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The U.E.S. Journal

Tag Archives: New York City

NYC–>LA Transplant Tip: Two Driving Hazards They Don’t Teach You About in Driver’s Ed


When I got my driver’s license at 31 and started driving alone for the first time, I began encountering two types of potentially dangerous situations about which no friend, instructor, driver’s manual or internet forum had warned me.

Having spent my first thirty years (minus the few before I could walk) as a pedestrian in New York City, I learned to tune out the constant wailing of ambulances and fire trucks. Unless an emergency vehicle was about to cut through my walking path perpendicularly, the siren sound’s only relevance was to make me sometimes wonder what catastrophe had befallen someone who wasn’t me. In highschool, we actually had an assembly where a troupe of performers encouraged us to hear that common car alarm tune that goes from oscillating cries to robot-like beeps to a sort of slide whistle, as a song and they taught us dance moves to go along with each part. Such was the drive to reinterpret sounds of alarm into something benign. In a city as dense as New York, if you don’t learn to at least ignore those noises, you’ll be on edge all the time.

Now, behind the wheel, I still think of the siren as something to tune out, a distant cry in a Law and Order episode. I only really get it once the cars in front of me mysteriously slow down and pull to the side. And then there’s still a slow-motion thought process:

Hey! Wait a minute! What’s that guy doing? What’s that other guy doing? What’s going on? … Oh… Right… Shit! Is there room for me to pullover? I’m not sure!

By the time I slow down and pull to the shoulder or parking lane the ambulance has figured out a way around me and my fumbling maneuver was an empty gesture.

Pulling over to yield to an emergency vehicle is one thing in a manual, it’s another in real life. So far, the scenario has not occurred with enough frequency to break my 30-year habit of ignoring sirens. I hope that writing about it here will make this important rule sink in.

While my first unexpected driving hazard is heralded by a warning sound I should heed but do not, the second hazard functions oppositely. I have SIRIUS satellite radio in my car and I switch back and forth between NPR and BBC. It seems like BBC correspondents are always interviewing people on the street during rush hour. In India, China, London… there is so much traffic that it’s all a driver can do to honk out their frustration. Or, is it a tradition to honk at BBC reporters? I’ve stopped short more than once at an alarmingly urgent beeeep meant for some poor driver on the other side of the earth. But, the more time I’ve spent listening to BBC the easier it’s become to hear these horns as background noise. It’s been far harder to break the habit of not paying attention to very real sirens.

The hazards are not the ambulances or radio programs, but my habits, my non-driver ways of processing sound and confusing real and fake signs of danger.  Much of the California driver’s manual is geared toward teen drivers. Perhaps the DMV should add some instructions specifically for late-bloomer drivers.  I’m sure these dangerous habits will change in time like some of my other pre-Los Angeles habits have. Last time I was back in New York City I had to relearn to jaywalk!

P.S. When you’re taking the road test and you come to a yield sign, crane your neck all the way around really exaggeratedly even if you think you saw out of the corner of your eye that no cars were coming. I just saved you a few points.

8 Heads, Count ‘em! (Never before seen photos of back side of UES sculpture)

Today, after 30 years on the Upper East Side I settled in to my new home in Los Angeles. I will continue to write from here but for my farewell to the UES I am going to reveal some never before seen faces…

The building I grew up in, 4 East 88th Street, has been referred to as NYC’s finest example of neo-federalist architecture by the Carnegie Hill Neighbors Architectural Guide.  Designed by Electus D. Litchfield and erected in 1922, the building features a “broken pediment” whose void, just atop the awning, is filled by a carved stone “potpourri” of heads.

No one seems to know for sure who these heads represent. It has been suggested that they are American patriots or that one is Electus Litchfield, the architect himself. I have also only read or heard the head count at four to five even though at least four are clearly visible from the street. But, lucky for me the sculpture sits in one of my family’s windows and during some recent construction I leaned out the window (over a scaffolding and set off an alarm) and photographed the heads as best I could.

