YOUR WEEKLY COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER SERVING CHELSEA, HUDSON YARDS & HELL’S KITCHEN
Participatory Budgeting Funds New Trees, Cool Breezes BY SEAN EGAN A jam-packed crowd filled the High Line’s 14th Street Passage on the warm afternoon of May 14, eager to learn which projects were earmarked to split a cool million set aside to fund District 3’s second go-around with Participatory Budgeting (PB). Cheers greeted the announcement that five out of 15 PB ballot items — spearheaded by and voted on directly by the public — would be fully funded. It was the highlight of Councilmember Corey Johnson’s Second Annual West Side Summit, which featured speeches from local electeds and Johnson’s own State of the District address. During the intermission, the assembled crowd was encouraged to write out community improveBUDGETING continued on p. 4
Hell’s Kitchen Man Has No Fear of Tribeca Pier Challenge BY SCOTT STIFFLER The shortest distance between two points is a straight line — but it rarely seems that way when the clock is ticking on an obstacle course. A serene waterfront setting, though, along with the knowledge that it’s all for a good cause, might remove some of the sting, and even motivate you to have another go-around. PIER continued on p. 6
Photo by Yannic Rack
Local electeds and a think tank are pushing for 14th St. to be quasi-pedestrianized — at least during a planned L train service shutdown, but possibly for good.
L Train Upheaval Could Usher in Car-Free Era on 14th Street BY YANNIC RACK A public meeting addressing options put forth by the MTA in response to subway tunnel damage from Hurricane Sandy became a platform to float the notion of turning 14th St. into a bike-andbus-exclusive thoroughfare — during, and possibly after, the repair process that could shut down L train service in Manhattan for more than a year. State Senator Brad Hoylman, building on a previous report from a public policy think tank, asked the MTA to consider making 14th St. a dedicated
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bus and bike route to facilitate commuter alternatives during the May 12 meeting organized by the agency. “I’d really like to see the possibility that you consider closing 14th Street to traffic,” the senator said during the event, held at the Salvation Army Centennial Memorial Temple Theatre (120 W. 14th St., btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves.), earning cheers and applause from the audience. “And maybe, after this is done, we’ll consider keeping 14th Street closed to traffic,” he added.
Hoylman’s comments came on the heels of an April report from the Regional Plan Association, which originally floated the 14th St. idea as one strategy to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of daily L train riders who will be looking for replacement service if the line is shut down. The report suggests restricting 14th St. between Union Square and Sixth Ave. in both directions to buses, bikes and pedestrians, with trucks permitted TRAIN continued on p. 2
VOLUME 08, ISSUE 19 | MAY 19 - 25, 2016
MTA Lays Out the ABCs of L Train Repair
Photos by Yannic Rack
Photos by Yannic Rack
The Canarsie Line currently serves 50,000 daily riders in Manhattan alone, according to the MTA. Seen here, commuters at the entrance to the Eighth Ave. L train stop on W. 14th St.
The Canarsie Line currently serves 50,000 daily riders in Manhattan alone, according to the MTA. Seen here, commuters at the entrance to the Eighth Ave. L train stop on W. 14th St.
TRAIN continued from p. 1
to make overnight deliveries or use loading zones on nearby avenues that would take the place of parking spaces. Under the proposal, the rest of traffic could travel east of Union Square
May 19 - 25, 2016
and west of Sixth Ave., but only oneway toward each river. The planning exercise was sparked by the MTA’s plans to shut down the Canarsie Tunnel, which carries L trains below the East River, starting in 2019 to repair extensive damage
that was caused by Hurricane Sandy when the superstorm flooded the 92-year-old tunnel with seven million gallons of corrosive saltwater. The agency is currently mulling over two scenarios for the repair work: the first would close both tunnel tubes for 18 months, shutting down L train service completely in Manhattan, while the second would only close a single track for three years, which would still allow for trains to shuttle across the borough, but less frequently. Reduced Manhattan service is not possible under the first proposal — the “get in, get done, get out” option, according to MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast — since the agency says it won’t be able to keep trains running on the island without connection to a maintenance yard in Brooklyn. “There isn’t a yard in Manhattan, and we can’t otherwise service the trains that would be stuck in Manhattan,” explained Veronique Hakim, the MTA’s President of New York City Transit. Under the second option, trains would still be running both ways, but only carry about one fifth of the commuters that currently use the line, according to the MTA. The agency says that 225,000 daily riders would be affected by the shutdown, with around 50,000 travelling solely in Manhattan. “[There’s] an awful lot of ridership and volume along the 14th Street corridor,” said Prendergast. MTA officials at the meeting did
not respond directly to Hoylman’s comments, but Hakim later gave a vague answer to a similar question from Christine Berthet, the former chair of Community Board 4, who asked whether cars would be restricted on the street. “On dedicated bus lines, and restricting cars and other types of vehicles on 14th Street — working with city DOT [Department of Transportation], on making 14th Street work is obviously a top priority here,” she said. This week, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the department would consider closing the street. “Everything is going to be on the table,” Trottenberg said when asked by Councilmember Corey Johnson if banishing cars from the stretch was a possibility during a City Council hearing on Tuesday. “We’re going to look at every option pretty seriously. We know this is going to be a huge challenge for the local population,” she said. Either way, the MTA is already planning to help alleviate the strain of reduced L train service with a range of improved alternative transport options. Under both scenarios, additional M, J and G trains would run to accommodate commuters, with J and Z trains making local stops between Myrtle and Marcy Aves. in Brooklyn. Free out-of-system transfers would be provided between the Broadway G TRAIN continued on p. 13 .com
CB4 Hopping Mad Over Treatment of Underground Railroad Site BY SEAN EGAN The latest of the dozens of battles (fought both in and out of court) in the years-long war over the fate of the Hopper-Gibbons House has ended in favor of The Friends of HopperGibbons Underground Railroad Site & Lamartine Place Historic District, who seek to protect the integrity of the historic, documented Underground Railroad site located at 339 W. 29th St. (btw. Eighth & Ninth Ave.). The stop at Community Board 4â€™s (CB4) Chelsea Land Use Committee meeting on May 16 found the Friends and their allies seeking CB4â€™s denial of support for the ownerâ€™s latest plans for the construction, which will be presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) on June 21. While this step is promising, the House that once served as an abolition center and safe haven for runaway slaves still has a long way to go to return to its former glory. In the past, trouble has surrounded the building because at the outset of construction, the owner was in possession of a permit erroneously issued by the Department of Buildings (DOB), rather than by the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) â€” and began to build a fifth floor on the row house. In 2009, soon after the invalid DOB permit was revoked and Stop Work Orders were issued (though, reportedly, construction continued), the building was granted landmark status as part of the Lamartine Historic District. Thusly, in 2013, the BSA ordered owner Tony Mamounas to get approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) before moving ahead with construction. This decision was reinforced both in Manhattan Supreme Court in 2013, and more recently the NY Supreme Court Appellate Division in 2015 â€” at which point it was noted by electeds and advocates that the LPC had the authority to make the owner restore the building to its prior state. Lawyer Marvin Mitzner, speaking on behalf of the owner that evening, was there to present to the committee the plans for the building that the owner is currently seeking, and planning on bringing before the LPC. Introducing the projectâ€™s architect, the assembled were shown renderings of what they ultimately want the building to look like. Their current plan includes keeping an .com
Photos by Sean Egan
Mamounasâ€™ architect presented plans the owner hopes will be approved by the LPC.
