Columns » Bob McCord

From New York, an idea


My wife and I like to go to New York. She was born and grew up 35 miles from New York City, and after I got out of the army we lived in the city in a one-room basement apartment on West 88th Street while I was getting a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. The reason for this trip last month was to attend the 50th reunion of my class. Sixteen showed up, some as far away as Jerusalem, but that's a fairly good turnout considering there were only 65 in the class of 1954 and we know that 15 have died. In the year I spent covering stories in New York, I got to know it somewhat, and on this trip I found some differences-differences that I think might have come about because of Sept. 11, the most tragic attack on innocent Americans in the nation's history. To me, New Yorkers seemed more much more friendly and courteous. That was true of the people we met -- professors, ushers, clerks, waiters, cab drivers and even the people in a hurry walking in those incessant crowds. They acted as if they were glad you were in their city. We had to get up in our hotel very early every one of the five days, and we watched for the weather on TV. And every morning if rain was forecast, the weathermen and women always commented as to whether there would be thunder during the day. That seemed quite odd, and I am convinced that they do that so if New Yorkers suddenly hear a loud, crashing noise they will know it will be thunder rather than an airliner filled with passengers flying into one of the skyscrapers. Those at the reunion didn't stay at the finest hotels or eat at the most famous restaurants, but we enjoyed fine food and lodgings because New Yorkers directed us to places that they patronized. The accommodations and meals were good, and the real surprise was that they charged no more than we would have paid in Central Arkansas. One of the things that has gone up in prices is a play ticket. However, there are more Sunday matinees than there used to be, and those tickets sell for less than those during night performances during the week. We hadn't seen a Broadway show in years, so on the recommendation of my niece who is in show business, we bought Sunday tickets for "Wonderful Town," a revival of a 1953 musical. It was great, a typical, first-rate Broadway musical. If you are as old as I am you will remember it as a popular, 1942 movie called "My Sister Eileen," starring Rosalind Russell, who was also the star in the Broadway show. This version's star is Donna Murphy, who was terrific. She's not only very funny but she sings and dances beautifully. The story is about two sisters living during the Depression in New York in one of those below-the-sidewalk apartments that my wife and I lived in. So naturally we loved the show. On this trip it seemed to me that the city was tidier than I had ever seen it. It made me believe that the cleaned sidewalks, streets, windows, subways, buildings and parks were an invitation for people to come back to the city and see that it had survived its catastrophe. Times Square used to be plain grimy. Even though the Gentlemen's Club, the Playpen and Gotham City Ladies World are still there, their exteriors, at least, are cleaner and more attractive than they used to be. New York friends took us to the Museum of the City of New York to see a tribute to Sen. Pat Moynihan, who died last year. Moynihan, born into a poor Oklahoma family, was a senator for 24 years, always believing that government was required to help the disadvantaged. Before going to the Senate, he was a teacher, an adviser to four Presidents (Democrats and Republicans) and an ambassador to the United Nations and India. The Almanac of American Politics called him "the nation's best thinker since Lincoln and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson." Comments from his books and speeches in the Congress were displayed, and there were films of him speaking on the Senate floor and delivering maxims on TV programs. My favorite being, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinions but not his own facts." It struck me that Arkansas ought to have a tribute like this to J. William Fulbright, who is one of the best-known senators in the history of the country. He was Arkansas's senator for 30 years and is known around the world, especially because of the college scholarships given every year in his name to hundreds of bright students throughout the world. His papers are in the library of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (he was once its president) and are available for researchers and scholars. But it seems to me that in Fayetteville, or perhaps in Little Rock, there ought to be a place where ordinary people, students and tourists could see and hear recordings of this brilliant man from Arkansas. Our state and cities spend a lot of money honoring athletes, Confederate soldiers and now even a World War II submarine from Turkey named Razorback. Surely we ought to brag about and honor an Arkansan who, on the Senate floor after the Vietnam war, said, "The United States must decide which of the two sides of its national character is to predominate - the humanism of Lincoln or the arrogance of those who would make America the world's policeman."

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