Fare Evasion? Not Fair!

I get on the M34 bus, insert my MetroCard, and sit down to read the newspaper. Two stops later at Park and 34th Street, a uniformed MTA guy jumps on through the rear door. “Where’s your receipt?” he demands.

“Excuse me?” I ask. “I paid my fare. You can ask the driver.”

“Step off the bus.”

But my stop isn’t –

“Step off now.”

Why?

“Fare evasion.”

Special Insp. Padro demands ID. I reluctantly hand over my driver’s license. He then requests my Social Security number. Seriously? I refuse.

“Off the bus,” he repeats, and I comply. Didn’t I know to get a receipt from the machine on the street for Select Bus Service routes?

No, I usually ride the subway, and there aren’t any SBS buses in my neighborhood, I tell him. If I’m supposed to present a receipt, why didn’t the bus driver ask for one?

But Padro is already scribbling a ticket.

Last year, such fare evasion tickets accounted for more than three-quarters of dollars the MTA raked in from all rules violations. When I get off, I step past a bewildered, non-English-speaking woman who was also nabbed.

Supervisor Arthur Bianchini steps over to me. Pleasant enough man. He requests and inspects my MetroCard, then asks where and when I got on. If I want to contest the ticket, he tells me, I can go to court, and my MetroCard will confirm if I’m telling the truth.

Padro hands me the ticket. $100!

Smoking on the subway carries a $50 fine. Not having a bus receipt is double that?

And where is court? Somewhere in Brooklyn. Between the subway ride and the hearing, we’re talking about a half-day wasted. Most people can’t afford to take off from work for that. You know some just swallow hard and pay the ticket, even if they’ve paid the fare.

As I walk off, Bianchini calls out “just doing my job.”

A few minutes later, it hits me. Why don’t the inspectors carry a MetroCard scanner? They could have swiped my card and instantly known if I was telling the truth.

But then they couldn’t have written a $100 ticket.

I’m going to court today. Should be a load of laughs.

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13 Years Later, Complacency Is Biggest Threat

On the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on NYC and Washington, we seem to be living in denial.

Recent polls show a terrorist attack on America down the list of our concerns. When a Gallup Poll earlier this year asked Americans to name the most important problems facing the nation, the top three were jobs, the economy in general and dissatisfaction with the government. Terrorism and another possible attack didn’t even make the top 12.

On Aug. 29, the United Kingdom raised its terror threat level from substantial to severe. In the States, we seem more unsure, even as President Barack Obama coordinates a military strategy to stop the murderous Islamic State.

Former members of the 9/11 Commission recently assessed the terrorist threat to the United States. “Many Americans think that the terrorist threat is waning,” the panel said. “They are wrong. . . . We cannot afford to be complacent.”

Too many of us have not only grown complacent, but also cynical. After the lies about weapons of mass destruction and the like, and the electronic invasions of our privacy, it’s not surprising that many Americans distrust anything the government says.

Along with cynicism and apathy, the commission report cites a dysfunctional Congress as an impediment to preparedness. The funding of national security is fragmented, the report notes, with the Department of Homeland Security reporting to more than 90 congressional panels. “Congress has proved deeply resistant to needed change,” the report concludes.

Meanwhile, cyberattacks and homegrown terrorists are perhaps our greatest domestic threat. While there have been no large-scale terrorist attacks on us since 9/11 (a number have been thwarted), the Boston Marathon bombing shows that we still must be vigilant.

So as we pay our respects to those innocents who died on 9/11, and those heroes who sacrificed their lives to save others that day, let’s stop our political squabbling and focus on the fanatics who couldn’t care less if we are Democrats or Republicans — we are all infidels to them. Hopefully this realization will make us again band together as Americans, drop the petty politics and focus on our true enemies — before it is too late.

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Are You Familiar With Jose?

Left permanently blind at birth from congenital glaucoma, José never used that as an excuse not to excel. His family moved to NYC’s Spanish Harlem from Puerto Rico when he was 5. José immediately gravitated to music, teaching himself to play the accordion.

At age 8, José already was entertaining classmates on his little concertina, then taught himself to play guitar by listening to everything from ’50s rock to such classical guitarists as Andrés Segovia.

When he was 17, José had to quit school after his father lost his job. Passing around the hat in Greenwich Village clubs, he gave whatever money he got to his struggling family.

But José was clearly gifted, and lightning was about to strike. A music critic from The New York Times saw the teenager perform at Gerde’s Folk City, wrote that he was a “10 fingered wizard” and urged people to come down and see him “if you want to witness the birth of a star.”

The critic was on the money. Before José was 23, he had won two Grammy Awards for his self-titled album. His sensual rendition of The Doors’ “Light My Fire” became an international hit.

