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A new beginning
January 6th, 2002 Posted in Schubin Chronicles by sfelix | Print This Post Print This Post

New Yorkers are a hearty bunch. There have been profiles in the local news media of the good-hearted (but shrinking) band who have been standing near the World Trade Center site and cheering all the rescue and recovery workers.

It’s not surprising that people would want to cheer the rescuers; it IS surprising that they would still be doing so almost four months later, come rain or shine. It may also seem surprising that people all around the city have been cheering the trucks and workers of Con Edison, our local power company. But Con Ed worked around the clock to restore power to lower Manhattan. It’s been a good corporate citizen. We have many good corporate citizens here in New York.

Our favorite beach is on Fire Island, a long, narrow strip of sand off the southern coast of Long Island. Many New Yorkers have summer homes there, though there is no road for most of its length. So one of our financial institutions rigged up a boat as a floating bank and moved it from dock to dock along the island providing monetary services.

We have a long legacy as a city of business and trade. Many people have heard the story of how Peter Minuit, the top official of the Dutch West India Company, bought Manhattan from the natives for $24 worth of beads.

The story’s not exactly apocryphal, although the details are a little different. It was actually 60 guilders worth of blankets, cloth, metal tools and other wares, and, yes, some trinkets. At a rate of inflation of 2%, that would be the equivalent of paying around $50,000 today to people of dubious ownership for a swampy, unimproved island in the middle of nowhere.

That’s how the Dutch got Manhattan. Few people know how they made another trade to get rid of it.

The specifics may be found in the 1667 Treaty of Breda. According to some, Manhattan was traded for a tiny island, Pulau Run, that is now part of Indonesia. That’s true enough, but it omits some of the finer points.

Even if that were all the Dutch got, it would have been a great deal. Pulau Run was then the world’s greatest producer of nutmeg, at the time worth more than its weight in gold. Imagine trading some tiny backwater outpost today for the world’s richest oil fields.

The Dutch also got Suriname, considerably more important in the 17th century than was Manhattan. Best of all, they got to stay in Manhattan, which had been overrun by British military forces in 1664 (without a defensive shot being fired).

New York claims to have started in 1664, and that IS when the name was first applied. But the Dutch remained so influential in British New York that one version of a proposed new state constitution as recently as 1846 suggested literacy in both Dutch and English as a prerequisite for voting rights.

So trading is part of our heritage. We love some of our traders (people have been heading to lower-Manhattan stores since September 11 to make purchases), and some of our traders love us.

Macy’s Department Store is famous for the annual Thanksgiving Parade, but they also provide our annual Fourth-of-July fireworks (despite a tragic accident a few decades ago). That’s the main fireworks show each year, but there are others.

There have traditionally been official city fireworks in Central Park at midnight on New Year’s Eve. There have also been unofficial fireworks on the Chinese New Year.

Except when specifically sanctioned, fireworks are illegal in New York (though there is a bill that would change that, opposed by fire and police departments, wending its way through the state legislature). And there have been strict crackdowns — except with regard to the Chinese New Year. As I understand it, the noise of the little explosions is supposed to scare off evil spirits.

Mayor Giuliani, in his father-knows-best persona, decided to crack down on the Chinese New Year fireworks, too. Predictably, New York’s Chinese community was very upset. They tried everything. They offered to pay the city for an official fireworks display and to restrict it to a single location. The mayor would have none of it.

So, after all of the negotiations and pleas failed, a New York businessperson of Chinese heritage alerted the press to a protest he would stage on the steps of City Hall. He asked everyone to keep their distance as he lit a string of tiny ladyfinger firecrackers.

The mayor ordered him arrested and charged with reckless endangerment. When the newspaper photos showed him standing all alone, with no one within 150 feet, the charge was dropped. I think it was shortly thereafter that the mayor banned protesters from the City Hall steps and surrounded the building with concrete barricades. That was years before September 11, 2001.

Now there are concrete barricades at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, too, though, surprisingly, they have been removed from outside the Con Ed Energy Control Center. Many New Yorkers would no doubt agree that music is more important than electricity.

