Sunday, August 28, 2011

Coastal elites

-The epic hurricane that was to destroy Battery Park City was apparently not a hurricane here at all, but some rain, and everything's just fine. Was this a case of better safe than sorry, or just a chance to give my parents a sense of what life would have been like had I boomeranged (with husband in tow, like in a sitcom) on home? Was it a chance for commentators to hurl all kinds of misdirected class rage at a neighborhood whose residents are a whole lot less "moneyed" than in, oh, tons of other neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and who, certainly after 9/11 (and residents who weren't here for it nevertheless see Ground Zero daily) are not the aloof, nothing-can-touch-me UMC? There are only so many neighborhoods in Manhattan that two grad students sharing a (spacious! dishwasher-having!) studio can afford (if only at recession prices, and with the "help" of the world's most comically inept broker), so while this still makes me personally a whole lot less well-to-do than everyone else in the area, that should tell you something about the place generally. And.. I like that the best the Guardian could come up with to illustrate the posh was a couple of undeniably down-to-earth-looking people who do, alas, have what looks to be a spectacular well-groomed Bichon.

I mean, fine, if people had been all OMG let's shed a tear over the tragedy of condo renters-and-owners who are indeed richer and whiter than the average across the five boroughs having to "flee" to stay with friends and family (or, in some much-publicized instances, to stay in super-luxe hotels), then this could have been torn apart. But did anyone think this? This was far from the major/only part of Zone A covered in the press, even if WWPD coverage tilts heavily to where P resides. What this was, for BPC residents, was a significant inconvenience, potentially life-threatening to those who require emergency care, a short-term economic upset for lower Manhattan and beyond, and now, PR for the city that will make it look like we can't handle a teensy bit of rain. Even best-case-scenario leaving-your-apt-with-the-thought-that-everything-in-it-might-be-destroyed kinda sucks. As First World Problems go, this was among the more problematic. Anyway, I tend to be in the "better safe than sorry" camp, even though on some level I figured this was not going to be much of anything.

-Things sure do sound interesting up in Euphemistic Boston. Has anyone ever up and taught a freshman class on Really Small Questions? I'm so up to the task.

-My husband's choice to pursue rocket science in Euphemistic New Jersey means that I will need - for real this time - to learn how to drive a car. This is, like, on, as in happening in under a week. (Bye Uniqlo, bye Dos Toros, bye Chelsea Thai; bye and good riddance Ceci Cela, which completely changed its croissant recipe and now after over a decade of arguably-best-in-the-city serves something truly vile.) I'm of course scrambling to find ways to avoid needing to drive - I'll ride my bike everywhere! This will be a chance to try those online groceries I've heard so much about! I'll be finishing my dissertation and never going outside anyway! - but it's inevitable. I know that there are people who like driving, but by this I assume they mean adventure, the open road, etc., not someone who's a nervous wreck after twice failing the Red Hook driving test finally, after hundreds of thousands of lessons, driving to a just-beyond-walking-distance supermarket. I've at any rate vowed not to approach this challenge by taking NJ Transit to the PATH to the Fairway and back every time we need food.


Jacob T. Levy said...

The google tells me that this is not your first use of "euphemistic Boston" and its analogues, but I hadn't picked up on it before. Love it.

Jeff said...

Oh my goodness, I didn't realize you still don't have driver's license.

I hate to scare you, but any driving training you got in NYC will be useless, because once you leave the city an exotic maneuver is allowed where a driver is allowed to make a right turn after stopping at a red light. In fact in even more exotic locations, like the great state of Washington, a left turn is permitted while confronted with a red light.

Good luck.

Nicholas said...

Re: Euphemistic New Jersey, I found that "central New Jersey" corresponds to no known location for anyone who is not from NJ or PA; I told my from-Camden movers in North Carolina that I had spent the year "just outside Trenton," which is technically correct. May either or both be of use to you.

Withywindle said...

I got my license as a teenager (in NYC!), but I effectively learned to drive a decade later with a refresher course. (Which involved driving in NYC and from NYC to the Tappan Zee bridge and back; city driving and suburban driving.) I'm minimally competent; if I can do it, you certainly can.

Flavia said...

Two words: Vespa scooter.

(And yes, I realize that that still requires a license. But if it's the huge dimensions, etc., of a car that are the problem, seems like a nice compromise. Also, I wanted one desperately in grad school so you should get one purely to fulfill my unrealized dreams.)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


It gets the point across.


The issue is that I haven't yet mastered the basic sense of how to maneuver a car. I have only the vaguest recollection of how one can and can't turn in NYC. I failed twice, but not recently.


