Magdalen Powers writes for a number of publications. Here's a snip of a recent article she whote for The Morning News.
Little Indignities: A Beginner’s Guide to New York
Magdalen Powers, 10 September 2002
‘…New Yorkers temperamentally do not crave comfort and convenience – if they did they would live elsewhere.’
– E.B.White, Here Is New York
There are as many New Yorks, it’s been said, as there are people living here. I’ll go a step further and say there are as many New Yorks as there have ever been people herein. Bleeding-edge but salved by the weight of history. Full of little indignities and big beauties: getting shoved through a turnstile at Grand Central only to come aboveground and see the sun glaring off the silver eagles’ heads you hadn’t even known were on the lower corners of the Chrysler Building. Having a rat almost run across your foot in Central Park, then getting to a small wooden bridge and leaning out over a little stream to watch the fireflies dance in the dusk.
New York really is more an entity than a geographic place, its Dickensian infrastructure (Central air? Who evahearddathat?), forming a deceptively solid base from which the rest of the world sometimes seems created. (Do not think that substandard anything is ‘the price you pay to live in New York,’ but get used to the substandardness nonetheless.) It’s a fast town, sure, but in some ways not fast enough. On escalators here, ‘stand on the right, walk on the left’ doesn’t seem to occur to people. And taxis can offer some stereotypically ‘New York’ experiences, but a lot of the time it’s faster (and of course always cheaper) to walk. But however you travel, don’t get locked into a looking-down-walking-fast-day-to-day routine all the time. I mean, don’t gawk like a tourist, but do look around: at your feet may be a pile of terrier droppings, but two stories up may be an art deco frieze you won’t see the likes of outside the Old Country.
Speaking of taxis, there is the matter of the lights. This may be old news to you, but I know at least one genuinely brilliant person who can’t keep these straight to save his life. To wit: There are three lights across the top of each cab. If the middle one is lit up, the cab is available. If the lights are out, the cab is occupied. Do not wave frantically or stamp your foot or curse. It will get you nowhere and make you look very silly. Now here’s the tricky part: If the lights on either side of the middle light are on – whether or not the middle light is on as well – it means the cab is off duty. Those lights read ‘off duty’ for just that reason. People have been known to get rides in off-duty cabs, but I consider it a courtesy not to try. So here comes a cab, that middle light beaming like a beacon down the avenue. Do not yell. Do not whistle. Do not wave. There is no need. Just lean, hip perhaps insouciantly out, into traffic and ever so nonchalantly raise your arm to hail one. It’s a beautiful feeling.
Why would one get so thrilled – feel so in control of the known world – just by flagging a cab? Because New York is an emotional magnifying glass. It’s hard to have small feelings here. One day a grocery store manager sends a box-boy down to the basement to fetch some yogurt for you after the power went out in the dairy section and sure, he’s only getting yogurt from a cooler downstairs – still, you walk home feeling like you own the neighborhood. Another day somebody gets their Metrocard hung up in the subway turnstile and you miss your train, and suddenly feel like throwing yourself in front of the next one.
Full article is here.
Magdalen Powers stands on the right and walks on the left, and wishes others would do the same. She lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and will knock your block off if you say ‘Oh,’ that way again. You can read excerpts and buy her book, Hand Over Fist here.
Monday, November 18, 2002