May 11, 2004

The Gauntlet

gaunt·let n.
    1. A form of punishment or torture in which people armed with sticks or other weapons arrange themselves in two lines facing each other and beat the person forced to run between them.
    2. The lines of people so arranged.
  1. A severe trial; an ordeal.

About three blocks from my apartment is a section of First Avenue that has clearly gone over to the dark side. It is so sinister, so evil, that not even on my best day can I walk through it without stopping.

The section of First Avenue I’m referring to is a two block section running from 68th Street to 70th Street. 68th to 69th is the worst. On one side of the street is a Wendy’s, a Fresh Tortilla Grill (fast Mexican run by Asians), and a pizza place. On the other side of the street is a Wok and Roll (fast chinese), a Subway’s, a Popeye’s Chicken, and a Ranch 1.

Left side of The Gauntlet
Wok and Roll is on the far right, then a gourmet food shop (nice), Subways, Popeyes, ChickenBar, and at the far left, a diner.

Between 69th and 70th, there is only one fast food chain. But this chain is the granddaddy of them all. It is the world’s leading food service retailer, has more than 30,000 restaurants in 119 countries (I didn’t even know there were that many countries in the world), and serves 47 million customers each day. On top of that, it has the best french fries. But this particular incarnation has the most consistently perfect french fries I have every enjoyed. Every time I go in there, the fries are warm, crispy and fried just right. What’s more, I believe that they have some sort of vent over the frialator that pumps the smell right out into the street, making it impossible, save for those who have very high levels of will power, to make it through.

And to top things off, there is a Blockbuster video in this two block stretch too. A person could pick up dinner, a video, and some popcorn and make a whole evening out of what they find on this one block.

For the first several years that I had known about ‘The Gauntlet’, I hadn’t really thought about why there were so many fast food/junk food places on one block (the old saying “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” comes to mind). Then one day, as I was fighting my way through ‘The Gauntlet’ on my way home (I lost and picked up a Frosty at Wendy’s), I kind of began to realize that except for a very few areas of Manhattan where it made sense to have so many franchises in the same place, this was a rare occurrence. Yes, it made sense in Times Square, Wall Street, Penn Station, and Grand Central Station, but in my feeble mind, it didn’t really make sense near my apartment.

Right side of The Gauntlet
Blockbuster, Wendy's, Fresh Tortilla Grill, a Pizza shop and McDonalds are on this side of the street

I live in a quiet, residential area. My area is classified as the lower portion of the Upper East Side. There are not a lot of bars in my neighborhood, so after-drinking food is not really necessary in my area.

One day, one of the above named restaurants put a sign in their window that clued me into the reason why there were so many fast food establishments in such a small area. The sign said, “10% Discount for Hospital Employees”. Ah ha! Not only is there a hospital near this area, there are several; in fact, one could even say, many.

New York Hospital - Cornell Medical Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Hospital for Special Surgery, Gracie Square Hospital, and the Rockefeller University Hospital are just a few of the Hospitals in the area surrounding ‘The Gauntlet’.

I just find it interesting that doctors, nurses and other health industry workers are the main support for at least six fast food restaurants.