The NYC Blizzard of 2010: Mayor Bloomberg’s Colossal Failure

About ten days before the nasty blizzard that walloped New York City and brought it to its knees, the national weather service and several news agencies predicted that the City would be receiving at least a foot of snow. This blizzard was not a surprise to anyone.  It didn’t come sneaking in the middle of the night under the radar like a stealth ninja.

In places like upstate New York, like Syracuse, Rochester, or Buffalo, blizzard conditions would not have been necessarily front page news for the government, because they have the systems in place to deal with such a weather contingency.  But one foot of snow in upstate New York is a lot of different than one foot of snow in New York City.  For starters, New York City requires much more preparation and planning to galvanize its workers to ensure that the snow is cleared by the plows, both because of the City’s size, as well as the simple fact that heavy snow is not part of the usual NYC winter landscape.

Given all this, at first it was hard to understand why the City was so thoroughly unprepared by the blizzard.  The arguments that were put forward by the City, as well as outlined by many major media outlets, centered around after-the-fact arguments that did nothing to explain why the government was unprepared — thoroughly unprepared — by the blizzard.  These two arguments generally revolved around: 1) there were too many cars stuck in the road for clean up crews and 2) there was a huge fire in Queens.

Within two days of the storm, the estimates quickly went from a foot to as much as 16 inches. This should have clearly moved whatever myopia was over Mayor Bloomberg’s cash infested upper east side loving brain.   But it didn’t.  Instead, Bloomberg decided to do the business as usual plan: mobilize the efforts a few hours after the snow began falling.

That works when you have unsustained snow totaling no more than two or three inches — which is considered usually a “heavy” snowfall for New York City.  When you’re dealing with snowfalls greater than a foot, you can’t start the cleanup after the snow begins falling, because a) it’s falling fast and b) the potential for vehicles not part of the cleanup crew to block the streets increases.  That is why some cities close certain roads to ensure that the cleanup effort is not hampered.  To be sure, the City did recommend  that non-essential driving be kept to a minimum — but it did so only the next morning, when no one in the outer-boroughs could drive anywhere anyway.

It is thus no surprise that the City was and still is a damn mess.  Roads are still unplowed.  Buses are still stuck in the middle of the road.  Trains are not functioning.  People can’t get to work.  The City is still at a standstill.  And the sad fact is that it’s going to be like that for a little while.  To be clear,  when I say the City, I should mention that I’m defining it as the outer-boroughs and parts of Manhattan that do not include the upper east side.  Because to Bloomberg, it seems that the only part of the City that matters to him is the upper east side.  And everything else falls to the wayside in proportion to how far you are away from East 79th Street.

The outer-boroughs look like something from Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.”  I know people who can’t get to dialysis because they’re plowed in and can’t either take a taxi or bus to the clinic.  You would not see this on the upper east side.  Their roads will be clear and then wonder why everyone else is complaining.  They say, “If only people were self-reliant.”

In fact, in the throes of the storm, the one place where you could really drive a car, even if you had a Toyota Prius, was on the upper east side.  Bloomberg, for his part, was his testy little Kim Jong-Il self when, in response to criticisms of his leadership (or lack of it more precisely) during the blizzard, he stated, “There’s no reason for everybody to panic.  Our city is doing exactly what you’d want it to do.”

Really, Mr. Bloomberg?  You are completely out of touch.

Red Hook Swimming Pool, Brooklyn

2010: Everything in New York City is expensive, and with such cost, you have come to ordinarily expect obnoxious and massive crowds, which 9.9 times out of 10 result in a subpar experience that makes you question why you live here in the first place. Consequently, as a New Yorker, your mind doesn’t have to venture so far to wonder what something free and in Brooklyn would be like.  You think of the worst thing in your life and multiply it by three hundred and ninety nine.  You are then relegated to thinking that quality summer fun without having to spend fees on “memberships” could only be had in the Caribbean, California, Florida, or essentially anywhere else but in this god-forsaken City.

But don’t despair, my cynical New Yorkers.  There are pockets of good to genuine good in the City that makes you believe that not only can the City work, but that government in this damn City could work.  It’s a mind-blowing concept.  And particularly mind-blowing when what we’re talking about here are public pools.

