Canada! Blow-Up Dolls! Wastewater Treatment Plants!
Plus! An Oklahoma physicist solves a NYC subway dilemma!
Welcome to Issue #35 of CAFÉ ANNE!
I am pleased to introduce a new recurring feature, “Expert Help,” in which a true authority answers the most vexing NYC questions submitted by readers. In this first installment, a physicist provides a helpful suggestion for how to comply with the MTA directive that subway riders use “all available doors.”
I’m also excited about this week’s Q&A with a very cool lady who visited every wastewater treatment plant in NYC. And then moved to Canada! I found Cori Carl a true delight and hope you do as well. Please see “NYC’s Wastewater Treatment Plant Queen is Now a $%&# Canadian,” below.
Finally, I had a fun chatting with New York baker and producer Jim Serpico on his “Bread for the People” podcast about NYC donut carts, NFTs (sorry!) and the delights of cinnamon bread with marinara sauce. Click here for a listen.
Weird Trash Heap #21
This issue’s Weird Trash Heap photo was submitted by Georgia L., the lovely lady profiled in last week’s Brooklyn Heights Style Blog. And it’s a doozy!
Yes, the items include a broken keyboard, a book, a calendar, several clothes hangers and a blow-up doll.
“I first ran away, then went back for a quick photo FOR THE CAUSE,” Georgia wrote of the pile she discovered by the curb on Sidney Place in Brooklyn, just south of Aikin Place.
“FWIW it’s worth,” she added, “the doll looked new but askew.”
In case you’re wondering, the book is “The History of Ships” by Peter Kemp, and the text on the pages of the second book appears to address some sort of coming economic crisis. Yes, someone on Sidney Place really knows how to have a good time!
Please send your weird trash photo to email@example.com and I will include it in a future issue.
How Can I Use “All Available Doors” On the Subway?
Reader Tim C. on the Upper West Side recently emailed for help with an issue that allows him no peace. He wrote:
After all these years in Gotham I continue to be bemused and lightly baffled whenever the subway in-car announcement comes on:
"Please use all available doors."
I have yet to determine how to use all those doors at once...nor why I would ever consider going out of my way to seek even one unavailable door (should there be such a thing) to exit the subway.
Is this not like saying: "Please do the only logical thing"?
Tim! As soon as I received your query, I took it to be a physics question and forwarded your query to no less than eight different physics professors at NYU, Columbia, CUNY and Manhattan College. I got zero response. Lame!
Then I had the brilliant idea of getting help from a fellow Substack writer. Dr. Tad Thurston is a professor of physics at Oklahoma City Community College and creator of the physics and astronomy blog First Excited State. He not only responded with a thoughtful reply, he suggested a cool app that will solve your subway dilemma!
“It’s a challenging and puzzling directive, to be sure!” Dr. Thurston wrote of the subway announcement in question. “And, maybe it could be said, un-empathetic for our daily concerns. Amidst the static buzz of a typical commuter’s thoughts at the time, we are (politely) instructed to take sides in what amounts to a religious war amongst physicists working on the foundations of quantum theory.”
You can probably guess where this is headed, Tim. In his response, Dr. Thurston explained that when things get quantum-tiny, particles can exhibit wave-like behavior and, like a beam of light, appear in two places at once.
When it comes to people, though, “there’s just no use in talking about possible wave-like behavior—not that it isn’t technically true, but because it could not be observed in any conceivable experiment, and it’s this wave-like character that we might interpret as ‘going through two doors at once.’”
There is another theoretical option, however—multiple universes. Dr. Thurston continues:
This might be, shockingly, better supported. Any time there’s a simple quantum measurement, the outcomes are governed by computable probabilities.
One interpretation of how to think of this: the Universe ‘branches” so that all of the possibilities actually occur. Loosely, when you flip a coin, the Universe splits into one where the result is heads, and one in which the result is tails.
So, to comply with subway directives, here’s what our gentle reader ought to do: you’ll need something like this app (it’s a paid app, no affiliation) that literally tells you the result of an on-the-fly simple generated experiment.
