In New York City, real estate keeps changing and chain stores keep moving in -- a familiar lament -- and I have to admit to a touch of Stockholm syndrome, whereby as the makeover keeps happening, a part of you throws your arms in the air, makes a wacky face, and succumbs to the mall-ization of it all.
Fast food places are nothing new in NYC, but there now are way more franchise outlets and interactive "Want to add protein to that?" places where you pick your fast food and decide which base, sauce, and other toppings to add. It makes the participant feel very special -- like this isn't some routine establishment -- which harks back to the old "Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce…Have it your way" jingle of Burger King, back when fast food places learned to scheme ways to attain distinction. Make the place seem somehow tailor made to the customer, and they respond on cue, as if some cache was achieved. And the truth is, I have patronized fast food places, Chipotle, Popeye's, spots with "Bean" in the title, and some 7-11s, not to mention other food emporiums which are not exactly Truman Capote's Black and White Ball. It's kind of a way to feel like a tourist in your own town, not to mention finding comfort in the ordinary in between extraordinary experiences that still exist to the max. It's also a way to be fabulously cheap -- and when it comes to lining up for fast food, that's not exactly a new phenomenon, thank you.
While you're doing that, you can engage in some other touristy food jaunts that are not quite as generic. In the East 30s, there's a sprawl of Korean restaurants, barbecue places, groceries, and places like Food Gallery 32 (11 W. 32nd Street), a food court resplendent with choices, involving noodles, soups, meat dishes, rice, kim chi, and yogurt desserts. Lexington Avenue in the 20s is "Curry Hill," an assortment of joints -- some more polished than others -- that specialize in importing faraway flavor (and saris). Little Italy has changed, but there's still some old school charm and good food for those willing to do some searching.
And while you're acting like a tourist, why not complete the cultural journey with some uptown cultural pursuits? The Metropolitan Museum of Art provides a sprawling array of art and artifacts, making you feel like you've been privy to the history of the entire world on a day trip. This is the flip side to indulging in schlock. With New York's museum culture, you're doing something obvious and touristy that's also elevated.
Then back to the basics? Search around some stores -- from Century 21 to Soho boutiques to whatever remaining bookstores you can find -- and you could truly be a tourist from Anywhere USA. Roam the West Village for fizzy fun, and you've learned that in being a New Yorker, your guidebook doesn't have to be all that rigid. Even when giving in to the cheesy, that doesn't define your entire NYC experience any more than processed popcorn can ruin a good movie.
So keep fighting gentrification -- which has long extended to all the boroughs and neighboring environs -- but do it with a Slurpee and a donut? It's complicated, folks.