NYC Error 404: Not Found

There are exceptions to every rule. The rule of New York City – that you can get anything, at any time, anywhere – is no exception. You can get a shark on the subway, a watch at the shoe repair, or a diamond in the rough. But you can’t get a decent bank, doctor, or hair dresser for love or money. That’s why city slickers have an ingenuity all their own.

You can get free checking – but only at banks with fewer than a dozen ATMs in a 10-mile radius. You can get free ATMs – but your savings account interest rate is approaching zero. You can use online checking – unless your employer refuses to use them for direct deposit. Solution: open accounts with multiple banks.

You can get wonderful medical specialists – but your PCP won’t return your calls. Your doctor might return your calls, but they won’t see you for a second longer than five minutes. Your doctor might be willing to see you for more than five minutes, but their tremors are so bad that a nurse has to write out their medical instructions for them. Solution: switch doctors every year.

You can get a haircut, but it’ll cost you $35 – before tip. You can get a cheap haircut but the hair dresser will give you a style all their own. You can get a moderately-priced haircut, but the hairdresser will laugh at you. You can get an expensive haircut, but you may not be able to eat that week. Solution: cut your own hair.

Every city has its limits, but the inventiveness of its people knows no bounds.

Election Season Reading: #tbt

Four years ago, I was sitting in a church in Brooklyn, listening to someone drone on about how to be a poll worker. In honor of Throwback Thursday, here’s what I wrote on the Terrifying Tuesday – election day – that followed:

Working the polls wasn’t what I thought it would be. I thought I would sit, greet my people as they ought to be greeted, hand them their ballots, and go back to my crochet or conversation. It wasn’t like that. It was trial by fire.

From down the block, I picked out the polling station by the line of people lined up down the street. That line lend me around the school building, through the front door, past the PTA coffee&tea table, down the hallway, and into the gym. Inside the gym were – I later learned – six districts, each with its own table and a heart-sickeningly long line.
My fellow stand-by worker – how I came to be a stand-by poll worker is a story for another time – and I found our Poll Coordinator, Randy. Randy, sunglasses propped on his head, papers in hand, and bold red shirt, was barely holding on to control. Needed everywhere at once, Randy greeted us as generously as he could – he gave us two seconds of his time. An efficient man, who believed in delegation, he told us each to man one of the two most overwhelmed tables. I took the one with a single person and an extra chair. As I sat, the harassed poll worker who had been on her own turned in Randy’s direction and demanded, “Does she know what she’s doing? I CANNOT have anyone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.” Randy, without knowing my name, muchtheless the fact that I’d been trained a day earlier in an abridged session that skipped much of the usual content, said, with authority, “She’s a pro.” It seemed safer not to contradict him.
My fellow poll worker told me the tables’s Electoral District, Assembly District, and which number voter and ballot we were on. I filled in the voter cards, she checked in the people. Fifteen minutes later, she’d judged me capable and left me alone at the table as she took her first bathroom break after four exhausting hours on the job. It was 9AM.
The voters were a delight, if utterly baffled by the lack of levered machines and excess of paper ballots. Apparently, voters hide under a rock between presidential general elections. Most were happy to be there, if utterly confused on how to vote, and some were flat-out thrilled that they could have a ballot of their own. Despite the wait in line – over 30 minutes when I arrived – they were courteous and generally kind.
The only people who had trouble were the affidavit voters, and that blame falls squarely on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The day before the election Gov. Cuomo announced that anyone could vote affidavit [absentee voting from a polling site] – but he didn’t discuss this with the people running the election. In the normal course of events, your vote cannot be counted unless you go to your polling station. What Cuomo tried to say was that if you cannot reach your polling station because your home, neighborhood, or polling station has been devastated by Hurricane Sandy, you can vote anywhere via affidavit. Practically, it meant that people showed up because they were in the neighborhood already and didn’t feel like going to their polling station later. One person, when I explained that she’d have to go home to Long Island to vote, even though she attends college in the neighborhood, demanded a further explanation. When I clarified that only people affected by the hurricane could vote by affidavit, she wanted to know why she couldn’t just claim to be a hurricane victim for voting purposes. It was the first time* I’ve ever had to tell someone “I cannot advise you to commit a federal crime.”
That was bad enough, but then we began to run low on affidavit ballots. Randy, the voice of authority, called the Board of Election. We were promised ballots; none came. We ran out of ballots; none came. The clock clicked closer to the end of the polling day, and nervous voters – some of whom has been sent to us by other polling sites without ballots – sat around. Then one of those earnest voters came over to my district table and demanded to know why the woman next to us was doling out an affidavit ballot to her daughter when she wouldn’t give him one. Randy, who had kept his cool with angry voters and a recalcitrant Board of Elections during that harrowing day, swooped down on the table live an avenging angel. He seized all of the poll worker’s affidavit ballots and demanded to know who she was saving them for. She claimed that she had just happened to find them at that moment. Randy glared in silence. She said she hadn’t realize no one else had any of them. We had been talking about little else since the polling station had handed out ‘the last one’ over 30 minutes prior.
Randy gave the ballots to those who needed them until they ran out too. He kept a close eye on that poll worker for the rest of the night.
Despite such hiccups, the poll workers were a dedicated and hearty bunch. From 5AM-12AM we worked the polls, making democracy happen. As we closed down the poll, the news came through the wire: Obama wins in preliminary polling. With a shout, Democrat and Republican poll workers embraced. It was a draining day, and it was a beautiful day. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back.
*Not the last.

