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Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

When you’re a New Yorker, you get used to subway disruptions. There’s always track work, or signal work, or a police investigation, or station renovations that lead to the express running local, or the local running express, or lines being rerouted. It can be frustrating, but we accept these disruptions as a way of life in a city with one of the largest, and one of the oldest, subway systems in the world, especially since they usually don’t occur during rush hour.

On this day, there were a level of disruptions unlike any I’d ever witnessed. Walking into the Rockefeller Center subway station, one of the busiest in the city, I was greeted by a constant stream of announcements over the public address system that were never ending. Not only were the World Trade Center, & the surrounding area, a financial hub, but it was also a subway hub; several lines ran in or near the area. And, the Twin Towers attacked & reduced to rubble, mass chaos ensued on the subway, just like it did elsewhere.

I was in my third month working for the New York City bureau of The Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper. I was their sports reporter, which meant I mostly did research & arranged for interviews & accommodations for my direct supervisor, a sportswriter for the paper who, unlike me, was fluent in Japanese. I also got to cover a handful of events myself. Of course, it didn’t matter what subject you reported on today; everyone in media were focused on the World Trade Center. That morning, arriving minutes after the first plane hit, & minutes before the second plane hit, I did everything from converting the heights of the world’s tallest buildings from feet to meters to making phone calls to airports & hospitals (I was greeted by a busy signal every single time). Both my mom & dad called to check on me; I told them I was okay, & I didn’t know when I’d be leaving work.

I think it was early in the afternoon when I was told to take a call from David who, like me, was an American reporter for the paper not too far removed from college. We had different direct supervisors, but similar responsibilities. David lived near the World Trade Center &, on his way to work, realized something was happening. Being the smart reporter he is, David decided to remain on the scene rather than go to the office, calling in with live updates, taking pictures with his 35-millimeter camera & interviewing people on the scene. He had a roll of film he wanted to get to the office; but with the authorities closing off most of Lower Manhattan, he didn’t want to make his way north & risk losing his spot embedded in one of the most significant stories in history. Which is why I was told to take his call. There was a teenage boy David was going to use as his film messenger. I was to go as far south as I could, call David with my location, & this impromptu messenger would bring the film to me. Hopefully. David said he was going to give him $40.

After navigating the subway dysfunction, I got off at West 4th Street, in the heart of Greenwich Village, one of my favorite neighborhoods. My mom started taking me to The Village as a child. I had plenty of meals at the Pizzeria Uno across the street from the subway entrance. I did a lot of homework at the library a few blocks north which, at one time, had a bookstore across the street, where my mom once took me so she could meet author Terry McMillan, who had just come out with a book called Waiting to Exhale. When I emerged aboveground, I was expecting to see the usual bustle of pedestrians shuffling along the sidewalks & cars speeding along Avenue of the Americas. However, I was greeted by silence. Only emergency vehicles were allowed south of 14th Street, so there were no cars on the street, which was filled with people. Few were walking briskly to their destination; instead, almost everyone was looking south, where two plumes of smoke were plainly visible on this clear & sunny day. It was as quiet as I’ve ever heard The Village. There were looks of shock, & occasional sounds of sniffling. It was my first look at the destruction on something other than a television screen, so I stood there too, mesmerized not just by the smoke, but also by the unusual silence. This isn’t a bad dream, I thought. This is really happening.

I made my way through the crowd & resumed my voyage south, which I realized was fruitless; there were barricades everywhere &, unless you could prove you were a resident of the blocked off area, no one was allowed through. David had given me few details about his location, but I knew he was west, so I headed in that direction until I got to the appropriately named West Street, the last street before the Hudson River. I noticed a shuttered strip club at one corner, so I stood there, since I figured it would be an easily identifiable landmark. I called David. The kid bringing me the film was named Peter, or Michael, or something else just as common, David told me. He described the kid’s appearance, & what he was wearing. David said he was on his way. Hopefully.

I stood there for about an hour before someone matching the description David passed along spotted me. He handed me the film. I shook his hand, & thanked him. I asked him if he needed anything, not sure what I could help him with. He was fine, he said. On my walk back to the subway station, I called David, & told him that his messenger had showed. I never did see the pictures, which was fine by me.

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I heard the gripes not long after Major League Baseball announced that Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium would host the 2012 All-Star Game and all of its related festivities. No one’s going to want to come to Kansas City. Like so many other ballparks, Kauffman Stadium isn’t located downtown and getting from Point A to Point B is going to be a logistical nightmare. The influx of tourists is going to make it impossible to get around. Kansas City is going to get embarrassed and the obnoxious folks from the Eastern and Pacific time zones are going to make fun of our town.

