Friday, December 19, 2008

2008 Christmas Windows Walking Tour, from

Here’s a wonderful walking tour for photographers who are here for the holiday season. I've done the kind of tour you ask about, but more on the pedicab (for two), rather than a walking tour (for a group). The tours are not offered on, since so few ask for them.
I'm no a pro photographer, but have lots of Flickr photo under the name TourguideStan, which you're welcome to copy, and more than 30 YouTube videos, also under the name TourguideStan. All these have been done on a Nikon Coolpix L14.
If you're here for Christmastime --oops, I mean holiday time -- You ought to take a ride up to Madison and 60th, and start there, taking pictures of Barney's theme windows, "Have a Hippie Holiday." Then walk one block west to Grand Army Plaza, where the world's largest Menorah will be up, topped with railroad lanterns, courtesy of the Lubavitcher community of Brooklyn.
Take pictures of Barney's theme windows, "Have a Hippie Holiday." Then walk one block west to Grand Army Plaza, where the world's largest Menorah will be up, topped with railroad lanterns, courtesy of the Lubavitcher community of Brooklyn.
You'll also see a cluster of lit Christmas trees arranged inside the Pulitzer Fountain, due south, and right out the main entrance of the Plaza Hotel, itself decorated for the season.
Cross Fifth Avenue to the left, to get the big teddy bear and Bobby the living toy soldier, at the front entrance of F.A.O. Schwarz Toy Store. Restrooms, second floor. I don’t recommend going into the store unless you love crowds.
Bergdorf Goodman is next, but which to choose? The Men’s Store on the same side of Fifth as FAO, whose windows feature boxing stuffed polar bears (not kidding!), or the much more decorated Women’s Store, whose theme is the seasons of the year? Somehow, all windows look wintry. I’d go for the women’s side.
…That’s right, Bergdorf’s has two stores.
You’ll want a shot of the Holiday Star over the intersection of 57th and Fifth, held up on guy wires by the four buildings on the corners: Tiffany, Vuitton, van Cleef & Arpel’s, and the building housing Piaget, Mikimoto and another jeweler.
Next to Tiffany is Trump Tower, with its giant wreath over the door. Trump’s TV show The Apprentice was the first that put pedicabs on primetime TV, for which the Donald deserves my thanks. Go inside and warm up. A cafĂ© with many coffees and many sweets, in the basement, is not a Starbucks. You’ll see a three-story feldspar waterfall, and clean restrooms are down there too.
Cross Fifth to get a gander of van Cleef & Arpel’s windows. The goods displayed are in window boxes, but the windows themselves are outlined in silver tinsel with white LEDs, mixed into tiny tree branches, with big, windblown tree limbs painted silver overtop.
Cross 57th to Bendel’s, with its display of crowns and gowns by current dsesigners. And check out the upstairs milk-glass windows. They were by Lalique and are landmarked. Two other hot stores side by side with Bendel’s, but their names escape me.
The next three blocks feature store after store after store, each with its own attractive display. The notable exception here is Abercrombie & Fitch, with its windows of slatted dark wood, like giant-size Venetian blinds--closed. The only noteworthy thing here is the horde of middle-American teens waiting outside for the chance to go in, shop, then proclaim their individuality by dressing just like every other teen.
Saint Thomas Church, Episcopal, comes up at 53rd Street. The church went up in 1916, when Fifth was lined with townhouses of the wealthy, not stores for the wealthy. With that in mind, check out the bridal entrance, closest to the intersection, for its sculptural joke: Over the door is Jesus reading from the Torah. Above him is a sculpture of what ought to be two wedding rings surrounding two trees. But it looks much more like a Dollar $ign.
Continue south on Fifth. At the intersection of Fifth and 52nd, get a diagonal shot of Cartier Mansion. It is wrapped in red LED-laced ribbon, with little sparkles here and there, and a giant bow over a third-floor window. Cartier Mansion was originally the LaPlante family home. They sold in 1919 to Cartier, for a pearl necklace. In 1922, Mikimoto announced to the world that they had been manufacturing “seeded” pearls, which sent the pearl market through the floor, and the LaPlantes sued. They lost.
You’ve been walking uphill ever since 58th Street. At the top of the hill is Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral. The main doors are of bronze. The left door features Saint Patrick who, if you want to get nit-picky, was actually Welsh; Fr. Isaac Jogues, and Kateri Tekakwicha, a converted Mohawk. The right door has St. Joseph and two New Yorkers: Mother Cabrini and Mother Seton. Jesus is, as at St. Thomas, over the door. Those doors remain closed. Enter at the side entrances during the day. Try not to use flash when photographing the interior. Remember, St. Patty’s is a working church, with daily masses.
Before going in, get a shot of Atlas, who is standing guard at the entrance to Rockefeller Center’s International Building.
Go out the south entrance of St. Patrick’s and straight into the side door of Saks & Company. You can cross the block from 50th to 49th by going through here, or brave the thick, slowwww crowd out to see the windows, which feature the life journey of a snowflake named Mike.
At mid-block, turn and gape openmouthed at the lynchpin of all Christmas decorations on Fifth Avenue: straight across the avenue are the British Empire Building and La Maison Francais of Rockefeller Center. Between them is Channel Gardens. “Herald” angels with post horns salute the Rockefeller Center Tree, enwrapped with nearly five miles of LED lighs, and topped by a four-foot Swarovski Star, made of hundreds of Swarovski crystals.
Cross at 48th, 49th, 50th or 51st to go behind the Rock Center buildings and onto the Plaza for Tree viewing. The 49th Street crossing will have the thickest crowds.
Just south of the Rock, watch out for a store with the big GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sign over the door. The sign had said INVENTORY CLEARANCE for the entire time I’ve been a sightseeing guide in New York (since 1995), and it went “out of business” early this year, only to reopen with pretty much the same goods inside, and the “INVENTORY CLEARANCE” sign again. Caveat emptor.
Continue south on Fifth, getting pictures of the New York Public Library’s main branch and, behind it, the wintry decorations and skating rink at Bryant Park. A little farther south on Fifth gets you Lord & Taylor’s animated windows, showing Victorian-era NYC scenes.
Then just walk downhill to the Empire State Building. Actually, cross to the left side of Fifth for the ESB’s better views. When the ESB is in front of you, turn right on 34th Street and walk one block west to Macy’s.
Macy’s windows feature something for everyone. The Broadway side windows are clearly for kids, showing lots of whirly, brightly-colored objects. The 34th Street windows repeat last year’s display of animated scenes from the 1947 classic film, Miracle On 34th Street. I must say, the models in the windows do look remarkably like the actors, right down to Natalie Wood.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

You ought to do two things beside eating in Times Square if you want to see famous people: walk up and down Eighth Avenue between 6 PM and 7 PM and watch the people who walk alone and not very fast. They often are theater people on their way to work. Those who walk in groups are usually people going to the theater, and people walking fast are commuters on their way to the Bus Terminal or Penn Station.
The other thing you should do is go to a Broadway show. Doesn't matter which one. Though, the more serious the show, the greater the probability of actors being in the audience.
Examples: While waiting on my pedicab outside Broadway shows that are letting out I have seen Valerie Bertinelli, David Byrne, Cromwell (forget his first name, the cyclist/actor who just broke his collarbone while biking), and Marisa Tomei.

