In NYC, Russians Cast Wary Eye on Sochi

By Jason Javaherian, Emma Kazaryan, Milena Kozlowska and Rebecca Ungarino

At Kebeer Draft Bar and Grill in Brighton Beach, in the heart of Brooklyn’s Russian community, every television was tuned to the XXII Olympic Winter Games hosted in Sochi, Russia on a recent Sunday evening.

bar 5

Kebeer’s Russian patrons feel indifferent during the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Photo by Emma Kazaryan

Notwithstanding that men’s cross-country skiing—not a popular spectator sport—was the focus of the evening’s telecast, enthusiasm for the games appeared scant. Patrons at Kebeer, which is at the intersection of Brighton Beach and Coney Island avenues, glanced briefly at the screens to catch results, only to quickly return to their conversations.

“Russia did not need these games,” said Sergey Zinoviev, who was standing at the bar with several friends, alluding to the estimated $51 billion cost of the Sochi games, more than seven times the cost of the winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, four years ago, and larger than the $44 billion of the 2008 Beijing summer games, the next most expensive. “I think they could have spent money on more important things, like schools.”

Zinoviev, a banker, said he is not indifferent toward his native Russia. “Every time I watch the games I feel proud for Russia, especially when our sportsmen are winning,” conceded Zinoviev with a smile.

“I don’t cheer for Russia,” said Igor Galiakhmetov, 60, an owner of a Brooklyn moving company. “I cheer for good sportsmen.”

For Galiakhmetov, who moved to New York 14 years ago with his family from Novorossiysk, a port city on the Black Sea, 176 miles from Sochi, the distrust he feels for the regime of Valdimir Putin, who has ruled Russia as either president or prime minister since 2000, colors his view of the Olympics. “Knowing the Russian government, I am pretty sure that after the Olympic games, the region as well as the newly built infrastructure, will be abandoned,” he added.

As Russian émigrés follow the Sochi games from their new homes in New York, they are experiencing divided loyalties to two countries—the Russia they left behind and their adopted U.S. For many émigrés, whether they fled the former Soviet Union or Putin’s Russia, their view of the Olympics is colored by the corruption they associate with both regimes.

“Many people come to cheer for the U.S. rather than Russia,” said Rassul Massimov, an employee at Kebeer and a student at ASA College who is from Kazakhstan, which was part of the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991.

“We are American and are rooting for America!” agreed Matwiej Dommith, 85, also of Brighton Beach via the U.S.S.R, who has been a U.S. citizen for 20 years and has grandchildren born and raised here.

Meanwhile, on Staten Island, at the NetCost Market, on Amboy Road in the Richmondtown neighborhood, the sentiments toward the Olympics were much the same.

“I am rooting for Russia, Estonia and America, but mostly for America because they are my home,” said Igor Shurygin, who was stocking the shelves at the store, which is part of a chain popular among the community’s Russian, Estonian and Ukrainian residents; the store carries traditional Eastern European specialties, such as pierogi (potato or cheese dumplings), plov (a hearty rice dish), and kotlety (breaded meat cutlets). Shurygin, who moved to Staten Island two years ago from his native Estonia, said that when he was not working he watched the Olympic games at home, and especially enjoyed the snowboarding competitions.

image

Ella Pil, a barbershop owner, sympathizes with Sochi residents who were relocated to make room for Olympic development.
Photo by Jason Javaherian

Rachel Mickley moved to New York from Ukraine nearly 38 years ago and said that she, her children and U.S.-born grandchildren were all rooting for the United States. Mickley said she watched the Olympics on Channel One whenever she gets the chance; Channel One Russia, the Russian Federation’s first television channel, is available via local cable companies.

“My husband and I, we don’t want Russia to win medals,” said Ella Pil, a 39-year-old barber in the Floral Park neighborhood.

“The Olympics are a show for Putin and his friends,” said Pil, who came to the U.S. in 1994 from Uzbekistan, and reflected the animosity that many residents of former Soviet satellite countries still feel toward Russia.

 

Crowds Sow Discontent in SoHo

By Rebecca Ungarino [Read more...]

Board Bashing: The Long and Short of It

By Brad Williams    

The hum of four soft urethane wheels gliding over abrasive asphalt has become a common addition to the noises on the streets of New York, as longboarding continues to grow in popularity. Far from the stereotype of skateboarders (teenage boys, or young men with long hair and tattoos), the people riding longboards range from businessmen, to young mothers, and even young children. They often ride together in groups of three or more on long-distance cruises. They can be seen nonchalantly whizzing by traffic and pedestrians on the city’s streets without doing a single trick, on boards of various shapes and sizes but longer than three feet in length. One rider might be 5 years old, and the next rider might be 50.

Photo by Brad Williams

Photo by Brad Williams

Many people refer to these boarders as skaters – and that leaves those on the other end of the skateboarding spectrum – trick skaters – fuming. While outsiders might see longboarders and shortboarders as two families of the same clan, the participants see themselves as rivals.

