New York’s Petty War On Airbnb


This is the point of Joan Didions 1967 essay Goodbye to All That (published in her landmark collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem); All I mean is that I was very young in New York, she writes, and that at some point the golden rhythm was broken, and I am not that young anymore. Didions line serves as the epigraph for Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York (Seal Press: 270 pp., $16 paper), edited by Sari Botton and featuring essays by 28 writers including Hope Edelman, Roxane Gay, Dani Shapiro, Rebecca Wolff,Meghan Daum and Cheryl Strayed. In many ways, it can be read as a follow-up to Kathleen Norris 1995 anthology Leaving New York: Writers Look Back, which reprinted, along with work by Frank Conroy, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Mona Simpson, the original Didion piece, although that book took a more historical overview. Both collections get at the sense of hope (or ambition) with which New York seduces us, as well as how living in the city can turn, leaving us with wistfulness and regret. I am, I should admit, very susceptible to such a message; as a native New Yorker, I know firsthand the highs and lows of living in the city; I left, also, in my late 20s, although to this day, I continue to feel its pull. And yet, Im no longer very young, which is why, perhaps, I relate most viscerally to the writers in Goodbye to All That I have mentioned, to their experience and their years. When Edelman tells us, I felt certain Id cycle back some day: it didnt seem possible for me to ever break free of New Yorks gravitational pull. But married life developed its own momentum, I know exactly what she means. I, too, came to California for a couple of years at most a couple of years that have now lasted longer than two decades. And when Ann Hood describes, in her magnificent Manhattan, Always Out of Reach, the experience of losing her 5-year-old daughter Grace to a virulent form of strep, she exposes the key lie we tell ourselves about iconic places: that they will save us, protect us, in some way, from ourselves. New York didnt matter, Hood writes of the aftermath of Graces dying. Nothing mattered…. I locked myself in my bedroom and thought, I will never leave here. Unfortunately, such depth is missingfrom a lot of Goodbye to All That, which in places reads like a scrapbook of notes about New York as fantasy turned sour.

New York biker bash and attack on SUV a polarizing event

Lao said he was not among the riders, because he was deterred by the police presence. The fact that the event turned ugly shouldn’t come as a surprise, said Steve Cook, an expert on motorcycle gangs at the Heartland Law Enforcement Training Institute. The organization, in Independence, Mo., trains law enforcement in how to deal with motorcycle gangs. Cook compared rides such as Hollywood’s Block Party to mobile flash-mobs, with groups of riders on powerful motorbikes performing wheelies and other stunts as they weave through traffic. “They’ll try to close down a major interstate so they can perform this stuff, and the bottom line is that it’s extremely dangerous,” Cook said. “These guys are obviously looking for attention, and there are times and places for things like this, but in the middle of any public roadway is just not the place.” Participants in the New York event who have spoken out deny wrongdoing. Two of the motorcyclists who are not among those charged, Louis Castaldo and Michael Anthony, told the New Jersey TV station PIX11 that Lien was the aggressor and started the problem by hitting a biker as he tried to plow through the pack when it was moving onto the West Side Highway from West 57th Street. That prompted the bikers to follow Lien, Castaldo and Anthony said, and when Lien did not stop, the situation escalated. “In my opinion he made the situation worse by not stopping, by choosing to flee the initial scene,” Anthony said. If video of that first encounter exists, it has not materialized. Video of Lien being beaten, however, and of previous rallies showing Hollywood Stuntz-organized packs tearing along sidewalks, blocking in motorists in cars, weaving between lanes on busy streets and performing wheelies in intersections has drawn scorn from other motorcyclists. They call such riders “squids” and say these massive gatherings give all motorcyclists a bad name. “Stupidity in large numbers,” one rider posted on an online forum.

Take a twenty-something couple named Lauren and Rob, who asked that I not reveal their last names because of the legal issues surrounding Airbnb. They moved to the Big Apple to make it in showbiz. Struggling to make ends meet, they now cover about half the cost of their $2,250-a-month Manhattan apartment by renting out their living room couch for $65 a night. But unlike New York of a century ago, when capitalist transactions between consenting adults were generally allowed, the government has been waging war on the short-term rental business. A new front just opened that might ultimately drive many of New York City’s roughly 15,000 resident users to quit Airbnb. Last Friday, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a subpoena demanding that the company hand over a spreadsheet listing all its hosts statewide, their addresses, the dates and durations of their bookings, and the revenue these bookings have generated. News of the subpoena was chilling for many of the people whose names will appear on that list because theyve been using Airbnb in violation of the law (more on the legality of Airbnb in a moment). Seth, a Manhattan lawyer who started hosting short-term rentals of his Upper East Studio during a period when he was out of work, says he’ll probably quit as soon as his lease is up. “The subpoena is scary,” he says, fearing hell have to hire a lawyer and pay a big fine. On Wednesday, Airbnb filed a motion in New York State Supreme Court challenging the subpoena. Airbnbs petition contends that Schneiderman’s request is a “fishing” expedition because there’s no proof of any wrongdoing. It also makes the dubious claim that requiring the company to produce what amounts to a gigantic Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with “millions of cells” is onerous because it would “take a significant amount of dedicated employee time.”Oscar Chase, a civil litigation expert and professor at NYU law school, says the request for the spreadsheet seems reasonable and that the attorney general is acting well within his subpoena powers. “A fishing expedition is not unlawful where there is good reason to believe that fish will be found,” says Chase. By renting their couch, Lauren and Rob aren’t breaking the law, which requires that hosts be home while their paid guests are sleeping there. But Schneidermans actions could mean that they will soon have to pay New York hotel taxes every night they have a guest. (The attorney generals office told Airbnb that the subpoena relates specifically to tax issues.) That would reduce Lauren and Rob’s nightly income by about $12 a nightor they’d have to make their guests pay taxes, which would reduce demand for their couch.