Get to the show at least 15 minutes early, put something in your seat to mark it as yours, then go down toward the stage and turn around to watch people get to their seats. Famous actors have enough money to go see other people's shows. For, how to better learn the craft of acting, than to go watch other actors?

The more time you spend on the streets of Times Square, the more actors and actresses you meet. While biking on my pedicab I've met Jeffrey Tambour and Richard Salkind, on their bikes. They probably live in Hell's Kitchen, the neighborhood west of Times Square, which is loaded with theater people, or the Upper West Side, a 10-20-minute bike ride away. They both, by the way, wear helmets.
One night in 2004, while giving a pedicab tour of Times Square to two tourist women, one asked if celebs lurk about. We then came upon the actor who played the taxi driver on Mars, in the film, Total Recall. They were delighted. "Hey, man, I got four mouths to feed!"
Katherine O'Hara and Governor Ann Richards have been taken home in my pedicab. I did a promo for Showtime several years ago with Mario Cantone sitting in my pedicab in the middle of Times Square, on the traffic island where the Naked Cowboy usually works during the day.

For actually seeing actors at dinner:
Joe Allen
A cop friend says Brian Dennehy eats at Angus McIndoe (W. 44th) on alternate Friday nights.

For actually seeing theater people and some struggling but fairly-well-known actors at late breakfast or brunch: The Edison Cafe, affectionately known as The Polish Tearoom, in the Edison Hotel's north side (at 47th Street). Take a booth, and look into the ceiling mirrors that allow you to see who's sitting at the counter. Do this on Wednesday, because shows start t 2 PM.

These are not promises. They are hunches based on past experience.


