Sunday, November 13, 2005

iRant: Big lineups, big money, and the Big Apple

I've finally returned home after my whirlwind tour of New York City this week, so I'll be getting my posts back up regularly (no immediate internet connection and a complete lack of "sitting" time made it a little difficult while away). I'll return to some more content oriented posts tomorrow, but I thought I'd cap off my trip with some comments about my experience in the Big Apple. (Before I go on, let me just say that NYC is a crazy cool place to visit, I'm just focusing on some negative aspects here which are far outweighed by positive ones ;-) )

First of all, and this unfortunately applies to life far beyond New York, I have to address the frustrating topic of lineups. Having walked for about 30 miles over several days, I decided I should complete my mental map of the city by visiting the top of the Empire State Building. The view was fantastic but twenty five minutes of looking off the top of the building came at a hefty price - two hours of lineups to get up!!! I lined up outside the building to get into a lineup inside the building which led to a lineup to the metal detectors which led to a lineup to buy tickets which led to a lineup to take the elevator up which led to a lineup to pick up an audio tour "box" which led to the lineup to finally go up and outside. This is crazy. For one thing, it's just wrong to make people line up for 40 minutes to then buy tickets for a lineup that, unbeknownst to the ticket buyer, will take twice that long again to get to the spectacle. Disney World during March Break couldn't muster up a lineup that crazy - and if they did then they'd have the sense to consider their customers' lasting impression by making the lineup a little more entertaining by having some video screens, animatronics, etc. to hold their attention for a bit. The Empire State Building lineup didn't even have informative plaques or pictures on the many walls in their lineup areas, an obvious addition to such a popular site - they just let you sit there like cattle and that's just not the right approach for any money-making endeavour nowadays.

At JFK on our way home, there were, of course, more lineups. But again, these were so poorly managed that it defied comprehension. Three separate lineups, with no labelling or signage, all leading to the same place, in which people were shuttled from line to line depending on their flight to little real effect. And in all this, in all our relentless training to be line tolerant, it seems that people have lost their ability to make any advances on their own. Almost without fault, one of the eight (or so) "tellers" would empty out and would just look around for a bit. In this time, the attendant manning the lineup would eventually turn from wandering and looking around in another direction to direct one of the three lineups to have their first party advance - again, with little semblance of rhyme or reason. The result was a much longer wait than was needed, given that tellers stood empty for up to a minute at a time as we sheep waited to be herded somewhere. Not really emblematic of the "go-getter" culture we otherwise supposedly try to embrace.

I have to note, though, that in both of these situations, people could pay to avoid the lineups. The Empire State Building allowed you to pay several times the admission fee to skip to the front of the line, and the airport had well-manned and completely uncrowded check-in and security lineups (if one or two people makes it a lineup) for Business and First Class passengers. Now I understand how people are paying extra for the service, and that rich people's money should certainly be taken from them at any opportunity given that they obviously have it to spend, but it still leaves a bit of a bad taste in your mouth (very "us vs. them" kind of thing). Although even I might have paid the Empire State "express" admission fee if I had've known that the lineup would last 2 hours, but we were at no point given any indication of this (actually, about 15 minutes into the lineup past the ticket booths, after almost an hour of already lining up, I came across a sign that said "45 minutes to top from here" - thanks, guys, really).

I found it strange in general, in a city where everyone seems to be in such a terrible rush all the time, that people would tolerate lineups to such a large degree. Most bars and some restaurants had considerable lineups, which is not that unusual, but it seemed to be strangely at odds with the city's kinetic pace in general. However, one thing that I was immensely impressed with is that, as far as I have seen (and I've seen quite a bit), Manhattan has the most functional and organic relationship between pedestrians and cars that I have every experienced - everything just sort of flows when you walk around town, which is fortunate given that it's such a big town. It's like an oversized Montreal pedestrian-wise, except that the drivers in NYC seem to behave how they do mostly b/c they are in a hurry, as opposed to those in Montreal who I think may actually want to run people down out of spite if they get in their way :-) .

I don't think I could enjoy living in New York City, at least not at this point in my life - I need a little more personal space than seems to be available and I like to be able to get away from people and noise from time to time - another near impossibility in Manhattan at least. However, I certainly do plan to go back - with my first voyage securely under my belt, I think I'd return to see some great music, maybe a Broadway show, and to spend a bit more time in Soho, the Village, and the surrounding area (I went to the Apple Store in Soho, btw - WOW! I think that'll merit its own entry someday). For now, I am content with having experienced such an iconic city and much of what it has to offer - not to mention that I'll finally know where they're talking about in the Law & Order shows ;-) .
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11/13/2005 10:11:00 p.m.  


