Visiting New York City
Getting to NYC
New York City is a food-lover's paradise. In order to afford a long stay, we decided to sublet our house. We had wondered if anyone would be interested in subletting our house in Kansas City but we figured we had nothing to lose by trying. Surprisingly, we had several inquiries the first day after advertising on Craig's List. We ended up finding a responsible couple that even agreed to look after our cat while we were away. So on October of 2009, we made the move to New York for four months.
To avoid an extended hotel stay we secured a furnished studio sublet in Brooklyn, site unseen except for the couple pictures posted on Craig's list. We had a SupperShuttle drive us to the Kansas City Airport ($31). We flew into LaGuardia (LGA), arriving in the afternoon. Other nearby airports include JFK and Newark. We took a taxi ride from the airport into Brooklyn ($40). Upon arrival we paid our sub-landlord ($1350) and settled in.
After a couple weeks in Brooklyn we began looking for a sublet in Manhattan for the following months. Ironically it was much more difficult the second time even though we were right in New York, mostly because we set a budget lower than what was available. Our original intent was to find a furnished sublet for not that much more than $1400/month. After visiting the different areas we were attracted to 14th Street around Union Square and the East Village. Later we discovered SOHO (South of Houston). Besides the higher price, the problems with the sublets we were finding included apartments that were too small, too far away from the subway, too far north, or the move in dates and sublet durations were not corresponding to our time table. Just when we were beginning to get discouraged, we found an unfurnished studio in the Upper West Side on 86th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam. The tenant who was looking to sublet his apartment was Japanese musician who had to leave for Japan to perform in a concert in the next few days. He originally asked $1650 plus utilities but called us back and offered us the place for $1425. To make sure we weren't being scammed, we spoke to the apartment manager and confirmed their contact info on internet listings before we finalized the agreement. We spent hours cleaning the apartment and ended up spent about $600 to out fit the place so we didn't spend much more that what we had originally budgeted.
Like most small cities, I'm used to getting into my car, driving maybe 5 to 10 minutes, finding free parking within meter of where I'm going, and getting back without incident. Unless you're going to the corner deli, getting around in New York City is a much bigger ordeal.
New York City consists of 5 boroughs including The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. Most tourists seem to spend most of there time in south and central portions on Manhattan Island. Some of these areas include the Financial District, China Town, Lower East Side, Little Italy, SoHo, Greenwich Village, West Village, Flatiron District, Meatpacking District, Murray Hill, Hell's Kitchen, Midtown Center, Upper East Side, and Upper West Side. Much of Manhattan is arrange on a grid, starting north of Houston (pronounced 'How-ston') and north of the Village. Facing north-northeast with a map, streets travel horizontally with street numbers getting larger as you travel uptown. Avenues travel vertically with Avenue numbers (1-12) getting larger as you travel westward.
With a map or an iphone's GPS, understanding how to get somewhere is not too complicated, although getting there can take some effort and patience. Taxi cabs are probably the easiest way to get around but if you are on a budget, the mass transit system (including subway and bus) is the way to go. We purchased unlimited subway and bus passes ($89/mth) and left our cars at home, saved a bundle on gas and auto insurance. Although subway maps are posted at the subway stations, it can be very useful to have a subway map in hand so you can refer to it when you're on the move and so you can plan your trip before you step out your door. You can pick up a subway map at some of the subway stations. More compact and durable plastic coated maps can be purchased at a bookstore. Google Maps, HopStop.com or MTA.info can also be helpful. Even when using the subway, a lot of walking is required, if you want to really see the city.
If you do use the iPhone's GPS, just be aware that it can sometimes be unreliable in pinpointing your exact location in New York, perhaps due to the taller buildings so it is better to keep your eye out for street signs so can manually keep track of your actual location. I once was walking back and fourth and in circles for 45 minutes as the iPhone continued to change its mind on where I was in relation to the nearest ATM.
See Photos of New York City.
Many New Yorkers living in the inner city have told us they hardly use their kitchen. Kitchens are small, groceries are relatively expensive, and it's often a hassle carrying home more than a few bags of groceries by taxi, bus, sub, or on foot. Some people use small fold out carts ($20-25) so they can wheel their groceries home. Alternatively a small grocery store / deli can be found every few blocks. Unfortunately not all stores list prices leaving you wondering. If you prefer not to eat out every meal, we recommend Trader Joe's for value and friendly staff which is, sadly, hard to find in NYC. Whole Foods is quite popular in New York City. Chelsea Market (75 9th Ave) is a destination market, not to be missed if you're a diehard food lover. C Town and Western Beef are two of the least expensive grocery stores but can be of the way for many. The first Costco Wholesale Club in Manhattan opened in November 2009. CVS and Walgreen's Pharmacy have good prices on bare essentials like milk, eggs, dish soap, and TP.
