Can’t Fight City Hall

Even though I live in a city of 8 million + people, I am firmly convinced that I can make a difference. Especially when it comes to my corner, which borders on Central Park. This proximity to recreation, carriage rides and strawberry fields attracts tourists whose Euros and Renminbis prove irresistible to enterprising vendors.  Unfortunately for my neighborhood, the vendor business had been booming. Sidewalks, crosswalks, passing lanes and fire zones were bursting with small time entrepreneurs exhibiting a level of audacity not seen since the Dutch stole Manhattan. 

Truth was, my corner had become the new Urban Food Court  with falafels, smoothies, Softee and Sabretts brewing alongside pedicabs touting celebrity tours and sunset rides. Pedestrians filed through razor thin openings into oncoming traffic; lane jumping taxis, load bearing trucks, out-of-state drivers – hit their brakes inches from mothers with strollers and seniors with walkers. 

Which is why I was filing a complaint to 311 – a city department fashioned for citizen gripes – less urgent than the “OMG call 911!!” variety. 

20 minutes later  a patrol car pulled up.  I caught up with Officers Orion and Jackson as Messieurs Abdul and  Bolodenka were arguing the fine points of “standing” in a No Standing Zone. To their credit the officers presented each with a clearly defined Parking Ticket. 

And just like that my corner cleared. A simple act of civic initiative had put things to right. 
But in a New York minute the gang returned – Pedicab drivers lounged alongside parking hydrants skyping their girlfriends..

The shadow economy took hold: A hierarchy of vendors established the locations, set the schedules, fudged the permits, finessed the health codes, cooked the books. Here CASH was king and nobody, but NOBODY picked up the trash. 

A sales force spread out for blocks accosting pedestrians with improvised pitches You will see the real Central Park – Billionaire penthouses,  movie locations, Yoko Ono’s favorite bench”. Drivers were studying for PHD’s in history, architecture, horticulture working their way through NYU and Columbia. “For you a special price – only $150”. 

To be honest I had never experienced the ride first hand.  The thought of bumping along through city traffic in a narrow contraption made of plywood and bike parts with only a tarp covering for rain or snow – Tempting..

How had this latter day Rickshaw caught the public fancy? I blamed Trip Advisor and Yelp – “The Only Way to See Central Park” – “A real Valentine”. Where was the charm in a skinny Kenyan peddling 800 pounds of vacationing Bavarians up the 90th street incline? 

I posted a follow up complaint. This time Officer Ortiz, 54th precinct responded. 

After running down the offenders, Ortiz was in a chatty mood: “These guys don’t care how many tickets we write – to them it’s just their cost of doing business. “

I pressed him further.. “Look, if I were you” he confided, “I’d get a group together – More people – more votes – if you catch my drift…”  
Ortiz was right. I needed to go the next step – 
A PETITION! Everyone in my building was always griping about the corner – probably worth 20-30 signatures no sweat. 

Stationed in my apartment lobby with a smile and a clipboard I attempted to engage my neighbors. Turns out they were a very cautious bunch. 

A very busy bunch…

And an impressively PC bunch.  “These are immigrants…It’s their only chance for a better life”…

I’d just about given up when Susan from 11B and Cheryl from 18A signed without hesitation. Seems their taxi had just been clipped by a pedicab going north on a southbound street just one of many recent vendor indignities. They wanted to do more than sign a petition – they wanted to get involved.

We continued on to the Venetian Coffee Shop – so/so coffee but great booths frequented by neighbors hoping to forestall its inevitable extinction.  Cheryl worked for an art not-for-profit which meant she knew how to get things done on a shoestring. “We need to create an organization with a catchy name, a mission statement, website, email blasts…” Susan, a real estate broker, who could sell anything to anyone, liked the idea but wondered “How are we going to pay for all this?”

