Thoughts by Richard Bleil
In 1992, I spent a year on the upper east side of New York City, living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment on East 84th St between second and third avenue. Now, me? I was raised in a rather well-off suburb of Dayton called “Centerville”. Our family struggled with money, but we managed to do well even though, for the suburb, we certainly weren’t as wealthy as some of our neighbors. Still, it was a wide open and safe neighborhood, with many good-sized yards and parks.
New York City, on the other hand, has a very high population density. As far as safety goes, it’s nowhere near as safe but, on the flip side of the coin, has much more to offer. While living there, I was rolled twice and, in a shooting, when somebody walked into a small cafeteria and popped off a few rounds to create enough confusion (nobody was injured) to grab some cash and run. I have a hypothesis. I don’t believe there are more dangerous people per capita, but, because of the population density, there are more dangerous people per block.
But as far as opportunities go, New York is pretty amazing. There are things you can’t do there; I would never take a nap in central park like I did in Centerville, but there were no museums there, either.
I don’t think any city has such familiarity as New York even for people who have never visited. Second Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Broadway, SoHo, and Central Park are all New York.
Second Avenue is kind of amazing. It’s actually a parkway, four lanes divided by a grassy area with small trees. As I recall, sometime in November, the city decorates the avenue with small white Christmas lights. It’s absolutely charming. Colored lights would have been cute, but the white lights lend a level of sophistication and class that would be lost with a multicolored variant.
SoHo is short for “South of Houston Street”. It is the artistic neighborhood of the city. It has a feel all its own. There are many art colleges in the city, and I had decided, at one point, to start a new hobby. I walked into a SoHo art supply store and bought my first set of acrylic paints and canvases. Checking out, I struck up a conversation with the woman behind the counter, an art student (of course). I explained it was a new hobby, and jested, “so I guess the next time you see me it will be for my show at the Guggenheim.” She told me that she would love that and said how she supports people with talent who catch lucky breaks even as she struggles. Her attitude was one that I appreciated so much that I remembered it and today, over two decades later, am writing about it.
The restaurants in the city are amazing, but their “fast food” is really excellent. There are pizza joints every few blocks (like the one on the corner of E 84th and Third Avenue). The pizza is always hand-tossed, thin crust and huge. You don’t buy a pizza, but one slice which is always more than enough for a meal and fold it to eat it. It’s amazing. And the street vendors are amazing. If you get a New York City sausage hoagie from a street vendor, they’ll take a sausage, cut it in half and fry it right there on the cart with chopped onions and green peppers. They scoop it onto the hoagie bun, add Swiss cheese and it’s just fantastic.
There was one café that is the very first stop of the New York Times newspaper delivery. A friend took me there, and we waited for the paper delivery so we could be the very first people in the world to read the New York Times paper that day (obviously before the website). We got there, oh, I think about 2 in the morning and had pie watching that newsstand right outside of the café. New York City is called the City that Never Sleeps and for good reason. Even in those hours (and, quite literally, all night long) the streets had a lot of people in them, and many businesses were open. Oh, the streets weren’t packed like during the day, but there were always a lot of people around.
I don’t think that I could live there again. The pace was frankly a bit too frantic for my taste, and I do like napping in parks without the fear of waking up dead, but I would love to visit again. I don’t think I’d get a hotel; I could fly in one night, spend the rest of that night, the next day, the next night, and then fly out the next day. If you go, see an off or even off off Broadway show. Visit some gallerias and eat at “common” places. Don’t wear anything of great value to draw attention to yourself, and don’t go alone (regardless of your gender). Make plans, leave some time open, and have a great time in a great city.