NYC Buses Aren’t Russian Anywhere

The heavyset woman beside me struggles to her feet from a small bench as the M86 crosstown bus approaches Central Park West. But it’s coming too fast. We see its “out of service” sign as it whizzes by.

“I think they go to lunch,” the woman confides in a strong Russian accent.

“Maybe,” I say with a smile. “Probably mechanical trouble.”

She wasn’t buying it. “Lunch,” she repeats with certainty.

I don’t know about that, but someone is definitely out to lunch. The latest Straphangers Campaign report reveals the M86 bus crawls along at a 4.5 mph snail’s pace, one of the 10 slowest bus routes in Manhattan. The group’s Pokey Award “winner” was the crosstown M79, which it clocked at a pathetic 3.2 mph at noon on a weekday — less than human walking speed.

Back at the bus shelter, about 20 people wait impatiently. Finally, an M86 bus pulls in with another on its tail, both packed.

“Why they always come two at time?” the Russian woman wonders.

“One of the mysteries of New York,” I reply.

“Da,” she agrees.

We board the first and squeeze by riders in the aisle. A scowling, 40-ish man in a power tie and jacket sits on an aisle seat, blocking the empty one beside him. The Russian woman gestures for him to move over. He acts like he doesn’t see her. She swings her heavy Fairway bag into his hip, and he jumps up. Oh, that’s how you do it. Mr. Selfish mutters a profanity, then angrily departs and hops a cab.

I grab the seat as the second bus whips by us. Ours remains frozen as the light ahead turns red, then green, then red again. We finally cross Central Park, only to idle at Madison Avenue and 86th for another 10 minutes. Just a few blocks from my stop, I decide to walk the rest of the way.

She grabs my arm as I rise.

“What you call a gassy Russian?”

I shrug.

“Vladimir Tootin’.”

I laugh aloud.

“You like?”

“Da,” I reply as I step from the M86. She waves goodbye as the bus remains immobile.

Spokesman Kevin Ortiz insists the MTA is “making increased dispatching efforts and using our GPS-enabled bus fleet to monitor real-time bus performance in order to make scheduling adjustments . . .”

Meanwhile, the woman is probably still sitting there. MTA, where do you get off?

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Sorry, But Life Isn’t Black and White

From Staten Island to Ferguson, Missouri, to Central Park, the battle lines have been drawn, and God help anyone who thinks independently.

You think the cop in the Michael Brown case may have acted in self-defense? What are you, a racist? You think the Eric Garner chokehold/death was unnecessary and unjust? What are you, anti-cop?

Even if you think carriage horses don’t belong on city streets, but are fine in Central Park, prepare to feel the wrath of extremists.

In our polarized society, anyone who keeps an open mind is suspect. In an age of Fox News, MSNBC and people who only talk to the like-minded, critical thinkers who take issues, people and situations one at a time are too often attacked instead of praised.

This tribal thinking has led to a split in our city, nation and Congress. Anyone who honestly weighs the merits of each case and issue without having a knee-jerk response, who has empathy and sees nuances, may be targeted as a sellout. Parents of all races who teach their children that kindness and compromise are virtues and to judge people on their merits and behavior, not on their skin color or background, too often don’t practice what they preach.

Charter schools. The Middle East. Name a complex issue, and there will be true believers ready to pounce if you don’t toe the “correct” line — theirs. But despite what these boorish ideologues would have you believe, most issues aren’t black and white.

People say they want an honest dialogue about race. Then let’s have one, without extremist bullies shouting down anyone who has the audacity to see two sides of an issue. White people who admit they tense up when they see a group of young black men approaching, or black people who tense up when they see a cop, both coming from their experiences, shouldn’t be chastised, but heard.

I have spoken with cops who feel misunderstood and underappreciated, as well as people whose life experiences have led them to doubt the criminal justice system and fear the police.

Do we really want to have an open dialogue about race and other issues? Then time to lower our voices, open our hearts and minds — and ignore the thought police.

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Married on the Subway: Where Do You Get Off?

Would you get married on the subway? Me neither. But Hector Irakliotis and Tatyana Sandler thought the idea romantic, and did exactly that on Friday. They decided to marry on the N train because they’ve spent so much time on it traveling together or to each other’s Brooklyn apartments, according to the Daily News.

Sure, it seems weird at first glance. But look at the upside. They got their wedding pictures in the paper. They didn’t have to rent a hall or worry about seating arrangements. And the wedding cost them a total of $5!

Subway weddings could be the solution for a lot of people, including us riders. The MTA recently announced plans for yet another fare hike. A possible 25-cent raise per ride might not seem like much, but for low-wage workers spending 5 percent or more of their weekly salaries just to get to and from work, it’s a backbreaker. By thinking outside the fare box and raising money in creative ways, the MTA might be able to avoid this increase.

