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"The neighborhood has all gone t' hell"
January 29, 2014 10:23 AM   Subscribe

Visiting the Big Apple? "Don't ask a pedestrian where a certain street is. He is usually too busy to stop, and if polite enough to stop, won't know. No New Yorker knows anything about New York." And another kind reminder: "Don't gape at women smoking cigarettes in restaurants. They are harmless and respectable, notwithstanding and nevertheless. They are also smart." Advice from Valentine’s City of New York: A Guide Book, published in 1920.

Archive.org currently offers 6,805 guidebooks published between 1499 & 2013.
posted by zarq (51 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
New York is not perfect, but any woman who encounters unpleasant situations in our city has, to a very large extent, her own self to blame for it.
Wow.
posted by yoink at 10:31 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


"Don't ask a pedestrian where a certain street is. He is usually too busy to stop, and if polite enough to stop, won't know."

A few years ago I was walking back to work after a lunch break, and saw a family on the corner ahead of me frantically trying to stop passersby to ask a question. But they were all in "I need to get back to the office" mode and weren't stopping, and sometimes weren't even paying attention. They were immensely relieved when I finally stopped and answered their question (truthfully and correctly), and the mother shook my hand with both of hers, gushing "you have just REDEEMED NEW YORK for us!"

Stopping to give someone directions is something that we should NEVER be too busy for. I figure that somewhere down the road, I'm gonna be the one in a strange city who needs directions, and I'm going to want the help.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:31 AM on January 29 [14 favorites]


Back when I was writing stuff set in turn of the century NYC I had an entire file of highlighted passages from visitor's guides, although I think my favorite was for English businessmen which stated, with regards to women seen eating alone or arm in arm with other women at the fine hotels and arcades of Gotham, do not proposition them or be alarmed. They are respectable young ladies. not prostitutes.
posted by The Whelk at 10:31 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Can't wait to read the 1499 guidebook for New York.

"Be thou surest to stoppe and see Ye Empire State Bildinge; verily the fairest vision of alle of the Island of Chief Manhattan to be seen from there."
posted by briank at 10:32 AM on January 29 [5 favorites]


Don't ask a pedestrian where a certain street is. He is usually too busy to stop

So people in NY have now been too busy to help for at least 94 years. You guys really need a vacation.
posted by Hoopo at 10:32 AM on January 29 [9 favorites]


New York is not perfect, but any woman who encounters unpleasant situations in our city has, to a very large extent, her own self to blame for it.
Wow.


Not sure why this is a wow situation, unless that's shorthand for "wow, you'd think this were written yesterday or something, amirite!?"
posted by phunniemee at 10:34 AM on January 29


I assume given the wry tone of the advice that "Gold Brick Industry" is a play on "gold bricking" meaning to shirk work or just appear to work rather than, like, the literal gold brick business?
posted by The Whelk at 10:39 AM on January 29


Not sure why this is a wow situation, unless that's shorthand for "wow, you'd think this were written yesterday or something, amirite!?"

Well, the attitude itself may still be disturbingly widespread, but it's not, in fact, the sort of thing that you would find in a guidebook written in the last few decades. I think for me it's a "wow" in that it's so explicit and unselfconscious in its victim-blaming. In a guidebook written in, say, the 1980s you might find a much more subconscious form of this kind of victim-blaming ("as long as you follow a few simple precautions you should be safe enough..."--implying that if you aren't safe then you were too stupid to follow a few simple precautions etc.) but you'd never find this direct imputation of blame. And that, surely, is part of the way we mark a trajectory of genuine progress, no? From what can be said explicitly, to what can be implied, to what can't even be suggested to what, hopefully, won't even be thought one day.
posted by yoink at 10:41 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


(or rather to gold brick can also mean to cheat or swindle, so that makes more sense)
posted by The Whelk at 10:45 AM on January 29


One other interesting thing about that little section on women travelers is how self-contradictory it is. Immediately after that bit I quoted above you get this:
In spite of all these precautions, however, some sad happenings are matters of frequent record, most of which are mainly preventable.
There's something so utterly absurd in this ("most of which are mainly preventable"??) that it suggests a kind of semi-consciousness on the writer's part that he's saying something that just doesn't add up.
posted by yoink at 10:45 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


1499 Guidebook to New York
posted by The Whelk at 10:46 AM on January 29


I'm a sucker for old history books and guidebooks, and having lived in NYC for most of my life this has been fun to skim through. I thought the description of (what would become) Times Square was fascinating:
Forty-Second Street and Pershing Square

This thoroughfare has immensely expanded during the past few years. It is the main artery of the Grand Central Terminal Zone and its marvellous accessibility has resulted in the building up of a community almost of its own. In the modest language of John McE. Bowman, it is the "Heart of the World." General Wingate's magnificent Victory Hall is planned to occupy the Park
Avenue corner of Pershing Square. The new viaduct is also completed. It is an important section of New York.

