April 2011

Ode to a Mozzarepa


A Mozzarepa in the wild

In my previous entry explaining my love affair with New York City street fairs, I somehow forgot to mention the Mozzarepa.

This distinctly New York innovation (someone please correct me if I’m wrong) is basically a variation on the popular Latin American staple, the arepa. It’s a round slice of pizza-type melty mozzarella cheese between two sweet cornmeal pancakes. A salty-sweet treat that can’t be beat.

I’ve never seen them anywhere but New York street fairs, and they’re yet another reason I look forward to my near-weekly excursion.

Several street vendors do knock-offs, but they’re often left on the griddle until they singe, or the cheese is the flavorless kind you get in cheap pizzas, or the sweet cornmeal isn’t sweet at all. In my opinion, the original is the best. And according to the manufacturer’s website, you can now order a case of 12 online for 27 bucks. I’d be tempted if’n I didn’t live right in the heart of Mozzarepaville already.

Link of the Week: Measuring Worth

I now unveil one of my all-time favorite sites. It’s something I only use occasionally in my current deadline news job. But I used to use it all the time when I made historical documentaries. And you could get lost for hours just playing with numbers on the site.

So with that buildup, what is it?

Measuring Worth is the latest incarnation of an online calculator run by two University of Illinois economics professors. The site lets you put in a currency amount from any year back to 1774, and convert that to the value in any other year. Most commonly, you’d use it to figure out, for example, what $30 in 1910 is worth today. The answer, of course, isn’t as simple as $710. That’s just the figure calculated using the Consumer Price Index. But the authors’ basic calculator gives you five other measures (GDP deflator, comparative payment for unskilled labor, etc.) which generate a figure as high as $13,200 (for relative share of GDP). It can also handle various foreign currencies and various other ways of calculating relative value.

So, unfortunately, while Measuring Worth a great tool, there’s a learning curve (handy essays included) to figuring out what all the numbers mean and which is appropriate for your purpose. But if you need to calculate the historical Value of a Dollar (the site’s original name), this is the tool for the job.

Names in ledes: Famous, or not so much?

Editing stories from wire services and other outside sources often means ‘translating’ the item from the audience it was written for (Cleveland general audience, members of the military, Italians, etc.) to our particular niche audience, the LGBT community.

I’ve already mentioned a few cases where I had to learn about other systems of government, or phraseology, or currency. Another translation issue that frequently crops up writing ledes is ‘to proper noun, or not to proper noun.’

In general, you should only include the name of someone or something in the lede if it is a household name to your audience. Otherwise, it’s usually best to substitute some kind of generic descriptor and come back to the proper name in the second or third sentence.

That means, for example, that you can always use “President Obama” in the lede without further ado. But you probably wouldn’t want to use “the Human Rights Campaign” in your lede. In that case, you’d say “A gay rights group is lobbying the White House blah blah blah” in the lede, and use the group’s name in the second sentence.

I say you wouldn’t put HRC’s name in your lede. But we probably would, because virtually everyone in our LGBT audience has heard of it. On the other hand, when we’re adapting a story from the local paper in Columbia, South Carolina and it puts “State Rep. Todd Rutherford” in its lede, we’d probably ‘translate’ that by saying “a South Carolina lawmaker” in our lede, and using his proper name further down.

In some cases, a generic descriptor is too generic to put in the lede. Consider this wire service lede:

(Boston, MA) — Members of the Governor’s Council are criticizing Governor Deval Patrick’s latest selection for the Supreme Judicial Court.

Fine for a Massachusetts audience, which hears about the ‘Governor’s Council’ all the time. The Council is an elected advisory body–but that seemed too vague to put in the lede. On the other hand, ‘Massachusetts Governor’s Council’ isn’t so big a puzzler that it’s what we call a ‘show-stopper’ (causing the audience to loose the thread of the story), so I put that in the lede, and used ‘elected advisory board’ as the subject of the second sentence.

Then there’s the middle ground: a name that’s kinda-sorta familiar to your audience, is to use the name in the lede, but add a descriptor before it. So: not just “Silvio Berlusconi” as the AFP dispatch from Rome might have it, but “Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.” Likewise, “California Governor Jerry Brown,” “New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg,” “Apple C-E-O Steve Jobs,” and so on.

I Love NYC Street Fairs

The Annual 9th Ave International Food Festival

Not every New Yorker enjoys our street fairs. In fact, a lot of us hate them. Every season, the New York City papers are filled with stories about what a nuisance they are. With two or three running simultaneously each weekend day during the summer, the street fairs snarl traffic and displace parking spaces. And, it’s said, they’re all the same, with the same vendors pushing the same merchandise.

City government here has recently responded to citizen complaints with a plan to reduce the number and operating hours of the fairs. Activist groups are also pushing for greater variety among and within the fairs.

But, honestly, I couldn’t care less. I love New York City’s street fairs just the way they are (although I wouldn’t complain if there were more and varied local vendors). I pick up a new wallet, new socks, a new messenger bag each year. I can’t wait each week or so to enjoy a big plastic cup full of fresh-cut watermelon spears. And the people-watching simply can’t be beat.

In fact, I love them so much that in 2009 and again this year I created a custom Google Map that shows the dates and location of every street fair in Manhattan from April through November. If you love street fairs like me, or if you hate them and want to avoid them like herpes, check it out.

So far as I’ve been able to determine, this is the most complete listing available online, since it draws information not only from the websites of the three main street fair producers, but also includes several one-off events I happen to know about, like the Barbecue Block Party, Gay Pride, and the Ninth Avenue Food Festival, among others.

Here’s all the fairs, color-coded by month. Click the link below the map to jump to the full Google My Map, which includes a sidebar with all the events listed by name in chronological order.

Full Google My Map with event listings in chronological order

As I said, this map includes only Manhattan street fairs. But there are events scheduled in most of the other boroughs, not to mention Long Island, New Jersey, and beyond. My map is open to public collaboration, so please feel free to add any events you know of.