If you were reading the New York Times yesterday, I’m afraid you may have missed this article about Dennis Ferrara, supervising electrician at the Department of Transportation, whose recorded voice is now heard at intersections around New York City, in order to guide the visually impaired across the street. Basically the recording tells you the name of the street you’re on and which direction has the light.
But the point of the article is that Ferrara has a distinctly Brooklyn accent and he just kind of ended up doing the voice recordings. Actually what I like most about this, the thing that makes it seem more New York than anything else was that the article explained that the job “came to him by luck and by trade, because he fits the bill and because if he did not do it, someone else would have to.” Well, yeah, exactly.
But somehow the fact of Ferrara’s voice being so distinctly New York was enough to warrant a two-page article in the N.Y./Region section of the Times. I mean, really, it seems to be a big deal that a guy with a Brooklyn accent is being heard on the streets of New York. People, let me tell you something: they are out there! And if I were Dennis Ferrara, something like this would make my whole day: “Some press the button to summon the voice, even when they do not require its instruction. Others do so in an ill-fated attempt to silence it.”
Growing up among New York accents my whole life, they never seemed as obvious to me as when I moved away. These days, when I return, if there is one thing that delights me, it is a subway conductor’s announcement that the next stop is Hoyt-Schermerhorn Street, with Schermerhorn pronounced like “Skimmerhorn,” which is the authentic New York way to say it, no matter what you think.
I suppose it is something of a surprise that in this big fancy international city, there’s just some Brooklyn guy’s voice telling you to “craws Brawdway.” Next time I’m there I will likely be one of the people who summon his voice, even when I do not require its instruction.
And now I will leave you with this video by Jeffrey Lewis, antifolk singer from my hometown, who I love for many reasons, one of which is that he pronounces “avenue” exactly the way I do.