Poor Viewing Areas For 4th of July 2012 Fireworks in New York City

Years ago, the fireworks show on July 4th used to be held on the East River.  I remember going there and standing on the elevated highway.  The view was amazing!  It was also real close to where my mother’s apartment is.  If we wanted to, we could have just gone to the roof, but going to the river and watching it with the crowd was a lot more exciting.

This was my wife’s first 4th of July and I wanted to make sure we got a chance to see some fireworks.  I was excited too.  The websites and news reports I’d seen said that 40,000 fireworks were going to be shot off, total.  I imagine that includes the ones that don’t really go up and pop, but look like they’re spraying upwards from the boat.  Anyway, it sounded like it was going to be awesome, so we planned to spend the day out in the city and end the day with fireworks.

The Pond at Central Park
The Pond at Central Park (Yes, “The Pond”)

We did a little shopping and then bought some water before walking through the lower portion of Central Park and heading over to the river.  We were in high spirits until we saw the way the crowds were being managed for fireworks viewing.  To be blunt, it was done in an obscenely stupid way that left me with the impression that the city didn’t care if the average resident or tourist could see what was going on; it was set up to make everything as convenient as possible for VIPs who paid upwards of 200 dollars for private parties on the piers and in the park that runs along the riverfront.  You know, that area where people normally jog.

The 'view' at 59th Street
The ‘view’ at 59th Street. The viewing area was placed behind the row of trees that divides the highway, instead of on the side closer to the river, and behind the pier structure which blocks the skyline.

We started out at 59th street.  To get down to the river, you have to go through a checkpoint on the previous block where your bags are searched.  Then you can go down to highway.  The problem with the 59th street area is that the pier is built up into a huge two story structure and there is absolutely no view.  While we stood there, dumbfounded by the fact that it seemed like people were intentionally being herded into the worst viewing areas, I could hear a DJ saying, “Ya! Put your hands together!  VIPs!” coming from somewhere beyond the trees and high building in front of us, likely from one of the piers.

Somewhere around 56th Street
Somewhere around 56th Street. Shortly after this, we had to go back to 11th Avenue and reenter the viewing area through another checkpoint. Roads were blocked off for VIP access to the piers.

Also, the cops had different viewing areas sectioned off with barricades.  Instead of being able to walk down the highway, we had to go back up to 11th Avenue and walk down that way, then go through another checkpoint to get back down to the river to see if the viewing was any better.  At the second point, we wound up being behind the USS Intrepid and the row of trees.  There was practically no clear line of sight.

The Intrepid, blocking our view
The Intrepid, blocking our view.

When we tried to leave, the police tried to stop us.  One cop told us that going to the fireworks “is not just about seeing the fireworks; it’s the experience.”  I told him there’s no experience if we can’t see the fireworks.  What’s the point of spending the afternoon and evening in a crowd, looking at the butt end of an aircraft carrier?  When I argued with the guy, another cop told me that if we left, “That’s it, you won’t be able to come back in.”  Uhh?  What?  As we walked away, I heard him telling another woman that the fireworks are free, but the view might not be free if she wanted a good one.  The whole time, we could hear the thumping music of a VIP party coming from the riverfront.

Trees blocking our view.

We walked down a bit further but still couldn’t see.  Our view was blocked by trees.

Crowds at 34th Street
Crowds at 34th Street

We walked down to 34th street and saw the massive crowds.  We decided the whole thing wasn’t worth the trouble anymore, had something to eat, got some sundaes at the McDonald’s there and then stood in the street and waited for the fireworks to start.  We figured we’d just see what we could see and the rest we’d catch on YouTube later.  We weren’t the only ones with that idea.  As many people as we saw walking down to the river all day, until just before the fireworks started, just as many were walking back into Manhattan, annoyed and complaining about how the barricades were set up and how there wasn’t a good view anywhere.  Also, there were NO PORTABLE TOILETS.  There were thousands of people heading to the fireworks event, but we didn’t see a single portable toilet set up to accommodate people.  That seems like a gross oversight by the city government.

I think it was the better choice.  We’d have been annoyed if we’d stayed behind the Intrepid, or behind a line of trees that blocked our view.  As it was, I had to wonder what the city government was thinking saying the view would be good from 59th street down to 14th street.  From where we were standing on 34th and 10th Avenue, which is admittedly a narrow field of vision in terms of seeing the waterfront, it looked like we were seeing the north-most fireworks, because we didn’t see any flashes of light from further up the river.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the people at 59th street were able to see anything at all.  At least we saw some fireworks head on.