You're never really going to experience New York City staying in your apartment or hotel room. Get out and experience some of these exciting activities:
It's not hard to get plenty of exercise when you're walking everywhere in New York. Central Park is an obvious place for a jog or walk. Other places for scenic walks include the High Line and the Brooklyn Promenades. The High Line Park/Promenade sits on a converted 1930s railroad trestle situated 30 feet over the streets, traveling through the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea, and Hell's Kitchen/Clinton. The Brooklyn Promenade overlooks the Manhattan Skyline and can be especially spectacular or romantic at night. Some bicycle companies offer rentals for about $25/day or $75/week.
Commercial gyms abound throughout the city with much better equipment. You can typically get a better rate if you sign a year contract (Averaging range $25-$199 initiation fee and $69-$130 per months) with the understanding that you can cancel early by showing proof of a new out-of-town address with 30 to 60 days notice. Clubs typically present you with inflated initiation fees and tell you that if you join right away you can get a reduced rate or a free month. Ask for a free trial workout after you hear their sales pitch. This alone could carry you through the next few weeks after visiting several facilities. See New York City Gym Reviews.
Also see ExRx.net for exercise information and tools for fitness enthusiasts.
Finding a public toilet is one of the most difficult challenges when visiting New York. We soon got familiar with the best public restroom options throughout the city. Not wanting to add fuel to the fire, we preferred to avoid having to fill up on coffee every time we need to relieve ourselves. Depending on the time of day we favor Whole Foods, Gap, Borders, and department stores, and city libraries and parks. In a pinch we settle for a Starbucks or a fast food restaurant. There are surprisingly many stores and restaurants with no public restrooms so plan on holding it for a while until you learn the lay of the land. There are also surprisingly few subway stations with toilets and the few that I have used were occupied by people who evidently found it and good place to lie down and rest. We recently read about an iPhone app that will show you all the public restrooms in New York City. Now that sounds useful!
With some exception, customer service appears to be generally very poor in many New York City stores and businesses. It's common to find staff and business owners either rude or indifferent. I've certainly seen poor customer service in other parts of the country and other cities around the world but we were amazed to see the frequency and severity of bad customer service in New York City. Even the basic courtesies of saying, "thank you", "may I help you", or even "excuse me". are generally non-existent.
It's interesting to see a complete role reversal between the customer and store worker. Like the famous 'Soup Nazi' episode on Seinfeld, a customer almost apologetically places his order seemingly afraid to bother the grumpy counter worker. At a well known coffee shop, a worker hastily bangs around chairs, doors, and equipment oblivious or indifferent to the fact he's disturbing patrons. After asking a store clerk the location of an advertised special, he grunts, "I don't know" and walks off. A hospital receptionist abruptly hangs up the phone without saying "good-bye" or "thank you" (just like in the movies). A clerk at a laundromat insisted we move our clothes as we prepared to put them in the machine so he can wipe off the top instead of just waiting for us to finish or just going around us. Store staff run right over you without saying a word, evidently expecting you to move out of their way. A high end fitness club with the slogan, 'Does your gym inspire you?' tells me I can not look at the facility now but I could come back later in the day when someone might be available to show me around. A restaurant clerk yells at me for asking for a receipt after I pay instead of before. Those are only a few examples of everyday interactions in NYC.
I don't know if people that work at these businesses don't have customer service skills or just don't think that they are necessary. Perhaps the employee's behaviors are a manifestation of their misery or a maybe a reflection of their management.
A life long New Yorker of 82 years of age suggested a New Yorker's demeanor reflects the bustle of New York life. He further explained it is not that they are rude; it's just normal behavior for them.
Another New Yorker, explained when she traveled to Arizona, she was skeptical of the motives of one store clerk. She later discovered most all store clerks there had a friendly customer service demeanor, something that was foreign to her, coming from New York City.
Even after 6 weeks of living in NYC, the poor customer service (and lack of) did not bother us as much as it did our earlier weeks here; it just became the way of life. We too had become used to it.
Poor customer service seems to be the norm in New York City, rather than the exception. We observe it at about half of the businesses we visit each day. New York is not without excellent customer service, you just look harder to find it, and perhaps pay more too. We are delighted when we do find the occasional stores that treat their patrons with respect and courtesy we are accustomed to.
Our sub-landlord agreed to purchase our furniture and accessories for $500 for his next sub-renter. In appreciate, we placed an advertisement in Craig's List to find his next sub-renter. The next day we had several inquiries and closed the deal the following day.
We packed our belonging and cleaned the apartment. We had mixed feelings when it was time to go.
Although we are glad to be back to friendly faces, open spaces, and the conveniences of a real home, we miss the culinary adventures we had in NYC. In contrast to the bustle of New York, Kansas City now seems like tumble weeds should be blowing across the roads.