New York Yankees star second baseman Robinson Cano added insult to injury when he didn’t pick Billy Butler – the only Kansas City Royals player selected for the All-Star Game – for the Home Run Derby after indicating that he would. All week, Cano was booed mercilessly by the Kansas City faithful, especially during the Home Run Derby, when he failed to get even one ball over the fence. The outcry over Kansas City’s treatment of Cano came from both local and national media. How dare our fans behave so poorly on a national stage, some of the locals said. How dare Kansas Citians act so disrespectfully toward Cano, some of the out-of-towners said. Kansas Citians took both responses to their actions personally. The worst fears of many Kansas Citians were confirmed.

*          *          *

I’d never thought about Kansas City as a potential landing spot, nor did I know what to expect or have any preconceived notions of the region before I moved here. But, after 3 ½ years, Kansas City has grown on me; I love it in the Heartland and wouldn’t mind calling Kansas City my home for the foreseeable future. It’s a great place to raise a family. There’s lots to do here and activities are plentiful regardless of your interests, relationship status or age group. Jobs here may not be as abundant as they once were, but they aren’t ridiculously scarce either. There’s excellent cuisine, including out-of-this-world barbecue. The summers can be oppressive, but the winters aren’t horrendous. The cost of living is manageable. Most locals I talk to agree with me that Kansas City is a fantastic place that has a lot going for it. But, they still aren’t satisfied.

The term “flyover state bias” was foreign to me until I moved here; Kansas City gets overlooked because it isn’t on a coast, locals say. People from St. Louis look down on Kansas City because St. Louis is bigger and has a better baseball team, I’m told. Our sports teams will never get the attention they deserve because they can’t spend money like the teams in bigger markets and because everyone thinks Kansas City is some backwater, I’ve heard. The only sports fans in the region who don’t seem to have a negative outlook are University of Kansas basketball fans; but the Jayhawks always win and their program was started by Dr. James Naismith, the guy who invented basketball for crying out loud, and you really can’t beat that.

Before moving to Kansas City, I’d never lived anywhere where a sense of inferiority was both prevalent and justified. The folks of Yakima, Washington thought their part of the country was inferior, but they were right; Yakima’s in the middle of nowhere with high unemployment and crippling poverty. Kalamazoo, Michigan was a smaller city that had plenty going on and people there seemed to have a good understanding of what they were and what they weren’t; they knew where they fit in the pecking order. Binghamton, New York had several shuttered factories and quite a few broken dreams, but it was also home to a large public university and near several bigger cities, so most people there didn’t seem to feel trapped or doomed.

My sensibilities about where I live developed from growing up in New York City. New York has a lot to talk about: there’s plenty to do, its attractions are world class and it’s extraordinarily diverse. New York also has its downsides: plenty of crime, a high cost of living, filth and overcrowding. I, like most New York natives, think New York is the greatest city in the world. Of course, there are plenty of people who think New York is overrated and/or a pit of despair. However, New Yorkers don’t really care what others think of their city. If you like New York, great. If you don’t, that’s your problem. When someone argues with a New Yorker that another city is better, the New Yorker is convinced he or she will win the argument. That swagger is a big part of what makes New Yorkers who they are and it’s also why many others find New Yorkers to be insufferable. But, again, New Yorkers don’t care what you think of them or their city.

I wish Kansas Citians had some swagger; not to the level of New Yorkers mind you, but some swagger is a lot better than no swagger. I wish they talked down to those St. Louisans who boast about their great baseball team, their steel arch and their Gateway to the West moniker and tell them their barbecue sucks, White Castle is overrated and the fountains in Kansas City make it look prettier. I wish they thumbed their noses at the East and West Coasters who deride Kansas City as a cowtown that mirrors the backwoods locales in Deliverance, but on a larger scale, and asked them if they’ve even visited; I’ve yet to learn of someone from the coasts who’s visited who hasn’t been amazed by Kansas City’s beauty, modernity, entertainment options and hospitality. I wish Kansas Citians didn’t have that sky-is-falling mentality and assume Kansas City was always going to get the short end of the stick simply because it’s Kansas City; that tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy and there are plenty of examples of Kansas City not getting the short shrift that tend to get ignored by the natives.