I think even before a dentist, a public pool in New York City is the least likely place that a rational New Yorker would want to visit.  Thoughts of piss and other substances in the pool.  Teenage thugs with wild, rabid pitbulls roaming the deck.  A multitude of painful and violent crimes waiting for those not in the right gang in the locker room.  Just all around unsanitary and unsafe conditions that would even make Kurt Russell in Escape from New York uncomfortable.

Enter Red Hook Swimming Pool, located on 155 Bay Street (between Henry and Clinton Streets), in Red Hook Brooklyn (or to people who just nod but don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about, a fifteen minute walk from Ikea or Fairway Supermarkets [and if you can’t walk for fifteen minutes, really, should you be swimming?]; and to people who don’t know there was either an Ikea or Fairway in Red Hook, or even where Red Hook is, stay in New Jersey, and Hoboken, New Jersey, is still New Jersey).   This is the epitome of New York City government efficiency that puts the more fearful conceivable myths you have about NYC public pools and throws it down the drain.

1)  Is there piss in the pool? No, there’s no piss in the pool.  In fact, the water is extraordinarily clean.  Surprisingly clean.  Amazingly clean.  It doesn’t smell overly like chlorine, like some pools, that are simply compensating for the lead and uranium in their water.  There’s also no crap in the pool.

2) So, the pool, what is it, ten feet by ten feet? The pool seems bigger than an olympic size pool.  No kidding.  You would need a fisheye lens just to get all of it.  I was there on one of the hottest days of the summer so far.  There were about three hundred people in and around the pool.  It did not at all seem crowded.  It took five minutes for me to walk from the locker room to the opposite side of the pool.

3) How many lifeguards? There are lifeguards everywhere.  And they’re professional lifeguards.  Not lifeguards who are just checking out the bodies.  The lifeguards here actually look like they can swim.  They all wear recognizable orange uniforms and carry those floating devices like the ones on Baywatch.

4) It must be a madhouse in and around the pool, right? Wrong.  It kind of has the vibe of a senior citizen’s pool but without the senior citizens.  It’s quiet but not deathly Long Island or Westchester quiet.  It’s respectful.  It has the sounds of summer innocence, when you could play basketball from dawn to dusk without having to worry about drug dealers, where the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue was the most hardcore mainstream media that you saw, and Michael Jordan was still trying to win his first championship.  People are kept in check by the multitude of workers walking around.  There’s also security around the pool.  No music playing.  No shirt wearing in and around the pool unless it’s a white t-shirt.  No smoking.  No bags.  No food.  No drinks.  No shoes (slippers only).  No profanities.  No horseplay.  No diving.  No jumping.  No long pants.  No street clothes.  No bandanas.  No weapons.  No bums.  No crack addicts.

5) Is there a place for kids to swim? The pool doesn’t get any deeper than four feet.  That means Greg Louganis wannabees or those looking to win the next cannonball contest will be nowhere near that pool.  On one end of the pool is for lap swimming.  The other end of the pool is for general swimming.  You know, where people just wade around and bounce around and hide their pasty white and often fat bodies underneath the crystal clear water.  Then there’s a separate gated off section for toddlers.  The water is less than a foot.  There’s sprinklers and lots of colors so that your toddler or newborn can feel comfortable.  And this, too, is big.  It’s not like wading in one of those inflatable pools at a summer picnic in Bayridge or in Rego Park or in Jericho.  This is the real deal.  Most importantly,  if you don’t have a toddler or a newborn, or if you are not a toddler or a newborn, you are NOT getting into this section.

6) Okay, where can I store my stuff? You can’t get in without a lock.  You must bring a lock.  There’s a bodega a few minutes away where you can buy one if you forget to bring one.  The locker rooms are open and airy.  The lockers are square cubby holes and were probably made in the McCarthy era.  But their solid, operational, and unless you have a chainsaw or a degree in the CIA, you’re not getting into these lockers without anyone noticing.  To get to the pool, you have to walk through the locker room.  There are continuous wooden benches that are wide enough to sit or to change your toddler’s diaper without worrying about him or her falling off.  There are locker attendants.  They are not there to offer you towels, because you had to bring your own towel.  They are there to answer your questions, and they do so politely and in English.  The locker room is well lit and well ventilated.  It’s never crowded but never completely empty.  You will feel safe.  The first time you go, you will not believe that you can actually feel safe at a public pool in New York City.