Holding weddings on spiffed-up subway cars could be a good start. The possibilities are endless. Instead of having cops chase those intrusive “showtime” dancers from the trains, the performers could be hired as entertainment, along with some of the great underground subway singers.

Or perhaps a more prosperous couple might spring for a band of its choosing. Train, with its hit song “Marry Me,” would be a natural. It would be a win-win-win for the happy couple, the MTA and subway riders saved yet another fare boost.

But why stop at weddings? Imagine retirement or going-away office parties on the subway. You could rent a subway car, celebrate on board, then wave goodbye to your departing employee right at his or her stop!

While getting married on the subway might be your recurring nightmare, it was this couple’s dream.

“I’m originally from Ukraine,” Tatyana told the News, “and each time we’d come back here, I’d say to Hector, ‘It doesn’t feel like home until I see the skyline as we’re crossing the bridge.’ And he remembered that. He planned it specifically so that we’d see the skyline as we were married.”

Stand clear of the flying rice!

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Leave the Turkey, Take the Credit Card

Don’t look now, but the holiday season is upon us, and we’re starting off in style with battles about boozy Santas and stores launching their Black Friday sales on Thursday.

While retailers once opened at dawn on Friday or midnight after Thanksgiving, giving shoppers in the holiday spirit extra time to claw and trample each other to get to that bargain 60-inch TV, many are now starting even earlier. For example, Best Buy will open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day and Macy’s at 6 p.m. Will we now have to call Thanksgiving “Black Thursday”? Very confusing.

While some protest that this doesn’t allow employees to spend time with family, retailers say working on Thanksgiving is usually voluntary, and can pay time-and-a-half. Macy’s spokeswoman Holly Thomas (great holiday name, BTW) says many of its employees “appreciate the opportunity to work on Thanksgiving so they have time off on Black Friday.” You bet.

But getting an early start on ninja shopping is only the beginning of the holiday fun. On Dec. 13, the annual slobfest known as SantaCon will come to NYC bars, possibly near you.

Last year, the merry bar crawl centered in the East Village. This year, organizers targeted Bushwick until local barkeepers and politicians told them to get lost.

They still seek a lucky NYC neighborhood to host the festivities. Hey, how about yours? On the plus side, they donate to local food banks and other charities. On the minus side, they puke all over your stoop.

While organizers deny this happens often, the drinking starts at 10 a.m., according to the SantaCon website, which also claims, “Santa spreads joy, not vomit.” What a lovely Hallmark sentiment.

But hey, maybe we have these extra jolly Santas all wrong. According to their site, “SantaCon is a charitable, non-commercial, nonpolitical, nonsensical convention that happens once a year for absolutely no reason.” The site also treats you to such popular Christmas tunes as “Jingle Bells” by the Gay Robots and “Ol’ Taninz Da Bomb!” by DJ Blitz’N.

So as we celebrate our new holiday traditions of stampeding, post-turkey shoppers and drunken, marauding Santas, what’s left to say except: Happy Thanksgiving to all!


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Yo Brooklyn, the British are Coming!

Guess who’s coming to town? Celebrity royalty!

Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton (but you can just call her Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge), will visit NYC for the first time on Dec. 7. They’ll go to Brooklyn to take in a Nets-Cavaliers game at the Barclays Center on Dec. 8. Why? Maybe they want to see King James (aka LeBron) in person. Maybe they want to take a nostalgic ride down Kings Highway, named after William’s ancestor, King Charles II.

One thing’s for sure: The media will pant over the royal couple’s three-day visit because a large number of Americans go gaga whenever we host British royalty. I don’t get it. William is a descendant of King George III, the tyrant who ruled over us until we broke free in 1776. Ring a bell? Remember Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death”? Anyone?

Anyway, these royal welfare recipients will be greeted by Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife and do the “just folks” rounds: Go to the game, the Sept. 11 memorial and a youth center, then a luncheon “to celebrate the achievements of a successful British community in New York from the arts and business sectors,” according to the royals’ website.

Kate seems to be the fun half of the duo. A fashion celebrity, she has titillated the British media with more wardrobe malfunctions than Britney Spears, including flashing her butt in a gust of wind, forgetting to weigh down her hem — or wear underwear. The Stir website gushed, “Let’s just say her derrière is even more perky and exquisite than we expected it to be.” Kim Kardashian, eat your heart out!

To his credit, William seems a bit less clueless than his brother, Harry, who once thought it jolly good fun to attend a costume party in a Nazi uniform. Speaking of World War II, Dec. 7 also happens to be National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Gee, I wonder who will get more media attention — those who sacrificed their lives for us on that day, or the telegenic royals whose every move figures to be tracked?

