As you may have heard, the City of New York has decided to turn Times Square into a pedestrian plaza (on a trial basis), and closed down Broadway between 42nd and 47th Streets starting this May. (Seventh Avenue remains open to traffic.) In the newly opened space, the city intended to place some tables and chairs, but the permanent versions had yet to arrive. So instead they bought some garishly colored lawn chairs from a Brooklyn hardware store.
I thought the lawn chairs were fantastic, but not everyone agreed: apparently they were pretty controversial. I guess the objection was supposed to be that they’re tacky, since tackiness was a quality unprecedented in Times Square before their arrival. Anyway, the complainants can rest easy, as the new furniture is coming in and all the lawn chairs have been removed. All, that is, except for those that were incorporated into a public art installation this weekend to commemorate the lawn chair era. The sculpture is by artist Jason Peters and looks like this:
So, this Jason Peters wouldn’t happen to be four inches tall and green? Because it looks like he rolled up a big lawn chair katamari. Run, tourists! He’ll be rolling you up next!
(From other angles it looks less like a katamari: it’s more like a 180-degree arc of lawn chairs. Like most sculpture, it looks better in reality than in photos. But if you want to see it, you only have three hours: it’s coming down at 9pm tonight.)
Today I decided to test the notion that you never forget how to ride a bicycle. In my case it had been about 20 years since I last rode a bike, so it seemed plausible that I might actually have forgotten. It turned out that while I was pretty inept when I got on the bike today, I was almost certainly better than I would have been had I never learned in the first place. It took intense concentration, but I managed to avoid falling over, colliding with anything, or ending up in the Hudson River (it turns out the trail has no guardrail between about 100th and 125th streets).
Some thoughts about the re-learning process:
- Turning is harder than I remembered.
- Actually, just going in a straight line is harder than I remembered.
- Bicycle seats are uncomfortable.
- Sharing the road with the New York City taxicab fleet is a somewhat terrifying prospect. Waiting until I got to the bike trail before I attempted to ride was a very good idea.
- However, the riverside trail on a warm Saturday afternoon has its own hazards: hordes of pedestrians, some of whom are not very attentive.
- Being an obviously incompetent cyclist in front of those hordes of people is embarrassing, but not as much as, say, walking through Times Square in a Starfleet uniform to see the new Star Trek film. Not that I have any experience with that.
I used a rented bike today, but I’m contemplating buying one. Anyone know a good bike shop in Manhattan?
I was walking along Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village today when I was surprised to spot someone running a shell game. Not some metaphorical shell game with sketchy accounting practices, but an actual shell game. With soda bottle caps. Maybe it’s just my naivete about the Big City, but I always imagined that while shell games probably went on in old-timey New York, the con artists moved on to a new scam once the phrase “shell game” entered the language as a synonym for cheating. But there it was, and Wikipedia confirms that shell games are still run “at locations with a high tourist concentration.”
Still, I’m shocked there are people who don’t know this is a scam. Maybe it’s a sign of the dire economic times: 50-billion-dollar Ponzi schemes are out, shell games played on a cardboard box are in.
The first of today’s photos is here, and you can browse them in my New York City set.
(As an aside: I promise this blog will get less NYC-centric in the future! Most of my attention lately has been divided between exploring the city and starting my new job–and I can’t blog about the latter, hence the focus on the city. But as I get more settled in I will have other topics to write about.)
So now New York pedestrians have to worry not only about falling cranes, but plates of glass descending from the sky. To be honest that possibility had occurred to me while admiring some of the skyscrapers under construction, but it’s still disconcerting to know that it happens. Luckily the New York Times has an article on strategies people are using to avoid the deadly objects raining from the sky in this city. Which mostly boils down to “don’t walk under sketchy-looking scaffolding,” a point which might have seemed obvious. On the other hand, it’s difficult not to walk under sketchy-looking scaffolding around here.
Still, it’s a little silly. Of all the ways New York can kill you, falling windowpanes are in the same category as giant monster attacks: sure, they seem scary, but the chances of actually being killed by one are low. In the latest instance (of falling glass, not monsters), no one was hurt despite the window falling in Times Square, on Sunday afternoon. Really, walking under construction sites is much less dangerous than, say, crossing the street, where the cabs will speed up to encourage you to move out of their way. (This is one of the more realistic aspects of Grand Theft Auto IV.)
