One fortunate side effect of this currently-enfeebling condition I have has been that I haven't had to endure many excursions outside into the cold crowded streets of New York.
Meaning, I haven't faced the throngs of Christmas shoppers in Manhattan. Meaning, I've avoided as many tourists as one who works across the street from Grand Central Station possibly can, even tho they troop through the lobby of my building regularly on sightseeing tours.
Tourism is a life-blood of New York City, to be sure, and after September 11th, one of the most remarkable sights, one of the most enduring reminders of the human spirit, was seeing tourists lining the streets of Times Square and midtown Manhattan, peering at the skating rink at Rockefeller Center, gazing over the horizon from the top of the Empire State Building, all just weeks after the most devastating terror attack in a major city ever.
You would have thought they'd be scared away: crowds, threats, increased police surveillance, all prime opportunities for another attack. Hell, even I bailed to Aruba that year, and I consider myself a typical New Yorker, for whom nothing is more than a distraction. Manhole covers blows sky high? Call "heads" in the air. That sort of thing.
But there comes a point when the sheer volume of people, the mass of human flesh and odors, becomes too much. And this Christmas, in particular, is a prime example of a time when it will.
Part of the problem, for New Yorkers, is the dollar is damned cheap compared to other currencies. That means, and I can picture it clearly in my mind, travel shops all over the UK and France are adverstising "shopping holidays" in America, where you can fly 3,600 miles and still save on your presents!
For example, the wildly popular iPod. The UK Apple store lists the iPod at £189. US price? $249. With the exchange rate at $1.96, the UK iPod costs $370.
See what I mean? You've paid one-quarter the airfare right there, with one gift. Now factor in shopping outlets, and you can see that any major American city in the east that has a big outlet mall nearby (New York has three, and a fourth one is a fairly short drive away in Pennsylvania) will be inundated with international tourists, who along with shopping, will sightsee. Eat in our restaurants. Walk on our sidewalks. Drink in our bars (and complain about our beer)! Ogle our women! Steal candy from our babies! BREATHE OUR AIR! ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!
The streets of the city normally feel like the veins and arteries in a bloodstream: cars and people pulse to the heartbeat of the stoplights and flashing "Don't Walk" signs, creating a rhythm to the city that a native can usually suss out, and quickly assimilate into the flow.
When you add tourists, it's like adding a blood thickener. Streets clog. Sidewalks become obstacle courses of gawking families, Hagstrom maps unfurled, gazing up, jaws agape. Suddenly, the jaunt that took five minutes to walk has turned into a trek of fifteen minutes, requiring a sherpa, a navigator, and elbow pads.
(NOTE TO TOURISTS: Please, if you need to consult a map on Broadway and 45th Street, step to the curb or the wall of the building! You'll do us all a favor.)
And what usually happens in the body when a foreign object is absorbed? The immune system kicks in, and the body rallies the lymph system and the corpuscular fighters into action (read: muggers and pickpockets). The police help, but once you get police activity (the New York euphemism for "somebody fucked up, big time"), you can count on even longer delays, to the point of horn-honking and impolite language passing amongst the cabbies and truck drivers. And the poor tourists, looking for all the world like lost deer, are trying to absorb it all while checking their wallets.
I had a proposal which I submitted to Mayor Bloomberg, on which I have not yet heard back: during tourist season, we should raise the kill limit. Currently, it stands at two bucks and as many does as you can carry in the back of your SUV, unless the police catch you. I'd like to see the buck limit doubled to prevent breeding.
I believe the only way to truly recapture the natural beauty of our streets, the pristine habitat of native New Yorkers, marred only by the occasional out-of-town "commuter," whom we tolerate because they feed us all year long, as opposed to these agglomarations of gluttony provided by tourists, is to implement this hunt as soon as possible. That way, we can restore balance to our city.
Think of it. We might actually hear the birds chirping once more!