*          *          *

The week of the All-Star Game festivities was a glorious one. The Weather Gods cooperated, and we got a one-week break from 90- and 100-degree weather, with temperatures falling into the 70s and 80s, which is uncommon in July. I heard nary a complaint from visitors about how spread out Kansas City is and, by all reports, the city did a great job of compensating, with plenty of shuttle buses to transport folks between Kauffman Stadium and downtown. Everyone I talked to raved about the food, particularly the barbecue, and the plethora of quality restaurants and bars. The two All-Star Game managers, Ron Washington and Tony LaRussa, went out of their way to praise Kansas City for the job they did. A few people who’ve covered multiple All-Star Games told me their All-Star experience in Kansas City rated in their top five. Many folks stood up for Kansas City fans, saying their booing of Cano showed how much they support their own and that their standing ovation for retiring Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones – who was playing in Kansas City for the first time in his long and illustrious career – a classy and savvy gesture. Over and over, I heard from out-of-towners that they were wowed by Kansas City.

*          *          *

More than anything, I wish Kansas City acted like the woman who knows she’s not the most attractive chickadee out there, but knows she’s pretty darn good looking in her own right. The woman who intelligently plays up her assets without coming off as desperate and ignores the naysayers; I don’t care that some guys are turned off by my flat backside because many more will love my shapely legs. Her confidence and lack of insecurities make her seem prettier than she actually is. If Kansas Citians are confident about Kansas City’s perception and place in the world, others will be too.

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I loved the black, BMX bicycle that I’d learned to ride without the training wheels only a few months before, right around my seventh birthday. I was riding it in the park across the street from my apartment building when a boy a little older than me prompted me to stop.

“What school do you go to?” He asked.

“P.S. 26,” I answered. “What school do you go to?”

Before I knew it, he was pulling at my bike’s handlebars. I pulled back. He then slapped my glasses off my face, which distracted me enough to let go of the bike. Off the perpetrator sped on my wheels while I just stood there, crying hysterically. Someone handed my glasses to me. I didn’t stop crying until I got home and told Mom what happened. Mom and I spent the rest of the afternoon, and much of the evening, walking around our neighborhood, hoping to find the perpetrator and my bike. Our lengthy search was unsuccessful. A few weeks later, Grandpa bought me a new bike.

I wasn’t robbed again until I was 12, when a high school-aged boy took my speckled, wool flat cap off my head in front of my middle school. The school day had just ended and many of my classmates watched as the thug flipped me onto my back when I tried to resist. He threatened me with serious bodily harm if I continued to resist. I didn’t. After that incident, Mom refused to let me wear a hat to school for a few weeks.

I had a co-worker who used to joke that you weren’t a true New Yorker until you’d been mugged, so I guess I passed that test well before I’d completed puberty. I grew up in a New York City that was becoming safer by the year, but crime was never far away. Even if you weren’t attacked by a mugger, you knew someone who was. It seemed like every adult I knew had witnessed a chain- or purse-snatching on the subway, had their car radio stolen or their apartment broken into – or some combination thereof. As a matter of fact, part of the reason Mom and I moved to the neighborhood where my bike was stolen was because our previous apartment had been burglarized three times in six years; the last time, the thieves entered through my bedroom by chiseling the window frame out of the wall, leaving a mess and leaving us without a stereo.

Because of crime’s omnipresence in a city of over eight million people, most who grow up in New York City learn how to make themselves less vulnerable to criminals. It starts with The Look. The Look isn’t the same for everyone, but it conveys the same message: leave me alone and don’t mess with me. The Look isn’t a steely gaze or an angry stare; it’s more of a stony, passionless look. The goal is to look as unapproachable as possible. New Yorkers recognize The Look right away; we also recognize those who are trying to fake it. The Look has to come naturally; a person faking The Look makes one even more vulnerable than not having The Look at all.

The Look isn’t enough if you don’t take simple precautions to protect yourself or your belongings. Most crimes are crimes of opportunity: a mugger sees someone or something in a compromising position and pounces. So, you want to leave a mugger as few opportunities as possible. That means wrapping the handles or straps of your bag around your forearm when you’re on the subway and never leaving your bags unattended, always being aware of anyone sitting or standing near your wallet and slipping chains, bracelets, watches and other jewelry underneath your shirt collar or shirt sleeve. It means locking house and car doors at all times, never leaving a car unattended with the engine running and never leaving money or anything of value in plain view in an unattended vehicle. It means always being aware of who’s near you, especially at night, when it’s important to be aware of hidden and/or darkened corners where trouble may lurk.