An unexpected turn soon put his career in jeopardy. José was asked to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” before game five of the 1968 World Series. His unique, Latin-influenced performance enraged some purists, and afterward many radio stations refused to play his music.

But José didn’t back down, and later said he was proud to pave the way for other personalized versions of the anthem. You can now hear his groundbreaking rendition at baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

José moved on to international fame. In the 1980s, he wrote “The Sound of Vienna,” which is now the official anthem of that European city.

World-renowned but still a New Yorker at heart, José was proud when P.S. 155 in East Harlem, a performing arts school, was renamed in his honor.

Now in his late 60s, José is still going strong. He will celebrate his 69th birthday Wednesday with a concert in Vienna, and will return home to perform at the B.B. King Blues Club on Dec. 5.

Later that month, when you hear the Christmas classic “Felíz Navidad” on the radio, you can thank the writer, José Montserrate Feliciano García — better known as José Feliciano.

Feliz cumpleaños, José.

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What Makes a Real New Yorker?

While Zephyr Rain Teachout sounds like a course in weather forecasting, it’s actually the name of a candidate challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Tuesday’s Democratic primary — and the governor is far from happy.

Cuomo attempted to boot Teachout off the ballot, claiming the Vermont-born and raised woman isn’t a real New Yorker and thus ineligible to run. Fordham law professor Teachout replied that she’s resided at various Manhattan and Brooklyn addresses over the past five years. A state appeals panel recently ruled that she satisfied the residency requirement.

But is Teachout a true New Yorker? Does she ride the subway? Can she find her way to Coney Island, Chinatown or the Cloisters? How does she handle the maddening F train schedule on weekends?

Is she familiar with L & B Spumoni Gardens? Zabar’s? Dinosaur Bar-B-Que? Has she ever eaten a calzone or bialy? Does she even know what they are?

Can she name any great destinations in the Bronx beside Yankee Stadium? Find her way to Belmont racetrack? OK, how about Saratoga? Can she identify Joey Chestnut? Curtis Sliwa? Robin Byrd?

Being a real New Yorker doesn’t mean spending chunks of time in Vermont and keeping an apartment in the city. Teachout likes to tell her childhood story of tickling a bull’s nose, then racing to the farmhouse to lure him back into the pen before he caught and gored her. I don’t recall playing that game in Brooklyn.

To be fair, that was years ago. More notably, it was only last year when, stopped by a cop for a traffic violation in North Carolina, she gave a Vermont address.

In today’s mobile society, people do often have more than one residence. Hillary Clinton ran for the U.S. Senate from New York in 2000, despite having been born and raised in Illinois, living in Arkansas for two decades, then spending 1992 to 2000 in Washington, D.C. She and Bill Clinton bought a home in Chappaqua. While Bill hasn’t held elected office here, doesn’t he seem more like a real New Yorker than Hillary?

Judges have criteria to determine whether someone meets the legal requirements of being a New Yorker.

For the rest of us, we know one when we see one.

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Rules? We Don’t Obey Your Stinkin’ Subway Rules!

Catching up on my light reading, I perused the NYC Transit Rules of Conduct and Fines while riding the D train downtown last weekend.

Good news! I discovered that violations of subway etiquette such as leaning on a pole, “wide stance” sitting and holding a door open for your slow-footed, cackling friends are all against the rules and carry stiff fines.

The bad news is no one enforces them.

That’s right, we’re on our own. So what to do?

I recently encountered a pole hogger slouched against the pole during rush hour. When he leaned away for a moment, I grabbed the pole, with my middle knuckle slightly extended. When he leaned back again the fun began.

“Yahh!” he gasped, turning and glaring. But by that time four others had also grabbed the pole, while I gave him the “Do you have a problem?” look. Hey, civilizing self-absorbed subway nitwits is a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it. (For some reason, that one’s not covered in the Rules of Conduct and Fines.)

Some of the rules seem a bit strange and arbitrary. For example, “carrying a long object” on a subway or bus brings a $75 fine, the same amount as “riding on the outside” of one. Meanwhile, smoking will cost you only $50.

What prompted my sudden fascination with this reading material? When I boarded the train on Saturday, a wide-stance guy was taking up two seats, while shopping-bag-lady-from-Macy’s was taking up three. I quickly Googled the rules, and yep, it was right there under Seat Obstruction: Riders may not “occupy more than one seat.”

A citizen’s arrest? Not wide-stance guy. Yes, the male anatomy requires a bit more room to accommodate it — but not that much. This guy had the same defiant look as door-blocker guy. You know, that “I dare you to say something” look. I’ll bet a $50 fine would wipe that sneer off his face.

Meanwhile, backpack-tourist guy almost took my head off when he swung around to talk to his British mates. I looked through the rules. Yep, carrying hazardous or obstructive objects, $75 fine.