altered fifth floor on the building in a bulkhead, set back seven feet and at a slant, in order to make it less visible from across the street, creating the illusion (from certain angles) of it being flush with sourrounding roofs. They also noted that keeping this floor, with stairs, would provide safer access to the roof. Other touted improvements to the building included a brownstone base, a new brick faĂ§ade, and new windows to give it a â€œmore distinct profileâ€? â€” a positive step, according to Mitzner, who characterized the structure as an â€œugly stucco buildingâ€? that is an â€œeyesoreâ€? in the district. Committee member Walter Mankoff spared no time taking Mitzner and Mamounas to task after the presentation. â€œI do recall year after year, and month after month,â€? noted Mankoff, â€œthat construction kept going on, on the fifth floor, deliberately violating rules,â€? making him find it hard to sympathize with their call to support the plan. To Mitzner, the fifth floor plans were not unreasonable, â€œin return for what weâ€™re doing,â€? calling the design â€œa significant restoration and improvement of propertyâ€? that the owner did not necessarily need to do â€” phrasing that prompted committee member Burt Lazarin to inquire if Mitzner was threatening the board with withholding improvements. Others present noted that the restoration of elements such as the brick faĂ§ade would not be necessary, had Mamounas not illegally altered the building to begin with. Next, a representative from State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried â€” also representing State Senator
Brad Hoylman, City Councilmember Corey Johnson, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, in this matter â€” stood up to deliver a strongly worded response against the proposal and the â€œmonstrosity atop [Mamounasâ€™] landmarked building.â€? Citing the court cases, and pointing out that Mamounas could have used historic tax credits to improve the house, the letter concluded that the â€œremoval of
A current view of the Hopper-Gibbons House, â€œugly stuccoâ€? and all.
the illegal fifth-floor addition is long overdue,â€? and that itâ€™s â€œunacceptable to replace this addition with a roof deck and another structure that ruins the historical character of the building.â€? Soon thereafter, Fern Luskin, a member of the Friends who started a change.org petition to restore HOPPER-GIBBONS continued on p. 17
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May 19 - 25, 2016
Voter Turnout Rewarded at West Side Summit BUDGETING continued from p. 1
ment suggestions at provided stations. The ideas culled from this session were then presented prior to the PB winners’ announcement, and Johnson speculated that some of the projects might even end up on next year’s PB ballot. Just before the big moment, however, Johnson talked about a new “tracking system” available on his website (coreyjohnson.nyc), which allows community members to monitor the progress being made on 2015’s PB winners, including the popular, forthcoming 20th Street Park. “Two-thousand people from across the district participated, and came out and voted,” Johnson announced, building up tension. “Without further ado, here are the winners of Participatory Budgeting for 2016.” Kicking off the ceremony with the lowest vote-getter (686 cast), Johnson revealed that City Knoll Middle School (425 W. 33rd St., btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.) would have their new library space funded with $300,000. Johnson commented on how the new improvements will help modernize
the space to aid in students’ learning, and commended the hard work of Victoria Armas, the school’s principal, in advocating for the project. At number four, with 790 votes, was real-time rider information at bus stops, which will be receiving $100,000. “These electronic boards will offer real-time bus arrival times,” noted Johnson, who went on to elaborate that they would be installed at “five key bus stops,” which are to be determined “in conjunction with the Community Boards and the Department of Transportation” for maximum rider convenience. Next, with 813 votes, was new audio/visual equipment for PS 11. The $75,000 A/V system will be installed in the school’s auditorium, and help the students fulfill their curriculum to the fullest, by facilitating presentations and student performances. The runner-up was the renovation of Muhlenberg Public Library’s (209 W. 23rd St., btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.) HVAC system. While coming in second place with 858 votes, the library will receive the most money overall ($500,000). Johnson praised
Photos by Sean Egan
Councilmember Corey Johnson reveals the number two vote-getter, the air conditioning system at Muhlenberg Library.
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A group of people waiting to contribute their community suggestions for Johnson to hear — which could perhaps be on next year’s Participatory Budgeting ballot.
the library as “a community treasure,” further valued by its status as an official NYC Cooling Center — a designated place where the public can beat the heat in summer months (their current system, noted supporters of the HVAC upgrade, is just not cutting it). Muhlenberg Library Manager Lateshe Lee noted that her patrons would be “really excited” about the win, “because they’ve been asking us about it for the past couple of weeks.” The road to success was a long one — this was the second year the library appeared on the ballot, and it was through the work of outside delegates (along with some custom bookmarks getting out the word to vote) that finally secured a win.
