Monday, July 30, 2007

Hell on the 4,5, 6

A rush hour ride on the Lexington Avenue line can ruin your day, and often does!
Take today for instance. 8:30 a.m. and my simple trip from 86th Street to Union Square. On a good day the ride can last as little as 8 or 9 minutes. Not today! It was from the moment I descended that I sensed that this was not going to be a good one. The 80 degree humid air at street level added nearly a degree every other step down the stairs. The station, before the turnstiles, was mobbed by all those poor people that were waiting for metrocards who hadn't thought about when their card would expire (always make sure that it doesn't expire on a Monday-the lines are 3 times as long). Then again, if you forgot when you bought your metrocard or how much is left on it, it is impossible to tell, since all of the swipe machines that tell you what's left on them are broken, and always are. Anyway, every time that you descend to the express platform, you pray that the throngs of people waiting for the train are not Three or Four deep. Well today was 5 or 6 deep with people obviously turning around having given up. At 8:30 nowadays, the chances of this happening are about 1 in 3. Another 1 out of 3 are nearly as bad, and about 1 in 3 days is bearable/humane. These bearable/humane days seem to be dwindling. So what do you do? You squeeze through the agitated crowds along the platform to get to the back of the train where presumably the crowds will be less and the next train may actually have room for you to get on. So, I did that, and a train came. I know where the doors open, so I had a good shot of actually boarding the 4 train. A tough choice it was. It was one of those trains so completely packed that all you see is bodies pressed against the door when the train arrives. When the doors opened, a couple of people disembarked and I was faced with the question of whether or not I was gonna be the guy who saw the ever so slight 5 inches near the door where if I stood up perfectly straight, I may be able to get on this train and avoid having to make the same decision 4or 5 minutes later. After all, there was a hint of cold air rushing from the train, so how could I resist? The first stop was not that bad. Although I counted 31 bodies just from the right door to the front of the train (about 7' x 9'), I was only in body contact with 2 of them. Unfortunately, I had on a short-sleeved Polo Shirt and the gentleman to my left doing the Soduku puzzle under his chin had extremely hairy forearms which he had no problem rubbing against my forearms (which had no place to go). Yick! I thought, ok, this is gross, but at least people usually get off at 59th Street. Well, not really today it would seem. There was no room to jockey for position, just enough room to stand next to the bars next to the door that block you from sitting right on top of the 2 seater at the front of the car. The bad news was that there were rows of people 6 deep looking to get on to the train, and many tried and succeeded. They pushed, shoved, squeezed, cajoled, and next thing you know I was pressed up against the bars flush. I was in full body contact with at least 5 people, uncomfortably so, with at least 5 arms surrounding my body. An arm over my left shoulder, under my left armpit, one across my, let's say my front pants pocket area, and 2 to my right just above and below my shoulder. It was then that I had a true New York moment. I couldn't take it, regardless of my desire to get to work in a timely fashion. Just as the door was about to close, I jumped out of the car, taking perhaps 2 or 3 of the full body contact bodies and a few arms with me. I did say "pardon me", but, if you are out there I owe you an apology. It was an instant, involuntary response. I am sorry if I happened to push 4 or 5 of you, but it had to be done. I felt as if I had no choice. It actually felt strangely liberating and empowering just to say, fuck it, I can't take it and I won't be subject to this bullshit. Well, that didn't last too long. I made my way up the stairs from the platform at 59th and then up the escalator through the muggy, stinky, crowded station and up to the 6 platform where I caught the first crowded train and had contact with only 2 people, but not squishing contact, after boarding. Within a couple of stops I had made it into the center of the train where I actually had the 3 square feet recommended for cattle and a decent amount of a/c. Then the train stopped, and lurched, and stopped again and again. I was on one of those delayed, stuck in the tunnel hell rides that we all love so much. The ride which piques your curiosity as to how long it's actually going to take to travel a simple 4 miles. You wonder, is this going to be one of those trains where you finally get to a station and they tell you that the train is no longer running and you've got to either get out and wait (in bedlam), or escape the experience all together and carry on by foot. You also wonder if there was an accident, or worse, the incident that we all fear the most. Granted, that is only in the very back of your mind, but, it's still there. I usually assume that there was someone, a little older, perhaps, who was having the same experience on a train ahead of me, who's heart gave out and they are just waiting to tag him and bag him, so the rest of us can test this fate. Anyway, about 30 minutes into this journey, just before 28th Street, a seat presented itself, and smartly I took it, since the last 2 stops took better than 15 minutes. At least I got a full read of both free dailies on the way. When I got off there were a fair number of cops posted out along the platform and up the stairs, perhaps 12 in all. This is a little higher than usual which again piqued my curiosity, but again, we never know when they are looking for someone or some thing, and this number was just above average, so I saw no cause for alarm. My 8-10 minute ride clocked in at just over 45 minutes. Such a ride usually ruins my mood for an hour or two afterwards, but, such is life in New York. I go in knowing this can happen.
The real question is why this happens all the time and why we are so tolerant of lousy service that makes our commutes so often miserable? We are all mad as hell, so when do we make the joint decision that we are not going to take it anymore? The Empire State Building was built in 1 year..why can't they move a little quicker on the 2nd Avenue Subway System? 2013? Even that is a prayer at best! And what of this congestion pricing? So we are going to cram more people onto the trains and fix service later? Here is an idea, why don't you make service better, so more people take the train? And the idea that a fare hike is going to improve service is a joke. I have been hearing that line every time that they raised fares since I started riding in the 70's when the fare was 35 cents. Guess what, the trains are more crowded than ever! If a car on the 4 train was a bar or a club, the fire department would shut them down. Not only is such crowding a fire risk, unfortunately, it creates a greater terror risk as well.
Something should and must be done. I invite your comments and a dialogue to see how this most annoying situation can be rectified. This may ruin our day, let's not let it ruin our lives.

