New York – Week Two

Another week has passsed, and it was very eventful. Everything is picking up right now. I am becoming increasingly busier at work, accepting more responsibilities for my projects and helping out staffers across the board at the office. As the summer progresses toward 4th of July, the intensity of the city also seems to grow. It was very hot last week; coupled with the persistent humidity (a hard weather pattern to get rid of or get over), and everyone is suddenly extraordinarily tense. Shoulders are tight as men in stiff suites and women in tight dresses march to work every day, dreaming of the weekend, air conditioning, and long naps.

I truly understand why the heat makes everyone crazy. It increases the frequency of traffic accidents, as well as the explosion of anger over small incidents on the streets. No one wants to wait for a subway car, because the tunnels are stifling hot and filled with commuters who drip with equal parts perspiration and frustration. The train cars whose air conditioning is functional are packed like sardine tins, and miserable midtown office employers uncomfortably pull at their collars and fan themselves with large smart phones and tablets in an effort to rapidly cool down.

Despite the overwhelming heat of the subway tunnels, I am very comfortable on the trains. I know my route to work well enough that I can take micro-naps on the train, or just zone out and listen to music. The rocking of the train cars on the express route is very soothing. I have really come to enjoy my commute. The comradery of all the people traveling together is a very humbling and humanizing experience. All walks of life can be found on the subway, and the other day, I even saw someone bring his 80+ pound mastiff into a train car! It was so large and imposing, and I was shocked because I had never seen a dog that stood out to me on the subway before. However, this dog turned out to be incredibly friendly, and the owner let me pet it on my ride home. The dog put its head against my legs and smiled up at me the whole time.

I discovered at the end of last week that laundry here is really expensive, costing about twice as much per load as the laundry machines at UPS charge. However, the machines at FIT seem to wash and dry loads which are twice as large as the ones back at UPS, so perhaps the price is comparable.

I have also finally learned how to grocery shop both economically and healthily, in relatively balanced parts. I’m trying to keep my grocery bill around fifty dollars per week, because there are other living expenses in New York which are also quite costly. An unlimited metro pass is 120 dollars per month, which makes the most economic sense for me because I commute so often and the normal metro passes charges $2.75 per swipe. But 120 dollars is still quite a large cost to incur, and because it charges my card one day a month, the large chunk of change abruptly yanked from my well-guarded wallet feels like a shock. I also spend between ten and twenty dollars on food on the weekend when I go out for a meal, for a special treat/dessert or when I purchase and send postcards. When I total all of these charges, it equals roughly 100 dollars per week in expenses, not including costs to live in my building at FIT.

Work got super busy last week, as most of the staff in the office devoted themselves to the project myself and my supervisor have been working on- the community health fair. We all spent the week calling vendors and organizations who were planning on tabling. The interns also traipsed up and down the streets of West Harlem handing out flyers to passers-by and hanging posters in the windows of local shops and restaurants. Owing to the sweltering heat and humidity last week, we were all dripping with sweat after the many hours we spent walking around every day. I didn’t mind the repetitive task all that much though, because I got to spend time with the other interns in the office, who I really like, as well as getting to know Harlem.

Before the health fair, we held a participatory budgeting facilitator training on Wednesday evening. Our office invited hundreds of constituents in the district to attend and get trained in how to lead a discussion with community members regarding how they would like to spend a chunk of the district’s money. We had about forty people show up, which we considered a very good number. The group was absolutely fantastic- very enthusiastic, with lots of creative ideas regarding how to help their community. They grasped the requirements for spending the district money immediately and instantly moved on to what the most effective way to implement projects would be. I was very proud of them.

Our health fair went very well. We held it at Riverbank State Park, a beautiful park overlooking the Hudson River off of 145th Street. We had at least 750 attend the fair and get fitted for bike helmets that the Department of Transportation was giving away to support bike safety. We held our first district participatory budgeting meeting during the health fair, and the turnout was fairly decent for a government-sponsored meeting with a long and boring name. During this assembly, our office staff recorded ideas from the community about what they want to use some of the district budget on, which the council member has set aside for the community to vote on. We will be holding many more of these assemblies, as well as a few more facilitator trainings.