I’ve lived outside of New York City for a decade, but the simple crime prevention and self preservation lessons I learned growing up haven’t left me, much to the chagrin of some. Not too long ago, a haggard man wearing dirty and tattered clothing tried to get my attention as I was leaving Walgreens. I didn’t look in his direction as he called out to me. Once it became apparent to him that he wasn’t going to be acknowledged, the man started yelling profanities in my direction. I continued to ignore him as I slid into my car and shut the door. One of the first lessons many New Yorkers learn is not to pay any attention to anyone in public who approaches you and appears to want your money, whether it’s a panhandler or someone trying to sell you something. I assumed the gentleman was a panhandler – I’d seen him ask others for money right before I went into Walgreens – so I ignored him. I’ve had friends not from New York City argue with me that some of those trying to get my attention may truly be in need and, thus, are deserving of my time. I argue that I don’t have the time nor the energy to devote to determining who really is in need and who is simply looking to take advantage. Instead, I choose to donate money, food and clothing to the Salvation Army and other organizations that help those who are down on their luck. Panhandlers in New York City rarely show frustration when they’re ignored, because they’re used to it; panhandlers other places aren’t used to being ignored. However, I haven’t abandoned my New York City-style approach.

I employ similar tactics when I’m at a shopping mall and people are trying to get my attention to buy and/or try a new product or to take a survey; those folks aren’t my biggest fans either. But, true to my New York City roots, I don’t engage. I know the vast majority of those seeking my attention aren’t going to harm me and only want a few bucks, at most. But, like so many New Yorkers, I don’t like to have my time wasted, which is why many think we’re rude and brusque, which can be true. That rudeness and brusqueness, while unpleasant at times, is an essential survival tactic in New York City. And, it’s a product of experience; most New Yorkers have been assaulted while being separated from their personal property, like I was as a youth, or witnessed someone being assaulted. We assume the worst unless we get evidence to the contrary. And, even then, we’re still weary.

Today, I was at the airport, dropping off family members; I stood outside of my car as I waited for them to clear up a discrepancy with their tickets. A woman with prominent cheekbones and her hair in a ponytail wandered aimlessly in front of me; she appeared to be confused or looking for someone. After a few minutes, she made eye contact with me and asked if she could use my cell phone, which I’d pulled out and returned to my pocket a moment before. She explained that she left her phone at home and was waiting for someone to bring it back to her before she had to board her flight, but she wanted to let that person know there might not be enough time. I didn’t hesitate to pull out my iPhone and to open the numeric keypad before handing it to her. I watched her carefully as she dialed a local number and made her phone call. I squared my shoulders and slid slightly onto the balls of my feet, just in case I had to make a tackle or chase her down. My eyes went from side to side as I tried to ensure no one was in the immediate vicinity, lest she toss my phone to someone else. The woman ended the call before anyone answered and handed my phone back to me. The person with her phone pulled up behind my car. She thanked me as she walked away.

Who says New Yorkers can’t be nice?

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It was about an eight-block walk from the American Legion hall to the subway station. Maria’s house was on the way, so we walked with Maria and her dad, who was carrying a half-empty case of Coors Light left over from Maria’s Sweet 16 party. When we got to the steps in front of their row house, he opened one of the silver cans and took a sip.

“You want some?” Maria’s dad asked, barely extending the can toward us.

“No thanks,” either Marc or Burt said. The twins and I were mutual friends of Maria’s and we’d taken the 90-minute subway ride together from the Bronx to Sunset Park, Brooklyn for the party. I laughed nervously.

“No, I’m serious,” Maria’s dad continued. “Kids need to start drinking young. That way, when they’re old enough, they’re not wimps when it comes to alcohol.”

I was 15. Marc and Burt were two years older than me. We each took a sip; the Coors Light was bitter. Maria walked with us the rest of the way to the subway station, finishing the can during the trip.

That was my introduction to beer.

I was never one of those teenagers who saw drinking – and getting drunk – as a rite of passage. As a freshman at Syracuse University, I attended many of the off-campus house parties where, for two or three bucks, I could have as many 12-ounce cupfuls of keg beer as my 18-year-old heart desired. But, I rarely had more than a couple of cups of beer – even my unrefined pallet knew the beer in those kegs was substandard – and I never got drunk; I went to those house parties less for the drinking and more for the chance to hang out with friends and to meet other people. Unlike many of my underage college peers, I never tried to acquire a fake ID or sneak into the myriad bars near campus. If beer were made available to me I’d have some, but I didn’t view a lack of beer as an acute problem.

