Back in New York

» Featured Columnists | By Alma Kadragic | August 31, 2010 8:00 AM ET

(NEW YORK, NY) -- If you read this column last week, you know that I grew up, got all my education, and started a career in broadcast news in New York. ABC News moved me to London in 1982 and then to Warsaw and Eastern Europe for most of the next 20 years where I stayed after leaving the network in 1990 to run my own company.

I sold my condo in New Rochelle two or three years after leaving New York and didn't buy another property in the US until late 1996. That was in Winter Park, near Orlando, my first experience of living in the US outside the New York metropolitan area with the city at the center.

For the first six years, the townhouse in Winter Park with its tiny pool and orange tree was a vacation place, but in 2003 I sold the PR agency in Poland and came back to Florida to stay. That proved to be a shock because I soon realized that the small city lifestyle in a rather homogeneous setting was not what I really wanted. Two years later I took off on a new adventure to Abu Dhabi to teach journalism and PR at a national university.

After five years in the UAE, I am again in New York for a week. I've been coming back regularly once or twice a year which lets me keep up with what's going on and what is new. This visit is the first in 2010, but I hope to return near the end of November for the awarding of the International Emmys which I helped judge in May.

Each time I find the city familiar as well as different. Change is a constant in the US, certainly in the biggest cities, and things are always changing in New York. One example is women's shoes. Everyone, young and old, was walking in flats from flip flops to ballet slippers. Almost entirely gone were the sneakers that women used to wear to and from work; almost entirely gone were the outrageously high super fashionable shoes. Many of the people I saw were tourists dressed casually, but others were residents looking for lunch or on the way to a movie or gym after work, recognizable by the ID tag around the neck. When I was here last November, those same women were wearing shoes or boots with stiletto heels.

Another difference is the number of people who line up at the outdoor food carts that sell halal food. Wearing bright yellow t-shirts and caps, the servers work nonstop into the night. While at most food carts, one or two people might be waiting, at the halal carts, 15 or 20 people wait patiently for their turn. They may be Arab girls wearing head scarves, Russians from Central Asia, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, or Chinese as well as anything else.

Apparently, some people whose eating isn't regulated by their religion are buying halal food because it is perceived to be fresh. When I asked one of the men preparing food how long the company had been in New York, he said, 18 years. That means I've seen those food carts many times, but the length and persistence of the lines is different.

Staying at a friend's apartment on the east side of midtown Manhattan, I walked everywhere especially crosstown to the theater district. August is when many New Yorkers are out of town if not out of the country, so I expect to see many foreigners in the city. You can always hear a number of languages spoken everywhere you go. The difference now is that there are more Asians - East Asian Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese and West Asian Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis - joining the Europeans and Latin Americans.

It's interesting to see this in New York. I am used to it in the UAE where the population is 60 percent Indian, with Pakistanis the next largest group, followed by Iranians, Bangladeshis, and Filipinos. Europeans and Latin Americans are minorities as are Emiratis who comprise at most 20 percent of their country. Two of the five taxi drivers I encountered in New York were from Bangladesh, both already citizens after more than 10 years in the U.S. That doesn't happen in the UAE where the government is trying to increase the number of Emiratis and not looking for immigrants from anywhere. Expatriates regardless of education or origin are there on a work visa. When the visa expires, so does the residence permit, and it is time to go home.

One of the realities of living in New York City is getting away for weekends in the summer. New Yorkers are lucky to be able to escape in two hours by road in all four directions, north to Connecticut, east to Long Island, south to New Jersey, and west to Pennsylvania. The friend I've been visiting has a summer house on Long Island in Westhampton, so Saturday afternoon, I was heading east on the Hampton Jitney.

When I used to go to Long Island for weekends with my parents years ago, the Jitney was a small company with a few station wagons that ran mostly on weekends. Today it is an enormous company with full size buses that offer wireless service and a toilet as well as airline style soft drinks, water, and pretzels. The development of the Jitney which now also takes people on tours to New England and Atlantic City is a major change in the New York area and is part of the growth of Long Island as a vacation destination.

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