A blizzard of calcium chloride
Lauren VespoliFeb 11
No NYC mayor wants to be caught off-guard by a snowstorm.
In 1969, Mayor John Lindsay was famously unprepared for a blizzard that killed 42 people, half of whom lived in Queens. That borough was stranded under 20 inches of snow without adequate plowing for nearly a week, and when Lindsay went to reassure residents, they openly booed him. The storm became known as “the Lindsay Snowstorm,” and cost him the Republican primary in the next mayoral election, though he ended up switching to an Independent ticket and eking out a victory anyway.
In 2010, Mayor Bloomberg was slammed for sunning in Bermuda during the start of a December storm that shut the city down for days. And of course, De Blasio has his own botched blizzard responses, from being accused of spitefully neglecting the Upper East Side during a 2014 storm, to a mere 6-inch snowfall in 2018 that left thousands stranded at Port Authority.
Every snowstorm blunder is a reminder for future city leadership that when it comes to winter weather, it’s better to overprepare. And that means road salt—lots and lots of salt. According to Columbia University’s Earth Institute, from 2016-2018, the city’s Department of Sanitation used an average of 407,884 tons of salt per winter, or roughly 95 pounds for every New Yorker. That shakes out to a removal cost of roughly $1.8 million per inch of snow.
This salt is shipped mostly from Chile and Argentina to the Atlantic Salt Incorporated Docks, on Staten Island. From there, it’s distributed among the city’s 40 salt sheds. The newest, the $21 million Spring Street Salt Shed in Tribeca, opened in 2016 and was acclaimed for its design (inspired, naturally, by a salt crystal).
But salt does much more than melt ice. It seeps into our soil and waterways, speeding up erosion and killing river fish and plants. And these mountains of salt, stored across the city, can even cause storms of their own. For years, residents in Brooklyn’s Columbia Street Waterfront District dealt with salt blowing from exposed piles in the Red Hook container terminal.
“I was pelted with salt. It was blowing around everywhere,” one resident told The Brooklyn Paper in 2009 after a loose tarp unleashed a salt storm. After another salt squall in 2011, a local noticed that her front door wasn’t working. “Something about the salt affects the locks,” she told the paper, adding: “It definitely leaves a taste in your mouth.”
“When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts…Because I don’t. Because I don’t.” —The man who underreported nursing home deaths by 50 percent, is encouraging people to eat indoors on Valentine’s Day, and has already published a book titled American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.
-Last week was also a good one for food labor: workers at the Bronx’s Hunts Point Produce Market, the largest wholesale produce market in America, won a raise after a week-long strike, and City Council voted to create 4,000 street vendor permits over the next decade. (Gothamist, Eater NY)
-Why does Brooklyn have so many fractional addresses and streets with the same name? (Hints: explosive 19th-century growth, bureacracy, corruption). I’d love one of these explainers for Queens. (NY Times)
Happy Groundhog Day Eve! #neverforget
22 things you don't need to know about 22 current candidates
Lauren VespoliJan 201
The race to become New York City’s next mayor is heating up. More than 30 candidates are officially registered to run, according to Campaign Finance Board records, and more likely to announce. With much of the recent media cycle focusing on Andrew Yang—who has proposed opening a casino on Governors Island and bringing Tik Tok hype houses to NYC, staged an unconvincing bodega visit, and tried to justify his absence from the city during Covid by asking, “Can you imagine trying to have two kids on virtual school in a two-bedroom apartment, and then trying to do work yourself?”—you probably haven’t had much of a chance to familiarize yourself with the rest of the slate.
I’m not going to try to parse policy positions, or dive into backstories. For more practical information, you can check out guides at The City, Curbed, and City Limits. What I will do, in the midst of this wide and uneven field, is share some fun facts—the kind of tidbits these declared candidates might offer up in a “two truths and a lie” icebreaker. You have until the June Democratic primary to decide. Let’s get to it.
Eric Adams (D): Moved into his office during the pandemic, loves smoothies:
Art Chang (D): Loves puns, per this website copy: “Change is an art form.”
