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Joe Guzzardi: New York City is busy during the holidays

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Posted: Saturday, December 28, 2013 12:00 am

Last week, my wife and I traveled to New York, where I had lived during the 1960s and 1970s. Our mission: to attend a family wedding. All I can say is, “Wow!” — both “Wow, good” and “Wow, bad.”

As the crow flies, Manhattan is 400 miles from my Pittsburgh home. But the crow can fly over the Lincoln Tunnel and soar above the crosstown traffic to get from the tunnel’s West Side exit to my East Side destination. Estimated driving time: six hours. Actual driving time, including the painfully slow last 10 miles: Eight hours.

Under normal circumstances, I would never attempt to drive into New York midday during the last Saturday before Christmas. The wedding date, however, locked me in to Saturday.

As anxious as I was to get out of my car, the $89 overnight parking rate dampened my enthusiasm. Sure, I could have driven to a cheaper lot further away from my address. But we had suitcases full of heavy winter clothes and the streets were so jammed that walking was nearly impossible. To give you an idea, imagine that everyone who lives in Stockton and Lodi was crammed onto Fifth Avenue between 42nd and 59th Street. For those on a last minute shopping expedition, good luck.

At Saks Fifth Avenue, the lines were around the block. A doorman slowly allowed prospective customers to trickle in, space permitting. Visitors who wanted to worship at St. Patrick’s Cathedral endured the same process, somewhat exacerbated by the two-year, ongoing reconstruction project.

The 9/11 tragedy plunged New York’s economy into crisis, and the city went through an acute recession after Wall Street’s 2007 collapse. Today, that’s ancient history. The average Manhattan apartment costs $4,000 a month, $2,800 more than the national rental average; the average home sale price is a staggering $1.5 million versus $230,000 nationally. Almost everything in New York, from a gallon of milk to electricity, is more than twice the price as anywhere else.

On Jan. 1, new mayor Bill de Blasio will take over for Michael Bloomberg. Both have promised to fight the city’s income inequality problem. They face a huge challenge. According to 2010 Census data, the wealthiest fifth of Manhattanites earn more than 40 times the income of the lowest fifth.

As for the wedding, it was unlike any I’ve ever seen before or am likely to see again.

The ceremony was held at a jam-packed City Hall. Hundreds took a number, got in line, and waited for the overhead board to flash their number to be directed to one of the five “chapels.”

Brides and grooms have only to show up; no planning is required. Outside the building are roving photographers available for immediate hire and vendors selling flowers.

One good things about getting married at City Hall is that it’s affordable. The $25 license is only a couple of bucks more than the $21 price tag I saw for two fried eggs (sides extra) at a boutique diner.

Luckily, some of the most enjoyable things about New York are still free. We strolled Park Avenue with its bright Christmas lights, sat in the Waldorf Astoria lobby, and went to Rockefeller Center to see the tree and the ice skaters. Then, at dawn on Christmas morning and without another car on the road, we started back to Pittsburgh to be at the best place of all on Dec. 25 — home.

Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

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