Which is where I came in – as long as there was a tutorial out there I could tackle pretty much anything the internet had to offer. Another splash of coffee and  “Stop Vendor Offenders” (SVO) was conceived.! Two weeks later we went live at and so did our campaign…

We emailed, we Facebooked we Tumbled… 
We pinterested, we texted we tweeted… 

And we landed the holy grail of cause marketing – a meeting with department heads from *DOT, LPC, WSNA, DSNY and NYPD  – at the NYAC. It was awesome – 

I ran the Power Point – throwing in a bit of Pharrell Williams sound track to keep the room awake. Cheryl and Susan fielded questions.  

Department Chief Watson cited Federal Laws, Veterans’ regulations, city politics and then added a dose of reality – “these street guys – they’re all replaceable. It’s the behind-the-scenes operators with deep pockets – they’re impossible to pin down” .. Susan took her cue..

“That’s why we were thinking – If you made our corner the new hub of the Citi Bike program.. there’d be no room for vendors – just shiny blue bikes. No more behind the scenes shenanigans, no stepping on toes.”  Everyone nodded. DOT, DSNY and even the street light specialist thought it might work. I had to hand it to her that girl could sell. 

But a late arrival from the Mayor’s task force brought down the hammer.. “Look, our men have a single mission – to keep the streets safe and protect the little guy.” And then looking straight at us “Ladies, I’m afraid New York isn’t a 1 per center town anymore.”  

The room went quiet. All heads turned disdainfully in our direction. Cheryl fingered her discount transit card, Susan snapped shut her Vuitton knock-off and I bit into my complimentary glazed donut. My brain scrambled for the perfect response that would set the record straight and put us back on track but all I could muster was a high pitched “WHO?? What One Percent??!!”  But he’d sucked the air right out of the room – texts were checked, tablets folded and chairs scraped back. The meeting was over. 

Vendor Offenders was doomed. Like Calcutta before outsourcing NYC had become the wild west of legal loopholes. Law abiding citizens need not apply.

Susan said what we were all thinking.. “What good is all this culture and excitement if you can’t cross your own street…!???”  

This last part she directed at an approaching pedicab driver who assumed she wanted a ride. His “associate” accused him of stealing his fare.  A shouting match ensued. We skedaddled. 

What we missed but heard was a nasty brawl which caused a third pedicab to crash into a Sabrett cart which catapulted an overflowing trash can into an oncoming taxi which startled a carriage horse causing a linen truck to careen into a sightseeing bus seconds before the number 7 bus turned south onto Seventh Avenue (deep breath).

All in all a record pile-up:  8 vehicles, 7 pedicabs, 3 vendors, 3 taxis, a horseless carriage and a traffic post smashed.

Miraculously no one was seriously hurt, but it did make a splash – My corner made headlines from New York to Borneo.  CNN ran “Mayhem in Midtown” 24/7 which day 4 – got the Mayor’s attention. 

What the situation called for was a quick fix – face saving, crowd pleasing and most of all photogenic. Which is why 48 hours later – Susan, Cheryl and I found ourselves alongside the Mayor for the unveiling of Central Park’s first “City Bikes” Station..

A 21st Century solution to traffic, pollution, obesity and as far as we were concerned… rogue vendors..

The street is clean, quiet, kid friendly and enjoyable.. Which lead New York Magazine to describe it as “civility in midtown”  

And the New York Times reported eye popping sales.. (our first one per center)…

And best of all – I made two new best friends.. 

Life is good…You betcha!


Disclaimer: Some facts have been changed so remember .. It’s just “wishful thinking”!

The Red Carpet

Like everyone else on the planet I consider myself a photographer. Every 18 months I feel compelled to invest in the latest technology to obtain the highest pixels, the fastest shutters, the longest lenses, all confirmed over Talmudic debates at B&H photo. But keeping up with fellow shutterbugs can be costly, so I am always on the lookout for actual photo assignments. Which is why an email blast announcing a Red Carpet for The Opening Night of the Film Festival caught my attention.

Wow! – A Red Carpet – Finally a chance to wear that dress I’d wrestled away from two fashion bloggers at an Armani Sample Sale..