In the past five years, longboarding has reached new heights in popularity. As more and more longboarders coast through the streets of New York City, many shortboarders frown in disapproval.

The basis of the dispute is the style of board used by the rider. In general, there are three types of skateboards:  trick boards (also referred to as “regular” and “short” boards) used primarily for executing numerous tricks; longboards, mostly used for transportation and riding at high speeds, and cruisers, a varying mixture of both.

Longtime skater and Roll America skateboarding instructor John Jackson is displeased with the increase in longboarding. “It feels like they outnumber us now,” Jackson said. “When I would skate around 10 years ago, I’d see skaters everywhere, riding in groups, now I just see a bunch of longboarders clogging up the bike lanes.” Founded in 1988 by Joel Rappelfeld, RollAmerica offers rollerblading and skateboarding lessons and says it works with more than 50 elementary and middle schools to teach students.

Longboards, significantly longer than trick skateboards, require less effort and can reach much faster speeds. Most longboards have wheels twice the size of regular skateboard wheels, to handle rough surfaces and add momentum when in motion. Longboards are primarily used for transportation.

Jackson said beginners were the “most annoying thing” about the rise in longboarding.

“As an instructor, I encourage my students not to start out with a longboard. It’s too easy to reach high speeds, and beginners can’t keep control,” he said. ”It’s like driving a Corvette the very first time you drive a car, you’re a danger to yourself and everyone near you.”

“I can count four longboarding deaths in New York City since 2012. I can’t think of a single person dying from trying a trick here,” Jackson said. “And we skate all of the ramps and rails that most people think are so dangerous! It’s all from a lack of experience and comfort on a board.” According to the Web site Skaters for Public Skateparks, two skateboard-related deaths occurred in New York City in 2012.

By Jackson’s definition, the majority of the city’s longboarders should not be referred to as skaters because they have not spent countless hours bettering their skills through trial and error.

“What can you fail at as a longboarder?” Jackson asked. “Riding down the street? Outside of the hardcore longboarders, who have complete control at speeds above 15 miles per hour, longboarding is not a demanding activity.…Is anyone who rides a bike considered a cyclist? No. They should only be referred as longboarders.” he added, “Longboarding is more like surfing or snowboarding than skateboarding.”

Jeff Gates, an avid longboarder and the founder and owner of Uncle Funky’s Boards in the West Village, said there’s not just a link between longboarding and board sports such as surfing and snowboarding, but that the latter are “the root of all skateboarding”– meaning that skateboarding as a whole evolved from surfing.

“Longboarding is as simple as riding,” Gates said. “You can get the gist of it in a matter of hours, while street skating requires a lot more practice and dealing with injuries.”

Gates said that trick skaters embrace skateboarding as part of their identities, and aren’t happy to see people who just bought longboards being referred to as skaters.

“When a dude who’s been doing tricks for 15 years sees a guy in a suit riding a longboard to work on Wall Street, he’s pissed,” he said.

Unlike Jackson, Gates believes that a longboard is an ideal choice for newcomers for a multitude of reasons: “It’s longer and wider than a standard board, so it has more room to stand on and is more stable. Its wheels are much larger, so riders don’t have to worry about tripping over every crack, twig or pebble, and it’s just easier to turn on.”

Gates admits that the ease of reaching high speeds is a potential danger, but advises that all riders should do their best not to skate outside of their abilities. In addition, he suggests a change in philosophy: “Everybody can skate, everybody should skate. It’s fun, and it’s easy…And I think skaters have tried to keep that secret for too long—to protect it like it’s their own. But it never was their own, and it never should be their own: it’s for everybody.”

At 70, Grandma’s First Thanksgiving

Article and Photos by Svetlanna Farinha

Grandma Claudia Powley

Grandma Claudia Powley arrived in America for her first-ever Thanksgiving dinner with her family.

Dressed in a gray Washington Redskins T-shirt bearing the team’s red-and-yellow logo, Grandma Claudia Powley, 70, sat upright on a cream, tweed fabric couch awaiting her first Thanksgiving dinner.
[Read more...]

Masked Intentions

Story and photos by Elisha Fieldstadt
Originally published on November 5, 2012.

Romney mask

Photo by Elisha Fieldstadt

On the Saturday before Halloween, the checkout line at the Spirit store in Chelsea was 50 people deep. By the next day, shoppers were more focused on groceries and staples as hurricane warnings abounded.

Among the Halloween goods were racks of masks of President Obama, but not a Romney mask was to be found.

“We got in the same amount of each mask,” says the assistant manager, Abbie Rodriguez.

Spirit operates 1,000 stores nationwide, and says the mask sales of presidential candidates have accurately predicted the results of the last four presidential elections, although it acknowledges that its “Presidential Index” has no scientific or mathematical basis.

