These days, there's a bank on every corner in Manhattan. Some of them are still solvent. The old-timey diners and burger joints and real neighborhood bars are dwindling relics. The smoke shops and drug stores - not the chains, the ones with soda counters - are gone. The newsstands have been redesigned in sleek Euro post-modernism. The cabs have video screens.
New York is replacing itself with a version that is less recognizable, more saccharine and less grimy. Sleek signage. Big brands. Soaring towers. Streetscapes will all the interest of a bad virtual reality walk-through, all pale vanilla and man-made granite. Glass curtain walls, once the province of visionary architects, now slide from street to sky on every failed insurance building and former investment bank in town. The damned napkins have ads on them.
Yet, they still come to New York.
From my day-time perch over 42nd and Second, I watched the comic book armed camp that envelops the east side of midtown when the General Assembly opens and the president comes to town. Security becomes a cartoon best watched from on high, a parade of emergency services vehicles, ambulances, blacked-out Suburbans, snarling NYPD Harleys, police buses, scooters, bikes and what appear to be lightly-armored troop carriers. The hotel next door swarms with men in dark suits speaking into lapel pics as curly little chords run down into their shirts. Machine guns in Grand Central and out on Lex are the norm. Two Coast Guard warships sit in the East River. There are dogs. Many of them. And strangely, in a way, plain old uniformed cops directing traffic and standing around waiting for orders, doing what the Feds direct.
Yeah, they still come to New York, though our financial center is failing, perhaps for the final time. Will Wall Street be truly vestigial old-fashioned New York reference, clinging to the marketplace like that burger joint up on 52nd Street where not a single waiter was born after 1940?
The traffic cones and people barriers form extra lanes of traffic all along 42nd Street and avenues from First to Lexington, routing a virtual parade of motorcades. look, that was has 10 motorcycles, two ambulances, a dozen suburbans, and screaming sirens. Might be Bush. But there's another: one SUV, one NYPD cruiser, and a single motorcycle. The president of what small country? He (or she) still comes to New York, and not just for the half-price sale that is the flood of Euros to the city's stores.
Last night, a few bloggers made their way to the top of the Sheraton over on Seventh. I've been going there since the mid-80s, when I was a young political reporter covering the annual Bronx County Democratic dinners - the ones hosted by boss Stanley Friedman, a man with serious personal style who grandly feted the old titans, guys like Carmine DeSapio. The place has had a face-lift, but the big ballrooms are still there and the man who is hosting his own shadow gathering of world leaders for the fourth year was in fine form on the 45th floor. Bill Clinton can still hold a crowd of smart people in the palm of his hand, holding forth with a depth of knowledge that stuns and overshadows and destroys the tiny, cramped intellect of the man who rode in the really big motorcade past my office this afternoon, the forgotten man just serving out his failed term as big events swirl around his deserted island of contempt.
We waited in small, steamy hotel room making small talk about blogs with aides while the Secret Service watched the hallway and the greatest president of our lifetimes talked about economics (or so we guessed) with the president of Paraguay down the hall. Then we all sat around the living room in the suite and mostly listened (questions were few) to Clinton discuss the economic crisis and what he'd do. Suffice to say, he suggested a better deal than the rapine weaseling of $700 billion from the taxpayers' account. We all thought the same thing though no one spoke it aloud. Yes, what a difference an administration makes.
Then it was down into the New York evening, my walk from west to east to the station, dodging the motorcades and lock-down zones. Was that fall in the air or just the chill of the city's tax base at basement temperature?
Still, the streets were filled. They were filled today. The helicopters buzzed and the motorcades whizzed along. Yes, they still come to New York.