I have decided the people at my work are the best. My direct supervisor is an amazing woman. She is one of the sweetest people I have ever met, and is very encouraging to me and tells me that I am doing a good job no matter what. She has two bosses who are both also nice, but very intimidating. They both know what they are doing, but move at hyper speed and can’t stand when they need to take the time to catch others up. Everything needs to happen rapidly for them, and they don’t really seem to process that some people need time to catch up. As soon as something finishes at our office, these two women immediately push us into the next project. I suppose that’s how politics really is, with a continually fluctuating list of things to accomplish. As much as I respect both of them, it’s hard for me to produce results fast enough for them.

We have many other staffers who I also really like, and am more slowly getting to know because they don’t work every day. I have fallen completely in love with my fellow interns. They are all such unique people, and I really enjoy learning more about them. Many of them still seem quite baffled by me, and the fact that I came all the way from California to intern at this office, but they are getting used to my eccentricities as I get used to theirs. We now freely swap stories of crazy-exes, tease each other about our strange music selections when it is our turn to switch the Pandora station, and make coffee/fried food runs for each other when it is a slow/sleepy afternoon at the office. I am particularly close with two other interns, one Puerto Rican boy my age from the city who studies upstate, and one Argentinian boy about 6 years older than me who was raised in Israel but goes to school in the city. They both study politics (not all the interns around the office are politics majors, some study economics, philosophy, or communications), and are very interesting people for totally different reasons.

I have already learned an indescribable amount from working at this office. I am helping people combat abuse from their landlords, find temporary housing in shelters, secure affordable health insurance, and get pre-screened for appointments with immigration lawyers in order to apply for citizenship. Our mission at the office is to help the underserved achieve equity in their communities through provision of additional, and often subsidized, services. We primarily work with and serve racial/ethnic minorities, non-English speakers, seniors, those with disabilities, the homeless, and the formerly incarcerated.

I am also learning about general office resources, such as Call Fire, an automated system on the computer which makes continuous calls by screening and dropping the numbers which don’t pick up the line. I file papers, answer emails, and have learned how to answer questions vaguely and diplomatically while on the phone with particularly displeasing people. I am also being thoroughly educated on the various organizations in the city which make it their priority to help the underserved and impoverished communities. I am learning all the housing agencies, law firms, and parks committees.

I am continuously thrilled to be working in local politics this summer because I am able to see the changes that occur in the community as a result of our office’s work. In addition to that, I am able to actually learn first hand, from the council member and his staff, how legislation is created and enacted. It is extremely exciting to watch an idea go through the process of being heard and voted on by the masses, and then turned into law! Our council member has so many outstanding positions on various city subjects, and I hope that the legislation he has proposed (which is currently in committee) passes. He supports affordable housing, widespread public transportation, and is in favor of transitioning from the outdated horse-pulled carriages currently in Central Park to more modern, electronic carriages.

Perhaps the only less than perfect thing about my stay in New York is my roommate. Though she isn’t a bad person, and is pretty nice, she and I don’t share the same values at all. She is Catholic and a republican, from the midwest. This mostly wouldn’t both me, except the fact that she became increasingly more fond of me when I told her that I used to go to church, as if her presence in my life would somehow miraculously convince me to adopt my renounced faith. She isn’t exactly the brightest, or the most mature person I have ever met either. She calls her parents frequently, often when she is having one of the many melodramatic meltdowns that she seems to create during the week. I don’t overly dislike her, I mostly just pity her- she is the cliched blond sorority girl who is in love with a false vision of the city which only exists in her dreams, when in reality, she is hardly suited to the hustle of the city. I hope she sees someday that while New York may be the city of dreams, it might not be the city of her dreams.