Monday, August 4, 2008

How not to get hot, Part II

It was a hot and sunny day. Ed, citing Pat’s Irish background, insisted that I put the canopy up, to shade her (them) from the 2 PM sun in July, the most intense sun of the day. I demurred, promising I would stay in the shade wherever possible. The problem was that my rain jacket and someone else’s canopy front were both packed into the canopy sleeve behind the back of the pedicab. I had nowhere to put either of them, and I certainly was not about to put my rain jacket on, in hot, brilliant sunshine. I’m also of Irish descent, so it was in my own best interest to keep to the shady side of the street.
The problem in staying shady was that the Sun was almost directly overhead. We were headed north and wouldn’t be in Central park until about 5:00. It was now 2:00. What to do? We turned to start the trip up Trinity Place, headed north. The building from Men In Black was pointed out for what it really is, an office having to do with the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Indeed, motor vehicles in the trench were speeding under it. North we went, in direct sun, there being nothing to our left (west) except the trench that leads to the tunnel. They saw the building where top American footballers like OJ Simpson have picked up their Heismann trophies. Passed the street named for government official, rich speculator, man-about-town and general ladies’ man and bon vivant Gouvernor Morris, Exchange Place, which I believe to be the narrowest street in Manhattan, at about 10 feet.
Then Richard Upjohn’s chocolate-colored Trinity Church, built of brownstone just when the stone was becoming popular. The third commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps was buried in the corner plot with the little US flag over it. No flag, but a pyramid stone for Alexander Hamilton, sitting Secretary of the Treasury when he deliberately lost a duel against Vice-President Aaron Burr, by shooting into the air and letting Burr shoot him. Burr aimed low. Hamilton was gut-shot, meaning that his intestines opened up, and he died in his own poisons, which took until early the next morning to kill him, one of the most painful ways to die. Burr left town for Ohio, and stayed away for years, fearing a murder indictment.
Hamilton was also a lawyer, with a practice on Broadway right where the Standard Oil building is now.
Imagine: a vice president of the United States, shooting a lawyer and getting away with it.
Ahead to the left lay a construction site with a perimeter fence covered in green netting: the site of the once and future World Trade Center. They were shown the remaining buildings about the periphery. First #7, rebuilt just over a year ago, with sky-blue windows that currently reflect nothing, the Twin Towers being gone. But someday in the not-distant future those walls will reflect the Freedom Tower.
Moving north, and looking back to the southwest is the rapidly-diminishing
We cruised forward, northward, and I told them of Century 21, considered the finest discount store in NYC, which opened up five months to the day after The Attacks of September Eleven. Every store, every building in the perimeter of the blast had lost windows. The Millenium Hilton had lost every pane in its curtain wall, cascading the contents of room after room into the first floor and basement. An airline radio was found in the jumbled debris of those seven floors, afterward. The government then arrested an Egyptian hotel guest and took him to Guantanamo, where he eventually confessed to having that radio and being an accomplice to the two fellow Egyptians and 17 Saudis who attacked us. Afterward, an airline pilot who had also been staying at the Hilton called them and asked if they ever found his airline radio, which he said had been lost in the rubble. This led to one of the most embarrassing spots the Bush administration had put itself into. I don’t recall ever hearing an apology for their colossal error of judgment, and I told as much to my customers Pat and Ed. What do you suppose our government put that poor guy through, in order to get that fake confession?
Across the open space to the left stood the non-matching tower tops of the World Financial Center. One domed, one pyramidic, and one the shape I don’t know what to call it: the top was smaller than the base, like a pyramid sliced horizontally in half, and the top removed. A trapezoid?
They had lost their windows to the sixth and seventh floor as well. Virtually every edifice directly across the street from the WTC had lost windows. All but one: Saint Paul’s Chapel. St. Paul was run by Trinity, a third of a mile to the south. It opened in 1767 and served as the church of Trinity Parish when the larger structure burned in the Great Fire of August 1776. In fact, when Washington was inaugurated in 1789, he and his entourage marched (he rode) up Broadway to St. Paul’s, where Washington prayed for the future of our nation. Our nation has done very well. Looks as though prayer works.
Saint Paul’s is set back from the immediate perimeter of the WTC by a tree-covered graveyard. Those trees mitigated the sheer force of flying debris and wind, into the trees themselves. The Chapel escaped without a scratch. Though when the leaves fell that November, one could easily look up and see things that had come to rest in those trees: a bicycle, some Venetian blinds, pieces of sheet metal and whatnot. Things that had been in parts of the Twin Towers way high up, and come crashing down, to be entrapped by the up-reaching tree limbs. The trees truly saved the Chapel of Saint Paul.
When people were allowed back to the scene a week after The Attacks, some of the more religious of our people marveled that St. Paul’s was virtually unscathed; that it had only lost the uprooted tree in the blast. They took this to be a sign of God’s providence, and they took the girders that came down shaped like crosses as another great sign from The Lord that He was present and spared the chapel out of his grace and love. Some went so far as to use the cross-shaped girders to “prove” that God is the Christian God, and not the Muslim one.
These people who make religious (non)sense out of anything they see have been totally ignoring the fact that another church, that of Saint Nicholas, was totally and completely obliterated when the South Tower fell on it. I am largely skeptical of religion because of people who ignore one truth while touting another.
If you want to see a cross-shaped girder, one is set into the sidewalk on Church Street, just west of Saint Peter’s Church, the oldest Catholic church in the city, which dates from 1804. This church had a role in The Attacks as well. Father Mychal judge, the chaplain of the FDNY was the first known victim of the fall of the towers. Firemen brought his still body to Saint Peter’s and laid him respectfully on the altar.
So we rolled along, and my people heard all these sad stories of what New York was like on that terrible day.
They asked, “Where were you when it happened?”
“I was home watching it on TV like everyone else. I lived in Brooklyn about five miles away. By noon, the stench of the fire had wafted over to my neighborhood, and it stayed there all day. I went shopping for long-term staples, not knowing if this was only the first wave of a series of attacks. I thought I should be ready, just in case. I got back to the house by about 3 PM, and little white pieces of paper, scorched around the edges, were beginning to flutter down over the neighborhood.“ Later we learned that papers had even come down on Coney Island beach, a good 12 - 13 miles from the WTC. I saved one of the papers that fell on my block. It’s part of a prospectus for Deloitte & Touche.
BTW I also saved a baggie of September 11th dust from the corner of Cedar and William Street that I collected a week after the event. It would be interesting to test it and see if the EPA was lying when they said there was nothing harmful in all that dust.
On we went, taking a right just past St. Paul’s, to Nassau Street, then going he wrong way in the bike lane to Centre. I told them the story of the corrupt Democrat government of NYC in the 1860s, and the clean-up role of The Tribune’s Horace Greeley, whose statue was just east of City hall, gazing across Centre Street at the Brooklyn Bridge. We took another right on Worth Street and headed uphill, for Chinatown.
As we entered Chinatown, I took pat & Ed to what I believe is the oldest Jewish cemetery in the Western Hemisphere, that of Sheareth Israel. It is peppered with 17th-c. gravestones written in Spanish and Portuguese. Talk about your religious bigots: These Ladino Jews were forced to come to the open-minded Dutch colony on Manhattan because of the Spanish Inquisition. Jews captured by the Inquisition were typically given their choice of three options:
1. Leave forever.
2. Convert to Roman Catholicism.
3. Be hanged.
So they had come to Nieuw Amsterdam, which didn’t give an Amster-dam about their religion. Their descendants are here to this day, safe and sound.
The Chinatown corner housing the little graveyard is really a microcosm of the American-immigrant experience. Within sight of the gravestones are a gun shop frequented by members of nearby NYPD HQ, a Methodist church where a Cuban Catholic priest got the Irish immigrants to found the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a Baptist church for sailors, a Catholic grade school, housing projects and a Mahayana Buddhist temple.
We turned the pedicab past a memorial to the Chinese nationalist who tried to prevent the Americans, French and British from selling opium to his countrymen, and went into the warren of little Chinatown streets.
Finally, some shade. It had been an hour of direct sunlight. We went left up Mulberry Street with the Chinese funeral homes on the right and Columbus park on the left, and I told the story of attending the Chinese funeral of my Chinese uncle-by-a-previous marriage. Upstate brothers-in-law had asked if I could represent the family there.
Technically I was doubly not part of the family, since their sister and I had divorced a couple of years before, and since she had died the previous month. The brothers-in-law had used up all their free days caring for their dying sister, though, and had no time to spare for a 7-hour drive to NYC from Rochester NY, and back up. It was February, the off season for tourism, and I had nothing better to do with my time. So I went to the Ng Fook Funeral Home and listened as family members talked about the times they had had with Uncle Lou. Sat with his kids as they rolled up paper shopping-bags full of gilded paper squares for the incense fire on the altar. Photos by the hearse, and of the photo on TOP of the hearse, a photo of uncle Lou, owner of the Cathay Pagoda Restaurant in Rochester, where my late father-in-law had been chef.
The park to the left was built in 1895 to relieve the Five Points neighborhood of a good third of its population. How? By razing their tenement homes, and giving them no homes to go to afterward, which made the problem of overcrowded tenements even worse! Interestingly, I pointed out, with the destruction of three blocks of tenements, one could look from the five corners (for which it was called Five Points) northward and see The Tombs, the city lockup. The fact that The Tombs was built right next to the worst neighborhood in town was probably no mistake!
There’s a quote in the 1895 book “How The Other Half Lives” by a Chinese immigrant living in Five Points in that year. He said to the author, who was himself a Danish immigrant, “Dem Irish very, very bad!” Perhaps a good quote from one ethnic outsider to another, as retold by one Irish-American to another. And, for all Pat O’Brien and Stan O’Connor know, our ancestors may have rubbed filthy elbows, down in Five Points. Or perhaps they bent their elbows.
Anyway, we went uphill on The Bowery to the Manhattan Bridge and Daniel Chester French’s marble archway, “Gateway To Brooklyn” which incongruously is graced by a bas-relief of Indians on horseback hunting buffalo. Then we coasted downhill on Canal, for what I hoped was our last foray under the direct sun. I thought of taking them up Elizabeth to Bleecker, then up into the East Village.
But NO, I thought! Why not go two blocks farther west, then up Mulberry so they could roll past the restaurants and Catholic Church of Little Italy? So that’s what I did, and was dismayed by.
Street fair. Of course. I forgot that Little Italy in the summer is one three-month-long street fair, centered on Mulberry Street. Shit.
So on west and downhill we went on Canal, with me apologizing and sweating and trying to think for a northbound street that would be out of the sunshine. I was getting winded. Thank God for this downhill. We finally turned up Centre again. I could have skirted all of Chinatown and just talked about it, and stayed in the shade. But no, I had to be the good tour guide. Heavy sigh. At least we were out of the sun now, until we got to Cleveland Place. Then two blocks of wide esplanade, staying on the right. And then we were able to go to the bike lane which, like all bike lanes on one-way streets, is on the left side.
I showed them Lauren Hutton’s building. At the time, I described that I’d once been to the home of a famous model from the 1970s, but I could not for the life of me remember her name at the time. Unknown why “Lauren Hutton” comes into my head now, with no problem. Maybe it was the heat. The customers still don’t know to whom I was referring.
Pat and Ed saw the new blue condos at Astor Place, shaped like stacked pianos because Schirmer Music Company had been the previous longtime presence on the lot. They saw the colonnaded music hall where immigrant backers of one Shakespearean actor rioted against nativist fans of another, right out there on Lafayette Street. They saw the nearby theater of Blue Man Group, and we discussed differences between the NYC show and the Chicago show.
We continued north through Astor Place, and I told them of a date I’d had several years ago. The girl had wanted me to meet her “In the Starbucks on Astor Place.” Turns out there were two Starbucks, a fact that neither of us were aware of as we made exasperated cell-phone calls to each other, one in each Starbucks.
Came up to the Wanamaker Building. I asked if they were familiar with Kmart? They were. …Why?
“Here is the Wanamaker Building ahead of us. John Wanamaker ran the biggest store in the world until Macy’s eclipsed it in 1902. Think of the square-footage of your typical Kmart. A Kmart is now in the basement and the first floor of the building. Imagine about eight Kmarts, and you have the size of the original Wanamaker’s!” My customers were suitably impressed.
I pedicabbed them up Fourth Avenue, now paralleling Broadway. Blew the horn at pedestrians who stood in my bike lane, texting. The peds all yelled at me for my impudence and bad manners. I shouted back, “Should I go on the sidewalk, or should you?”
Earlier on Lafayette & Bond, I called ahead at a cluster of people who stood in the bike lane ahead chatting as if they were the sidewalk. As I passed, the oldest guy there said to the passengers, “You’re riding in a death-trap!” (Thank you, David Letterman!) And to me, “Why don’t you get a helmet, asshole!?”
At this, I turned and started arguing with him. He walked away, insulting me over his shoulder while fleeing, unwilling to admit that he’d been standing in my way, and inferring that I was automatically a bad driver because I drove a pedicab. Yes, and in the bike lane …where he had stood, ignoring those who needed the bike lane for their safety, the hypocrite idiot. Why couldn’t they have stood on the sidewalk where they belong? And why couldn’t these hipster texters at Astor and LaFayette? I had to yell to get their attention, so they yelled back after stepping back onto the curb that they should have been on all along.
I’m not trying to take THEIR space. They are taking MINE and I need it. Will they ever learn, or do we have make it illegal to stand in the bike lane? Or will I have to someday make a snap decision between the safety of my passengers and the safety of a cell-phony typing in the street?
Off the stump. Back to the tour. I was planning to take the people up to 14th Street and show them Union Square, but that would have meant more sunshine. We’d just passed a thermometer that read 94. So instead, we turned down Broadway from 14th, and went into Greenwich Village, doing a little of my Greenwich Village Comprehensive Tour. They got to see the teddy bear in the window of the townhouse that student activists had (accidentally) blown up, followed by the second cemetery of the first Jews in the western hemisphere.
Then the site of The Grapevine, a civil-war-era coffee shop known for the passing of Union and Confederate information, and the origin of the phrase, “…heard it through The Grapevine.”
Finally, north on semi-flat and shady Sixth Avenue, with a bike lane from here, clear to 42nd Street. We passed the Victorian style library branch, and I took them aside to view Patchin Place, where Theodore Dreiser and e.e. cummings lived (not together). They heard the story of the granting of civil rights for NY State women in 1871 as a result of the Ladies’ Mile shopping district’s campaign for the street safety of female shoppers. This library was built in 1872 to be the first women’s jail. It was converted to a library in 1930.
So on, up through the townhouses and stores of The Village. Crossing 14th Street and into Chelsea, first developed by its landowner Clement Clarke Moore. Google him right now; you may get a kick out of it.
Now we were on the more speedy route. The plan had been to start at The Battery, come north five miles to Central Park, tour around the park for an hour, and drop them off at their midtown hotel. We had crisscrossed lower Manhattan as far as the Village, and now would go straight up 6th to the park, a straight shot. BTW if you’re not a New Yorker and are looking at the map of the city, what I call Sixth Ave is what the outside world (and the USPS) calls “Avenue Of The Americas.”
Okay, that’s just over seven pages at 12-point. That’s more than enough for now. I’ll finish this tour report on the next post.
Google me!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How not to get exhausted on a four-hour tour of Manhattan during a heat wave, Part One

