Archive for the ‘New York City’ Category

Service of Good Things that Happen When Nature Obliges

Monday, February 8th, 2021

I shake a finger at nature after a destructive hurricane, tornado or fire started by lightning. But at times good things happen when she intervenes–even as a result of a murdering pandemic.


As I stood in line at the post office, six feet from the man in front and woman behind me, I thought, “Social distancing during the pandemic discourages pickpockets.”

Speaking of discouraging, jaywalkers are also out of business in NYC after a big snowstorm. The photo, above, of Third Avenue between 41st and 42nd, taken a few days after last week’s snowstorm, illustrates the point.

As I ran an errand on a very cold morning my mask kept my face warm. Imagine that–something else to thank the pandemic for!

Last, I welcome the photos taken in backyards or around the world that I see online or that friends send of extraordinary landscapes and animals, [such as the shot pictured below].

Even as the pandemic rages and more snow descends on the Midwest and temperatures drop below zero in North Dakota and Minnesota, nature smiles. Can you think of more examples?


Service of Eating Out During a Pandemic

Thursday, July 9th, 2020

Living alone during a pandemic has its benefits and drawbacks. You get to see what you want on TV and watch until the wee hours and there’s only yourself to blame if you don’t like what’s for dinner.

However if you live in NYC and have a yen to meet a friend at a restaurant and you practice social distancing, you’ll hit a snag. The tables are understandably small [see the photo above] so that restaurants can squeeze in as many as possible in the allotted tiny sidewalk or street spaces. As a meal involves speaking, eating and unprotected mouths and noses, being only two feet from another person you don’t live with is risky. Yet you can’t blame the restaurants.

I don’t mind eating alone and would feel safer doing so these days rather than with a pal although in July’s heat and humidity I’m not rarin’ to bake while I eat. I also think that a restaurant would much prefer to ring up two meals in these times of slim pickings so I’ll leave tables to couples.

And how comfortable are we in NYC’s restaurant retrofits? Desperate measures make for unusual placements of some outdoor eating arrangements. I wouldn’t anticipate a relaxing break in this shelter [photos right and below] with Second Avenue traffic and vehicle exhaust passing on one side and all manner of two-wheeled vehicles on the other. But as they say across the pond and I often hear on Call the Midwife, “needs must.”

Have you eaten at a restaurant alone or with a friend, spouse, companion or business contact indoors or out during the pandemic? Do you plan to soon?


Service of Pride of Place: NYC My Hometown

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

View from my apartment

Considering I was born in NYC, have lived here most of my life and I love the place I’m surprised that in the 11 years I’ve written this blog the city hasn’t grabbed even more lines.

New York is like anything or anyone I love: it makes me burst with pride and yet it can irritate me as well.

I was giggling in a Seventh Avenue subway recently because of the conductor’s quirky comments. As he announced each stop he also identified a lineup of key landmarks–which is unusual–and his comments were clever and refreshing. When I got out at 72nd Street heading for the stairs, as the car with his cubby passed me, I gave him a thumbs up. He smiled in response and tooted his horn twice. Made my day.

On the other hand, I don’t always have such luck with the bus system. Astronomical waits on major arteries and avenues followed by a clump of busses is trying. [If you live and work as far east as I do, the walk to the subway–my usual transportation option–doesn’t always make sense especially if your destination is also way east.]

In addition, identifying where the bus stop is can be a challenge. Last weekend I watched a local bus sail by on Madison Avenue as I stood next to a bus shelter [photo right]. Guess the shelter at that spot was decorative and had nothing to do with a NYC bus.

Bryant Park

When the subway’s executives whine about lack of funds, it comes as a surprise to see a very long line outside a booth with two windows and mics and only one MTA worker in it–as at a crucial hub: Grand Central/42nd Street. I was in that line recently and a tourist, staying at the Roosevelt Hotel I learned as we chatted, asked me in her charming Scottish accent: “Why is there only one worker in that booth?”  Good question given that 98 percent in the line were buying MetroCards. The do-it-yourself kiosks had even longer lines. Me to the MTA: Consider adding a few more kiosks where people are spending money, OK?