I did know that, when I had beer, I wanted to drink good beer. I have no idea where the desire to drink something other than the likes of Budweiser and Miller came from; I grew up in a family of beer and liquor drinkers, but I don’t remember anyone who had discriminating taste when it came to beer. Perhaps since I had little desire to get drunk, I decided that, if I was going to drink, I wanted to enjoy what I was drinking. As an underage drinker, I rarely had a choice of beers but, when I did, I always went for the most exotic-sounding brew available. Heineken? Beck’s? Labatt? Those are imported, so they must be good! Michelob Ultra? It’s got “ultra” in its name so it has to be special! It didn’t take long for me to learn that some of the “exotic” beers were just as bad as the “non-exotic” ones. However, no matter what, I refused to drink light beer: I tend to eschew “light” products in general and I didn’t want to choose my beer based on its calorie count.

I wanted to learn more about the beers I was drinking so, my senior year at Syracuse, I enrolled in a two-credit Beer and Wine Appreciation course that met once a week. The class was taught by a husky-voiced adjunct professor who was a local restaurant owner. For the first half of the semester, the class focused on wine: the world’s main wine-making regions, different types of wine and how to properly evaluate and taste wine; we tasted at least two or three different wines per class.  I found that portion of the class interesting, although I didn’t retain much of what I learned; however, because of it, I’ve never felt intimidated or apprehensive when it comes to purchasing wine and I know how to properly open a bottle of Champagne.

The second half of the semester proved to be more compelling to me; for those eight weeks, representatives from different breweries visited the class, each bringing beer for us to try. We heard from everyone from Anheuser-Busch to local brewers of craft beer (Upstate New York is home to lots of smaller breweries). I learned about the difference between ales and lagers and what hops and malt do to a beer’s flavor. But, most importantly, I got to try lots of different beers, helping me develop my likes and dislikes. My favorite beers were the flavored stouts and the sweeter beers in general, as well as the pale ales. I wasn’t as crazy about beers with a high concentration of hops, because those tended to be more bitter.

Fortunately, I was going to college in the right city for beer experimentation. There were several bars in Syracuse that offered a wide selection of beers and I took full advantage. Once I got out of college and started to travel for work, I got to experiment even more. Because of the craft beer revolution that’s taken place over the last couple of decades, nearly every locale has its own beers. Whenever I’ve moved to a new city or when I’m on the road for work, I always try the local beers and I’m rarely disappointed. When I lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan I fell in love with Oberon, a heavy, sweet summer beer made by Bell’s Brewery; part of the reason my favorite bar in Kalamazoo was my favorite bar is because they’d have Oberon on tap late into October, long after other places had exhausted their supply. My eight months in Yakima, Washington made me a fan of Mac & Jacks, a rich amber ale unlike any beer I’ve ever had anywhere; unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find it since I left the Pacific Northwest. I currently live in Kansas City, where I like drinking the beers put out by the Boulevard and Free State breweries; I first tried Boulevard’s pale ale several years ago, when I visited a Springfield, Missouri restaurant that had it on tap. I miss the Brooklyn Brewery beers I drank on a regular basis when I lived in New York City and in Binghamton, New York; their brown ale is the perfect beer as far as I’m concerned. However, I have been able to find another one of my favorites – the Vermont-brewed Magic Hat #9 – at a handful of liquor stores in the Kansas City area.

My friends make fun of me because they know I’ll only drink “good” beer; I will pass on drinking beer entirely if there isn’t a craft beer offering available; I’m a self-professed “beer snob”. I am proud that several of my friends, and a few of the women I’ve dated, credit me with broadening their horizons when it comes to beer; I believe that anyone who drinks, regardless of their taste in alcohol, can find a beer they like if they look hard enough. There is always a six-pack of craft beer in my refrigerator and I enjoy getting others interested in the beers I enjoy.

However, if you’re expecting to find a Coors Light in my fridge, you’ll be disappointed.

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When you grow up in a place you love and then move away – like I have – whenever you return home, you always look for something that proves you still belong, that you and your hometown still have a connection and that neither you nor your hometown has changed as much as both probably have.

For me, it’s The MetroCard Swipe.

In order to pass through a turnstile and into the vast New York City subway system, you need to purchase – and then swipe – a MetroCard, a razor-thin piece of plastic the same size as a credit card. But, it’s not as simple as a swipe; you have to swipe the MetroCard properly. Swipe the card too quickly or too slowly and the turnstile won’t read your card at all or you’ll get the dreaded “SWIPE CARD AGAIN AT THIS TURNSTYLE” message in green letters on the turnstile’s small LED screen. And, in the city that never sleeps and never sits still, you don’t want to waste precious seconds trying to get that LED screen to read “GO.” I was in high school when the MetroCard replaced tokens in the New York City subway system in the mid 1990s, and I quickly mastered The MetroCard Swipe. And, regardless of how long I’ve been away from my beloved city of origin, I’m still able to effortlessly swipe my MetroCard at the turnstile, the muscle memory and dexterity ingrained in my wrist, thumb and forefinger for eternity.