Last Saturday, thanks to Peter Meitzler of Manhattan Rickshaw, I contracted with couple from Chicago for an extended pedicab tour. They were here for the weekend and wanted to see Manhattan at a degree of closeness that a tour bus just couldn't give them. That's just the thing a pedicab driver wants to hear.
Pat and Ed are lawyers, or at least one of them is, in the Chicago building where the Blues Brothers went to pay the year's assessment on the orphanage of St. Helen Of The Blessed Shroud. That was a cool fact, because I love that movie. We exchanged quotes from it throughout the tour.
"Are you boys with the police?"
"No, Ma'am. ...We're musicians."

"It's a hundred and six miles to Chicago. We got a full tank of 'gyas,' half a pack of cigarettes, it's night and we're wearing sunglasses."
We hit it.

Pat & Ed spent the morning doing the SOL (Statue of Liberty) and Ellis (Island). They were on the first boat, the 8:30, which allows its passengers to go all the way up to the Lady's Glass Ceiling. i.e. the area just under her feet, so they can look up into the Gustav Eiffel-designed interior armature.
It's a shame people can't go to the top, after all that re-enineering from 1984 to 1986, the air-conditioning and the double-decker elevator. The air conditioning really helped, after all. Imagine the accrued heat generated within a copper statue on a sunny summer day. Multiply that by 200 people climbing the stairs. Whoo-boy, crank up that a/c!
Hunch: When the Democrats get the White House back, we'll find that The Lady's not a target of terrorists, and access will be given again. Personally, I think that the whole denial of access is simply a tool to keep American visitors to NYC a little edgy about terrorism and, therefore, in support of our six-year oil war. Oops, I mean, the war on terror.

Usually, when people take the 8:30 boat, they are there until between noon and 2:00 PM. There's a lot to see on both islands. My personal favorite is chatting with my friend Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of The Lady, who hangs out in the food garden on Liberty Island. He's a very knowledgeable guy who can open your mind to the political problems of the mid-ninteenth century, where he lives. I'm not talking about the American civil war. I mean the Frank O'Prussia war. Whoever he was.
Auguste, now that I muse on it, might be an actor.

My plan for the day was to get out of bed at 10, coffee, shower, walk the dog, kiss the Little Woman goodbye and hop a train down to my garage on 34th Street. Then drive the pedicab for about 45 minutes from 34th to The Battery, and pick up Pat & Ed. If all went according to plan, I would get to the Battery at about noon.

Naturally, nothing went according to plan. Last Thursday I was throwing stuff out, accumulating piles of drop cloths and other oddments left by our handyman, when my glasses fell off a table. I stepped on them. CLACK! Off came the right temple. Clean off at the weld. So Saturday found me walking the dog without glasses, wondering if i could drive without them. They sat lopsided on my face. If the nose sweats when it's 95F out, the glasses slide sideways. Could I drive in them? That remained to be seen. I took Friday off. Went to Cohen's Fashion Optical and got an eye test from a very sweet doctor, and lenses, and then was told the cost for the whole thing, plus a Rush, would be $796! Aside from Martin Scorsese, nobody pays that much for glasses. I'm still hemming and hawing about picking them up.

Saturday I walked the dog, and the glasses drooped on the left and rose on the right until they looked like the last moments of The Titanic. Went inside, showered and washed the bridge of my nose. That actually helped a lot. The nosepiece pretty much stayed in place for a while after that. But wearing glasses and trying not to wear glasses delayed my departure until about 10:30. "That's okay', I told myself, "they might not be at the Battery until 2." So I got the A train.
You take the A train
Will find the quickest way to Harlem

The A train has a wonderful asset: It goes express from 125th down to 59th, usually in 6 minutes. Saturday, it stopped twice in the tunnel. Okay, now I was getting edy. Could I still make it for noon at the Battery?