If there are 4 doors on the subway car, you’ll have to run it twice—the first run tells you which side of the car to go to, and the second run tells you which door to go out of. The beauty of it is that you’ll know (if that quantum interpretation is right) that there are copies of you in other branched Universes that have gone through EACH DOOR! Perfect compliance!
Wow. Thank you Tim C. for your question, and thank you Dr. Thurston for your elegant solution!
Got a NYC question that’s making you crazy? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll track down an expert to get you an answer.
NYC’s Wastewater Treatment Plant Queen is Now a $%&# Canadian
I was delighted to get a comment recently on my story about Jessi Highet and Mike Varley, who walked 26 miles a day for a year through the streets of NYC, sampling scallion cream cheese bagels. It was from a reader who had her own themed walking adventure to relate: “I walked to every WWTP in New York City,” she wrote.
A quick Google search revealed that WWTP stands for “wastewater treatment plant.” Curious to know more, I wrote back and was surprised to learn that Cori Carl no longer lives in New York City. While everyone in a certain swath of lefty-lefty Brooklyn is always threatening to move to Canada, Ms. Cori actually left!
I knew we had to talk. Please enjoy the Q&A resulting from our Zoom call last week. It has been edited and condensed.
We connected after you mentioned that you visited every wastewater treatment plant in New York City.
Which probably sounds more exciting than it is, I'm sorry to say. But yes, I worked in communications for a number of engineering firms over the years. One of the companies I was working with, I was doing sell sheets for some of the water engineering projects they were doing. It was really interesting stuff. But all of our pictures were stolen from the internet.
Being someone who comes from an art background as well as an engineering background, I was like, “Hey, guys, architectural photographers exist, we can hire someone to do this.” And then I was like, “Okay, you don't want to spend the money? That's fine. I can go down and shoot some photos, no big deal. It'll be good enough for this little brochure.”
And they were like, weirdly adamant against this idea. So I guess it started as a little bit of an act of rebellion.
Looking back, it seems obvious that wastewater treatment plants would be such a cool destination for exploring New York. They're near bodies of water, so there's going to be unexpectedly beautiful spots, and they're in the neighborhoods that get the unpleasant infrastructure. They tend to be in these forgotten, neglected areas of New York, with a lot of the people that New York doesn't really appreciate. And you have to go through all of these other neighborhoods to get there from the subway, or take a weird bus line that you've never taken before. You can really experience those aspects of the city that you never normally see.
What’s your favorite NYC wastewater treatment plant?
Newtown Creek [in Greenpoint, Brooklyn]. If you haven't done their public tours, I highly recommend it. They do tours once a month and a tour on Valentine's Day that sells out every year.
It’s known as the “S— Tits” for its very distinctive architecture. But inside it's surprisingly generic! They actually use it as a filming location for movies and TV shows because it can stand in for sort of any generic industrial location. But the thing that's great about it is the tour guides are so enthusiastic. And of course, anyone who is touring the wastewater treatment plant is also a really serious infrastructure nerd.
How many plants are in the city?
Not many, maybe eight. It’s such a short, easy list—and it was just so delightful to do. Every one was just like a fun, magical little walk full of all sorts of weird things.
Like my visit to the Coney Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, which was New York City's first. There's like a cat colony right there. And this weird little yacht club in the outlet of the plant. Half the people who live on those houseboats are retired cops. They're not that old, because, you know, city jobs. They’re hanging out and ready to tell you stories about weathering Hurricane Sandy on their boats.
What’s also super fun are the jellyfish in that little inlet from all the nutrients coming out of the treatment plant. They're huge! So if you are entertained by poking jellyfish with sticks while drinking cocktails, I highly recommend it!
You said that for city walks, you like “middling long distances—the sweet spot where it’s long enough to be weird, but not so long that it’s impressive.”
Yeah. It's where people are confused that I didn't just take an Uber. If you hike the Appalachian Trail, if you walk the Camino de Santiago—that's impressive. Even if you do the whole length of Broadway, that makes sense to people. But if you just walk 20 miles around New York City for no apparent reason, that's just kind of weird. Nobody's really impressed.