“It’s not uncommon for people to buy the mask of the candidate they want to make fun of and wear a clown costume,” says Crystal Baxter, the manager of marketing and licensing for Spirit. However, she also adds, “It gives supporters a fun way to show their support for their favorite candidate.”

When Spirit’s marketing department noticed that Clinton masks outsold Dole masks in 1996 and then Clinton went on to win the race, it started calling its sales count “The Presidential Index.”

Nine days before Halloween, Baxter reports that overall, Obama mask sales were at 60 percent and Romney at 40 percent. “That number can definitely change because the first four weeks, Obama was up 65 percent and now he’s only up 60, so Romney is pulling up and there’s plenty of room for Romney to continue to pull ahead in the time that’s left,” she says.

Obama mask

Photo by Elisha Fieldstadt

While Romney masks outsold Obama masks in Chelsea (which seems unlikely to predict the vote in that Manhattan neighborhood), in other typically liberal areas — Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, Ore. — managers of Spirit stores all say they have sold one or two Romney masks but were sold out of Obama masks.

In contrast, in the cities of “red states,” managers of stores in Layton, Utah; Lawrence, Kan., and Houston say Romney masks are in the lead, and some haven’t sold a single Obama mask.

Managers from several stores in Nevada, Wisconsin, Colorado and Virginia all say they had sold more Obama masks. Managers from multiple stores in Utah, Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Ohio all say that they have sold more Romney masks. That information simply indicates that the sales of masks, much like the election will not be won by a landslide.

“We definitely hope that one way or the other our mask sales can continue to early-predict the winner of the presidential race,” says Baxter. Either way, after three contentious debates and a slew of offensive political television ads, maybe the “Presidential Index” is a way to lighten up the election season. “It’s all in good fun,” she adds.

Halloween Shops “Pop Up” Around the City

By Nakeisha Campbell and Kelvin Murphy

Spirit Halloween

Pop-up stores, which set up in a vacant retail space for weeks or months, then shut, are increasingly popular among consumers. Photo by Nakeisha Campbell.

Most Halloweens, John Rosenberger usually visits thrift shops for his costumes. But this year he decided to visit Spirit Halloween’s pop-up shop at 766 Sixth Avenue, one of those stores that springs into being for a few months, or even weeks, then shuts.

“My lady friend wants to be Fiona from Adventure Time,” Rosenberger, 26, said. “She’s trying it on. She’s a small, but they’re already sold out of those, so we’re trying a medium.”

Another first-time pop-up shopper, Wilma Cordero, 25, said, “I’m just really looking for a specific costume; I go first online to check out what I like, and then I look around to see if all these stores have it, but this is actually my second store today.” She was at the same Spirit store.

Spirit and Ricky’s are both national chains that operate Halloween stores, some year-round and some seasonal pop-ups. Ricky’s has 27 year-round locations in the New York metropolitan area and one in Miami. Esti Lamonica, the store manager of Ricky’s at East 23rd Street and Third Avenue, said the company opened 30 pop-up Halloween locations in the New York area last year, and this year no more than a dozen.

Halloween has increasingly turned into a holiday for adults as well as children, and the average American shopper spent about $80 on Halloween-related items this year, according to BIGinsight, a monthly consumer survey. Although stores like Party City remain popular for Halloween shopping, many people are gravitating toward specialized pop-up shops, such as temporary stores that sell Halloween merchandise throughout October. Locations can range from vacant real estate to vacant retail spaces, and the shops disappear quickly.

“I do think that there are massive hordes of people running to these stores because they’re not commonplace,” said Christina Norsig, C.E.O. and founder of PopUpInsider.

A permanent store, she said, “doesn’t deliver with that sense of urgency, really truly, if it’s long term, if it’s in other neighborhoods, in the town you’re in, it’s not going to draw the crowds. If you open up something truly original for a limited period of time with a limited assortment, and it’s really special, you’re going to get people buzzing around it.”

Aside from their popularity with consumers, many building owners see pop-ups as a way to fill vacant space and show off the property.

At Spirit Halloween on Sixth Avenue, an assistant manager who would identify herself only as Debbie said: “American Apparel was here before us, and before that was a temporary furniture store outlet. They actually have a permanent tenant here now, coming in after us, but we had this two years in a row.”

The Spirit Halloween aisles were filled with colorful masks and outfits, including scary zombie outfits, superheroes and cartoon characters.

While Ricky’s has cut the number of its pop-up stores in New York, Spirit Halloween seems to be increasing them. Last year, the company said, it had more than 1,000 pop-ups in 49 states, compared with 63 in 1999.

Norsig said Halloween pop-ups had been increasing since 2009. “Last year, Halloween pop-up stores, I want to say were up 8 percent, over the year before. And the year before that was 15 percent up.”

While Ricky’s and Spirit Halloween carry both children and adult costumes, both seem to target adults, especially on their web sites. A search for “adult costumes” returns thousands of choices on either web site, far more than a search for “children’s costumes.”

