View from Brooklyn Bridge toward the financial district

The Easter break weekend was spent in New York City. Not pure investment-writing material, perhaps. But interesting to see the place in which the world's financial capital resides; and perhaps get a feel for how its employees are affected by the NYC environment. Or at least that's the justification for this blog entry.

This scribe lived in NYC for a very short time in the mid 1980s but clearly had forgotten the detail of the city. Some things that stuck out on this trip:

1. The NYC minvan taxi market is dominated by Honda Odysseys and Toyota Siennas. Private NYC minivan owners favour (an unscientific opinion) the Odyssey over competitors by a long shot. Note to self: check the Honda accounts.

2. French Canadians were everywhere; Brazilians a distant second; and a whole bunch of nationals whose lingo went unrecognised were also all over. Who says foreigners don't know how to trade a soft dollar?

3. Central Park appears to be controlled on Saturday mornings by large, complexly organised gangs of dog-owners and their four-legged friends. Economic ramifications uncertain, but any place where dogs wear shoes has money to burn.

4. Outside the Port Authority it is possible to witness a man doing a superior James Brown song and dance and then ask onlookers for payment whilst leering at everyone's woman. The scribe can confirm this is self-defeating alongside the cash-ask. A rare example of a poor NYC sale's pitch explaining, perhaps, the performer's station.

5. Huge bargains are to be had in electronics: a Dell pda, a gps unit and navigation software cost 76% less than in the UK and 73% less than in France (yes, sadly, a spreadsheet was assembled prior to departure). Currency alone? Doubtful. Note to self: write to Dell asking explanation for these differentials.

6. The Mercedes C240 costs $35k. This is known thanks to a huge billboard on the approach to the mouth of the Holland Tunnel. The price compares to 35k euros in France (the scribe's domicile). Unfortunately, the C240 will not pass as hand luggage. But at that price, where's the cachet? Note to self: are Mercedes doing a Jaguar and ruining the brand image?

7. In France, a Volkswagen Touran is a massive, fuel-guzzling monster car. In Manhattan, it's a discreet runabout and probably perceived as under-powered. Note to self: why don't small car models sell in NYC?

8. Time Square not as threatening as in the mid-1980s, and more commercial as a result. Street crime looks to have been beaten back significantly. Seasonal note to self: would the crowd have given known thief Barabbas the nod over JC under a zero-tolerance crime regime?

9. NYC service is a curious mix ranging from cold and warm professionalism (but both charismatically-detached), right through to the "stop bodderin' me I'm tawkin' on the cell" style.

10. One waitress wrote on our bill "little note for foreigners: tip (in USA = 15-20%) not included" just in case. She didn't make the range.

11. HBO much more explicit than 20 years ago. Ran a piece on a male sex doll (interchangeable accoutrements and $4,000+ price tag if you are interested) being put through its paces by a bevy of, ah, actresses. Explicit visuals. Told the wife he/it was too expensive and would be hell to get through customs. Won the argument but can't help feeling the bar has been raised. So to speak.

12. Food is cheap and servings heroic (still); but taste directly proportional to price (still).

13. There are less obese people than the media conditioned this correspondent to believe.

14. Ground Zero more a construction site than memorial and a place where hawkers flog NYC and World Trade Center trinkets. A desecration by commerce, I'm sad to say. Nearby St Paul's Chapel (built in 1766) and its cemetery sits incongruously next to the modern Hilton Millennium but, appropriately, right opposite the WTC site.

15. Most taxi drivers actually know how to get from A to B nowadays. Or maybe we were just lucky.

Conclusion: if France is the land of savoir-vivre, NYC is the land of savoir-vendre, home to worshippers, masters and slaves of commerce. Hopper's paintings are beginning to mean something.

Normal economic comment to resume next week.

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