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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Things I Will Miss About NYC #1 (because by 2007 I'm moving)


Taxis used to be the ultimate New York City luxury. Raining? Take a cab. Cold? Take a cab. Tired? Take a cab. I used to take a taxi home from work any Saturday or Sunday morning. It's about a 15 minute walk from the subway to the hospital, and the weekends invariably bring unannounced trackwork resulting in long waits and sometimes no trains at all. Spending $12 (including tip) to get home in 10 minutes vs. anywhere between one hour and this-side-of-never always seemed worth it. After the big fare hike in 2004, I've really needed to take my city driving habit down a few notches. Only the pouring rain or being frightfully late can get me into a taxi these days. That trip home from work is now around $16. That's a pretty steep considering that for the same money you can treat yourself to the OTHER ultimate New York City luxury: the manicure/pedicure.

Now, I haven't done a great deal of U.S. traveling, but other major cities don't seem to offer the same wide range of extremities services that New York does. There are, quite literally, ten nail salons within ten blocks of my house. And I'm only counting those on my nearest stretch of avenue. If you throw in the avenues to my immediate north, you can triple or perhaps quadruple that figure. For those of you who don't measure distance in "blocks", ten blocks is about 1/3 mile. That's a lot of local acetone.

The price of a manicure has barely changed in 15 years. I had my very first manicure with my boss at a salon around the corner from the TGI Friday's where we worked. It cost $5...$7 with tip. These days, the same manicure (actually, a new and improved one) costs me $6...$8 with tip and sometimes $9 or $10, depending. The real bargain happens when you throw in a $13 pedicure and you get a discount for both: $16...$21-$25 with tip**. Why spend $16 on a taxi when you can spend it getting spiffed up, lacquered, softened and massaged? And if you really feel like treating yourself to something special, you can always upgrade to the mysterious "European" manicure or pedicure. I'm not sure what's European about being coated with turquoise goo and then wrapped in Saran for 20 minutes, but it's only an extra ten bucks. In more expensive neighborhoods you will find mani/pedis for more money, certainly. And I suppose you can go to a department store or any of the super fancy*** nail salons and spend upwards of $50 on just your toes...but why? I guess environment draws some women to the fancier places. I'm just not put off by fluorescent lighting, fake wood panels, plastic plants and Lite FM. As long as your salon sports big cushy vibrating pedicure chairs and a UV Quick Dry machine, I'm there!

With so many places to choose from, competition for your business is fierce. When one salon introduces a new add-on say, like hot lotion, quick-drying top coat, higher-grade polish, mineral soak or exfoliating scrubs, everyone else up the avenue has to do it, too. The latest innovation is the 5-minute head and neck massage which can range from sublime to abusive depending on whose hands you've been left in.

Nail salons in New York City are overwhelmingly Korean-owned, or, at least, Korean-staffed. My neighborhood is wildly diverse so even in these shops you'll find the occasional Brazilian, Croatian, Central American or Estonian nail tech. The salons are often named after their owner (or, more frequently, the manager-who-is-the-owner's-wife). There is Anna Nails, Suzie Nails, Hannah and Her Sister Nails, Christine Nails and my new favorite nail haunt: Pema Nails. Pema is from Tibet.

All the familiar budget-salon trappings can be found at Pema Nails. Wood paneling, harsh lighting, outdated magazines. But what makes Pema Nails special is the framed poster of The Dalai Lama draped with golden scarves with a mini-shrine complete with incense and flowers. There is a giant back-lit lightbox image of The Great Wall of China next to a smaller picture of The Himalayas. There is a small tv that is perpetually tuned in to The Game Show channel. The radio is blasting WKTU. There is a very out-of-place poster for "Footballers Wives" next to the autoclave. Pema herself is always smiling and chatty. As much as I loathe WKTU, I love it in there. All the manicurists are relatives of Pema's with one exception: Erica.

Erica is a pint-sized, nose-ring-wearing, Love's-Baby-Soft-smelling, gothy-dressing, softly-smiling, giggly, punk-rock slip of an Ecuadorian girl. She has a different primary colored streak in her hair every month, and she insists that she's 20 but I don't believe her. Her English is pretty darn good, she wants to go to college and she likes to make conversation, which I like. I find it difficult to sit through such an intimate activity without talking. How can you not converse with someone massaging cream halfway up your arm? She makes fun of me for making faces during the foot scrub and for giggling throughout her tweak-tweak shoulder massage (I'm ticklish--it's sweet torture). She responds by switching to an as-yet-undocumented massage method I like to call "Toddler Temper Tantrum". She just balls up her teeny fists and beats all over my back with them. It's not exactly relaxing, but it's not altogether unpleasant. It always ends in more laughter.

All of this should be written in past tense as I have not seen Erica for several weeks. I'm not sure where she's gone to and when I asked after her, Pema looked wounded--as if her feelings were hurt thinking that I didn't want her to do my nails. I'm hoping Erica has moved on to a better job with a better pay scale. These ladies make anywhere from $35 to $65 a shift, with tips on top of that. Those shifts are long, and most people tip only $2 per manicure, and each one can take an hour. Not a great rate. Tipping is a curious thing: even if you want to overdo it, you don't want to look ostentatious. To tip $5 on a 6$ service just looks...show-offy, but for Erica, I always did it anyway.

My first and by far most petty concern about leaving New York is this: who is going to do my nails?

Coming Soon: Things I Will Miss About NYC #2 (because by 2007 I'm moving)--"Where can a girl get a decent borek around here?"

**You gotta up the tip when you start adding feet into the mix because...well...it's feet.
***That salon is owned by a different old restaurant boss of mine...and she yelled at us a lot, too. I like to describe her as "hyperefficient".
posted by missbhavens @ 9:44 PM |

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