Eddie Cullen (D): According to this profile in Rockaway’s The Wave, the “near-cancellation” of last year’s 9/11 tribute was a major reason he decided to run: “In the end, Mayor De Blasio agreed to allow the Tribute to carry on, but for Cullen, that kind of mismanagement was too great to bare [sic].” Has just 9 Twitter followers.
Shaun Donovan (D): Named the designated survivor for Obama during 2010 state of the Union.
Aaron Foldenauer (D): As a candidate for City Council in 2017, called on the authorities to jail De Blasio after security guards at a mayoral town hall confiscated his campaign pamphlets.
Quanda Francis (I): Currently pursuing her PhD in Information Science.
Kathryn Garcia (D): “In 1995, she married Jerry Garcia, who bears no relation to the Grateful Dead frontman.”
Garry Gurrier (D): An emergency room nurse who cared for NYC’s Covid patient zero, according to his campaign website.
Zach Iscol (D): Once thought Nick Jonas was Harry Styles:
Christopher S. Krietchman: Competed as a bodybuilder for 15 years.
Carlos Menchaca (D): Has modeled on the side while serving as a city councilman.
Ray McGuire (D): His stepson, Cole Anthony, is a point guard for the Orlando Magic.
Dianne Morales (D): Lives one block away from candidate Joycelyn Taylor in Bed-Stuy.
Bill Pepitone (R): Is the nephew of former New York Yankee Joe Pepitone.
Paperboy Love Prince (D): Was an avid Andrew Yang supporter, releasing the song “Yang Gang” in in 2019.
Scott Stringer (D): Has long received support from Scarlett Johansson, whose grandmother and twin brother worked with him.
Loree Sutton (D): Known as “the general” at her Manhattan boxing club.
Joycelyn Taylor (D): Lives one block away from Dianne Morales.
Sara Tirschwell (R): Is from Texas.
Isaac Wright Jr. (D): Wrongfully sentenced to life in prison on drug charges, became a paralegal while serving his sentence, and after 7 years was able to prove his own innocence in court. Inspired the ABC show “For Life.”
Maya Wiley (D): Owns four cats, NOT one, per City & State:
Andrew Yang: In 24 years of city residency, has never voted for mayor.
turnout in NYC’s 2017 mayoral election
-The rumors were true: last week, some lucky New Yorkers were able to get about-to-expire vaccines at the Brooklyn Army Terminal site. (Gothamist) But the city is on track to run out of doses this week. (CBS News)
-Workers at the South Bronx’s Hunts Point Produce Market are striking for better wages and healthcare support. The market provides 60% of the city’s produce, and grocery store shelves could soon feel the impact. (NY1)
Welcome to Brooklyn
Lauren VespoliDec 14, 20202
I’m trying something new that I hope to do more of in the future: taking a reader suggestion! If anyone has a New York question they want answered or a topic they’re simply curious about, please send it, and if I’m also intrigued I will happily go down the rabbit hole.
This topic comes courtesy of Kate T. and Andrew H.: the “Welcome to Brooklyn” signs. You know them, you love them (or maybe roll your eyes at them). On the Kosciuszko Bridge, it’s “Welcome to Brooklyn: Believe the Hype!” On the Verrazano Bridge: “Welcome to Brooklyn: How Sweet it Is!” As far as I can tell (but please let me know if this is wrong) these are the other slogans included on the “Welcome to Brooklyn” signs on all the East River bridges as well as several borough highways:
- “The Heart of America!”
- “Not Just a Borough, an Experience”
- “Name it… We Got it!”
- “Home to Everyone from Everywhere!”
- “Where New York City Begins!”
- “Like No Other Place in the World!”
- “Brooklyn’s in the House!”
As for leaving Brooklyn:
- “Leaving Brooklyn: Fuhgeddaboudit!”
- “Leaving Brooklyn: "Oy vey!”
Where did these phrases come from, and why is Brooklyn the only borough with such peppy highway signs? (Though in 2014, Queens did add “The World’s Borough” to all of its welcome signs).
