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New York is both rude, captivating

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Posted: Friday, June 25, 2004 10:00 pm

I asked the woman at the ticket counter if I had the correct pass to get into the museum.

"Gimme," she said.

I offered her my booklet of coupons. She looked scornfully at it, ripped one of the coupons out and handed the booklet back.

"Go!," she demanded.

No smile. No thank you. No "have a good day."

No nothing.

Welcome to New York City, the greatest and perhaps rudest city on earth.

Richard Hanner

Having just returned with my family from the Big Apple, I can attest that Manhattan is a jaw-dropping vacation spot. But it is not the Magic Kingdom.

To survive and thrive in the city that never sleeps, here are some tips:

Get ready for an attitude. They say New Yorkers became warmer and fuzzier after 9/11. Maybe. If true, they are back to being occasionally amiable, consistently indifferent, and sometimes flat-out rude.

Want to chat up a taxi driver? Try talking with a stone man at Easter Island. You'll have better luck. Think it would be a good idea to order half a deli sandwich instead of the entire, belly busting mountain of pastrami? Your waiter will stare at you. He will probe you with dagger eyes. He will mutter his disdain. He will not sell you half a sandwich. There are no group hugs in Manhattan. Even so, we were struck at how safe we felt in this huge, frenetic city.

Resign yourself to weight gain. Somehow, the food in New York is just better. Pizza is cheesier. Deli sandwiches are heftier and tastier. Even the street food, from bagels to hot dogs to chicken kabobs and honey-roasted nuts, is wonderful. Not cheap, but wonderful.

Pack some decent clothes. New Yorkers aren't outgoing, but they are well-dressed. As a tourist, it's true you can get away with pretty much whatever you want. Shorts and sandals, jeans, T-shirts. The natives, though, like to look sharp. Ties. Jackets. Suits. Dresses. The favorite color (or lack thereof) is black. In New York, style counts, and even most visitors seem to understand this.

If you are 40-plus, get ready to feel old. Manhattan fairly vibrates with youthful energy. It's an entertainment, financial and cultural capital. There, it's CNN! There, it's Time-Life! There, it's Lehman Brothers, the financial firm Lodi is suing and vice-versa! The city teems with jillions of young professionals trying to make it big, an army of local college students and a legion of youngish tourists. We didn't see a major patch of gray hair anywhere. An exception may be the snooty residential sections next to Central Park. There, dutiful men wearing caps and nifty double-breasted suits call cabs and open doors for people who appear unfailingly rich, thin, impeccably dressed and older.

Prepare to perspire. Part of the reason people are grumpy is that they're sweaty. New York in the summer is hothouse-humid. Step out of your cool, air-conditioned hotel and the beads are immediately on your brow. We did enjoy a couple of dry, sunny Californiaesque days. Most of the time, though, it was muggy and drab. We got splashed with rain one day, and not just a sprinkle. It was a steamy, semi-tropical downpour.

Take moleskin. One possible reason older people don't linger in Manhattan is that it's best to get around either on foot or on subway. This leads to blisters. It is also one of the city's greatest virtues, because it is pretty quick and easy to get around if your legs are in decent shape. Walking in New York, in fact, is a rare adventure. A highlight for us was a trek across the Brooklyn Bridge. Manhattan's skyline spread out in all its glory; the Statue of Liberty looming majestically in the distance; a fresh breeze blowing across the water. Our hike was rewarded with pizza at a Brooklyn joint reportedly favored by Sinatra.

Don't forget the camera. Manhattan is simply gorgeous. Central Park is a wooded wonderland sprinkled with sculptures. Battery Park is a waterfront jewel. The city's architecture is a constant amazement, from the lofty Empire State Building to the pie-shaped flatiron building to the ritzy, gothic Dakota apartments. Incredibly, the Statue of Liberty is more striking and graceful up close than it is in books or movies.

Bottom line: The attitude is a mere distraction.

New York is classy, charismatic, captivating. We will return.

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