Mister Softee used to dominate ice cream sales on Manhattan’s streets. Now Midtown is run by a splinter group called New York Ice Cream, former Softee franchisees (for a little while the trucks read “Master Softee”) who cut out the overhead but kept their corners.
The New York Times ran a story about the ice cream turf wars in late May:
“Let me tell you about this business,” Adam Vega, a thickly muscled, heavily tattooed Mister Softee man who works the upper reaches of the Upper East Side and East Harlem, said on Wednesday. “Every truck has a bat inside.”
Mr. Vega, 41, said that if he comes across a rival on his route, “I jump out and say, ‘Listen young man, this is my route, you gotta get out of there.’”
The same day that story was printed, a New York Ice Cream driver was arrested for attacking a pretzel vendor in Midtown with a baseball bat.
This week, Crain’s New York had a deep-dive into the nitty-gritty of NYC food carts, from managing licenses and fees, dealing with wholesalers, appealing tickets, and paying taxes. The wholesalers run out of Hell’s Kitchen; the expediters and permit brokers are in Astoria.
A thousand and one systems, legal, quasi-legal, and extra-legal, overlapping each other like nervous and circulatory networks in a body. All of the unseen navigation that makes a city run.
Brendan O’Connor has sketched a short, poignant, four-dimensional map* of one of Manhattan’s most iconic streets, from the Hudson to the East River, and from 2001 to the present.
There is an idea of New York, and especially of Manhattan, as a place where the wealthy and the less wealthy (and even the not-at-all wealthy!) live in close proximity, even adjacent, to each other, and that this arrangement produces ambition in the latter to attain what the former has, and some amount of respect for the humanity of the latter in the former. This is not just incidental to life here, the thinking goes, but integral to it: Everyone, or almost everyone, suffers the city together.
The story of 14th Street both encapsulates this high-low fantasy and shows how it has been and continues to be erased in favor of something much more lucrative.
[The] High Line is a magnet for more than tourists’ money: According to a study conducted by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, before the park’s construction in 2003, the surrounding West Chelsea neighborhood—a mix of residential properties and light industrial businesses—were valued at eight percent below Manhattan’s overall median. In 2005, the city rezoned West Chelsea for luxury development, and, by 2011, residential property values appreciated beyond borough-wide values. “The park, which will eventually snake through more than twenty blocks, is destroying neighborhoods as it grows,” Jeremiah Moss wrote in the New York Times in 2012. “And it’s doing so by design. While the park began as a grass-roots endeavor—albeit a well-heeled one—it quickly became a tool for the Bloomberg administration’s creation of a new, upscale, corporatized stretch along the West Side.”
*Most street maps lie in at least two ways in order to fit two-dimensional constraints.
- They omit pitch and elevation. This is admittedly a bigger problem in cities like San Francisco than it is in most places, but the experience of walking along any street is shaped by its sloping uphill or downhill, its seat above or below.
- They eliminate the axis of time, which is relegated to real estate transaction documents and local folklore.
Related: The New York Times’ terrific “Reshaping New York” interactive map from 2013.
National treasure John Waters, who wrote a book about hitchhiking from Baltimore to San Francisco at the age of 66, recently tried to catch a ride with a reporter from Greenwich Village to the Frick Collection at 70th St and Fifth Avenue.
The only place in the country Waters has never yet succeeded hitching is Manhattan, which is why he’s intent on trying again today. “I used to stand in front of the Holland Tunnel tollbooth in the ’60s, and no one would ever pick me up,” he says. Before he embarked cross-country, Waters wrote the first two sections of Carsick—one envisioning good rides, the other bad rides. In both cases, the fiction is far more eventful than the true-life bits. On the real trip, there were no sexual encounters, twisted or otherwise. “It’s very different hitchhiking when you’re 16 and when you’re 66,” says Waters. “I didn’t have any rabid gerontophiliacs pick me up.” He imagines what could go most wrong on our trip uptown. “The worst case scenario would be someone that didn’t speak the language, so we couldn’t really tell what they were doing,” Waters says. “But immediately the locks go down. And it smells. We ride one block, and they turn around and blow both our heads off.”
Why the Frick? “When Pink Flamingos first came out,” Waters says, “whoever ran the Frick wrote me a note about how much they liked it. My mother was really impressed.” Man, now I just want to hang out with John Waters and have him tell me stories.