Headmaster’s Thoughts — December 2015

Welcome to December . . . the month where you pay the most for any product that could possibly considered a present for someone . . . the month that is followed by January, when you pay less than half for the same product!

Ah, December . . . the month of packed streets and shopping tourists . . . the month when someone actually buys their fellow man bright-pink trousers with whales on them.

This is the month when you cannot walk your dog off its leash in Central Park until 9:00 pm (just as all other months) even though in December it gets totally dark by 6:00 pm. When can we get a city council that realizes no one cares if dogs are walked off their leashes in our parks after it gets completely dark outside?  

There is something weird about December because everything fills up . . . the stores; the restaurants; the public transportation system; the roads; the tourists. Where did all these people come from?

Lately, we have a new type of tourist bus in New York. You may have seen it. From the front, it looks the same as any other bus; but when it passes, you notice there are three ascending rows of stadium-style seating, facing left. I understand this type of bus is called “the ride.”  Every passenger has an excellent view of what is to the left of the bus as that is the direction the seats face. They have poor visibility towards the front or back of the bus and certainly cannot see the right side of the bus. But they can all see clearly out of the large left-side windows.

The tourists who ride this type of bus tend to be the “better sort” of tourist, by which I mean they own the expensive cameras that my definition of the “better sort” wear. Generally, they carry large Nikons, but equally large Canons are acceptable. And they happily snap away at what is on the left side of the bus.

Why the left side, you (and I) might ask? I think the answer lies in the way the bike lanes have been recently built on our one-way avenues. Thus, the new bike lanes are on the far left side of Columbus Avenue as you drive. Between the bike lanes and the traffic is now a parking lane. (It looks strange in the middle of the road.)  The parking lane on the right of the avenue has stayed the same. As a result of this “progress,” our city elders have turned a potentially six-lane thoroughfare into three lanes at best—one which shrinks down to one lane when trucks unload their goods. Massive traffic problems have been created by these bike lanes, and Columbus Avenue has become a slow-moving snake of cars inching its way through numerous one-lane gaps.

Thus, I believe that tourists (the “better sort”) have come from around the world to see how New York has created traffic jams. There must be an attractive travel poster in some foreign land that invites its country people (I am so politically correct, it hurts) to come and see the greatest city in the world pretend that it is Amsterdam and destroy its traffic patterns in the process. “See New York come to a full stop!” For those who live in a lesser city, it surely is irresistible!

Incidentally, in Amsterdam, Wikipedia tells me, there are more bicycles (1.2 million) than there are people. If this makes sense, you probably are on the New York City Council. One day, you might actually see a cyclist on Columbus Avenue who is not delivering Asian food. But never in December!

It is attractive to watch other countries screw things up. We go to Germany to see their Holocaust Museum—there is irony for you. I always have to restrain the temptation to ask them if they have burned any good books lately.

We go to Greece to find out if the economy is really as bad as we read about.

When Jayme and I were last in Russia, of course, I asked our guide what he thought about Stalin?  He thought he was great!  

So it is not surprising that thousands of tourists, cameras at the ready, should come and see us destroy the New York road system. They go back happily and say “lovely city, great shops, but you cannot get around in a car,” and they are right.

Even within our country, we have this “town schadenfreude.” I remember going to Hollywood and asking a film cameraman whom I knew why the wheels of cars in every movie seemed to be going the wrong way as if the cars’ wheels are driving in reverse. He gave me some technical answer, but I did not care. I just wanted him to know that although we have destroyed our road system in New York, we still know that the big film companies in California have their own problems too.

Anyway, it is getting cold at this time of the year. Time for a cup of something warm! I like to follow people who say they are “dying” for a cup of coffee. I watch them go into Starbucks and then complain about the price of their cappuccino.

Einstein had it right when he said that the only two things that were infinite were the universe and human stupidity. As I reflect upon the pairs of bright-pink trousers with whales I have been given as gifts, I think maybe he was being unfair to the universe.


Ronald P. Stewart                                                                                          

York Prep

December 2015