Only in New York: An Exploration of the World's Most Fascinating, Frustrating, and Irrepressible City

Only in New York: An Exploration of the World's Most Fascinating, Frustrating, and Irrepressible City


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No one denies that New York City is unique—but 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780823281077
Publisher: Fordham University Press
Publication date: 11/06/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 264
Sales rank: 661,347
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


Dutch Treat

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, 2008


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.)


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


Excerpted from "Only In New York"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Sam Roberts.
Excerpted by permission of Fordham University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Pete Hamill xi

Preface to the Fordham University Press Edition xv

Introduction 1

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

Scoop 52

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

New Yorkers

A Place to Die For 79

The Best Policy 82

Survivor 85

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

Dynasty 118

Hymie, We Hardly Knew Ye 121

Nowhere to Go But Up 124

History Lessons

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

9/11 153

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

Next 224

Seen on the Subway 227

Brownsville 230

Obama's New York 233

Acknowledgments 237

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