When the train finally chugged into 34th Street, I grabbed my Rolling backpack and did the usual: picked it up, ran downstairs two flights from the center platform, then through the hall, then up two flights to the side exit, then up another flight to the street. How much does my rolling bag weigh? About 30 pounds, with a 12-volt motorcycle battery, a fannypack speaker system, and two liters of seltzer. Fun, fun, fun. Where is the elevator? Two blocks south, outside Penn Station, so I climbed those stairs.

Walked a block to the garage, got to my bike, and the right tire was flat.
Got out the pump from under the seat and had a devil of a time seating the tube valve. Pumped it up, about 40 times. It takes roughly 75 pumps to get the tire to 60 pounds pressure. But I could only do about 40 pumps before my arms gave out. It's best to pump with the arms, not the back, so I did all the work with my arms. Then rested. Then grabbed my glasses in mid-air, as they fell off my sweaty face.
Went to the restroom, washed my face concentrating on the bridge of my nose, then towel-dried it. The glasses now sat fairly straight on my face. Went back to the trike, pumped and pumped and pumped, and finally got the needle on the pressure guage up to 60. Then I pumped up the air horn (it also has a Schrader valve), opened the doors and pedalled out onto 9th Avenue.

My plan was to take 9th southbound to Bleecker, Bleecker to Broadway, Broadway south to Lafayette, which has a bike lane, then Lafayette to Centre and down to the Battery on Broadway again. Rode the new car-proof 9th Avenue bike lane, and found that people on cell phones were walking hunched over in it, texting on their cell phones. Why the hell can't they use the sidewalk? Do you get better reception when you're risking your life?

It ought to be illegal to walk in the bike lane. After all, it's illegal to bike on the sidewalk. Fair's fair!

No problem. I blasted them with the horn. One guy stepped back and said, derisively, "Lookit THIS guy!" Yeah, a biker in the bike lane. Like I don't belong there and he does.

The right tire was going flat. I pumped it up at every red light, but it was becoming harder and harder to inflate, and it was unclear what caused that resistance to pumping. I was hot, frustrated and stymied.

I crossed 14th Street, heading southeast down 9th. Stopped to pump at Little West 12th/Gansevoort. Booked downtown a little more. Now I was getting concerned that I'd be late for the rendezvous. First the glasses, then the train, and now a flat tire. As I was reviewing my knowledge of the streets ahead, questioning myself as to whether a bike shop was around, BAM! The tire blew.

Great. There I was at 9th & Bleecker with an unusable bike. I had no spare, since I use thornproof tubes, and patch them when necessary. What to do?

It would be a right, west out to Washington Street,and four blocks walking the trike in the new bike lane, to hoof it to Manhattan Rickshaw for a new tube, so I called Peter Meitzler. He wasn't at the garage, but allowed me to leave some money for a new tube. So I hauled the pedicab down there, swapped two fivers for two 26" Kenda tubes, and set to work replacing the tube on the right wheel.

The problem turned out to have been with the valve. The valve had been twisted in place, and it resisted being pumped probably because of overlapping rubber under it. The valve had, in fact, come right off the tube, causing the blowout.

OK, out comes the repair kit and pump. Take the rear seat off the bike and set it on the curb, set the bike up on its repair tubes (upright), and set to work replacing the tube. The new tube went in, and I pumped it up again...pausing when winded... and got it up to 60. Put all the stuff back under the seat, put the seat in place, and found I'd lost one of my frozen seltzer bottles somewhere along the way. So I went to Ramon's Deli across the street, got a cold bottle of Poland Spring (having once ridden in the MOOSA Tour through the town of Poland Maine), got back on the bike and started down Washington toward the Battery. Poland Spring on the trike triangle, and frozen seltzer in its thermal wrap under the seat.

I had neglected a crucial step in tire repair: the bead wasn't inside the rim. It started making that telltale "chuff-chuff-chuff" noise and the bike shimmied. I looked down at it and saw it had expanded to double the proper width. Got off and put the bike back on its rump. Put a fingernail on the valve to deflate it before the tube could blow out. Got out tire spoons when it was flat. Worked the bead into the rim. Pumped the tire up to 20, took off the pump and spun the tire, looking for trueness. Then rotated the tire slowly with my hands, feeling with fingertips to find any anomaly in the baed-to-rim area. There was none, so I set the wheel back onto the road and BOOKED south.

Top speed on a Main Street pedicab, empty (no passengers), is about 12 MPH on a flat surface. Now I was scared. It was about 12:50 PM and it would take at least 15 more minutes to the Battery through TriBeCa, or DeNiroland. Turn to the west on Canal, and go several long blocks, to turn south on the lovely cobblestoned VanDam Street, or was it Varick? Whatever, it's not lovely when you're biking.

Straight down then, past the original NYPD stables, past the firehouse from The Ghostbusters with the anti-ghost plaque still up on their wall. Seeing tourists walking now, all going south, looking tres Americain in their white tops and blue shorts with white shoes and white socks. (And we wonder why, when traveling abroad, the foreigners can discern the fact that we're Americans). I picked up the phone and left two messages for Pat & Ed (Remember Pat & Ed? This story's about touring with Pat & Ed.) Said I'd be at the Battery shortly.

Wanted to go west to Broadway, on Chambers Street. But Chambers was, as usual, filled with NJ motorists on their way to the Brooklyn Bridge at Centre Street, so I went a block south to Warren, over to Broadway at City Hall Park, and biked to the Battery, tipping my NYPD Emerald Society hat in Irish-Catholic tradition to the Episcopal churches of St. Paul's and Trinity.

Finally, Battery Park loomed. And a pedicab driver was down there! The only first-year driver I'd ever seen at The Battery. A South African named Kyle, and a pretty decent guy, I must say (channeling Ed Grimley). He was sitting in the shade, which was smart considering the temperature was over 90F now. I gulped my 1.5-liter of Poland Spring, and found a message on my phone, that Pat & Ed were just getting onto the boat back to Manhattan. So I asked Kyle to watch my bike while I used the restroom, then walked down to Castle Clinton (the fort where you buy tickets for the SOL) to meet them when they arrived.

As we walked back to the bike, we looked at The Sphere, the old 1970s sculpture that had been at the World Trade Center Plaza until The Attacks badly damaged it. It is a reminder, to everyone who goes to the SOL, of the murderous results of bigotry so bad that the bigots are willing to kill themselves in order to kill thousands of others. Pat took several shots of it before we turned and resumed strolling back to the pedicab.

Just as we approached my trike, the new tire blew with a sound like a .22 rifle in the woods! Brand new Kenda tube. Empty trike. I stood the trike up on its rear end and spooned the tire off, then took the tube out. Felt aroudn the inside of the tire with fingertips, but there was nothing lodged in the tire to account for the flat or the previous de-valving. The new tube had done something I'd never seen before: it split along its seam, a split more than a foot long! The blowout had taken out one of the seams by which it had been stored flat in the box, shipped from Taiwan. Both Kyle and I checked it carefully, and neither of us could see any flaw in the tube, other than that the blowout was on the seam. That is, there was no bit of glass, grit or wire in there. The seam had been weak and blown itself up.

