nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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Bureaucratic tendencies

I am frustrated. I thought I had learnt to brush off the rude side of New York, that I could cope with no one saying thank you and yet constantly asking me how I am, but it appears not.

First, there is 311, which according to nyc.gov is:

“New York City’s main source of government information and non-emergency services. Whether you’re a resident, business owner, or visitor, help is just a click, text, or call away.”

On Saturday I rang 311, inspired by R’s tale of getting back the scooter and lunch box he had left in the boot (err trunk) of the taxi when he was with E last week. He had rung them and they had traced the taxi driver using his credit card information, used to pay for the ride, and the taxi driver had come back to our building to return our things. I was very impressed.

But when I rang them I got quite a different experience. I had walked by a Range Rover with both of its front windows smashed in and glass all over the pavement and road. I was with J but thought I would ring 311 to tell them so that they could alert the police and owner. Battling my way with the voice recognition software of 311 which clearly wasn’t trained to understand a British accent, it finally gives in and sends me off to a real human. She then palms me off on 911 – the police – probably because she couldn’t understand me either.

And this is where it gets really painful. I explain to the lady on 911 that I have seen the car, it’s not my  car (yes, I tell her this three times) but I just want to do the right thing and report it. No, the person who did it is not there, as if they would hang around while I made the call.

She asks me for my details as the officer will want to speak to me. Why? Because there has to be someone for them to talk to. I wonder if this is loneliness on their part? Surely just knowing the address and looking at the car will give them all they clues they need to work out what happened?  They don’t need me. At this point I say to her that I have a roaming toddler, I’m on my way somewhere, I don’t want to hang around. So she refuses to take the street information from me. End of conversation. Well done, NYPD!

I walked by the next day and the car was covered in black plastic and tape, but the glass was still all over the place.

And today it didn’t get much better as the lady at the post office refused to take the lovingly sorted coins of our piggy bank (elephant shaped) telling me in no uncertain terms “I ain’t takin’ no quarters. I don’t want all your coins!” And sends me off with my tail firmly between my legs. Blimey. What fabulous service.

The bank was the same, you have to provide the coins in paper rolls. Really? My piggy bank doesn’t offer that service. So here I am stuck with tonnes of coins and nowhere to change them. Looks like I’ll be taking them all to CVS and their self service tills, that’ll irritate the locals!


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The appeal of Peel

There is a relatively new Commissioner of the NYPD – the last one, Raymond Kelly, went when Bloomberg left office on 1 January this year. His name is William J Bratton. He tried to become the head of the London Metropolitan Police a few years back but is now Commissioner here in New York for the second time.

He has a bit of a thing about the UK and invokes the spirit of Robert Peel in his approach to police work. He even carries round piece of paper with the nine principles of policing developed by Peel in the 19th Century. Peel of course famously founding the London Metropolitan Police during his stint as Home Secretary. He went on to be the British Prime Minister twice in the 1830s and 1840s.

Commissioner’s Corner on the NYPD website provides Bratton with the perfect forum to expound his love of Peel. Even the title sounds like some cosy 1970s afternoon show on the BBC. A true Anglophile.

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Ah, so that’s why

There are NYPD cops all over the place around 4pm this afternoon and there are railings the length of Park Avenue. This is the Upper East Side, what is going on?

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One cop tells us that the President ‘may be coming down here soon, but we don’t know’. I overhear another cop tell a lady that there’s a film shoot going on, so they’re shutting down the streets. I tend to believe the former as I read in the New York Times that the President is in town to visit schools in Brooklyn and that they shut down Prospect Park because of it. Blimey. Well, I was on a train back from Washington last night, he could have sat next to me and kipped on our sofa bed. Much cheaper.

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Dr Who uses the TARDIS to travel through time and space in an old fashioned police box, not seen in the UK since the last one was decommissioned in 1981. The boxes were originally constructed in the US in the late 19th Century and the idea took on in London in the 1930s when they cost 43 pounds each to install. Containing a telephone and a first aid box, they were intended for the public to use in an emergency at a time when there was no widespread use of telephones. Why am I writing about this? Well, I have been noticing little red boxes all over New York with Fire and Police on them. You can see from the picture below, one that is attached to a lampost; others are self standing, usually at the intersection of a street and an avenue. Lift up the flap under the word Fire or Police and there is a button to call the respective emergency service operator. Lots of these boxes went out of action after Hurricane Sandy because the electrics flooded and many have not yet been mended.  I understand that there is a city law that says they have to be available and according to a City Councillor I heard speak recently, they are more reliable at getting you to a fire or police operator than calling 911. They seem very out dated for a modern world, sitting solemnly at the corner of the street. I’ve never seen anyone use one, but it’s reassuring to know they are there, just in case.

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New York, Paris, Peckham

This may be a theme, being reminded of old UK TV shows whilst living in New York, but the image of Del Boy and his faithful yellow Robin Reliant bearing the words New York, Paris, Peckham comes to mind every time I see the three wheeler NYPD cars that litter the streets of New York. As far as I can tell they are for the Traffic Enforcement Agents (that’s parking wardens to us), which are part of NYPD. To me the New York police is NYPD Blue. I was a big fan of NYPD Blue, with the handsome Jimmy Smits playing Detective Bobby Simone alongside the not so handsome Detective Andy Sipowitz played by Dennis Franz. It stopped in the mid 90s with Jimmy Smits popping up more recently in an implausible plotline in Dexter. Every time I see an NYPD cop on the street I think about the show. I’m sure the novelty will wear off soon, I certainly didn’t think of the now defunct ITV series The Bill when I walked around London and saw the Met police! In New York, NYPD officers rather dangerously stand in the middle of avenues, directing traffic (even though there seem to be perfectly good traffic lights working) wearing masks over their mouths to protect them from the exhaust fumes. They tell you to cross when the pedestrian lights don’t agree. Here, when the orange hand is still it means ‘no, don’t cross, you may die” and when it flashes it means ‘maybe you can cross, but you could get run over and still die’. When it changes to the white lit outline of a person of indeterminate sex it means ‘walk, but if a car wants to cross the crossing, turning left or right, it will and mostly ignore you, so watch out’. The safest place seems to be the three wheelers where the agents spend their time drinking coffee and keeping warm watching the traffic go by.