That could work. But then he isn't going to be at the university, so the only way to explain what it is, if I do want to explain what it is, is to mention that Einstein was there, which is something that seems like I'm describing one of Liz Lemon's imaginary boyfriends. Of course, most of the time I'm describing what it is I do, which has its own set of issues (no, it's not "Felicity"/"Gossip Girl," no, I don't study how to conjugate "-er" verbs, and no, I've never seen an Olsen twin or, more upsettingly, James Franco).


How many lessons did this take? And, I think there's something to be said for learning something young, even if it's (or if it seems) promptly forgotten. I 'learned Hebrew' as a child, had no recollection of this, then started Elementary as a senior in college, and while I didn't have the edge of the kids who'd taken years of it at Jewish day school, it seemed to be easier going for me than for those taking the class because of a Jewish significant other.


That sounds so fabulous, and a friend of mine has and seems to enjoy one in Paris. The problem is that I'm not sure it's compatible with what the car will be for, namely monthly stocking-up trips to a supermarket and, once we have a dog, taking it to the vet.

Flavia said...

Surely they make sidecars? Pooch in sidecar seems very screwball comedy.

Withywindle said...

I think it was a ten-lesson course. Yes, re-learning made it a bit easier. But I don't think immensely so. And we get back to me being a klutz ...

PG said...

I still vote for your learning somewhere easier than NYC, i.e. pretty much anywhere else in the country except perhaps the Boston metro area (which is damnably full of one-way streets that aren't even as organized as Manhattan's). I just renewed my license before it expired, going back from a NY to a TX one. I have now been driving for 14 years, and I still have trouble parallel parking, which is fine, because outside NYC they have real parking.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Like Withywindle, I'm a bit of a klutz.


Surely you remembered more than you think. If you've really never been exposed to cars, and have to be told things like which is the gas, which is the break, and that you use the same foot for both, it's tough going.


Luckily I'm moving to Princeton, NJ, which ought to be an easier place to learn to drive. Whatever the case, I think the fact that I need to will make it happen.

Flavia said...

Okay, now some for-real advice about learning to drive: if you have the chance, go to an actual driving school rather than just having a friend teach you. The best ones are genuinely good, and they're geared toward teaching clueless, emotionally unstable teenagers how to drive, so they've really thought through how to teach stuff like how to feel the dimensions of the car as an extension of yourself, and how to focus on the road, fellow cars, random shit happening on the side of the road, etc., all at the same time. The rest of us have done those things by instinct for so long that we may not realize they need teaching (or know how to do it).

Also, if you can, learn to drive on the same car you'll actually be driving. I've been driving regularly for five years now (after a decade of not driving at all), and though my own car's dimensions and capabilities feel like second nature, I'm still really uneasy driving someone else's car or a rental.

But it's totally doable. I have a friend who only learned to drive at age 28, after getting a TT job upstate, and you'd never know that her skills were so recently acquired.

jim said...

First: congratulations to Jo. A postdoc at the Institute is something.

Second: Princeton isn't totally car-mandatory. A contemporary of my wife at graduate school partnered with a physicist who went from Columbia to the Plasma Physics Lab. She never learned to drive. They've since married and are now in Pittsburgh and as far as I know she still doesn't drive.

Third: there's something to be said for a Vespa. With just a permit, you can ride it. You can't do so at night or on an Interstate or the Garden State or Turnpike (but none of these are within miles of Princeton) or carry passengers. Passing a test is sort of optional if you can live with these restrictions.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Man the First World has a lot of problems. The Third World is looking better and better. I will be 41 soon and still don't know how to drive. But, in the Third World you can get a car with a driver from your employer as one of your benefits.

Miss Self-Important said...

A Vespa seems really easy to steal, and more desirable to steal than a bike. Is this true? On the other hand, have you considered biking? Obvi not a depths-of-winter option, but it has served me very well up here in Euphemistic Boston, where I also do not drive.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Advice much appreciated. And the story of your friend learning at 28 is inspiring!

I did have an instructor in NY, but his specialty was teaching recent immigrants from China who could already drive, just enough to pass a test in the States. Maybe a Princeton instructor used to nervous teens would be better? I'm at any rate more desperate to drive than I was in NY, where the impetus was basically that my permit was going to expire and I figured I should make something of it.


Thanks on Jo's behalf! As for Princeton and a car, it seems plausible that one partner might not ever drive, but it does seem, for things like buying more than one roll of paper towels at a time, that someone in each household would need to do so.


Biking it is, for now, or so my first walk into town suggests - not too many cars, polite drivers, and the lack of sidewalks plus the distance made walking not so fabulous. I still have the bike I used in Chicago, but in NY I wasn't cool enough to be blasé about the traffic, and stuck with walking/the subway. I'll just need to get air in those tires...