It isn’t coincidental I equate my MetroCard swiping skills with being a New Yorker. After all, nothing embodies New York City like its subway system: It’s not always clean or efficient; nothing about it fits together perfectly but, the more time you spend in it, the more it makes sense; it can be crowded and loud; it’s available 24 hours a day; it’s effective and gets you where you need to go. Moreover, the New York City subway system and I have been joined at the hip for as long as I can remember.

I learned to read and became interested in geography thanks to the subway. I would spend hours poring over the subway map, following routes with my index finger, making note of the late-night and rush-hour service changes and fantasizing about the lines I’d never been on. When I was three, my dad took me to the Bronx Zoo and, when asked about the trip afterwards by my grandmother, I told her more about the subway lines we took to get there than I did about the animals I saw. One of my happiest days as a five-year-old was when my dad took me on the J train for the first time; he made the mistake of telling me we’d take the J days before we actually took it, which led to me pestering him to no end about the trip (I wish I remembered more about that J train voyage, since we got on at Sutphin Boulevard on a now-demolished section of the line). One Christmas, my parents got me a train set made up of wooden tracks and wooden cars that connected with magnets and I used that set to create my own subway system in my bedroom, complete with a map and stations built out of Legos or Construx (one station even had an airport, my Fisher Price plane sitting on a runway built above the tracks). My grammar school composition books were filled with drawings of subway cars I’d seen, complete with their roller signs, which indicated the route’s first and last stops. I would stare in awe at subway conductors as they opened and closed the doors and announced the stops, my aspirations of becoming a conductor lasting well into my pre-teen years. Needless to say, I was a subway junkie.

Nothing made me feel more grown up than when I turned 13 and my parents allowed me to regularly ride the subway without being accompanied by an adult; the subway went from being a fantasy world to a world I needed to conquer. After all, there are certain things seemingly every grown New Yorker knows and understands about the subway and I felt compelled to learn those things posthaste. I quickly figured out how to stand on a moving train without holding onto a pole or leaning against the doors. I learned how to position myself on a crowded train by the doors on the side of the subway car that opened less frequently; the doors are the most comfortable place to stand –  unless you’re on the side of the car on which the doors are constantly opening, which means you have to continually dodge people getting on and off. When the D train would pull into my home station in the Bronx, I knew to stand in front of the third set of doors in the second car from the front, since those doors would open right in front of the staircase I needed to ascend to exit the station.

In 12th grade, I got a part-time job at a public relations firm in Midtown Manhattan that required a 20-minute ride on the 4 train after school. Those 20 minute rides quickly turned into naptime. I would secure a seat right next to one of the doors – that way, I could lean on the metal separating the seat from the door, rather than dozing off and falling onto the person next to me. Leaning onto your neighbor while napping on the subway is the best way to get an elbow jammed into your ribs or a shoulder rammed into your temple. Then, I would wrap one of my knapsack straps around my right forearm, lest my backpack become a sitting duck for one of New York City’s ubiquitous muggers, and doze off. Not once did I miss my stop or get attacked. You know you’re a New Yorker when you’re comfortable enough to doze off on the subway and you don’t get robbed or miss your stop while your nap is in progress.

I have a memory or recollection of some sort associated with at least a third of the New York City subway’s 468 stations – an estimate that may be on the conservative side. My father and I saw Ghostbusters at a theater that was a short walk from 71st-Continental Avenues. There was the time I was coming home late from a party and almost fell asleep standing up while leaning against one of the beams near the edge of the platform at Broadway-Lafayette Street. My first kiss came at 81st Street-Museum of Natural History before my girlfriend hopped onto a waiting C train. I used to get off the subway with that same girlfriend at 125th Street and walk her home, a walk that became longer late at night, when the station exit closest to her apartment building was closed. I accidently went up a down escalator at 34th Street Herald Square while trying to chase down the D train (I made it up the escalator successfully and caught the train). A guy once challenged me to a fight at West 4th Street because he thought I was staring at his girlfriend (I had to resist the urge to tell him his girlfriend wasn’t pretty enough for me to stare at). The long subway ride to the original Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand a few blocks from Coney Island Stillwell Avenue is well worth it.

In my wallet, in the same compartment as my driver’s license, is a MetroCard. It’s been there for a while, so it’s slightly faded; I doubt there’s any money left on it. But, it’s there to remind me of home, to remind me of all my subway memories. I don’t remember the last time I swiped that card, but I’m sure it was perfect.