Before 1776, the British ruled in America. Right now celebrities do. I’m not sure which is worse. Meanwhile, the future king of England is coming to Kings County. Yo, Prince!


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Can’t a NYC Rat Catch a Break?

Two teenage girls screeched as a large rat charged down the 59th Street C train platform Friday afternoon, while others quickly scattered. Looking more fearful than any of them, the rat scampered to the end of the platform and disappeared.

The myth that there are as many rats as people in NYC was recently debunked in a study published in the statistical journal Significance. According to the report, there are only about 2 million rats in the city, not 8 million. Feel better?

NYC only ranks fourth (behind Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington) in pest-control company Orkin’s latest “Rattiest Cities” list. Yes, that’s still not good, yes, they carry diseases, and yes, I applaud the city’s recently launched initiative to reduce the rat population in the most vermin-infested neighborhoods.

That said, why do we hate rats so much? Squirrels also carry diseases. So do pigeons. So do we.

The truth? Squirrels are cute, and rats are ugly. That’s why they never catch a break.

This summer, a rat supposedly attacked a journalist on an NYC subway platform. The Huffington Post headline “Giant Rat Attacks Reporter!” was typical.

But that’s the problem with prejudice. What really happened was the reporter was filming the rat, when it turned and charged toward him. He screamed as the rat dashed between his legs. As far as biting the man? Never happened.

Now put yourself in the rat’s place. What if you were down in the subway and someone started filming you without your permission? Exactly.

All I’m saying is, unlike those teenage girls, let’s not get hysterical every time we see a rat. If rats were really that prone to biting people, the subway system would have shut down years ago. There are much bigger annoyances on the subway. For example, when was the last time you saw a rat saunter down a subway car demanding spare cheese? I rest my case.

The truth is, most of our rats are faithful to the city creed: You leave me alone, I’ll leave you alone. Like us, they’re just trying to survive, setting out on a daily quest for food, shelter and to not be judged on their appearance.

Sounds like real New Yorkers to me.


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Elections More and More Like Beauty Contests

The election results are in, and it’s clear what NYC, state and national voters expect from their candidates — a full head of hair.

From re-elected Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the other winners across the nation, it’s tough to find many bald guys. How did we get that awful Michael Grimm-Domenic Recchia congressional contest in Staten Island? Look no farther than the tops of their heads.

Although about 50 percent of American men are bald or balding, we have not elected a bald president in nearly 60 years (Gerald Ford wasn’t elected). In the last NYC mayoral race, hirsute Bill de Blasio trounced bald Joe Lhota. In fact, the last bald NYC mayor was Ed Koch, first elected in 1977 (no, I don’t count Rudy Giuliani’s comb-over — actually, it proves my point).

Yes, we’ve elected a few chrome domes — e.g., Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey — but they are the exceptions to the rule. In the most recent national election, we had President Barack Obama, with a full head of hair (although it’s rapidly turning gray), while on the Republican side, Ken doll-haired Mitt Romney got the nomination over Ken doll-haired Rick Perry.

Why is this happening? Why TV, of course. John F. Kennedy was the first to realize the power of the medium, getting made up and coiffed while Richard Nixon refused to do so. It’s a sad fact that men who are widely considered among our greatest presidents (Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt) probably wouldn’t stand a chance today (Lincoln wasn’t telegenic, FDR was disabled).

I’m getting a little tired of these TV personality-type contestants running for office — and I don’t mean just “American Idol” runner-up and North Carolina congressional candidate Clay Aiken. Seems as long as a male candidate has a full head of hair, it doesn’t matter if his head is empty.

Come to think of it, the only difference between our modern elections and the Miss America pageant is that very few politicians say they want world peace. Hey, they don’t want to come across as wimps!

Elections are more and more becoming beauty contests. Why do we seem to keep getting a parade of shallow candidates with shiny hair and gleaming teeth?

Perhaps it’s time to check the mirror.


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Upcoming Week May Be Hard to Stomach

Trick or trickier? Seeing our choices in Tuesday’s election, all I can say is, Boo!

In the race for New York governor, we have Democratic incumbent Andrew Cuomo, who led the fight to pass both a same-sex marriage and a sane gun-control bill. He also formed a Moreland Commission to root out statewide corruption — then shut it down when it wanted to investigate groups with ties to him.

Opposing Cuomo is Republican Rob Astorino, who promotes fracking while upstate, then magically morphs into Mr. Environment as he scoots back down the Thruway to Westchester.

In their debate last week, both Cuomo and Astorino often ignored panelists’ questions in favor of hurling cheap shots at each other.

Meanwhile on Staten Island, the race for Congress is an embarrassment. The only ones who seem happy about this contest are Jon Stewart and other comedians who are having a field day mocking it.

