The Cult of Yelp

A softer, less aggressive term swap could be “tribe.” The Tribe of Yelp. But I used to run with a pack of girls called the “Cult Busters” in high school, with our secret codes, nicknames, and stalker-journal activities. Trust me, we were absolutely harmless.

Yelp is an urban household verb now. To “Yelp” a place. We look it up on Yelp beforehand to see what’s up. We write our review afterwards to put folks on or warn them. Other review sites have gained some niche footholds too. Google Reviews. G2Crowd. Healthgrades. TripAdvisor. But Yelp’s the OG.

According to my profile, I’ve been Yelping since January 2011. And I loved the site even before I was letting the world know my own viewpoints on the businesses I encounter. The concept of customers being able to leave authentic reviews of their experience, tips on best days to go, which waiters are awesome, tidbits only a genuine encounter would generate, a know-before-you-go insight, was highly appealing to a truth-seeker like me. But being able to leave my OWN legit mark? Praise for a spot that impressed the highly-difficult-to-impress being that I am, or VENGEANCE on an establishment that treated me hostilely? Mini-writing assessments of food, travel, and adventure?

Initiation called to me, easy.

I’m one of those writers without any professionally published works. The sort of identity that follows you from childhood, where you amassed a collection of journals, created so many stories in your head (some even made it to some form of paper), longing to be a famous author until you grew up and realized how commercialized the publishing world had become and what it actually took to make your dream pieces commodifiable.

I let the world know my thoughts through Xanga. Console RPGs were my favorite genre because of the storyboarding; they were really just lengthy, playable fantasies in immersive format – reading through the controller. I devoured books as much as I wanted to write them, overwhelmed because how in the world would I write the same 300-ish page novels I loved so much? (And it HAD to be that long to be good.)

I apparently also used to blurt out to my mom’s acquaintances that I was starving and there was no food at home when I was a child.

Pair a love of writing with compulsive truth-vomit and you’ve got the kind of person who needs to be on Yelp flexing her composition muscles with sass and sincerity.

Surprisingly, it took me all the way until 2021 to get Elite. And when they first reached out to me for consideration, my initial thought was “Please God, I hope I don’t have to start tailoring my reviews now to be more…professional.” I mean, in one of my most memorable reviews I mention that I should have fornicated in a real estate office that screwed me over, out of pettiness. Pun and disrespect intended. But I mean, it’s definitely well-earned. Not just that I really should have left my sex-stank all over Consarah’s workstation, but the Elite status for sure. An urban adventurer “writer’s” dream. Some might think, “But it’s JUST YELP.” But to loyal clan-members, it’s a guidebook to avoiding the bar where too many folks’ credit cards got compromised, or deciding if that $30 “immersive pop-up” is really worth the money, or finding the tricky entrance to the tattoo shop you’re looking for. It’s also a chance to share your unfiltered truth with the world and help someone’s decision with your inherent communicative language. You get to be heard.

It feels good. Writing out of enjoyment, and not to impress or repackage myself for others. No one edits my shit there. 🙂

~Tael

P.S. If you wanna read that review, go here, scroll down, click to page 16 and look for the “Rapid Realty” review. Man, I’m glad they’re no longer in business.

Summer Serenade

I’m accustomed to heat.

Summer is my favorite season, memories steeped

In Grandma’s house recollections or urban streets.

With my cousins on the floor laid out on a sheet while she watches her stories.

In the big metal fan’s path blowing out relief cause AC ain’t cheap.

Wafting chicken grease from the kitchen;

DANGER.

She’s cooking so it’s a good 10 degrees hotter in there; expect waterfalls of sweat streaks.

Peeling sticky thighs off leather seats as you awaken from your afternoon sleep.

Scratching mosquito bite blisters that oozed in the yard cause they found my blood a treat.

Feeling sand between my toes as I walk outside with bare feet with my country cousins.

Transport to city camp, trudging under the sun, rubber soles on concrete,

Heavy rays got us beat, but we find oases in cracked-open hydrants,

Indulge in cold water sweet.

Public pools, shower first, can’t swim, don’t go too deep.

Home alone, your mom’s at work, the days wide open on repeat.

Freedom.

Read, park, pool, play, eat.

Humid sunsets invoke nostalgia, skorts and jelly sandals, summer hair braided neat.

Library trips for Judy Blume, to get you through the week.

Punished for the whole summer because I wouldn’t speak,

Because I’d been a hungry child longing for skewered meat.

The sweat reminds me where I’ve come from, fond recollections seep

Throughout my subconscious, they overflow and peak.

The sun is my lover; I embrace and it greets me

With balmy Vitamin D buried down in my sheath.

I’ll take the bake of dog days, embrace the warm rays’ sweep.