View of fireworks from 34th Street and 10th Avenue

 

View of fireworks from 34th Street and 10th Avenue 2

View of fireworks from 34th Street and 10th Avenue 3

If you’re reading this and thinking that it sounds like I’m doing nothing but whining, or that I’m hating on “VIPs” that are willing to shell out large sums of cash to stand on a pier, maybe I am.  There’s a reason for it though.  I remember being able to stand on an elevated highway with a clear, free, perfect view of the fireworks.  I heard the excuse for moving the fireworks to the Hudson River was because of concerns about the bridges that go over the East River, but I call bullshit.  It seems more likely to me that it was done to  give preference to people with money and create new opportunities for monetization of what’s supposed to be a national holiday.  The 4th of July is supposed to be about patriotism, pride and unity as Americans, but it has been warped into a business opportunity that emphasizes class struggle, not to mention the fact that it pisses off tourists that come here and are not be able to see anything.  That’s embarrassing.  Or at least it should be.

I’m not saying people should be able to stand on private piers for free; I’m saying the show was better done on the East River and should be moved back.  At the least, the people should be put on the side of the highway that’s closer to the river, rather than right behind a row of trees.  As it is now, the view of the fireworks from the ground is disappointing.  Very disappointing.  Unless you pay for a VIP ticket to stand on a pier or maybe go to New Jersey and view it from their shore, then it’s not even worth it.  You’d be more comfortable sitting at home and watching it on TV.

NYPD Overkill: More Police than Protesters

What ever happened to the Occupy movement?  Reports about the activities of the group used to be on television on a daily basis.  Did people lose interest after the eviction from Zuccoti Park?  Was that the end of the high drama that could keep viewers coming back to tune in to the news reports?

Or did the Occupy movement kill itself off?  The Occupy movement’s most touted feature could also have led to its own downfall.  Without a single leader to unify the movement and the ideology, the movement was just a static mob occupying nothing but time and space, but presenting no social change or even a unified list of demands that I ever remember hearing about.

Without a leader, everything was voted on by the entire group.  That sounds good in theory, but fails in implementation, which is why the US is a representative democracy and not a direct democracy (which is what they were implementing in Zuccoti Park).  A quick search of the web shows a recent Wall Street Journal article that talks about the Occupy movement and their current financial woes.  It also mentions that issues are being decided by a General Assembly now, so maybe problems associated with a lack of leadership became apparent even to them.  Or, maybe the problem was that when large sums of money started being handled, it required some sort of leadership and accountability.

Either way, when I think about all of the important movements in history, there have always been figureheads for movements, charismatic leaders that drew attention and promoted the desires of the masses.  South Africa and India had Gandhi.  The Civil Rights movement had MLK.  Who does the Occupy movement have that can present a unified ideology and a unified front, that can actually form a coherent ideology and set of demands to place before the US government and the people?  It’s fine to have a lot of issues under one roof, but without some set of concrete plans or desires, the whole movement begins to feel like a waste of time, and no one likes having their time wasted.

Soap boxing aside, I happened to run into a group of protesters on Monday at Union Square.  The group seemed tiny compared to what I remember seeing on the news and the only thing that really made the moment memorable was the absurd ratio of police officers to protesters.  In fact, I think there might have been more police present than there were protesters.  Perhaps it wasn’t without reason, since there was some commotion that caused a lot of them to run into the crowd before they even crossed the street into Union Square, but I can’t help but feel that more than anything, the police presence was exaggerated and a waste of tax payer money.

Unmarked police car.
Unmarked police car. It wasn’t the only one in the area.

Large group of police at Union Square

Large group of police at Union Square 2

Two rows of motorcycle cops

Small group of protesters being herded by the huge showing of police in the area

Group of protesters at Union Square

Police following a group of protesters at Union Square

Maybe they expected more people to be there?  It’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared, but … they even had half a dozen of those little Interceptors lined up waiting, as well as additional units stationed around the park…

Mini police cruisers.

National Night Out (Against Crime) 2011

Well, it happened yesterday so this isn’t so much a post about looking forward to observing it as it is about, “Oh look. Llamas and donkeys. Why are those in Campos Plaza?”

Farm animals in New York City.

Farm animals in New York City.