Currently under a 20-count indictment on fraud charges, not to mention threatening to toss NY1 reporter Michael Scotto off a balcony after breaking him in half “like a boy,” Republican Rep. Michael Grimm seems to have, well, grim chances of re-election. Luckily for him, his Democratic opponent, Domenic Recchia, gives new meaning to the term Know-Nothing Party, responding to questions about issues with nonsensical answers or a blank stare.

Nope, these candidates aren’t exactly inspiring. In the governor’s race, Cuomo’s achievements are tainted by his now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t treatment of the Moreland Commission, while Astorino’s far-right views don’t sit well with a majority of NYC residents.

So how about staying home to send them a message? Trust me, no one will notice. I’m definitely going to vote, although I’m afraid I’ll feel the way I used to after coming home from trick-or-treating as a kid — happy I did it, but a bit sick to my stomach.

So what’s the solution?

Hint: Cuomo and Astorino aren’t the only two candidates for governor on the ballot. If you really want to send the entrenched “trick or trickier” parties a message, I’m sure the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins or the Libertarian Party’s Michael McDermott would be happy to oblige.

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De Blasio Longs To Be Our New Sugar Daddy

As if Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t have enough on his plate with the headlines about his wife’s chief of staff, the ongoing battle over banning carriage horses and other City Hall drama, the mayor is reopening that old “nanny state” Mike Bloomberg can of controversy — a ban on sugary drinks.

De Blasio has been brainstorming with soda lobbyists and health advocates to find ways to reduce consumption of such products. You may recall that two years ago, Bloomberg pushed through a law banning sales of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants, delis, food carts and movie theaters. The courts struck down the law as unconstitutional.

But de Blasio seems eager to resurrect the battle. Why, Bill, why?

“The city’s proposal to cap the size of sugary drinks responds to the alarming obesity and diabetes crisis that disproportionately affects minority groups,” the mayor said in June, when he urged New York’s Court of Appeals to reinstate the ban.

Yes, obesity and diabetes are out of control, while the argument rages on between personal freedom and government overreach versus the public’s right not to have to pay inflated health care costs due to the overindulgence of sugar junkies.

But prohibition of harmful products “for our own good” has never worked out, ever since the days of, well, Prohibition. How would a ban be enforced? Diet drinks would be exempt from the ban. When your pal at the movie concession stand slips regular cola into your 32-ounce cup, who can tell the difference? Would we have soda cops monitoring our soda pop? How? Take a sip of our soda, then do spit takes? “Eww, this isn’t diet! Up against the wall!”

If de Blasio wants to sell this rehashed idea to New Yorkers, he’s got his work cut out for him. But he may have an ace up his sleeve. Anxious to change the perception that he takes marching orders from the Rev. Al Sharpton, perhaps de Blasio can turn the tables and put the formerly rotund reverend to work as a spokesman for the soda ban. “I stopped imbibing sugary drinks, and now look how svelte I am,” Sharpton can crow.

You’re welcome, Mr. Mayor.



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NYC Musicians Fight Stigma of Mental Illness

I wish I was like you

Easily amused

Find my nest of salt

Everything’s my fault …

When Kurt Cobain of Nirvana wrote the 1993 hit song “All Apologies,” few understood it as a cry for help. But Cobain suffered from severe mental illness, including bipolar disease and depression, and soon took his own life.

To reach out to the millions of less famous but equally tormented young Kurt Cobains, the NYC chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness has partnered with five New York bands to launch the “I Will Listen” album and movement. The participating bands are Controller, Sweet Lorainne, Boola featuring Jeni Fujita, Romans Are Alive and Jenna Kyle.

“After 9/11, the stigma about going for help for mental health issues was reduced because everyone was affected by the tragedy,” says Robert Goldblatt, former director of psychiatric rehabilitation for the NYC Department of Health. “What is important now is continuing to reduce that stigma.”

Beverly Cobain can attest to that. Kurt’s cousin, Beverly was strongly affected by his death. Now a registered nurse and mental health professional, she speaks nationwide about suicide prevention and other mental health issues.

“Kurt’s risk was very high: untreated bipolar disorder, family history of depression, his drug addiction and alcohol abuse,” Beverly Cobain told HealthDay. Beside medication and talk therapy, she believes “the primary antidote is the presence of caring people in one’s life who know when something is wrong and take appropriate steps to help.”

The campaign encourages people to do just that. Participating musicians received guidelines asking them to compose songs about their experiences with mental illness, citing as examples “All Apologies,” The Who’s “The Real Me,” about schizophrenia, and “Manic Depression” by Jimi Hendrix.

The “I Will Listen” album’s official launch show will be Monday (10-20) at NYC’s Mercury Lounge. Meanwhile, the album is free and available on Guidelines on how to listen to people in need — including being nonjudgmental, letting them know they’re not alone and knowing when to call for help — can be found on the site.

Spread the word.

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