While acknowledging that it won’t be put in place this summer, Lee nonetheless expressed her enthusiasm about being able to better serve visitors, by providing enhanced comfort to those who participate in the library’s many programs. “We’re ecstatic that we got it,” she said. The number one vote-getter (with a commanding 1,083) was then announced: new trees for District 3. According to Johnson, $100,000 will be devoted to planting “dozens and dozens and dozens” of trees all throughout the district, and that his office would be working with block associations, community boards, and BUDGETING continued on p. 15 .com
Moniker Makeover Pending for Nameless Plaza BY YANNIC RACK It’s been a park with no name for months, but now the new plaza north of Hudson Yards is finally closer to its christening. The Hudson Yards / Hell’s Kitchen Alliance, which commissioned a crowdsourcing survey to find a moniker for the green space between Hudson Yards / Hell’s Kitchen Alliance 10th and 11th Aves., The park’s mid-section, the block between W. 34th from W. 33rd St. to & W. 35th Sts., sports fountains and plenty of W. 36th St., said this seating. At that point, the committee had week that its naming committee had chosen a finalist — which beat out such also moved away from any neighborinspired submissions as “Sarah Palin hood-themed names, which explains why Memorial Park,” “Quite Nice New Park” submissions like “Devil’s Playground,” and “Only The Rich Can Be Here Park.” “Hell of a Park” and “Hell’s Heavenly The plaza, which opened to the public Park” didn’t make the cut. “Notions related to Hell or Devil last August, will henceforth be known as “Hudson Boulevard Park,” pending are too negative and feel like an approval by the city’s Parks Department. appropriation of Hell’s Kitchen,” the “In the end, the name was decided on presentation said. In their responses, some of the parfor several reasons, but largely because it gives a destination, which is important ticipants showed love for their musical for a new park, and helps distinguish idols — “David Bowie Park,” “Ziggy it from other parks with Hudson as Stardust Park,” “Pete Seeger Park” and part of their names,” said Bob Benfatto, “Lou Reed Park” were among the subthe BID’s executive director, adding that missions — while others made bitter over 150 people weighed in with their comments on the state of their changing neighborhood, with suggestions includsuggestions. The Alliance’s naming committee ing “Gentrification Park,” “Long Time voted unanimously for the new mon- Residents Get Lost Park” and “Only iker, which got seven votes in the The Rich Can Be Here Park.” Of course survey, even though the public favored public figures — large and small — “Hudson Yards Park,” which was sub- weren’t missing from the mix either, mitted 10 times. Third place went to with Alexander Hamilton, former Mayor “Hudson Park,” which garnered five Michael Bloomberg, ex-City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and even forvotes. “There were three other names that mer Community Board 4 Chair Christine there wasn’t any consensus on, and Berthet represented on the ballot. The new name still has to be approved the Parks Department didn’t like some by the Parks Department, which was names too,” explained Benfatto. It is unsurprising that Hudson Yards initially skeptical of any name that would — the title of the private development include “Hudson” — supposedly for its just to the south — didn’t make it into the potential to confuse visitors looking for name, but the BID had also expressed the nearby Hudson River Park instead.A caution against including “Hudson” in a Parks Department spokesperson said this week that, while the department presentation from last summer. “Hudson Boulevard Park needs to considers community input, the name remain in the mix as the status quo, would ultimately be determined by the despite the Park Dept’s specific resis- agency’s commissioner, Mitchell Silver. The new park, which is supposed to tance to Hudson being overused,” one slide of the presentation read. “Hudson eventually encompass three additional also remains a concern for the committee blocks to the north, is already home to as being tied to Hudson Yards’ identity, a playground, seating, fountains and a and not inclusive enough of the entire food and drink kiosk that will open to the public for the first time this summer. community.” .com
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Runner on Course to Overcome Obstacles PIER continued from p. 1
Hell’s Kitchenite Ryan White, 32, will be keeping all of this in mind on May 21, when he competes in the Hudson River Park Games’ inaugural Fear the Pier fitness challenge — a short but dense timed obstacle course designed for elite athletes, urban adventurers, and fierce competitors, whose registration fee ($25 for one attempt, $40 for two) will help nonprofit event sponsor Friends of Hudson River Park fund upkeep and programming along the park’s 550 acres, between W. 59th and Chambers Sts. on the west side. White knows one particular stretch of Hudson River Park very well, having made a habit of fast-footing it on a nearby route ever since moving to W. 48th St. two years ago. Weather permitting, White currently runs “at least once a week, from the upper [northernmost] part of the park, down past the Intrepid [Sea, Air & Space Museum; Pier 86, at W. 46th St. & 12th Ave.]. I’ve also done it in the cold and the snow,” he says of the 45-minute run. “It’s actually really
pretty, if you can take the cold wind.” The very act of being able to break a sweat outside the confines of four walls is still a novel concept for White, who works as a Senior Project Manager at the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Before moving to the city nearly six years ago, he was employed by the private sector in China’s shipping and freighting industry. “I could not work out outside, because of the poor air quality,” he recalls. “So it’s nice to be able to exercise outdoors now and enjoy the [park’s] amenities. It’s a great way to de-stress, because you have this amazing view of the water. You get to see the city skyline, and I like seeing so many trees along the way. That’s one of its greatest assets, that they’ve made it so green.” White’s rhapsodizing about the meditative effects of a cardio workout within splashing distance of the Hudson is typical of those who regularly exercise in the park. Minutes from the concrete pen effect of Manhattan’s grid, the park’s design does a remarkably effective job of cre-
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The Monster Climbing Wall is one of the most fearsome challenges.
ating the perception of great distance from all manner of urban noise and congestion. “It’s peaceful,” says White. “It can really relax you.” That sense of calm is about to be shattered. Fit, determined, and able to stick to a training schedule (he lifts weights at Crunch and takes classes at Barry’s Boot Camp), White recently saw a posting about Fear the Pier on his friend’s Facebook feed, and decided to take the plunge. “I was looking for physical activities for the spring that would be outside, so this was a perfect fit,” he says, noting that the past three years have taken him to New Hampshire and the Poconos in pursuit of a seasonal adrenaline rush. “I’ve done the Tough Mudder [a hardcore, 10-12 mile obstacle race] before, which is pretty difficult. The best thing about Mudder is that you’re doing it with a group of friends. You can go out and be physical and have fun. You’re helping each other on various obstacles, so the teamwork makes the pain of the event easier. But this year, I didn’t have time to travel too far.” Hopefully, some of his Mudder buddies will show up at Tribeca’s Pier 26 for moral support — but there will be no one to help him navigate the Fear course, which White has not previewed online in order to strategize. The event’s location, he says, is reason enough to lace up and face the music. “It’s just the idea of doing something physical next to the water. I don’t know what to expect in terms of the obstacles,
Photo by Robert Dunne
Intrepid runner and Hell’s Kitchen resident Ryan White will accept the Fear the Pier challenge, sight unseen, when he arrives on Pier 26 this weekend.
but I love its [the event and the park’s] proximity to where I live.” Spoiler Alert: Pier 26’s fear-inducing course confronts its participants with, among other things: a jump over police barrier hurdles, a climb up and over a NYC School Bus, the scaling of a “Monster Climbing Wall,” a body crawl, a walk off the plank, and a capper that’s ominously, if appropriately, titled the “Man Overboard Finish.” Those who repeat the course are in the running to be crowned “2016 Masters of the Pier.” To learn more about the Hudson River Park Games and each of Fear the Pier’s potentially humbling, possibly empowering, obstacles, and to register for the event, visit hudsonriverparkgames.org. .com
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The knife that NYPD officers were threatened with, following an altercation on the morning of Wed., May 18.