I’ve bragged previously about Bryant Park where I love to eat lunch. Once needle park, today the space welcomes locals and tourists who bring food–or buy a snack at a local takeout. There are plenty of trees, tables and chairs and a brisk turnover so it’s easy to find a spot.

I have an argument with restaurants and small retail businesses located on avenues here. Dollars to donuts they don’t identify the cross streets on their websites and it drives me NUTS figuring it out. Shakespeare & Co. does it right. They are at 939 Lexington Avenue and on the web they add “between 68 and 69th Streets.”

What is it about your town or city–or about NYC–that you love and what exasperates you?


Bryant Park

Service of a Bad Sign: Who Approves the Proofs?

Monday, August 19th, 2019


It’s not just road signs in the NY Metro area that need to be corrected at significant expense, but sloppy work by admins that when added up must cost corporations a pretty penny.

I read an Associated Press story in The New York Post which reported that all the signs to the newly named Gov. Mario Cuomo Bridge need patching to add his initial–M. “The nearly $4 billion bridge over the Hudson River opened last year. Connecting Westchester and Rockland counties north of New York City, the span replaced the former Tappan Zee Bridge — or, officially, the Gov. Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge.”


The article continues the “missing ‘M.’ fixes come as a state agency is also correcting a misspelling of the name of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in New York City. For over 50 years, one “Z″ was missing.” Hmmmm.

On a far smaller scale, a bank put the III that had been at the end of my husband’s name at the end of mine, i.e. Jeanne-Marie Byington III. I called to correct the error for future statements. It took three calls and additional incorrect references to my name for III to disappear.

At another institution, I changed a joint account to one in my name. After asking me all sorts of financial questions for 10+ minutes, the customer service person ordered new checks. [I may be the last person on earth to use checks.] I noticed that the account numbers on the new checks matched those of the closed account. Can you hear the bounce of checks near and far had I not caught the error?

As for the road signs: Who proofs them? Must we spend money to fix them right now when funds could be better applied to road repair?

So who pays for the reprinted checks? I don’t know what to think about the banks’ administrative errors except that I hope that the departments at each institution that add and subtract deposits and withdrawals do a better job.


Service of Extraneous Embellishments: Balconies on NYC Apartment Buildings

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

A balcony was never on my bucket list but I am having fun with mine. It came with my apartment, which was chosen in a rush. It has a super view of the East River.

I use it to play city gardener on a miniscule scale. I enjoy watching my posies blossom and grow. The geraniums, some that moved to the city from my house in Dutchess County and lived indoors since–until it warmed up; coleus; a sunflower, a spiky plant and petunias [not shown], all grow much faster outside than in. They aren’t subject to the predators of the country but they have their pet peeves.

Pigeons like them too–so I bought pinwheels hoping to discourage them from disturbing my balcony garden. New York pigeons have moxy–they’re not afraid of much. Rules are strict at the building: we can’t hang pots off the railings. If I could, I bet a few well placed pinwheels in those pots would discourage the pigeons big-time.

But I digress. The purpose of this post is to show the many balconies that are never used– which is most of the ones I’ve seen all over the place. They appear on new and old construction. Way to the back of the photo at the top of this post–if you look carefully–you can see some being added to a building under construction. And they line the sides of the black apartment house across the street from mine [photo below, right], like vertebrae on a dinosaur. The structure was just finished.

Why do architects and developers opt for such a little-used addition? Do you think people would take more advantage of the space if it was a sunroom with walls of windows? Why don’t more people enjoy their balconies?





Service of a Kindness from an Unlikely Source: Thoughtful, Responsive NYC Civil Servant

Monday, September 11th, 2017

“12 Angry Men” Photo:

I was married at City Hall in NYC and I’ve dealt on several occasions with various divisions of the Manhattan Motor Vehicles Bureau [to take a test for a driver’s license, report a lost license plate and renew my driver’s license], so I think I know where robot manufacturers go for their models. Warmth and compassion aren’t words that come to mind regarding the frontline of city employees I’ve dealt with, which is why this story that touched me was worth a shout-out.


A friend—I’ll call him Curt–was called to jury duty in NYC and for health reasons was unable to serve. When he tried to reach someone on the phone to learn what he had to do to be excused he dialed a bunch of phone numbers and got automated voices, so I offered to try my luck.