Kyle offered me a spare thornproof, for which I thanked him heartily, because thornproofs are just way better for pedicabs. They're much stronger tubes. I gave him my remaining Kenda and shook his hand. One doesn't really need a spare when one has a thornproof and a patch kit.

So there was the first half of my working Saturday. I had been very late, but it turned out that my passengers were just taking things slowly. So the second flat delayed us by just ten minutes, and that really was the only delay. I suggested they spend the 10 minutes by either hanging out in the Citibank ATM in the old U.S. Steamships office across the street (air-conditioned, with oceanic trade-route maps on the walls), or the lobby of the American Indian Museum (likewise a/c) or touch the hacksaw marks from the night the Revolution began, on the fence at Bowling Green.

Pat & Ed milled about the area where Battery Park meets State Street and Broadway for a few minutes while I did a little more bike surgery, and then, FINALLY, we got underway. It was just about 2:00.

NEXT: From Battery Park to Central Park, talking the whole way.


Monday, June 9, 2008

The NYC pedicab industry needs some laws.

Let me give you three examples of New York City government's lack of foresight. Two are back a ways, and the third happened just last week.

One hot night in 1986 in Prospect Park, three boys climbed through a hole in the Prospect Park Zoo fence, which the Park had not bothered to repair. The boys snuck into the Zoo and one was eaten by polar bears. This is absolutely true, he really was eaten by polar bears! His friends ran back out and told their older relatives, who called the cops, who came in and shot the bears to death. After the needless death of a child, the City fixed the broken fence. Made a big show of it, too.

In about 1990 the City and Amtrak were arguing over who should build a wall between Riverside Park and the Amtrak lines on the west side of Manhattan. They had been going back and forth over it for years; neither wanted to spend the money, and both thought the other should spring for it. But then a little child wandered onto the tracks and was killed by a train. The two parties then fell over each other in efforts to co-operate, and together they both built the wall which could have saved that child's life, had the City and Amtrak been able to see danger on their shared track ahead. But they were only able to see the cost in terms of money, and had set aside thoughts of the cost in human life.

There have been a rising number of construction crane accidents in town. Last Friday James Delayo, the city's top crane inspector, was arrested on suspicion of having taken up to $10,000 in bribes. That arrest happened a full seven weeks after a crane collapse killed seven people, and one week after another collapsed crane killed its operator. The city's historical pattern is pretty clear on dangers brought on by its lack of a proactive mindset:
1. Wait for disaster
2. Enforce the rules after disaster occurs

There are now hundreds of untrained, unlicensed, uninsured pedicab drivers in NYC.
The pedicab law and its rules pertaining to safety, training, insurance and the licensing of the industry's drivers is in place. All that is needed now is enforcement. But, instead of enforcing the law, the NYPD's "Operation Impact" is making rookie cops -- and only rookies -- enforce bicycle rules against pedicabs. The kinds of rules that even cyclists never get tickets for, such as driving on the right side of a one-way street (the left side is safer.) The tickets ought to be written by seasoned patrolmen and women, and should be for lack of insurance papers, lack of a state-issued driver license, lack of working turn signals and brake lights. A law was passed in 2007 mandating all these things, as well as hydraulic brakes and seat belts.

That's what should be done. But, judging by the City's past and current practices, someone will die before proper enforcement begins.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Mayor Mike Bloomberg's loss is my gain, yet I regret it.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg is a genius.

He created software that helped Wall Street firms calculate their products' worth better, and sold it well. He created his own financial-market media business with its own (1130 AM) local business news station. He amassed billions in the business of reporting on business while helping business run itself more efficiently. And he bought himself a house on East 79th Street in which he lives to this day, even though he could have the Gracies' home if he wanted it. He is our Mayor, and I like him.

I was a bus tourguide until early in 2002 -- I'd lost my job as a bus tour guide, as had many, many others. The attack on NYC had come four months before. That and a recession drove tourists away from here. South Street Seaport was dying. Those few who dared to come here invariably -- and usually solely -- wanted to see what out-of-towners call "Ground Zee-row." The site that I call the World Trade Center. They wanted to see The Pit. Nobody cared that George Washington had been inaugurated four blocks away, or that Hamilton and Jefferson had a Broadway sidewalk conversation that altered the location of the US government forever afterward. And they certainly didn't care about a hundred merchants whose businesses were dying on the vine, half a mile away at the Seaport. They wanted that smoking hole. And Mayor Bloomberg figured out a way to give them that hole, and save the Seaport into the bargain.

He had a viewing ramp built over Fulton Street to the south side of St. Paul's Chapel. Then he set up a ticket system. Tickets were to be free, but available only at South Street Seaport, forcing people to go there if they wanted to go up on the platform. That was a brilliant move, and it did enough good that most of the Seaport businesses were able to stay alive through the recession.
Bloomberg gained my admiration then. That was a brilliant move.
My Mayor was about to sign a bill into law a year ago when he paused to think about the small businessmen that that law would impact. An impassioned plea by a beautiful young pedicab driver stopped him from signing the law which would regulate pedicabs by eliminating the jobs of half our people, some 300 drivers.
New York City Council, led by Christine Quinn, overrode Bloomberg's veto. It was thought at the time that she was led by some very deep-pocketed lobbyists in her wish to crack down on us, a charge which she denied. Less than one week ago, a hidden stash of four million dollars of slush funds connected to her has surfaced, which she is also denying connection with.
Sure. Right. If she is made poor by not having access to this hidden cash, she should take solace in the offer of a free ride in TourguideStan's pedicab.

But now to the point of today's post: the Congestion Pricing Plan. It has failed in Albany. Various problems with it led to a failure of necessary support in the state capitol. That, and the change in governors less than a month ago, led it to stumble ahead all last week, never regaining its footing. Finally, it crashed to the floor this afternoon. It's over.

The plan was to charge a fee of between $8 and $21, depending on vehicle size, to allow motorists to travel into midtown Manhattan. The monies would have been matched with federal funds that together would have allowed the city to buy more buses and train cars, to boost the MTA's carrying capacity by around 20,000 more commuters a day. It would have provided cash for much more in terms of mass transit than just new buses and train cars.
But it's over now. The MTA will now have a $17.5BB shortfall in the coming year, and transit will suck for a long time to come.

In the future, the same number of cars will come to the most congested part of town as ever. This is bad for the local atmosphere, bad for road use, bad all around. Air quality will suffer. The motorists themselves will suffer from the stress of having plenty of power, and nowhere to use it. The practice of blowing the horn the instant the light turns green is sure to increase. Had the plan passed, fewer cars would be heading into Midtown on a daily basis, so traffic would move perceptibly faster, and more efficiently. That will not happen now.

But it's good for me as a pedicab driver. If the Congestion Pricing Plan had worked, fewer vehicles would have come into town. That would mean that street traffic would have been lighter, and people could have crossed town faster in motor vehicles. Now that won't happen. And that works in my favor.