Also, the sidebar now shows the latest photo in the New York City photoset, rather than the Project 365 photoset. I considered just pointing it to the main photostream but I felt some thematic consistency would be good. I’m hoping to post to this set frequently (ideally once per week) but I won’t be enforcing an update schedule like I did with Project 365.
In today’s New York Times there’s a piece about the decreasing relevance of the bohemian lifestyle depicted in the musical Rent to actual New York City culture. I don’t have anything to say on that issue, but I wanted to flag this paragraph:
THERE are those who still hold onto the dream of danger, but their numbers are shrinking. Skinny young ex-suburbanites who would swoon at the sight of a pea shooter walk around Williamsburg wearing T-shirts emblazoned with a silhouette of a Kalashnikov and the words “Defend Brooklyn” (from everyone who came after, one assumes). Residents of Hell’s Kitchen adamantly refuse to adopt the name Clinton, an old label for the area that real estate brokers tried to bring back at a time when the Hell’s Kitchen description actually applied.
As a Hell’s Kitchen resident myself, I object to characterizing this as purely motivated by wanting to maintain an aura of danger in the neighborhood. (That might be a part of it, but push it too hard and your friends from the suburbs will be even more reluctant to visit.)
In reality, we prefer “Hell’s Kitchen” because it’s a much better name than “Clinton”. It’s colorful and evocative. And it’s perfectly legitimate to reference the neighborhood’s history even if its character has changed. Meanwhile, “Clinton” is bland and generic, with a tenuous connection to the area (via the not-that-impressive DeWitt Clinton Park). And contrary to the writer’s suggestion, “Hell’s Kitchen” is actually a much older name for the area.
So, don’t brand us a bunch of posers just because we want our neighborhood to keep its awesome name.
One of the great things about living in New York City is that I’ll frequently read on the internet about some event, and then realize, “Hey, I could go there!” For example, the MoCCA1 Art Festival this weekend. I’ve never been to a comics convention before, but with it being only a few subway stops away I didn’t really have a good reason not to go.
My primary goal was to acquire a signed copy of the Dinosaur Comics book, and I was not disappointed in the outcome:
I also got a copy of the new annotated Wondermark book, because it looked nice and also because Wondermark is fantastic. Randall Munroe (of xkcd) was doing free sketches, but I foolishly didn’t have anything for people to sketch on. He and David Malki ! (who does Wondermark) were next to each other, and each had a sign offering to punch the other for $1. (I even saw it happen while I was standing there.)
Outside of webcomics I knew almost none of the exhibitors (it was very much an independent, small press show), although there was obviously a lot of talent on display. I made sure to walk around and look at everything, but it’s hard to know just by looking at covers what’s good. I did see Bryan Lee O’Malley, the author of Scott Pilgrim which has recently become my new favorite print comic. (It’s kind of a hipster Ranma 1/2 with copious references to classic NES games. Anyone here who reads comics should absolutely check it out.)
Normally when I think of comics shows I think of something like the San Diego Comic Con2 with everyone in ridiculous costumes and big lines at the popular booths. This wasn’t at all like that: very low-key, no costumes and you never had to wait in line to talk to anybody (unless it was Randall Munroe, or Michel Gondry who turned up for a signing). Overall it was a fun outing and I need to keep an eye out for more stuff like this going on in the city.
Meanwhile, some of my coworkers are going to the actual Nerd Prom and I am tempted to join them… of course, I’ll need a costume.
1 Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art
2 A.k.a. “Nerd Prom”
We had the TV on at work during lunch and managed to see Alain Robert scaling the New York Times building. The feed cut away before he reached the top, which was sad because we were all hoping to see the greeting from the welcoming committee of police officers standing on the roof—this was not an authorized ascent. However, I have to assume the dialogue went something like this:
NYPD: I do not suppose you could speed things up?
Robert: If you’re in such a hurry, you could lower a rope, or a tree branch, or find something useful to do.
NYPD: I could do that. In fact, I’ve got some rope up here. But I do not think that you will accept my help, since I am only waiting around to arrest you.
Robert: That does put a damper on our relationship.
Meanwhile, some dude from Brooklyn thought this was sufficiently awesome that he went out and climbed it himself hours later. Pretty soon there’ll be guided tours up the side of the Times building…