I found a number online and a message gave me a second number to call and shock of shocks, a person answered. His name was Jeffrey. He asked me for Curt’s juror index number, which I didn’t have, and gave me a third number to call after lunch that, he said, rang at his desk. Curt called and left a message on voicemail.

I wanted to be sure that Jeffrey had all the information he needed and that he’d cleared Curt from the system so I didn’t have to visit him in jail for being a no-show. I take seriously all government warnings. I called the next morning. Jeffrey confirmed that Curt’s name was deleted—he is also over the mandatory age for jury duty in any case.


I asked if Jeffrey needed a note from Curt’s doctor and he said, “No.” I thanked and Jeffrey said with some urgency, “There’s one more thing.” I replied, “Yes?” He said, “I want you to have a nice day. And bless you.”

His thoughtful words–out of context–took me by surprise. Have you been happily astonished by a kindness from an unexpected source?


Service of Neighborhood Characters

Monday, November 21st, 2016

Neighbor image for post 1 turned I’ve lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn much of my life and I’ve always noticed at least one mystery character in every neighborhood.

It’s no different today.

Nightly I walk home from the office on the west side of Second Avenue. There’s a stretch of restaurants with outdoor seating between 50th and 51st. All summer I noticed an elderly woman at the same spot, either working on a crossword puzzle or hunched over her mobile phone as she is in the photos above and below. There’s a drink on her table–maybe a cocktail–and a napkin on her lap. Perhaps she has already eaten or is waiting for her food as I’ve never seen a plate.

I noticed her because she was impeccably coiffed and expensively clad in a summer suit or dress with coordinated sweater, shoes and handbag–a different ensemble each time I saw her–and always alone. She was also much older than any of the diners around her.

Once I stopped to tell her I admired her fashion style and kept going. In summer, foot traffic is brisk on the slim slice of sidewalk that tables and chairs don’t hog. This doesn’t allow for hesitation by pedestrians rushing past in both directions.

It’s cold now but the outdoor tables were still in place last week and she was the only person at one of them in the lineup of restaurants one night. It gets dark early so she was sitting in obscurity, stooped over her phone, oblivious to passersby, honking and traffic. Her hair was windblown and instead of a drink, there was a coffee cup on the table.

I like to guess about neighborhood characters like this. Where does she live? What did she do for a living? Do her clothes fill all the rooms in her apartment or does she have many closets? It’s fun to make up positive stories.

Are there strangers who pique your curiosity in your neighborhood? Are they more obvious in a city as walking slows motion and better allows for observation than when you’re driving through town in a car?    Neighbor image for post 2 turned

Service of Visiting NYC in Summer

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

NYC in summer

There are great things to do that don’t cost a fortune when you visit New York City at this time of year. Here are a few and some tips of what to watch out for.

UniqloCheck out free days/evenings at major museums like MoMA which has Uniqlo Friday nights or Brooklyn Museum’s Target free Saturdays once a month. [And visit Uniqlo on 5th Avenue and 53rd Street for fun clothes for women, men and children in a range of styles at moderate prices—downright inexpensive style if you catch a sale.]

Stroll Grand Central Station to see the remarkable architecture and on the ground floor a tourist information window with maps and useful free guides. There are plenty of shops—visit Cursive for gifts and cards—and kiosks with NYC-made merchandise as well as pricey food stalls upstairs and prepared takeout downstairs with plenty of seats. Mendy’s hotdogs are worth a detour.

Bryant Park ChairsThe price is right for a brownbag lunch in Bryant Park behind the 42nd Street Library. Find a chair and table under a tree, catch a breeze and watch the scene, a game of ping pong or bocce. A short stay is restorative.

Fruit stands all over the city sell cherries, raspberries, grapes, figs and more at amazing prices. If you’re near Union Square, drop in on Trader Joe’s wine shop on east 14th Street and the food store a few doors down for treats, serious food and polite service. If you want to stock up on a few cases of wine note that you can’t park for even a minute in front but ask a staffer to load your purchases on a hand truck. They’ll walk the cases to your vehicle.

As in all my favorite cities, walking is the best way to get around. New Yorkers can be testy when they can’t negotiate a cluster of people stopped in the middle of the sidewalk so best keep walking or go to the side to get your bearings or regroup. Read a map on the sidewalk and I bet someone will stop to guide you.

