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How to See New York by Col. Stoopnagle

            It’s a funny thing about people coming to New York.  Not only do they come from other places, many of them, but they want to get out of doors during their stay here and see the town, instead of remaining quietly in their nice, comfortable hotel rooms and resting after their long trip.*   I’m purposely eliminating all talk about the beauties of this hotel and all it hold for visitors; others have treated of this.  My purpose is to give you some idea of the things there are to see here in Father Knickerbocker’s vast bosom and how to go about it.  If you happen to be one of those astute people who stays here in the hotel just so you won’t have to put coal in your furnace at home, and you know all about New York, you can just jolly well turn to another article.  But please be as quiet as possible and don’t turn the pages too noisily, as others might be reading.

            Now, as the first chill spring gusts of New York air (what there is of it) reach our nostrils, we are at once astonished at the aura of smug complacency that seems to emanate from the passing throng.**  Everyone seems to be going somewhere with more than the ordinary zeal and assurance.  Yet if you should step up to a passer-by and say: “Pardon me.  Where are you headed for?” he would answer, probably: “None of your so-and-so business!”  Which leaves you right back where you started.  But don’t get me wrong; all New Yorkers aren’t like that.  Some of them won’t even turn around when you speak to them!  And besides, maybe they aren’t New Yorkers at all, but people who come from somewhere where turning around is not allowed.

            But we must push on.  Of course there are several ways of getting to Grant’s Tomb, which is on Riverside Drive.  One of the surest ways is to cross Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street against the red light.  It may not be Grant’s tomb you get to, but it’s liable to be a tomb, anyway.  Another way is to take the Lexington Avenue bus to about 125th Street and then walk due west.  If you suddenly feel damp, you are in the Hudson River and should turn back.  If you look around and you don’t see Grant’s Tomb, just ask a nearby policeman, who will probably laugh at you.  By this time, you are undoubtedly tired of it all and would like to see the Planetarium.  If so, walk due east until you come to a street with Madison Avenue buses on it.  Take the first bus going south.  This costs a nickel.  Don’t do two things: (a) Don’t drop pennies into the “thing”; (b) Don’t ask the driver where the Planetarium is.  He will growl at you.  Just get off at 86th Street and walk due west one block.  If the Planetarium isn’t there, don’t blame me; New York’s skyline changes ever so rapidly.

            Time out for luncheon.

            Well, lunch over, we start out again, -- this time for the Aquarium, which is at the nether, or southernmost tip of Manhattan Island.***  Just ask any passerby where the Aquarium is.  If he doesn’t know, it means he is looking for it, too, and you and he should search together.  If he does know, it means he has just come from there, and if you can get him to tell you what he saw, it will save the trip and besides, all they have there is fish and stuff and a couple of penguins, anyway.  If a penguin should happen to walk by, you are probably in the Aquarium, and all this fuss and bother about a passerby will have been quite unnecessary.

            Brooklyn Bridge makes a nice thing to see, especially if you are allergic to bridges.  That is the bridge that Steve Brodie some say he didn’t jump at all from it, it was only a dummy, but+.  It is also what if you are passing up the east river (many pass it up purposely), you’ve got to go under, unless you want to get off the boat and walk around it.  Very few people do, though, and we don’t recommend it.  To get to Brooklyn Bridge (I knew this would come up eventually, and we may as well face it!) after leaving the Aquarium, simply jump in a cab and say to the driver: “Brooklyn Bridge, please.”  This gives the driver something to do and saves me the trouble of working out a route.  If the driver gives you any back talk, report him to the cab company, as they are always interested in having their drivers polite and welcome any help the public will give.  (I once reported a discourteous driver to his company, and they wouldn’t even...but that’s a different story and hardly merits mention here; the afternoon is passing fast and we must get back to the hotel for cocktails.)

            Brooklyn Bridge must not be mistaken for the Manhattan Bridge or the 59th Street Bridge.  They all look sad and cross the river at right angles.  I have often wondered why someone like Commissioner Moses or Grover Whalen doesn’t build a bridge that runs lengthwise along a river instead of across it.  Seems to me there might be some people who would like to go over a bridge and not find themselves over on the other side of something.  But I guess I’m just a dreamer.

            I hadn’t realized it before, but we are now practically in Harlem, which is a shaded place on the map of Gotham++  known largely for the white people who pass through looking at the natives.  The tall man with rugged features and the high hat, passing out dollar bills, is Raymond Massey, unless it’s Wednesday afternoon and there’s a matinee.  In that case, there is no tall man.  If you do see one on a Wednesday, it’s either a mirage or you shouldn’t have taken that third Rarebit last night.  So let’s go and have a look at the Yankee Stadium, and the feeling will wear off.

            That’s it there.  See?  The great, round thing that looks like the Roman Colosseum with its face lifted.  They say it was built by Babe Ruth, but I happen to know that couldn’t be true, for Babe never learned a trade.  There are many trades in baseball, however.  Here it is that the New York Yankees win the series each year, not counting all the other baseball parks in the country where they win games and influence people.  A careful survey will reveal not a sign of Horace Stoneham, largely because he has the Giants, who, strangely enough, play baseball at the Polo Grounds.  I do not, however, find any record of a single polo team playing polo at the Baseball Grounds.  This seems eminently unfair to me, but who am I to argue with the athletically-inclined?  I’ve got enough to worry about now, what with my hair coming out in bunches and painful hangnails on every single finger except the pinkie of my left hand.

