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On Life, Love and the Pursuit of Happiness

Why I Live in Harlem

Robert Manni - Friday, June 13, 2014


Growing up in suburban Bergen County, New Jersey, I never thought I’d live in Harlem.

That was then, but this is now. Having migrated to the city back in the eighties, I’ve see our metropolis transform its once tattered landscape into what many refer to as the “capital of the world”.  And as a result, as the years flew by too many Duane Reade, Chase, The Gap, and now even Seven Eleven stores have replaced the quirky independent businesses and local flavor that made up its neighborhoods.

Brooklyn is the latest victim. What was the coolest nabe on the planet just a decade ago has seen its real estate prices go through the roof while its streets got jammed with baby strollers and urban woodsman. We can only hope that the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island can hold back total gentrification for another decade or two. But there is some good news.

Harlem is in Manhattan and it’s become a really cool place to live. The once downtrodden 125th Street now has a Gap outlet, DSW and Joe’s Crab Shack, but thankfully most of the big brands have limited themselves to this main thoroughfare. Most of the Harlem’s sprawling landscape is checkered with brownstones and small independent business that have only recently set up shop. Sounds like Brooklyn circa 2000? Maybe, but Harlem has been a tough nabe to crack. And I’ll say it again—it’s still in Manhattan.

Here are a few reasons why almost four years ago your Guy’s Guy chose to move to Harlem and has never looked back.

Proximity.

Might as well finish this thought first. I live in the Morningside area so all I need to do to get into “the city” is hop on the B or C train and boom; I’m there in ten minutes. That’s a lot better than squeezing in to a G train filled with twenty-somethings in Williamsburg or taking an hour on the F from Park Slope. Bay Ridge? Great place, but it’s a serious commute.  Guy’s Guys like to stay out late so while my friends are either waiting for a train at Port Authority or taking the subway to an outer borough, I’m already home and snuggled in bed. Yes, lots of people still live all over Manhattan, but the rental and purchase prices are now skewed to one-percenters or foreign money.  That’s just the way it is. So if you don’t mind paying $4000 or more to rent a 800 square foot one-bedroom in a walk up or the same for a  studio in a high rise, then you’ll love overcrowded Midtown.

The Parks.

Many Guy’s Guys enjoy sports and exercise, although it’s certainly not a mandatory requirement for the GG moniker. I’m a runner and it’s great if you live in south Harlem. I walk five blocks and I’m in the serenity of Central Park, a respite from urban life that keeps improving with age. And, if I want to stay closer to home, I put my infant son in his stroller and within two minutes we’re walking along the path around a pond in Morningside Park, watching the turtles sun themselves on the rocks. There is also Riverside Park, Marcus Garvey and many other well-maintained parks strategically located throughout Harlem.

The People.

Of course there is always an understandable push back against gentrification, but what I’ve noticed in my nabe is a lot of new jobs and business opportunities for the folks who lived in the area prior to the changes. And for the most part, most of the businesses are independent and privately owned and operated, which is a good thing. Hopefully, that will hold true for the foreseeable future. There is also a diverse mix of race, creed, color, sexual preferences, nationalities, and students.  That is what New York is all about. And from what I’ve seen, everyone seems to see the glass as half full as the communities evolve.

The Culture.

 Harlem has gone through so many changes over the last century that it has authentic culture. We all know the wonderful Apollo Theatre and the jazz clubs, but now there is a growing foodie movement led by hot chefs like Marcus Samuelsson and his always packed Red Rooster. They now refer to Fredrick Douglass Boulevard between 110 and 125 as Harlem’s Restaurant Row. To be honest, it’s happening, but slowly. Using that name is putting the cart in front of the horse. The good news is it’s a reflection of optimism and hope.

The Cost.

Like Brooklyn, Harlem real estate prices are going up, up, up. That said, there are lots of buildings and a massive stretch of blocks between 110th and 165th Street, so depending on where you look, you can find a bargain if you put in a little footwork. If you were fortunate and smart enough to buy between 2008-10, your average cost per square foot has increased by over thirty percent. If you are considering Harlem, my suggestion is to start looking now.

So if you are Guy’s Guy who doesn’t mind living in a quickly evolving area that might still be a little rough around the edges, a “middle class” family that has been priced out of the Upper West Side, or a student or artist who needs to keep their living costs in check, Harlem may be just the place for you. It’s the last affordable outpost in Manhattan and it will keep you close to the action—which is probably why you moved to New York in the first place.

Are you ready to make a move uptown?


This week's Guy’s Guy of the Week is the famed magician, Harry Houdini, who lived in Harlem at 278 West 113th Street for many years. There is still a plaque in front of the brownstone.