7) Where do I take a shower? There are showers.  After you walk through the locker, you walk through the shower area.  And because nothing is closed off, the showers are open.  Thus, there’s not going to be a lot of privacy in the shower if you decide to take a shower, but then again, you won’t have that trapped feeling like Jason is watching you from a hidden corner ready to slice your throat or well, you saw Oz, right?

8. But the bathrooms.  They must be a disaster, right? If these were the bathrooms at the Hyatt, I’d ask for a refund, but this isn’t the Hyatt.  Then again, it’s miles above the bathroom at Penn Station, and isn’t that bathroom how men’s bathrooms in the City are compared to?  Bottom line is that, like the bathrooms, everything is open (well, the toilet stalls have doors).  This means you will never have that trapped, I’m in a shithole and I can’t escape from that psycho/rapist/voyeur/robber hiding in the shadows.  If you do have that feeling when you walk by the bathrooms, the moment is a fleeting one.  Bottom line is that it’s clean and doesn’t smell.  There’s not much else you can ask for.

9) So how the hell do I get to this place, by helicopter? It’s not as easy as going from your sofa to your kitchen sink, but it’s not difficult like going to City Island or something.

10) How much does it cost to get in? Nothing.  No shit.  Nothing.  You don’t even have to give your name or show your I.D. like you would if you got a library card.

By bus, take the B77 to Lorraine and Clinton.    Walk down Clinton (it’s a big and populated street for Red Hook), and make a right.  A few minutes later and, voila, you’re at the pool.  If you are not near the B77 bus, you can take the B61, which drops you in front of Ikea.  See the instructions below on how to walk to the pool from Ikea.

By subway, take the F or G train to Smith/Ninth Street.  The exit for that station is on Ninth.  Look to your right and go there, because that’s where Smith Street is.  Cross that street, walk to Court Street.  Take a left on Court and keep walking until you reach Bay Street.

By car:  Follow the directions on ‘how to get to Ikea.’  It’s a stone’s throw from there and takes the same route.  You must pass the pool to get to Ikea.  Also, if you don’t drive in Brooklyn, NY-27W or NY-28E is the Prospect Expressway.

By water taxi:  Get it from Pier 11 to Ikea.  Monday through Friday, it’s five bucks each way.  But Saturday and Sunday . . . it’s free.  And that’s probably when you’re going to go to the pool, right?  When you get to Ikea, it takes about a fifteen minute walk to get to the pool.  Or if for whatever reason you don’t like walking (and the walk is a nice and safe walk), there’s a multitude of respectable taxis at Ikea that will take you to the pool for a few bucks).

By Ikea shuttle bus:  Take the F, D, M, or R train to the 4th Ave/Ninth Street station.  Or  take the 2, 3, 4, 5, M, or R train to Court Street/Borough Hall.   There’s a free shuttle bus at these stations (including the one at Smith/Ninth Station) that will take you to IKEA.  Follow the instructions above once you hit Ikea.

Questions:  Call (718) 722-3211 (718) 722-7105.  Believe it or not, someone answers.

The Next Little Thing (Or Rich People Hobbies)

This morning, you may have read the article in the New York Times, “The Next Little Thing,” about a movement where people build tiny houses — generally defined as less than 1000 square feet and, in some cases, less than 100.  Most of these people maintain their big houses elsewhere and, on the weekends or when they want to “get away from it all,” will live in their small shacks and lavish their “unencumbered lifestyle.”  Doesn’t this make you feel warm and fuzzy all over?  Damn, I wish I had thought of that.  I think I’ll just find some wood from craigslist and go up to some field in Westchester and build me a little house.

On its face, I have nothing against the small house movement.  Go ahead.  If everyone moves into small houses, then we can reduce our energy costs and perhaps have a mental health day every day of the week because our lives will be simpler.  Can’t we all just make our lives simpler? 

Frankly, though, I think the small house movement is a prime example of what happens when rich elites with the luxury and resources get together and try to do something so that other people will pat them on the back, so that they can be like “regular people.”  Apparently, the New York Times, in all its great wisdom, fell into the trap of reserving several pages in their paper on this movement.  What the New York Times doesn’t tell you is that these people don’t represent the majority of Americans — not because of their adventurous spirit, but because they are in a different tax bracket than the majority of us. 

