Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Weird Wednesday: Cowboys in Manhattan

My own golden age of television was the 1970s.  Not many vampires back then and I doubt Kim Kardashian had even been born, though Bruce Jenner was well known and still looked like Bruce Jenner.  We had a version of Reality TV each night.  The show ended with Walter Cronkite saying, “And that’s the way it is…”

Ground-breaking sitcoms dotted the airwaves, but the television staple of the 1970s was the cop show.  The cop show was packaged in numerous ways, but the basic formula was the same: good guys – who had a few quirks – wanted only to help people; they battled bad guys who were unambiguously bad.

“McCloud” starring Dennis Weaver pushed this formula to its limits on NBC (which probably owns the video content below and its been on Youtube since 2008).  A cop from New Mexico somehow ended up attached to the NYPD detective squad, wearing his white Stetson hat and packing his six-gun.  He solved crimes with a folksy humor, letting bad guys think he was a rube because of his drawl and western outfit.  McCloud was a cowboy who provided rural America with a victory over urban society on a regular basis.

He also rode horses in Manhattan.  But, he was not the first public servant hired specifically to save New York lives by riding horses in the modern metropolis.  For that, we need to go back a generation or two before McCloud and consider the problem of feeding turn of the century New York.  The city was already huge and growing fast.  The combination of factories and immigrants created a population spiral that exhausted New York’s ability to feed itself.  New York relied on trains to bring in food several times a day from virtually every other state in the nation.

The mayor of New York in that era did not worry that sugary drinks killed people.  He was far more worried about the never-ending stream of locomotives thundering into lower Manhattan and running people down.  The trains traveled swiftly and took forever to stop in the most densely populated spot in the nation.  Pedestrians have always had it rough in New York, but today’s cab does not pack the whallop of a train full of beef from Chicago or veggies from Pennsylvania.

The solution, of course, was McCloud. 

The picture comes from a collection curated by The High Line and Friends of the High Line in New York.  New York cowboys channeling their inner McClouds saved citizens from this food-driven public safety menace.  Cowboys hung out just across the river from lower Manhattan and then galloped ahead of the trains warning people to get off the tracks.  Now, I’m not sure why a guy on a horse got more attention from pedestrians than a couple hundred tons of smoking, clanking locomotive.  But, hey, if earbuds are enough to put the urban walker in his or her own little world today, perhaps there was an equivalent back then.

In the words of McCloud: There you go.

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