Saturday, June 27, 2020

Back to the 70s

A few years back, I was at a board meeting of the Mystery Writers of America. After the big dinner (with an open bar), several of us had gone to Times Square to continue the festivities. At about two in the morning we piled into a taxi for the ride back to the Roosevelt Hotel. Along the way we spotted a single young woman strolling along 47th Street. She going somewhere that was none of our business but her relaxed attitude and that she was alone astounded us. We were a bunch of old timers who remembered New York City from the 70s and 80s, the Death Wish years. Back in the day, as young men, we would not have ventured going out even as a group at this time of night without risking injury or death. This woman's blasé manner showed how much the city had changed, for the better.

More recently, my sister took a job in Manhattan and during a visit to see her, I noted how much things had improved since I was first there. When I told her about the crime, the graffiti, the squalor, the decay, the homeless and prostitutes, that you could stand on any street corner and within ten minutes, witness a theft or mugging, she looked at me like I was talking about Bigfoot or UFOs. She pointed to a spray painted mural. "You mean graffiti like that?" Not even close.

I was convinced that the Big Apple would inevitably collapse like a rotting piece of fruit. But New Yorkers loved their city too much to let it deteriorate into complete ruin and through decades of hard work and persistence, swept away the crime and cleaned the place up. No small feat as with over two thousand murders per year, New York City had the reputation of being the most dangerous city in America. At times, its streets tallied a higher body count than Beirut, which was in the middle of a civil war!

By 2018, New York City was deemed the safest big city in America. True, Manhattan resembled a theme park for the rich but you could've trekked out at any hour and not feel like you should've prepared a toe tag in advance.

Now within days, New York City, like a lot of other urban centers, Denver included, seemed to have been flipped upside down. Riots. Vandalism. Mob rule. A rash of violent crime. Homeless camps that stretch for blocks. Boarded up windows where vibrant stores used to be. Decades of progress, BAM! wiped out. And a pandemic on top of all that. It looks like we're back to where we were forty years ago and everyone's forgotten the tough lessons that made our cities worth living in.

1 comment:

Rick Blechta said...

Thanks for writing this, Mario. I grew up just north of "The City" (as we always referred to it) and was down there a lot, especially while I attended NYU for two years. I concur with everything you said about it. But most importantly, it brought back a lot of memories, some good, some bad -- much like New York itself.