The pavement on the cross-streets between 9th and 7th avenues between 14th and 23rd streets have been stripped for the past month. The first step here is milling, which takes off the top layer of asphalt in preparation for repaving, and, maybe because the city is in the midst of filling nearly 300,000 potholes, these streets have remained exposed and bumpy for weeks.

Here’s what it’s looked like.


In these few weeks, we’ve gotten to see what lies underneath: layers of patching, the old covering of potholes, extra asphalt around manholes. Sometimes even the cobblestone, which must be nearly 100 years old, is exposed, making me wonder if any more paving lies between that and the sewer system.

It’s a hodgepodge that’s been built up, layer by layer, over decades, one that we rarely see.

It is easy to be fooled by the thin veneer, the smooth top layer that is so easy to glide across. This layer fools us into thinking that it came into being fully formed. But of course everything builds on what came before it, on what lies below.

In seeing all this I’m reminded of the grimy past of New York City, of a time of dirt and struggle and disease, a time when this neighborhood was the home to slaughterhouses and slop in the streets, not fashion boutiques and 16 Handles.  Today’s glossy world sits adopt that messy history, one we are quick to forget at our peril.

I can’t help wondering how it’s come to pass that today’s reality feels so normal.  How, in a world where glamor and wealth and radical inequality has become the norm, we manage see only that top layer while ignoring the deeper moral questions that lie beneath: When did we go from building a system that rewards winners to one where the winners, quite literally, take all? And why does it seem so easy to drown out the quiet sound of people throwing up their hands and turning their backs on a system that doesn’t work for them?

Some of this stems, I think, from being fooled by that thin veneer, one that shields us from the fact that our success is not just the product of our own efforts. We literally stand upon decades, even centuries, of groundwork that came before us – times of toil and trouble and near misses that somehow all added up to this life, here and now. The foundation of our comfort, our accomplishment, and our success is our dumb luck of being born into lives in which deploying effort, brains and resources yields results.  That’s a winning lottery ticket held by precious few.

Sure, we deserve credit for our own effort, guts, and ingenuity.  But let’s not forget that we are nothing more than the top layer.

Good news too

Having written a couple of semi-humorous, semi-grousing posts about my Delta Airlines exploits, I felt it would only be fair of me, after a no-surprises Delta flight cross country, to write a post about the good flight: it was successful, easy and uneventful, and it arrived 30 minutes early. I even began wondering how best to write a post about something so totally devoid of interesting details and turns of events.

Musing about that a few hours after I landed, I got a call on my cellphone from an unknown San Francisco number.

“Hello Mr. Dichter?”


“This is Delta Airlines calling.  Did you just fly from JFK to San Francisco?”



“Mr. Dichter.”


“Did you leave anything on the plane?”

(longer pause.)

“Um….I don’t know….Oh *$&%!!!  My iPad.”

“Yes sir.  You can come and pick it up at the San Francisco airport by Door 17 at the Lost and Found.”

Joy ensues.

Which is to say, first, that in no way shape or form do I really deserve to still be in possession of my iPad.  And, second, that I’m extremely thankful to the Delta flight attendants who found it and turned it in to Lost and Found, to the Delta representative who then called me to deliver the good news, and then to the folks at Lost and Found (including a guy in an actual red coat) who promptly and without any hassle returned it to me.

It is much easier to remember to complain and explain why everything’s broken.  It takes a decision to start to be in the businesses of shining a light on things that are working well and to thank people.  Good news stories don’t sell newspapers, but we need more of them.  Grousing is entertaining but mostly it just holds us back.

Thanks Delta.