Ethanol Solution- Ban High Fructose Corn Syrup

It was 2 years ago, after doing a fair amount of research, that I decided to cut High Fructose Corn Syrup out of my diet. At that point I weighed in at 207 lbs with a 36" waist. Two years later with no other significant change in my diet or activity level, I have effortlessly lost 34 lbs, and 4 inches from my waistline. I am sure that I have lowered my blood pressure, and greatly decreased the possibility of adult onset diabetes, amongst other things.

Starting in the Late 70's High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)has largely replaced Cane and Beet Sugar in most processed foods since U.S. Tariffs double our cost of importing "real" sugar and domestic corn production is heavily subsidized by the U.S. Government, making for ample cheap corn. Food manufacturers love the heavily processed "sugar" since it is cheap, has a longer storage life, and being a liquid, it is easier to transport and process. Yet, HFSC has been a source of controversy for the past few years. During the period from it's inception, Diabetes and Obesity has nearly tripled in the U.S. to epidemic proportions (after decades of being stagnant prior to 1980). The cause and effect has been debated recently. The largest and most benign studies have been underwritten by The Corn Refiners Association, Pepsi, and The American Beverage Institute. These self-serving studies are frequently cited by food processors and soft drink companies to cast doubt on the science of HFCS. Here is what we do know for sure:

1- HFSC increases triglyceride levels. This is not good for your heart.

2- HFCS does not stimulate insulin like regular sugar. Insulin signals your brain that you are full. Insulin also creates Leptin, a chemical which signals your brain that your stomach is full. The lack of these chemical interactions means that you continue eating for far longer than you ordinarily would.

3- HFCS does not turn off the chemical Gherin which tells you that you are hungry.

4- HFCS skips the normal metabolic funtion of glycolisis, thereby increasing fat cell production.

In other words, the food industry may debate it, but there are plenty of signs that HFSC points to 3 things- fat, diabetes, and heart disease. The average American consumes 50 pounds of HFCS per year vs. none 32 years ago and the trends since then have been none to good.

Simultaneously, with the emergence of Ethanol as an alternative fuel, demand for corn has soared over the past couple of years. This demand has been blamed for increased corn prices which spills over to higher prices for feed, beef, milk, and more. So, here is a simple solution that will benefit our pockets and our waistlines- ban High Fructose Corn Syrup. This will free up an incredible amount of corn for the production of Ethanol, which is good for our environment and will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, lower food prices, and perhaps make us a little healthier.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Brompton Condo grows a belly!