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The first New York Mets game I attended ended with Mets slugger Darryl Strawberry hitting a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, giving the Mets the win and making me a Darryl Strawberry fan at five years old. Once I became immersed in baseball a few years later, I became an even bigger Strawberry booster. He was a man of prodigious talents who was fun to watch whether he was hitting a baseball 400 feet or swinging and missing at a pitch in the dirt – and he did both often. Strawberry was a very good player in the clutch, but he was also prone to lengthy slumps. He had the tools to be a great defensive player, but he seemed uninterested in the field. However, none of Strawberry’s shortcomings muted my ardor for him because I understood he, like every other athlete, has flaws. But, as far as his baseball skills were concerned, I felt Strawberry’s positives far outweighed his negatives.

I was still a fan of Strawberry’s after I learned he was a drug and alcohol abuser, which helped explain his streakiness. Even though I was disappointed to find out about Strawberry’s off-field problems, I still loved him for his on-field excellence. At a young age, I saw Strawberry for what he was: a great athlete and a troubled human being. And, no matter what, I was always in awe of his on-field excellence while bemoaning his off-field issues.

Over the years, I’ve wondered how I developed the rare-for-a-youngster – but healthy – concept of admiring athletes for their playing abilities without expecting them to be flawless. I think it’s because of where and when I grew up. In New York City, two things sell newspapers and get people to watch the news more than anything else: sports and scandals. And, those two things were far from mutually exclusive when I was growing up. Two years after a magical season that won him the 1985 National League Cy Young Award, Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden checked into a drug rehabilitation clinic after testing positive for cocaine and relapses would be common throughout his career. New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor was one of the most feared and dominant players in NFL history, but he had several run-ins with the law and his problems with drugs were an open secret. Heck, even New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner got into the act, getting banned from baseball for 2 ½ years after hiring a thug to dig up dirt on outfielder Dave Winfield, one of the Yankees’ star players. And those are just a few examples of sports scandals involving New York City athletes and sports figures during my formative years in the late 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s. Combine a potential sports scandal with the insatiable and competitive New York City media and no stone revealing an athlete’s bad behavior is left unturned. New York City media aren’t above fabricating or embellishing a scandal either. Thanks to them, I grew up in an environment that looked to tear athletes and sports figures down, rather than build them up and/or keep their misdeeds quiet.

In other words, I grew up in a much different place than State College, Pennsylvania, home of The Pennsylvania State University.

One of the biggest reasons the allegations of child molestation and sexual assault levied against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, and the subsequent cover up – in which Joe Paterno, Penn State’s legendary former head football coach, took part – have gotten so much attention is because Paterno is a hero to many in Central Pennsylvania and beyond. Not only has Paterno won a lot of games, but he seemed very committed to the growth of his university as a whole, donating millions of dollars to Penn State and graduating his players at a higher rate than most big-time football coaches, all while helping Penn State develop into a nationally-recognized university academically and athletically. Some have argued Paterno is the most important figure in Penn State’s history, an argument that would be nearly impossible to make for any other college coach, past or present, at any other university. And, unlike many sports heroes – including my beloved Strawberry – Paterno was always very accessible. He and his family have lived in the same modest house in State College, Pennsylvania for decades and, for many years, Paterno would walk from his home to Penn State’s Beaver Stadium on game days. Many Penn State fans felt like they knew Paterno and felt he was a man of unimpeachable integrity, which made the revelation that he chose not to go to the authorities when told of possible inappropriate contact Sandusky had with minors in the Penn State football facilities that much more galling.

No sport provokes more passion, pride or unabashed idolatry than big-time college football – a sport that’s virtually nonexistent in New York City. College football’s invisibility on the New York City sports scene is in part because there are no big-time programs with long track records of national championships or yearly bowl-game appearances in or near the five boroughs (Rutgers University’s football team has had success in recent years, but they’re barely a blip on the New York City sports scene). The invisibility is also in part because unabashed idolatry just doesn’t jibe with the majority of New Yorkers and New York City isn’t a market where media will go out of their way to praise athletes and sports figures or hide their transgressions. It would’ve been impossible for a cover up like the one that occurred at Penn State to occur in New York City, where the media would’ve put pressure on Penn State to  remove Sandusky in 1998, the first time a police report alleging Sandusky molested young boys was filed. The combination of sports and scandal are an irresistible pull to New Yorkers and the New York City media.

