Tuesday, November 21, 2017

You can still walk and shop in New York City: less, but still better than any other US city

In most American cities, most people rarely walk, and when they do they often walk into you because they are unused to it and are distracted, most often by their phone. In New York City, people are much more used to walking; they do it all the time. And while they may sometimes seem distracted, they are almost always aware of where they are and who is around them. So, when they walk into you, it is not because they are unaware, it is because they think they have the right of way and you should not be in it. (It should go without saying that suburbs, in general, do not count; at least not those suburbs that are so undistinctive that they could be outside Dallas, New York, Chicago, Kansas City, or Minneapolis.)

The kind of car-based life that most Americans lead, particularly with regard to shopping, is very difficult in New York. It is expensive to own a car, because parking on the street is hard to find and often costly, and long-term parking in a garage costs more than the rent for a two-bedroom apartment in most towns. Plus, despite this fact, there is a lot of traffic, including cabs and trucks, and little room for those trucks to double-park, so driving is often inconvenient. Going to the supermarket for a week’s worth of groceries is absurd, and going to fill up the SUV at Costco a rare event (indeed, more often a cab).

Fortunately, neighborhoods in New York have an alternative; lots of small stores that you can walk to and carry stuff home from. Supermarkets, as well as greengrocers and butchers and fish markets, are within a few blocks. Walking home from the subway, the main mode of transportation to and from work, you stop and buy things for dinner. Or maybe a staple or two you’re running out of. There are restaurants and bars and coffee houses you can walk to, and stores to buy household appliances and stuff for your computer and your phone, and books and presents for people. Basically, the neighborhood is a small (or not so small!) town where you can walk to everything (unless you are very infirm, and then there is the bus, or a cab, or delivery). The idea that if you need something you have to get in your car and drive to get it is ingrained in most Americans, city or suburban or rural, but in New York it is not. You walk a lot.

Thus, it is sad to read, in an editorial in the New York Times (November19, 2017, “Why is New York full of empty stores?”)about the degradation of New York neighborhoods, about the closure of family businesses of all sorts, of stores that have been in place for decades, because landlords have raised the rent – often by 100% or more – and made the cost of doing business impossible. Presumably they hope to rent to large corporate chain stores or trendy boutiques selling discretionary items at high enough prices to cover the rent, but as the article says, how many stores selling $400 t-shirts can a neighborhood support? So, often, the stores stay empty, or the new tenant doesn’t last long, and this is not good for the former tenants or their patrons. Is it good for the landlord? It must, somehow, be; maybe they get a tax break if they can’t get “market rent” for their commercial properties. The fact that there are so many empty stores and yet landlords are not dissuaded from kicking more people out suggests there must be some way they benefit. In visiting New York, I sat with relatives who talked about this problem, discussing this, that, and the other store or restaurant that had been around for years or decades that was now closing down. We have, in fact, talked about this for decades, and it has been true. Fewer family-owned stores, more chain stores one would find in a suburban mall, more Starbucks and banks and drug stores.

Banks and drug stores seem to be especially popular. Actually going into a bank and taking out or depositing money (as opposed to just using any old ATM) seems much more common in New York than elsewhere, and there are certainly banks all over the place; there cannot be too many. And drug stores! Once, Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side seemed to be covered with stores selling medical supplies (“truss stores”) but not with the ubiquity of the current chains, mainly CVS and Duane Reade in this area. But they have changed. Some years ago I took a photo of the east side of Amsterdam Avenue at 96th St., where the big Ionic-columned “bank”-looking building on the north side (which, of course, used to be a bank, the East River Savings Bank) was now a CVS, and the first floor of the building on the south corner, once and independent drug store, was now a bank! However, as of now, the latter is a nothing, another vacant property.

And, yet, an “outlander”, someone from one of those American cities where you need to get into a car to get a box of tissues or a bag of coffee, will still see New York neighborhoods as full of stores, places to walk, and be amazed at how easy it is to survive car-free. I just walked about 20 blocks (1 mile, for the non-initiated) down Broadway on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the neighborhood pictured in the Times photo. In addition to a few stops (at Zabar’s, for lox, and a pizza place, for a hero, and the local supermarket on the corner for a couple of staples on the way up), I passed hundreds of small stores. Yes, banks and drug stores on every block, and a Starbuck’s on every other, and many mall-brand chain stores, but also many fruit-and-vegetable stores (every 3 blocks) and flower vendors and small jewelers and fish markets and cell-phone-supply-and-screen-repair stores. There seem to be fewer pizza places, only ever 3-4 blocks, but every one of them has better pizza than anywhere else in the US, and those that are chains are local (e.g., Famous Famiglia). Not a Domino’s, Little Caesar’s, Pizza Hut, Godfather’s or Papa John’s to be seen.