BY SEAN EGAN A man wielding a knife was left dead after a run-in with police led to gunfire during rush hour in Hell’s Kitchen on Wed., May 18. The man — a 46-year-old from New England whose identity has yet to be released by authorities — was reportedly causing a disturbance in a Food Emporium grocery store at W. 49th St. and Eighth Ave. shortly after 8am, threatening and cursing at customers and employees as he tried to purchase some beer. This aggressive behavior escalated when a cashier asked for ID, prompting a retired law enforcement officer who was shopping in the store to hail down nearby a nearby police officer, while the store’s staff escorted the belligerent man outside. At this point the responding officer confronted the man, which resulted in a physical altercation that left both men on the ground. As they got back up, the suspect — who had prior knife-related arrests — produced an eight-inch blade, and began to approach the officer, as well as two other officers at the scene who had responded, in a threatening manner. When the man was ordered to drop his weapon, he refused, and continued to approach the officers, two of which responded by opening fire. Nine rounds were fired in total; the man was pronounced dead at the scene One bystander, a 46-year-old woman, was grazed by a bullet, while the officer who initially confronted the suspect sustained a cut on his hand; both were taken to Bellevue.
POLICE BLOTTER COMPUTER TAMPERING: Hotel hacker lists unlawful lodging While Airbnb has caught flack for helping so-called “illegal hotels” proliferate throughout the city, they certainly can’t be blamed for one tech-savvy troublemaker who took that concept to new heights. On Fri., May 13, the 53-year-old man, who lives on the 200 block of Eighth Ave. (btw. W. 21st & W. 22nd Sts.) reported to police that someone had hacked his Gmail account, and then used it (and the personal information they found) to open an Airbnb account, and subsequently post ads online from it. The victim assured authorities that he had never used Airbnb or had an account there before the hack, which he dates to beginning back in Nov. 2015. In addition to the 10th Precinct police, the man also reported the activity to the New York State Attorney General’s office for Internet fraud. Thankfully, the man changed his Gmail password, and no further hacks have happened — but the perp still remains at large.
GRAND LARCENY Robbing Peter at St. Paul’s In an item that confirms that, indeed, nothing is sacred anymore in this day and age, a 45-year-old man became the victim of a theft on Sun., May 15, while at the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Paul (315 W. 22nd St., btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.). At around 11:30am, the man left $1,300 worth of property — including a Nikon digital camera and a Samsung Galaxy smartphone — on the second level of the church, and then went downstairs for about an hour. That’s when one lost soul — flagrantly disregarding the third and eighth commandments — had the opportunity to snatch the stuff and flee the scene, before any fire or brimstone could rain down and alert others of the unrepentant sinner in their midst. Though the eyes of God may always be watching, the church had to inform authorities that video surveillance (both inside and out of the building) was not available — and after three days without the stuff
miraculously reappearing, it seems fairly unlikely the victim will be welcoming back his prodigal property, or that the devilish delinquent responsible will ever face judgment day (at least not in this life).
CRIMINAL TRESSPASS: Bistro a no-go While the prices at Starbucks might seem criminal, they sure beat the (literally) criminal price one man paid for an unauthorized visit to an alternative java spot. At about 1:15pm on Sat., May 14, a 35-year-old security officer was patrolling around the first floor of the Starrett-Lehigh building (601 W. 26th St., btw. 11th & 12th Aves.), when he noticed a man enter through the building’s freight entrance without permission. He next saw ther man walk through an exit gate, and then, for reasons unclear, walk into a closed-off café area — again, without permission or authority to do so. The guard alerted officers about the violating visitor, and the intrusive 34-year-old was arrested in short order.
GRAND LARCENY: Lotta loot lost on lot One might assume that a paid parking lot would be a more secure place than the streets for a vehicle — but that assumption made an, uh, “fool,” out of one 52-year-old man who left his car at a lot at 456 11th Ave. (at W. 37th St.) on Sat., May 14. At about 4:30pm, when the man returned from the event he was attending at the nearby Javits Center to pick up his car, he noticed that a number of items he left inside it were missing. When he asked the parking attendant about this, the employee said that the car had remained parked on the lot, and was locked when he went to retrieve it — but also noted that the vehicle’s key was placed on top of the driver’s side front tire while parked. The man wound up losing a $600 iPad, a $1,200 Lenovo laptop, and a $100 Jetpack WiFi hotspot. Video, unfortunately, was not available at the scene of the incident.
—SEAN EGAN .com
Top driver disTracTions Using mobile phones
Leading the list of the top distractions behind the wheel are mobile phones. Phones now do more than just place calls, and drivers often cannot pull away from their phones, even when driving. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, studies have shown that driving performance is lowered and the level of distraction is higher for drivers who are heavily engaged in cell
phone conversations. The use of a hands-free device does not lower distraction levels. The percentage of vehicle crashes and nearcrashes attributed to dialing is nearly identical to the number associated with talking or listening.
Many people will admit to daydreaming behind the wheel or looking at a person or object outside of the car for too long. Per-
haps they’re checking out a house in a new neighborhood or thought they saw someone they knew on the street corner. It can be easy to veer into the direction your eyes are focused, causing an accident. In addition to trying to stay focused on the road, some drivers prefer the help of lane departure warning systems.
Those who haven’t quite mastered walking and
chewing gum at the same time may want to avoid eating while driving. The majority of foods require a person’s hands to be taken off of the wheel and their eyes to be diverted from the road. Reaching in the back seat to share some French fries with the kids is also distracting. Try to eat meals before getting in the car. For those who must snack while en route, take a moment to pull over at
a rest area and spend 10 minutes snacking there before resuming the trip.
Glancing at an advertisement, updating a Facebook status or reading a book are all activities that should be avoided when driving. Even pouring over a traffic map or consulting the digital display of a GPS system can be distracting.