And you’ll never catch me wishing for the days when there’d be sleet.

When I emerge outside, kiss my face when you meet me

And I won’t betray you to frost,

As long as you keep me.

When The Towers Fell

How do I remember 9/11?

I was a freshman in high school. Sitting in history class. The teacher had left the room while we chatted amongst ourselves, taking advantage of her absence. When she returned, she mentioned that something had happened, maybe a bombing in the city, and that we were to sit tight. This was before the advent of smartphones; I didn’t even have my first Motorola flip handset yet. Laptops were barely a thing, and Facebook hadn’t been conceived so no one was rushing to check social media for news. Word of mouth was our link to the world.

More time passed and she returned and informed us that we were all being dismissed, released on our own pending parental permission. I found it a bit strange that our mommies had to call in to say it was okay for us to leave, after all, we were high schoolers now! But my mom was on the ball and had done so. Her job was only about 10 blocks away, so I made my way there to meet her with a group of downtown-bound students. All public transportation had been suspended, and the streets were teeming with pedestrians, even more so than normal New York standards, as if we were walking a marathon.

I met up with my mom at her job and we continued from 14th Street, down to Grand Street. I couldn’t see the smoke from where we walked. But at that point I’m not even sure I knew planes had crashed into the towers. The word currently going around was that the World Trade Center had been bombed. Again. I didn’t remember the first one, but that one hadn’t been SO crazy, right? The mood was cautious, yet spirited. With trains and buses halted, and an unknown looming threat to the city, New Yorkers stepped up in solidarity. As we walked through the streets I love, store owners offered bottled water to those journeying home. Apartment building doormen held their doors open, inviting folks to use their restroom facilities. Strangers exchanged friendly words of encouragement. I saw a long queue of bodies crossing each bridge in the distance. I felt for them, since I only had to walk to the bottom of Manhattan.

When we finally made it back home, we beelined for the television and the clarity it would bring. We didn’t even have to specifically turn to a news station. Every channel was broadcasting live and looping raw footage of the morning’s events. Two planes had flown into the Twin Towers, and our beloved buildings had crumbled.

We had just been there the weekend before. Stage Door Delicatessen had been across the street, with their confection-like pancakes. We’d discovered there was a little shopping center in one of the towers. In New York, you are always making new discoveries; you never truly know all the nooks and crannies of the entire city. I couldn’t believe those two towers, the icons of Manhattan that appeared in countless movies and that I’d always used as a directional compass, like the North Star, looking up in their direction to navigate, were gone.

Everything broadcasted was uncensored. The frustration, rife with profanity, the terror, the shock, the desperation, it was all there, unscripted. We watched as those trapped in the tower and resigned to their fate, soared from the windows to a guaranteed demise that was the lesser of two evils in their heads. The sticky web of stifling human emotion wrapped heavily around us, connecting the souls of all who watched. That day, we were all the same. We all felt the same things.

Back then, I was a chat room nerd, who went online every night at the same time to hang out with my Internet friends. That night, the mood was equal parts solemn and anger. There were no jokes and no discussing the latest episode of Gundam Wing.

“If they take the Empire State Building next, I swear to God…” someone typed.

It felt good to make empty threats against unknown (at the time) assailants as powerless teenagers. It felt good to simply expel the emotion we were feeling. Anyone who tried any troll-worthy comments that downplayed the massacre were punted out to the harshest degree. Methodus Toolz could do that.

The next day was a little less raw, but likely only for those like me who were less affected and less in the line of fire. I hadn’t lost a loved one or listened to a voicemail they left about how much they loved me and how they wouldn’t make it home tonight. I hadn’t thrown on my gear and dodged a barrage of concrete on foot to save anyone like the first responders did. My apartment building was far enough away from the debris and soot to affect me no more than some eye sensitivity for a few days after. But I still felt a deep bond with the people of my city, who had so often garnered a reputation for being rude, nasty and uncaring, who were embracing each other and offering helping hands or shoulders to cry on in the true spirit of support. For awhile after, we didn’t just pass each other in the streets. We checked on each other, gave smiles of encouragement and eye contacts of acknowledgement. We gave each other strength.

For months, even years after, I had the wildest dreams. Dreams of warmongers coming to assault our country on ships with motion-tracking explosive cannonballs. Dreams of terrorists hiding in plain view in bodegas launching rocket-launchers at my window. Dreams of an unknown threat eating away at our moon, threatening to plunge our world into eternal darkness because we didn’t have the resources to stop the source or save it. They prompted me to begin a dream journal to explore my subconscious. I hadn’t expected such an aftermath of rippling currents, expanding out to reach me with its tickling tremors.