Halloween pop-up shops also sold costumes and masks of political candidates, certainly more popular with adults than children.

The Halloween industry continues to grow every year. Over 70 percent of Americans plan to celebrate Halloween or participate in Halloween activities this year, a 20 percent increase since 2005, according to BIGinsight.

“After the storm, after two years, of Halloween almost being, not canceled but not quite full on, I have to wonder what next year is going to look like for the seasonal business.” said Norsig. “I’m just wondering if they’re going to scale back the amount because of the losses this year. I have to believe it wasn’t a stellar year in terms of the sales.”

Uneven Halloween in East Harlem

Articles and photos by Rebecca Ungarino

East Harlem Halloween 1

“We would be down at the parade right now, but it was canceled because of the storm,” said Little Red Riding Hood, with Velma and Alice in Wonderland on Madison Avenue.

After Hurricane Sandy clobbered the New York metropolitan area, the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, which some years attracted more than 50,000 celebrants, was canceled for the first time since its 1974 inception, taking a lot of energy out of Halloween for many people.

Both those in search of candy and their parents looked long and hard for Halloween spirit in Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs. (New Jersey took a different approach; by gubernatorial proclamation, Halloween was shifted to Monday, Nov. 5.)

In East Harlem, like many other neighborhoods, the range of reactions was broad.

Walking along Third Avenue above 100th Street was at first disheartening. Handmade “No Candy” signs – no doubt scrawled with haste to deter children from infiltrating stores — were hung in windows and on doors, and even on a manikin outside a thrift shop. One man was carefully shooing trick-or-treaters and accompanying parents out of a Dunkin’ Donuts between 108th and 109th Street, calling, “No candy, no candy!” Discouraged faces were everywhere.

At some stores, it was business as usual. From a narrow electronics store between 101st and 102nd Streets, the Ghostbusters theme song streamed out, mingling with the puffs of frosty breath of pedestrians going by.

Small clusters of four-foot-tall Batmen and Princess Jasmines appeared from inside storefronts and apartment steps. Three young girls were on the sidewalk, eager to describe their costumes to me. Alice in Wonderland said she lived near the FDR Drive. “We would be down at the parade right now, but it was canceled because of the storm,” Alice said wistfully. “We go every year.”

Her friend, in a bright orange bob wig and a brown sweater, was adjusting her drawstring backpack half full of candy. Referring to the Scooby Doo cartoon characters, she said: “I am Velma. I tried to be Daphne, but I ran out of money, so I’m Velma with my clothes.”

East Harlem Halloween 3

Bah, humbug (Halloween style).

Alongside was Little Red Riding Hood, with hooded red nylon cape, who explained: “I didn’t want to wear makeup for my costume. I never wear makeup. But sometimes my father says I should.”

On the northeast corner of 103rd Street and Third Avenue, a long table of goods was for sale — leather cellphone casings, pins with Mother Theresa’s face engraved, bags of candy bags, pairs of gloves. Alongside were rubber masks of grossly deformed men. Behind the table sat Johnny, who traveled from the Bronx to work the table with his uncle.

“It don’t even feel like Halloween ’cause of the storm,” he said. “We’re selling masks for less than the store. It’s been slow. People are buying the gloves, but not the masks.”

On a corner of 108th Street is Marketa 108, a deli visited by two ninja turtles, a witch and a small Barack Obama— all lined up to get candy from an elderly Asian man standing next to the fruit for sale. When I asked his name, he gave me a handful of suck-on candies out of a plastic bag and a huge smile, adding, “My name is Chan!”

On East 111th Street between Third and Lexington Avenues sits Lizabeth Tailoring, and Lizabeth was inside tending to a customer. A few customers, she said, had brought in costume dresses for her to hem.

Inside the Madison Avenue Methodist Church between 114th and 115th Streets, it was quiet, save for quiet conversation in the office to the left of the entry. Arthur McLean, the church treasurer, said: “If there were a younger congregation, there would be more programs. There is a Korean program this Saturday, and I’m sure if there were more young people in the congregation we would have a youth Halloween program, most likely.”

When I asked whether Halloween is a celebrated holiday at the church, he responded, “It’s really up to the individual.”

Farther north, the M. Futterman Corp. Wholesale Candy, was in full swing. Small Halloween-themed signs adorned the entrance. Inside were cotton spider webs hanging from the shelves and garlands hanging from the counter. The bustling employees behind the counter were all teenagers working at the family business. Oversized bags of assorted candy were displayed in the window.

“Three twenty-five for one bag,” the girl with the devil ears at the register said, noticing my eyes glued to the Tootsie Rolls. They even had candy cigarettes. “Everything in the window is three twenty-five.”

East Harlem Halloween 2

Luigi and Mario, who are real-life twins, on the prowl for lollipops.