How to Endorse Hillary Clinton

Politics has been called the art of the possible. Making consensus, creating such a political work of art, is the best way to describe my role in Hillary Clinton becoming the junior senor from New York, a platform that has put a serous run for the White House within her reach.

…Hillary Clinton was the big draw, and she was good as she always is.

-Rep. Charlie Rangel from And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress

If I Go, the Ice Cream Goes With Me

With the ring of the cash register, our relationship shifted.

The transaction had started, as it always does, with the struggle of getting the attention of someone behind the counter. That is hard enough to get a server’s attention at a joint Dunkin Donuts-Baskin Robbins at any time of day. It’s twice as hard before 9am. At that time of day the staff’s focus wavers only between the growing line and the rapidly depleting coffee pot. But my sister and I are tactical in our pursuit of ice cream, especially when Baskin Robbins – known for offering 31 flavors – is offering a scoop for $1.31 in honor of the 31st day of the month. We split up for a two-pronged attack; she stood in line while I attempted to wave down an employee behind the counter. She got to them first, I joined her, and we ordered our early-morning ice cream.

The cashier, confused but polite, rang up us. “$4.73,” she said.

“No,” I shook my head in confusion, “it’s not.”

“It’s the 31st of the month,” my sister explained. “The scoops are $1.31 each.”

“No, they are not,” the cashier informed us.

She stared at us. For a moment, we stared at her. Then, I glanced down at the ice cream cones we held and knew that in this stand-off we were guaranteed to win. “Don’t worry,” I assured my sister as the clerk kept her eyes on us as the manager warily approached.

On one side of the counter was the cashier and her manager.

On the other side was me, my sister, two ice cream cones, and a coupon:

IMG_20160402_225318

“We already have the ice cream,” I pointed out to my sister, “and they can’t get it back. As far as they know we could walk out without paying a cent.”

We wouldn’t, but our adversaries didn’t know that.

They looked at our coupon in surprise, looked at the ice cream we were holding on the other side of the counter, and – without looking at us – reentered our order into the cash register.

“$1.31, each,” our cashier said as her manager walked away shaking her head with puzzlement.

We paid.

We ate.

We appreciated the customer service. Especially after my sister re-read the coupon and pointed at that not all Baskin Robbins locations were required to participate in the $1.31 scoop day. It’s not every chain store that will honor the promises of its corporate headquarters. So, thank you to

Baskin Robbins at 1342 Amsterdam Avenue

for honoring coupons,

and for knowing when you’ve been out-maneuvered.

