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January 25, 2009

New York in Winter

There was a patchwork of empty seats all over Madison Square Garden for the Friday night Knicks game; I'd had no trouble getting four good tickets online a few days earlier; used to be you had to go to a scalper for any Knicks tickets if you weren't a season ticket holder. Tickets have been easier to get ever since the Knicks stopped winning, but I could almost see the bankers and their clients who used to be in all those empty seats. The Club Restaurant in the Garden had the same great buffet and service; but half the tables were empty. The Knicks did beat the Memphis Grizzlies, however, in the too-quiet arena.

Mary used Priceline to get a reservation at the Times Square Hilton (four star) for $125; another sign of the times? From our 31st floor window we couldn't see a single building crane. There were some major renovation projects still going on and a new office tower in the process of interior completion at 42d and 8th; but daughter Kelly, whom we were visiting, says many projects have run out of funds and are stopped in the middle.

We had the wonderful Bronx Zoo almost all to ourselves; that had to be the bitter weather. Most of the few other visitors who gaped at the Siberian tigers with us were foreign tourists who probably couldn't wait for a warmer day. The tigers, just feet away when they chose to be on the other side of the glass, yawned at us and showed their teeth. The gorillas moved to their warm indoor quarters and perched just above the window out of sight except for swinging vines and falling hay. Small homo sapiens climbed close to the glass and squeezed their cheeks to it; "I see the monkeys," they squealed.

The Hudson is almost as ice-covered this winter as it was in my long-ago youth. The ice begins just north of the George Washington Bridge even though the water is still salty there from the tides. It stretches across the broad bay at Tappan Zee with only a few gaps.

Although I know the Arctic breakout over the Northeast didn't originate on Wall Street and it's much, much colder home in Vermont, New York seems groggy, dazed, and wounded – perhaps even more than after 9/11 when it was defiant and had stories of heroism rather than venality to tell.

But…

When we checked into the hotel, the girl behind the desk with an Eastern European accent told us that she had just moved to New York from Poland. "It's a wonderful time to be here," she said. "I mean if you have no family and no kids and you're young." Maybe it's always great to be young and obviously she had a job. Maybe winter is only in the eye of the beholder.

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