“We were open at seven this morning,” said the manager, who declined to provide his name. “It wasn’t very busy until around one. It is especially cold this year. We weren’t open on Monday or Tuesday because of the storm. It would have been much busier. We know a lot of people who didn’t want to come out, so we made deliveries, by bicycle and by truck.”

Several blocks away, young twins dressed as Mario and Luigi searched for lollipops, undeterred by the cold weather. Beyond the two toddlers and their mother a tall man doled out candy from a wastebasket lined with a black plastic bag.

The self-declared Wizard of Oz of East 111th Street wished me a happy Halloween. Six feet tall with a wizard’s hat making him look even taller, he appeared to have sat outside his brownstone all day with his wife. A golden Halloween gong sat in front of his stoop, with a wrench on hand to bang it.

“I am just out here to entertain the neighbors,” the Wizard said.

Not such a dull Halloween after all.

Never Giving Up

Article and photos by Lindsay Calleran

Trainer 2

A spinning class in progress.

YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y. — It’s early Friday morning in a packed spin class when the instructor, 21-year-old Ryan Dowd leaps onto a bike, sporting a giant henna tattoo of a diamond on his bicep. With a flick of his finger, Whitney Houston is screaming, “I’m Every Woman,” and they’re off.

“Are you ready? It’s only a bike!” he yells to men and women of all ages. “Fight it!”

Here, it’s only a bike. For Dowd, the real fight came 11 years ago when he was diagnosed with chronic renal failure, the final stage of kidney disease. Only a successful transplant could save his life.

His parents had taken him for a blood test after they noticed a tic in his eye. The next morning a doctor called with the shocking results. Dowd was only 10 years old. “I thought it was a huge misunderstanding,” he says. Doctors spent the next year and a half preparing his body for a transplant. After nearly a dozen surgical procedures, and 50 to 60 pills a day, Dowd learned his own mother was a perfect match.

On Aug. 6, 2003, Ryan, 12, underwent a kidney transplant. Ten to 25 percent of patients reject the new organ within the first 60 days, but a year later Dowd was able to celebrate his first anniversary with a slice of a kidney-shaped cake.

These days, it’s hard to imagine any of that as the music in the studio at Club Fit in Yorktown Heights, in Westchester County, transitions into Ricky Martin’s “Here We Go.” Dowd sings along. Long-time member Debbie Santavicca says she loves his style. “He gives you the most energy,” she says. “Others are very systematic. His classes are fun, good vibes. He’s different.”

“Different” is a word Dowd is used to. After the transplant, he returned to middle school feeling he had little in common with classmates. Those who had sent get-well cards now felt like strangers. “I didn’t speak to anyone,” he says. “I kept very much to myself. I had no friends.” Seeking comfort, Dowd relied on what he calls, “food escapism,” leading to rapid weight gain.

“The steroids change your body,” he says, “but they don’t make you gain a hundred pounds like I did.” A “healthy” snack for Ryan was a bag of romaine lettuce, a bottle of dressing, a box of croutons and a block of mozzarella cheese.

Suddenly Dowd at 15 years old weighed 225. He didn’t even notice until he saw a photograph of himself with his taller, slender brother. Wearing matching shirts, Ryan assumed they looked like twins – but the photo revealed a harsh truth. “I was gargantuan,” he says, “I didn’t know I looked like that. I just started bawling.”

Ryan Dowd

Ryan Dowd, a 21-year-old fitness trainer, has reinvented himself after a serious childhood illness.

Ryan desperately wanted to lose weight. He’d look at physically fit peers for inspiration. “That’d be good. I want that,’” he recalls saying — and he was determined to get there, but only by using shortcuts. “I’d run five or six miles a day and only eat something in the morning to sustain me.”

At 18, Dowd confidently left for college 50 pounds lighter but soon learned that looks weren’t enough. Having spent his pubescent years either in a hospital bed or in front of a mirror, Dowd had never developed a strong sense of self and quickly fell into a daily routine of trying to fit in. “It was ‘Groundhog Day,’” he says. “I wanted something to make sense,” but it never did.

After two semesters, Dowd bought a one-way ticket home. “I went to school rosy-cheeked,” he says. “I left chain-smoking, rail thin. Everyone said, ‘you look great now.’” But the result of Dowd’s over-exercising and under-eating while at school impressed everyone but himself. He was fixed on finding an identity based on positives — something that at 19 years old, he had still never known.

He began with a job as a receptionist at Club Fit. There, he was surrounded by instructors, trainers – and spin class. “I had taken it once when I was 225 pounds,” he says of indoor cycling. “I sat on the bike, approximately 16 seconds later I got off, got a tuna salad from the café and went home. I hated it.” But his first class as an adult was thrilling. Dowd left with the first clear vision he’d ever had: He wanted to be an instructor.

Dowd committed to taking two spinning classes a day, in addition to training by himself. Donna Berta, general manager of Club Fit and former spin instructor, said, “I remember him practicing. You’d look and he’d have his iPod in. He was serious about it.” Dowd soon received certification from an independent cycling center and applied for the position.