Staten Island ferry 2A ride on the Staten Island ferry is free; the view of lower Manhattan priceless.

Avoid taking rip off pedicabs. I’ve written about them and several times about the bicycle sharing program. I can’t recommend that tourists rent a bike unless they know the traffic rules and are used to riding in vehicular and foot traffic in a city packed with impatient residents.

NYC taxiTake care that your taxi is charging you the city rate. You’ll know if the meter is set at the higher suburban rate, wrote Rebecca Harshbarger in the New York Post, if you see a flashing “rate code 4” message on the TV screen in front of you. [I don’t recall ever seeing it.] She referenced a scandal four years ago when cabbies were caught stealing $millions by up charging the meter. Last year the Taxi and Limousine Commission [TLC] caught drivers overcharging 659 times vs. 2,000 the year before. “The agency uses a GPS-data algorithm that analyzes trip information to catch rogue drivers, who are then automatically hit with a summons,” wrote Harshbarger—a trend going in the right direction.

What are your must-visit places in NYC or best warnings for visitors and residents?


Service of Ear-Splitting Food: Toothsome restaurant fare with a large side of noise, as at Carbone, is here to stay

Thursday, July 18th, 2013


Adam Platt predicts restaurants will continue to be noisy because “As one of my cranky food-writer colleagues put it the other day, ‘a quiet restaurant, these days, is a doomed restaurant.’”

Platt, who wrote “I Can’t Hear Myself Eat: Why restaurants are louder than ever,” observed that noise is “…about the single most disruptive restaurant trend over the past decade or so.” His article appeared in both New York Magazine and on his blog.

NYC SubwayHe reported that 90 decibels is standard with some restaurants hitting 96. Is that so bad? It is according to Decibel Exposure Time Guidelines on A chart listing decibels and “permissible exposure time” suggests two hours for 91 decibels, an hour for 94 and half an hour at 97. measures a subway screech at 95 decibels at 200 feet. Platt acknowledged that some restaurants are taking steps to tone things down as the noise “threatens to damage the hearing of their waiters and cooks.” 

Carbone restaurant, Photo: nyfoodeedotcom

Carbone restaurant, Photo: nyfoodeedotcom

The restaurant reviewer, with some 10 years under his belt, described Carbone as “an overpriced noise pit, especially if you find yourself marooned in the tiny, brick-walled back room.” He identified the place as New York’s most popular restaurant.

The comments on Platt’s blog offer additional conjectures for the popularity of excessive noise. Some readers thought it encourages lucrative turnover as guests don’t linger. Others suggested the racket weeded out unwanted older diners. People can’t tolerate silence, added a few, they are so used to constant mobile phone chatter and/or hearing music on iPods every waking hour.

Readers chimed in from Minot N.D. and Boston identifying similar clamor where they eat. A few pointed out how liquor—the most profitable part of a dining check—helps people tolerate noise at the same time feel more inclined to yell and scream to be heard over it, adding to the din. One held responsibility landed at the foot of fashionable architectural elements such as hardwoods, glass, brick and exposed concrete ceilings. Platt held that Mario Batali launched the trend to blast music “over the heads of the startled patrons in the staid dining room at Babbo.”

Noisy restaurantOne blog comment: “Went to Alder this weekend–by far the loudest dining experience i’ve [sic] ever had. We kept conversation to a minimum because it was so hard to hear each other.” This writer didn’t say whether this was a good or a bad thing.

Platt’s mother described the noise at the most recent dinner they shared as “loud as a freight train.” He admitted “Most of the restaurants I write about these days aren’t restaurants at all in the classic sense that she would recognize. They’re noisy bars, built for sound, that happen to serve good, sometimes excellent food.”

Sushi barThere are exceptions: He identified Atera, an “effete little tasting atelier” (where a Bloomberg reviewer paid $700 for dinner for two last September). Other “relative temples of quiet,” wrote Platt, are two “grand gourmet establishments” Eleven Madison Park and Per Se. He also mentioned sushi bars.

Do you enjoy conversation with meals or are you comfortable to be part of the scene? Can you name good restaurants that celebrate food, conversation and relaxation? In spite of predictions by Platt and others, do you forecast that the fashion for putting on the feedbag with generous dollops of noise will pass?