Four railroad trunk lines have stations on the street.

Over 100,000 passengers use the Grand Central Terminal Station each day.

70,930,934 subway and elevated tickets were sold at 42nd Street stations during the year ending June 30, 1919.

More than 7,000 subway and elevated trains stop here.

More than 10,000,000 visitors dine annually in hotels. restaurants and cafes.

It has eleven theatres, with 16,233 seats and an average weekly attendance of 129,864.

Nine New York Stock Exchange firms maintain thoroughly equipped branch offices with private wire service.

Seven national banks and trust companies and two savings banks.

One department store with 2,600 employees.

More electricity is used for lighting purposes than in any average city throughout the world.

Nearly every kind of business is located on the street.

All leading parades cross it.

Four churches with over 6,000 members.

The New York Public Library, with a circulation of 2,598,109 volumes, is located on the Fifth Avenue corner.

One public school with 1,700 pupils and 38 teachers.

Five telegraph offices.

Two telephone exchanges, handling more calls each day than any city of 250,000 population.

Two hundred and fifty new buildings, with an aggregate investment of over $200,000,000, have been erected in this section during the past ten years.

Altogether this is one of the liveliest streets in town.

posted by zarq at 10:46 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


I like how old fashioned guidebooks would always include lots of information about parades and parade routes. Parades! Much more important and common in the past!
posted by The Whelk at 10:51 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


I just got back from a short trip to Manhattan. No offense to people who live there, but it felt like one big mall. (The parts I visited, anyway.)
posted by Melismata at 10:52 AM on January 29


Wait... no that's not Times Square, it's Pershing Square! By Grand Central.
posted by zarq at 10:53 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


So people in NY have now been too busy to help for at least 94 years. You guys really need a vacation.

On vacation, they are in someone else's city. Where they are, by definition, jerks.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:54 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


"The Jews played a wonderful part in the War for a race that is said to be non-combatant."

(p208)
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 11:11 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Holy shit on page 297 they call Grant's Tomb "perhaps the best-known object in the country."

!!!
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 11:16 AM on January 29


So people in NY have now been too busy to help for at least 94 years.

INCORRECT:
"Excuse me [unfolding map] pardon me do you know how to get to [looking at map] the IFC Theater on the Avenue of the Americas? [map thrust into face] (alternatively: [finger on map pointing to somewhere in New Jersey])"

CORRECT:
"'Scuseme, which way's West 4th and 6th Ave?"
posted by griphus at 11:17 AM on January 29 [11 favorites]


Where they are, by definition, jerks.

I saw this thing on Reddit a while back. I honestly couldn't tell if it was a joke. I mean it's a funny looking puppet thing, but the stuff he says is mostly stuff I've actually read people type out and post on the internet.

Except the "stay in your hotels between 4-6pm because we're trying to get home" bit, which if it's something people actually expect, then it's not the tourist who's a jerk.
posted by Hoopo at 11:21 AM on January 29


oh man the verbiage on this thing "Most pleasant village in the Union" "Errors inherited from the Dutch."
posted by The Whelk at 11:22 AM on January 29


Stopping to give someone directions is something that we should NEVER be too busy for.

It's worth noting that New York City is so chock-full of crazy and/or otherwise desperate people that a lot of times its citizens avoid stopping when someone asks for help because they're afraid the people presumably asking for help will actually turn out to be insane or otherwise try to take advantage of them or get money from them. At least that's been my experience. You kind of get used to tuning people out when you're constantly getting accosted from all directions.
posted by wondermouse at 11:23 AM on January 29 [5 favorites]


citizens avoid stopping when someone asks for help because they're afraid the people presumably asking for help will actually turn out to be insane or otherwise try to take advantage of them or get money from them

Protip: if the question starts with "can I ask you a question" then they are almost certainly not asking a question you want to answer.
posted by phunniemee at 11:25 AM on January 29 [16 favorites]


whoa page 281 - total bitchy smackdown on off-Broadway theaters. Heh.
posted by The Whelk at 11:27 AM on January 29


...which if it's something people actually expect, then it's not the tourist who's a jerk.

No one expects them to stay in doors (hope? absolutely. Expect? No) but my god if I had one wish back when I worked office hours in Midtown was that tourists could actually mind the flow of foot traffic in the main streets and subways during rush hour.

...or otherwise try to take advantage of them or get money from them.

Yep! But it's not just crazy people; it's everyone. Sales people, clipboard people, begging people, busking people, just about anyone who talks to a stranger on the street here wants or needs something.

