No one denies that New York City is uniquebut what makes it sui generis? Sam Roberts, a longtime city reporter, has puzzled over this in print and in his popular New York Times podcasts for years. In Only in New York , updated with new tales and fascinating glimpses into uniquely NYC life, he writes about what makes this city tick and why things are the way they are in the greatest of all metropolises on earth. The more than 75 essays in this book cover a variety of topics, including:
-How do New Yorkers react during disasters?
-Maritime history (the Hudson River)
-Crowds, space, and population growth
-1908: a year in History history
-Jewish Daily Forward
-What happens when a neighborhood loses its tony ZIP code?
A winning and informative gift book for every fan of “the city,” Only in New York is elegantly written and solidly reported.
|Publisher:||Fordham University Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Sam Roberts (Author)
Sam Roberts has written for the New York Times since 1983, where he has served as urban affairs correspondent since 2005. He is the author of numerous books on New York City, including Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America and A History of New York in 101 Objects.
Pete Hamill (Foreword By)
Pete Hamill, a Meyer Berger Award–winning journalist, is the author of many bestsellers, including A Drinking Life and Forever.
Read an Excerpt
hat do bowling, the Bowery, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Harlem, Stuyvesant Town, the Yankees, the Roosevelts, and coleslaw have in common?
They're all part of New York's unique Dutch heritage. You might have missed it, with the economic crisis and the UN General Assembly traffic jams, but Dutch officials, including the prime minister, the foreign minister, and the heir to the Dutch throne, were also in town to inaugurate the city's 400th-birthday celebration.
The party begins unofficially in 2009, with the quadricentennial of Henry Hudson's voyage up what became the eponymous river. It's also 400 years since Samuel de Champlain sailed down his lake upstate and the official bicentennial of Robert Fulton's inaugural steamboat voyage.
Given the debate that's been provoked over which year New York was actually founded, the Hudson celebration is likely to revive competing claims over which Eastern Hemisphere explorer came first.
Verrazano, an Italian sailing for the French, anchored off Brooklyn in 1524 and described a large lake that was probably the Upper Bay. The Spanish dispatched Esteban Gomez, a black navigator from Portugal. He arrived on St. Anthony's Day in 1526 and christened the river the San Antonio.
Since neither explorer discovered much of great value, Europeans apparently decided New York wasn't a nice place to live, or to visit. Hudson — an Englishman presciently hired by the Dutch — didn't make it here until more than eighty years later, in 1609. The crew was a bit wary, but his first mate described the first New Yorkers he encountered as "very civil." Perhaps as a harbinger of our becoming a fashion capital, he observed, "They desire clothes."
In September 1909, the 300th anniversary of Hudson's arrival was a very big deal. Wilbur Wright took off from Governors Island and flew up the Hudson to Grant's Tomb and back. A flotilla of hundreds of vessels included a replica of Hudson's Half Moon, which, lamentably, sailed smack into a facsimile of Robert Fulton's Clermont.
Celebrants were cautioned about attracting pickpockets by appearing "too prosperous." They were told that cops had orders to arrest "elbowers." And in a warning that resonates today, they were urged to say something "if you see anyone acting in a suspicious manner."
New York is still home to about 25,000 people who claim Dutch ancestry, but that's fewer than most other ethnic groups. Much of the Dutch legacy seems tied to ING's sponsorship of the marathon and to the talk about reviving windmills.
Recently, visiting Dutch officials planted a hickory sapling on Governors Island (which the Dutch first named after the nut trees that grew there). They plan to open a Dutch pavilion in Rockefeller Center and later move it to tiny Peter Minuit Plaza, at the Battery. They hope to install street signs downtown with the original Dutch names.
They also intend to exhibit here for the first time Peter Schaghen's 1626 letter announcing to the "High and Mighty Lords" of the West India Company that the settlers in Lower Manhattan were in good spirits; had borne some children; grew wheat, barley, and other grain; and bought the roughly 22,000-acre island for sixty guilders' worth of goods.
Today the Netherlands is grappling with an issue that New Yorkers came to grips with 400 years ago. It's called diversity. Yes, there were slaves in early New Amsterdam. There was some anti-Semitism. But Peter Stuyvesant resisted orders from the high and mighty lords back home in Holland to get rid of, among others, the Swedes.
"What we now call tolerance was really indifference, as long as you behaved," Frans Timmermans, the Dutch minister for international affairs, told me.
The influx of Moroccans and Turks is changing the face of the Netherlands. In major cities, almost half the population is no longer of European origin.
"We still call people immigrants or foreigners in the third generation," Timmermans said. "You've never had an integration policy by the government, and yet this is the most successful immigrant society. The day you step off the boat or plane you're a New Yorker. That has to do with its history. People who know where they come from know where they want to go."
September 25, 2008CHAPTER 2
Who Counts Most?
You don't have to believe in numerology to know that some numbers count more than others.