Because of when and where I grew up, I never had a romantic, rose-colored-glasses view of sports, but that certainly didn’t dim my passion for sports or for athletes and others involved in sports. And, while I’m not a cynic, I do follow – and, nowadays, cover – sports with my eyes wide open. I admire what I can see and don’t jump to conclusions about what I can’t see. I understand most people involved in sports are good, well-meaning folks, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be corrupted by money, prestige or power, just like anyone else. I’ll always enjoy the games but I always keep in mind they’re just that – games. And those participating in those games are just as human and as flawed as everyone else.

And, no matter what happens, Darryl Strawberry will always be my favorite athlete.

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I was disappointed to learn yesterday’s New York Giants’ football game against the New England Patriots wasn’t going to be shown in the Kansas City market. But, as a Giants fan who’s lived outside of the New York City metro area for most of his adult life, I’ve become accustomed to watching them at bars that show all of the NFL games rather than at home, where I’m often stuck with games not involving the Giants. This time, I chose a bar that, according to the Internet, is frequented by Giants fans who live in the Kansas City area. But, even when I pick a place at random, I always meet a Giants fan or two. Usually, it’s someone else who’s also from New York City or the surrounding area. Often, it’s someone with at least a slight New York accent. And, at least for a few hours, it feels like home.

It wasn’t until the fall and winter of 1997 that I learned what it was like to be away from home. I was a freshman at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, about a 4 ½-hour drive from the Bronx neighborhood where I grew up. Upon my arrival at Syracuse, I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t a suburb of New York City. When people asked me where I was from those first few days, I would say “The City”. After all, what other city could I possibly be talking about? And, Big Apple suburbanites understand that when you say “The City,” you mean New York City. But, after having nearly everyone respond with “What city?”, I quickly dropped that habit, a defeat that disappointed me greatly.

I tried everything I could to maintain my New York City identity. I hung a subway map in my dorm room, next to my bed. I subscribed to The New York Times, even though I rarely read it, and I refused to even look at either of the two Syracuse newspapers (at the time, Syracuse had a morning paper and an afternoon paper). I listened to New York City radio stations online. The background image on my computer was a picture of Times Square. I did whatever was possible to prevent the New Yorker in me from fading away. But, at the same time, I wanted to prove I could survive outside of the five boroughs. I decided early in the fall semester that I wouldn’t return home until the Thanksgiving break, meaning I’d be away from my hometown for about three months. I didn’t want to be one of those freshmen, the ones who are running home every weekend; I thought my roommate was lame for returning to Long Island for a couple of the Jewish holidays.

I was incredibly anxious in the days leading up to my return home for Thanksgiving. By trying to prove I wasn’t homesick by not visiting sooner, combined with my attempts to maintain my New York City frame of reference, I became incredibly homesick. I wanted to go home and make sure nothing had changed, that I hadn’t missed anything. As it turned out, I hadn’t; New York City had undergone some subtle changes, but was more or less the same as it had been the day I left. My return to New York City helped me realize I could leave the city, but the city would never leave me; things may change while I’m gone, but there will still be enough that stays the same to remind me of the place I love and the place where I grew up. And, no matter where I went, I would always be a New Yorker.

After Thanksgiving, when I returned to Syracuse, I became more interested in the world outside of New York City. I began reading The Post-Standard, Syracuse’s morning paper, and paying attention to local issues. I interned in the promotions department for a radio station group in Syracuse, which gave me the opportunity to work radio-station events at various places throughout the region. I slowly came to the realization that Syracuse, New York was a pretty neat place and far from the worst city on earth in which to live and to get an education. I also began to realize that having a little bit of Syracuse, New York as part of my identity wouldn’t be a bad thing.

When I recall my four years living in Syracuse, I think about all of the great games I saw at the Carrier Dome and how much fun I had bar-hopping in Armory Square. Recalling my eight months in Yakima, Washington reminds me of the beautiful – and plentiful – apple orchards and the abundance of quality produce at the local farmers’ market. Thanks to two years spent in Kalamazoo, I know how to show people where I lived in Michigan by pointing to my palm and I appreciate the great craft beers produced by Bell’s Brewery. Four years in Binghamton, New York gave me an even greater appreciation of Italian food and a greater appreciation of craft beer, thanks to the 36 beers on tap at The Ale House, the best bar I’ve ever visited.

Asking me what I will remember about Kansas City assumes I will leave here one day. I do know I wouldn’t be opposed to making a city outside of New York City my home, which would have been unthinkable before I enrolled at Syracuse. But, wherever I am, I will always be a New Yorker, with bits and pieces of other places I’ve lived mixed in. And, I will always find a way to watch the Giants on Sundays.

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