Commentary: What a Wonderful Town

By Louis A. Zona
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The bus driver asked his passengers if they knew his favorite view of New York City. He answered his own question: “Any view of New York I see in my rear view mirror.”

I certainly understand the sentiment since I have driven to The Big Apple many times and each time I swear it will be my last time I drive to that crazy place. But, gee whiz, what a wonderful town, to cite a line from the 1949 movie musical “On The Town,” with music written by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Adolph Green and Betty Comden.

New York, New York, It’s a wonderful town.

The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down

People ride in a hole in the ground.

New York, New York. It’s a wonderful town!

A young Gene Kelly and an equally young Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin danced their way through the city. The dance routines performed in Rockefeller Center were particularly entertaining as was the viewing deck atop the Empire State Building

With apologies to bus drivers everywhere, I just love Manhattan. What’s not to love about a city that has everything – whatever you could want is a block or two away.

Every New Yorker loves Central Park especially on Sunday morning when traffic is rerouted and the roller skates come out. But I love the smaller parks such as the ever-beautiful Gramercy Park that overlooks The
National Arts Club and which celebrates the visual arts every day of the year.

It is also the home of numerous painters and sculptors ever active in their studios. It was at the Arts Club that I got to meet three artistic geniuses: Chen Chi, Will Barnet and Everett Kinstler.

Once I participated in a panel with Tony Bennett and Tom Wolfe. What a great memory!

I’m not a New York Yankees fan but I’d really love to meet in the afterlife with the four greatest Yankees: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. I wonder if I’ll be a better player in heaven (assuming of course that I’ll make it). From what I know of these four great players, perhaps only Gehrig will be greeting folks at the Golden Gates.

There was a time when the great art galleries in New York exhibited their most talented artists in the uptown galleries. As the rent grew higher there, the dealers moved to Greenwich Village and in the 1960s to Soho.

But when prices got high there as well, galleries and artists could no longer afford to buy lofts. The art gallery scene moved to Chelsea along with sections of Brooklyn where it resides today. Art gentrifies a neighborhood, continuing for several years until only high-end boutiques can afford the rent. And so it goes.

While most tourists are drawn to America’s largest and prestigious museum, The Metropolitan, I prefer to go to 53rd Street to visit The Museum of Modern Art.

The Modern is a virtual universe of art that dates back to the Impressionists and moves right up to contemporary works. Every once in a while a shocker appears at MOMA (as it is known). A few years ago, an artist shocked the art world when she and her associate greeted people while completely naked. What made it awkward was that to get into the museum, one had to slide by the two of them.

I’m not too proud to admit that I do visit spots in the city where natives wouldn’t be caught dead, like Times Square. Heck, as long as you keep your wallet in your front pocket, you should be OK.

In New York, the pickpockets are the second-best in the world, second only to London. My friend and New York resident David Shirey once introduced me to a New York restaurant owner who had been a professional pickpocket. We sat and chatted for about 20 minutes before he got up to leave. When he said goodbye, he returned my watch, wallet, and cellphone that he set on the table before me. I honestly did not feel a thing as he lifted these items from me. What a pro!

I always spend time in St. Patrick’s Cathedral where pickpockets have a field day. They do have security who watch over belongings while visitors kneel in the pews. The beauty of this grand French Gothic-style cathedral is breathtaking. I would say that Youngstown’s St. Columba Cathedral could easily fit inside St. Patrick’s.

I left out the best part of my New York visit, which happens to be the restaurants. They are great. I always make a stop in Little Italy, where I must have angel hair pasta in scrumptious red sauce. And I absolutely must stop in Ferrara’s for its delicious Italian pastries.

I’d end my day by seeing at least one Broadway show. Perhaps the best experience that I ever had in a New York theater was when my favorite Broadway actor, Richard Kiley, starred in “Man of La Mancha.”

I can still hear Kiley’s beautiful and commanding voice ripple through that theater. A special happening occurred years later when I got to shake Kiley’s hand when he appeared at Westminster College.

In one of the opening scenes in the classic film “Jurassic Park,” we can hear Kiley’s voice in the cars entering the park. Famed actor Richard Attenborough’s voice can also be heard from the moving cars telling everyone that the voice they hear is Richard Kiley’s. He adds, “We spared no expense!”