Nine days in New York City will give you a new insight into the ethnic makeup of this country.
For example, if you live in the Midwest or Connecticut or Montana and you think there’s a nationwide immigration problem and it’s Mexicans sneaking across the border, stay in my hotel in Chinatown and tell me what you think of that after a couple of trips down East Broadway on a Tuesday afternoon. You will see hardly any Mexicans.
Because I was willing to take the New York subways (and not because my experience with the cabs was anything less than super-de-dooper; just because) I was able to criss-cross the city and take in its multiple personalities within the space of a single day.
Multiply that by nine days and I think I can safely say that my favorite ethnic group, the Italians, came through with flying colors once again. For the purposes of this post, let me make the comparison between Chinatown and Little Italy, since they’re right next to each other. Turning that corner from Canal Street onto Mulberry is like going from a busy Asian marketplace where high-pressure salespeople are screaming at you to buy their bootleg DVDs, counterfeit handbags, raw fish and jewelry to suddenly being transported to the flashback scene in Godfather II. You can actually hear a real accordion playing in a darkly lit bar that smells like pizzelles. Lord give me strength. It’s hard to leave.
The waiters stand out in the front of the restaurants in Little Italy and seduce you right into a chair at one of their tables. A construction worker complimented me on my pedicure. A limo driver stopped and asked my sister and me if we were looking for somewhere to go have a drink. OK, those last two things were kind of creepy, especially since my sisters and I are all on the wrong side of 50, but you get the picture.
Occasionally there is some cross-over. My sisters and I were having some of Vincent’s famous spicy sauce, pasta and wine, surrounded by black and white photos of Frank Sinatra and Paul Sorvino, when someone snuck up behind me and said, “DVD? DVD?” I said no but she was back in a flash. “DVD? DVD?” She shoved a cover in front of my face.
“We’re not buying anything,” I snapped. For crying out loud, among the four of us we had already spent the equivalent of my four-year Kiwanis Club scholarship on Pashminas in Chinatown within the last few days. But right now I was almost melted into my chair – the wine, the sauce, the music, Paul Sorvino smiling down at me – do I look like I want to watch Toy Story 3 right now?
The Chinatown merchants are clearly making more money. Remember when we were all afraid that the Japanese were going to take over America because they were buying up all of our stock and their kids went to school year-round and kicked our asses in math? The new threat is the Chinese and not because they own us, but rather because we are handing out cold, hard cash to them in exchange for things that will fall apart next week.
If we’re making ethnic generalizations (and because I’m Irish, I’m allowed; we’ve gotten a dispensation from the Pope) I would say that Chinese Americans are the hardest working, most entrepreneurial group in New York. Nobody’s selling hot dogs on Broadway with as much zeal. The drug dealers in the Bronx aren’t as enthusiastic. And uptown? Forget about it. Most of the shops on Madison Avenue are By Appointment Only.
The shops in Chinatown have got to be making as much in an hour as one visit from one of the Olsen twins to Versace. Their sales tactics, how ever obnoxious, are paying off, one I Heart New York t-shirt at a time. But I’ll take an Italian waiter and whatever he’s selling any day of the week.