Yes, change has been happening for a long time, and will continue to happen, and it will be some for the better and a lot for the worse. But a lot of it depends on your frame of reference; for long-time Westsiders (or probably those from European cities, which are mostly more like New York) it is all downhill. But for folks from the rest of America, there is a still a great time to bed had walking in The City, and it is pretty easy to see how nice it would be to hardly ever have to drive anywhere for what you need.

Sigh. It’s a great place to visit, and to walk.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Counterculture, white supremacy, Trump, and us: Love vs. Hate

I recently visited the New Mexico State History Museum, located adjacent to the Palace of the Governors on the Santa Fe Plaza, to see the exhibit “Voices of the Counterculture in the Southwest”. A series of niches surrounding the centerpiece, a VW van (what else?), described the establishment, history, values, life and work, and residual (if any) of a number or communes and counterculture settlements. These were (and in some cases still are) mostly in northern New Mexico: New Buffalo, Placitas, and others, as well as Libre in SW Colorado, and other place like the Hog Farm (originally in California, then in NM, it provided “security” but mostly food and services to those “tripping” at Woodstock), and Haight-Ashbury, and Woodstock. The exhibit also covered overlapping movements such as the followers of the Sikh guru Yogi Bhajan, who made millions, and the Native American tribes whose values and ties to the land (as well as the peyote subculture) inspired many of the “hippies”.

As I entered the exhibit, and saw the van, and the psychedelic posters for concerts at San Francisco’s Fillmore Ballroom by the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver, the Jefferson Airplane, and others, I started tearing up, even before I started listening to the short audio clips, such as by Peter Coyote. I don’t know how much of my reaction was personal, “remembrance of things past"; while I was not a communard in New Mexico, it was the era, the late ‘60s and ‘70s, in which I grew up. It was my music, and my values, and in many ways my people. It was evocative for me, as those personal experiences are; I was one of those 400,000 people in the mud at Woodstock, pictured in the exhibit.

But there was something more. The exhibit, and the era it described, were searching for peace and love, quite literally. They were farming, playing music, having sex, doing drugs, seeking spiritual inspiration, demonstrating against the Vietnam War, struggling for civil rights, all in hope of making the world a better, safer, more inclusive, and more loving place. And yet, on that Saturday, the racists, white supremacists, “alt-right”, and neo-Nazis demonstrated in Charlottesville, VA, spewing venom and hatred, ready for violence and perpetrating it. And then the President of the United States, Donald Trump, gave at best a tepid condemnation of violence on “many sides”, not singling out the racists and haters. (For a guide to their organizations’ symbols, see this NY Times video, “Swastikas and other symbols”.) The President and other commentators noted the presence of Antifa and other groups that they call “alt-left” who do not eschew violence along with the overwhelming majority of peaceful protesters, but there is a big difference. The “alt-right” folks came to Charlottesville to show their hatred of others; the counter-demonstrators, including Antifa, were there to oppose them and their poison.
‘The scholar and activist Cornel West,’ the Times reported, ‘told the newscast “Democracy Now!” that anti-fascists saved his life and the lives of other nonviolent clergy members in Charlottesville. “We would have been crushed like cockroaches were it not for the anarchists and the anti-fascists,” he said on the show. “You had police holding back and just allowing fellow citizens to go at each other.”

Two days later, on Monday, President Trump issued a monotonic-read-off-the-Teleprompter condemnation of neo-Nazis and white supremacists that scarcely rang true (see the satirist Andy Borowitz’ take, “Man in hostage video forced to recite words not his own”), but like many others, I was not convinced. And then I came home from the museum to the news about Trump’s Tuesday press conference where he basically renounced those words, parroted the words of the alt-right, said many of the demonstrators were good people, and left Americans across all but the most racist ends of the political spectrum flabbergasted. Cable news hosts broadcasting live, from Fox to CNN to MSNBC, were open-mouthed, and liberals and conservatives alike rushed to condemn racism and the President. Only the white supremacists, the David Dukes and Richard Spencers (and probably Steve Bannons) were happy. They were thrilled that the President had legitimized them. Almost everyone else was scrambling for the exits, including many of his own staff and conservative Republicans and at least 7 CEOs on his advisory council (special kudos to the first, Ken Frazier of Merck!).