The signs were the brainchild of former Borough President Marty Markowitz, and installed in the early oughts. “It was really about branding Brooklyn as a unique place to live, grow a family, have a business, work and be from,” he told The Brooklyn Eagle in 2016. Branding Brooklyn was a big part of Markowitz’s twelve-year tenure, which ran from 2001-2013. He often aligned with Mayor Bloomberg on the rezonings and development projects that changed the face of the borough, throwing his support behind major projects like the Barclays Center, the Coney Island Amphitheater, and the restoration of Kings Theatre in Flatbush, helping to usher in an era of rapid and widespread gentrification. He was also known for zany stunts like hosting a Valentine’s Day party for Brooklyn’s oldest couples, and standing on the Brooklyn Bridge during the 2003 blackout with a megaphone, yelling “Welcome Home to Brooklyn!”
Anyway, back to the signs. Their installation was not without drama. A resident complained that the “Leaving Brooklyn: Fuhgeddaboudit!” sign at the entrance to the Verrazano Bridge—which along with “How Sweet It Is!” was a reference to Brooklyn-set sitcom The Honeymooners—was anti-Italian. Markowtiz detailed his response to The New York Times in 2004: “I said, 'Listen, way before 'The Sopranos' were on, we in Brooklyn said 'Fuhgeddaboudit.' The man said: 'You're Jewish, Mr. Markowitz. How would you like a sign that says, 'Leaving Brooklyn, oy vey?' I said: 'What a great idea. Thank you.''' Despite pushback from the Department of Transportation on the grounds that an “Oy Vey!” sign could distract drivers and didn’t offer any information, they eventually relented and it was installed on the Williamsburg Bridge in 2005. In 2016, “Fuhgeddaboudit” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.
Photo by Meesh via Wikimedia Commons
Amount of time a DoorDash delivery worker would have to clock to able to buy one share of the company, which went public last Wednesday at $190 per share. I highly recommend The City’s recent piece on Los Deliveristas Unidos, an informal network of NYC delivery workers pushing for better pay and benefits. TIP IN CASH!
-The city’s famous 21 Club, a former Prohibition speakeasy (which was also next door to my great-grandparents’ restaurant Chalet Suisse!), is closing indefinitely. (Grub Street)
-In partnership with the New York Public Library, Gothamist is running a series called “Dear NYC” highlighting some of the library’s hidden gems. I love this 1970s photo collection of Brooklynites inside their apartments. (Gothamist)
Before Macy's, there was Ragamuffin Day
Lauren VespoliNov 30, 20201
Not even the pandemic could stop this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which traveled just one block instead of two miles, with only 130 masked balloon handlers instead of the usual 2,000.
But this wasn’t the city’s first masked Thanksgiving. Before the Macy’s parade became the centerpiece of the holiday in New York, there was a tradition known as Ragamuffin Day. From the late 1800s to the mid-20th century, children would dress up in masks and costumes, take to the streets, and beg for goodies like candy, pennies, and apples. According to the New York Public Library, the tradition dates back to around 1870—several years after President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in an effort to build unity after the Civil War, suddenly granting kids a day off from school.
They wore papier-mâché masks of animals and politicians, sailor and cowboy outfits, and beggar costumes consisting of oversized rags, which inspired the name “Ragamuffin Day.” If dressing up like poor people sounds problematic, there were also masks that “made fun of people of other nations ‘with greatly exaggerated facial peculiarities.’” Basically, imagine a more racist version of today’s Halloween.
Ragamuffin Day took hold in cities across the country including LA and Chicago. According to an 1897 article in The Los Angeles Times, Thanksgiving was "the busiest time of the year for the manufacturers of and dealers in masks and false faces.” But by 1930, New York’s adults had had enough. Superintendent of Schools William O’Shea distributed a memo to district superintendents and principals stating that "many citizens complain that on Thanksgiving Day they are annoyed by children dressed as ragamuffins, who beg for money and gifts." Yet the tradition persisted in the outer boroughs for several more decades. (In present-day Bay Ridge, there’s an annual children’s Ragamuffin Parade in October, and a street named Ragamuffin Way.)
