As U.N. General Assembly opens, Manhattan shuts down

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“Get ready east side aves!” @Gridlock Sam warned Wednesday morning. “Drivers about to be frozen in their tracks!”

It’s that week and that day and that hour in New York City.

President Obama and powerful leaders from just about every corner of the globe have converged on the tiny island of Manhattan for the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly -- and the city is at a standstill.

Or at least "east side aves" are, according to GridlockSam, a.k.a. Samuel Schwartz, a traffic expert who came up with the term "gridlock."

East 42nd Street is shut down while about 150 motorcades whisk presidents, dictators and prime ministers to deliver and hear speeches and, of course, attend high-level meetings at the U.N.'s tall building on the East River.

Clumps of police officers in dark blue uniforms can be seen walking down the middle of 42nd Street, and non-uniformed officers are stationed at every corner. Ambulances are double-parked and police brass in business suits are idling where usually there are food carts and tie-less office workers. Thousands of protesters are shouting on the plaza adjacent to the U.N. And celebrities the likes of 50 Cent and Deepak Chopra are mingling at the dozens of side events scheduled this week in New York to coincide with the world leaders' meetings.

This just in from @Gridlock Sam: “Some good news for today, POTUS will be at UN till about 2pm-ish.”

When the president of the United States is inside a building for a while, traffic flows. When POTUS gets in a limousine, you could stroll across Midtown faster than a cab could get you there. Traffic freezes.

“President Obama to meet with the Japanese Prime Minister about noon," says @GridlockSam. "Then it's off to lunch, all at the UN.”

High security extends right through the buildings.

For example, the New York Helmsley Hotel on 42nd Street, halfway between Grand Central Station and the U.N. building, is where many heads of state are staying, and the lobby, the hallways, the back doors are all crowded with men in suits talking into their sleeves.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, making his sixth attention-grabbing visit to New York to address the U.N., is staying at the stately Warwick Hotel and it’s impossible to get around the protesters and barricades on 6th Avenue.

When retiree Paul Van Laere arrived here from Belgium on Tuesday night with his wife and another couple for a weeklong stay at the Helmsley, he said he wondered, “Why all the flashing lights?"

“I knew they were not for me,” he told a Times reporter with a chuckle. He also said he thought he’d landed in the middle of a movie set about some urban nightmare.

“Then I thought, ‘Oh, oh, oh, right, the question of Palestinian statehood is coming up at the U.N.’ So here I am here, right in the middle of it.”

Van Laere, 68, said he was impressed by all the security, but eager to escape it. On Wednesday morning, he was heading for ground zero and for a stroll near the Brooklyn Bridge.

How about the Bronx?

There’s a doubleheader at the stadium, and the Yankees could clinch Wednesday.

To a New Yorker, that's news at the true center of the world.

ALSO:

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Long Island bodies mystery deepens; police release new details

-- Geraldine Baum on 42nd Street in New York

Photo: Police and emergency vehicles are parked along the closed road in front of the United Nations. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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