In order to avoid my roommate’s loud and dramatic phone and Skype conversations with either her parents or her sorority sisters, I go to the gym most evenings after work. It is barely tolerable, as there is minimal air circulation in the basement workout facility, and running on the treadmill alone in the sweltering heat is hardly an enjoyable experience. But I still go most days, if just for the sake of having an opportunity to relieve some stress for half an hour.

On the weekends, I continue to wander the city alone. This past Saturday, I slept in until 8, and then stayed in bed until noon, when I got up and decided to go out. I wandered through midtown and up 5th Avenue. On my route, I passed a Hare Krishna parade blasting loud music out of elaborate floats. I took many pictures of the parade and the floats, and then stopped in a souvenir shop to buy a few postcards to send to my friends. From there I entered Central Park and walked around, taking pictures of the pond and the lawns. It was a gorgeous afternoon, so there were, predictably, many hundreds of people out on the Great Lawn. I cut across the park and headed toward Levain Bakery, ready to stake my place in line for a gigantic double chocolate cookie. I only had to wait half an hour for the cookie, and took it back to the park to eat under the shade of a tree. After I finished my outstanding pile of chocolate goop, I continued to wander through the park, up to the reservoir. I had never been that far north in the park before, so I decided to walk the loop around the reservoir and take pictures. I absolutely love the views of the skyline from the reservoir track, and I took what felt like hundreds of pictures.

Once I was done walking the loop, I headed back south through the park, stopping to take in a group of performing acrobats, a beach volleyball team, and a meditative gong session. From there, I got on the subway to go down to Chelsea Market. I got off one stop late, and so I had the opportunity to wander through the West Village and admire the elegant brownstones lining the cobbled streets. I passed through a gourmet chocolate shop to take a picture of the chess set made of chocolate and then resumed my journey until I reached the market. I went inside to check out the shops, intending to buy dinner if something looked appetizing enough. I ended up not getting anything other than fruit for breakfast at an organic grocery store, as most of the food at the market looked fairly expensive, and like it would be more fun to sit and eat with friends. I enjoyed taking pictures of all the spices at one of the shops, as well as the various eclectic elements of the restored warehouse that hosts all of the market’s shops. After exiting the market, I went grocery shopping and then went back to my building to shower and sleep.

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned!

Coming up in next week’s installment… This week I am attending an elementary school dance recital in Hamilton Heights and a press conference on overcrowding at public schools in the city at City Hall to represent the council member’s office. Look forward to hearing about them!

 

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Myself and an office staffer at our health fair.

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The Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge.

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Riverbank State Park.

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Ori wondering why I am taking a picture of him.

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A double dark chocolate chocolate chip cookie from Levain Bakery.

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Radio City Music Hall.

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St. John the Divine, next to Columbia University.

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Riverside Church.

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St. John the Divine.

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Sunset next to Kaufman Hall.

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Inside Chelsea Market.

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A wide variety of shops inside Chelsea Market.

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Spices at a shop in Chelsea Market.

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Delicious looking bread in Chelsea Market.

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Flowers in Chelsea Market.

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A chocolate chess board at Li-lac Chocolates in the West Village.

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Columbus Circle.

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Seen in Central Park.

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The Great Lawn at Central Park.

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Beach volleyball in Central Park.

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Gnarly moves.

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A performer in Central Park.

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“We’re going over!” -performers in Central Park.

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Break-dancing in Central Park.

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A beautiful day in Central Park.

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A nice day to wander the paths of Central Park.

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Sometimes the lake gleams like diamonds.

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Central Park Reservoir picture 1.

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Central Park Reservoir picture 2.

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Central Park Reservoir picture 3.

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Central Park Reservoir picture 4.

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A nice day to simply laze.

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What a view- Central Park glory.

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A little bit of whimsy at Victorian Gardens at the park.

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The duck pond in Central Park.

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View from the pond in the park.

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The grand columns of New York Public Library.

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A Hare Krishna parade down Central Park.

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As seen on the corner of 31st and Broadway.

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