Anonymous John said...

My wife and I went there for our first visit last December. It's funny how until you go there how you never quite understand the allure of that place to visit. But we went, and I have to say there is a part of me that will always want to go back. Its a great city to visit. But I share the same, I could never live there sentiment… that is unless you gave me the apartment and life Tom Cruise's character had in Vanilla Sky! ;)

Our highlights were seeing Santa at Macy's, Times Square, seeing Central park and the Statue that Buddy the Elf hit, the Guggenheim, the Met., SoHo Apple Store, NYU, Washington Square, The Lennon monument & the Dakota and Grand Central and having Junior's cheescake.

But, hands down the single best thing we saw and that I would go back to see in a heartbeat was the tree at Rockefellor Plaza. Please tell me you got to see that?

November 14, 2005 12:02 a.m.  
Anonymous Matt Hoult said...

I guess in Britain we like to think of New York in a way the rest of the world likes to think of London. We think of the movies like Vanilla Sky and You've Got Mail (we ignore ones like the Bone Collector which show New York in a more "Brooklyn" kind of way. Of course we also like to think of New York as the place to do our Christmas shopping in the snow; a dreamy, Christmas-ey place to love to be at that time of year as we (my friends and I) are all going there for that precise reason next year.

That said I do understand what big cities are really like and being a geek would much prefer to live in San Francisco anyway.

November 14, 2005 4:54 a.m.  
Anonymous Alana said...

I am looking forward to hearing your positive aspects of the trip! It is a pretty amazing place and I myself plan to return when I have more $$ and more time both of which you need to see the city at length.

November 14, 2005 7:13 a.m.  
Blogger Jeff MacArthur said...

Definitely got to see Rockefeller Plaza, John, and it was totally cool (saw it on the night we arrived - skating rink and all).

In terms of all the great stuff, Alana, I also saw (like John) the Lennon monument/the Dakota (so sad), the outside of many museums (you'd need a trip all its own to go through these - I hear the Museum of Natural History is especially awesome), Central Park (I truly believe the city would gradually collapse into chaos without this little refuge from the urban-ness of it all), Times Sqaure (at night, which is the best time to get the full effect), and many other wonderful places (walked through almost every major neighbourhood, was down to the water on the east side and southern tip, and was totally smitten with the fantastic architectural offerings). One thing I want to do next time is a boat trip around Manhattan island - it's hard to really absorb the skyline when you're right in the middle of it ;-) .

Very cool to get a non-North American viewpoint of this, Matt. The biggest difference I experienced between being in New York and being in London is that NYC seemed to be much more "around the clock" than London. That said, I didn't get to go around as much of London as I would have liked, so maybe it depends on the neighbourhood (but the architecture in London is just made for me - so beautiful and so historicall rich). It's strange - I guess London and New York have sort of fulfilled the same roles at different points in our recent history (with London obviously being the predecessor, although there seems to be a bit of an urban renaissance going on there in recent years). In any case, they are both very "iconic" cities.

You certainly can't experience New York in a week, and I was in Manhattan almost the whole time (which is really what many people think of when they think of New York, I guess). I'll make a point of outlining future visits to NYC and elsewhere in my blog, and it's great to hear other people's views on these subjects (good to get some ideas for the next trip too!), so keep up the comments. Thanks everyone!

November 14, 2005 12:00 p.m.  
Blogger Jeff MacArthur said...

Matt, forgot to mention that I was in San Francisco during the dot com boom on a couple of trips - my sister, Amber MacArthur, was living there and working at RazorFish and HigherMarkets. Very cool city and meticulously well "manicured" in most places. I think San Fran could be used as a good blueprint for urban development in a number of areas. For one, they seem to completely refuse to allow big billboard advertising or endless fast food signage throughout the downtown. Also, there is a great balance of indenpendent stores (from food to record stores to other shops), which is great (not very exciting to see predominantly chains of stores that you already have access too at home when vacationing ;-) ). And, of course, it really helps to have your city surrounded by water on three sides and have gorgeous wine country within a short drive. One thing that really struck me was the fog - the temperature can drop 10 degrees in a couple of minutes when the fog rolls in over the city (which is very spooky to watch). Not as lively a city as I would have imagined, but certainly very tech-friendly :-) .

November 14, 2005 12:09 p.m.  

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