My continuing quest to see everything in New York City

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Leading a recent walk through Queens, we passed through Meadowmere, a tiny area of four streets nestled at the end of a long finger of land belonging to Queens which snakes around the East side of JFK airport. Take a quaint wooden footbridge over Hook Creek and you're in Meadowmere Park, Nassau County. 

I told the group that this was the "most remote neighborhood in New York."  But upon being challenged, I couldn't really substantiate the claim. It's not the furthest neighborhood from Columbus Circle, where New York's mile 0 is (that would be Tottenville). It's not the neighborhood furthest from any other in the five boroughs (that would be City Island). It's not the neighborhood furthest from public transportation (that would be Breezy Point, although it wasn't between 2008 and 2010 when it had Ferry service). It's not even the neighborhood with the worst city infrastructure - unlike this area, it finally got sewers and drainage a few years ago - although each household had to pay $5000-$10,000 for the privilege.

It is the neighborhood furthest from any other in the five boroughs that isn't an island. But that seems like a pretty big caveat. Still, the feeling of remoteness is greater than in any other area I've been to. If you find yourself there, grab dinner or drinks at the Bayhouse Restaurant (actually in nearby Warnerville), displaying it's proud "A" rating from the New York City Board of Health and Mental Hygiene, which proves it is indeed still in the five boroughs. If you've got a boat, you can kick it under the Crossbay Bridge and up the head of Jamaica Bay, and tie if up right on their patio.

Neighborhoods: Meadowmere
Tracts Walked: Q664

Sunday, May 29, 2011


I have a deal with Tarcher (an imprint of Penguin), to write a book which will be out Fall of 2012.   It's a travel memoir, mostly about me and this guy's urban exploration adventures around the world, but will have lots of other observations on cities and generally funny and interesting stories. A few of these, which will probably find their way into the book in greatly expanded form, can already be found by digging around this site but most can't. I have no good title yet - if you come up with something brilliant please let me know.

I have a good story to tell, and am pretty excited to be able to do it. But to use a baseball analogy, when it comes to the international urban adventure game I've always kind of thought of myself as a decent hitting backup utility infielder - just one that's lucky enough to play on the 1927 Yankees.  I've been along on a great ride, and will give myself credit for managing a home run or two along the way, but really - you should check out some of the All Stars.

So anyway, in addition to actually writing the thing, my job now (or so I've been told) is to build a "platform."  This is industry shorthand for "try to be as famous and popular as possible by the time the book comes out."  Since we are currently living in the age of social media fascination, this means everyone is focused on twitter followers, facebook likes, and website hits. These three things are now taken almost as a sort of currency. Someday pretty soon someone is going to make a ton of money by offering a pay-service setting up fake Twitter accounts to follow you. Seriously - get 10,000 Twitter followers and apparently the world is yours.

As such, you'll notice there's now a Twitter feed on the righthand side of the blog.   So follow me on Twitter! I truly, and sincerely, apologize to everyone for the preceding sentence.

It was suggested to me to do live Twitter updates from Urban Exploration sites. This will not be happening with anything too extralegal for obvious reasons. Still, I will try to make the feed as interesting as possible.

Second, be my friend on Facebook! I can't quite bring myself to do the "like me!" thing as opposed to a regular facebook page though. You'll just have to get my updates on local politics and obscure European soccer teams also (Viva Rayo! Congratulations on promotion to La Liga! Vallecas siempre!)

Third, I'll be blogging more here (RSS link on the right), mostly just about places and topics of interest to me.  Sometimes that's getting to hidden or off-limits places by a variety of means, both in New York and wherever else I happen to be, but a lot of times it'll be about demographics or other urban planning topics. As an aside, you might have noticed that the "Stories" tab has been changed to "Explorations and Adventures." I figured that as this site is linked from a lot of Urban Exploration sites, I should probably make it easier for the people who come here to find that part of the site instead of a post about what the 2010 census says about the changes in Ozone Park or something.

One more housekeeping thing - if you are currently wondering "hey, am I going to be in this book?" and haven't heard from me, the answer is almost certainly "I'm not sure yet." If it looks like you will be, I'll be in touch.

