Monday, April 21, 2014

Unmiraculous 34th Street

There are no miracles on 34th Street anymore. 34th Street is the paradigm of all that is wrong with an American street or a street anywhere for that matter. 34th Street in Manhattan lies in the shadow of the nearby Penn Station, which is virtually imploding, but that’s a case of urban blight that’s actually a sui generis expression of the failure of the human spirit. In terms of 34th Street Penn Station is important only since it has catalyzed 34th street’s fall into a place not only devoid of miracles but exemplary of urban despair. A mall is usually composed of chain stores and fast food outlets. 34th Street has all the characteristics of a run down mall without the relief of the kind of communal space you find say on the Deuce, which recently completed gender reassignment surgery and is now  a bona fide New Jersey mall. But 34th Street is not only made by the shops, its particular lack of character is also result of the kind of people who go there. No street attracts more wimps, penny-ante hustlers and bottom feeders than 34th.  The middle verging on lo-brow Macy’s may help in creating the unique feeling of hopelessness that characterizes the demographic. Capping the mood, is the presence of the DMV License X-Press office between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. Here women with averted  eyes and leering men wait for their numbers B112, B113, B114 so that they can get learners permits and license renewals. Moving to the East along 34th we have the grand old Empire State, which King Kong once hiked up with Fay Wray in hand and a disgruntled office worker recently went on a shooting rampage (“2 dead, 9 wounded in Empire State Building shootings, police say,” CNN, 8/25/12) The space occupied by the grand old Longchamps Showboat is now the Heartland Brewery, where other disgruntled office workers drown their sorrows and the once grand B. Altman, across the way, offers a ray of light, having been turned into a CUNY’s Graduate Center--though school is school.

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