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So what is a newyorksubalien...

I’m a New York subalien. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly legal – it’s just my loving other half, official alien that he is, comes with a so-called “supermodel” visa that apparently denotes him as one possessing extraordinary abilities (falling asleep within 5 minutes of sitting down in front of the TV, remembering only 2 of the 3 items on a mental shopping list and not knowing where the dishwasher tablets live after 2 years in our apartment are just some of his many talents).

The same visa leaves me extraordinarily unable to possess that most American of entities - a “social” i.e. a Social Security Number. Calling it a “social” makes it sound like the password to some party-filled, fun-packed lifestyle. That’s not far wrong as without these all-important 9 numbers, you pretty much can’t have a lifestyle at all - no bank account, no credit card, not even a driver’s license.

So what does a subalien do? Well, like over sub life forms waiting for evolution to give them a leg up on the ladder of existence, I have plenty of time to observe and these, dear reader, are my observations…..

Friday, April 20, 2012

Preparing for Prom - the biggest High School test of all

“I’m going in!” said the girl in front, grim determination written all over her face and armed for battle with the necessary weapons – backless, feathery, sequined-studded and meringue-shaped. Yes, we were Prom dress shopping and it was not pretty. Or rather it was pretty, if pretty in pink is your thing.

The scene was outside the dressing-room of a Fifth Avenue department store on a floor dedicated to a world I would best describe as “Dancing with the Stars” meets “Dallas” meets “Gossip Girl”. Women mainly of a certain age (we all obviously had 17/18 year daughters so you can do the Maths) were standing around in our sensible shoes, jeans and black sweaters while very certain young-aged women in flip-flops, cut-off jeans and white T-shirts were clutching arm-loads of dresses, each the opposite of each other – long, short, puff-balled, sleek, mono-chromed and multi-coloured.

In Prom Dress World, trying is trying. When faced with thousands of strips of material (and sometimes it is indeed just strips) there is no other option but to hit the dressing-rooms. All around me I could hear Prom-Mums whispering the same mantra – “Just try it on to see how it looks”. Result – huge queues outside the changing-booths and some very disgruntled Prom-Mini-Mums. Because they want Prom-minis, not the floor-length fuchsia organza creation their Mum is insisting they put on.

Not that a shorter dress means a smaller price tag. According to a recent telephone survey carried out by Visa, families with teens are expected to spend an average of $1,078 this year on Prom, up from $807 in 2011. A Visa official described it as “social-arms-race” spending and I’m not arguing with them. Tickets, dresses (where less usually costs more), make-up and hair appointments, limousine rental (dance poles or smoke machines optional), flowers, after-prom parties and photos all add up.

What the survey also discovered was that spending varied dramatically based on family income. Families earning less than $20,000 will spend an average of $1,200 while those earning between $20,000 and $29,000 will fork out an average of $2,635. At the other end of the scale, those earning over $75,000 will only (if you can say that) spend around $742.

You would be excused if you thought the whole experience sounds like a dry run for a much-hoped-for-one-day-in-the-future wedding. Many of the shops that specialize in Prom dresses are indeed bridal salons. And apparently you should buy Prom dresses one size up from your usual as they run at least one size smaller “like bridal gowns”. This also means inevitably any dress you choose needs to be altered for a perfect fit so ideally we should have started our hunt for THE dress several months ago.

Perhaps this accounted for the many frazzled and panicked looks on local aliens’ faces this weekend. Or perhaps it was because we kept on seeing the same panicked faces time and time again. In keeping with the grand old European tradition (the word “prom” originates from the French “promenade” when guests marched at the start of a ball or formal event), it seems there is also a set “Grand Tour” of prom shops, Europe being downsized to a 25-block square in Midtown.

The obvious worry is that if we are all going to the same shops and (not intending to buy a one-off-the-shoulder designer gown) are looking at the same racks of the same multiple dresses, how do you avoid the ultimate Prom disaster – being a Prom Twin as opposed to the Prom Queen. This is where social media comes into its own. Apparently Mini-Mum’s class of 2012 is posting details of frocks so there is no fracas on the big night.

I say “frocks” plural as for many, the actual formal is just the formal start to the celebrations. Organised after-prom parties such as sunrise cruises are understandably big business. But they have an extra dimension here given the minimum drinking age is 21 and Prom-goers are generally in the 17-19 year range. Hence the latest addition to my Subalien dictionary, the term “No ID event”. Initially I mistakenly interpreted this as “No questions asked” but quickly realized I was heading down the wrong track when I read the tagline “Unlimited juice and soda all night”. But I have to admit it does sound cooler than “Teen Night Event”.