The worse traffic is, the better my business is, because I exploit gridlock. Midtown's famously heavy crosstown traffic makes it possible for me to guarantee in writing that I can carry you crosstown in less than eleven minutes, or the ride is free. There is a trick here. Actually, a whole system of tricks that motorists play on themselves and others make heavy traffic as easy to navigate as an airplane through air. Cars in midtown streets tend to be one behind the next in a pretty straight line. There's usually about six to eight feet of space between mid-street moving cars and curb-lane parked cars. My Main Street pedicab is exactly four feet wide. That leaves plenty of room for me to snake through stopped traffic, bearing gleeful New Yorkers to the station, the theater, the bar where all their friends are, or their jobs. If it's in midtown, I'll get you there in ten minutes or less, or it's free. There's a 28-point sign on the side of my bike advertising just that guarantee.

There are those who maintain that pedicabs aren't safe. I have been in business since 2002 without accident. While some guys have strobe lights and stereos, my bike has seatbelts, hydraulic disc brake, LED lights fore and aft, and a safe, knowledgeable driver. To those cautious types, I have this to say: "Good luck. Hope you get a cab. Bye." It's their loss.

I feel really bad about Mayor Mike's loss. I, for a while, carried a sign on the back of my bike thanking him for his veto. He has done a great deal of good for our city. Though it's good for my business personally, it's bad for everyone who works in midtown or lives near it, in the UES, UWS, Hell's Kitchen, Chelsea, Turtle Bay and Murray Hill. It's going to be a long wait for better traffic.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Rush hour sucks for drivers but is wonderful for me

Today's Thursday. I'm working at a desk. It's 11:30 AM and I'm bored. This firm is paying me $20 an hour to run through all the old paper files, separate the dead files, categorize and repair the folders so that they're easier to access, manipulate and mine for data, at a rate of about 100 files a day.

But I'm waiting for the emotional high of rush hour. NYC, at rush hour, finds that plans made for effective traffic flow come to naught when more traffic is flowing than they planned for. That's basically the problem: everyone wants a ride or is walking.

About 1.7 million people will get on the Subway tonight. Roughly 1 million of them ride between 5 and 7 PM. 200,000 more will rush to Grand Central (GCT) for the Harlem, Hudson and New Haven trains home. Another 120,000 will hurry to Penn Station for the LIRR and NJT trains. And another 150,000 will hike to Port Authority for their buses. These three terminals are not lined up with each other, which makes for confusion and traffic hell. Getting from Penn Station to GCT can take an absurdly long time in a car. 25 minutes' ride is not uncommon, after a 25-minute wait for a taxi. 50 minutes to go less than a mile!

You see, Midtown Manhattan has three basic problems at 5 PM.

1. Thousands of people scoot out of their offices and either hire limos or drive their own cars out of garages headed for the bridges and tunnels off this island. This clogs Midtown streets by 5:10.
2. A million people -- literally a million -- come out of the skyscrapers and start walking. There have been no pedestrian rules since 2000 AD (thank you, Giuliani), so people walk in the street, between cars, in the bike lanes, against the light, ...and every single one of them slows motor traffic by some percentage. That percentage adds up when multiplied by a million. Last I read, for 1996, the average Midtown car speed was something like 6.5 MPH, about where it was when vehicles were pulled by horses. And that was before the pedestrians had cell phones.
3. Yellow cabs change shifts at 5 PM. This pulls professional drivers from the system, right about the time when unprofessional drivers--old guys slowly cruising in sedans, young hotshots honking and screeching in SUVs--wreak havoc on the streets.

Midtown's side streets shortly become inefficient single-lane roads. Imagine a 19-foot-long car with one person in it, keeping a 6-foot distance from the car ahead. That's 25 feet. Between 5th and 6th Avenues, 43rd Street is 600 feet long. At one car per every 25 feet, that's 24 cars, or 24 people, waiting in a 600-foot line. To their right and left are about 5 feet of open space, not quite enough for cars to maneuver into or out of, with parked cars taking up the rest of the 30-foot space from curb to curb. The car ahead blocks the view of that open space, so most don't dare getting out of line; they might miss their chance when the line moves up. The fear is, "What if someone's double-parked ahead?"

That's why I love rush hour. I use the five-foot space between moving and parked cars. When I come up to the inevitable double-parked limo, I use the space between moving cars to slip across to the other side, then shoot forward again, passing car after car after car. Traffic jams can be exploited. Imagine sitting in a little vehicle that passes all the big vehicles.

My pedicab averages about 8 MPH, 2 MPH faster than the traffic average. I usually carry two adults from the corner of 42nd & Vanderbilt to Penn Station in about 11 minutes. In fact, a guarantee is posted on the side of the trike: if I don't get you across Midtown in 10 minutes, the ride is free. (Penn is actually a block outside of Midtown.) People like and trust the written guarantee. Yes, it costs more to ride in a pedicab than a taxi. Typically, I charge $20 for one person and $25 for two. Though that's a lot for just getting across midtown, the rate is coupled with a guarantee that they'll get from Grand Central to Penn Station in 11 minutes. They hop right in. They feel the need: the need for speed.

To recap, I'm going to make about $150 sitting here for eight hours. Then I'm going to make $100 more between 5:30 and 8, while getting to meet people and proudly show them my town.

That's why rush hour is wonderful. I become the fastest guy in town, and people need my services.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Once around Greenwich Village

A young couple from Mississippi saw either the web site or the YouTubes, and they emailed, looking for a tour while visiting NYC. We scheduled a Greenwich Village Comprehensive tour ( for 2 PM Monday, at Union Square. They also wanted to find out what SoHo was all about, and it's the off season. I usually bill $85 an hour, but it's the off season and I'm glad to get the work. So I wrote up a 90-minute comprehensive Village tour that would dovetail into a SoHo Tour by going east on Bleecker, just like our old Double-Decker route, then south on West Broadway and into the gallery district. Just $100 total for over two hours. We met, they sat on the heated seats, I put the carriage blanket over them, and we were off.

BTW, this is how we talk now, this "about" stuff. Ten years ago I would have written, "They wanted to find out about SoHo" but now it's to find out "what SoHo is about." Every subject spoken of by those under 40 is about something, and they set out to state what it's about. In the '50s there was only one "about" and that was The Hokey Pokey. That's what it's all about!

We put our whole selves into it, too.

So. Village tour.
We went south on Broadway, stopping in front ot Blatt Billiards,where a gorgeous handbuilt inlaid pool table stands in the window. "Governor Schwarzeneggar shops here." Yeah, he owns one of those Blatt tables, the best in the country. After a peek into Grace Episcopal Church (James Renwick, arch.) we hung a right and into blocks of historic houses.

They saw the house that was accidentally blown up in 1970 by student activists who were building a bomb in the basement while the parents were out. And the toy bear who stands in the window there, dressed this week in a bright green outfit for St. Patrick's Day. That bear has an outfit for every occasion! Jets, Mets, Nets and Yankee uniforms for whoever's in the playoffs, a fireman's outfit, and a tux around New Year's Eve. The current owners of the house have put a lot of thought into that bear.

