The New York Incident
I went back East for two weeks in July. My first stop was Boston, then I went to New York City and ended up in Chicago.
On Wednesday, July 22nd, I boarded a late afternoon train at Boston’s South Station and rode down, through the Connecticut shoreline, into Westchester County, and finally New York.
I hadn’t been in Manhattan since 2008. And as I walked through dismal Penn Station, dragging my suitcase on wheels, laptop slung around my neck, camera in bag across my shoulders, I entered into dusk on 8th Avenue and up into loud, thrilling chaos and disorder and a human army of walkers and honking cars and trucks.
It was about 8 O’Clock and I grabbed a smoking stick of chicken kabobs from a street corner vendor. A few jovial, joking, middle-aged guys, on their way to Madison Square Garden, stood behind me and kidded me about my kabobs, asking me if they were any good. They were my first interaction in the city, and a good one: the heart and soul of New York is the casual, interfering, obtrusive love of strangers on the sidewalk.
I walked east on 34th, aiming for a bus to take me uptown on Madison to my destination at East 87th. Eyes on the Empire State Building, I walked through Herald Square and then into a protest that spilled into the intersection of 34th and 5th.
There were hundreds marching against police brutality. And there were cops, on foot and in their vehicles, yelling through bullhorns to get the people off the street. The action and the sounds, the theater of it all, pushed me into grabbing my camera from my bag and start photographing it all.
As I was shooting pictures of people against law enforcement, someone came behind me and walked away with my luggage. My entire clothing and shoes and toiletries were stolen.
I knew it right away, or rather I realized it when I pushed through the crowd and got to Madison Avenue. I still had my computer and my camera, but I was without the two-week supply of pants, underwear, socks, shoes, and toiletries I had come with.
The next morning I had to go buy new clothes. Everything. I went to the cheapest place I could find, H&M, and bought it all. It was stuffed in a plastic bag.
I was near 59th and Central Park West, and had called the NYPD to see if I could go to a precinct station and file a report the stolen suitcase. They said to go to Midtown North at 306 W. 54th St.
As I walked up to the old brick building, a female cop came roaring out of the door and pointed to me, “You! Get out of here. Go to the other side of the street! And the rest of you, you can’t sleep here! Get up and get out!”
She thought I was homeless because I was carrying my bag of new, replacement clothes.
I ignored her and went inside the cop house. A large STOP sign was in the middle of a grungy room where cops sat behind swinging gates and an elevated stage. I saw a water fountain. Thirsty, I went to get a drink beyond the STOP sign.
“Sir! Get back! You can’t just walk in and drink there!”
I explained that I was here to file a stolen property report. They told me to put my name on a list and wait at a window on the other side of the room.
I waited. And nobody called me. Other people came in and walked in front of me. So finally I looked through the glass window and saw a bearded Orthodox Jew at a desk and a black woman standing behind him.
“Yeah, what do you want?” the black woman asked.
“I’m here to report my suitcase was stolen last night,” I said.
“Your suitcase was stolen last night so what are you doing here this morning?” the Orthodox Jew asked.
“I was robbed near 34th and 5th and they said to come here and file a report,” I said.
“34th and 5th? That’s the Empire State Building. You don’t come here. You go to the Midtown South Precinct at 357 W. 35th St.” the Orthodox Jew answered.
“They said you would write up the report and send it down to them,” I said.
“Who said that? We ain’t doing their work for them!” the black lady answered.
I realized now that I was in that territory of comical and tragic best covered by Woody Allen. There was no empathy, no service; only obstacles, ridiculous and inexcusable, but this was how the city that doesn’t work works.
I walked out of the police station and marveled at the New York comedy routine I had just experienced.
I still love that city.