His timing was good. A long-time favorite spinning instructor resigned to pursue his own business, leaving behind a following desperately looking for someone to take his place. Very few believed that person was Ryan Dowd.

A 10-year club member, Paul Lonce, says he scoffed when he first heard that Dowd was being considered. “He had big shoes to fill, you know?” Lonce says. “I was saying, ‘him?’” But the gym was willing to give Dowd a shot — or at least an evaluation class.

The soundtrack? “Love Lockdown,” by Kanye West. The thumping hip-hop music may have been loud, but it was Dowd who commanded the attention that day. “It was amazing,” Berta said. “We felt he was strong enough to take over the class, even with the lack of experience. He can do it.”

Eighteen months later, Dowd’s class is filled with men and women, 17 to 70s, with a line outside the door, everyone looking up at Ryan, waiting for direction, encouragement and a chance to leave that class feeling like they worked hard for themselves.

Lonce voluntarily eats his own words. The man who once asked, “That kid?” now tries to catch his breath after class. “All you know when you get in there on that bike,” he says, “is that you’re gonna get the snot kicked out of you!”

Dowd is no longer the bed-ridden child, the insecure teen or the college freshman with a broken spirit, but he will always be a transplant recipient, awaiting the day when he’ll need another organ donation. “There’s no reason why I should be able to do this,” Dowd says.” “I can control my actions, but I’ll never be able to control how long my kidney keeps functioning.”

According to the National Kidney Federation, the average life span for a donated kidney from a living relative is 10 to 15 years. Dowd celebrated his ninth anniversary last Aug. 6, teaching three classes that day.

At first, his goal “was just to prove to myself that I could accomplish this dream, despite what I had been through, that I could break that cycle.” He stops, giggles for a moment.

“It’s true, I’ve broken three bikes in there.”

On Fashion’s Night Out, Customers’ Wallets Stay In

Article and photos by Elisha Fieldstadt

Henri Bendel

Gawkers line the atrium levels at Henri Bendel.

The idea behind Fashion’s Night Out, introduced in September 2009 by Vogue editor Anna Wintour, was to celebrate fashion with a night of in-store promotions and events that would draw those-most-likely-to-spend, thereby providing a boost to sales and the industry’s overall business.

By this year’s fourth annual Fashion’s Night Out, on Sept. 6, the event had been held not only in New York but in more than 500 cities in the United States and in 18 countries. Whether it has increased consumer spending is hard to determine, as the event has morphed into an extravaganza of celebrity appearances, free makeovers and mini-concerts that sometimes seem to distract consumers from taking out their wallets.

“It’s really just like a party,” said Arianna Montaldo, the manager of Anthropologie, a women’s clothing store in Chelsea Market. “I don’t stock extra because there’s really no need. If anything, we sell less.”

Still, each year more stores compete with events, hoping to increase the number of shoppers. This year, Anthropologie appealed to its demographic by advertising a performance by the indie singer Lucy Schwartz and offering mini-pizzas and lemonade. The concert drew a crowd, but many people seemed preoccupied by two hours of live music and free food rather than shopping.

“I didn’t buy anything,” said Faith Bowen, who has participated in Fashion’s Night Out for the past two years. I didn’t even consider making a purchase,” she added. “To me, Fashion’s Night Out is more about the entertainment. Honestly, I didn’t even know that people went to FNO with the intention of making purchases.”

Antrhopologie

The cash registers at Anthropologie in Chelsea remain empty as guests gather near the refreshments.

Performances like Cyndi Lauper’s at the Manolo Blahnik boutique made Anthropologie’s soirée seem low-key. Larger department stores like Macy’s boasted not one but many celebrities, including Bethenny Frankel of “Real Housewives,” Emily Maynard of “Bachelorette” and the designer Michael Kors, making it difficult to move around.

For some, the night wasn’t always about free food and celebrity sightings. At her first Fashion’s Night Out, “I spent around $250,” said Fallon Prinzivalli. “Last year, I spent around $70. This year, $0.” At last week’s event, she said she “waited in line for an event that took place an hour and a half later than scheduled, and I was too exhausted to do anything after the fact.”

If it was deals she was looking for, Fallon doesn’t need to regret that she spent the night standing in line in line at Bloomingdale’s to meet Twilight star Kellan Lutz.

In previous years of Fashion’s Night Out, shoppers could look forward to receiving free gifts and heavy discounts; this year retailers were discouraged from using such tactics to induce people to spend. On the retailer FAQ section of the FNO website, retailers were warned: “The goal of Fashion’s Night Out is to celebrate and support the fashion and retail industries, so discount promotions are discouraged and cannot be promoted by the Fashion’s Night Out team. Instead, we urge you to take advantage of Fashion’s Night Out to promote full-price shopping and new deliveries with creative incentives.”