And that is precisely why if you need something from someone on the street, you get to the point as fast as possible so they know you don't want something valuable from them and just need directions. Because the rambling "uh excuse me pardon me i was just wondering if you could maybe give me a hand" is almost definitely a leadup to "I need money from you" and not "where is this place."
posted by griphus at 11:28 AM on January 29 [5 favorites]


It's worth noting that New York City is so chock-full of crazy and/or otherwise desperate people that a lot of times its citizens avoid stopping when someone asks for help because they're afraid the people presumably asking for help will actually turn out to be insane or otherwise try to take advantage of them or get money from them.

I've lived in New York for 25 years. I know that.

I still stop for people who are clearly asking for directions.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:30 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Man people have been moaning about New Yorkers not appreciating the Hudson river views since forever it seems.
posted by The Whelk at 11:32 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


INCORRECT:
"Excuse me [unfolding map] pardon me do you know how to get to [looking at map] the IFC Theater on the Avenue of the Americas? [map thrust into face] (alternatively: [finger on map pointing to somewhere in New Jersey])"

CORRECT:
"'Scuseme, which way's West 4th and 6th Ave?"


This is exactly it. In my time in NYC, I probably asked for directions 100 times and I was never treated poorly or ignored or given rude responses, it was always either nice helpful directions or ¨I dunno.¨ But you gotta ask in the right way.
posted by saul wright at 11:32 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


When I was vacationing in NYC back in 1983, people came up to ME to ask directions! And I could TELL them how to go!

"Does this bus go to 47th?"
"I'm hoping to take it to 33rd, so I hope it goes by 47th." (We were on 68th. I'm guessing at the actual numbers, since its been 31 years, but you get the idea...)

"Where is the Main Post Office?"
"Do you know the address?"
"Corner of 45th and 7th Ave."
"45th is that way and 7th is that way, so you can do down to 45th and turn that way until you hit 7th." (Manhattan is a big grid mostly.)

I'm from Kentucky. All I knew about NYC at the time was what I learned from Doc Savage pulps.
posted by Billiken at 11:33 AM on January 29 [6 favorites]


My experience has always been that NY'ers are happy to give directions. If you ask one person for directions, you will soon have a small crowd offering alternate routes. About half of them will be competely wrong, but they will all be eager to help.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:34 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


whoa page 281 - total bitchy smackdown on off-Broadway theaters. Heh.
There are also a number of “intimate” theaters, as they are called—small places seating from one hundred and fifty to three hundred persons. Here you avoid the vulgar crowd and usually see one of those wholly uninteresting but excessively intellectual productions that require a small auditorium in order that the audience may be seen with the naked eye.

...

They also rejoice in a new school of nomenclature, like “The Bandbox,” “The Little Theatre,” “The Punch and Judy,” etc., which is a distinct improvement over naming it after the plumber who built the structure or the gasfitter who owned the lot.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 11:36 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


In my time in NYC, I probably asked for directions 100 times and I was never treated poorly or ignored or given rude responses, it was always either nice helpful directions or ¨I dunno".

What I am taking away form this is that the grey puppet is kind of an asshole and I should avoid him.
posted by Hoopo at 11:37 AM on January 29


I do enjoy the pages and pages of address of "prominent persons". Wouldn't see a map to Lloyd Blankfein's house in a Lonely Planet today....
posted by The Whelk at 11:38 AM on January 29


I can't believe they printed addresses. These days we know where JP Morgan lived for other reasons.
posted by zarq at 11:46 AM on January 29


Holy shit on page 297 they call Grant's Tomb "perhaps the best-known object in the country."
So New Yorkers have had an over-blown sense of their own self importance for 94 years?
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:53 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Holy shit on page 297 they call Grant's Tomb "perhaps the best-known object in the country."

Then someone must've known who was buried there.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:54 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I still stop for people who are clearly asking for directions.

When it's clear that's all they're asking for, so do I. But I also try to cut people some slack if all they can manage to do is ignore everything around them until they get to wherever they're going. It's not exactly nice, but neither is New York.
posted by wondermouse at 11:56 AM on January 29


no one is buried in grant's tomb they're interred /trivial pursuit all-star
posted by The Whelk at 11:57 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


On every through-fare of this bustling metropolis, one can find an outpost of the Duane & Reade Apocatharies as well as one of old Mr. J Pierpont Morgan's counting houses.

A word to the wise: beware the filthy Irish!
posted by dr_dank at 11:58 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Also, just to horrify some of you would-be tourists:

I was once waiting for a train on the 36th St. stop in Brooklyn when what I can only assume was about three generations of a very uniformly short Indian family approached me. The young woman who I guess had the most control over the language asked me how to get to 48th and 7th and she pointed to some written down directions in her hand. I noticed that they had some additional directions referencing a street that is in Brooklyn. After a few questions, yes, it turned out they were going to 48th and 7th in Sunset Park, Brooklyn and not Midtown Manhattan.

So I walk the family over to one of our famously comprehensible service change signs to interpret the runes and figure out if the R train is actually running. As I'm doing this, a large man with a big voice approaches us, says "WHERE ARE YOU GOING" and promptly herds them over to the big map before I can say or do anything.