Nazi Germany was infamous for the Holocaust and the extermination of 6 million European Jews. The neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were chanting “Jews will not replace us”. Jews have been and are highly represented in anti-fascist and progressive movements throughout history, despite the ignorance of those who manifest anti-Semitism because of their rightful opposition to the hateful and oppressively racist policies of the Israeli government toward the Palestinian people. Jews were very important, despite their small numbers, in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and in all European and American progressive movements. Including the “Counterculture in the Southwest”, judging by many of the names featured in the exhibit. Yes, there are not only racists like Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, but vile American Jews in and outside the White House. President Trump (who I called the #Trumpenik, from the Yiddish “trombenik”: A lazy person or ne'er-do-well. A boastful loudmouth) notes his son-in-law, daughter, and their children are Jewish, but enables and empowers anti-Semites as well as racists. They are the same. But overwhelmingly, in the US and in most of the world, Jews have been leaders and progressives.

In the 1930s and 1940s, with the rise of Fascism and Nazism in Europe, there were many supporters of those ideologies in the US. In 1939, a huge Nazi rally filled Madison Square Garden in NYC (pic), and anti-fascists such as Dr. Seuss were strong in their attacks  (cartoon). But the US, overall, was still the land of the free. The people in Europe enslaved (and millions exterminated) by the Nazis looked to the US, to the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-toss’d to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

And the US, finally, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor did come to their aid; not so many refugees, but armies to fight fascism abroad. It also interned Japanese-Americans in camps, to its shame. But it was the destination for freedom. Where will people go for freedom if the US becomes the exemplar of first-world white supremacists?

You, or I may not like or agree with every part of the counterculture, whether the drugs, or spiritualism, or general naïveté. But the ethos was love and peace and freedom. Now, a half-century after the “Summer of Love”, we are facing tremendous challenges to these goals in our own country. I went to an “Anti-Hate” rally on the Santa Fe Plaza on Tuesday, organized and kicked off by Mayor Javier Gonzales, with NM House Speaker Brian Egolf and many religious leaders. It was only one of many such rallies across the nation. We need them, and we need more of them. We must respond: talk, write, demonstrate, and fight in whatever sense we use that, to oppose racism and hatred. I have heard people say that Canada cannot take us all, but important point is that the United States is our country.
 

And we better get on it. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Hiking and dogs near Santa Fe



Lovely hike this morning, repeating the one of 2 days ago but earlier, just after sunrise, had coffee and breakfast after the dawn (see pic). It still got too warm for long-sleeve T after a while (though nice in the shade coming down the western slope of the hill). About 3 miles along ridges and valleys and down hills, past where the village of Trenza may someday be. The desert is so green from all the rain, it is almost a different place. Yesterday morning the rain, which is sometimes morning and sometimes afternoon, was threatening and it was still very wet from the rain of the previous afternoon and evening, so we took two shorter walks of about a mile, still getting a little wet and muddy, the dogs needing to be toweled off before coming into the small house and lying on “their” couch. The rain is much needed for some relief from the long droughts, and has usually been only part of the day, leaving us time to hike.

But that mud, from the trail, was nothing like yesterday afternoon, at least not for Fry. Despite the foggy, overcast morning, it cleared up and about 3 we took off along the ridge, around it, and down to just above the Cowboy Shack, where we head left for home across the valley. Well, at least Maggie and I did. Maggie had been drinking from the little canvas dog water bowl each time we stopped and I took some water, but not Fry. He was too good for that! Or maybe he had something else in mind. When we got to that turn, Maggie and I drank and went left while Fry trotted off to the right. He knew where he was going, and I did too, but there was nothing I could do about it. Down a little bit to the right, just before the Cowboy Shack, is a windmill-fed water tank; for cattle in the old days, now mostly horses. And, in the past, for dogs when we went further than there was water in the pack. Fortunately, Maggie has never done that, but Fry remembered.