What are some favorite walks?
The best walks can't really be replicated. Because they're so unique to the people you meet, the weird little coincidences. But there are certain areas where there's so much potential for just stumbling on something that's just delightfully unexpected, or running into interesting characters who are eager to chat.
One of the easiest, most accessible ones would be starting in South Slope [Brooklyn], and then looping your way around Greenwood Cemetery, and making your way down to Bay Ridge. Those are such great neighborhoods with a lot of character. And I love Greenwood Cemetery. It's just such a great space, but also the giant tortoises. I like the tortoises and the fact that there's always someone lost in the cemetery.
How does New York compare to Toronto when it comes to walking?
Toronto is smaller, so I can really just walk almost everywhere I want to go. And Toronto has ravines throughout. And there's creeks. So it's hardly wilderness, but it does feel like nature is a lot more accessible.
But not a lot of people lived in Toronto 30 years ago. So it’s more like the suburbs. It's just like when you go to certain areas of Queens, or some of the newer sections of Staten Island, where they're kind of boring places to walk. Weirdness takes time to develop.
A lot of people talk about moving to Canada for ideological reasons. You actually did it!
I think my age helped. I was in my early 30s. That's sort of the age when a lot of my friends had left the city to start raising families and buying houses elsewhere. And the people who stayed tended to be really career-oriented. So New York has a lot of churn. As a woman in her 30s who doesn't have kids, it felt easier to leave and not worry about abandoning my friend group.
I was going ask how your family and friends reacted when you said, “I'm moving to Canada.”
They’re so used to me doing weird things. I always have like 10,000 plans. So then if any one of them actually happens, they're like, “Oh, yeah, okay, that's the plan of the week. Cool. Whatever.”
Do you feel you made the right decision?
Oh, yeah. It’s hard to explain the things that really matter in the day-to-day. Like, I didn't realize the psychic weight of worrying about—even when I had health insurance in New York—going to the doctor is so complicated with disputing claims, or they bill it wrong. And then it's a nightmare. And you spend three years fighting over it.
The fact that I have not had to fill out any insurance paperwork since I left the US is so nice. It's wonderful. And knowing that, even if I lost my job, I would still have health insurance. And when I'm passing someone on the street who is clearly unhoused and in some sort of crisis situation, I know that they have the same access to health care as I do. It makes me feel better as a person, knowing that they have these basic rights like we all should.
Also, I didn't feel like I was dealing with homophobia in the US. I grew up in Asbury Park, in New Jersey. It’s a very gay-friendly area. And certainly, the same in Brooklyn. So didn't seem like a big deal until suddenly it was gone. And I was like, “Oh, this is nicer.”
What’s an example of what you experienced in New York that you don’t get in Toronto?
It’s the subtle things—a lot of it was just awkwardness. We're at the bank, and they ask you for your husband's name, and you're like, “Well, actually…” And then they're like, “OH, OH, THAT’S GREAT YOU CAN GET MARRIED NOW! OH YES! I KNOW A LESBIAN SHE’S MY SISTER’S COUSIN’S NEIGHBOR THEY’RE GREAT!”
In Canada, the likelihood of them just asking for your spouse’s or partner’s name is much higher. But even if I correct them, they’re just like, “Yeah, sure.” And then they move on to the next question.
You mentioned that nothing makes you feel as American as living abroad does.
In New York, if you go to some sort of work event, oftentimes, I felt like I had to prove my worth in the first 30 seconds of a conversation with the stranger. Otherwise, they would just straight up turn away and go off to somebody else. I had to cultivate the ability to casually name-drop or be like, I'm a person worth talking to!
In Toronto, that comes off as really aggressive and over-the-top. It's funny, because in New York, I was bad at that. I was just too, not necessarily timid, but I didn't do a good job of self promoting and the elevator pitch and all of that. So it was really funny to come to Toronto and have people be like, “Whoa, you’ve got to tamp it down!” It's like, “I've been like working to tone this up for the past five years!”
