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My War With Fresh Direct

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You don't want to hear this. Reader, continue at your own peril. Trust me. I don't even want to write this, and I tried, yes, I tried to keep from writing this blog for the past three months. I am poised between rage and boredom on this subject, my wife hoped that boredom would prevail and I would drop it, but alas, rage -- my occasional companion -- has won, so I am here at my laptop offering to you the reader a written scream -- think of that universally beloved Munch painting of the fellow with the over exposed larynx who has come to represent despair in our time on tee shirts and ceramic coffee cups. That's me on a better day thanks to a food delivery company that calls itself "Fresh Direct" -- but is, in truth, a company put on this earth to bedevil my not so golden years.

For several months an enormous Thermo King "Fresh Direct" truck has been parked on the corner of Lexington Avenue in front of a Chase Bank near my apartment, motor constantly running, acting as the delivery point for their produce on the upper East Side of Manhattan. It accumulates any number of parking tickets, none of which discourages it enough to move on. It is there from early morning to late night, motor running, so that Fresh Direct's gift to the city is a toxic soup for summer days.

As everyone who lives in the city knows there are two Mayor Bloombergs -- the good/bad Mayor of ours: the good one who prohibited smoking wherever he could, the good one who attempts valiantly to enforce gun control and raise public education standards, but the bad Bloomberg/Hyde who foolishly tries to fight other people's obesity by attempting to prohibit sixteen ounce cola drinks, and is determined to encourage healthy infants by prohibiting infant formula in hospitals in favor of breast milk, causing a rebellion among new working mothers who are crying out "Lactation without representation." I cannot ever bring myself to vote for the man, yet I cannot help but admire him for his awfulness/goodness.

Our Jekyll-Hyde mayor is the one who entered into an agreement with Fresh Direct, the food delivery provider, to operate out of the city, offering them a huge tax abatement to do so, eager to provide employment for our unemployed. Bravo for that. But that's the last cheer you will hear from me.

Much as I admire his efforts to bring employment to the city, in the case of Fresh Direct he has made the most outrageous deal with the devil, for what else can one call a company that brings the gaseous bowels of hell to our city streets on a daily basis?

When it was first proposed that Fresh Direct operate in the streets of New York, many viewed it as an environmental hazard. A lawsuit was instituted. The plaintiffs charge that the city and Fresh Direct failed to conduct a comprehensive environmental review and allow for sufficient community outreach before $130 million in city and other subsidies were pledged to the Fresh Direct waterfront project in the Bronx, its main base. Nevertheless, Fresh Direct and the Mayor prevailed and it entered the city like Caesar Salad entering ancient Alexandria.

I think I may have hinted that I am a man of a certain age -- one that Methuselah would have counted as a somewhat youngish contemporary -- let's go with the French here and admit that I am in my second youth. Among my many eccentricities is the fact that I like to breathe decent clean air -- knowing that as a New Yorker my local air cannot be the purest -- but still hoping that what I breathe in will not do me in -- because I am a passionate lover of life which comes along with a fanatical interest in breathing. I am also a lover of my good wife of fifty nine years -- whose continuing health and companionship is vital to my well-being -- and she too is vulnerable to the fumes from the Fresh direct trucks in the street below us. Not to mention my concern for the breathing of my three small granddaughters, the seven-year-old wonder-girl, and the four-year-old super-twins.

So I emailed Fresh Direct and asked them to kindly move their truck so that it could allow my wife and I and our visiting grandchildren to enjoy the comforts of breathing regularly. Or, at the very least get their truck of the street in which it had planted itself. A nice company rep called me to offer cupcakes whenever my granddaughters visited, and he assured me that the quality of his diesel gas was the very finest of such gases -- their pollution was worthy of the neighborhood, the very Ralph Lauren of pollutants -- and that he might consider rotating the truck to other streets. Clearly I was not alone in my request, others had called, but few were rewarded with a phone call. I refused the cupcakes, accepting the rotation, and it ended there as I waited for the truck to move on -- and become the blight on the landscape for other unwitting streets in Manhattan.

It never moved. It sits there as I write this today planted in front of the bank with no apparent intention of ever moving. According to the doorman of a neighboring building, the company claims that "nobody owns the streets" -- but Fresh Direct clearly does. They own mine.

Alert to all Republicans. This is a bit of naked class warfare from a lifelong Democrat. Now we all know that the billionaire Mayor can retreat on weekends to the balmy breezes of Bermuda or to the Hamptons to watch his daughter ride in the Hamptons Horse Show, these are among his many getaway residences, but I am stuck here in NYC together with many other stay-at-homes, breathing in the poison air of Fresh Direct, with no hope of relief in sight. I hear no bugles of the Foreign Legion coming to the rescue. Not even that of my Councilman Dan Garodnick. And sadly, no Fresh Direct truck graces the street in front of the Mayor's private mansion on East 79th Street. If only I know a way...

Yes, I wrote to the Mayor. No reply. I wrote to some Department of Environmental Hazard -- not their concern -- I wrote to the Lexington Avenue Neighborhood association -- they claimed to have received other similar complaints and passed the letter on to the Public Advocate's office, who called me (or rather a nice young intern made the call) to advise me that there was little they could do about the ever running motor of that truck. It appears that the one exception to the rule that trucks cannot keep their motors running for longer than three minutes applies to refrigerator trucks. Surely that rule was created at a more innocent time when Good Humor trucks roamed our once bucolic streets stopping stickball games with the sound of their bells and bringing chocolate covered popsicle joy to kids like me, but never was it intended for block long trucks determined to stay in place forever, trucks who despite the tickets they accumulated (bundled to pay off at reduced rates) have asserted their squatter's rights. In a city that always changes, it is Fresh Direct alone that remains immutable on Lexington Avenue.

Ah, but there was relief in sight. A call to TV station New York One -- a final plea for help -- resulted in an offer from one of their producers to take up my cause of getting that truck to move -- they claimed that they had successfully done so for others on the more socially active West Side -- but to do so it required my appearance on New York One to be videotaped in my home -- something which violated my beautiful wife's well bred sense of privacy. "You are not going on TV to complain about that truck," she informed me, and so it ended there. I know when I am defeated. My debut as a Public Citizen or Notorious Crank was not to happen. So now I offer to any and all residents of the Upper East Side a slightly used, battered second hand cause -- getting rid of Fresh Direct on our streets. If there are no comers maybe I can put it on Ebay.