Hot Time, Summer in the City

Something I’ve observed this summer, worse than ever before, is that tourists are invading every corner of the city, making demands, being cranky, expecting to find Valhalla and finding instead the tricked out, dark underbelly of Oz.  They have bought into the Disney image of New York that Mayor Bloomberg and his 1%-ers have hyped to the hilt, and they blame New Yorkers for the fact that in real life, this city is still a dirty, noisy, hot, muggy, polluted, poorly air-conditioned and ridiculously expensive cesspool.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love New York.  I have never wanted to live anywhere else.  But when I am solvent enough to leave the city every summer, I shall.  Where will I go?  Anywhere but here.

Summer temperatures top 1000 at least in heat index for much of the summer.  While weather idiots on the tube regularly crow about the gloriously hot summer temps, they are safely ensconced in studios with average temperatures of 700F or lower, knowing they are about to get into hyper-cooled town cars that will whisk them back to whatever well A/C’d suburban lushness they left this morning. The rest of us are pouring schvitz, and no building we find ourselves stuck in is adequately cooled.

For most of us in New York — both native and visitor — there is no place to go for real relief.  The tourist who paid exorbitant prices to get here is not going to leave the city for a weekend spent floating in a not-nearly-as-icy-as-it-used-to-be glacial lake in the Adirondacks, which might be the only place left in the Northeast that isn’t miserable.  That tourist is probably wishing s/he had considered Alaska for this summer vacation.  Whatever possessed her to come here?

New Yorkers — well, those of us stuck down her here on the ground for the summer; remember, the 1% are out of town or in their refrigerated towers where weather is irrelevant — take the blame.  The tourists scream at us, push us out of their way, scowl at us when we try to help them.  And the way they treat service industry workers is appalling.

Last week, in a moment of exaggerated irony, I heard a woman yell at her husband, “Stop that.  You sound like a New Yorker.”  He was in mid-rant, flinging filthy epithets at a tour guide whose bus was full and could not take the couple onto her bus.  I was standing close by, a witness to the whole episode.  “I’m sorry for your trouble,” the guide had said consolingly.  “I’ve called the dispatcher to send an empty bus. You are not alone — we have . . .”  “You f-ing liar,” growled the man as the guide ran back onto the bus, pleading for the driver to close the doors behind her because the man was clearly about to lunge.  “You’ve made me stand here for two f-ing hours, you stupid bitch.  You think I believe for one minute that you got off your fat ass to. . .” The tour guide said less than nothing; she did look like she was close to tears.  If this guy was any example of the kind of customers she’d been taking on all day, she was probably frazzled.  And broke because no one was tipping.

Most Americans  — and foreigners these days, for that matter — turn their noses up at tipping, and many foreigners simply don’t understand our system because where they come from, tips are included in the price they pay for everything; no one ever has to ask.  Most tourists view service industry people’s asking for tips as akin to panhandling.  Yet the tip seekers are hard working, critical members of the labor force.  Nothing would run without them.  Yet their greedy, megalomaniacal bosses don’t pay them what they are worth;  they expect you to do it for them.

Consider the same tour bus, for example.  You have paid what feels to you like a king’s ransom for the pleasure of sitting on a steaming solarium, getting stuck in traffic long enough to have your skin sun roasted to the color of polished pomegranate seeds.  But in truth, you have actually paid very little for the service you are receiving.  Think about it.  On every bus, there is a driver and a guide who will answer all your questions, take all your abuse.  At every stop there is a dispatcher who keeps the buses rolling and protects you from one another when you fight over who’s first in line.  In the offices there are accountants who count and account for the money and bosses who tell each of the underlings what to do at every moment.  You use this service as a taxi, and in a day’s time, your handful of money has paid for some 500 people to keep the rig running.

Do you honestly believe those 500 people are paid what they are worth?  How could the employers’ profits soar as they do — these are figures Mayor Bloomberg loves to crow over — if all those foot soldiers were substantially paid?

Out-of-towners look down on service industry workers, consider them beneath contempt. They are, after all, the working class and deserve to be underpaid, undervalued, overworked, and maltreated because they didn’t pay their dues, get a good education, work their way up the corporate ladder.  In this age of Romney-ite philosophy, if you’re not rich, you are a loser.

Boy are you in the wrong city for that attitude!  I’m sure it’s like this elsewhere, but in New York, a surprising  — no, an ASTOUNDING — percentage of those working blue collar jobs are well-educated, well-read millions who were traind for jobs in industries that have failed in the past two years . . . like publishing and its fellows.

And here’s another insight.  Maybe where you come from your bosses talk to you like you deserve to be treated like a human being.  But in New York, particularly in the tourism industry, thugs are in key management positions.  That same tour guide who was being upbraided mercilessly by the unhappy customer will go back to her post and take another verbal beating for some infraction she executed unawares, and when she gets her paycheck, chances are it will be short by at least five of her exhausting hours’ work.

So, what’s my point? 

I hope you do come to New York — come soon, and come often.  We need your dollars for sure.  But try to remember that you need the service industry workers at least as much as they need you.  They go out of their way to make sure you are having a great day; they answer your questions, make lists, point to landmarks to guide you on your way, recommend places to pee, protect you from as much of the unpleasantness as is humanly possible.  They bring you your food, valet your car, carry your over-stuffed suitcase, call your cabs, drive your transports, clean the washrooms (yes, they do — people are slobs, remember?), ensure that you get safely to whatever floor you seek and, well, there is little you don’t take for granted that doesn’t require your thanking a service person.

Treat all New Yorkers with kindness and respect.  But treat all your servers with some extra consideration.  Leave a tip.

And for goodness sake, try to have a great time.  That’s what you came here for.

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