Archive for October, 2005
The latest addition to Maggie’s blog is up. Have a
“It’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.”
“How can you live there?”
The two statements above are variants of something that has really come to irritate me in the nine years I’ve lived in New York. People from elsewhere, primarily mid-sized cities on the West Coast reveal themselves to be jealous idiots by dissing the the most important, lively, and safest place in the world.
The latest case is someone hailing from my own home state. Gerry Frank is an octagenarian gadabout who lives in Salem, Oregon, chairman of the Oregon Tourism Commission, who is best known for his travel guide “Where to find it, buy it, eat it in New York.”
Profiled earlier this week in the Metro section of The New York Times, he lets fly with the most typical of back-handed insults against the place he claims to love. In the third graf he proudly admits to thinking that “New York City ‘is a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there,’ adding, ‘I love Oregon.'”
Funny how that works out, Gerry. We don’t want you.
What bothers me most about people who visit New York, praise it as a tourist destination, and then slam it as a place to live, is that in my experience people feel allowed to say this about New York and nowhere else.
This is a strange social rule. People can insult New York by saying “I could never live there,” but if a New Yorker were to say the same thing about some outback town in a fly-over state, they’d be panned as an elitist prig.
I grew up in Oregon, and I know enough about Salem to call it was it is: A place that revels in its own irrelevance. Nowhere else can you find a population so arrogant, yet having so little to be arrogant about.
Apparently Frank’s tenure on the tourism commission hasn’t done much. Personally I never hear of anyone visiting Oregon for any reason, personal or business. And the numbers bear this out. The commission reported last year that tourism grossed the Oregon economy $6.9 billion. Compare that to neighboring Washington State, which brought in $11.6 billion in direct travel spending. Apparently Oregon is neither a nice place to live, nor does anyone visit.
That dig about “I couldn’t live there” contains a few layers of meaning. One is about the perceptions of safety in New York. But let’s look at Salem. In 2003, violent crime in Salem was more than twice what it was in 1985. That makes for a crime rate of 360 per 100,000, versus 250 in 1985. In 2003, Oregon had the fourth-highest rate of propertly crime in the nation.
For the same period, safety in New York improved, and not just a little, but substantially. In 1985, out of every 100,000 people, 1,881 were the victims of violent crime. By 2003, that number had fallen more than twofold to 734. Still higher than in Salem, but improving constantly. Meanwhile Franks’ utopia of Salem seems to be more crime-ridden by the day. Given its c current rate of increase, and the persistent rate of New York’s decrease, Salem’s crime rate per 100,000 citizens will be on par or slightly higher than that of New York by the end of this decade — and that says nothing good about a city of less than 150,000 inhabitants.
These backhanded insults are silently yet inexplicably tolerated when said about New York, but of nowhere else. New Yorkers abhor the senitment greatly — the Times reporter knew to ask Frank about it. If you’re not a New Yorker, you should never say anything like “I couldn’t live there,” because it makes you look stupid. And these comments are rooted in simple failings of human emotion: Raging jealousy and envy, and no small part of ignorance. More often than not, people dismiss what they can’t have in order to disguise the fact that they wish they could have it. By saying he “couldn’t” live here Frank is revealing a great deal about his emotional state on the subject. Change the word “couldn’t” to “can’t” as in “unable,” or more precisely “circumstances beyond one’s control.”
He doesn’t live here for some unknown reason. Yet the in the Times article, he says he visits the city for one week every month, or more than a quarter of each year. (Is this even appropriate for someone who actually has a job promoting tourism somewhere else?) It may be financial — maybe he has a really bad book agent — or something else. Maybe he’s afraid that he doesn’t have what it takes (or at his age, never had it) to “make it here” and thus prove, as Sinatra so famously sang, that he could make it anywhere.
Meanwhile, look at who does live here. Pick a musician, performer, writer, composer, producer, politician, philantrophist, philosopher, poet, painter, sculptor, financier, entrepreneur, or pretty much anyone you’ve ever heard of. Chances are they live here, lived here, are planning to live here, or wish they did.
The only person I’ve ever heard of hailing from Salem is Gerry Frank, and that’s only because he’s riding on the coattails of a city which by his own admission is one in which he wouldn’t live.
The next time someone ever says to me any variation of “How can you live there?” referring to New York City, I’m going to turn the question right around to them, and ask them how they can live where they do. When I travel, I see how other people live. After nine years of living in the best city in the world, I can’t imagine living anywhere else, and find other places intolerable, inhospitable, and unsafe.
Maybe I could use a few connections, get an invitation to dinner at Gerry Frank’s house in Salem, and on my way out the door, tell him “It’s a nice house, but I don’t think I could live here.” How socially tactful is that?
The same rules of propriety should apply to people visiting New York. Don’t come here if you’re going to insult it. Show your respect, and remember that the reason it exists has nothing to do with you, but rather because of people who could choose to live anywhere else in the world, not only “can” live here, but do. When you say you “couldn’t live there” you reveal yourself as one of those lesser beings, who indeed “can’t” live here for reasons that are beyond your control.
This is a 26-second taken with my mobile phone of the new office and the view out the windows. It’s really just an experiment to see how video from the phone interacts with the Audioblog service. Don’t expect much. This clip is really just about my curiousity more than anything else.