Now, I'm not about to walk over and start arguing over directions with a large man on the subway platform (especially when I have no idea if these people can even get there on the train) but out of the corner of my eye, I do notice him jabbing his finger into Midtown on the big map.

I still feel bad and I really hope those people got where they needed to go.
posted by griphus at 12:03 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Grant's Tomb was one of the best known objects in the country back in 1927. Before the days of air conditioning it was a huge attraction for tourists and locals alike in the summer because you could hang out and catch a cool breeze coming off the Hudson.
posted by plastic_animals at 12:04 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Don't ask a pedestrian where a certain street is. He is usually too busy to stop, and if polite enough to stop, won't know. No New Yorker knows anything about New York.

Reminded me of Bud Korpenning (Manhattan Transfer).
"How do I get to Broadway?... I want to get to the center of things."

"Walk east a block and turn down Broadway and you'll find the center of things if you walk far enough."

"Thank you sir. I'll do that."
Joke was on Bud, of course.
posted by notyou at 12:08 PM on January 29


A couple once stopped me at the corner of Sixth Ave and 8th St. and asked how to get to Sixth Avenue. I told them they were on Sixth Ave. but they insisted they were not. Since they were walking westward I pointed them toward Seventh Ave. They seemed happy with that information and, I assume, would soon figure out that they had gone too far west.
posted by plastic_animals at 12:16 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Has anyone here ever said "Practice, practice, practice," to someone who wanted to know how to get to Carnegie Hall?
posted by octobersurprise at 12:27 PM on January 29 [4 favorites]


Also, Grant himself was a popular war hero.

His memoirs were written as he was dying of cancer in 1885, and it was publicly known that he was struggling to complete them. A two volume set was published by Mark Twain soon after he died, who marketed the hell out of them and turned them into a best-seller. They're very well written -- direct, detailed and pretty humble all things considered -- and can be read for free through through archive.org.

By all accounts Grant was a lousy President. But those memoirs cemented him in people's minds as a great American. When the memorial was built in his honor, people all over the country were aware of it.

NYC asked for public funding in order to build the tomb. There's a story (possibly apocryphal?) that a city in Indiana announced they didn't have any money to send to the "city of millionaires" and if NYC was unable to fund the tomb on their own, then it should be relocated to Washington DC.
posted by zarq at 12:27 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


A couple once stopped me at the corner of Sixth Ave and 8th St. and asked how to get to Sixth Avenue. I told them they were on Sixth Ave. but they insisted they were not.

Told this story a few times already, will tell it again:

Once, on the Lower East Side, a couple stopped me and asked for directions to Cannery Row. Now, I was pretty sure they were way the hell in the wrong place, so I hesitated, trying to think if maybe there was a restaurant in the city by that name; but that made them get all snippy and snooty and say "you haven't heard of Cannery Row? This really famous district with shops and stuff?" And that just made me hesitate further, wondering just how to respond. And that just made them huff and remark that they were really surprised I hadn't ever heard of Cannery Row, seeing as how it was so famous....and they walked away.

I've always contented myself that the next person they asked had no problem telling them "Cannery Row is in California, you morons."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:43 PM on January 29 [7 favorites]


I came out of...Penn Station, maybe? and I was all turned around, and it was cold, and I didn't want to walk a block or more in the wrong direction, so I just said loudly and to no particular person, "Which way to [whatever intersection I was going to]?" and at least three people rushing by said "Left!" I loved that.
posted by rtha at 12:57 PM on January 29 [6 favorites]


The 'practice' response identifies you as one hep cat in 1958.
Otherwise, you get the Answer-Pest-Jerk award with two oak clusters.
posted by hexatron at 1:16 PM on January 29


Worse than not giving any directions, you'd do well to not be like my former co-worker and ex-New Yorker who, when asked, would intentionally give people directions in the wrong direction. We are not friends.
posted by cman at 2:58 PM on January 29


citizens avoid stopping when someone asks for help because they're afraid the people presumably asking for help will actually turn out to be insane or otherwise try to take advantage of them or get money from them

I've lived in NY most of my adult life, and still always stop for people. But the trade-off of that is that I have a lot of conversations that end with me repeating, "I'm not saying you're trying to scam me, but I'm not giving you any money."
posted by Navelgazer at 3:59 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


My experience has always been that NY'ers are happy to give directions. If you ask one person for directions, you will soon have a small crowd offering alternate routes. About half of them will be competely wrong, but they will all be eager to help.

Exactly – the first time I went to New York, I was amazed to find my stereotypes smashed by a generally breezy, natural, generous attitude. Folksy, even, compared to what I’ve experienced in other iconic cities. More than one person crossed the street to volunteer directions to my map and I (not for money, no).
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:58 AM on January 30


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