Good news on many fronts for The Brompton condo going up on 85th and Third. First, the structure is nearly 9 stories above ground, and as the picture indicates the cantilever over the Equinox/Gap building has been established. Secondly, although they have not gone full-blown on the marketing effort yet, the sales office is open and sales have begun in earnest. The difference between the temporary and permanent sales office is enormous. The temporary sales office had only sketchy renderings and boxes of materials that were understated and confusing. The new sales office is one of the most luxurious that I have encountered. Located at the base of Related's Carnegie Park building on 93rd and Third, this office absolutely exudes luxury, wealth, and opulence. They have a full mock-up of the kitchen, bath, concierge desk, and a very helpful building model that I am sure cost in the 6-figures. For convenience they even have a children's playroom set up, complete with imaginative "The Brompton" coloring books for those that have kids, but want to concentrate on the presentation at the same time. Even the waiting area, which is like a modern, sophisticated living room with a beautiful view of Carnegie Park's Gardens, is a delight. I have to hand it to Related, they have done an absolute first class job, and my hopes for a building that live up to their prior triumph, The Chatham, are greatly increased. Prices start as low as $1185 per Sq ft for a $615,000. studio to as much as $2300 per square foot for a high floor 4 bed/4.5 ba with fireplace ($5.6mil./ 2424 sf).

Lucida Update...seems that they are about 2 stories above the foundation or still 2 stories below ground. Although The Lucida started sales a few months ago and has been an undeniable runaway success, there is no doubt in my mind that The Brompton will be finished sooner.

Adios Krispy Kreme! Good not knowing you.

There is hope after all, that at least on the island of Manhattan, perhaps the entire population will end up moribund and obese! Yes, the Krispy Kreme on 84th and 3rd has closed it's doors, leaving only one (at Penn Station) left in New York City. It would be easier to hate on if it wasn't a franchise, but nonetheless, I no longer have to deal with that nasty donut stench that I had to endure 1 block and several stories away. Besides, Krispy Kreme, the fat-assed, middle America donut doesn't belong here anyway. They don't even spell donut the way we do (they spell it doughnut). If you want to mourn, "Old Fashioned Donuts" which was wiped out with Extell's aquisition of the Lucida condo site was the one to cry about. Now I'm not a donut fan, but if you are in serious need, take a drive out to East Hampton, better yet, bike out there, it's only 100 miles, and get yourself a Dreesen's Donut on Newtown Lane. At least that way you won't notice the several hundred calories and you'll actually enjoy the taste.

Now about that McDonald's next door....

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Congestion Pricing Comeback?

It appears that Congestion Pricing is back. According to both Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Spitzer a deal has been reached. What kind of deal? A deal to form a committee, of course. So they have figured out how to make a deal without making a deal. This way, Bloomberg can go to the feds and try to get the $500 Million that we were supposed to lose out on earlier in the week.
Don't get me wrong, I'm fully in favor of Congestion Pricing, I just think it should be thought out alot better. Trucks should have designated parking, higher fees, and much higher fines for idling and double parking, and residents of the zone should be exempt from the fee because you can't help that you happen to live in the zone, and you should not be forced to pay a toll to drive around the block! Bike lanes and tax incentive to own a bike should also be included. Apparently no real details will be worked out until March of next year at the earliest, hopefully it's enough time to get it right!
WNBC: Analysis: Deal OKs Congestion Pricing -- Minus The Pricing
NY Times: Deal Is at Hand on Congestion Pricing
Crain's: NY officials in congestion pricing pact

LIC Condos Ready To Heat Up, Again!

I've spent quite a bit of time over in LIC lately. I have shared my time between previewing new condo developments coming in the next month and feeling out the local scene at bars, restaurants, and just roaming the streets. Now more than ever you get the feeling that the inevitable explosion is just about to happen. There are at least 5 major condo developments that are set to hit the market and more than a dozen more behind it in the Hunter's Point section alone. Prices have risen to an average of $750 per square foot over the past year (+15% approximately), and the trend appears to be continuing. The latest word is that in addition to the Duane Reade and Liquor store that Rockrose has signed on, they have also inked a supermarket! Yes, a supermarket people! I cannot yet divulge which supermarket it will be, but should be able to soon.

