Jospeh Mitchell and How to Enjoy New York City

A few weeks ago, The New Yorker ran a previously unpublished essay by former staff writer Joseph Mitchell, who died in 1996. The essay was a celebration of the city and its less-touted pockets. Mitchell describes in detail how he spent his days crisscrossing the city by subway and bus, getting off at random spots and just walking. Sometimes he’d re-visit much-loved buildings, and  he seemed to have a propensity for churches–their evolution and the spiritual nature of each one’s specific brand of faith–but mostly, he walked. And it wasn’t just aesthetic pleasure he was after. He’d often end up near abandoned warehouses and in front of weed-filled tableaus. It was the totality of the city and everything it had to offer, which for Mitchell meant seeking out not the gilded midtown he saw daily, “but the vast, spread-out, sooty-gray and sooty-brown and sooty-red and sooty-pink horizontal city, the snarled-up and smoldering city, the old, polluted, betrayed, and sure-to-be-torn-down-any-time-now city.”

Mitchell’s relationship with the city is a prescription for how best to enjoy it. He and I are kindred in that regard. It’s hard to really know a place without seeing it from every angle–from the manicured highrises to the poverty-stricken projects and everything in between. And there’s no better way to see it than to walk. Everywhere. A lot. And there are few places in the world better suited for that kind of exploration. I love the anticipation and excitement I feel before journeying to a neighborhood I haven’t spent much time in. Each block has the potential to delight, inspire and educate. New York is, after all, a city of perpetual discovery.

This is Why: A Glimpse of the Sunset on a Dreary Day

Today was a nondescript gray day–the kind of day that populates February and March in NYC. I was ready to write it off until I caught a small peak of the sun from a Manhattan-bound Q train. The sun’s rays descended below the cloud line and behind the Brooklyn Bridge at the precise moment my subway car barreled across the Manhattan Bridge. It seemed as though the scene was prepped for my enjoyment specifically, to lift me out of my winter doldrums. Well played, New York.

The sunset as seen from the Q train passing over the Manhattan Bridge

The sunset as seen from the Q train passing over the Manhattan Bridge

*This is Why showcases moments that remind me why I love NYC.

Tip: How to Get a Great Bagel at Any [Decent] Bagel Place

A blog can incite an intense comment flame war just by posting a “Top Bagels in NYC” list. See here and here. I’m not going to do that (at least not yet). What I’m focusing on today is how to get a good bagel near wherever you are, because not all of us having the energy for a bagel pilgrimage first thing on a Saturday morning.

Steps to Securing a Great Bagel:

1. Scout out a decent bagel place close to your home. It doesn’t have to be the best, just good. Do a few minutes of research. You don’t want to be at the worst place when the pretty good place is just as close.

2. Ask for what’s warm. Seriously, this is so crucial. A fresh bagel will always be better than one that’s been sitting around since 6 a.m. Figure out your top three bagels. Yes, maybe you’re a die-hard everything bagel guy, but have a few backups, in case the top choice is stale. If you love everything, poppy can be a good substitute, as well as garlic. People always go to sesame, but I find it often lacks flavor.

3. Ask for your bagel “well-baked.” I’ve actually never seen anyone else do this, but it is so important. If they don’t understand what that means (though really, they should), explain that you want a “dark” bagel in the basket of fresh bagels. The key to a great bagel, in my humble opinion, is the contrast between a dark, crunchy exterior and a chewy, doughy-but-not-too-doughy interior. You’re not going to get that with an undercooked bagel. I’ve gone to some great bagel places only to find they’ve given me the lightest bagel in the batch. When a bagel isn’t toothsome, you feel as though you’re biting into a mound of dough.

Below are two bagels from the EXACT SAME BAGEL PLACE. The bagel on the left is passable, fine. The bagel on the right is a dream. And let me be clear: This is very much a neighborhood place, not a destination. But an incredible bagel is still possible, if you know how to order!

Undercooked plain bagel versus perfectly cooked everything bagel

Undercooked plain bagel versus perfectly cooked everything bagel

4. Check out the lox before you place your order. Is it pre-sliced and a little too orange? Go with lox spread. A lox sandwich in this city is way too expensive (up to $10) for you to be paying for mediocre and often just-plain-bad lox. Also, this may not be for everyone, but my husband and I like to have good smoked salmon on-hand at home so we can make our own bagel sandwiches, which, if I may brag, rival those at Russ & Daughter’s.

Sidenote: I’m not going to get into the “are bagels are getting too big?” debate.  I like bagels of all sizes, though it’s true that when they’re smaller, they’re more manageable. But hey, I won’t throw a flavorful large bagel out of bed, or more accurately, my mouth.

This is Why: Collective Urban Experience

When my brother and I were kids and it snowed at our house in the suburbs, we’d go outside and play while our parents took photos. Sometimes, we’d have a snowball fight with neighbors. When the roads were finally plowed, maybe we’d make it to a local park for sledding. Overall though, our experience was family- and neighbor-centric.

When something happens in NYC, whether it’s a snowstorm or a transit strike or a Giants’ Super Bowl victory, the entire city experiences it together, for better or worse.

After an 11 inch snowfall last weekend, our local park, Prospect Park, was packed with people. There was sledding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and casual strolling. And everyone was noticeably giddy. During times like these we feed off each other’s positive energy, and that’s a lovely thing.

Sledding near the 9th Street entrance in Prospect Park

Sledding near the 9th Street entrance in Prospect Park

*This is Why showcases moments that remind me why I love NYC.

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