Sure, while its notable that some people have made the “choice” to simplify their lives and move into a 100 square foot house, the majority of Americans frankly don’t have this choice.  No, it’s not because “these people” have limited vision.  Rather, a large percentage of Americans who are just trying to make ends meet lack the money and resources to do what the people in the tiny house movement — most of whom are receiving the majority of the tax cuts that Sir Bush has given — are able to do: go out into a field and build an 80 square foot house to live in.

What about the large segment of our population that live in a tiny house or a tiny apartment, not because it’s “cool” or “environmentally sound dude,” but because they cannot afford anything bigger?  What about the large segment of our population that work like dogs for eight to ten hours a day and still don’t have enough to buy a place of their own, much less save a little each month?  I’m sure we’d all love to have a ‘second house,’ even if it was 100 square feet — but if I did that, I’d have to go on public assistance.  I need to work to pay the bills, and I live pretty simply.  I would love to live on granola and farm on land, but unforunately my job isn’t around a farm and I don’t have any land to farm and granola is really expensive. 

I guess for rich people, choosing to live in a “tiny house” is cool and hip.  I think if they want to be cool and environmentally hip, maybe instead of building new tiny houses, they should move into houses that millions of Americans are living in now — you know, those cramped, overcrowded residences.  I’m sure we could find you a closet or something that’s even smaller than 80 square feet.  In return, the Americans living in these houses (clearly, according to the tiny house movement, who are short sighted and a slave to the rat race) could move into your big houses.  You know, like house swapping.  That would be more environmentally sound.  And that would be a hobby I would love to see happen.

Governor Spitzer Linked To Prostitution Ring (Or The Governor Who Almost Was But Now Is Just a Jerk Off)

Breaking — When I heard the news about forty-five minutes ago, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Governor Spitzer, New York’s great hope of reforming politics as usual in Albany, has been linked to a high-priced prostitution ring. 

For those of you who are not from New York,images2.jpg Governor Spitzer had an almost mythic status as the State’s top reformer.  He was a New York County Assistant District Attorney, where he fought organized crime, most notably bringing down the Gambino family’s control of Manhattan’s trucking and garment industry. After that, he did a stint with some big white shoe law firms, like Skadden, before winning the State’s top legal job as Attorney General.  He revolutionized the office to prosecute a whole array of cases that his predecessors generally avoided, from securities fraud to large scale price fixing schemes. As Attorney General, Spitzer had his detractors, particularly from federal agencies and federal prosecutors who believed they were the only ones worthy enough to prosecute serious cases.

It seemed too good to be true, but Spitzer was viewed by many as above “politics.”  That is why so many New Yorkers were excited when he became Governor.  New Yorkers believed he would bring about change to Albany and get things done in the same way as he did as Attorney General.  Most people didn’t see him as a politician (such as the current Attorney General, Mr. Cuomo), but as a reformer resolute on cleaning things up the right way.  To be sure, his stint as governor has had some bumps, from ordering an embarrassing surveillance of a political rival to some public political disagreements.  

Many New Yorkers looked past these apparent isolated misjudgments as simply a governor who was still getting his feet wet.  New Yorkers had true hope that the tide would turn his way and he would get his bearings just like he did as Attorney General.  For New Yorkers, giving someone a break is rare.  Giving someone a break in politics?  Unheard of.  But for Eliot Spitzer, they did. Too bad hindsight can be such a bitch.

As the circumstances unravel, it seems more and more clear that Spitzer’s prior isolated misjudgments were in fact a pattern revealing to all a serious character flaw that makes him no longer fit to keep the State’s top job. It sickens me that he has put the wool over most of our eyes.  Ironically, Spitzer had prosecuted prostitution rings a few years ago in Staten Island.  He spoke with such contempt against the rings. It was all an act.

Federal prosecutors ordered the arrest of at least four people in connection with an expensive prostitution operation.  Spitzer is one of the men identified as a client in court papers, and is the subject of a federal wiretap investigation.  Indeed, as Spitzer very well knows, it is hard to contest what you yourself are saying. And for anyone who knows the Feds, if you’re the subject of a wiretap investigation, well, you are screwed.

It is thus not surprising that Spitzer has admitted to wrongdoing, calling his actions a “violat[ion]” of his “obligation to [his] family” and his “sense of right or wrong.” He also urges that this is a “private matter.”

It’s more than that Spitzer.  You violated the public trust.  You violated everyone whose ever worked for you. You violated the Offices you worked for in the past.  You violated all the good work you’ve done. You threw it all away.

Now it’s time to hand in your resignation Spitzer, and to get the hell out of New York. 