Of course, none of these fines were imposed. But we can dream, can’t we?

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Invasion of the Squeegee Guys? Not Quite

Alert the townspeople — the squeegee guys are back!

According to a recent NY Post story, squeegee men are now “terrorizing” the streets of New York City. The article implied that the bad old days may have returned to town, when miscreants roamed our streets. So far, a grand total of three squeegee guys were documented by the Post, so I’m not going into panic mode just yet.

But yes, it did bring back distant memories, when an innocent young Brooklyn lad with his first car drove into the big bad city, and a smiling squeegee guy approached and offered to clean his windshield.

Alright, my windshield.

I grinned back and said “no thanks,” but he cleaned it anyway — if your definition of “cleaned” is smearing it with a filthy rag. Still smiling, he came over and requested a tip. When I politely refused, he smashed his squeegee down with fury, denting my hood.

Ah yes, the good old days!

Now there is the suggestion that those dreaded times may be back. The truth is, these guys will be gone before you finish this sentence. If you think NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton will let even one New Yorker (beside a headline writer) think the city is back to the bad old days under his watch, you don’t know Bill Bratton.

Talking on “CBS This Morning” recently, Bratton calmly said no, we’re not being overrun, and that the handful of “squeegee pests” will be “taken care of very, very quickly.”

Bratton, who is in his second tour as commissioner, is well aware that the specter of a squeegee army is symbolic, meant to frighten you into thinking you will soon be unable to navigate your way around the city without being accosted by creeps.

But while that may seem an absurd thought in tranquil 2014 NYC, don’t laugh too loudly. Those who were here in the early 1990s or before still remember a time when muggings were rampant, when you’d tape signs on the back window of your parked car pleading “No radio, no valuables.”

Now we are in a newer, brighter day, and I don’t think we have to worry about returning to the dark side of New York just yet.

But if you see Spider-Man wielding a squeegee, all bets are off.

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Gentrification and Untaxed Loosies Prove Deadly Combo

Gentrification can be lethal.

The Tomkinsville section of Staten Island, walking distance from the S.I. Ferry and bordering on the up-and-coming neighborhood of St. George, is where Eric Garner died. His crime was selling untaxed single cigarettes. But why were cops really there that day?

The area was given an extensive write-up in The New York Times real estate section in June that began, “In praise of St. George, a historic neighborhood on Staten Island that gazes on New York Harbor . . .” The neighborhood will soon undergo an extensive “reinvention,” including a huge Ferris wheel, mall, restaurants, theater, housing and a hotel.

This gentrification push came to mind when I read about the order to crack down on untaxed cigarette sales on the Bay Street block where the Garner confrontation occurred on July 17 in front of a beauty supply store. I am familiar with that block, sometimes being invited to play guitar at the cafe right beside the beauty shop.

Although the neighborhood isn’t yet what you’d call gentrified, it’s getting there. And when the Daily News reported last week that the order to crack down on “loosie” sales on Bay Street came from high up in police headquarters, I wasn’t surprised — there are often fights on that block.

An early step in gentrification is addressing quality-of-life issues. The broken-windows theory of policing — going after small offenses to ensure a sense of order and prevent more serious crime — has drawn both support and condemnation. While still being debated, there is evidence the practice has done its part to make New York City a safer place. The issue is not whether the strategy is effective, but how it’s implemented. A petty crime such as selling loose cigarettes obviously could have been dealt with in scores of nonlethal ways.

Gentrification is another issue that is neither black nor white, but gray. It all depends on how it is handled. And in the neighborhoods around the Staten Island Ferry terminal, the jury is still out, to say the least.

“Along the water sits the gated Bay Street Landing complex, a former shipping area that began conversion in the 1980s,” continues the Times spiel, as the area’s gentrification efforts gather speed.

But at what price?

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Did the Underground Economy Put Eric Garner Underground?

The woman is about 40 years old, and walks five dogs. Makes over $100 a day off the books. I asked her if she was ever hassled by the police. She looked confused by the question. “Never,” she answered.

Eric Garner was selling “loosies”__single cigarettes. Not paying taxes. When the police came to get him, he resisted__verbally.  His last words before “I can’t breathe” were “I’m minding my business, officer. Please leave me alone.”

The underground economy has grown tremendously since the economic collapse of 2008. Dog walkers. Day laborers. Stoop sale hosts. Those who hawk cold water on sweltering NYC streets.  And yes, those who sell illegal “loosies.”

While unemployment numbers are gradually improving, economists estimate that 18-19% of income nationwide is still unreported (about $2 trillion dollars annually).

Let’s face it, most of us know someone who is currently working off the books. If they started arresting everyone who was paid in cash, the jails would be overflowing within a week.

That’s what Eric Garner was__a member of the underground economy. And when the cops came by, Garner, a former Parks Department horticulturalist, asked them to just leave him alone.

