TUESDAY AFTERNOON IN THE BIG APPLE

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I was born in New York City, lived all but seven of the first forty-seven years of my life there, and always yearned to come back — not only during the seven years I was away, but also for many of the years after I left for what turned out to be the final time. I knew all the songs from “On the Town” and “Wonderful Town.”  I could warble (badly):  “I’ll take Manhattan, the Bronx and Sta-ten Island, too.” While I lived there, I was so proud to be a New Yorker, whatever that meant. I think it’s probably just that I had an intimate knowledge of Manhattan geography, skill with elbowing my way through crowds and with hailing taxis  —  and diction that gave me away every time. Even today, no one who hears me speak would ever imagine I’m the out-of-towner I’ve been for thirty-five years.

Nonetheless, the times they are a-changin’ — both for me and the Big A. Yesterday, a glorious early fall day, Bill and I came in to the city from our leafy Eden in New Jersey because he is a medical snob and will only undergo necessary medical procedures at the hands of renowned Big City M.D.’s.  The procedure yesterday was cutting the stitches after a minor operation last week at HSS (Hospital for Special Surgery) for carpal tunnel in his right hand.  Don’t ask how he got it.  He neither types nor performs any repetitive motions with that hand, and never has. (He’s left-handed.) But as D. Rumsfeld, one of our unlamented former Secretaries of Defense, once remarked, “Stuff happens.”

My presence was from a medical point of view unnecessary.  But Bill is unfamiliar with either the layout or rhythm of New York, has no sense of direction whatsoever, walks with a cane and would be a pushover for any unscrupulous taxi driver looking to run up the meter by taking the longest, slowest way around Manhattan to get to the surgeon’s office on East 72nd Street, where the stitches were going to be snipped. So I came along, to hold the unbandaged hand, run interference through crowds, serve as human GPS and speak with the inimitable New York accent that alerts said unscrupulous taxi drivers not to mess with me.

We came in by bus, not my preferred mode of transport to New York but Bill hates, hates, hates (admittedly crowded) Penn Station, where the train would have smoothly brought us after seventy minutes or so. He feels arriving at the New York Port Authority after nearly two hours of bumping along by bus is a less traumatic experience. The Port Authority is at Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street; Dr. A’s office is at  523 East 72nd Street, between FDR Drive and York. That’s 30 blocks going north, and 8 1/2 blocks going east.

Twenty New York blocks is roughly a mile, but the east-west blocks are longer than the north-south ones, so let’s be generous and say it was a two and a half mile trip each way.  The meters on New York taxis run on time as well as distance.  We took a taxi because an out-of-town man in his mid-eighties with a cane, no matter how sharp from the neck up, would not do well taking the 42nd Street crosstown bus  — crowded, lurching and v-e-r-y slow — and then waiting for the uptown York Avenue bus, which normally runs infrequently and is also pretty slow. After that, there would be a longish walk to FDR Drive anyway.  (Longish for Bill with his cane, that is.)

The snipping of the stitches took fifteen minutes, which time also included a steroid shot for tendonitis of the wrist.  Despite this blog’s name, I don’t normally mention these sorts of accompaniments to getting old. The blog is for the most part about living our allegedly golden years, not qvetching about the tarnish on them. I note what happened in Dr. A.’s office not to dwell on it but to compare the time it took for these two brief medical events with the time it took to get there, and then the time it took to get us back to the Port Authority (where we only had to wait an additional twenty minutes for the next bus to Princeton).

The two and a half mile trip northeast consumed forty-five minutes and cost $26.00.  The two and a half mile trip back was fifty minutes and cost $28.00.  In each instance, I’ve included a $2.50 tip in those amounts, which is only 10% of the total and makes me, in my own mind, a cheapskate. I used to tip 18-20%, because driving in New York traffic is not a barrel of laughs, but we can’t do that any more because we are, as they say, “old” and have no more earned income stream. We also hope to last as long as possible, for which we need to conserve what funds we have. But we do what we can. Also, I digress.

Why did driving two and a half miles in New York City on a Tuesday afternoon take forty-five minutes, the return two and a half miles take fifty minutes and the whole damn thing cost $54?  Let me show you.  Consider it a preview tour of Manhattan, if you’re thinking of coming yourself.

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Nearing Sixth Avenue on 48th Street.

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Note congestion — aka “traffic” — at bottom of photo. To avoid staring at it in frustration from inside your cab, the only place to look is up.

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Our driver is trying to turn north on Sixth Avenue here. Operative word is “trying.” They renamed it “Avenue of the Americas” when I was young, but the old name refused to go away. Now the street signs have both names on them. Since I’m old school, I still call it Sixth Avenue. That doesn’t make the traffic disappear, though.

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You could try to meditate, I guess. But it doesn’t really help. If you didn’t already know what “gridlock” looks like, now you do.

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I’ll stop commenting and look out the windows for a while. There’s a TV monitor in front of the back seat, but it only shows garbage, so we always turn it off.

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Glamorous, isn’t it?

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See, it’s not really faster by bus.

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When you get tired of the gridlock, you can always look up again. Different building.

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In case you didn’t know, this is why taxis are known in New York as yellow cabs.

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You can look at your watch and fume. Or look at the meter and fume. Or tell yourself not to get an ulcer; it will all be over by the end of the day. Maybe.

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Oh, I think we’re moving. A little bit.

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This is not the destination. But enough already. We did get there eventually. Two and a half miles, as I believe I already mentioned. $26.00, as I believe I already mentioned.

After the fifteen minutes of snipping and needlework at the incomparable hands of Dr. A., we had to get back.  When we had come in the week before for the actual surgery, our driver had tried to return us to the Port Authority by going south on Park Avenue.  Not a wise decision:

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Everyone who explained to us that it was particularly bad yesterday because the UN is in session was full of it. It was also particularly bad last week, when the UN was not yet in session.

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Approaching Grand Central on Park Avenue. These buildings are “older” — probably pre-World War II “older,” or built just afterwards.

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Looks Kafka-esque, doesn’t it? (Yes, this is still Park Avenue, in the high 40’s.)

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While we were stalled in the street below, people were actually working, getting things done. See the lights?

So going south on Park Avenue was not such a good idea. Yesterday, our driver tried Fifth. As the young might say: “OMG!”

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See what I mean?

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Scenic, isn’t it?

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Relax. Go with the flow. (What flow?)

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I bet the view overlooking Central Park from one of those (extremely expensive) apartments must be lovely.

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The view down here is less lovely. At least now you know where to phone for Eli (Zabar)’s bread.

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We’ve moved about a block and a half since I began this photographic journey with you.

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Trapped! Trapped in a New York taxi! The only way out is to walk! But even if we were hale and fit and young enough to do it, the sidewalks are pretty crowded, too, because it’s such a beautiful day! (I refer to the weather, of course.)

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A bus? Don’t even think about it!

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Lift your eyes up and pray.

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Yes, dear readers, we — who had pulled out of our driveway at 10:40 a.m. to be on time for the 11 a.m. Coach USA bus to New York — did eventually get home to Princeton again.  At 6 p.m. But there’s an upside to all this angst-in-a-taxi. I discovered something. The Big Apple may still be a helluva town, but it’s a different sort of hell.  I no longer yearn to live there — a relatively new development in my life.  You see? There’s no upper limit at all to the age at which you can learn and grow.

I’m so happy we live here instead:

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It’s good to be home.