Sunday, September 05, 2010

On the other end of the Hermès spectrum

Jo and I had dinner with my family on Bleecker Street, which considering we live in Battery Park City ought to have meant a reasonable trip home. But! The train we were on stopped running at Canal, while our other option was running express and thus not stopping at Canal. This left one possibility subway-wise, which was to pay once again to take the uptown train and switch at Union Square for a downtown express. Was any of this announced? Were there signs? Not so much. So we got out at Canal, figuring that this was not unwalkable.

Wrong we were. Canal Street, at night, these days, is apparently a giant open-air market for knock-off handbags. I'm not talking about the standby vendors on every other street corner around Mercer and Greene who, during the day, sell Real-American tourists fake Louis Vuitton from garbage bags until the cops shoo them away. (Foreign tourists, who face larger penalties for bringing this kind of nonsense home, seem not to go for this.) Nor am I talking about the stalls that line Canal and that semi-permanently sell this kind of thing. I'm referring to a full-on, can't-walk-through-it mob of vendors and eager shoppers absolutely filling that block to capacity. I've been on Canal Street countless times over the years, at all hours, and had never seen anything of the kind.

We eventually pushed our way through the determined horde, but not before a vendor told Jo that if we weren't there to buy bags we had no right being on that block in the first place. And, um, if the train stops at Canal and you live south of Tribeca and you need to get home? You're supposed to summon an interest in designer knock-offs, show your trademark black garbage bag as a sort of ID, and then and only then are you allowed to go to your apartment?

While disapproving of their behavior, I can summon a kind of sympathy for the men selling the bags, who presumably didn't choose this over consulting jobs at McKinsey. The logo-crazed women clogging the street, who could just as well buy cheaper-than-Louis-Vuitton non-knock-off handbags like everyone else, not so much. What is with these handbags? Is the point to convince the folks back home (or your neighbors elsewhere in the city - maybe some of these women live in NY?) that you're rich? That you're clever and got a 'deal' because your bag has "LV" on it and you didn't pay what that normally costs? Can't these women wait and go to Century 21 in the morning, which is at least indoors?

I would classify 'I had a tough time getting home on account of messed-up train service and rampant, vaguely menacing, illicit commerce' as a First World Problem, on account of this happened in lower Manhattan and didn't end in BBC-report-worthy tragedy, but somehow I don't think it's quite FWP either. Maybe First-and-a-Half?

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