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There is a Duane Reade (New York’s Walgreens or CVS equivalent) that we normally go to, not too far from my house. There used to be a small, high-end grocery and delicatessen right next door. It seemed, from the time it opened, that it had a pretty large following, so its closing about a year and a half ago was a bit unexpected. In that area, there tends to be a high turnover of stores and small restaurants, so I figured something new would take its place soon enough. Today, the space still has not been filled. I think that’s probably when I first started to get scared.
I think I’ve railed against Long Island a lot, when it comes to their feeling of invincibility owing to the region’s staggering wealth (with some exceptions). Three years ago, I rode on the LIRR through the whole summer, and the conversations among other passengers were mostly monotonous, vapid, or sometimes (on those rare occasions) riotously funny. Now, some of that conversation has turned somber, speculative, and almost scared (don’t get me wrong, there are still those who manage to carry on the vapid and stupid conversations in spite of anything else). I’m seeing large sales and discounts popping up to lure uncertain buyers. New York/Long Island mainstays (like Fortunoff and Steve and Barry’s) have filed for bankruptcy, and both are (or have completed) the process of liquidation. At the supermarket, the number of people using coupons seems to have increased exponentially. Even big-wig restaurant owners and chefs in the city (Mario Batali et. al.) have started to introduce special discounts at their restaurants that were normally only accessible to a select few with deep pockets (though I think the discounts were only through Restaurant Week, I don’t know about now).
On the other end of the spectrum, though, things like train fares (both commuter and subway) have been poised to increase over the next few months (I believe June is when the MTA is hiking up subway fares), making a more environmentally-sound (and sometimes, cost-effective) form of transportation more expensive. Schools are (still) hiking tuition costs at a rate that’s outpacing inflation (hooray for debt!), though some are increasing their financial aid packages in light of the fact that people are less likely to be able to pay for further education now than perhaps a few years ago.
So essentially I’m stuck in a slightly confused world where some are lowering costs, and others are increasing costs, and I’m struggling to keep whatever little money I have on my person. I try to cut down the amount of coffee I consume outside (such a hard habit to break) the number of times I eat out (another hard habit to break), and the number of times I have to go into the city, trying to plan my trips around off-peak hours for the sake of my wallet (though sometimes traveling at peak hours is unavoidable).
I was riding into the city on one of the Babylon LIRR trains and was listening to a conversation the two men sitting in front of me were having. They were speaking in hushed tones about how, given the state of affairs, crime was very likely to rise in the area. It was a rehashing of a similar conversation I had with my father. As much as I’d like to think that they are being incredibly paranoid, they’re all probably right.
Whenever I leave Penn Station, I walk out and make my way to Herald Square so I can catch the R or W to NYU. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that there is always one wheelchair-bound hobo at the corner of 34th and 7th uttering the same thing, over and over again. “Guys, can ya please help me get som’in ta’ eat?” Hobos are as part of the city as the Empire State Building and Times Square, but generally I never saw many, at least on the route I normally take through the city. Now–perhaps because there are more or because I’m taking greater notice of them–I have seen an increase in the number of hobos and street performers. At that corner just outside of Penn Station, I have seen on some days, two other wheelchair-bound hobos patrolling that intersection, hoping someone will give them something. The West 4th Station has seen an increase in performers who, sometimes, go to great lengths to attract attention (a full jazz band and a guy playing on a regular piano, for starters). The worst I have seen (at least to me) in recent weeks are the rise of teenage (or perhaps younger) street performers. On the F, I have seen on at least two occasions, a group of kids who breakdance on the moving train for money. I can’t deny that it’s entertaining, but I mean, they’re kids! I don’t know if this was their own choice, or their parents or friends put them up to this, but God forbid one of them fell and broke their neck…
Yet getting back to crime, in desperate times, desperate people will make desperate moves. More people are being driven into poverty, some ending up on the streets. It’s almost understandable that crime would be the next step. I don’t know if I can ever entirely trust the media coverage of local crimes, since it seems like crime activity in an area is always inflated for sensationalist value, but I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry. Usually, when I’m walking to and from the subway, I try to walk with someone. It’s not a terribly long walk, so I don’t mind walking alone sometimes, and usually the streets are very well-lit and well-trafficked. However, I have considered buying pepper spray, just in case I do end up staying later (for class, studying, or just in general), when the streets become less crowded. I’m not exactly a formidable figure, at 5’1″.
So at least here in the Long Island/NYC area, the recession has been moving in like a fog through empty streets, slowly and steadily. I suppose there’s no way to predict where this will take us, absolutely, but I hope that this will only be a temporary situation and that an upturn will start within the next few months. I can only hope.
As someone who commutes to New York City fairly often, I run into my fair share of society’s forsaken ones, the homeless, the poor, the amputees, and all combinations of those groups. Maybe I’m cynical, but it’s hard for me to spare money for some of these people because in the back of my mind, I tend to think half of them will use it for drugs. If I do give anything, it’s usually to young kids and teens, and some street performers. It’s an awful thing to think, because many of them are hurting and may genuinely need money or food, but I can’t help that the world has conditioned me this way.
Then I read the story and saw the video about Branden Foster’s last wish. He was 12 years old when he died, and within weeks of his succumbing to leukemia, he sought to make a difference by feeding the homeless. If you haven’t seen this video, you absolutely need to:
I can’t imagine what kind of a heart this kid had, but it must have been beautiful. I may think that I would do the same, but honestly if I was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer, I would have been too angry and too vindictive to ever have it in me to reach out and help one other person, let alone several hundreds, if not thousands, of people. When life is snatched suddenly from out of your reach at such a young age, how would you react? Needless to say, in the two weeks he was given before his death, he managed to inspire countless hundreds to donate food to homeless shelters, all while home-bound because he was too weak to actively go out and do it himself. I see needy people face-to-face and deny them a dime, while he lay dying and bought hope to hundreds whom he never had the chance to meet.
People, fate dealt Brenden Foster a terrible blow by ending his life so early, and yet he turned around and gave all that he could. If we can aspire to be even half as selfless as he was, then I think that’s a great achievement. Let’s try to make a difference, every small gesture counts.