Manhattan 2005, part 1


A year ago this month, The New York Times invited me to try out as a copy editor. I filed these travel dispatches originally by e-mail. [part one | two | three | four | five | six | seven]

Back in New York after many years. Just a few quick notes from the first day in town …


These little town blues

Sheesh, you can’t even slip out of town without a big fuss. In the security line at the Birmingham Airport, at 9:30 a.m. on a Sunday, mind you was:

  • a large traveling Hispanic family;
  • the Red Hat Society (BJ: “Wade, you forgot your red hat!”);
  • most of the team from Fox 6 “Good Day Alabama.”

And yes, one of those groups was on my tiny nonstop flight to LaGuardia. All the way to baggage claim and the taxi stand. Gotta Tivo Fox 6 Monday morning to see if they’re using robots or airing live from the Bronx or what.

Hot town, summer in the city

Yep, it’s in the 90s up here, just like Birmingham. Only difference: the streets smell like garbage. Monday must be pickup day, because a lot of the sidewalks had piles of garbage bags.

The plane flew north along Manhattan, with an excellent view of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the slanted-roof skyscraper, Central Park, and all of my favorite scenes from Spider-Man (the video game, not the movie).

The cab ride was surreal at first. No chatter, no radio, and almost no A/C — just the faint whiff of sickly sweet air freshener. Mayor Bloomberg must be cracking down on anything and everything. The cabs list a full bill of rights, fares, etc., including no excessive honking, no loud radios, no cabbies talking on cell phones. Eerie.

As we took the bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan, it’s just an amazing sight, seeing the skyline almost as you remember it from a dream.

The dream ended with lots of honking, this in spite the new signs I see saying “No honking — except to warn of danger” or “Honking — $300 fine.” Bloomberg is out of control. Fortunately, my driver thought nothing of weaving through pedestrians, cops, cars, etc., honking as needed. If you’re gonna get anywhere — even in Sunday traffic — you need a driver who’s a little crazy. Not De Niro “Taxi Driver” crazy, just enough to make the lights.

I love a parrot

Traffic was awful. I didn’t get it. We’re going to Midtown (Manhattan), so what gives?

My driver, in what I guess to be an Indian accent, asks if it’s OK to take a different route. (Rider right No. 3: your choice of shortest route or another you designate.) He says the streets are blocked off, either for a “fest or a parrot.”


It would’ve been worth another 20 minutes in that hot cab to see the giant parrot. But we detoured along pretty girl street, or as it’s called around here, Fifth Avenue. And I’m starting to feel at home as we swing by Radio City Music Hall, and Times Square, and the Time and Life Building. Kewl.

As we get closer to the apartment, I realize, he didn’t say “parrot” — he said “parade” (as in accent on second syllable). I found out on the news that it was the 35th anniversary of the modern gay-rights movement. And I missed it, though it was just a couple of blocks away from my place.

And what a place. A fine Midtown apartment, all decked out. This is first class.

Early Times

My former boss S., who has been at the Times for two years as a copy editor, took me out for coffee at the only place more foreign to me than NYC … Starbucks. I still don’t know how to order, pay and then move to the other place where they give you your drink. And I still get not-coffee.

The tourists are choking the sidewalks, and already I hate them, and yet technically I am them. S.’s wife didn’t join us, though she also worked with us and now works at AP. Didn’t ask.

S. fills me in on the process, for which I’m very grateful. We skip over to a less-traveled street for burgers at a hole-in-the-wall. There are 8 million stories in the naked city, and most of them have to do with eating. I’m already sated from the Starbucks cookie and not-coffee, but oh well.

The real treat: S. takes me into the Times for my first visit before he starts his shift. It always pays to dress up a little, even on the “off” day because you never know. Black pants, gray tee, all smiles.

I don’t see the mice S. mentioned, but I do see a large sectioned-off newsroom. Many desks are empty (it *is* Sunday), but I still meet a few copy editors. I’ll spare you the stories about crazy copy editors, if only because even at this newspaper, you can’t get the edition out without ‘em.

War of the whirls

Walking back north through the heart of Times Square, I am bombarded with mutant runaway billboards. If this were Tivo-land, there’d be big swatches of blank canvas and solid white neon. But it’s mandated that new buildings in Times Square actually incorporate large ads as part of their facade. Sigh.

You’re all getting genuine Rolexes, by the way.

They’re all out in full force: hawkers, cops, gawkers, locals, sketchers, and hordes more. Along one sidewalk, they’re shooting something (a commercial? “Law and Order: Rookie Patrol”?). I skip the ultra-chic supermarket for the Rite Aid for food for the kitchenette. This is the Rite Aid from hell, all narrow and worn out. Everything is compacted to fit on this island. I make it out with enough supplies to do the week.

It is evening, still light out. I drop my stuff in the warm apartment and try to relax. S. gave me plenty of 411 on places to live, though I’d like to just get through my tryout first. No matter what happens, it’s hard imagining not giving the big city a shot. It’s too expensive, it’s crazy, and it’s charming all at once.


About this entry