But the more I thought about it – Red Carpet notwithstanding – the dress and heels would have to go with 30 pounds of camera gear in tow..

As I read on my heart beat faster: “opening night attendees:  “De Caprio, Clooney, Redford, Madonna, Bionce, Lady Gaga..”  This could mean  a serious chance at the money shot.. media outlets outbidding each other. If I could pull this off I’d be in the black again…

Preparation was essential – I went over the checklist: – cleaned lenses, charged chargers, flashed flashes with snuffers and Fongs …

And most important of all the Manual.. A slight review…

The day of:  I arrived early – Major press outlets were already lining up.  This was definitely the big leagues..

I presented my credentials to KPR press coordinator, Norma Star, who flipped pages: “NBC, ABC, Cosmo, HuffPost, Getty, Daily Beast, Nightly Sharks…”

“New York 1, Bronx 2, Staten Island 4, …. Oh there you are.. ” Norma was pointing so far back I’d need a taxi just to get there…

But it would take more than a PR snub to deter this pro.. I spied my colleagues and joined the front lines. It was great – to be back among my fellow artists – swapping war stories, trading tech talk..

Then came the press briefing..” Welcome everyone. You know the drill – arrivals three minutes apart. We expect a good turnout tonight”  Tip sheets were distributed…and they were impressive.

I had to get this right. I went over my camera settings.. lens speed, shutter speed, ISO, focal length. I hit the “FULLY AUTO” button.. and held my breath…

The first arrival – Amy Adams fresh off “American Hustle” and OMG – Ann Hathaway a veritable toothpick but gorgeous??!! They flashed million dollar smiles directly in front of my post.

Then I felt a sharp nudge to my right and jab to my left. In a flash I was fork lifted up and back. Like Patton’s Fifth Armored Division .. a WALL of photographers closed ranks in front of me.. 

And that wall spelled G-E-T-T-Y – The mother of all photo houses – Now my only view was a tent pole and the over coiffed head of a Hungarian stringer!

So much for my Canon 5D Mark 111 and L series telephoto. What I needed was a 3 foot fiberglass Werner stepladder!!

Luckily I spied one just behind the tent pole. Solution found! Except that it’s rightful owner, Courtney from Cosmo made it abundantly clear she wasn’t sharing-

During our negotiations, we nearly missed a celebrity spotting – George and Amal Clooney heading towards the stage door. The press took off down 65th street.

I joined the herd – my heart pumping, adrenalin flowing, sneakers pounding, I’d get those shots if it killed me.  

Suddenly a guy from “Live at Five” spotted Beyoncé in a taxi and veered off catching my right foot in his microphone cable. I bounced along the sidewalk like a lassoed heifer until we came to a full stop. 

Mr. “Live at Five” didn’t miss a beat – executing a plier jeté over my body he rejoined the pack. With whatever wind I had left I yelled – “Are you insane? Beyoncé in a taxi??!!!”

Fortunately, my tendency to over pack for everything in my life included my bulging backpack which  cushioned my fall and protected my camera. But it was clear that my paparazzi days were over. Goodbye HuffPost, Vanity Fair, People and DailyMail… Hello listings, 7 day auctions…

“Hey! Where is everybody??!”
Her gargantuan shoes clattered across the pavement. She Leaned In.  “Tell me” she continued pointing to my arsenal “does that stuff still work?” 

I nodded. Then Lady Gaga proved her true LADYSHIP by graciously helping me to my feet. 

Main squeeze Tyler Kinney joined us and we went to work..

The shooting was a breeze. They were great together. It wasn’t until I went in for a close up and realized something was up. I switched my camera to video record  and asked the tough question. “Is there anything you guys would like say?”…

Tyler Kinney said it first. “We’re engaged” and Lady Gaga added “just now in the limo we decided on a June wedding in Rome.” 