So Maggie and I headed off and figured Fry eventually would catch up, which he eventually did (although not before I wondered if he might not find us, silly me, and I’d have to drive down and see if he was waiting near the closest road). And covered in mud, over all his legs, butt, and belly (pic). The water tank often overflows with mud around it at all the access points, especially when it’s been raining, which it has. It was a nice walk back, but back at the house I had to hook up the hose (and get something
on my arm from the grass that caused it to itch, but seemed to wash off) and hose him down. And then rub him down from a bucket to get the places I missed or couldn’t get too. And then he had to sit out on the deck for a couple of hours (in the shade, with a water bowl, and he likes it anyway) getting mostly dry before being toweled off and let in. What are the odds he learned a lesson? I wouldn’t bet on it! He didn’t take any water when Maggie and I did on this morning’s shorter hike, but fortunately (for me) there was no water tank, and he loaded up when he got home. If it stays clear, we might go on a hike that takes us by a different water tank this afternoon, so we’ll see…

In any case, the desert around Santa Fe is always beautiful, and maybe more so from all the rain (although fewer sunsets). The town is great; have had several lunches with friends (or sometimes alone) at favorite venues. Enough time for reading, writing, naps, and just enjoying the views. Sigh. Terrific!




Monday, March 27, 2017

Dog walking in the desert

So it’s been a few months of living in Tucson, through what passes here for winter (needing a fleece and sometimes even a windbreaker for a morning dog walk) to an early Spring, with midday temperatures in the 90s in March, to a more typical Spring in late March, with mornings in the low 50s going up to about 80. Terrific weather for both walking the dogs and going hiking, and beautiful with flowering plants, encouraged by heavy rains earlier in the winter. Learning (and sometimes re-learning) the names of flowers and shrubs: Arizona daisy, and mariposa lily, and lupine, and owl clover, as well as the common cacti and agaves and brittlebush and greasewood, and flowering ocotillo. Most of the cacti are not yet in bloom, but the buds are there. Not too many hikes to take dogs on -- Catalina State Park is one, but federal lands are out.

Walking the dogs has moved up a bit as you no longer have to wait until 7am for daylight; Arizona does not do daylight savings time, so it just gets light earlier. Out before 7 is quieter, in the wonderful gift of the Rio Vista Natural Resources Park that starts close by and goes up to the Rillito River (or, more often, dry wash) path that is a great asset, and joins with a whole series of other trails to make a bike loop almost around the city. Of course, also walking and running; however, the dogs and I stay to the dirt paths most of the time (although when there was water in the Rillito the dogs would splash in it).  The park borders houses (or their lots) at several edges, including a stables and several horse properties; horses also use the dirt paths. There is quite a network of paths through it, so we can vary our routes, and some of the quietest spots, where you are most likely to see a hummingbird or have a Cooper’s hawk fly by your face with a bird in its talons, are along the border fences. There is also a labyrinth to walk around to force calming, and great views of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

There is a more developed area, with parking lot and children’s playground and a big grassy area where people take their retrievers to throw balls; mine are part retrievers, but don’t retrieve at all, so we just tend to walk across or around it, to the part that is really fascinating for them, the myriad ground squirrel holes that they can dig their snouts into – and sometimes, if given the opportunity, dig away at crazily and so intently that it is almost impossible to distract them. Human hunters of buried treasure would be shamed. They see, but rarely chase, the actual ground squirrels or cottontail rabbits that abound in the park. There are coyote packs in the park, but so far we have had no direct encounters; I have seen one occasionally but the dogs have not. We do see the scat, but it doesn’t interest them all that much. We see lots of birds, quails scurrying across the ground, hummingbirds flitting in the bushes, cardinals and pyrrholoxia and even vermillion flycatchers (sometimes difficult to distinguish in bright sun), phainopepla (like black cardinals), finches of all colors. And hawks, but most are Cooper’s hawks that eat smaller birds, mostly medium sized ones like mourning doves, although this has not noticeably affected the doves' numbers; they are ubiquitous, distinguishable because their heads are too small for their bodies.
 
Morning is good for longer walks; we do pretty long afternoon walks also, but when the afternoon temperatures got above 90, we pushed off the later walk to 5 or later (if not cool, at least there is a bit of shade).Before 7am the paths are quieter, with fewer dog walkers, but they start to appear in larger numbers by that hour. There is a definite age pattern to who walks dogs when; in the early morning almost all older, as are the dog-free walkers, like me with sunscreen and often a hat. No one below 40, almost none below 50. On Sunday, as we drove off to hike at about 9am, we saw lots of young people (virtually all women) walking and often running with their dogs. The old folks are done by then. When the younger folks walk their dogs during the week, when I assume they are working (or going to school) I have yet to determine. Maybe they run with them later.

Anyway, I’m liking (so far) the time to do this granted by retirement. There is also more time to read the paper and be made crazy by the news, and sometimes to just have general anxiety, but if it gets too bad, I can just take the dogs for a walk…