Huge thanks to my agent Alyssa Reuben of Paradigm and my editor Sara Carder of Tarcher for believing in a first-time author with somewhat less than 10,000 Twitter followers.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Finally, a good article on the undercount that has some attempt at serious investigative journalism, instead of making up ridiculous headlines based on the probably misquoted conjectures of a City Councilwoman (may I suggest this shirt for Diana Reyna?).

It would be interesting to see if the undercount is more of a New York phenomenon - in which New York-centric things like illegal subdivisions would probably be the culprit - or if the undercount is consistent among cities with high immigration (and especially looking at similar immigration patterns as New York), which would point to immigrants becoming even more reluctant respond to the census in the wake of increased immigration enforcement since 2001.

The Times article itself also focuses on a third culprit though - mistaking occupied apartments for vacant ones. This one is kind of strange, and apart from the "possible processing glitch" explanation that Census provides (we'll see if that's it when the review is conducted next month) the only culprit I can come up with immediately would be simple laziness on the part of the Census' field staff.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Oh well

My dream house was sold at auction today.  It was Penthouse A in the Williamsburg Savings Bank tower - suggested retail price 3.75 million. This is the apartment with the abandoned observation decks that I wrote about here and here. My little fantasy was always to buy it and open the decks back up to the public. Unfortunately I did not win the lottery in time to throw a bid in there.

I hope whoever did buy it knows he or she got a small piece of history and one of the most interesting spaces in New York City, not just another overpriced downtown Brooklyn condo with a nice view.

UPDATE: Congrats to Olivia Tandon. From the Times article:

“I was very swayed by the terraces,” she said, which used to be private observation decks for the bank president and bear plaques retelling the history of the battle of Brooklyn. They were an important feature for her daughter, Olivia Tandon, a public school teacher for whom she is buying the apartment as an upgrade from a smaller apartment Ms. Tandon owns in the building.

This makes me happy. I hope she takes her students.

Friday, May 13, 2011

So it goes

Claudio looks like he's going. From the NY Times:

Mr. Caponigro said the landlord, Hong Kai Lin Realty, told him that he could stay only if he agreed to a rent of $1,650, almost triple what he is now paying.

The 15-by-15-foot space, the landlord told him, might be turned into a takeout Chinese restaurant. Yat T. Man, a lawyer for the landlord, said his client was a “mom-and-pop landlord, not a Donald Trump,” and could not afford to keep Mr. Caponigro so far below the market rate.

Another victim of a flipped building and huge commercial rent increase. It's nobody's fault - this is New York City. Our strength and weakness has always been that our driving force is the chance to turn one dollar into two.

This barbershop has gotten a lot of press over the years - some for the old-schoolness of it, some for the supposed mob connections, some, as always, for the celebrities who've frequented it (J-Lo once filmed a video there). By far the best article on Claudio and the neighborhood is here.

I've been a faithful customer of Claudio's for a while now. And what I want people to know about him is that he is a great, great barber. He does all the little things. He'll trim your eyebrows, apply some combination of about 8 different tonics with names like "Eau de Portugal" at various times during the cut, and when he's done he'll have you looking like an extra on Mad Man. And the straight razor shave? I'd trust him to do it blindfolded with a razor dipped in arsenic.

Claudio is not a hustler. He charges 10 bucks for a haircut and 5 for a shave. Despite the press, the place is not really busy - usually one or two people are in there, and often there's no wait at all. One time when I was in the seat, and there was one other person waiting, someone came in and asked innocently "how long's it going to be?" "There's a barbershop around the corner" was Claudio's dismissive reply. You want a good haircut, no problem. You're more concerned about time, there's plenty of other options. I don't think the fact that he gave away 10 bucks even crossed his mind.

But like it or not, money eventually catches up with everyone in this town, even at 81 years of age. There might be place in New York City for someone who just wants to do their job well on their own terms, and make a modest but comfortable living doing it. But it's a place that ultimately exists on borrowed time. So it goes.

Claudio's is on 116th street and First Avenue. Drop by for cut this month, he'd be glad to see you.

Neighborhood: East Harlem
Tract Walked: M188