There are 8 heads. They go all the way around as if the sculpture was meant to sit on a table or in a garden with all sides visible, and not up against a wall.  Unfortunately, their condition has deteriorated over the years and you can see some repairs are also deteriorating. So far I have looked for Litchfield’s records regarding this building in his archives at Columbia University’s Avery Library to try to find out where he acquired the sculpture. The records for this building were not at Avery but there is a chance they could be in the archives at the Met Museum – a task for when I visit my parents in NYC or maybe a task for Christopher Gray.

Anyway, without further ado, I present to you all eight heads.

1. The Topper…
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The Franklin

I recently stayed a few nights at The Franklin Hotel on 87th Street between Lexington Ave and Third Ave.  Been walking by it for years, used to see the bellhop in a top hat.  Haven’t seen that in a long time there was no top hatted bellhop during my stay.  I have a feeling The Franklin has a gritty, story-filled New York City history.  The building was constructed around 1929 and the neon sign looks old and classic.  When I told people I would be staying there, most asked in a disgusted tone, why would I want to stay there?  I guess it doesn’t appear from the outside to be a really “nice” hotel but I was looking for something with a certain old New York vibe.  I almost didn’t stay there because when I sought out more information The Franklin Hotel website painted a picture of a chic contemporary boutique hotel, no mention of any past.  There were mixed reviews on Yelp and I think anyone looking for a contemporary boutique hotel could be disappointed.  The hallways and parts of rooms like the nook for the sink in my bathroom were datedly small.  But for anyone looking for that old New York feeling like myself, The Franklin was everything I wanted it to be.  Perhaps the coolest part is the elevator with an art deco motif in the cab.  The doorsknobs to the elevator on each floor have inlaid mother-of-pearl or abalone bits.  Mosaic room numbers.  I wish the Franklin would market its historical aspects more.  I want to know who stayed there, who died there, and if I knew its stories I swear I would stay there more often.  Anyone know any Franklin stories?  Please add in the comments.  Here are some photos.

The elevation plan is on display in the entrance.

A blurry photo I took several years ago of the bellhop.

Detailing UNDER Benches at Engineers’ Gate

You know those benches at “Engineer’s Gate” at 90th Street and Fifth Avenue where you enter the loop and the bridal path and the reservoir?  Check out the detailing UNDER the benches. They really don’t make things like they used to.

Andrew Alpern gave a talk at the New York Public Library a few weeks ago about the newest edition of his book “Holdouts! The Buildings That Got in the Way.”  He ended with a neutral statement: “Holdouts are neither all good nor all bad. They simply are.”  But it seemed to me that his sentiments leaned toward the negative.

Alpern opened his illustrated presentation with the image of a lonely, two-story building on an otherwise cleared city block, saying, “This is not a holdout.  It is the container of a holdout.”

Holdouts are the people who refuse to sell their property to make way for new developments.  You can see the results of holdouts throughout the city, wherever a tiny building is squished between two towers (one example: 592 Eighth Avenue).

This sort of sight always makes me smile; I think I would like to live in the little building. Read more →

Saks Fifth Avenue Signage

Just noticed this brick signage on the South side of Saks Fifth Avenue on 49th Street between Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue for the first time!

An X-Rated Door on the U.E.S. and one other sexy thing.

What the heck is up with this door?
321 E 92nd Street:

Also, I think this scroll-hip is pretty sexy.  Reminds me of some surrealist stuff.
1105 Park Avenue:

The Upper East Side Collection (of jewelry)

So, in case you didn’t know, I make jewelry ( and my new “Upper East Side Collection” is based on architectural ornament in the neighborhood.  I’m running a Kickstarter campaign to get enough pre-orders to be able to pay for some equipment, materials and promotional costs.  There are only 7 days left.  Please check out my Kickstarter video and page.

The Upper East Side Collection on Kickstarter


Here are some examples of the collection so far:
19 East 88th Street:

1041 Park Avenue:

Building photos taken by Brandon Perlman on medium format film.  Some guy at 1021 Park Avenue, possible the super, threatened to call the police while we were taking a photo from across the street on the Park Avenue median.
Jewelry photos by Evan Miller.

Upper East Side Nightlife

Raccoon family on Fifth Ave and 86th Street

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Photos from my Bedroom Window: 199? – 2010

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