Category Archives: Gotham

A mystery: 5

David Pogue prepares for a panel on taxicab technology, and along the way figures out something that I never quite understood: the difference between New York’s medallion cabs and “black car” services:

There’s a good reason why there’s no still no wireless way to let taxi drivers know you want a cab. Or, rather, a bad reason.

In the 1970’s, New York made a deal with the taxi drivers and the “black car” drivers. The rule: Black cars aren’t allowed to pick up passengers spontaneously hailing on the street; those people are for the yellow cabs only. On the other hand, in New York, you can’t call ahead for a yellow cab; that would eat into the black cars’ business.

There are, in fact, smartphone apps that let you summon a cab to your position, like TaxiMagic for the iPhone. But they can’t call cabs in New York. Why? Because summoning a taxi like this is against the law. That’s not hailing; it’s prearrangement, and that’s the domain of the black cars.

I don’t know. If I were the taxi union, I’d argue that the definition of “hailing” has to change with the times. Surely sending out an “I’m here! Come pick me up” signal, by Taxi Magic, text message or whatever, is little more than a modern-day version of sticking your arm out at the curb.

I also didn’t know that there are three times as many black cars as medallion cabs, but this makes sense when you consider the particular political-economic pressures that have affected the supply of medallions over the years.

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More mistakes

Jennifer 8. Lee tours the New York subway system with Paul Shaw, author of “The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway,” (linked previously) and takes lots of pictures.

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Or, How a mistake by the fabrication shop became a design element

Via The Morning News, Paul Shaw tells “The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway” in a deliciously-illustrated nine-page essay, which includes digressions into the history of the system map, the Chrystie Street Connection snafu, and a refresher on 1970’s-era type technology.

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Rogers Peet

Rogers Peet Co.I was rereading J.D. Salinger’s “Hapworth 16, 1924,” which Sally had graciously printed from her copy of the New Yorker archives (19 June 1965), and there on page 111 was further evidence of Sarah and Adelaide’s favorite haberdasher. Jeez Louise, if their idea of fashion on the mid-1960s was the “Eton-style cap of Arnel triacetate and cotton blend in Oxford weave” (the ugly helmet on the right), they deserved to go out of business.

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Squeezing the melons

Adelaide and Sarah summon the names of a few defunct retailers in “Marry the Man Today.” Adelaide’s intro begins:

At Wanamaker’s and Saks and Klein’s,
A lesson I’ve been taught:
You can’t get alterations
On a dress you haven’t bought.

Saks Fifth Avenue (founded by Andrew Saks, and hence no apostrophe) is still with us, after the usual bewildering chain of ownership exchanges. I didn’t know that Saks had merged with Gimbel’s by 1923, but maintaining its distinct branding. Middlebrow Gimbel’s, of course, has passed on. When I was in graduate school, I bought a great sweater from the downtown Philadelphia store.

The Philadelphia institution founded by John Wanamaker, now merged into Hecht’s and then Macy’s, once had a million-square-foot flagship store in New York at 770 Broadway. Klein’s would be S. Klein, On the Square, also long gone from Union Square.

But the real poser comes in the first bridge:

ADELAIDE: Slowly introduce him to the better things, respectable, conservative, and clean.
SARAH: Reader’s Digest!
ADELAIDE: Guy Lombardo!
SARAH: Rogers Peet!
ADELAIDE: Golf!
SARAH: Galoshes!
ADELAIDE: Ovaltine!

As punctuated in the libretto, Rogers Peet sounds like the name of a self-help guru from the first half of the century, someone like Norman Vincent Peale, Émile Coué, or Dale Carnegie. But it turns out to designate the merger of the businesses of men’s clothiers Marvin N. Rogers and Charles Bostwick Peet. Rogers, Peet & Co. was a nineteenth-century retailing innovator, introducing tags that identified fabric content and price (no haggling!) and a money-back guarantee. The final Rogers, Peet store closed in the mid-1980s.

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Summer Garden

Naturally, Miss Dawn Astra reciprocates Ambrose Hammer’s love, because all the time she is Julius Smung’s sweet pea, the best she ever gets is a free taxi ride now and then, and Julius seldom speaks of her as an artist. To tell the truth, Julius is always beefing about her playing the part of a strip dancer, as he claims it takes her too long to get her clothes back on when he is waiting outside the Summer Garden for her, and the chances are Ambrose Hammer is a pleasant change to Miss Dawn Astra as Ambrose does not care if she never gets her clothes on.

—Damon Runyon, “So You Won’t Talk!”

The various venues known as the Winter Garden are well-known in New York, but I had never heard of the Summer Garden. So far, all I’ve been able to turn up is a 19th-century theater also known as Wallack’s Theatre. Not much on dates of operation, but by 1937 the repertory at Wallack’s seems to have moved downscale.

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Thump

Ellen Barry and James Estrin follow Colin Grubel, graduate student in biology at Queens College, to Swinburne Island in Lower New York Bay. Swinburne hosts a colony of Double-Crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), whose numbers have rebounded, like those of other top predators, in response to the DDT ban. Grubel’s field work involves collecting cormorant boli, in order to determine what food items they’re taking. (And thus perhaps to foster greater acceptance of the birds by fishermen, who see them as competition.) Fortunately for Grubel, the birds are very forthcoming with their regurgitation.

“I’ve been hit on occasion,” he said. “In some ways it’s almost this great personal experience between you and the birds.”

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Shame, shame

Via The Morning News: Michael Bloomberg can’t be bothered to take the local IRT and change at 59th Street. Good graphics.

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A little touch of Atget in New York

Via wood s lot, Irwin Klein’s Manhattan street photography from 1964-69. My favorite, of course, is the shot of a passage in the subway with a prominent West Side Downtown IRT sign.

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