Farm animals in New York City.

Farm animals in New York City.

Farm animals in New York City.

This immediately reminded me of a joke I heard about Singaporeans.  A teacher (in Singapore, with Singaporean students) asks her young students (think, 8 years old) to draw pictures of farm animals.  So, the students happily sit around drawing for awhile and then present their work to the teacher.  One boy walks up and proudly shows her his drawing of a chicken, and it looks really good, except the chicken he draws has no feathers on it.  She asks him why he drew the chicken without feathers, and he asks, “Chickens have feathers?”

This is funny, but I completely understand the reality behind the joke.  In a place like Singapore, which is highly metropolitan, it would be very rare for kids to see any chickens other than the plucked and cooked ones hanging on hooks at the hawker centers.  Even when I lived in Georgia, I would get excited at seeing horses or cows or other farm animals.

A hawker center in Tampines, Singapore.

Anyway, when I was heading home yesterday, I smelled animals and I saw a lot of people in the square between a set of buildings so I went to investigate and these guys in the photos above were the first thing that pulled my attention.  It was fun!

National Night Out Against Crime 2011, New York City.

National Night Out Against Crime 2011, New York City.

I didn’t investigate all of the booths, but the one to the right in the second picture above had face painting, which is why the line was so long.  I imagine the table on the left in the above picture had something to do with distributing literature regarding crime prevention, since it was manned by NYPD officers.

US Army Recruiters at National Night Out Against Crime 2011, New York City.

I was, of course, drawn to the set up in the photo above.  I was curious to see what the recruiters were up to, having been in the Army myself.  I wound up spending about half an hour chatting with Sergeant First Class Chen.  He’s a pretty nice guy.  We traded a few stories.  I told him about my time in service and he talked mostly about the benefits and stability of joining the Army Reserves after leaving Active Duty, but that’s his job after all.  We did talk a bit about some of the things that make you say, ‘WTF?’ while you’re in service.  It was nice to reminisce for a while, about the time I spent in the military.  It wasn’t all good, but it definitely wasn’t all bad either.

It was a pretty nice event overall, and it was good to see something positive taking place in the square for a change.  The area is known for violence and drug related shootings.  Ironically, the ‘Night Out Against Crime’ booths started shutting down and wrapping up as the sun set.

Fight Spills Into 14th Street, Causes Traffic Jam

Yesterday, I was coming back into the city from New Jersey on the PATH train and got off at 14th street.  My plan was to hop on the bus and then go back into the subway at Union Square to head uptown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I wound up having to get back off the bus and walk, though, because punks don’t know how to behave in public.  One kid jumped another kid and the result was a big traffic disaster on 14th street between 6th and 5th avenues.

Cops on the street after a fight broke out on 14th street between 5th and 6th Ave.

As soon as I got seated on the bus I started seeing flashing lights and the bus just sat there, so I took a look out the window and saw that the street was jammed with police cars.  There was a tour bus going the opposite way, but stopped in the road with all the tourists on the open upper deck leaning over the rail and gawking.  I saw a black guy being led away in cuffs.  I waited a while and then got off the bus to take a few pictures and then walk to Union Square.

Cops on the street after a fight broke out on 14th street between 5th and 6th Ave.

While I was standing there taking photos, I heard what happened from a woman that had been handing out sales fliers.  Apparently, a bunch of kids from a nearby school had just left class and one kid jumped on another kid and busted the side of his face up.  The kid that got attacked took off into the subway station I had just left. The guy I saw being handcuffed was the one that did the attacking.  While she was telling me this, the police were yelling at the crowd of kids, which I assume were classmates of the kids that were fighting, telling them to go home or at least leave the area.

Girl crying because her boyfriend was arrested for fighting on his birthday.

When I was walking away, a girl (brown coat in the above picture, surrounded by friends) started crying, saying it was “[her] man’s birthday.”  I can only assume that the guy that got arrested is, or was, her “man”, and they weren’t going to be doing much partying that night.  He must not have wanted to celebrate his birthday anyway or he wouldn’t have done something illegal in the middle of a crowded street.  People just don’t think anymore, do they?

Cops on the street after a fight broke out on 14th street between 5th and 6th Ave.

On the left, you can see the M14A Crosstown I got on, then got off, stuck on the side of the road because of all the police vehicles.

Foremost taxi is an undercover New York City police car.  Cool, right?

