Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Chomping Champ Chestnut Swallows Victory

Look out stomach! There he goes again! Nathan’s two-time and defending champion hot-dog eater, Joey Chestnut, ate 45 slices of pizza in 10 minutes to win the Famous Famiglia World Pizza Eating Championship. That’s the equivalent of 5 ½ 16” diameter cheese pies! Godzilla eating his way through Tokyo had a snack compared to Chestnut gorging on "cheesy triangles" in formerly sleazy Times Square! It’s his first pizza pie contest victory. Joey’s chestnuts may soon be in the fire though from new competition. With the fast-rising cost of food in New York City, many city residents may soon be looking to enter food contests just for the “free eats!”

Ellis Island Immigrant #1

On January 1, 1892, Ellis Island opened its doors to the world. 14-year old Annie Moore from Ireland became the very first immigrant to be processed there. She received a $10 gold piece in commemoration of the event and was front-page news. Once the “Wee Annie” accolades died away, she went on to make her way in her new country. Sadly, she led a fairly hard life on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. When she died at 50, Annie was buried in an unmarked grave in Calvary Cemetery in Queens; placed there with 5 of her 11 children. A recent film about Ellis Island led to curiosity about what happened to her. Filmmaker Megan Smolenyak and city Records Commissioner Brian Andersson searched through numerous records to uncover her fate. Once found, five of Annie’s great-grandchildren raised $25,000 to give the family matriarch a beautiful headstone and commemoration ceremony attended by 200 family and friends from America and Ireland. Though Annie’s life wasn’t easy, many of her descendants prospered here. That was America before Ellis Island. That was America in 1892 and the early 1900’s. That’s America today. Only in America are people from around the world welcomed as they are. God bless America for it.

Tour Buses Obscure The Sights

“On a clear day, you can see” … well, thanks to many tour bus industry owners, you may not even be able to see across the street! There are eleven major tour bus companies in the Big Apple. All were required to retrofit their vehicles by January 1, 2007. A recent report from the Department of Environmental Protection concluded that only one company (Gray Line New York City Tours) of the eleven tour companies performed any emission upgrades "by the deadline" … and that was only on 19 of their 206 vehicles! To date, six companies have taken initial steps for vehicle conversion, three have taken no steps whatsoever and one has gone out of business. Double-decker tour buses can emit up to six times the pollution of city buses and other buses up to 25 times. All bus companies continue to operate without fines or any serious threat of license revocation. The DEP states it’s compiling a new report that will likely show better conversion compliance. Imagine the numbers it might have shown if city-imposed deadlines were actually enforced! However, it would seem in this instance that the concern for the greening of our city is less important than the "green dollars" tourism brings.

Boxed In By Debt

In a sense, we Americans and our politicians have outspent The National Debt Clock located above 44th Street and Sixth Avenue. As a result, 14 boxes instead of 13 boxes are required to display America’s debt on this electronic financial measure. To broadcast our record $10.2 trillion deficit, a “1” was added to the box that previously displayed only the dollar sign. Each family’s share of the estimated debt ... a gut-wrenching $86,000! Where once Americans only took on debt for necessities or to build assets, now we "flash plastic" for frivolities. Want some good news? Debt can’t increase to a $100 trillion number. The clock doesn't have enough boxes for it.

Tin Pan Alley Hits Bad Note

Those who enjoy local music history and those who look to preserve it “won’t like the sound of this!” Five buildings from New York City’s famous “Tin Pan Alley” will be sold and demolished for $44 million. The four-story brownstone buildings at 47, 49, 51, 53 and 55 West 28th Street will be razed to be replaced by yet another (Do we really need “another?”) high-rise tower. This area on West 28th Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway was the heart of American music between the 1890’s and 1950’s. Some consider it the “birthplace” of American music. This was the place where songwriters and music publishers once "cranked out and crooned their hit tunes.” No more. Perhaps a bronze plaque will commemorate what once took place here. Perhaps not. One thing is certain though. East Side, West Side, All Around The Town … things are definitely changing. Perhaps without proper reverence and concern about our past. And the beat goes on.

20/20 Vision For Ground Zero

New Yorkers know that rebuilding at the World Trade Center site has been painfully slow with many hurdles. In the past, the Port Authority has generally made it difficult for us to peer into Ground Zero as if to hide their disgrace. Suddenly, the Port Authority has changed its view and will change our view of this cherished land. A new, see-through mesh fence will be erected. Described as a “clean and informative wrapping,” it will enclose much of the area’s 16-acres. Imprinted directly onto this fencing will be artist renderings of all the site’s signature projects. Screen designs will be updated periodically to reflect building design modifications and progress. There’ll be an open viewing area created on Liberty Street enabling spectators to look straight down into the construction pit. The new PA barrier is a clever concept and welcome change. It should be remembered that no fence will ever be more touching or inspiring than those which sprung up throughout New York City in the days and weeks following 9/11. New Yorkers spontaneously created those fences where the world collectively grieved. Seven years after September 11th 2001, New Yorkers should see more than "pretty pictures" on a barrier. We should see floor after floor of magnificent towers rising towards the heavens. Let’s ensure that the PA manages this project more effectively now. Or, let’s guarantee that “the writing will be on the wall” for those who mismanage it again.