Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Be a Native Tourist

My husband and I played hooky one sunny afternoon this week. I'm not making this up--there was sun one day this month.

We strolled along the High Line, a newly constructed park that recently opened in Chelsea and runs along the tracks of a former freight train line. The views of the Hudson were fresh and magnificent and it's another oasis of peace in an otherwise bustling, chaotic city. 

The visitors we spotted were made up of locals and tourists. I was able to make out about seven different languages as strollers walked by our perch on one of the benches situated perfectly for people-watching, a universal past time in any city.
The park is a delight and its complexity creeps up on you slowly. There is a rich history to the area and it was fun to hear snippets of it waft over us as people pointed, gestured and lectured about it.  I was struck by the attention to detail and care down to the selection of rustic meadow grasses that had grown wild near the tracks fifty years ago.

I glanced at the books some of my fellow bench warmers were reading. Of Mice and Men, The Psychopath Test, and I wondered if they were really reading them or if the selections were meant to add to the culture of the surroundings while the nightstand sported the juicy latest must-read.  I'm left to wonder about it and that was perhaps the most fun part of the activity. I asked my husband his opinion about our seat mates' occupations and he shrugged, "I don't know--you're the writer, make something up." So I did, and my imagination soared as it was picked up by the brisk wind that carried it from the river's edge and hopefully to my home computer several miles away.

There was a sizable group eating their lunches on a set of wide steps that faced 10th avenue and 17th street. The steps had an intriguing view of moving traffic that could be seen through large paned windows out below. The windows worked both ways, allowing street strollers to look up and see the lunch time munchers. It was a clever and fun reversal.. New Yorkers have a thing about eating on steps, i.e. The Met, the newish steps at Times Square, Bryant Park--we become pigeons when we eat, it seems, absorbed into our surroundings.

Being a tourist in your own city is fun. You don't need to bring a guide book. You can understand every sign and (rarely) have to ask for directions.

Go to the High Line, get out and enjoy your city. The sun will shine again eventually.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Numbers Game

I believe I was about ten when I realized there was power in numbers. My class had decided to pull a prank on our teacher and suspend opened umbrellas upside down from the ceiling. We all agreed that presenting a unified front was vital to our success, thereby protecting the original instigator of the idea. At that point one girl stood up and said she wouldn't participate. The idea fizzled briefly as the lone dissenter turned Benedict Arnold on us and showed us that indeed each and every person does make a difference and a group is only as strong as the individuals who comprise it.

Recently my block, consisting of ten families in tree-filled Suburbia launched a counterattack against a developer who had eyes on building new homes in the woods at the end of our dead end street. We knew he owned the parcel of land, but he also lived in the neighborhood and he had repeatedly assured (lied to) us that he would always leave our view and quiet in tact. After months of intense negotiations with the town council and the highway department we found out about his plans through the backdoor. Needless to say, we felt betrayed and tricked not to mention outraged that our legal right to have our voices heard was undermined. Construction vehicles were set to open our quiet street to a flood of people and the inherent noise, delivery trucks and school busses.

We were not about to stand by and watch our property values and way of life disappear. The entire block ponied up the necessary funds, hired a lawyer, and had the proceedings stopped before any steps were finalized. We "heard" the developer was shocked that we didn't just roll over and let him have his way with us as he had done to others many times before.

Occupy Wall Street is a grassroots effort that has grown in influence over the past three weeks. The protests began as a collective voice against the greed of corporate America. Yes, they have the numbers even the unions envy and are growing exponentially, but they lack focus.

People are annoyed, frustrated, jobless and not going to take it anymore. Occupy Wall Street now has a platform and our attention, but that isn't enough. Now they need a clear message. We are all transfixed and waiting for more movement than simply reliving the 1970's aimless sit-ins. You guys have the power of numbers but are about to cede the edge unless one person stands up and leads the charge to clearly present what it is you expect of corporate America in regard to changing their policies and attitude.

Yom Kippur starts at sundown tomorrow evening. It is the culmination of ten days of spiritual cleansing and introspection that started with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. The most devout followers will fast for twenty-five hours and spend most of the day praying together at a synagogue. We are told the collective praying serves us well as the sins we are atoning for are diluted amongst the masses, thereby allowing the good deeds to float over us and purify our souls. So, the numbers are on our side, but it is up to us to ally our forces on what we hope is the winning team. It takes individuals to decide to join forces to create a whole. Every voice counts. We have the right to be heard and be counted. It would do our voted officials well to remember that come the next election.