New York, Mon Amour Perdu

My New York was studded with cramped record and bookstores, unique boutiques, grungy abandoned buildings, out-of-the-way clubs. Today, abandoned and out-of-the-way have been taken over and jam packed by chain purveyors of brows, Brazilians and boba. Cupping, computers and craft beers. Smoothies, cycles and cell phones.

None of these retail categories existed when I left New York 30 years ago. Over the decades, my dozens of return visits have presented an ever-growing litany of change. I wasn't surprised when Anthony Dapolito died and his family's Vesuvio Bakery closed, or that CBGBs finally bit the dust. Those and others held out longer than most could have expected.

Less predictable were the hideous sliver buildings that cast creepy shadows and prick the skyline like a ravenous addict's syringes. The Twin Towers - much-derided almost-slivers themselves, have been elevated to a metaphor for a dangerous world where America no longer holds moral or actual authority. Time-Warner Center's replacement of Columbus Circle's admittedly funky convention center. The Trump desecration of the Upper West Side.

Moms and pops have been sent packing. The wonderful old Barnes & Noble on a formerly post-apocalyptic stretch of lower Fifth Avenue birthed a sister store across the street, then an international chain, then faded. Shopping in a bookstore now - even B&N - feels like a charitable act. That's true everywhere, not just NYC.

And the tourists. Oh, those selfie-taking hordes! They've turned every neighborhood into its own version of a Sex and the City fan's bus stop. The West Village. Soho. Tribeca. LES. Hell's Kitchen. All overrun with app-toting searchers. Where's that building where that commercial was shot? I think I just saw one of the Housewives!

There have been positive changes, of course. The Second Avenue subway, promised "shortly" in my '70s Manhattan, finally opened. The High Line and the new Whitney are beautiful. Things are cleaner and safer, albeit exponentially more expensive, too. The Statue of Liberty still stands, although her message of welcome has been sullied. The 9/11 Memorial is hauntingly beautiful, but could never qualify as a positive change.

I know change is inevitable. And isn't clean better than grungy? Well, yes. Except when it's the grunge of your youthful memories. Then you pine for the days of "Headless Man in Topless Bar."
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