Wednesday, December 7, 2016


When I was just a visitor to New York, I explored the streets and saw people doing their jobs or shopping. I noticed the delivery trucks, little grocery stores, and street vendors. Tons of activity. Everything was moving - the traffic, people, buses, trains. Keeping things moving explained what appeared to be indifference, as people passed by without a glance or a smile. At that time, I marveled at what surely must be a huge amount of cooperation among New Yorkers to manage the lives, livelihoods, transportation, entertainment, housing, and feeding all those people.

After I moved to New York, I had a different perspective. I wondered, with all the resistance, bickering, complaining, and dare I say it, laziness, how in the world did this city get the needs of its people met. The only response was that you learned to push. Push. Push. The traffic pushes the pedestrians. The riders push against other riders getting on the subway and in the subway. The lines push behind you with whispers of "c'mon, c'mon." The food servers push by putting your check on the table with your food.

The City absorbs all that pushing and moves.

Nowhere is the push and resistance more evident than in construction - public or private. One excellent example of this was in the building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  It's an elegant suspension bridge Staten Island and Brooklyn. This is the bridge that Tony Manero talked about in Saturday Night Fever. The bridge that he and his gang of friends jumped around on after clubbing. It's the bridge that one of them jumped from. It happens still.

For the creation of that bridge, 800 buildings were torn down in Bay Ridge and 7000 people pushed out of their homes. To understand how difficult this was, you have to understand that New York neighborhoods are like little towns within the City. People get used to their coffee shops, dry cleaners, bodegas, pizzarias, their bars, neighbors and their noise.

Trying to prevent the building of the bridge, there were ineffective protests at government meetings and ultimately a few displaced (i.e. evicted) people held out until the rest of their blocks was smashed down. But everyone finally moved and the bridge was built. This is like the people on the subway that don't want to move to the interior of the car, but they finally do because they're pushed. It's like maneuvering on the sidewalk in Manhattan - you walk straight until you have to take a curve around stacks of delivery boxes, spilled trash, or people (usually tourists).

Unlike Brooklyn where the bridge was protested, the Staten Island folks wanted the bridge. Something good for some people feels like the end of the world to others. That's New York. There is a lot to deal with and you just deal with it or you leave.

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is more than a tale of how New Yorkers get past resistance and link together though. The building of that bridge in itself is a story and Gay Talese wrote a series of essays  about it that were published in a book. [THE BRIDGE by Gay Talese - highly recommended]  It's about the bridge-worker fraternity - their skills, their tragic losses, and how they had come from generations of construction workers in New York. Their grandfathers worked on the Chrysler Building or the Flat-Iron Building.

So, if you visit New York, it may seem that New Yorkers are indifferent as they rush past.  They are just keeping the City moving.  But try asking for directions from a New Yorker.  You'll get a verbal map better than any GPS.  Or ask someone local to recommend a restaurant and you'll get several restaurant reviews.  And, if you can find a bar that caters to construction workers, step up to the bar and ask about the history of building in New York.

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