Friday, May 27, 2016

No Holds Barred: New York, one day at a time

Bill Graham in Happier Days, 1968. That's me! (underneath Bill's wrist watches).
Photo Courtesy Estate of Fred W. McDarrah © 2016 All Rights Reserved
By Blair Sabol

Believe me ... I was warned by EVERYBODY about how New York City has changed. I was just there 8 months ago and yet the sentiment of all my New York friends was summed up by one relative who kept saying "times have really shifted here ... get ready!" What did that mean?

Okay. So NYC is really expensive and everyone is rushed and rude and there is no service and every place is understaffed. What else is new? Well, for instance, my wonderful hairdresser just moved to Bergdorf Goodman, which is now supposedly the best salon in the city. She forgot to tell me her rates would skyrocket. I went — she did a terrific job — I got the bill. $650 for shampoo, color and blowout ... à la Hilary Clinton! (Actually, Hilary supposedly paid $750 for her double process "helmet head" at Bergdorf a month before).
The John Barrett salon at Bergdorf Goodman.
At the salon front desk I had to take a breath when they gave me the bill. Taking 60 seconds to collect myself (too long), the blonde, diamond-studded customer standing behind me got agitated. "What's the matter, too much? Do you know where you are? I pay that and more, and I come weekly, so deal with it." She couldn't be serious. The salon was packed! I swallowed my shock, paid the bill, and left "dyed" and confused.

Leaving Bergdorf at 3:30 on a Monday afternoon, I was confronted with a mixed raucous crowd of street musicians and Apple Store customers.
Hillary, post-cut, blow-dry, and color treatment.
Me, post-shampoo, color, and blowout.
Suddenly a homeless man rushed up to my face and yelled, "You Whore!" Everyone stopped for a second then continued with their faces buried in their phones. My first reaction was to laugh. I had never been called a whore to my face before. It was an honor! Then I thought maybe I knew the guy. I didn't. Then I wanted to take a selfie with him as a hoot, but he had vanished.
The scene of the name calling.
All this happened in the first ten hours of my East Coast visit. I realized I was already inducted into the "New" New York City experience and didn't have to get slashed as some of my NYC pals warned me could happen. But being labeled a whore on 5th Avenue on a Monday afternoon after spending $650 on my blowout made me ready for anything.

I lived in New York City from 1965-1987 and I was never even mugged let alone screamed at except from the construction site hardhats, and that was funny. But times have changed. This is not my NYC anymore. So whose is it? The Russians? The Chinese? The Terrorists? The Kardashians?

When I checked into my regular overpriced hotel, I was awarded an upgrade — a nice larger room with a balcony (large rooms don't exist in the New York Hotel world). But even this upgrade had problems — the hot water disappeared after 18 minutes and the Wi-Fi turned off intermittently. So the manager adjusted the price again. Apparently Wi-Fi wiring is hard and New York pipes are disintegrating.

As my best City friend cautioned me "With NYC Hotels — stop complaining and bend over and take it." Another friend left a T-Shirt at the front desk for me that read "Suck It Up."

I must say the hotel tried their best (they are under construction – who and what isn't in New York City). But the more they tried the worse I felt.

But should you feel badly as a visitor in New York? I mean the whole world is used to feeling badly, but NYC was where you went to get happy and stimulated (now Vegas has become THAT "go-to" fantasyland). Manhattan was where all of us "tired and poor" came to get revived by spending $600 for a "Hamilton" ticket or $400 for a dinner! It used to feel worth it. Now NYC is becoming part of the regular world — if not worse!

Betsey Perry (social reporter for Huffington Post) tried to explain it to me "NYC is only good when you are on top of your game. The moment you don't have a title, or a book published, or a rich husband or are over 60 or even a bad hair day — it all makes you feel badly about yourself."
My balcony view of the WTF needle building.
And I must say it was disturbing strolling up Madison Avenue and seeing the "For Rent" spaces on every block. By the way, I always window-shopped on Madison Avenue at night, but people warned me not to do that as there have been many "incidents" after 8 PM. On Madison Avenue? I have been away too long.

It's no news that the "cultural landscape" is changing in Paris, Germany, and London with all the recent immigration. But NYC's "landscape" is shattering without the refugee influx. The construction (55th Street is horrendous) has made the city a DMZ zone. Every morning I would stare out my window at the controversial 432 Park Avenue "needle" skyscraper puncturing the skyline and wonder who would buy an apartment in that place? There seems to be equal blame on de Blasio and Bloomberg. And by the way, bring back live porn on 42nd Street. All those food courts make it look like Des Moines, and traffic is backed up miserably.

