11:34 PM The stripper obviously had a heart of gold, because she had an armload of Disney Jr. toys. And batteries, too! As we eavesdrop on her conversation I hear her say she paid all her rent today so she’s broke but she remembered it was her little brother’s birthday tomorrow, so DON’T YELL AT ME, I CAN HEAR YOU. I say “stripper” because she was wearing an outfit that was, shall we say, revelatory, but looked like civvies, not work clothes. She also moved constantly, as if she was standing on two Roombas that had been yoked but programmed to avoid each other.
The dudes in the back of the line were being genial bros about the length of the line, and suggested they call up to the counter someone else, like the guy who’s back in cosmetics and has been staring at the L’Oreil products for 20 minutes. The clerk, who had at least six commemorative tattoos on the left side of her neck (the right side was presumably reserved for the next sequence of births and deaths) ragged one guy for checking out and leaving her she had to deal with the truck.
I was a man from Minnesota buying three bananas and a small tin of breath mints in New York at 11:27, which I’m sure someone else in the line found amusing. Every Duane Reade between 10 and 6 is an endless procession of short stories.
So. New York.
Holy. Jeezum. Crow. I’ve not been in New York for a while. Like DC, it’s so much better. The imperial capitals are doing quite well. They burst with silvered steel and green parks and bright signs full of clever people buying interesting things, and going to small places to
Today’s walking stats: 10.7 miles. We walked from the krephole of Penn Station to our hotel on 46th and Lex, my old home the Roger Smith.
Walk in to the old lobby, hot and exhausted.
“There’s a problem,” says the man behind the desk. “The system is down.” He didn’t know which room we were supposed to have or which rooms were available. He was terribly sorry. I said it was okay. This isn't one of those big chains where some interchangeable person at the front desk issues rote bromides, makes a note if you're a jerk and turns off your room key six hours later. It's an old unique hotel, and the fellow behind the desk had been working there for many years. This was his profession and this was his place.
I was content to let the girls sit and use wifi and eat yogurt, and I went outside for a small cigar and a look at the old familiar street. I've been coming here since 1985; this is my block, if I can say to have one. The same: Beekman Liquors across the street, but no Bunny Deli; building knocked down and replaced by a high-rise. No loss there. What an unhappy batch of people ran that place.
Chatted with the desk guy for a while about how long I’d been coming here, about Minnesota (he'd been there, once; everyone has) and when the system came back up he gave us an upgrade.
That's one way of putting it.
It’s quite incredible. A living room, a small kitchen, a maid’s bedroom (that’s mine, of course) and quaint old decor. It’s perfect for a first time in Gotham. The girls were delighted: SO. GREAT.
And then we walked. From 46th and Lex to the World Trade Center. The city could not have put on a better act to appeal to Daughter - . The parks were full of people sitting on the benches reading books, listening to jazz bands, watching jugglers; camera crews were filming people talking about things in excited voices while an assistant held up an iPad teleprompter; the weather was perfect, and there were dogs. Hell, I could live here. If I had a million dollars. A year.
Some side-street South of HOWston sights:
Rocco's is what it used to say. It wasn't some ancient place - Street View from 2012 shows the sign as Rocco's. Went the way that restaurants go.
This isn't a liquor store.
The signage and window decals all say hooch, but it's some sort of vintage / boutique place. That's a stock sign, I think; they must have sold those to places that figured the clientele didn't care if it was Bob or John's or Artie's. As long as they had the hard stuff.
Signs like the two above: that's the New York I wish I'd known.
New construction and old: behold the Jenga Tower.
Nothing like a little home-grown fascist architecture:
It's the small things I love. The small, old things.
Wonder what the writing said? I did.
DEPARTMENT OF WATER SUPPLY AND ELECTRICITY
HEADQUARTERS HIGH PRESSURE SERVICE
Part of a city-wide initiative to provide water to skyscrapers - and to firefighters who might need to get the spray to the upper floors.
The buildings are small for New York - but then you get closer to the place where the money is traded, and suddenly the world . . .
The world changes.
