Wednesday, Oct. 01, 2008

City Basics

Arriving. Taxis are the best way to get to the city. From LaGuardia Airport, a yellow cab to Midtown Manhattan costs $16–$26, plus tolls; from JFK, it's a $45 flat fee, plus bridge or tunnel fees.

Getting Around. New Yorkers like to walk — quickly — and once you glimpse the traffic snarl that paralyzes Midtown for the bulk of the business day you'll know why. If you're heading more than 10 blocks away and public transportation doesn't intimidate you, you can't do better than the MTA subway system (get maps from the booth attendant). Save for occasional track repairs or service disruptions — which, to hear New Yorkers tell it, is all the time — you'll arrive pretty much anywhere in Manhattan from Midtown in less than 30 minutes. Subway rides cost $2.25, payable with a MetroCard, available from attendants or machines at every station; a 7-Day Unlimited Pass costs $29.

Taxis. Cabs are a dependable — and relatively inexpensive — way to get around the city, though it's best to avoid taking one crosstown during the middle of the day. Also, since many Manhattan streets run one way, you'll save time by hailing a cab in the direction you need to go; typically, a taxi from Times Square to the West Village will cost $8–$10.

Tipping. In restaurants, the standard tip is 15% to 20%. A good rule of thumb is to double the 8.5% tax on your check and round upward as you see fit, depending on the quality of service or how generous (or stingy) you're feeling. In taxis, it's also customary to tip 15% to 20%, even though you may find yourself perplexed by cabbies' notorious unfamiliarity with destinations outside Manhattan's central business district. For short trips — say, less than $5 — it's acceptable to round up to the nearest dollar. Bartenders: $1 per beer; $2 per cocktail; you can probably be little stingier if you're ordering rounds of three drinks or more at a time. Bellhops: $1–$2 per bag; $5–$10 for running errands. Concierge: $10 for special requests (e.g., handling airline reservations). Housekeeping: $2–$5 per night.

Wi-Fi. NYC was a pioneer in offering free Wi-Fi in public meeting areas. Bryant Park, which you can enter West 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue, is connected, centrally located — and a great place to people-watch. Other Wi-Fi hot spots include the tip of Battery Park (Manhattan's southernmost end) and at Lincoln Center Plaza, bounded by 62nd Street, 65th Street, Columbus Avenue and Amsterdam Avenue, on the Upper West Side.

Survival Skills. New Yorkers seem always to be in a hurry and don't take kindly to tourists lollygagging on their streets, so keep up the pace. Unless they're checking out attractive members of the opposite sex, New Yorkers rarely make eye contact. That said, they're quick to help and offer directions when asked, so don't be shy. By the way, we don't call New York "The Big Apple." Or "Gotham."

A Special Note on Times Square. New Yorkers have a love-hate relationship with Times Square — they love to hate it. Because it's the heart of so much business activity, many of them work there. But it's also the primary destination for tourists and, consequently, notoriously overcrowded. It's a volatile mix: New Yorkers single-mindedly rushing to work (or fleeing after 6 p.m.) constantly thwarted by the human barricades swelling in the streets. If you're treated rudely here, don't take it personally. It's just a local's way of welcoming you to the city.