Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sidewalks Are For Schlepping, Dining, and Baby SUVs

I moved to Manhattan 850 days ago. Should you eventually follow in my footsteps, permit me to be the first to welcome you to the sidewalk. It's going to be like your second home.

Unless you're one of the happy few for whom a $700-per-month parking garage bill is no problem, moving to Manhattan entails giving up your wheels. Manhattan might be interlaced with roads, but 99.9% of the time you (and everyone else you know) have no use for them. Your life is lived on the sidewalk.

Carless, you quickly learn that although schlep might be a Yiddish word, schlep is above all else a New York-living word. The kind of hoofing you do in Manhattan, where owning a car is perceived in some circles as a Gatsby-esque luxury, is so different than the normal walking burden experienced elsewhere that it really merits a separate word. You do not "carry your stuff around." You schlep.

Schlepping about town, you quickly learn that you can never really buy more than about $40 of groceries — since any more than that results in the kind of backbreaking load that keeps chiropractors in business. You must schlep wisely.

Schlepping, New Yorkers develop relationships with their bags that are barely distinguishable from the relationships that drivers elsewhere have with their autos. Your day is in your bag. Or, if you're my wife, several days are in your bag. And a little bag is in there, too. Kind of like the tiny car that gets pulled behind the motor home.

Now that I push a stroller about the streets rather frequently, I realize that a stroller is not a stroller when you're pushing it around New York.

It's a sidewalk SUV.

Yes, I will jam the net beneath the stroller to the breaking point with items. This is my SUV, and I will buy $80 worth of groceries, even if that means that the frame is visibly sagging and junior appears at risk.

When not schlepping around the sidewalks, New Yorkers are eating upon them. I'd add my two bits on the phenomenon that is New York sidewalk eating, but this Sunday's New York Times is running a wonderful piece that saves me the trouble.

"Curbside, We'll Never Have Paris" is one of those wonderful We're-New-Yorkers-and-We're-All-Nuts pieces that details the differences between the sidewalk caf├ęs of Europe and New York. I highly encourage you to read it. Every word of it is truth, and it further illuminates this strange relationship between New Yorkers and the raised concrete dividing the buildings from the cabs.

If you move here and stay for a little while, mark my words: you'll come to appreciate that sidewalk in ways you never did when you were walking about the provinces. And you'll come to embrace it as part of your lot, however filthy and frantic it might be.

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