Riding the Rails, A Love-Hate Relationship

I hate the subway. I hate its ugly cars. I hate the obnoxious and endemic man-spreading. I hate its skipped stops and unannounced alternate routes. I hate its sticky vinyl flooring. I hate the trails of unknown liquids which spread across the cars. I hate the people who are forced to beg for money, the laws that forbid donating, and those who won’t spare a dime for a brother. I hate the fares which increase at the same rate as unexplained delays. I hate pole-hogs and people who won’t give their seat to a pregnant woman. I hate the way everyone averts their eyes when fights break out. Most days, I hate the subway.

But on other days, I love the subway. I love the way is arrives, gliding down the rails smooth as butter – doors open, doors shut, blink your eyes and you’re in a new neighborhood. I love the parents who spend the commute reading stories to their kids. I love listening to new music blast through someone else’s headphones – though I worry about their own damaged hearing. I love the artists who sketch their fellow passengers quickly and confidently. I love watching women apply their makeup without hesitation or a mirror. I love watching the graffiti flash by the train windows late at night. I love seeing old men with canes try to give their seats to young women with children. I love spotting a friend from long ago in the next seat over, and catching up as we chug through tunnels and over bridges. I love reading Poetry in Motion and studying the MTA-commissioned art on the subway walls. I love the subway.

I have never loved the subway more than when I fell – thrown off balance by a sudden jolt. With a book in my hands and a hefty backpack weighting me down, I was destined to fall like a turtle onto my back. But the guy standing behind me, someone I didn’t know and hadn’t noticed, saw what was happening and reached out a helping hand. He put his hands on my shoulders and didn’t let go until I stabilized myself and turned around. “I got your back,” he told me.

The subway might be an awful place. But it’s also a wonderful place. Because as long as you’re on the subway, someone’s got your back.

Subway Stories: Bootlegging

The nicest of the subway station’s elevator operators was there today. To call him an elevator operator isn’t quite accurate – he doesn’t open gates or announce floors. Rather, he sits at the controls, pressing “door open” when the staccato of high heels ticks up as the doors begin to close, pressing “door close” when the air has been all but pressed out of a packed of elevator, and shooting the breeze with any other subway worker who’s on duty at the station. Today the elevator operator was shooting the breeze with one of his guys as he operated his elevator.

“Coming up on 25 years?” the operator asked his fellow membership a he pressed down on the “door close” button.

“Oh, yeah,” his friend responded.

“What are you gonna do?” the operator turned in his padded chair to ask. The operators at my station have a desk and chair, and in the summer a fan, to keep them company.

“I’m gonna be like you, sit here all day pressing a button,” his friend teased.

“Oh man, I’m year 36!” the operator protested.

“Yep just sit here pressing a button and bootlegging,” his friend said as the doors opened. “Just like you,” he called as he walked out of the elevator.

“That’s low man, that’s low” shouted the operator after him.

Bootlegging? I guess the MTA pensions aren’t what they used to be.

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

We all have terrible days. We all have horrible days. And sometimes, like in the children’s classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, we have apocalyptic-style bad days. But whereas Alexander decides he’s moving to Australia, even at my worst I’m rather stay closer to home.

I’m moving into the library.

Today was a bad day, and I’m done with those. So, and you’re the first to know, I decided to move to a place where good things happen. As a bonus, it’s got central heating and cooling – which my current home lacks. There are plush chairs can’t be beat. No one minds if I stay there for hours. I’m friends with the librarians, so I’m sure they will look the other way when I make myself at home as they lock out the public – and if not, there are plenty of places to hide. Best of all, I’ll never run out of reading material.

Admittedly, one lesson from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is that it’s best to sleep on momentous decisions. I can do that. After all, the library is now closed until 9am.

Podiatrist: What I’m Looking for in a Doctor – Not What I Want in a Friend

There is one thing worse than getting your teeth pulled – going in for a regular check-up and finding out you need to come back to have teeth pulled. Going to see the doctor always carries with it the chance that you’ll have to go back soon for some even worse reason. That is why I usually enter the doctor’s office accompanied by my insurance cards and a sense of dread. Unless it’s my podiatrist. In that case, I take in the insurance cards but check my dread at the door.

