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Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Every year at about this time my asthma starts acting up, my head becomes congested and my nose starts running, and I have to walk faster to keep up with it. At first I thought it was allergies, or maybe I caught a cold. With me it’s hard to tell, since I am allergic to people with colds. But then I realized the real cause: the onset of the Tourist Season. My symptoms were psychosomatic, my way of processing the misery and frustration of dealing with millions of foreigners clogging up the streets of New York City. It’s bad enough in the winter, when millions of foreigners clog up the streets of New York City- they are the ones that live here; in a month or so they’ll be gone for the summer, either to the Hamptons or upstate New York where there is an inpatient rehab facility. But for the meantime we are all here together, struggling to co-exist in a barren, post-apocalyptic world (in case you haven’t noticed I am thinking of pitching this as a movie treatment).

By the way, aren’t all head colds psychosomatic since the symptoms are all in your head?

There are several ways to recognize which people are tourists. First, they are always travelling in the opposite direction than the rest of civilized society. People say that firefighters are heroic because they are the ones rushing into a burning building when everyone else is rushing out. Well tourists are just as heroic; if a building is on fire it’s the best time to go- there will hardly be any crowds.

Secondly, they are holding an expensive camera. No native New Yorker would ever own a camera that only takes pictures and can’t call anybody. I see a dad taking a photo of the Empire State Building, but unfortunately his family is cluttering up the frame. He is struggling to get everyone in plus all 102 storeys of the skyscraper. I decide to help by telling him that he can compose the shot better if he takes the picture from Hoboken.

Sometimes I see a group that has to take five separate photos, each one missing the member that is snapping the portrait. I offer to take the photo so that they can all be in it, but they are worried that I will run off with their Nikon, so I offer to let them hold my driver’s license, which they notice is suspended. They ask if I have any outstanding warrants. Of course I am flattered, but I modestly insist that they are just run-of-the-mill.

If I am left to take their photo with an iphone, ipad or ipod, that’s where I start to worry. I can never find the ibutton that takes the ipicture, and then the iflash never goes off and i get an ilook from the wife, who is rolling her i’s at me. I heard something click- it was either me snapping the image or dialing 911. I tell them to check and see if the photo is there- if it’s not, start pretending you’re having a heart attack- I don’t have time to explain.

Thirdly, they are usually consulting a map, and often the map is upside down. The husband is pointing vigorously, and the woman is shaking her head in an exasperated fashion, the international symbol for, “That’s where we JUST WERE, you nut. I never should have married an Azerbaijan, but that’s all they have in Azerbaijania or whatever the hell it’s called.” When I see a scene like this I seize the opportunity for help, and I walk over and grab the map. I have never figured out where the subway entrance is on 57th Street, so I thank them and give them their map back.

Last and most importantly, their clothes. For instance, I see a man wearing tight blue jeans with the cuffs rolled up, carrying a purse. I ask him if he is gay or straight. He looks at me closely, assessing my appearance, attractiveness and motivation, and says, “Straight.” Then I know he is a tourist, or someone with only average taste in men.
Incidentally, the man who founded the taxi company that is responsible for the yellow cars that Manhattan has become famous for was none other than John D. Hertz, who went on to rental car fame. He called his yellow cab company, not surprisingly, the Yellow Cab Company. Started in Chicago in 1915, the franchise became iconic in New York City. The rumor is that Hertz, a Hungarian immigrant born Sandor Herz, read that yellow was the easiest color for the eye to see. I would have found more information on the study, had it been written in yellow.

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