Putting on feedbag

Service of Con Jobs: Pedicabs join list of scammers NYC tourists should avoid

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Con game

One of the foreign students I mentor—I’ll call her Daphne–shared her experience with me because she doesn’t want anyone else to fall for what happened to her. Read on and you’ll see she’s far from alone.

This young juggler with multiple internships in a graduate program was late for class. She was stranded three avenues and 19 blocks from where she had to be, in a part of NYC far from the subway, at a time there were no free taxis. A pedicab came along and she jumped in. In her country, pedicabs are cheap.

pedicab 1Arriving at school—having heard a song and dance throughout the ride about how the driver wished he could afford to go to the college she was attending [and where he was driving her]—she asked what she owed. His reply: $125. She questioned this [!] and he handed her a rate card that noted he charged $3/block; $4 an avenue, 20 percent sales tax along with some mumbo jumbo. “I was too shocked to do the math plus he had a calculator so I figured he was right,” said Daphne. After negotiation he gave her “a discount” and she paid $108.

On her return home that night after class she called the Consumer Affairs office—she shared his name and other information in his email as she’d paid by credit card and he’d sent her an electronic receipt.

How muchShe learned that he didn’t have a pedicab license and wasn’t authorized to drive one or pick up passengers. She was advised to tell her bank to cancel the charge but the bank clerk explained that because she signed off on the charge, he couldn’t do that. However, if she could present a letter of complaint written by Consumer Affairs about this driver and her experience she could file a claim which the bank would consider. [Someone suggested that she say that she had signed nothing. This lie was out of the question she said.]

Lessons learned: Always ask the price or for a rate card and before entering a pedicab in NYC, ask to see a NYC pedicab license and as of this week, a timer.

Mark SimoneIt could have been worse. On the Fourth of July talk show host Mark Simone [photo right] on WOR Radio reported that a pedicab charged $425 to a group of four. A website,, noted more precisely that the amount was $442.54. Simone said that the driver falsely signed a document to get his license. He claimed that he had not received prior summonses when in fact there had been six. Simone declared that pedicabs should be forbidden in the city as they cause traffic tangles and the drivers are unscrupulous.

On July 5 WMAC Northeast Public Radio covered “How to Spend $442 on a 15-Minute Cab Ride.” Quoting a pedicab driver and president of the industry association, Laramie Flick about this incident: “Before the ride, [the driver] told them it was a dollar a block. After the ride, he told them it was a dollar a block, yes, but it was $100 minimum per person. Then he asked them for a tip.” The “them” were the passengers. The website noted that doormen at major NYC hotels report trying to help frantic passengers who were similarly fleeced.

Pedicab 3Mayor Bloomberg signed a law at the end of last year in which pedicab drivers must charge by the minute and the timer must be in clear view. This is what Daphne wanted people to know. Nevertheless, according to, the city isn’t bending over backwards to support the victims.

However WMAC noted: “New York City does not want tourists to leave town feeling like they got hosed by a pedicab driver. So the city worked with Flick and the pedicab drivers to come up with new rules, which are set to take effect next week. The drivers can still choose their own rates. But those rates have to be posted clearly, and they have to apply to all customers. Per minute. No matter what.”

According to “The pedicab driver shall provide passengers with a receipt  listing the amount of the charge for the use of the pedicab, the license number of the pedicab business and a telephone number of such business to which complaints by consumers shall be directed, the pedicab driver’s  license number  and  the  telephone number at the department where complaints by consumers can be reported.”

Eons ago I visited Daphne’s country. We’d spent too much on taxis so we opted for a pedicab on a route we knew. Like Daphne we didn’t ask the price but figured it had to be less than the taxi fare. When we arrived the driver charged precisely what the taxis had! We noted this but in the end, not wanting to be the ugly American, we paid.

When you’re overcharged in a foreign country, what do you do? What has your pedicab experience been anywhere in the world? Are you infuriated and ashamed as I am that these NYC conmen target young people like Daphne and countless tourists with such a scam?

 Tourists in NYC

Get This Blog Emailed to You:
Enter your Email

Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

Clicky Web Analytics