Tuesday, March 31, 2009


#90, Vienna

Let's face it. For all the 24-hour delis and great dive bars and eloquent citizens, living in New York City can still be a depressing experience. Every time I see an empty lock on a bike rack or read the Brooklyn Paper police blotter (a guilty pleasure that adds a dash of Dashiell Hammett to my coffee and donut break), I'm reminded of the epic level of thievery that goes on these boroughs. Seriously. It's as if the criminal class in a Dickens novel is let loose, daily, like a pack of hounds on the mom-and-pop shops and cell phone-toting citizens. All the cops can do is shrug and say, "Tough luck, buddy" or "If you see something, say something."

Yes, we dwell in a suspicion-ridden, mean metropolis where delis keep their Boar's Head turkey slices and Pocky sticks and about-to-expire milks shuttered in at night, where plastic milk crates for stacking newspapers are chained to newsstands, and where anything that may otherwise find itself "liberated" is bolted down or under lock and key. As a result, a simple honesty-policy coin-operated newspaper dispenser like this one may strike us as bizarre, eccentric even, a throwback to a kinder, gentler day that we never knew, an era of one-room schoolhouses and door-to-door milkmen helping little old ladies across the street. Observe this photograph. This tiny, well-mannered coin-operated mechanism clearly expects only the best from its citizens. It explains the price and gives you a cheery Danke! and then you take your newspaper and go off on your law-abiding way.

Do you ever wonder why you can't buy the Daily News or the New York Post from a machine? Are you kidding? One coin goes in and out goes a stack of forty or fifty pun-ridden Posts to be sold minutes later on the sidewalk at a hefty markup in between the shiskabob cart and the fruit guy. This policy, along with the public transportation systems many European cities like Amsterdam and Vienna enjoy would die a quick death in New York. It's a shame, because I'd love more genteel machines telling me Danke! instead of Correct Change Only or Out of Service. And the MTA is going down the tubes anyway, so why not tear out the turnstiles and skip the middleman? Free rides for everybody!

And speaking of good manners, I got a nice comment the other day from Greensboro Daily Photo that inquired about the method behind my photographs. A few people have asked: do I take the pictures the day before posting them or do I have them stored up? The short answer is that yes, I do have a storehouse of numbers to draw from. It's not endless, however, and I fully expect to panic once I hit 107. But I do like the (not true) long answer, which has a tireless version of me jet-setting each day from Prague to Vienna, from Vienna to Dublin, then off to Rome for lunch and Venice for dinner, idly photographing the newspaper dispensers and clocks and doorways and posting them to my blog after a delicious meal and espresso before retiring to my clean hotel room with a good book and a single malt scotch. And of course, I'd be buying my newspapers from stands just like this one, thinking to myself: how civilized. How very civilized it all is.


Jackie said...

T-- you really are hilarious. Loved this post. The last line - "How civilized. How civilized it all is" cracked me up.

pruized- a blemished piece of fruit that is repeatedly passed over in a supermarket

Ray Gunn said...

Tea, you've raised an interesting question (that is, other than the one that asks how one-room schoolhouses help old ladies cross the street)...

It seems only a few years ago that there were still vending machines for newspapers here and there next to mailboxes and trash cans. But have they really all gone away? Why didn't I notice? Aside from the fact that I don't read the filthy things.

WVW Big Brother is watching:

preli - the unenviable job of opening the bodega's shutters at early morning hours

Therese Cox said...

Jackie - thanks! The last line totally goes down well with a single malt scotch.

Ray - it's crazy, right? Look around - nothing but cheap plastic stands with free copies of AM New York, the Voice, and the course catalog for the Learning Annex. I wonder if the vending machines really existed in New York or if I'm just confusing it with airports.

Anyone else remember when/if they disappeared? Were they ever here at all?

Ray Gunn said...

Oh, they totally existed. It would be a weird thing to hallucinate, no? I distinctly remember once buying (or trying to buy) a New York Times from one and having it eat my first 50 cents.

Julie said...

oops, by the time I had read the text and thought the thinks, I had forgotten both the number and its image.

Shall go and clean the cat-tray as penance.