By the 1950s, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade—which began in 1924, when costumed employees marched with animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo—had become the city’s dominant Thanksgiving spectacle (especially after it was featured in 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street) and Ragamuffin Day had been subsumed by Halloween.
“Thanksgiving Maskers,” ca. 1910, Image via the Library of Congress, Bain Collection
-Employees at Trader Joe’s and Roberta’s (which recently closed after several workers contracted Covid) are speaking out about unsafe work conditions: “I’m just concerned I’m gonna go to work and get infected and this is a job I have to do to keep my health insurance.” (Gothamist)
-The closure of spay-and-neuter clinics for months last spring has led to a cat-astrophic explosion in the city’s feline population: “We cannot adopt our way out of this problem.” (The City)
-The Christmas show will go on in midtown department store windows and Dyker Heights this year: “The windows are a time to say: ‘Hey, we’re New York. We’re here. And we’re big.’” (NY Times, Brooklyn Paper)
-Reconsidering the legacy of Mayor David Dinkins, who died last week at 93: “Most of all, his very incrementalism and cool cautiousness, the things that probably made him more acceptable to white voters in the first place, led to an image of inaction as one news event after another began to blow up around him.” (NYMag)
To the city's perpetual sound
Lauren VespoliNov 10, 2020
New York’s noise is one of its defining features. (It’s also the city’s biggest civic complaint, with an estimated 9 out of 10 adult New Yorkers exposed to excessive noise levels, as defined by the EPA.) While I’ve lived on First Avenue in the East Village and across from a fire station in Greenwich Village, in recent years I hadn’t given city noise much thought until last spring’s lockdown, when only sirens pierced the eerie hush. In response to the silence, the New York Public Library released Missing Sounds of New York, an album of soundscapes like a cab ride, a packed bar or a subway showtime, from a mix of archival and recreated sounds.
I was recently searching for more sonic snapshots when I came across the work of Tony Schwartz, the pre-eminent chronicler of New York’s aural landscape during the mid-20th century. Schwartz hosted the show “Adventures in Sound” on WNYC for 31 years, and recorded several albums of “folk expression,” or how New Yorkers lived and talked. (He also worked in advertising, most famously creating Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Daisy girl” ad.)
Roaming the streets with his portable tape recorder, his records captured city kids’ street games, the struggles of Puerto Rican immigrants in the 1950s, and dispatches from his Midtown West zip code. As Benjamin Serby notes in this piece for The Gotham Center, Schwartz was agoraphobic and didn’t like venturing far from home, instead focusing deeply on his immediate surroundings. He described recording as his way of “getting closer to life.”
Schwartz’s recordings make me feel like I’m eavesdropping on the past, onto a city that feels both foreign and familiar (especially when it comes to subway rider complaints). Per Schwartz, speaking on his 1956 album Sounds of My City: “The city of New York is made up of millions of people and of perpetual sound, and it’s in these many and endless sounds that you find a single rhythm and a single voice... The rhythm is everywhere. If you listen, you can find it right beside you.”
His WNYC archive is fun to explore, and if you’re curious, here are a few clips I especially liked:
- The moms of mom & pop businesses discuss dealing with thieves, 1969
- The morning people of New York, 1969
- Some bonkers recommendations for cold remedies, including sugar and kerosene, 1970
- The sounds of a New York Christmas—longer but worth it for the children’s musings on God, 1962
Amount the MTA could be forced to slash subway and bus service if it doesn’t receive $12 billion in relief from Congress by the end of 2021 (!!!). The city’s ability to secure this funding could depend on the two Senate seat runoffs in Georgia. Cool cool cool. (NY Daily News)
-If you’re exposed to COVID, the city of New York will walk your dog:
Ashley THEE Ghoul @AshleyAtTimesHad to check with my City Hall colleagues to make sure I heard this correctly, but my ears did not fail: New York City's Test and Trace Corps is offering to walk dogs for people exposed to/infected with Covid.
I can’t include video without a YouTube link, so here’s one jerky gif of Saturday’s scene on Bedford Avenue:
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