Yesterday I was walking through the completely unhip part of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a neighborhood of immigrant and working-class apartment complexes, near the East River between the bridges, adjacent to Chinatown. There's a crowd of people standing next to an ambulance. Happens all the time in New York. I walk past them.
There's a bearded young white guy wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt obviously stoned out of his mind, trying to stand, standing, laughing, and then lying down on the street to rest before repeating the process. I walk past him, wondering WTF? The ambulance is right there. I should go back and let them know. I turn around and see the EMS guys with a gurney coming to take care of him. OK. The situation had me confused, because usually, if there's informal street theater in NYC, the crowd circles the event. Everyone wants to make sure the right thing is done. But here, due to the geometry of the neighborhood, they were all clustered to one side. There were only three white people in the area, including the stoned guy. (I'm from the Midwest, I notice these things.) The crowd -- who had obviously just cell-phoned for help moments before -- was Chinese, Hispanic, and black. The EMS guys were black. And there were two white women at the far side of the events, near a micro-park, looking lost, obviously wondering what the hell was going on. They come up to me: German tourists! much is explained. As Claudia well knows, my German bites the wax tadpole, but their English is good. They are looking for two things: how to get to the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge, so they can walk across it back to Manhattan; and the nearest McDonald's. I offer to walk them to the McDonald's, which is near the nearest subway stop to get to Brooklyn. Only a few blocks away, but the directions a little complicated. (No, Carrie, this is not a boom-chicka story. If it were, I wouldn't post it.) Their map, from a German travel guide, while strictly speaking accurate, lacks essential detail. I was a little shocked. They ask me, that man, what was going on there? Oh, a college student, overdosed on LSD, I reply (although it probably wasn't LSD, there's been a drought; and he might not have been in school; but close enough, close enough). Are there a lot of drugs in the city? No, not really, I answer. This part of Manhattan isn't very glamorous. In fact, it's downright industrial in spots. And there's trash on the sidewalks, so I understood their confusion. But it's not a slum. It's just... unkempt. We walk past the Knickerbocker Village complex. They see the sign and crack up. An entire apartment building filled with people wearing plus-fours! I love this city.