            Well, going still farther north, we come suddenly upon Columbia University -- so suddenly, in fact, that the entire student body is startled out of its sheepskin.  After things have settled down again, and Nicholas Murray Butler has harangued the crowd, the band strikes up and we are welcomed by Lou Little, the football coach.  “Welcome to Columbia,”  says Lou, “especially if you played star halfback on your high school eleven!”  If you are a woman, you can get out of it, but if you are a man (and you might be, you know) then you’re in for four hard years of scrimmaging against a powerful ‘varsity.  I suppose they would let you play Hi-lye (pronounced jai alai) if you are more adept at it, but it usually takes a Cuban.  In fact, it takes several Cubans each year.  But Hi-lye hasn’t got a very firm foothold in the curricula of our institutions just yet.  So much for Columbia University, and, as we leave this fine establishment, we find that our four years have indeed been happy ones, especially if we made a fraternity.  But now to look for a job.  And Spuyten Duyvil..+++

            Forgetting Calculus, Psychology, and Mathematics 2, -- yes, and that nasty old Professor in Lit. B -- we wander westward until we come to Spuyten Duyvil (It’s fun to pronounce it over and over again) and the new ten-cent toll bridge over the Harlem River.  We are glad to be above that river instead of on it or in it, for it is possibly the filthiest and worst-kept river in the United States.  Everything that no one wants goes into the Harlem.  To look at it, you’d believe that the Garbage People from all over the country convene there like the eels in the Sargasso Sea.^   All of which leads us back down Riverside Drive again along the Hudson to what is affectionately called the George Washington Bridge, especially around February 22nd.  This bridge is quite unlike the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and 59th Street bridges, inasmuch as (1) Nothing holds it up in the middle.^^  (2) It goes from New York to New Jersey instead of to Brooklyn, which is really a very good idea.  It also goes from New Jersey to New York, but that is another story, and will be told in my next article, entitled: Over the River, or Why Do Bridges Always Have to Go Over Rivers, When Tunnels Could Do It Just as Well?  One of the most interesting stories about the George Washington Bridge is, strangely enough, that there is not a restaurant in the tower at the New York end.  There’s none in the tower at the Jersey end, either, but wise New Yorkers, in taking friends past the bridge, always point out the fact that “way up there they were going to have a restaurant, but I guess they decided not to.”

            Now we have the bridge situation pretty well taken care of, and thank goodness we can go south quite a distance without seeing a single bridge.  We do see ferry-boats, though, going back and forth having suicides committed off of them and running into each other.  The ferry-boats charge quite a bit less to take you to the other shore than the tunnels do, but it is really a mistake, for tunnels are dull and ferry-boats are alive with the most interesting things.  They have bootblacks and people who play accordions.  All a tunnel has is two ends and a middle and a few scattered policemen who are obviously bored to death by it all.  A tunnel has to stay with the same end in New York and the other end in New Jersey, whereas a ferry-boat comes in to dock sometimes even sideways.  The latter is very disturbing.  A tunnel, on the other hand, never disturbs anyone but the people waiting in line all afternoon to go through it.  So if you are interested in seeing New York from the Jersey side of the Hudson River, please go across on a ferry instead of in a tunnel.  Try as I might, I have never personally ever been able to get a decent view of anything from a tunnel.  I forgot to say that the Holland Tunnel, named after the little Dutch boy who kept his finger in the dike’s country,^^^  is quite a way downtown and hardly worth the fifty cents you give the Police Fund.

            Well, I guess I’ve covered the Island pretty well.  True -- we’ve passed Grant’s Tomb twice, but that’s all part of our service.  Some guides make you go in the tomb.

            And so, as we leave dear old Manhattan Island, or Gotham, or New York, we bid a fond farewell to the seething mass of humanity known as people, and as the golden sun sinks majestically behind the cliffs of Jersey, we bid farewell to Wall street, Radio City, Mayor La Guardia, Central Park, The Museum of Natural History, and many other things which we haven’t mentioned, and as we face the future with courage and stamina, we bid a fond farewell to...oh, let’s just say “goodbye.”

            “Goodbye.”

[From Promenade, March 1939.]


* This also applies to those who had a short trip.

** Double-talk.

*** What somebody once gave some Indians a quart and some baubles for.

+ All right, then; arrange the words your own way.

++ Not to be confused with the swear word.

+++ Pronounced hi-lye.

^ Or wherever it is that all eels go.  They should go somewhere and stay.

^^ It is said that this bridge is so high above the river that people passing under it in small boats have to stand up to duck.

^^^ To understand the foregoing sentence, let’s refer to another sentence, perhaps better known: That woman over there is the man whose penthouse we went up to the other night’s wife.

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Page created November 14, 2006.  Copyright 1998-2006 by Richard D. Squires.