“He always felt he was being targeted and harassed by officers arresting him on no basis,” his former Legal Aid attorney Christopher Pisciotta told NY1.

Garner died horribly after being put in a chokehold. But those who blame all police for the actions of a few are doing no one any favors. The problem goes deeper than that. An economy where not only jobs, but business addresses, are shipped overseas, as major corporations move their headquarters across the ocean to avoid paying billions in taxes. A Congress that belittles those out of work or on unemployment as shiftless bums. A society that clamps down on street vendors while putting no regulations on bankers who stole trillions of dollars from our economy.

Meanwhile, those selling water, food and yes, loose cigarettes on the street are regularly hassled, while the well-to-do hire maids and nannies and illegally pay them in cash, without fear of arrest.

Mayor de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bratton and Al Sharpton had a high profile meeting last week to discuss ways to avoid future Eric Garner-type situations,  with retraining of police and other noble suggestions offered.

But when this will really end?

The first time a cop puts a chokehold on a protesting middle class dog walker__or a crooked banker.

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What’s Scarier Than a Shark? A Skeeter

A monster storm unleashes nature’s deadliest killer on New York City!

Nope, that’s not the weather forecast, it’s the premise of the movie Sharknado 2,  which debuts this week on Syfy. Sharks are always good for a scare or three. It’s no accident that Jaws is one of the most popular — and scariest — movies of all time.

Three great white sharks were caught off NYC in a one week span last month, starting our summer off with a frightening DAH-dah, DAH-dah . . .

But the truth is that sharks are not nature’s deadliest killer — not even close. They only killed about a dozen people last year worldwide, putting them way down the list of the world’s deadliest animals.

So what is the world’s worst people killer? Did someone say other humans? Nope, we’re only second worst.

The mosquito.

Don’t laugh. Mosquitoes carry lethal diseases, with malaria being the most prevalent. It kills more than half a million people each year.

But do these deadly insects have the fear factor of sharks? Ha!

“Considering their impact, you might expect mosquitoes to get more attention than they do,” Bill Gates said in April, when he tried to create a buzz with a “Mosquito Week” alert on his blog. But it was no match for Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” annual scarefest.

Although most deaths from mosquitoes happen in impoverished nations, the United States isn’t totally spared. In 2013, the mosquito-borne West Nile virus was responsible for 119 deaths here — 117 more than were caused by sharks.

But people are always afraid of the wrong things, aren’t they? For example, many people are terrified of flying, relaxing only after they land — when they are statistically in greater danger on the car ride home.

So how do we get people to pay attention to the real dangers facing them, in this case from mosquitoes?

Gates has suggested a movie titled “Skeeternado,” to alert people to the menace posed by the buggers.

So if you’re down at the beach this weekend and see that telltale shark fin jutting out of the ocean, relax — it poses little danger.

But when a mosquito buzzes by? That may be another story. So forget the sharks. Get the swat team!

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Mindless Newsman Ambushes Topless Woman in Bryant Park

The caressing sun breaking through the clouds, soft piano music in the background, and a gaggle of topless women reading in the grass. I love New York!

The Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society visited Bryant Park last Wednesday, behind the New York Public Library. After members removed their tops, they whipped out a variety of reading material, from a novel called “Brainquake” by the film director Samuel Fuller to “The Getaway Car” by crime writer Donald E. Westlake.

Most New Yorkers took the group’s visit in stride. A scattering of businessmen on lunch break took surreptitious photos and videos. A couple of teenage boys strolling by did double takes, also snapping some photos on their iPhones, then quickened their stride out of the park, obviously eager to get home and crack open a book.

I asked co-founder Alethea Andrews how the topless reading group came about. “Four summers ago, a friend and I were talking about the fact that it’s legal for women in New York to go topless anywhere a man can,” she said, soaking in the rays, “but you never saw women exercising that right. We formed a group because there’s safety in numbers, and made a book club out of it.”

Since then, the group has had more than 100 women join them for such events. Wednesday’s gathering included a bartender and a computer scientist.

The tranquillity of the afternoon was temporarily disturbed when Fox News reporter Jesse Watters showed up with a cameraman. You’d think he’d pursue the reading or freedom angle. Instead the smirking reporter started grilling one of the women on the Middle East. Maybe the rubes who’d watch this ambush on Fox would slap their thighs and chortle, but to the sunbathers and other sophisticated New Yorkers on the scene, Watters was the one who appeared clueless.

Andrews and her merry band shrugged it off. “This group is really about equal rights,” she told me. “When it’s 90 degrees out, it’s simply more comfortable not to have a sweaty shirt on — never mind a shirt and bra. People who treat women’s breasts as somehow more scandalous than men’s are being foolish.”

Sounds right to me.

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