Five Fresh Ideas for New York City

Robert Manni - Thursday, May 30, 2013


Life in the Big Apple has been polished under Mayor Bloomberg.

The smoking ban in public spaces is a major success, the parks are more picturesque and utilitarian than ever, people automatically scoop up their dog poop, and the influx of tourist dollars into the city is at an all time high. Sounds pretty good. But, that’s skimming the surface. Here is my Guys' Guy's Guide to polishing the Big Applemy list of suggestions to further upgrade our lives in the big city.  Some of these concepts have been discussed and dissected, but they are worth a closer look from a common sense perspective.

1. Ban All Motorized Vehicular Traffic in Central Park.  The biking and jogging lanes have been significantly expanded, but New Yorkers are still forced to dodge speeding taxis and private limo services as they speed through the park throughout the day. There are numerous cross streets where these vehicles can cut through the park form the outside without snaking their way inside the park while polluting the air and endangering pedestrians, joggers, and bikers. We are diluting our quality of life to save a minute’s time for speeding taxis. Really? Hey, Mr. Mayor—which is more dangerous, enjoying a large soft drink or sprinting to avoid being run down by a taxi? At least ninety percent of the motorized vehicles in the park are taxis. Ridiculous.

2. Drop the Big Soda Ban Legislature. This well-intended law was justly shot down in court at the eleventh hour and is still being debated. This law is misguided. Sure, sugary drinks are bad, but why draw a line in the sand at 16 ounces? That’s not going to cure obesity and diabetes. People will find a way to get their fix. Do we ban soda, ice cream, Oreo cookies and pre-sweetened cereal? Educating the population to the dangers of sugar is a timely concept. Choosing one size of one product and ostracizing it is lunacy.

3. Require GMO Labeling for Foods in NYC. This is a better idea than a 16-ounce soda ban. Our mayor is known for suggesting bold moves to protect our health. What about GMO’s? Let’s discuss requiring labeling of all products that contain GMO’s that are sold in New York. It would be a true show of leadership by the most forward-thinking, sophisticated city in the world. Could it work? It’s worth a deep discussion. Nothing will slow the onslaught of GMO’s until our leaders take a stand. Washington? Forget it. How about it, Mr. Mayor?

4. Stop Serving Alcohol at 2am. Maybe I’m getting old, but having spent many a long evening in our city bars, I assure you that only a few things happen when people continue drinking for two more hours between two and four am. You either get totally wasted, argue meaningless sports trivia, get into a fight, or wake up next to a woman named Brenda who looked far better at three o’clock than at ten in the morning.

5. Upgrade Weekend Subway Service. Now that we have to cash in our 401K’s to ride in a taxi, the subways are teeming with people 24/7. The advent of the $1 penalty for replacing your Metro Card has generated a boon in revenue. Yet our weekend service flat out sucks. Weekends are cherished times for hard working New Yorkers. Who wants to spend an extra hour underground waiting hopefully that the C train will show up and be running local? You get the picture.

I could continue about overflowing trash bins, subway acrobats blasting music and dangerously swinging around poles, bike riders on the sidewalks, but I’ll save that for another post.

What are your ideas for improving the quality of life in our fair city?

This week’s Guy’s Guy of the Week is Mayor Bloomberg. He’s well intended and has improved our quality of life, but he has a long way to go before he leaves office. Be bold, Mr. Mayor! Be a Guy’s Guy.

A Guy's Guy's Observations About The NYC Subway System

Robert Manni - Wednesday, September 19, 2012
          


The NYC subways are fascinating. 


Sure, it is a matter of taste, but there are some interesting things happening below the surface of the greatest city in the world. Over the past month, I decided to turn the drudgery of my subterranean journeys throughout the city into a palette of observations to share with you. Mind you, as filthy and unbearable as the subways are in general, they reach a new level of tedium during the summer when the temperatures soar and the air stagnates along the platforms. I’m sure that I am only scratching the surface, but here goes. Let’s file this one under “the Guys’ Guy’s pursuit of happiness”. 

1-    New Yorkers read. Having spent a few months handing out branded bookmarks for my novel, THE GUYS GUY’S GUIDE TO LOVE, to unsuspecting riders who either had a physical book or e-reader in tow, I can happily report that reading is not dead my friends. I see novels, non-fiction, graphic novels, magazines, newspapers, and mobile devices all being used for reading. Of course it’s done partially to pass the time, but it is still good news. We have a literate population in transit below the city right now. Reading nurtures the mind. Digital games can be fun, but many are based on reaction and nothing more. Read on, New York! 