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Clinton Embraces Broad Agenda for Fighting AIDS in Meeting With Activists BY DUNCAN OSBORNE Hillary Clinton made a number of promises to advance the fight against HIV and offered critiques of some of the current responses in that fight during a May 12 meeting with leading AIDS groups. “I won’t make promises that I can’t keep,” Clinton told roughly 20 representatives from AIDS and LGBT groups near the start of the hour-long meeting at her campaign’s Brooklyn headquarters. “I will do everything I can to achieve an AIDS-free generation. We will work with you to lay out a path to do this.” The quotes are from notes made by Charles King, the chief executive of Housing Works, an AIDS group. The notes were shared with Chelsea Now’s sister publication, Gay City News, on the condition that the paper not identify the person who provided them. The notes both quote and paraphrase people who spoke in the meeting. Activists sought and won Clinton’s support for a national plan to end AIDS that will treat HIV-positive people so they are no longer infectious, and use some of those same drugs in HIV-negative people to keep them uninfected. The plan also increases housing and other services for HIV-positive people. Activists have set a target “getting below 12,000 new infections in 2025,” according to the notes. In 2014, just over 44,000 people were first diagnosed with HIV in the US. Dr. Melanie Thompson, the founder and principal investigator at the AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta, asked Clinton to commit to “increasing both the HIV/ AIDS research budget, and that of NIH overall, by 10-15 percent per year for the next eight years.” “We are going to work to see how far we can go,” Clinton said of funding for the federal National Institutes of Health. “We need to expand Medicaid coverage. Otherwise we will be hard pressed to achieve these goals. We will go .com
through and prioritize your ask. I am all on board for increasing NIH funds.” Activists were particularly concerned with new HIV infections in the South. The view is that the higher rates of new HIV infections there are due, in part, to a lack of affordable healthcare. The 2010 Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, offered incentives to states to expand eligibility for Medicaid, the government health insurance plan for low income people, but some states, many but not all in the South, have declined. King wrote that Clinton “calls out” those states that did not expand Medicaid funding saying it was a “national shame.” Those states are “recalcitrant and obstructionist,” King quoted Clinton saying. “We must incentivize and force states to expand Medicaid,” Clinton said. “I am defending the Affordable Care Act because I believe it would be a grave error to start over. But I am also proposing ways to improve it.” The former secretary of state and US senator from New York would also go after drug prices, which can significantly increase the cost of care. She would “stop predatory pricing,” in particular when a company buys a drug it did not develop and increases the price. “We are going to tackle that,” she said. “We are also going to get control on the price paid by Medicare and Medicaid. We are going to expand their negotiating power.” Activists also asked for a $2 billion increase in funding the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which is currently funded at $6.8 billion. That federal legislation addresses AIDS around the globe and claims to have supplied 9.5 million people with anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs, among a number of achievements. “I am a staunch supporter of PEPFAR.” Clinton said. “We tripled the number of people on ARVs in four years. This was partly due to my husband’s contracts reducing the cost of drugs.”
L to R: AIDS activist Peter Staley, Hillary Clinton, campaign staff member Mya Harris, John Podesta, her campaign chair, and C. Virginia Fields, the president of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS.
The Clinton Foundation, which was founded by former President Bill Clinton, funds anti-HIV programs around the globe. But Secretary Clinton cautioned that some governments that received PEPFAR cash simply substituted that cash for money they had been spending on healthcare and diverted those dollars to other needs, such as building roads. “We need to get as much resources as we can, use those resources effectively, and hold governments’ feet to the fire,” King quoted Clinton saying. “We need to hold the governments accountable just like we need to hold Alabama accountable.” Noting that President Barack Obama was “equally sympathetic” to the activists’ demands, Clinton said that the Republican-controlled Congress has been and remains an obstacle to increasing PEPFAR funding.
“We will set out a plan, but we will need help to overcome efforts by Republicans to cut back on AIDS funding,” she said. “We will continue to support the Global Fund. We will set ambitious goals.” Clinton closed the meeting by thanking the activists and said that John Podesta, the chair of her presidential campaign, would follow up to “build a realistic, achievable, and bold plan,” the notes said. “I want to thank all of you,” Clinton said. “If it were not for your voices [over the years] we would be facing even more challenging terrain. We have to move forward on all fronts.” The AIDS groups have also requested a meeting with Democrat Bernie Sanders, the US senator from Vermont, and Donald Trump, the reality TV celebrity who has effectively won the Republican nomination for president.
May 19 - 25, 2016
May 19 - 25, 2016
TRAIN continued from p. 2
and Lorimer St. J, M and Z stops. Under the 18-month full closure option, there would also be a bus service across the Williamsburg Bridge and an M14 SBS across 14th St., with some buses running up to 20th St. to connect to a ferry from Williamsburg. The M23 SBS and M34 SBS would also be extended to connect to a new ferry — but the amount of extra bus service required prompted Hakin to admit the MTA would need “SBS on steroids to make this work.” Under a one-track closure, additional buses would also run along 14th St. and between Bedford and Lorimer Sts. in Brooklyn, and the agency is working with the city to figure out whether to install dedicated bus lanes on the Williamsburg Bridge. The MTA says it will also improve the stations at Bedford Ave. and First Ave., with new elevators and stairs, and a new entrance at Ave. A for the Manhattan stop. Even though full-fledged work on the tunnel reconstruction won’t begin until January 2019, the MTA says it will pick one of the two scenarios in the next few months, after gathering more feedback from residents in Canarsie and presenting the two options to all affected community boards. “We’ve got time to do these options right,” said Prendergast. The only audience members who directly opined on the two options — via previously submitted question cards — seemed to prefer the shorter, 18-month closure, which one commenter referred to as the “preferred first option.” After a similar town hall in Brooklyn last month, many had perceived the agency to be not-so-secretly favoring the shorter option, but the top brass were careful to avoid showing any preference last week. “The first option, not the preferred one,” MTA Chief of Staff Donna Evans was quick to correct the commenter. “People say, ‘You’re probably preferring one option,’ ” added Prendergast later. “No; we’re having a dialogue. We need to make sure we understand the pros and cons of these options.” But no matter which scenario is picked, the transit honchos admitted that it wouldn’t be an easy burden for straphangers. “This is going to be a hardship,” Hakim said. “But at the end of the day, we need to get it done.” .com
Photos by Yannic Rack
Before the town hall, MTA staff explained the two options: closing the line for either 18 months or three years.
A few dozen people filled the seats at a May 12 town hall, to quiz MTA officials on the agency’s plans for repairing the Canarsie Tunnel below the East River.
May 19 - 25, 2016
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May 19 - 25, 2016
Courtesy Office of Councilmember Corey Johnson
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Lowell Kern, co-chair of CB4’s Waterfront, Parks & Environment committee, presents community ideas for park improvement to Johnson and the crowd. BUDGETING continued from p. 4
the public in order to determine the best places to put the new trees and tree guards. Then, in a surprise move, Johnson announced that in addition to the top five, he would also be devoting capital funds to another one of the ballot items: putting in a new western staircase at DeWitt Clinton Park (btw. W. 52nd & W. 54th Sts., & 10th & 12th Aves.). The current, blocked set of stairs has, according to Johnson, “created a wall over the West Side Highway,” and the councilmember has pledged $500,000 to repairing the stairs — with eyes on perhaps fixing another set in the future. .com
“I’d like to thank everyone who participated in our PB process,” Johnson concluded, wrapping up the Summit. Afterwards, Armas told Chelsea Now that she was “kind of speechless” and “delighted” about the good news for City Knoll. “It’s very moving for us to have the project be awarded,” she commented on the forthcoming library. “The kids deserve it; the community deserves it. Our community really needs something like that — a center.” She went on to praise the process in general, highlighting the efforts of teacher Julie Taegel, and asserting that PB is “democracy in action,” which helped teach her students a valuable lesson.