And there it was – the money shot!  Plus a SCOOP!! I had to choose my media carefully… in the end Arianna could be very persuasive.. 

And the best part of all – Gaga and Tyler invited me to their engagement party. .. Where I got to wear that Armani number after all. Life is good… you betcha!

The End

The Travel Issue

Anyone will tell you I am an obsessive travel planner. The slightest email blast from a newly renovated Orient Express on the other side of the world will send me into a frenzy of clicks to resort websites touting immaculate beaches, horizon pools, designer villas with sunset views and discreet butler service. Not trusting gloss photos, I consult TripAdvisor – where somewhere between awed honeymooners and pots of jam on buttery rolls and warm greetings by hosts Bethany and Jim, I vet my destination.. …

Which can only happen if I acquire the holy grail of travel ..

A Mileage Ticket promising reclining comfort and free booties all the way to Denpasar or Nairobi.  

It is at this point that I feel compelled to face the bottom line…and realize that despite tantalizing discounts, free airfare and falling Bots – 

my real life budget won’t cover the charter flight into my first tented safari camp…. Which is why I was thrilled about two weeks ago when I came across  an amazing trip I could actually afford.   

A&K, had published a three week package to Australia including five star New Zealand lodges with fishing and bungee jumping, Australian outback,  Sidney sails and opera seats followed by .. 
4 nights at the Barrier Reef’s lavish Lizard Island resort  – a swim away from underwater wonders with my very own diving buddy named Bob….
All for only $5,900!!    Surely this was a mistake – a scam to sell building lots on coral reefs – But no. Strictly legit.  I clicked the 24 Hours courtesy “HOLD” button… just enough time to attend to last minute chores..

No better place to begin than my biannual dental cleaning. Gotta face those Aussie beaches with a sparkling smile… Which is when things took an unexpected turn. 

I’d neglected that my appointment card specified  “consult” which meant Dr. M would take X-rays and unless I believed in the tooth fairy he’d find something wrong. Which he did…

I tried to remain calm while the dentalese grew more dire.. “teeth 19 and 20… decay close to the nerve, cracked enamel, rotting composite
which might require a root canal, Extraction, IMPLANTS!! Teeth in a glass. I gave my consent.  Dr. M. went to work…

I was stoic – numb, drool cascading, jaw stretched beyond capacity, training my mind to ignore the piercing drill and deafening roar of crumbling amalgam … And all the while negotiating .. 

Good-bye to gummy bears, whirly pops, sour worms, mary janes and Turkish taffy… I’d vet every olive, inspect every walnut half, peel every pomegranate… 

Then suddenly silence. All over. Bib off – I walked shakily to reception. I couldn’t feel my lips but there was the perky Roseanne’s efficiently tallying my bill..

“a cleaning, a full set of X-rays – 2 porcelain crowns…”

“- cash or credit?” 

Life sucks. Nietzsche got it right – we’re all insects crawling our way to dust…another three months in this grey urban Gulag…

Wait a minute – Airbnb!! –  Just a renter away from a Sydney sunset sail..  I started typing…  “midtown, luxury doorman building, park views, close to theater and museums…” Perfect for a lovely couple from London in town for dining and the arts. They would adore my Damien Dots .. 

But what if instead I landed, a family of 5 from somewhere-ville whose idea of dining was KFC tubs and food cart falafels ..

And who’s five year old “emerging artist” would spray paint my living room into a site even Banksy would disclaim … Nope.

No can do. Good bye Lovely Lizard… Good by Bob. 

I’m broke – just another city statistic shoveled to the bottom of the heap – destined to watch from the sidelines as the one per centers circle the globe dining with Bill and Melinda. At night. Under the stars. On a Namibian dune.. 

Hey. Look at those teeth. Very impressive.  I should smile more.

Which is why last week when I saw a Groupon Coupon – 3 weeks, all inclusive, diving instruction – tank, wet-suit, mask and flippers included .. I took the plunge.

Brett says I’m a natural.  You betcha. Life is good.   

The End