1940s Archive

Along the Boulevards

Originally Published August 1948

For the past twenty years, as readers of this department may be aware, its author has been a New Yorker almost by profession, a newspaper reporter by occupation, and a pious and faithful Manhattanite whose only apostatic doubts have been excited by the splendors of San Francisco, the world's one and unique, incomparable city.

To be long absent from New York has been, as the French say about the bidding of even a temporary farewell, to die a little. Such accustomed and institutional pleasures as Sunday breakfast at the Plaza, the match game with Dick Maney and Howard Barnes at the bar in Bleeck's, cruising the Fifth Avenue store windows, Christmas dinner at Luchow's, and horsecab riding in Central Park on fine summer afternoons have been a part of our way of life, and their neglect or suspension has been almost the suspension of animation itself.

For the past two months, however, as this is being written in Carson City, Nevada, this department has for the first time within its experience contrived to get along very well without New York and has missed only its most superficial aspects of accustomed deportment and manners. This is probably a grave mistake, something to be corrected instanter, but the fact stands that, just as the defects of Manhattan appeared so identifiable and magnified to Stanley Walker in his now famous renunciation of New York written from Lampasas, Texas, so are its shortcomings doubly perceptible when viewed from beneath the immemorial elms of this most charming and placid of all Western towns.

Except for its immaterial two hundred and fifty miles from the actual shore of the Pacific, Carson City possesses the greatest asset today available to any American community: it is as far away from Europe as it is possible to get. The depressions and crises are nearly three thousand miles farther from Carson City than they are from New York, and its situation is improved in geometric proportion.

While New York newspaper editors and publishers with their preposterous pretensions to importance and cosmopolitanism are available to the most grotesque panics imagined by their correspondents for no better reason than that they can be run under a foreign dateline, it is still possible to pick up the papers of Reno or Carson and discover something of the current condition of the United States. No editor in these parts has ever subscribed to the absurdity that a dogfight in Europe is more important than current news in Main Street.

Nor, happily, are the people of Nevada, the only state in the Union without debt and with no appreciable taxes of any sort, at the criminal disposal of irresponsible goons posing as labor leaders, who can destroy at their most capricious whim the entire pattern of life in any Eastern city. If New York is the most vulnerable city in America in this respect, Reno is probably the city of any consequence which is the least vulnerable to the diseases of an industrial civilization.

If additional evidence were required to supplement this department's conversion to the belief that New York is not the quintessence of perfection in the matter of urban amenities, it was furnished by a recent evening at the theater in San Francisco. It is undeniable that Manhattan is the theater capital of the world, but there is a comparative record to show that it is also the world's capital of inconvenience, bad manners, and making a chore of what should be a pleasure.

Let us, simply, look at the record. To achieve a first night in New York a playgoer must forego dinner entirely. The eight o'clock first-night curtain, arranged for the convenience of a single play reviewer's press room schedule, makes it necessary for every other person of consequence in the world's greatest metropolis to scuttle his pleasure and convenience and present himself at what, in any reasonable person's time scheme, is the middle of the afternoon. The atmosphere of going to the theater in New York, once a patron has gotten himself into evening attire and presented himself, for all the world as though he were calling on the Pope, in a boiled shirt in broad daylight, is that of a conservative and well-ordered directors' meeting. There is no music. Only a single theater in New York, the still glamorous Empire, has an orchestra between the acts, and the only thing lacking to make a first night a perfect boardroom is a chairman to call the meeting to order.

Between the acts at a Broadway play, the playgoer must, by the terms of one of the commonwealth's nuisance laws, leave the premises to get a drink. A well-ordered, decorous, and convenient bar in the lobby is against the law, so he must do battle with the touts, pimps, truck drivers, and other street characters at the nearest speakeasy in order to achieve a glass of beer.

Subscribe to Gourmet