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Tour guide and historic preservation student Pat Waldo chided Tony Mamounas while delivering a passionate history lesson. HOPPER-GIBBONS continued from p. 3
the House, made remarks about the situation. Referring to the home — which welcomed such luminaries as Horace Greeley, John Brown, and Frederick Douglas, on occasion — as a “monument to abolitionism,” Luskin denounced the owner’s shameful treatment of the House, characterizing their plans as misleading, and asserting that “[the owner] misses the point that this roof is sacrosanct.” Pat Waldo, a city
tour guide and Pratt Institute historic preservation student, delivered an impassioned plea testifying to that fact, by describing the 1863 Draft Riots in detail, stressing its importance as an ugly but vital chapter of New York history. During the riots, the HopperGibbons House was ransacked by rioters, but the Hopper-Gibbons daughters escaped unscathed by running from their roof, across the other flush row house — further emphasizing the way Mamounas’ addition compromises
Fern Luskin, of the Friends of Hopper-Gibbons House, offered one of many takedowns of Mamounas’ treatment of the landmark.
the building’s storied history. “Tony Mamounas has done more damage to this building than the rioters have,” Waldo accused. “It’s a slap in the face,” he continued, calling for the owner to return the building to its original condition. After receiving firm opposition from nearly everyone in the standing room only crowd, Mitzner attempted to defend his client, claiming there was “nothing deceptive about our presentation” and took umbrage with referring
to the currently constructed fifth floor as such, rather than as a “superstructure.” In the end, the committee agreed with the community, voting unanimously to deny support for the construction. They also decided to recommend that the LPC require the owner be made to restore the building to its original condition when he purchased it — a decisive strike against the owner, which received rousing applause from the crowd.
May 19 - 25, 2016
‘Ships’ Puts the Wind Back in Seaport Museum’s Sails Exhibit beckons you to Manhattan’s tip
Courtesy South Street Seaport Museum
“Fulton Fish Market” (1933, Photographic print, 8 x 10 in.).
Courtesy South Street Seaport Museum Foundation
“Wavertree under sail” by Oswald Brett, 1969 (Crayon on paper, 9 ½ x 6 ¼ in.).
BY TRAV S.D. One seldom-observed outcome of natural disasters is that their repercussions can often last for years, long after the initial impact has left the headlines
May 19 - 25, 2016
and the worst of the effects have faded from the forefront of the public consciousness. A case in point is the South Street Seaport Museum, one of New York City’s great cultural jewels, which
was slammed by Hurricane Sandy on October 29, 2012, and has remained mostly closed to the public ever since. Or rather, had been until the March 17 opening of its first exhibition since the disaster: “Street of Ships: The Port and Its People.” For nearly 300 years, from the early 17th century through the early 20th, the Manhattan neighborhood roughly bounded by Pearl Street and the East River was home to a thriving international port, characterized by docks crammed with sailing ships and nearby shops, warehouses, and offices to support the shipping industry. By the 1900s, steam replaced sail, ships grew larger, and only the port facilities on the Hudson River side could accommodate them. The South Street Seaport Museum was founded in 1967 to preserve and interpret the area’s history. The Museum’s multi-facility complex SEAPORT continued on p. 19
Courtesy South Street Seaport Museum
A ship’s figurehead by master carver Sal Polisi is one of the highlights of “Street of Ships: The Port and Its People,” on view through 2016. .com
Courtesy South Street Seaport Museum
Barnacles still cling to the bell of the Lightship LV-78/WAL-505, a floating lighthouse from 1904.
Courtesy South Street Seaport Museum Collection
“Coffee House Slip” by H. Fossette, circa 1850 (Engraving, 3 ¼ x 5 in.). SEAPORT continued from p. 18
comprises galleries, performance spaces, a working 19th century print shop, a maritime library, a craft center, and a fleet of historic vessels. When Hurricane Sandy struck, Lower Manhattan was one of the hardest hit areas in the city. “The water outside [the Museum] on Fulton Street reached a level of six feet,” says the Museum’s Executive Director, Captain Jonathan Boulware (Boulware is a bona fide certified sea captain, hence the honorific). “On the one hand, we were extremely lucky in that none of our collections were damaged, and damage to the galleries themselves was superficial. On the other hand, we were unlucky in that much of our infrastructure — things like electrics, and heating and cooling systems, and the escalators — were destroyed.” A combination of FEMA and New York State money helped to get their facilities back in shape, and now the fully-restored first floor atrium of the Museum houses “Street of Ships: The Port and Its People.” This small-scale exhibition provides a sampler of art and artifacts related to the Seaport’s role in world history, and an update on the Museum’s efforts at restoration. Paintings, photographs, lithographic prints and objects related to the port’s maritime, architectural and commercial .com
history are on view. Among the more impressive items are a ship’s figurehead by master carver Sal Polisi, several ship models, a very large lightship bell, and an actual ship’s dingy. My favorite section of the exhibition depicts innovators and entrepreneurs who led the way in helping New York achieve supremacy in a field long dominated by much older cities. Captain Peter Schermerhorn (1781-1852), founder of “New York’s First World Trade Center” is the man for whom Schermerhorn Row (the heart of the Museum itself) is named. Importer Abiel Abbot Low (1811-1893) was a pioneer in the China trade; the exhibition displays a 200-yearold porcelain punch bowl to illustrate the sort of items he brought to America. The Black Ball Line, founded by Quaker merchant Jeremiah Thompson (1734-1835), was path-breaking in operating the first regular trans-Atlantic packet service for both passengers and cargo. Israel Collins (1776-1831) and his son Edward Knight Collins (1802-1878, here represented by a wonderful Mathew Brady photograph) went the Black Ball Line one better by introducing steamships. Another section of the exhibition concentrates on Bowne & Company Stationers and Bowne Printers, an integral component of the Museum’s complex since the beginning. Several 19th century printing presses, and many examples of the printers’ art are on view.