You wrote a book about moving to Canada.
It’s like an instruction manual!
My first instinct for everything is to go to the library. But all of the books on moving to Canada were like joke books, like a bunch of beavers and moose or something. Or they were ten years old, telling you where to fax your stuff.
So yeah, I put together the book just because I had to figure it out on my own. I started blogging about it, and then people were really responding well to that. It was so long it turned into a book. And each edition gets a little longer as I've made it through the process. Now that I'm a Canadian citizen, even though I don’t say “process” the way a Canadian would, I think the book is in its final form now.
Your book got a lot of attention.
I didn't do any marketing for my own book—it was just releasing it at the right time.
I moved up before Trump was a serious candidate, but it was towards the end of the Obama administration. There was a palpable backlash, even in New York, and I was nervous that Hillary wasn't going to win and that they would repeal gay marriage or something like that. I knew I didn't want to stick around and find out. I also knew that I was no longer planning on staying in New York until I died and be the crazy lady hanging out in Greenwood Cemetery trying to befriend the turtles. So I figured if I'm going to move, I’m doing it now.
So now I can fill the role of crazy lady hanging out in Greenwood Cemetery befriending the turtles.
Yeah, they’re so cool!
I don't know anyone else who actually moved to Canada, but I do have a few friends who moved to places like Amsterdam. And a part of me feels a little resentful. It’s like, “What—we're not good enough for you?”
Yes, but where do you think that comes from?
They’re like, “Oh, Europe is so much more civilized.” And I'm like, “F— you!”
When you move to another country, there's this blissful time in the beginning before you know enough to understand the complexities of things. So everything seems simpler and nicer and more civilized. And then the longer you stay, the more you can understand things well enough to criticize it.
I've definitely reached that point with Canada. But I still really love it. And Canada, even though it's a very different country from the US, it doesn't feel like defecting in quite the same way as like, moving to a country that speaks a different language. We'll just ignore Quebec in this instance. Sorry, Quebec!
So we’re meeting on Zoom, which is so sad. If you were still in New York City, where would we be meeting up?
I don’t know if it’s even open anymore, but there’s a great donut place on the way to Coney Island. Can I remember the name of the donut place? I’ll have to email you. On the Q train…it has a weird…like a guy’s name…
OH MY GOD I KNOW THAT PLACE ON AVENUE U I’VE BEEN THERE A BUNCH OF TIMES WITH MY FRIEND AHARON!!!
Ms. Carl confirmed in a follow-up email that we were indeed referring to the same little restaurant—Shaikh’s Place, a 24-hour coffee shop in Sheepshead Bay. Check it out! Greenpoint’s famous donut hot spots have nothing on this joint.
She also did a formal tally and noted that NYC actually has 14 wastewater treatment plants. “I can't believe I didn't mention Rockaway!” she added. “Taking the subway to the end of the line and eating tacos on the beach in view of a WWTP is an essential NYC experience.”
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More of a gentle tolerance in Canada... maybe. I wonder if Americans are simply more vocal with their prejudices. As we've sadly learned with the Trucker Convoy fools, et al, there are plenty of narrow-minded (I'm being a polite Canadian) people up here. Toronto's a nice city—my daughter lives there. But there's no place like NYC!
I had a strong sense of deja vu as I read thus piece. I am a Canadian who spent many years abroad, including about 14 years in NYC. I had a green card, and kept being told when I went through US Immigration "You know, you are eligible to take out US citizenship." My response always was, "Yeah. I'm still in the dating phase. Not sure i'm ready to fully commit yet." Most of them were nonplussed by that feeble attempt at humour, and i guess they are used to dealing with people dying to get back onto the country. But when Trump got elected, it really got too crazy, even for me, who genuinely loved the US.
And I came back to Toronto (which has become a decidedly more interesting city, albeit without the charming weirdness of NYC). There's definitely more of a gentle tolerance up here. Our cable companies are shit, and we've had two full-on crashes FOR THE ENTIRE COUNTRY over the last 15 months, but at least you can get abortion on demand.