Many of my New York pals would love to sell and move — but to where? Florida offers a tax dodge, but who can really stand the humidity? "Even the rich feel poor in New York," said one designer friend.
Madison Avenue "For Lease."
I must say the two city locations with any energy are the new downtown Whitney Museum and outside Donald's Trump Tower. The Whitney has officially made downtown the new center of art and action, while uptown's Trump Tower already looks like the new White House with multiple media satellite trucks practically blocking all of Tiffany. And the hottest boutique is at Trump's, selling "Make America Great Again" gear. They had sold out when I went, and who knows what any of that cost? It will all eventually go through the roof on eBay!
All of this made me wonder what is left of this wonderful city anymore (outside of the glories of Central Park). Ironically, Jeff Hirsch and I had to meet at the Jade Hotel on West 13th Street for coffee, and when I arrived in the dining room, I was overwhelmed with this huge collection of black and white photos by Fred W. McDarrah who I used to work with at The Village Voice (he was there for 50 years and died in 2007). It was a stunning visual history of the people (Mailer, Warhol, Dylan, Kerouac), places (Bleecker Street, Sheridan Square, and Fillmore), and events (Stonewall, political demonstrations) of an important city era. And it was "downtown" as I remembered it before Noho, Soho, Tribeca, and Boho. Back then it was either East or West Village.
The permanent installation of Fred W. McDarrah's photographs at the Grape and Vine restaurant at The Jade Hotel on West 13th Street.
A waiter told me everything was for sale, but more importantly there are now Village Tours (you can partake of "Fred's World" at Yesterday, May 25th, Bob Dylan turned 75. There was a celebration of "Dylan's World" and a concert and keepsake multi-postcard set of classic McDarrah images.
Bob Dylan Saluting, Christopher Park, Sheridan Square, January 22, 1965. Photo Courtesy Estate of Fred W. McDarrah © 2016 All Rights Reserved
Bleecker Street. Photo Courtesy Estate of Fred W. McDarrah © 2016 All Rights Reserved
Celebration After Riots Outside Stonewall Inn. Photo Courtesy Estate of Fred W. McDarrah © 2016 All Rights Reserved
I remember Fred (who was a major teacher for me in 1967) worked like a street fighter with an old Nikon S2. He was always at the right place at the right time and he shot everything with both eyes open (no squinting). I wonder how HE would feel today? As I left the Hotel, I got body slammed by two young girls — one taking selfies and the other texting while walking with hot coffee. The coffee went all over me, but their thumbs kept swiping, no apology. This happened more than once during my stay. Nobody gets their heads out of their devices. I even heard stories of mothers with their faces buried in their phones haphazardly steering SUV baby carriages and even losing control of them. This is not just about selfish entitlement; it has become a criminal offense.
Blair in front of Warhol and Fred McDarrah's "Silver Clouds," 1966.
My New York City visit did have some fabulous highlights. My friend Linda Rodin (Stylist Icon and Founder of Rodin Skincare) took me to her favorite city haunt (and she knows them all): Elle W Collection at 864 Lexington Avenue @ 65th Street. It proved to be a highly popular place. We drowned ourselves looking at expensive original French Art Deco jewelry and 20th century furniture. Owner Lorraine Whol taught me about the joys of vintage handkerchiefs. I bought three. And then she enticed me with authentic, gorgeously large antique Aquamarine rings ($7,000). I was almost seduced, but my tax accountant had left me a message that morning and put a buzz kill on all impulse shopping. Sadly, Lorraine is closing her store at the end of June, but she will continue her popularity online –
Lorraine Who, owner of the popular Elle W. Collection on Lexington Avenue.
Lorraine Whol and Linda Rodin discussing rings.
Linda and Lorraine examining antique handkerchiefs.
The fabulous Elle W. collection.
Lorraine's elegant antique handkerchiefs.
Seductive Antique Aquamarine Rings.
From there Linda directed me to the new midtown Barneys which we both found disappointing. Forget the merchandise — it still looks like a Loehmann's with low ceilings and bad lighting. I ended my afternoon with Linda and having our picture taken with her poodle Winky (part of her brand) on a stoop. We decided that our pet poodles are what will save us from these unsure times. 24 hours later she landed in Scottsdale to promote her Rodin Beauty Line at Cosbar and I got a friend to take my poodle Sunshine to get a photo with her! Instagram validation with our East and Southwest poodles is definitely a means of survival!
Meeting Sunshine's East Coast Cousin Winky with Linda Rodin.
24 hours later in Phoenix — Linda Rodin's photo shoot with Sunshine.
Joel Meyerowitz 's Dog Catcher.
Patrick Halbe and Sunshine doing their version of Meyerowitz 's Dog Catcher.
After New York I did three days in Philadelphia that didn't feel all that much more hopeful. The Rittenhouse Hotel had its staff issues (I couldn't get anyone on the phone from room service or front desk). But within 24 hours they corrected the problem. Tricky service is an epidemic in high-end establishments. I threatened to dump my room and move into LaCroix (their exceptional restaurant). They had the kind of waiters that never hover but magically appear when you need them. Executive Chef Jon Cichon was equally attentive and he listened to my complaining of a "no service" world and gifted me the greatest meal and desserts I have had in a while. It turns out he IS one of Philadelphia's greatest chefs!
The LaCroix Restaurant in Philadelphia. My favorite Philadelphia chef, Jon Cichon, Executive Chef at LaCroix.
I even tried going to the Philadelphia Museum of Art's "Pop" exhibit but felt depressed after walking through two rooms of Warhol, Dine, and Lichtenstein. I felt I had lived some of that era with my Mother, and seeing it hung in a museum made me feel as if hadn't aged well. But then, neither have I.
Andy Warhol dolls and merchandise from "POP" exhibit boutique at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
On my last day in Philly, there was a Bernie Sanders rally in the park below my window. As I watched all the screaming and the enthusiasm, I could honestly say that I didn't "Feel the Bern." I did, however, "Feel the Burn" and I haven't even gotten my American Express bill yet.
My luxury view of Rittenhouse Square from the Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia.
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