We went to the WTC site, which has the most depressing memorial I’ve ever seen. I was not prepared for the quantity of despair it summoned. It is the bleakest thing I’ve ever seen, and it’s horrifying. It is absolutely hopeless. If you haven’t heard, it’s the footprint of the buildings turned into waterfalls, which collect at the bottom of the huge square and then pour down another hole, which is dark and infinitely deep for all we know. There is no salvation; there is no rejuvenation; there is nothing but perpetual loss.
It is the bleakest thing I’ve ever seen, and it’s horrifying. It is absolutely hopeless. If you haven’t heard, it’s the footprint of the buildings turned into waterfalls, which collect at the bottom of the huge square and then pour down another hole, which is dark and infinitely deep for all we know. There is no salvation; there is no rejuvenation; there is nothing but perpetual loss.
I'm still not sure how I feel about it. Crude reactionary that I am, I would have also appreciated a statue of Victory holding a sword in one hand and shaking her fist at the sky.
I might also have programmed those waterfalls to shoot a jet of water several stories high at unpredictable intervals from the depth of that terrible void - three thousand jets in all, spread out over the years.
Well, then what? Dinner. Daughter found a Thai place nearby, and guided us there using her phone. Again, perfect New York - it was a narrow place with a counter along the wall and a few tables, mostly take-out, a single $ on the app's description, nestled between two restaurants just as skinny. Side street. Garbage bags piled Matterhorn-high on the curb, because it was trash night. Construction signs. Orange cones. A mess. But interesting. While we waited for the curry, I wandered outside to take a picture of a building I'd seen:
Was there anything to indicate its history? Why yes.
The building was named for Austin Corbin, a president of the Long Island Rail Road who also founded several banks. It was built as a speculative venture for use as office space or housing. The Corbin Building was significantly taller than others around at the time it was built. It was reported to be the tallest commercial building in New York City at the time of its completion, but both the Tribune and Western Union buildings of 1873 far exceeded the Corbin Building's height, at 260 and 230 feet, respectively.
As for Mr. Corbin: a Robber Baron and Jew-hater.
Corbin acquired the Sunnyside Plantation in Chicot County, Arkansas from John C. Calhoun II, the grandson of John C. Calhoun and brother of Patrick Calhoun, in 1886. In 1894, he entered in an agreement with the state of Arkansas whereby he was given 250 convict laborers to pick cotton for him; the profits were shared between Corbin and the state.
Corbin was the owner of the resort of Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn. An antisemite, he banned Jews from patronizing the resort. Later, he served as the Secretary of the American Society for the Suppression of Jews.
Beautiful building. Leave the name and remember the history.
Around the corner:
1865. The Germania Building. NYT:
Although up to the minute when it was built in 1865, the Germania Building, at 175 Broadway near Cortlandt Street, is now a little lost lamb among the skyscrapers of the financial district. The Germania Fire Insurance Company built the four-story building and put its name in the center of the cornice. The unidentified architect — or iron founder — gave the modillioned cornice a swell set of rivet-head bosses.
The Germania Company was gone by 1869.
How long this building will be around, I can't say; perhaps something big and lucrative will rise on the spot, and the low buildings on the block will be replaced by another wall of glass and metal. That's how cities survive. But can anyone make the case that the beast in the background is better for the soul?
After dinner we took an Uber. The driver took FDR - windows down at twilight, the city on its best behavior.
Anything left to do? Well, I should note that the Roger Smith is on Lex and 47th, so it's just a few blocks from . . . the place I've been highlighting on occasional Fridays for a few months.
For a reason.
If it's the Knick, that tells you we're at the heart of it, as the song says.
The girls were agog, and Daughter was overwhelmed. She was glad we went, but this wasn't her New York - although she could see herself going there on New Year's Eve. What? Are you mad? What if you have to use the bathroom?
But I'm old.
We left, feeling as if we'd been pounded by photons, and walked through the quiet midtown streets to . . .
. . . and the impossibly perfect place that always makes me amazed.
From DC to NYC, all around town with 2 teenage girls. Sixteen hours. Eight miles walking.
I went upstairs and poured myself a drink.