Down near the end of the next block, a couple of historical notes: the second cemetery of the very first group of Jews in the western hemisphere. They came in 1653, literally victims of the Spanish Inquisition. A little further down the block was the site of the old Grapevine Tavern, through which people "heard it," if you get me.

St. Vincent's Wall Of Remembrance is still gone, that ghastly wall of "HAVE YOU SEEN MY SON WHO WORKS IN THE TWIN TOWERS" posters of the dead-yet-hoped-only-missing, that cluttered kiosks and bulletin boards all over downtown in the days following The Attacks. Saint Vincent's had them on a sheltered south-facing porch on West 11th, but they are gone now, supposedly for cleaning and refurbishment. They've been gone for almost a year; I should check into that with Mark Levy, who started a "friends of" group.

On to Greenwich Avenue (not Street) to see the tiles that kids all over North America sent in after The Attacks, and across Perry Street. It was named for Matthew Perry, but not that Matthew Perry. Google him with"Japan" in the search box and learn some American history.

And so on. Bleecker Street's generations of live folk music at The Bitter End, The Peculier Pub's proud listing of 500 beers, single-spaced on its 3-column beerlist. The Blue Note, the IFC Cinema, the Directors' Walk of Fame, the building used in the TV series Friends (that Matthew Perry) Saint Luke's-In-The-Fields, and the usual smattering of 150-year-old houses.

Then down into SoHo.

What makes SoHo unique is its architecture. SoHo is made largely of lofts. The area had been residential until the revolutionary store of A.T. Stewart, which opened on Broadway in 1842. Then what is not SoHo became known as the "cast-iron district." Stewart's idea was to use an entire building, essentially a house, and fill it with goods of different kinds in different rooms. So, cutlery and dishes on the left, linens on the right, men's clothing down the hall, women's clothing upstairs front, etc. It seems to the modern mind as if things were always done this way, but it was a New Yorker who made up the concept. He called it the "department" store.

And it was the only one in the world. Stewart made a fortune!

That was 1842. By 1850 there were dozens, up and down Broadway, north of the financial district. They absolutely revolutionized the concept of shopping, revolutionized architecture and revolutionized women's civil rights. How?
Aha, you'll have to take the tour to find out all that. But here's a teaser: at the end of this one-minute YouTube is A.T. Stewart's house.

It's a full three stories and L-shaped, at the interior corner of a Village sidestreet. Out front a circular staircase and working gas lamp. And a plaque to let the world know that Stewart invented the department store.

My guests had a great time in the Village and SoHo. They got off on Grand Street at Ferrara's, one of my favorite eating establishments. Everything is dessert.

Stan O'Connor
licensed sightseeing guide

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

First post 3/4/08

I am Tourguide Stan, a sightseeing guide of New York City. I like meeting people from around the world and showing them my town. Their viewpoint is important, so I make things easier for them while they are here. As "TourguideStan" I have videos about NYC on, and a set of photos on My business web site, for those of you wanting the finest personalized aid in sightseeing, is .

This blog is to be an informal take on what it's like to help people see the best that New York City has to offer. It will host personal observations, quoted conversations, issues with city government, notes on organizations I belong to, celebrity mentions, and funny stories bordering on jokes. This blog will be a place where you can look into Midtown Manhattan through the eyes of an expert with 15 years' experience in getting people here and taking care of them during their stay. There will also be the occasional complaint about tourists who you'd think weren't smart enough to make enough money to come here, but who do come, and make amazing -- sometimes appalling -- assumptions about what NYC is like.

Case in point: On a group tour before The Attacks, we were at the World Trade Center. I said, "The World Trade Center's eight buildings, including the Twin Towers, hold about 50,000 people during the workday. The site sits atop the PATH trains from New Jersey. Rush-hour PATH trains bring about 1000 people here every five minutes. Also, seven subway lines are very close by, which can get an additional thousand people into or out of the area every minute of the day." A guy who knew nothing about trains then responded with the query, "Where do they park?"

Wherever possible, terms will be shortened into acronyms, like these:
New York Times (NYT)
Statue of Liberty (SOL)
Guides Assn. of New York City (GANYC)

My Nikon Coolpix L1 is always on hand, so I take lots of videos and photos of life in the big city. Lots of space on my computer is devoted to that. If possible, I'll post photos here, or links to them through Flickr and Youtube. For Youtubes about NYC, search for TourguideStan. Likewise, look on, where I field questions about sightseeing and other NYC-travel topics.

My basic problem in life is that I am kind of in a box of my own design. A middle-aged owner of a pedicab who would rather do bus tours, what we call 'step-on' work in the trade. But I get very little step-on guide work. Instead, I take people around town on the pedicab. Ten years from now, I hope to be doing step-on work rather than still pedicabbing, since it's way easier to sit in a seat and talk, than to pedal people around and talk. My bike has no motor; it's all me. I don't want to make my living pedaling a 160-pound bike with two passengers ('pax' in tourism jargon) weighing 400 pounds when I'm 65.
Then again, I am in truly exceptionally good health. Biking builds muscles while letting you change the view in front of you, and you get to sit down the whole time. I lost about 35 pounds when I stepped off the double deckers for good, and my back, shoulders, butt and legs are really strong now. (Additional dividend: double-decker guides wear long underwear from October through April. I don't.) The doctor is impressed by my heart. Blood pressure averages about 110 over 80. I've never had an operation or broken bone.

Biking is a passion of mine. I strongly believe America needs more bikes and fewer muscle cars. Buying a high-powered motor vehicle you don't need tricks you into a fake feeling of personal power, while depriving cold homeowners of oil they need for their furnaces. An out-of-shape guy in an SUV is like Charles Atlas' 97-pound weakling wearing a muscle costume. My muscles are real, and capable of getting two adults and their suitcases from Grand Central to any midtown hotel in less than 10 minutes during Friday rush hour. No Hummer will ever match that.

I've done RAGBRAI, Cycle America and the Moosa Tour. I'm getting married soon and putting a road bike on our registry!

My politics are center-left. I read the Times and the WS Journal, but usually don't agree with the Journal's editorials. I don't always agree with the Times' either. While I believe in fiscal responsibility, my opinion of Republicans who say they want both a small government and lots of government spies, soldiers and hi-tech weaponry is that they are seriously fooling themselves. You can't have a giant military and a small government. I wish our president were more like his father. Maybe the Dollar wouldn't be at an all-time low if he believed in a peace dividend and not a five-year war costing us nearly half a trillion dollars.

But that all-time low is good for me and for my business: tourism is one of the few American industries helped by the rise of foreign currencies vis-a-vis the Dollar. Business is good. And everyone wants to come to New York City.

Let me tell you a few tourism-industry facts.
The western hemisphere's biggest draw is the United States of America. The United States' citizens come more to NYC than to any other American destination, God bless 'em. They may only come for "Gray-ound Zee-row" but they come.

That said, I won't be getting into long arguments with those who want to change me into something I'm not. No time for that; there is a never-ending supply of travelers who need a little help.

People keep telling me I should write. Here we go.