Wintour

Fashion’s Night Out was founded by Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, who put in an appearance last week.

As data about retail sales have consistently demonstrated, shoppers enjoy the hunt and the feeling of getting more for less, even if it is just a free tote bag with a big purchase. They also know that if they wait, prices will drop – that’s one reason that more Christmas shopping now takes place closer to Christmas Day.

At this year’s Fashion’s Night Out, Wintour steered clear of the stores; her surprise appearance took place in a tent in the Meatpacking District, where she signed the September issue of Vogue and posed with fans.

Four years after its inception, Fashion’s Night Out may be just as much fun as it was in 2009, but its lasting positive impact on the economy is debatable.

In to Africa (on a Tight Budget)

By Alex Goetzfried

As long as I can remember I have been obsessed with National Geographic. Until I was 10, my family lived on Long Island with my German grandparents, and Opa (Grandpa, in German), subscribed to the magazine. I would sit in the living room staring at exotic pictures of faraway places, dreaming of the day I would be able to visit them all. The Africa pictures were always my favorite.

At age 20, I left school at the start of my sophomore year and drove to Mexico. That was the first of many backpacking trips to Latin America, where I perfected the art of budget travel. I eventually returned to school but realized that travel, for me, was about more than adventure; it was a lifestyle of learning in a way that’s more meaningful than any classroom or book could provide.

elephants

This herd of elephants chased off three female lions on their way down to this waterhole for a late afternoon drink.

When I first decided I wanted to go to Africa, four years ago, a quick Google search seemed to put it beyond my financial reach. Most safari packages cost a bundle — $15,000 for 10 days, $10,000 for five nights — to stay in luxury camps on private reserves with your own guides, trucks and amenities. And that was on top of airfare.

A nice way to travel if you have the money, which I don’t. Last fall, I asked my friend John Malnowski, just Mal to me, about Africa; Mal, who backpacks every winter, had been to Africa twice. I had two weeks of vacation from work and $3,000; Mal assured me we could make it work.

My long-time travel buddy, Sean McSherry, or Mic as we call him, joined us. We are all seasoned travelers, able to sleep, eat and function anywhere; they were the perfect companions for setting out to see as much as humanly possible of South Africa and Mozambique.

Kruger National Park, the most famous game reserve in Africa, is in the northeastern region of South Africa, below Zimbabwe and bordering Mozambique, and was a key destination for our trip. Kruger is home to the largest game animals on the planet. South Africa has a well-developed road system, making Kruger accessible by car.

Mic and I flew from Newark to Johannesberg in January, where Mal was waiting for us. We snagged cheap seats—$850 round-trip—by booking just two weeks before we left. We risked not getting a ticket if the planes were sold out, but close to departure dates the airlines drop their prices on unfilled seats. When we landed at 10 p.m. local time, Mal was waiting with a rental car, an egg-shaped tiny “mini van” that would cost us $500 a week. We called it the soccer-mom special.

All three of us had been too excited to sleep on our flights. But instead of finding a hotel to rest up, we hit the road, aiming to make it to Kruger, a five-hour drive, by the time its gates open at 4:45 a.m. I did most of the driving. It was nighttime, and we were on a big highway without much traffic, ideal for getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road. At the airport gas station, we had picked up Doritos, apples, a few beers and some jerky made of indiscernible meat, heavily flavored with cloves.

This was all we would have to eat for the next 15 hours. Small wonder that it took a while for the fact to sink in that I was actually in Africa.

Any decent guidebook like a Frommer’s or Lonely Planet has all the info you need to travel to Africa on the cheap. Getting into Kruger is, in some ways, like going to any other national park. You pay a day rate of about $60 and rent a room in a hut, which costs another $60 a person. The camps provide guided tours for $20 to $40 for four-hour safaris.

giraffe

A giraffe and his hitch-hiking companion, an oxpecker, which rides along on many mammals in Africa, feeding on bugs, parasites and open wounds.

But that’s where any similarity to a visit to Yellowstone or Yosemite ends. The rules at Kruger are very strict; you are never to get out of your car. If you do, you are likely to be fined and thrown out, and anyone passing will call you an idiot and yell at you.

This is for good reason. In Kruger, there are countless creatures that can kill you; herbivores are just as dangerous as carnivores, sometimes more so. Angry hippos in Africa kill more people than lions. Water buffalo weigh over a ton and are extremely territorial. Elephants and rhinos can flip over cars, for which there is plenty of photographic evidence at the camps.

If you do get out of the car, as we discovered, there is a strange tension in the air, an immediate sensation that you have entered a primal food chain, and not necessarily at the top. Driving into the park at sunup the air was crisp, cool, and dry. It felt like wild Africa — not a park at all, but a primeval place protected from development and poachers.