Many Prom-goers prefer the private party option and stories abound of chartered buses (dance poles or smoke machines again optional) picking up crowds of kids after the main school event and whisking them away for a weekend of festivities at someone’s house in the Hamptons. Hence the need for more than one frock (we would hope). I hope they also have the foresight to organise transport back at the end or it could be a very long "promenade" home. 

For those of you interested, our own personal Grand Tour proved educational but shopping-bag free. Given Prom is such a cultural milestone in our current planetary home, we have jokingly suggested Mini-Mum go dressed in an Irish potato sack to represent her national heritage. As Male Mini-me sweetly said, she would still look beautiful. If not "Prom(enade) Queen", at least "Pommes (de Terre) Queen". 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hail the new "sense-ible" New York taxi - smell less, see more, it's even quieter tooting its own horn!

If Planet New York’s streets and avenues are the arteries and veins of some never-sleeping beast, its blood is not red but yellow – little yellow globules that hurtle madly around, causing many a heart-stopping moment but likewise saving the lives of ever-late aliens who need to get from A to B five minutes ago.

The classic New York cab has a distinctive aroma, a variation of “eau de Manhattan” I call “eau de Man/Eating”. The black floor is perfect for rendering invisible wallets, mobile phones and leather gloves and it never ceases to amaze me how there is often more space in the boot – sorry, trunk – than for the passengers.

But all this is set to change. This week Mayor Bloomberg rolled out the new New York cab, scheduled to hit the streets from the end of next year and set to totally replace the Ford Crown Victoria, the iconic design that looks like cars I used to draw when I was 5 years old.

The pluses of the new cab on paper would appear to be many – special passenger seats that “help neutralize interior odors” (not sure if this stretches to the driver’s seat as well), more leg room, chargers, USB ports and a sunroof to allow passengers to admire the skyscrapers as opposed to the fender-benders. There is also floor lighting so you’ll only need to buy the one pair of gloves each winter and, my personal favourite, a “low-annoyance horn”. I searched in vain to find an online recording of said horn but only succeeded in making myself mildly-annoyed at my failure to do so. I imagine it will appear as a highly-annoying app soon anyway.

On the outside, it is still yellow, in fact an even brighter yellow than its current counterpart. Shape-wise though, I have to admit, it looks more like the kind of car I used to draw when I was 3 years old (except that it does have 4 wheels) – definitely not “Back to the Future”, more Postman Pat.

For all its increased comfort inside, I suspect that it might take a while for the 600,000 odd daily taxi-riders to warm to the new design. Learning how to hail a cab, even how to give your address in the right way (always an intersection, number of street first, then avenue) is a rite of passage to living in this city. Take, for example, the Masters of the Universe who, in the morning, stride purposefully out of their townhouses and in the evening, out of their offices. They walk two steps to the kerb, raise arm commandingly with crisp newspaper in hand and stand there for, oh, two seconds. Like magic, a cab appears. In one fluid movement, Master of Universe opens door, lowers himself smoothly into seat, slams door and is off, oozing power and manlihood.

Now imagine the same scenario with a slow, sliding, mini-van type door and an entrance that requires you to bend in head-first rather than drop down head-last, putting you at risk of a socks-reveal that would seriously dint your sex appeal. Less Master of the Universe, more Mister Bean.

I hasten to add that the Superalien morning ritual goes a little differently. The master of my universe dons his "manny-hood" - a fetching yellow bike jacket (interestingly similar in hue to the new cabs), brazenly flashes socks or rather one of them as he dons bicycle clip, slams apartment door, lowers himself onto bizarre-shaped bike seat and then is off, oozing, well, pedal power. Energy-efficient, good exercise and a source of much affectionate teasing on the part of his office colleagues. 

Fear not - you still have plenty of time to hail an old-fashioned, door-opening-out-into-cyclists (hopefully not Superalien), saggy-bottomed seat, uber-odourous, suspension-free cab. With 13,000 yellow blood globules currently hurtling around, a complete blood transfusion is expected to take until 2018. 

And I'm confident that one thing will not change - New York taxi drivers. The life stories I have heard over the past 4 years have convinced me that if cabs are New York's lifeblood, Big Apple's cabbies are its DNA - even if that sometimes means Destination Not Assured!
Creative Commons License by Caroline Eagles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.