The cornerstone of the exhibition, and of the Museum’s current efforts in general, is devoted to the restoration of the 1885 sailing ship Wavertree. Called the “flagship” of the Museum’s fleet (the South Street Seaport owns five historic vessels), the Wavertree was essentially undamaged by Sandy, but was nonetheless in need of restoration. Currently in dry dock at Staten Island, she is nearing the end of a 15-month, $13 million, city-funded preservation effort. She is slated to return to the Seaport in July of this year, where she will once again be a centerpiece of the Museum’s educational programs. The Peking, a 1911 German four-masted barque long popular with fans of the Seaport, was
sold to the German Port Museum in Hamburg in November 2015. The South Street Seaport Museum has had to negotiate many a rogue wave over the years, including well-publicized financial problems, and the 1-2-3 punches of 9/11, the Great Recession and Hurricane Sandy. But it is one of New York City’s great cultural treasures. And for many aspects of New York’s art and history, it is, to this reviewer’s mind, the only game in town. “Street of Ships: The Port and Its People” is a timely reminder of this, and an eloquent case for why every New Yorker should support this museum. “Street of Ships: The Port and Its People” is on view through 2016, at the South Street Seaport Museum (12 Fulton St., btw. South & Water Sts.). Admission: free for Museum members, $12 for adults; $8 for seniors (65+), Merchant Mariners, Active Duty Military & students (valid ID); $6 for kids (ages 6–17), free for children ages 5 and under. Museum hours: Wed.-Sun., 11am–5pm. For info & tickets, visit southstreetseaportmuseum.org or call 212-748-8600.
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May 19 - 25, 2016
Just Do Art BY SCOTT STIFFLER ALBUM RELEASE SHOW: LIAM MCENEANEY’S “WORKING CLASS FANCY” In an era when the means to chime in on everything from food to relationships is as easy as accessing the keyboard on your phone, there’s still plenty of room — and, when done well, a pressing need — for the sharp observations and precise analysis of a road-tested stand-up comedian. Even in a profession whose ranks are swelled by idiosyncratic thinkers with a gift for gab and the ability to repeatedly nail the absurdity of everyday folly, Liam McEneaney is as an odd duck; the rare bird who’s as much fun to listen to as he is to laugh at. This quality is on ample display throughout the NYC native’s latest comedy album, “Working Class Fancy” — whose 26 tracks address sad sack blue collar concerns like junk food and public transportation within an ever-shifting landscape of surreal storytelling. The result is material that’s meticulously constructed but free of pretention, and injected with a prime directive of human decency that repeatedly veers into the direction of the cheap laugh, then pivots to one of recognition. You may not inhabit the same beefy and bearded frame as McEneaney, but it’s easy to identify (or at least sympathize) with the constant insecurities, frequent befuddlement, and occasional rage of an aging, newly single guy taking an “honest look at where I am in life.” Released by the Comedy Dynamics label and available on multiple platforms as of May 20, “Working Class Fancy” is a one-take, real-time set
recorded in January of this year, before a sold-out crowd at Brooklyn’s Bell House. Much of the album finds the writer/performer in the crosshairs of his own social and cultural criticisms — as McEneaney witnesses a downscale holiday tableau at a 24-hour Dunkin’ Donuts located much too close to his apartment; advises a friend on how to propose marriage in a crack house; and tries in vain to grasp the mindset of anyone who’d stop short of finishing their cake (i.e., “the antidote to loneliness”). Just as his material about dating and breaking up doesn’t have a whiff of misogyny, the self-deprecating stuff is more about being cognizant of room for improvement rather than being helpless in the face of insurmountable flaws. Then there’s plenty of material that’s just plain left-field loopy, best exemplified by his weary, gravel-voiced crooning of an imagined Tom Waits song that crystalizes the essence of what it’s like to ride a bus in Hollywood. Like the cake McEneaney covets, it’s a layered treat you’ll find hard to resist. Free. Tues., May 24, 7pm at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe (126 Crosby St., btw. Prince & Houston Sts.). For artist info, visit heyitsliam. com, where you can access his popular “Tell Your Friends” podcast. BETWEEN STOPS: AN EXHIBITION OF SUBWAY PORTRAIT SKETCHES Having worked as a photographer and illustrator for the publishing, banking, airline and life insurance industries throughout the 1980s, Robin Kappy left that career to become a psychotherapist. Decades
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Let there be cake: Liam McEneaney celebrates his new comedy album, May 24 at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe.
Courtesy the artist
Robin Kappy’s collection of subway commuter portraits is on display through June 5, at Chelsea Classical Studio.
later, in the pursuit of fine art, the longtime Penn South resident brought with her a commercial advertiser’s quicksilver draftsmanship and an educated listener’s ability to capture the essence of her subject. “Between Stops: An Exhibition of Subway Portrait Sketches” is a contemplative collection of nearly 50 pencil drawings that were created, as the title suggests, while commuters waited for their next train. Seen mostly from the neck up, often with eyes closed and facing the ground, they don’t seem particularly concerned with the consequences of missing that next ride — nor does Kappy care to depict any elements of the hectic underground environment. “Between Stops,” then, becomes more about preserving a moment of transition than investigating the why or where of one’s final destination. Free. Opening reception Thurs., May 19, 6–9pm. Then, through June
4, by appointment and Saturday afternoons, at Chelsea Classical Studio (526 W. 26th St., btw. 10th & 11th Aves.; Suite #415). While at the gallery on Saturday afternoons during the exhibit, Kappy will be offering quick portrait sketches for sale, to those willing to pose. Visit robinkappy.blogspot. com and chelseaclassicalstudio.com. THE 21ST ANNUAL LOWER EAST SIDE FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS “Smorgasbord” doesn’t come even remotely close to describing the epic scope, creative depth, funky vibe, celebratory spirit and mind-expanding material swimming around the annual three-day mulligan stew that is the Lower East Side Festival of the Arts. Host venue Theater for the New City (TNC) chose this year’s theme — “Art Knows No Walls or Barriers” — not only as a cheeky bird-flip to anti-immigration fervor, but as a tribute to .com
the neighborhood’s status as a place where energizing forces from Irving Berlin to The Ramones have created work that’s been exported to, and embraced by, all corners of the globe. For three days — and nights, and wee small hours of the morning — free reign will be given to dozens and dozens of local theater and dance companies, actors, singers, musicians, performers, poets, auteurs, painters, sculptors, filmmakers, and other unconventional entertainers who defy description (which is actually a pretty good blanket description of every act and action you’ll come across). Among those already booked: NYC cabaret darling KT Sullivan interprets the American Songbook; after a screening, “Manchurian Candidate” composer David Amram reminisces about the beat origins the 1959 film “Pull My Daisy,” which he scored; works by playwrights including Eduardo Machado, Lissa Moira, Barbara Kahn and Robert Homeyer; East Village-appropriate handmade clothing, arts and crafts from local vendors; a youth-focused program with talent from local schools; a poetry summit that’s less about slamming and more about jamming; an exhibit which fills the TNC lobby with painting, photography, sculpture, and collage work from local artists (opening reception May 25, 5:30–8pm); and performances from Folksbiene National Yiddish Theater, Tammy Faye, bubble master John Grimaldi, comedian Reno, Chinese dance star Ashley Liang; four-octave phenom Phoebe Legere; folksinger/activist Judy Gorman; plus (and they really mean it) many, many more. Free. Fri., May 27, 6pm–2am; Sat., May 28, 12pm–2am; Sun., May 29, 6pm–1am. At, and around, Theater for the New City (155 First Ave., btw. E. Ninth & E. 10th Sts.). For the calendar of events, visit theaterforthenewcity.net or call 212-254-1109. FORGIVENESS — PART I: FORGIVING THE PERSONAL Gurus, gods, mothers and memes recommend it as a key ingredient to enlightenment (to say nothing of a good night’s sleep) — but putting the trespasses of others behind you is easier said than done. This multi-media movement and music piece, by social impact arts organization B3W Performance Group, began during a seven-month period in 2015, when Artistic Director Emily Berry traveled the world to conduct community workshops .com
Photo courtesy TNC
Live rhythm performance troupe COBU, one of dozens of acts featured during May 27–29’s Lower East Side Festival of the Arts.