Fifth Avenue evokes a very different feel from, as Barbra Streisand sang in "Second Hand Rose," Second Avenue.
The 21 Club — it's at 21 West Fifty-second Street — has enjoyed a special cachet since Prohibition.
So, to a lesser extent, does the restaurant 212, named for what was once New York City's sole area code.
212, the restaurant, is located in ZIP code 10021, which has always been synonymous with Manhattan's tony Upper East Side. Its residents contributed more to presidential candidates in 2004 than donors in any other ZIP code in the country. Real estate broker Michel Kleier calls it "the most famous and most desired ZIP code in New York City and America."
212, the restaurant, will keep its area code. But it's about to lose its distinctive ZIP code.
About four decades ago, the United States Postal Service codified social class by separating us into ZIP codes. Now postal officials are about to give a new dimension to the adage "There goes the neighborhood." This summer, 10021 will become even more exclusive.
About 50,000 Manhattanites, including Mayor Bloomberg, David Rockefeller, Rupert Murdoch, Ronald Perelman, Spike Lee, and the writers Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese, will be cast from the ranks of 10021 residents — along with Bloomingdale's, Barneys, and the restaurant 212.
They will be ignominiously relegated instead to one of two new garden variety ZIP codes, 10065 or 10075.
The redefined 10021 will shrink to about 40 percent of its existing boundaries — making it an even cozier Lenox Hill enclave that will boast the Manhattan homes of William F. Buckley and Brooke Astor and also the residents of 740 Park Avenue, who collectively helped elevate that address to what the author Michael Gross proclaimed "the world's richest apartment building."
What with the proliferation of e-mail, it's arguable whether ZIP codes carry the status they once did. What's more, a number of smaller ZIP codes on the East Side, Upper West Side, and way downtown now report higher median household income than 10021.
Still, with the coveted 212 area code (or 917 for cell phones) harder to come by, what's left to hold on to?
Michael Gross told me, "I think ZIP codes matter a great deal, at least as much as area codes and possibly much more," especially to those New Yorkers who now have to adjust to their changed circumstances. "Their deuxième ZIP code," Gross says, "will be shoved in their face every day when they look at their mail."
"The truth is," Michele Kleier agrees, "there are some people whose whole identity is their ZIP code."
The Postal Service denies any social agenda. A spokesman insists that growth in population and in new addresses necessitated the change, which promises to be a godsend to stationers. While the die is cast — officially the shift takes place July 1, 2007 — former 10021 residents whose engravers cannot meet the deadline will be granted a grace period.
In contrast to the existing 10021, the even more elite version will be denser, with 125,000 people per square mile, and will have a higher median household income, more than $84,000.
How are the soon-to-be outcasts adjusting?
"The first thing you think of is your stationery," Gay Talese told me. "But it's not like an elite number and now you've been demoted. We still have the 212 area code, don't we?" He does.
Tom Wolfe was equally sanguine. "I'll try to take it like a man," he said. Putting the best face on the situation, Wolfe says he may turn out to be better off living outside the borders of 10021, where the total income is greater than the gross national product of a number of large countries.
"I'm just afraid I can't live up to it," he said.
Mayor Bloomberg, too, seemed unfazed ... and typically even-handed. "The mayor doesn't favor one ZIP code over another," his spokesman said dryly.
Howard Rubenstein, the public relations executive, who lives in 10028, just over the existing 10021 border, countenanced calm.
"The same people will be invited to all the fancy parties," he said,"and the fundraisers surely will find their addresses."
March 22, 2007
(My ZIP code was changed to 10065. Two years later, my monthly bills, addressed to 10021, still manage to find me.)CHAPTER 3
Baseball's Greatest Hit
hey call it baseball's greatest hit.
It set a record that would resonate with every replaying but would never be broken. A perfect score.
You won't find it in baseball statistics, though.
The greatest hit wasn't made on the field or even inside a stadium.
Legend has it that it originated on a New York City subway.
This week is the 100th anniversary of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." On May 2, 1908, the song was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. On the same day, the New York Clipper, a sports and entertainment newspaper, printed an ad for the sheet music, which was published by the composer's company, on West Twenty-eighth Street. It debuted with a public performance at the Amphion, an opera house on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. It would be recorded that September. Within a month, it catapulted onto the top-ten charts.
"Take Me Out to the Ballgame" would become, by one estimate, the third most popular song in America, after "Happy Birthday" and "The Star Spangled Banner."
The biography of baseball's anthem has just been retold and elaborated on in a new book, Baseball's Greatest Hit.
Thanks to the authors — Andy Strasberg, a sports marketer; Bob Thompson, a New York musician and professor; and Tim Wiles of the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown — a buried historical footnote has been dusted off just in time to celebrate its centennial.
The song is credited to two adopted New Yorkers. Both transplanted themselves here from Middle America to seek their fortunes. Both changed their surnames to sound more sophisticated. Neither, so the story goes, had ever been to a baseball game.