When they first showed preview pictures of how they were going to turn the sites of the Twin Towers into deep waterfall reflection pools, I thought, “No way!” For some reason I didn’t think it was possible. But they did. They came through and I’ve visited the memorial multiple times and they are beautiful. When I go, I slowly meander through the site and never lose sight of the reason these pools are here in the first place. I touch a few names, gaze over the railings, and reflect. It’s important that I pay mental tribute when I visit, because I remember the collective trauma. Whatever the surrounding reasons behind it, so much human life was needlessly extinguished. I hope that fact remains respected, even over the passage of time.

My city is strong.

~Tael

That New York Bubble

At the time of this post, I can still say that I’ve never had an overtly racist encounter. Strange, isn’t it? I’m a 30-year-old African American woman with about 12 years worth of dreadlocks. I have never once been called a “nigger” to my face or over the internet. I have never had a backhanded compliment such as “Oh she’s blahblahblah, for a Black girl.” I’ve never had trouble landing a job either because of my race. The only questionable situation I had with a recruiter was when she tried to low-key tell me that the positions she recruited for would likely have a problem with my hair (And well, the hair stays). And as far as I know, I’ve never been passed over for anything because of the color of my skin.

I grew up in New York City, which I consider to be the greatest city in America. I may not have an overwhelming “patriotic” pride, but I sure am loyal as hell to New York. And growing up here, there’s a whole different lifestyle and an entirely unique state of mind. There is no physical divide between rich and poor and race here. Sure, certain neighborhoods are more LIKELY to have a certain demographic (South Williamsburg, Sheepshead Bay, Brownsville) but gentrification runs rampant through the city, low-income/lottery housing exists in the most luxurious buildings (my friend was lucky enough to bag one) and you’ll find everyone in Times Square from the businessmen to the tourists to the teenagers to the hood squad.

There is a certain kind of acceptance that comes with being a New York native. If you went to school here, you were exposed to a mixing bowl of race and culture at a very early age. I grew up brushing elbows with project kids, families who had enough money to treat a group of kids to dinner and the movies for their child’s birthday (an impressive feat in the 90s), immigrant children who spoke little English, young girls wearing hijabs and a boy brought up as Jehovah’s Witness who wasn’t allowed to participate in any of the holiday activities. We had class luncheons where everyone would bring in family dishes, Dance Festivals where we’d learn choreography from different origins, and Spanish class was a requirement for 5 years of my public school life.

The fact that a Confederate flag was recently found displayed in the window of an LES apartment was definitely a surprise, considering I grew up in LES. Because in the New York Bubble, racism is something that happens somewhere else. Growing up here did not instill the fear of cops in me and getting pulled over was never a stressful or scary event. In the New York Bubble, a racist establishment will get slammed and shamed on social media or Yelp; a racist incident in the street will be recorded on a camera phone and make the Gothamist for the city to snub; a Good Samaritan will call someone out publicly for displaying prejudice. Growing up in NYC, I was not taught to see race, traipsing through Chinatown, the only Black person in a swarm of Chinese friends, their parents thrilled with my knowledge of Mah-Jongg without the English characters on the pieces. In the New York Bubble, racism is a shocking and disgusting thing we’ve mostly evolved past, while small towns in Middle America remain ignorant without progress. In my mom’s building, our conservative Jewish neighbor, a mother of 2, has offered my two cousins to come wait inside her house when we weren’t home, and they can look like hoodlums sometimes.

I just had a conversation with my boyfriend the other night about how different my high school experience was from the ones you see portrayed in teen movies. No one was ever singled out for being poor, for being overweight, or for struggling in English class. Those with bad grades or bigger pants sizes or suspicious odors weren’t really treated differently than anyone else. What kind of alternate universe did we exist in? Were we just on a different level of maturity?

Even when I leave New York, I find that the Bubble still follows me. As much as I’ve traveled to visit my family in South Carolina, no one has ever tossed a racial comment my way down the dirt roads, surrounded by deep forests and trailer parks. When I moved to Boston for 2 years, I was met with friendliness abounds, as if the whole New York vs Boston rivalry didn’t exist. When I went to D.C. for Otakon a week ago, nada. Likewise, Baltimore, Virginia and down the East Coast, nothing.

