View From Lodi, CA: New York At New Year
January 09, 2004, 04:00 AM
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I spent Christmas in New York—formerly my home for nearly twenty years—and survived.

Despite heightened security alerts, overcrowded airports, delayed flights and lost luggage, I've returned to Lodi to report on the good, the bad and the ugly about Manhattan.

  • "THE UGLY": Thinking that a Christmas visit to St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue would be uplifting, I made the error of wandering into the historic church late one afternoon.

The steps leading up to the front doors were littered with French fries, hamburger wrappers and cigarette butts. People were screaming instructions to each other as they posed for video cameras. Others were smoking or making out.

I'm sorry to say that inside the scene inside was no better. I saw more cameras and strollers with howling babies. The days of hushed voices in church are apparently long gone.

Many visitors appeared unaware that when worshippers light candles to make a special request, a donation is appropriate.

When I saw teenagers with baseball caps worn in reverse and listening to portable CD players, I couldn't take it anymore. I asked one of the ushers if it was no longer the practice for men to remove their hats inside church.

"What do you expect me to do?" he asked.

Well, if I were a policy maker at St. Patrick's Cathedral, I would enforce all of the rules—written and unwritten—about proper church behavior.

And if I couldn't make the rules stick, then I would shut the doors and lock them after the last daily Mass.

And I would station a custodian outside the church to clean up. St. Patrick's Cathedral shouldn't look like a Jack-in-the- Box.

  •  "THE BAD": For at least a week before the big Times Square New Year's Eve celebration, headlines announced that security would be "tighter than ever." With a Code Orange alert in effect, revelers were advised that the area directly surrounding 42nd St. would be closed to traffic. Pedestrians would be subjected to lengthy searches of their personal belongings. All of New York's Finest would be out in force.

And the police were very visible on New Year's Eve. But they weren't doing anything. Police officers in groups as large as 10 chatted with among themselves about the two pitiful local football teams, the Jets and the Giants.

This is not a knock on the New York Police Department. I have always found them to be dedicated, courteous and brave.

But on this night, it seemed as though their only instructions were to report for duty in Times Square and keep an eye peeled.

I couldn't help but wonder about that strategy. If I were Al-Qaeda, would I go to the heavily policed Times Square to commit terrorism? Or I would I walk ten blocks south to Penn Station, get on a totally unguarded train and set off my suicide bomb?

Maybe announcing where the security would be the tightest isn't the best idea. I'm pretty sure the terrorists read newspapers and watch the local news programs.

  • "THE GOOD": Normally, if you ask a New York visitor to share the highlights of his trip, you can expect to hear about seeing the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, a hit Broadway show or the Circle Line Cruise around Manhattan.

I was lucky enough to do all those things. But the high point was a one-inch by one-inch piece of raw tuna on sticky rice.

By calling in favors from old friends, I pulled off the impossible—a reservation at New York's trendiest 4-Star restaurant, Nobu, located in the ultra-trendy TriBeCa.

Normally, seeking out "in" places is not my thing. I am perfectly happy at a Dairy Queen drive-in. But a five-year addiction to television's Food Television Network piqued my curiosity.

Consistently ranked among the best restaurants in the world, Nobu is owned by actor Robert De Niro (nowhere in sight) and supervised by celebrity chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa.

You may balk at the idea of smoked eel with jalapenos or blackened cod. But I am here to tell you that it is an eating experience unlike any other. The best plan is to put yourself in the hands of the helpful waiters and let them cater to you.

Overall, my New York adventure was great. Although New York is a hard place to get out of your system, it's always good to be back home.

[JOENOTE to VDARE.COM readers: Not much English is heard anymore on the streets of New York. And the retail and service trades are dominated by immigrants from all corners of the world. I guess American just don't want to work at Saks Fifth Avenue.

But what is impossible to cope with is Polish waiters at Patsy's, my favorite Italian restaurant. How much should we be asked to endure?]

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.