The lyricist was Jack Norworth, a twenty-nine-year-old actor and monologist, who was performing that spring at Hammerstein's in Midtown and who had already written another classic, "Shine on Harvest Moon."
Supposedly, Norworth was riding the old Ninth Avenue El when he spotted an ad for the Polo Grounds, the Giants' home field, in Upper Manhattan. For whatever reason, he drew a doodle of a slightly frazzled iconic New Yorker, whom he named Katie Casey, and wrote in pencil:
On a Saturday her young beau
Called to see if she'd like to go
To see a show but Miss Kate said No,
I'll tell you what you can do —
The immortal chorus followed, including the enviable product placement for Cracker Jack and the "one, two, three strikes yer out," which forever glorified not the hit but the pitch.
The composer was Albert Von Tilzer, a soulful thirty-year-old former shoe salesman in Brooklyn. (As the authors say, there's no business like shoe business.) His music was being featured at the time in a Lincoln Square Theatre burlesque about an Irish politician's son who falls in love with his father's German political rival.
The following year, Von Tilzer would compose another baseball song, after the Chicago Cubs won the World Series ... for what turned out to be the last time. They managed to capture the pennant by beating the Giants in a replay of an infamous tie game in which nineteen-year-old Fred Merkle was called out after failing to touch second base. Von Tilzer wrote a song titled "Did He Run," but neither the tune nor Merkle's single would become baseball's greatest hit.
Von Tilzer later composed "I'll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time." He also teamed with his brothers in publishing scores of popular tunes that would help enshrine Tin Pan Alley in America's musical history.
May 12, 2007(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Only In New York"
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Table of Contents
Foreword Pete Hamill xi
Preface to the Fordham University Press Edition xv
Only in New York
The Biggest Apple 7
The (How) Big Apple? 9
A Streetlight Named Desire 11
Fighting Words 14
Go Figure 17
Park No Cars 19
Where the Boy? Are 22
To the Wind 25
Birds of a Feather 28
Where America Begins 31
A Nose for News 33
Fat City 36
Alfred E. Newsman 39
Angels in America 42
Black Like Me 44
Who Counts Most? 47
Baseball's Greatest Hit 50
What's That Sound? 55
Sit Tight 57
Knowledge of Wealth 60
North by Northwest 63
Christmas in New York 65
What Has Four Wheels …? 67
An Open-and-Shut Case 70
Eat Your Heart Out 73
A Place to Die For 79
The Best Policy 82
Being There 88
No More Bull 91
Pay as You Go 94
Crimes of the Century 97
Articles of Faith 100
American Gangster 103
A Satisfying Life 106
Court of Public Opinion 109
The Mayor's Man 112
New York's Wild West Side 115
Hymie, We Hardly Knew Ye 121
Nowhere to Go But Up 124
Lost and Founded 129
The Summer of Sam 131
The Little Steamboat That Could 134
Work Is a Four-Letter Word 136
What Drives Us 139
Election Lore 142
Evacuation Day 145
The First Thanksgiving 148
Don't Settle for Less 151
Dutch Treats 156
Washington Squared 159
Turnstile Justice 162
The Green Book 165
Thanks for the Lift 168
The Latest Poop 171
Let Them Eat Their Words 174
Four-Star Finale 177
Home, Sweet Home 179
Just the Other Day … 182
Tusk, Tusk 185
For the Record 188
The Blizzard of '06 191
The Melting Metaphor 193
My New York
Hail Tilden High 199
Making It 202
The Apartment 205
The Other Summer of Sam 207
The Final Confession 210
Taking the Boy Out of Brooklyn 213
Something to Crow About 215
Please Don't Stop the Presses 218
An Affair of the Heart 221
Seen on the Subway 227
Obama's New York 233
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is one of those books that only a New Yorker could love. A compilation of brief tidbits about aspects of ¿The City¿ that most never think about, to outsiders from Omaha or Hot Coffee, Mississippi who have never visited this will come off as a, well, only-in-New-York-who-gives-a-crap type of book. I represent the in-between set. I visit often but have never been a resident; I could almost conduct walking tours throughout large swaths of Manhattan, yet I don¿t know jack about the other boroughs. Predictably then, I find that the essays vary in interest. New York¿s obviously an amazingly complex, multi-faceted metropolis and I think Roberts¿s various pieces parallel, perhaps even exude, that aspect. That being said, some of this is so site specific and/or fleeting that I can¿t imagine anyone but residents of a specific four-block area might really care. Some Manhattanites ¿ like their elite, implant-packed SoCal brethren ¿ have a fetish about the ¿right¿ zip code? How disappointing. How long does it take to change a light bulb on East Ninety-sixth Street? I would guess that it depends on the current administration. Generally, this is an enjoyable aggregation of New York-specific anecdotes written with a refreshing levity. I just doubt this will garner mass appeal.