Most people go in search of the Big 5: lions, rhinos, elephants, water buffalo and leopard. Most tourists are lucky to see two or three, and only the most fortunate, or people with plenty of time, see all five. Our first encounter was with wild dogs. With only 300 of these small, scraggly and highly intelligent canines left in South Africa, seeing them so soon was a sign of the luck we would have.

By the end of the first day, we had seen elephants, giraffes, toucans, eland, springbok, impalas and every other deer-like creature imaginable. But no predators and no rhinos.

By 3 p.m., we were exhausted and decided to head to the camp to check in for the night, but when we got there we learned that for $40 each we could jump on a truck with a guide and take a four-hour sunset safari. It turned out to be the best $40 I have ever spent.

First the guide brought us to a watering hole, where we saw three female lions. Parked on the side of the road, we had the lions on our right and a troop of baboons on the left. There were about 15 people in the raised truck with us, snapping pictures of mother baboons carrying their babies, when suddenly about 30 elephants burst through the bushes directly behind us and charged the water hole. The lions scattered and, in an instant, you could tell who was in charge.

warthogs

A family of warthogs takes a mud bath as the storm arrives.

Driving back to camp at dusk, we approached a young male lion. He was the height and length of a full-grown male but had not filled out yet, as we could tell by his visible rib cage. He would occasionally emit a low-pitched yelp, instead of a roar. Our tour guide explained that he was young and had not yet started a pride of his own, and didn’t want to alert the local males to his presence in their territory by emitting a full-throated roar. He was a young adult embarking on his life alone in the wild.

Finally, when the sun had set we headed back to camp. By now it was around 9 p.m., and the three of us were ready for bed. At camp, we had our first meal in two-and-a-half days. We were served a local South African sausage-and-pepper dish called drywoers, which is possibly the worst sausage I have ever had. Nobody in South Africa could explain to me exactly what drywoers are, and even subsequent Google searches have left me unsatisfied as to what kind of meat is actually in those sausages. Suffice it to say that beer filled in the missing calories.

I have been cooking professionally for 10 years, and although I wasn’t expecting a culinary mecca in the bush world of Kruger, I thought we could at least get some decent game. Fortunately bad food was the only setback of our journey.

By 10:30 p.m. we were ready to turn in for our first night’s sleep in three days when we saw 10 tourists running back and forth along the electric fence that ran the perimeter of the camp with huge flashlights. As we approached the fence, two deranged-looking animals shrieked and bolted into view. Wild hyenas are a hair-raising sight, best described as demented dogs from hell that will scavenge, hunt and torment anything, including lions.

But this time it was the hyenas that were under attack. As they sped by, we realized the three lionesses we had seen earlier were chasing them. We watched the lionesses try, unsuccessfully, to drive the hyenas away from their territory for about an hour. Finally at midnight we crashed.

Sunrise is when most of the action takes place in the wild kingdom, so we were up again four hours later. We were on our second run through the park, sleep deprived and still living off of Doritos, when we encountered a pride of lions. We were not alone; about six cars of tourists and professional photographers were jockeying for position. We eventually maneuvered our van into a great spot.

First we saw four or five females, three or four cubs and a large male, all lazing under a tree. When Mal climbed out of the window and sat on the open window ledge of the car door to get a better shot, a woman screamed: “There’s a second male lion out there!”

Sun City

Mal and I at the bar of The Palace, a resort for the mega-rich in Sun City, South Africa. We had a delicious lunch and a chat with the maître d’ before security realized we didn’t belong there and threw us out.

From the beginning of the trip we had a deal: if any of us was eaten the other two would get to run up expenses on the dead guy’s credit cards. As soon as Mal climbed through the window, the male (perhaps reacting to Mal’s mane of dreadlocks,) abruptly stood up at full alert and moved into the bushes, never taking his eyes off Mal.

“Get in the car you idiot,” I growled. “Now the lion is hiding, and all of these people are gonna be pissed, and your dumb ass is gonna get eaten.”

I was annoyed that Mal had ruined our shot until I realized that the lion had moved into another perfect spot for photos. You could see his enormous gold and brown mane, the scars on his nose from a lifetime of battling, perfectly framed by foliage. Mal climbed back in, we hung around a little while longer and eventually headed back to the road.

As we started on the four-hour trip back to the exit gate, now ready to leave Kruger, we were satisfied that we had seen as much as there was to see. We had seen four of the Big 5, missing only a leopard. We stopped at a park on a river for lunch at a restaurant. After getting back in the van and driving for about 10 minutes, we saw two trucks driving backward down the middle of the road, huge telephoto lenses sticking out of the window. We slowed down to see what they were shooting and about 50 yards into the tall grass a leopard stalking silently, majestically. Our luck was complete.

We were ready to head to Mozambique, hoping to see sharks and whales and do some beach living. The day after we left Kruger, a huge storm blew through, ravaging the southeastern part of the African continent and flooding Kruger. The park was closed to the public for four days. Our luck and timing couldn’t have been better!

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