Wednesday, June 22, 2005

So much for the “citi”

Without much fuss I was able to close my Citibank account this morning. I’ve had it since I first moved into New York, over four years ago. I thought that after such a long relationship the breakup would be messy, but c.b. stayed calm and didn’t make any last-minute declarations of love or, “I promise, it’s going to be different this time.” So, here’s to a clean break. Though I’d been considering ending things for a while, particularly during the lengthy trek to their nearest ATM, it was unexpected non-Citibank ATM charges that brought things to a head. After my trip to Barbados with mrlittlepants, I noticed a $4.50 charge from my bank for using other banks’ ATMs three times. I know this isn’t unheard of, but it is new to my account. In France I used my card dozens of times over the course of 9-months and certainly would have noticed such a charge. I had stuck with Citi because it was one of the few banks that didn’t have a weirdo charge for using bank cards abroad (WaMu, Chase, tsk-tsk). This kind of change, which applies inside the U.S. too, is even worse! When I called Citi for an explanation, I was told that “EZ Checking” accounts opened in New York City always have always had this fee. My insistence that I had not paid it when I lived in France was met with the claim that records older than 3 months were unavailable to the citi-skeptic on the line. I offered that, perhaps, the fee was lifted during the time that my account address was outside of the city. “No.” I asked for an alternative explanation, and got none. Apparently, I was just lying. I requested a statement online to use as evidence, and three days later I had my proof. Indeed, I had not paid those fees. I wanted to print up the statement and shove it in the face the disbelieving account representative, but that would have required a trip to the Indian subcontinent. I decided it wouldn't be satisfying to even call the Indian-skeptic hotline a second time; instead I would just find another bank. First Republic, if anyone’s interested, has free worldwide ATMs. Not only do they not charge you, but they refund any fees you incur. American Express had a checking account like this a few years ago, but it was limited to uselessly few transactions. This one is unlimited. The caveat is that the average minimum balance is high ($2,500 OMG$$$!), but like most banks these days the balance is ignored if you have direct deposit. (That charitably applies even for my paltry salary.) If you live in New York, California, or Las Vegas (what?), you may as well switch to this bank. Then you can stop wondering the streets looking for your bank’s ATM and just use any old machine with a slot and keypad. (By the way, the list of things that are better in France just lost an item! Things are getting pretty lopsided at least in the banking department, Pierre.)

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Keep your cars off our island, please.

So what’s the big idea? What should New York City ask of the rest of the country?

I walk to work every day. I walk almost everywhere. I take the subway about once a week, and taxis less often than that. I have had enough of being bullied by automobiles of every shape and size, from all corners of the country, as I cross the street.

It amazes me that out-of-towners have no respect for human life. Perhaps they’re unfamiliar with pedestrians. Or — not that it should make any difference when bearing down a two-ton colossus on a human being — they’re not used to American citizens on foot, just a scurrying underclass. In any case, I refuse to scurry, and I won’t be surprised if I’m run over for it some day.

Does any tourist need an automobile? Surely they don’t need cars more than the millions of New Yorkers who do without. I don’t think that it it’s a stretch to say that, if we arrange for ample and reasonably-priced parking at train stations on all corners of Manhattan, we’d be doing them a favor by requiring that they check their Durangos at the door.

Like everyone else, I’ve also been run down by taxis and drivers who, unfortunately, reside in the city limits. But on the whole, out of state cars have a corner on the Manhattanite terrorizing market. They’re plain ignorant on city driving, and disrespectful when they should be grateful for the privilege to drive here. (I know you don’t honk your horn in the South — I’m from there! — so what makes you think you can do it here? Shut the hell UP!)

Though taxis seem to be driven by speed-crazed maniacs, there’s a consistency (and therefore predictability) to their antics. They rarely intrude into crosswalks during red lights, and they know to look for hapless walkers when they make right and left turns. (Praise God!) I hate taxis, but given they choice, I’d take them over lost John Deere drivers any day.

So who, exactly, would I permit to drive a vehicle into Manhattan?

  1. Anyone whose drivers’ license address lies in New York City.
  2. Anyone driving a commercial vehicle registered for business in the city (taxis, shipping vehicles, etc.).

Everyone else can just suck it. The lives saved from the reduced traffic volume would be justification enough, compounded by the worst-of-the pack status of the driver’s we’d eliminate.

From a New Yorker’s perspective, you’d stand to benefit greatly whether you’re a driver or not. Drivers would know that their precious automobiles are safer from being “totaled” on the streets, and walkers would know that their precious bodies are safer from being “crushed” by the next Hummer from Hackettstown. The only New Yorkers who lose big are parking garage owners, whose current embarrassingly high prices would have to come down to attract more city folk to use their services, or their real estate freed up for some more useful enterprise.

Can we do this? I would expect immediate protest and bureaucratic road-blocks from state and national government. We need to fight for it, but we can win. This city has suffered the gravest terrorist attack in the history of the world for Christ’s sake: we have to look after our safety!

So long as we let any licensed driver from anywhere in the world drive a vehicle into Manhattan, we’re leaving a tempting hole open for the next attack. As our police force has informed us, a suicide bombing van in front of the mythical freedom towers (or the less mythical Chrysler and Empire State buildings) could bring them down. We can not count on every licensing authority in the country to flag terrorists; we can only hope that our own can.

Terrorism is not my greatest concern, to be completely honest. What can I say, I’m scared to death of glitzy, boat-sized vehicles driven by similarly overgrown and misplaced nihilists-on-wheels. These people must be stopped, for a host of reasons, and the sooner the better.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Das (political) Kapital

Remember from four years ago our regretfully earned terrorist “political capital?” The federal government went on a middle-eastern shopping spree with it, buying some things that New Yorkers found tasteless without even bothering to consult us. (Conquering Baghdad is so B.C.)

Perhaps things would have been different if these purchases hadn’t been overseen by Republican mayors. Proper leadership, despite party affiliations, would have reminded the country and the world that the greatest victim of the attack, New York City, did not support much of the retaliation taken in its defense. It is our city and our safety at stake, isn’t it? Surely, that gives us a claim on the defensive strategy.

Unfortunately, that claim was preempted by a very hasty transfer of victimization after the September 11th attacks. At the time it seemed generous enough, if useless, that the entire country declared itself a victim of the “Attack on America.” It was quaint to see magnetic American flags stuck to SUVs from Omaha to Austin. Sure, they weren’t attacked and won’t likely ever be, but it’s nice to see them fired up about New York’s safety, right?

My oh my, look what came of that. Seeing as everyone was invited to the victim-party, they took it upon themselves to plan their revenge, and with characteristic subtlety. Like a bad boyfriend, America has gone and beaten up anyone that even gave its darling a funny look. (Of course, most Americans hate that darling, but I’m already waist-deep in cynicism so let’s leave that part alone.)

It’s a done deed: Texas made off with New York’s political capital, spent it all, and then kept going without looking back. Nobody likes the U.S. now. Guys – I’m talking to you, cowboys! – you owe us big time.

We’ll never get that global political capital back (and the last thing we want is a fresh deposit) but there’s a different currency that, oddly, we haven’t touched: national political capital. I’m not talking about begging for federal money here. We’ve seen Heimatland defense dollars go places they’re not needed, sometimes hilariously, and we never really got the entire 9-11 handout that the feds promised us. But it’s time to let all that go. Let’s think politically. Let’s think about something that, as a city, we’d love to do, but we need national support for. Boy, do I have some ideas…