Courtesy the artists
B3W ponders forgiveness, in a new piece based on personal accounts.
based on the protocols of The Forgiveness Project, a secular organization which encourages forgiveness as a means to end cycles of conflict. Based on personal accounts documented by Berry, tenets from the Dalai Lama’s “The Wisdom of Forgiveness,” group discussions, improv, and journalism on the part of the B3W
collective, this performance will “unravel the consequences and the expressions of multiple viewpoints and stories of forgiving, providing the audience an opportunity to witness personal struggles and stories of forgiveness that will lay a path for both personal and societal healing.” Fri., May 20 & Sat., May 21
at 7:30pm; Sun., May 22 at 3pm. At BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center (199 Chambers St., btw. Greenwich & West Sts.). For tickets ($25 general, $15 students/seniors), call 212-220-1460 or visit tribecapac.org. Also visit b3w.org and theforgivenessproject.com. May 19 - 25, 2016
May 19 - 25, 2016
Rhymes With Crazy
Suburb-Fleeing Hippie Pivots to Wisdom-Penning Swami BY LENORE SKENAZY When he was 19, Richard Slavin, a nice Jewish boy from the suburbs of Chicago, went backpacking in Europe for two months. “Hey,” I told him. “I have a son about to do the same thing.” “But,” Slavin added with a twinkle, “I never came back!” With that he gave a hearty laugh — as jolly a sound as the ice cream man’s bell. Pure joy. He could laugh now — he was laughing now, in a conference room in Midtown, in town for a book tour — because at 60-something and bald, he is no longer the wandering hippie of 1970. In fact, he is no longer even Richard Slavin. Today he is Radhanath Swami, one of the most prominent leaders of the Hare Krishnas. The swami was dressed in coral-colored robes, as well as a coral sweatshirt that he took off in the warm corporate office. His assistant jumped up to fold it for him, but the swami — spiritual leader to millions — nonchalantly did it himself. This is not a guy who lives a Kardashian life. He’s a monk. He sleeps on the floor. He rises at 4 every morning for chanting and meditation — and breakfast isn’t until 9! So how does a suburban American kid end up living in India, leading a congregation that feeds 300,000 impoverished children a day, along with running a hospital, an orphanage, a handful of eco-villages, and about a dozen schools for the very poor? The swami smiled and raised his eyebrows as I asked. He looked as surprised as me. And by the way, in between all these India duties, the swami travels the world to lecture at campuses across the states, including Google’s and Harvard’s, talking about things like spirituality and stress. “I have to admit to them that swamis have as much stress as them,” he chuckled. “It’s just a matter of how you deal with it.” The trek from footloose teen to spiritual leader is what his first book, “The Journey Home: Autobiography of an American Swami” was about. A bestseller. His latest book, “The Journey Within: Exploring the Path of Bhakti,” is about the spiritual lessons learned along the way. The lessons did not come easily. After he landed in Europe, Slavin hitchhiked across the continent in search of truth. “I was going to cathedrals and synagogues to study, because I really believed in the unity of all religions,” he recalls. He studied Islam in Turkey and Iran. By the time he got to India to study the religions there, “I became a very serious ascetic. I would never sleep inside any building, because I considered that too luxurious. So I slept under trees, or in caves.” Now, readers, here I must confess something: This man grew up one suburb away from mine. He went to my rival high school and is just about 10 years older. When we discussed our favorite childhood haunts, he gleefully recalled the local pancake .com
house and summers on Lake Michigan, though, “As a swami, I can’t tell you what we used to do when we’d sneak onto the beach.” Another laugh. The point is, he comes from a background very familiar to me. But…most of us did not go off and sleep in caves. How on earth did his parents react? When he finally returned to America for the first time, he says, “It was a culture shock for me and a culture shock for them. My father and brother came to meet me at the airport. The only luggage I had was a begging bowl. They didn’t know what to think. But we adjusted to each other in a very sweet and wonderful way.” That’s probably because the swami was not the caricature that many of us had (or even still have) of the Hare Krishnas — lost souls in loose robes chanting in the streets and offering flowers. Cult members. “In every religion there’s wacky people,” the swami said matter-of-factly. Because the Hare Krishna religion was first established in America in 1966, right around the time of the counterculture, the two got entwined in the public mind. Lost souls did join. So what? Hare Krishna is not an American fad. It’s an ancient Indian religion that says we are all one — humans, animals, all of us who seek sustenance here on earth. And when we chant the name of Krishna — God — we get closer and closer to realizing that connectedness. That doesn’t sound any dippier than going to church or temple. And if it makes people ready to build schools, respect nature, and provide for the very poor, more power to it — and the former Richard Slavin. (But if my son is reading this, please note: Do not stay away for 40 years!) Lenore Skenazy is a public speaker who authored the book, and founded the blog/Twitter feed, FreeRange Kids (freerangekids.com). May 19 - 25, 2016
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