What is secured and how it is secured is very strange these days. While waiting for my wife to arrive at Newark Airport last week, I saw two National Guard troops bypass security and head towards a gate area.

At least I THINK they were National Guard troops. They were dressed in camouflage fatigues, boots, and berets, but those are available at any Army-Navy store. They carried rifles. But they showed no form of identification. Oh, well.

I came out to Newark Airport on the new Airtrain service. The airport, like La Guardia and Kennedy airports, is run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Port Authority also owns the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels and the George Washington Bridge. It was created as a bi-state agency in 1921 to improve terminals and transportation facilities in the area.

It certainly did some of that, but it also built the World Trade Center. As a quid pro quo for getting permission to do that, the Port Authority took over the old Hudson & Manhattan interstate subway (renamed PATH, for Port Authority Trans-Hudson). But it refused to help any other railroads.

Now there is a train station on the northeast-corridor tracks opposite Newark Airport. The station is located between Penn Station in Newark and the North Elizabeth station.

The one-way fare from Manhattan to Newark Airport via Amtrak is $24. Four people can travel from Manhattan to Newark Airport via a door-to-door car service for just $34 (not counting discount coupons).

The one way fare between the same stations (and for a trip of the same duration) on NJ Transit, a commuter railroad, is $11.15, and only one-way tickets are sold. If you’re racing to the train and can’t stop to buy a ticket, add a $3 penalty fare.

I bought a ticket to Elizabeth, two stations past Newark Airport. The one-way fare was $4.15; a round-trip is just $6. When I got out at the new Newark Airport station, I found that the Port Authority had chosen to impose a $5 airport-access fee (in both directions) on rail travelers. Even so, I was $2 ahead of the “official” price (and would have been $6.15 ahead had I been traveling round trip).

Yes, we have trading in our heritage. That seems to include trying to get whatever the market will bear. On behalf of New Yorkers, I apologize to all tourists and other out-of-towners.

I’ve been corresponding with the business-travel columnist of The New York Times about the ridiculous price of rail travel to the airport. He plans an expose.

The New York Times is one of New York’s GOOD corporate citizens. They cover all administrative costs of a “Neediest Cases” charity, and they do good deeds with their newspaper, too.

They’d been running an advertising-free section called “A Nation Challenged” every day — through New Year’s Eve. They had run mini-biographies of more than 1800 of the victims of September 11, all the ones whose families had approved the release of information. They will run more bios whenever more families give the okay.

The Times also ran a section called “The Year in Pictures” on New Year’s Eve, with a heart-wrenching cover photo taken moments after the second plane hit — and even more horrific images inside. Perhaps it was meant to have a cathartic effect. “Get the tears out now; at midnight there will be a new beginning.”

At night, we went to a party on New Year’s Eve. Two of the couples who attended are wonderful New York arguers. We spent quite a while yelling at one another and having a great time. A recent immigrant joined the group and mentioned buying a home in the suburbs and a car and living the American dream. We stared blankly at him. “The American Dream” is an alien concept to New Yorkers.

With about 15 minutes to go, we popped into a taxi driven by a turbaned driver and headed for our traditional spot to welcome the New Year, a hill in Central Park overlooking Times Square. There were already thousands of revelers in position, but no one seemed to mind newcomers.

As one, we watched the ball drop and counted down the seconds. When light burst from the illuminated “2002,” we all shouted, “Happy New Year!” We regulars then turned around 180 degrees to watch the fireworks in the park. There were none.

Was it an austerity move? But Times Square seemed as overdone as ever. Was it something to do with security? But there had been fireworks for the supposed millennium transition from 1999 to 2000 — even some in Times Square, itself. Was it the outgoing mayor’s last measure of control — one that outlasted his tenure by a few minutes? We don’t know, but we hope the fireworks will return next year.

We returned to the party, where people were (at the hosts’ request) reading aloud. I ended my reading with a quote from the 13th-century Islamic poet Jalal ed-Din Rumi:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

TTFN, Mark

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