In the meantime, I have compiled an investment report on the area that details and reviews all of the new developments, timing, pricing, etc.. I have included an excerpt, the full report is available by request. You can email me at
P.S. Lounge 47 has a pretty good happy hour, $3 Stellas.

For Internal Use Only

Market Report: Hunter’s Point, Long Island City
July, 2007
Prepared by Andrew Fine, President, A. Fine Company, Inc.


Hunter’s Point in Long Island City remains one of our top two favorite investment areas within the City of New York. In our opinion, the area remains a compelling investment. Returns have been significant over the past 2 years, however, we believe this trend is in it’s infancy and the greatest price appreciation lies ahead. Inventory has decreased significantly over the past 2 quarters as new condo buildings like 5th Street Lofts, 10-50 Jackson, Echelon, and The Badge Building sold quickly at record levels for the area. 5th Street Lofts, the Toll Brothers development, made headlines last quarter with the first condo sale of over $1000/ft.. That number did not factor in the outdoor space, but it’s still a significant milestone. Prevailing prices for new condos available in the area are averaging just under $750 per square foot. This figure includes both doorman and non-doorman buildings. Xxxx Xxxxxxx ,whose book was approved recently and has quietly begun selling prior to official marketing has amended prices up to an average of $749/ft, and they have only a”cyber-doorman” and few amenities. Nonetheless demand appears strong for this development. It would be conservative to estimate that prices have climbed at least $100psf (or 15%) over the past year for new condo developments.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Accidental Indulgence..El Paso Taqueria

Last Sunday, I was on the 6 train uptown, looking for something to kill time on the ride. I grabbed my treo and started editing 2 years of photos. It turned out to be a great way to kill time, so much in fact that when I first looked up not only had I missed my stop at 86th Street, the doors were closing at 96th. Next stop 103rd Street. It was then that I decided to turn a negative into a positive, as I had read about a "hole in the wall" Mexican eatery named El Paso Taqueria at 104th and Lex, and what better opportunity to try it out than then. Having spent 4 years in Southern California, I was spoiled by authentic Mexican cuisine and have had extreme difficulty finding the same in New York. I'm not talking stuffy, Rosa Mexicano-style, fancy and opinionated dishes, I've been looking for a real deal authentic Carne Asada Taco, the kind you find at street stands in Ensenada, Mexico and in Los Angeles. To my delight, it has been found at El Paso Taqueria! The taco is the classic chopped steak on a double corn tortilla with just the right amount of cilantro and onion...just like in old Mexico. The Verde (Green) Salsa was also exceptional, the thought of it is making my mouth water as I type. The restaurant was clean, full, and uninspiringly simple (just the way we like them). You can bet I'll be paying less attention to my stop on the train so I can sample the rest of the menu. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Rest In Peace, Congestion Pricing!

Rest in peace, congestion pricing! All indications are that Bloomberg's bold initiate are all but dead. With Monday's deadline looming for Assembly "green light", it seems this idea can't get out of park, and I hope it stays that way.

For one, the abrasiveness with which Bloomberg has sold this idea is an instant turn-off. The two main arguments were that we have a $500 Million Dollar gun to our heads, and if we don't act we lose the money and our kids get asthma. Both arguments are ludicrous. We don't get $500 Million, we get $8 taken out of our pockets every time we cross an arbitrary line. And, in regards to the Asthma argument, the issue is most acute in the poorer neighborhoods which are outside of the zone, where theoretically cars and trucks will likely be idling waiting to get into the zone. The Congestion Pricing Plan could, arguably, exacerbate the Asthma problem. Additionally, this is a tax, and a tax which disproportionately impacts the hardest working, lowest paid New Yorkers. Finally, the plan does little to address the biggest traffic and pollution problems that we have which is double parked and idling trucks. We already have laws in place to deal with that are not enforced. Just giving trucks 60' on each avenue block to load and unload, and strictly enforcing double parking and idling rules would reduce pollution and traffic by far more than this ill-fated plan.