village. A woman was telling someone about a friend who was moving to New York. She wanted this person to move to the Village, where she lived, but the friend wanted to sign on an apartment on the Upper West Side. The concern was that the distance between those two neighborhoods was so great that the two friends would rarely see each other.

Now, there isn't more than a few miles between those neighborhoods, but the perception was that it was a significant distance. Some would argue that it's merely a question of time. Because New York is dense and congested, it takes a long time, to travel the five miles between the neighborhoods. If you ask people in another city, they would probably say that two points five miles apart are actually very close; and the reason is because it takes very little time to travel.

I just don't buy that line of reasoning. Between the subway and taxis, travel in Manhattan doesn't take as outrageously long as some people suggest. Furthermore, ask someone in a congested but sprawled out city like Dallas or Houston whether five miles is close or far, and they would probably say close, even though it takes forever to travel the distance.

The key, in my opinion, is the perception of how amenities are distributed in a city. If everything a person needs: grocery store, restaurants, dry cleaner, coffee, nightlife, friends, etc. is within blocks of their apartment, then they take that to be the norm, and anything more than a few blocks is considered far. Wheras someone who has to travel many blocks or miles to get to those amenities perceive that to be the norm, and things within a similar radius is considered close.


JEFF9K said…
Good post. Interesting and informative.
As far as never seeing each other goes, I live in Chicago and this is a real phenomenon. I live on the West side, as do many of my friends, and I have many other friends on the North side. I see my local group much more frequently, just because it's so much easier. I can walk to numerous numerous bars and restaurants to meet them, whereas I have to get in my car or spend $20 round-trip on taxis or go downtown on the L and transfer. I do all this stuff, but it's a significant barrier to entry.
Jeff said…
Your point on neighborhoods seems about 50% correct. Most neighborhoods in New York will serve most of the needs of residents, whether that be services, nightlife, shopping, etc. So it's annoying anytime you're being asked to leave your neighborhood to do something that you can just as easily do closeby.

But the time factor is not to be discounted. West Village to Upper West isn't horrible because there are no transfers involved, but if you said lower east to upper west, that's a long trek.

I'd also note that getting 5 miles anywhere in Dallas doesn't actually take more than 10 minutes. That's sort of the problem - we've overbuilt wide roads here to the point that they make all other transportation uninviting. Your idea is correct though, that 5 miles doesn't seem that far to me because I travel that distance to work every day.
Rob Pitingolo said…
TheLetterAHyphenTheNumberOne, thanks for your perspective.

Jeff, I agree that roads in cities like Dallas are overbuilt, but I think that's part of the problem. When I lived in Dallas I was exactly 3 miles, door-to-door from my office. When a co-worker gave me a ride home in the afternoon, it could take between 20-30 minutes to travel that distance. If we were driving it in the middle of the night, it might have taken 3-5 minutes, true; but we weren't, and it was often a very frustrating experience.
Jeff said…
Wow, that's really strange to me. I've lived in Dallas 4 years and unless there's a special event, accident, or road closed for construction, traffic is basically a non-issue. I don't get on the highway at all, so maybe that helps some.

I'm curious - what part of town were you driving through?
Rob Pitingolo said…
I lived near UT Southwestern and worked near Love Field. The route was completely non-freeway. If driving, there was really only one route: Maple Aveneue, Mockingbird Lane and Denton Drive. The problem was that there were a few intersections where you had to wait through multiple red-light cycles before you could finally get to where you wanted to go. That alone could take several minutes for each cycle.
Vincent said…

As as lifelong New Yorker, I'm really glad to hear you point out that the city is not nearly as expensive as everyone seems to think. The rents surely are expensive, and at times outrageous, but most of us young'uns make up for that with roommates. But going out in New York need not be pricey, and can be downright cheap. Not only is there all the great street food, but there are lots of good, reasonably priced sit-down restaurants, too. There's plenty of bars where you can have a good beer for a reasonable price. There's a ton of free, or almost-free, events around town. People who think having fun in NYC will cost you an arm and a leg either aren't paying attention, or actually WANT to spend all their time in the trendiest, most expensive, places.

Also, if you like craft beer and want to hit Williamsburg if you're in town again, I recommend Brooklyn Brewery on Friday nights (they serve pizza and all the tap brews you want for three bucks a cup) or Spuyten Duyvil (bar with a great garden and an absurd number of unusual beers, some of which can be quite pricey, but the draft ones are usually good and reasonably priced). Also, check out Grimaldi's, or if you are up for a trip, DiFara, for pizza. Anyway, I always enjoy an informed outsider's take on my city, so, nice post.

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