My podiatrist never has negative news. Rather, he never delivers news as though it’s negative. He tells me solutions, and only then explains the diagnosis. By the time I realize what’s wrong, I already know how I’m going to make it right. It’s like the guy knows what it feels like to be told something terrible – and I suspect he does because he’s practiced on himself. I bet he had one of his med school buddies diagnose him with awful things in different ways, just to see what it felt like. I wouldn’t assume that about just anyone, but it seems a likely scenario for a doctor who took the time to inject himself with local anesthesia in multiple ways just to find out which way is the least painful. That’s exactly how he found out that using a freeze spray and then injecting the anesthesia – frequently checking with the patient to gauge their numbness and pain – is the best way.

Injecting yourself with anesthesia just to see what it’s like is the sort of fanatic behavior that would scare me in a friend. However, it’s exactly what I want in a doctor – someone who’s primary concern isn’t sensible personal behavior, but their patient’s best interests. I like my friends to come with a healthy sense of humor, but the best podiatrists don’t. But they do come with helpful hint – the cheapest place to score orthodics, the fastest fixes – and great decency.

They have the kind of decency which breeds a caring doctor, one who checks a patient’s chart before meeting with them. It makes them a doctor who requires that a patient repeat instructions, to make sure they understood – and then also provides a print out, just in case. It is exactly what you see in a doctor who hires the sort of nice people who always have something positive to say. It’s how a doctor who uses multiple reminder services – and comes in early for an emergency appointment – would behave.

When I was little, my mom called the doctor and got medical advice. Then I grew up and started calling my own doctors for medical help. In between then and now doctors started sending calls straight to voicemail or having their staff intercept the call and book an appointment rather than provide immediate assistance. Except for the staff at my podiatrist’s office. They’re not nurses, but they have enough medical knowledge – and they’re willing to share it – to tell me what procedure I should book or whether I need to come in at all. Also, they like me and aren’t afraid to say it. I can’t be positive that they’ll like you too, but I can promise that you’ll love them.

Dr. Christopher Minacapilli

210 E. 86th Street Suite 402
New York, NY 10028

(212) 628-4444

This is a Beautiful Friendship

I don’t have casual relationships. At least, not with my shoe repair store. It took my a few years to find my current place, and our relationship has been slow and rocky. The first few months were a honeymoon period – I’d bring them shoes and they’d fix them on the spot. They changed my watch band and made me three extra holes in it so that it could fit me. At the high point, they would nod in recognition when I entered the store, and stop what they were doing to wait on me.

Then we went through a rough patch –  taps kept falling off my shoes, as they warned me might happen but which I still didn’t appreciate – and I considered giving up on the relationship and starting over someone else. But, after some time apart, and long consideration, I went back. The parts of the relationship I didn’t appreciate – that watches would continue to break and shoes need to be resoled – were not their fault. It wouldn’t be right to give up on something so promising when the failings were no one’s fault. So I went back. Their joy was palpable – smiling, they asked why it had been so long since they’d last seen me. That sealed it. While I’d always liked the gruff men who worked there, I didn’t know that they felt the same. Our feelings mutual, and my expectations managed, our relationship began to thrive.

I’ve been with them ever since. Now, past the highs and lows of our early time together, they continue to surprise me. Last week I brought them my watch to fix, not for the first time. They switched out some parts. They handed the watch to me, and I handed them the money. With a look and a head shake, they waved my money away. Because that’s the kind of relationship we’ve worked hard to establish.

Disaster Preparedness

Joaquin may have missed New York City, but Hurricane Season isn’t over yet. In case of an actual emergency, I have enough milk and toilet paper to share. But the supplies for blizzards – for which Pennsylvania natives are always prepared – and hurricanes – which don’t occur in land-locked Pennsylvania – are not the same. So, Florida-native Special Corespondent Dana has this advice:

water over milk – ain’t no snow to pack it in

For more on how to survive nature, the Weather-Ready Nation is here for you.