Walking in New York

CRUISING the Internets recently, I encountered this statement from blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates, who recently moved to New York City:

By Alex Beam (Life, International Herald Tribune)

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Published: Wed 27 Aug 2008, 10:24 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:11 AM

"I lost about 50 or 60 pounds right off the bat ... it wasn't for any health reasons, it was just that New York is not a comfortable place for fat people at all. I think it's the size of the restaurants, the fact that you have to walk so much, and having to fit into the subway and the buses — tiny things like that. Suddenly nobody I knew ate Dunkin' Donuts. It was just really uncomfortable."

As a bona fide fat person — Harvard's nutrition guru, Walter Willett, coauthor of the seminal "The Fertility Diet," has personally assured me that I'm overweight — I've tried various schemes to shed pounds. I have experimented with the "Fit for Life" diet; I occasionally give up alcohol. But Coates held out a more alluring alternative: Move to New York, and watch the pounds melt away.

By happy coincidence, my wife lives in New York, so I have a place to stay. It's a tiny apartment. New York does not [heart] fatties!

New Yorkers do like to crow about their physical fitness, and, yes, one does walk quite a bit, to the subway, to the police station (to report those pesky car break-ins) to the back of the endless ticket line for the must-see revival of Masaki Kobayashi's nine-hour-long classic, "The Human Condition." You could try walking along 161st Street next to Yankee Stadium on game day, wearing a "Derek Jeter Stinks" T-shirt. That would boost the old cardio!

Using the "walkability" Web site walkscore.com, I compared my ghastly suburban neighborhood to my wife's tony Riverside Drive address. My home scored 48 out of 100 on the Walkability Index, which makes me "car-dependent." She gets an 88 out of 100 — Very Walkable. To reach the nearest Starbucks and quaff the not-half-bad Banana Chocolate Vivanno smoothie, the Web site tells me, she has to walk only 0.18 miles. But I have to trudge 0.77 miles. It's like the Great March! I think I'll drive.

It is true, as Coates writes, that Manhattan restaurants can be very small. Perusing New York magazine's recent Cheap Eats cover story, I found Terroir, described as a "closet-size bacchanal," reviewed next to a restaurant that serves "Korean-mustard-oil-enhanced uni panini," where "it's just as tight a squeeze." About a year ago, a friend took me to the impossibly hip Momofuku Ko, where we waited forever to consume something very small. And expensive. I was seated more or less in some stranger's lap at a long counter. I recall being teed off about not getting a table, but I have since learned they don't have any tables.

It's enough to put you off eating forever.

Or is it? While it's possible that Coates's friends aren't eating at Dunkin' Donuts, somebody is. There are 341 of them in New York City, and the ones on the Upper West Side seem decently patronized to me. Perhaps too well patronised, according to the city's always-excitable Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. These are the people who perpetrated the Great Sushi Scare of the Summer of 2007, warning women "planning to have children in the near future" away from raw fish.

Earlier this year the department reported that New Yorkers had gained 10 million pounds in just two years. Gosh! "Consumers must have calorie information readily available when they are ordering food at chain restaurants," the commissioner, Thomas Frieden, proclaimed, "and we must continue to increase access to fruits and vegetables in the neighborhoods where healthy foods are not readily accessible." Bureaucrats do not [heart] Dunkin' Donuts!

Likewise, bureaucrats do not [heart] elevators. Around the same time that Frieden was decrying the 5,000-ton weight gain, the city launched its not exactly ubiquitous "Burn Calories, Not Electricity. Take the Stairs!" campaign. ("Killing obesity and global warming with one stone," the New York Times writer Jennifer Lee remarked.) Since May, Frieden's department has been offering a free, green "Take the Stairs!" poster of a little Gumby man walking up the stairs for landlords to place next to their elevators. I have yet to spot one.

Not that it would matter to me. There is no way I'm walking up the 11 stories to my wife's apartment. I'm too darned fat!

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