The only redeeming factor in this whole fiasco, besides giving me something to blog about, is that I got to see an undercover NYC police car that looks like a taxi cab.  In the photo above, the foremost taxi (facing right, just behind the cop car) is an undercover vehicle.  You can see the red strobe light in the center of the dashboard.

How Many Times Per Ride Do the Cops Need To Check My Papers Just To Ride The Bus?

Seriously.  I feel like I’m trying to enter another country when I’m riding the new, supposedly improved SBS service.  If you’re not familiar with these SBS service buses, they’re supposedly a great new way to get around town that will be faster than a normal limited bus.  They also supposedly save the city money.  I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, that’s just bullshit.

These buses use their own, special bus stops.  In addition to these new bus stops needing to be built, new machines had to be installed outside, adjacent to these bus stops.  You see, even though these new buses are equipped with MetroCard readers, they want you to buy a ‘ticket’ before getting on the bus.  That means the city spent extra money on these ‘ticket’ machines as well.  It’s not really a ticket.  You just get a receipt showing your MetroCard has been debited for the fare required to ride the bus.  By the way, that’s more dead trees.  Was that really necessary?  How is it saving money to have to supply all of these ‘ticket’ machines with paper?  Shouldn’t we be moving towards being a paperless society, rather than finding new ways to deforest and kill our planet?  Not that I’m an eco-nut, but this just seems like a blatant waste of resources and money, which doesn’t make sense when everyone is screaming about budget cuts.  I wonder how many people’s jobs got cut so MTA could afford to print thousands, or tens of thousands, of paper tickets every day?

Now, in addition to the complete waste of resources these ticket machines cause, and the fact that instead of lining up to get on the bus you instead line up to get a ticket, there’s an additional problem.  This system creates another opportunity for you to be hassled by the man.  Today, I rode one of these SBS buses from 14th street up to 116th street and the bus was stopped twice and left idling while cops searched everyone on the bus for ‘tickets’.  Idling.  Isn’t that what the new system was supposed to prevent?

Why do they have to do this?  Well, the answer is easy.  They’re relying on a trust system, that people will pay before boarding, but … seriously?  Do they really think this is going to work?  What world are they living in?  Even on a bus system where people only board at the front, there are people who slip on and try to ride for free, and often pull it off.  If you set things up so that people can board at any door and you’re just supposed to trust that they have a ticket, there will always be people trying to sneak on.  People were pulled off and ticketed both times our bus was searched, and unless teams of police are set up to stop these buses and search them randomly, all day every day, it will continue.  These searches slow down the bus and they’re really not any faster than the regular limited buses they replaced in the first place.

You know what?  There’s an easier system than this, and it’s one I learned in Singapore.  For a first world country, we sure are doing things real stupid over here in the US.  We need to model our transit system off of Singapore’s.  Instead of having these flimsy, crap cards we use for our buses and trains, they have cards with chips in them that can be read like the Visa PayWave cards.  You don’t even have to take them out of your wallet or purse.  You just slide them over a scanner as you enter and exit the bus or train station.  That would save time.  Not having paper tickets would save time.  Not requiring the bus to be stopped and all the passengers to be checked like Nazis searching for Jews would be faster.

And, if you’re going to have cops constantly searching people on the bus, do it smart, not stupid.  I mean, really, you want to stop the whole bus and have us sitting there while everyone is checked for tickets?  Here’s a better idea.  Have cops get on the bus, have the doors close and the bus continue on its route while the cops check tickets.  Have the cops get off at the next stop and either get on the following bus, or cross the street and go back the way they came on the next bus.  That would allow them to continue writing tickets and providing the city government with this new revenue stream (because that’s what this is all about), and it wouldn’t increase people’s commute times.  And hey, since I mentioned Singapore’s system earlier, here’s another spot where it could come in handy.  They have people that randomly get on and ride with the bus.  These people carry handheld card readers that can read your card and show when you last scanned it.  Oh, and they don’t stop the whole bus while they do it.  That’s pretty easy, and it’s smart.  I wonder why they didn’t think of it?

This whole thing with the tickets was done to supposedly save money on the fuel the buses use while idling at bus stops, and to make things faster and more convenient for riders.  The MTA/SBS built a bunch of new bus stops, built new ‘ticket’ machines, are printing paper tickets that aren’t free to produce, and then have the buses idle for police checks, but somehow this is cheaper and faster than just running a normal limited bus.  I totally see the logic here.