2-    Tuning out. I’m not one for plugging my ear buds in the second I leave my apartment. New York has plenty of stimuli without my requiring a soundtrack for every moment of my day. Of course if it’s a long ride and I did not remember to bring any reading material, I too enjoy listening to some tasty tracks while the trains rattle along. But what concerns me is that too many people stare straight ahead with ear buds connected to their iPods. And as a guy I notice way too many pretty young women doing exactly that. They are basically unapproachable. Yeah, I know there are creepy guys everywhere, but if you want the New York experience, you’ve got to mix it up with random people now and then. It’s called communication. Live a little. 

3-    Entertainment. Yesterday as I rode and switched trains between Lafayette and Broadway to West 116th Street, I was treated to an accordion player, a magician (this was a first), acapella singers, a man playing Chinese songs on the flute, and those “dancers” who swing around the poles inside of the cars. If this had been, “American Idol”, the magician would have gotten my vote. So if you forget your mobile device and your book, you can still be entertained underground. 

4-    Dress code. Let’s face it. People dress poorly in general, and although there are always good-looking women (and dudes) in skimpy outfits riding the train in the summer, I’ve noticed that a major portion of subway riders wear something with the Nike swoosh on it. Lots of chunky basketball shoes, sweats, shirts and hats are adorned by this popular symbol. If you don’t believe me, spend one ride counting how many pairs of Nike footwear you see on the train. You’ll be amazed. 

5-    Strollers. God bless all of the Moms who have to schlep their kids, toys, and that stroller on and off of the train and up and down those flights of stairs. This is no easy task. Hey fellas, if you see a lady wielding one of those heavy strollers toward the stairs, please offer to help her carry it for her. 

6-    The Happy Tourists. If you want to spot the tourists on the train, look for the animated faces that look like they are on a ride at Disneyworld. If you want to identify the New Yorker, look for the impassive, detached faces staring straight ahead or at their phone. Tourists seem to love the subway, but of course that’s because they don’t have to deal with it every day like we do. But, it is refreshing to see some semblance of delight underground. A great thing about New Yorkers, though, is that they will stumble over each other to be helpful and give directions. 

7-    The Map. Don’t sit in front of it unless you enjoy leaning to the side while confused tourists stand directly in front of you and stare past you at it…for what seems like an eternity. Not a big deal, but just sit there sometime and you’ll see what I mean. 

8-    The Ads. For every boring global brand that patronizes New Yorkers with one of those cars dressed up in a series of ads that say, “Hey, New York, grab some (European-owned mass-produced beer that was formerly an iconic American brand),” we have the local ads that delight the locals. Accordion wrestling, Dr. Zizmor-the dermatologist, and the storage facilities are but a few of my favorite brands that have produced fun local campaigns. 

This is but a smattering of underground observations. The point is that if you maintain a positive perspective, you can even have a few laughs while riding the NYC subway system. 

Guy’s Guy of The Week: Ralph Kramden of “The Honeymooners” for being a hard-working transit worker with a dream. 

Seen anything interesting lately while riding the C train?

Do You Still Want to Live in NYC?

Robert Manni - Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Image courtesy of Shmuli Evers 

Back in 1978, Mick Jagger sang about “rats on the West Side, bed bugs uptown” in the Rolling Stones’ eponymous New York song, “Shattered”.  Hey, those guys really did know a thing or two.  And now it’s over thirty years later and people from all over the world still look to our fair city as the modern-day Rome. It’s still the perceptual global center of culturefor better or worse, finance, media, food, arts and attitude. And despite the news reminding us each day of how our western world is crumbling, like millions of others, I choose to live here.

But What About Paris, London, and Shanghai?

There are lots of great cities spanning the globe and as new media and mega brands shrink our planet, there is only one New York City. Having traveled extensively, although far less than some, I can honestly state that no city has the mash up of people and energy of New York. Everyone here seems just a bit more intense and into what they’re doing, even if they aren’t doing much of anything. From the Central American guy spinning pizza dough, the sidewalk bucket drummers, the struggling artists who’ve been forced to create the next great neighborhoods beyond Manhattan, to the titans of a damaged Wall Street, New Yorkers are a buzzing group that refuses to be stopped.  How can you not like that?

But It's So Damn Expensive!

I have no sane response to this except that the runaway cost of living and punitive taxes we face make every New Yorker scrap a little harder.  That’s what we do. We make it happen. We may vent about the snail-paced subway service on weekends, having to spend $10 for that sandwich we wolf down at our desks, or the stifling aroma of broken garbage bags landscaping Manhattan’s sidewalks during summertime, but we still chose to live here and we’ll be damned if anyone is going to say anything negative about our town. That’s what sets New York apart and that’s why people from all over the world continue pouring into our city. And many of them never leave.

Not necessarily a pretty picture, so are you convinced that this is the place to be? 


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