One might see this as a strong sign that our country is progressing. Until you look at your Facebook feed and the news stories, the viral videos of police encounters and personal accounts from across the country of cultural headscarves getting snatched and sneers to “go back to your country.” And you dejectedly realize it is very much still there. And sometimes…it comes into our Bubble and it’s here too. And while I hold my NYC upbringing like a talisman, how far can that Bubble extend? The outer membrane is so thin…

~Tael

Weird Things that Bug New Yorkers

New Yorkers get a bad rap for being unfriendly people. But it’s not that. It’s that because we have a higher population, the odds for more assholes-per-square-inch increase, because, math. And then the rest of us New Yorkers have to deal with the more-assholes-per-square-inch ourselves, so we become accustomed to encountering and dealing with them, and then we believe they’re everywhere here too, which creates a spiraling domino effect that results in the “New York State of Mind.” And if the following things bug you, then congratulations; you’ve officially evolved to an authentic New York State of Mind. 🙂

1. When someone sits directly next to you on a virtually empty train or bus.

New Yorkers are used to people always being around at any given moment, but when it’s not rush hour or a busy period, we grab that moment of solitude and hold on tight.

SidebySide

There is a rule: You do NOT sit next to someone if there’s an available seat NOT sitting next to someone. You do NOT enter the train and sit at the closest available seat next to someone, just because it’s close! You scan the aisle, take a leisurely stroll through the moving car, core engaged (because this will help your subway surfing skills) and pick a nice empty space keeping up the yin/yang of passenger-empty seat-passenger-empty seat. You ONLY break this balance if there is no other option. And if you DO break the balance, and there ARE other options, then yes, those strange waves of vengeful resentment you might be feeling are absolutely directed at you.

2. When someone walks parallel on the sidewalk at the same speed as you.

You’re not friends. You’re not acquainted. And yet, you may as well be holding hands with them. And then you try to speed up, and then they kind of speed up too, and then the awkward level rises…and then the anger level rises cause it’s awkward. And then you need to cross the street because the angry awkwardness is overwhelming you.

AwkwardWalkingPenguin

And then you need to hope they aren’t also crossing the street too. Which leads to…

3. Coincidentally walking the same route as another person.

I’m sure in small towns, you both would giggle and make a joke about how one’s stalking the other, or even strike up some small talk about where you both are going. But in New York, if you’re playing the “Pass That Person” game on the street, but then you both end up waiting at the curb side-by-side for the Walk signal to turn, cross the same street, both turn right, stop at the same bodega for only one thing so you both pay quickly and leave at the same time, and then turn LEFT together (this happened on my walk to the gym this morning, I kid you not) and cruise up the next block trying to act like you don’t realize the other person is still there, or suspecting that they were paid to keep tabs on you…

I don’t like it.

4. Speeding up to cut me off and then immediately walking slowly.

This is most agonizing on stairs. Like if you’re exiting the train and you want to ninja-rush up in double-time, but someone darts in front of you, then proceeds to lumber their way up at an excruciating pace. WHY DID YOU CUT ME OFF THEN? Why was it so important to cut me off so that you could walk slowly?

Your hurried MOVEMENTS do not mean you are progressing quickly.

And then when you try to scurry around them, a barrage of people come trailing down on the other side. Then you and the rest of the line are stuck matching the pace of the lumberer for the whole walk up. And I telepathically communicate to the people behind me, “I would have done better for you.”

5. Sidewalk-spreading.

I chalk this up to some sort of Narcissus complex. You, strolling down the street like you don’t have to get to work, or like it’s not raining really hard, with your arms outstretched (mentally). And maybe your right-hand man is right beside you, but only kind-of sort-of, because you both have to stretch out to make sure you’re taking up the entirety of the sidewalk, and yell your comments to one another across the space in “conversation” as you both saunter your way, making it highly difficult for anyone to zip around you from either side. It’s a declaration. A declaration that you are not aware of anything going on around you.

6. Those who stand on the left side of the escalator.

My very own boyfriend, who is not from New York, told me that outside of the city, the notion that there is a standing side on the escalator AND a walking side is unheard of.

I mean, I get it. Technically, I guess the entire concept of an escalator is so you DON’T have to walk up it at all. You stand and check your phone and have a chat, feet firmly planted as it delivers you to your final destination. But goddammit, this is a city of movers. And if i’m on an escalator, it’s because I have somewhere to be. And in New York, escalators are advanced stairs. And if someone forgets the rule of the standing side and the walking side…well, you could say “Excuse me,” I suppose, and hope they hear you (I have a low voice). BUT HOW DO THEY NOT KNOW THE CODE?? The I-don’t-feel-like-walking people are lining up on the right for a reason. If you’re not, then you’re an obstruction. And I might have to break out the nonchalant bravado and bypass the escalator for the stairs because you’re choosing to be an obstruction.

Ever tried to beat the escalator riders by showing them you can use your legs on the stairs and making it to the top before them?

Ever done it at the Exchange Place Light Rail station in Jersey City?

ExchangeStairs.jpg

My bravado really took a toll on my lungs that time.

Not everyone has a New York State of Mind. The OGs are now outnumbered.

~Tael (OG New Yorker)