MTA to No. 7 Train: No Soup For You!

It comes as no surprise when New York City’s MTA announced there will be no weekday express service on the No. 7 line for more than a month.  With a daily ridership of about 400,000 passengers, the delays will be felt by many.

For anyone who has visited New York City for more than 2 weeks knows there are some issues with the New York City Subway System. http://imagecache2.allposters.com/images/pic/APPOD/personaluse_9137761~The-Number-7-Train-Runs-Through-the-Queens-Borough-of-New-York-Posters.jpg For those who live in New York City, you know damn well there are some serious issues with the New York City Subway System.  Unfriendly and unhelpful MTA workers.  Delays on the train for unknown reasons.  Dirty cars.  Strange passengers.  Mean passengers.  Smelly passengers.  Air-conditioning during the winter.  Heat during the summer.  The list goes on. 

Of course, you may think, this is New York City — it’s supposed to be like this.  Right?

Sure, there’s no denying the strange and inane that is New York City.  And there’s certainly no denying the fatalism that many living in the City have.  But you often have to ask yourself why the No. 7 Train gets the worst of it.

Would the complete extermination of weekday express service for over a month happen on any Manhattan-bound train other than the No. 7?  Chances are . . . no. 

Could you imagine no express service on weekdays for over a month happening to the Number 2 or Number 3 trains on the Upper West Side?  Or the Number 4 or Number 5 on the Upper East Side?  Of course not.  There would be a revolution.  You’d see front page articles nonstop in the New York Times.

There’s more to the MTA’s decision to terminate No. 7 weekday express service for over a month than the purported need for “track work.”  The fact is that unlike the Number 2, Number 3, Number 4, or Number 5 trains, the No. 7 train is distinctly known as the train for immigrants.  The No. 7 has been renamed the “International Train,” but everyone who doesn’t believe everything coming from the MTA and the Mayor’s Office knows that it has always been known as the “Orient Express.”  

Each and every day, nearly 400,000 riders, most of them minority and recent immigrants whose first language is not English, rely on that No. 7 train to take them from their cheap rents in Queens to their blue collar jobs in Manhattan.  The majority of these riders don’t live in fancy apartments, have a retirement plan, have nannies to take care of their children, or a dog walker named Manny to walk little Fido to Central Park.  The majority of these riders don’t have a loud political voice.  This is the train for workers — the non-unionized kind.  

So what kind of message is the MTA sending with its perfunctory message that express service will be cut for over a month — not on the weekends — but on the weekdays for heaven’s sake, when most people in the civilized world try to earn a living? 

In no uncertain terms, the MTA, along with Governor Elliot Spitzer, are saying:  you don’t matter.

Ridiculous.  But it’s not so surprising.  The MTA decision reflects a systematic attempt by those in society to stress to immigrants in no uncertain terms that they are irrelevant.  Shine my shoes.  Clean my car.  Stock my groceries.  Wash my dishes.  You don’t matter.

To be sure, the MTA has offered shuttle buses to stops that have been shut down for the “track work,” express buses to the City and rides on the Long Island Rail Road.  Sounds passable on paper but the MTA has yet — during its entire existence as an organization — to provide reliable and efficient “alternative” service when the main service is suspended.  It’s like nuclear fusion from cold water.  It doesn’t exist except in someone’s imagination.

Practically, there are other problems, too.  First, the MTA consistently provides too few buses and does nothing to increase their frequency.  So all you end up having — if you can find the buses in the first place . . . the signs are put up by MTA workers who think that having a normal person find the sign for the bus should be a twisted game of hide and seek — is a serious log jam.  I can’t even fathom the pandemonium that will occur during weekday rush hour.  Second, the rides on the Long Island Rail Road will primarily help those living in Flushing.  It won’t help those who live between Flushing and Queensboro Plaza (in fact, there will be no service at all between Woodside and Flushing . . . so to those people, the MTA says, “sorry, you’re just out of luck”).

In the end, the MTA’s decision to cut weekday express service for over a month is not only irresponsible, but is a slap in the face to the immigrant community for which the No. 7 train serves. 

The subway system in New York City is unlike any other.  It’s a subway system in which people’s livelihoods depend on — rich and poor.  The subway was built for everyone, not simply for the rich folks living on the Upper West Side or the Upper East Side that have to get to their important jobs in midtown and downtown.