Is there an app for that? You bet there is! Photo by Tina Leggio.

By Allan Ripp

As someone who walks around New York A LOT – some days more than 20 miles between pre-dawn loops of Central Park, exercising my dog or commuting by foot to midtown and back from the Upper West Side – I regularly think about ways to enhance the pedestrian experience.

For a long time, these advances seemed imagined or the stuff of science fiction – dispersing a crowd of tourists blocking my path, making sure dog walkers pick up after their pets, taking revenge against meteorologists for missing a forecast, or being invited into a stranger’s apartment for refreshment.

But with our booming social economy and the advent of so many mobile platforms, our new and improved New York is but a few algorithms and rounds of venture capital away.

I hereby offer my portfolio of Apps for the Betterment of Urban Living (ABUL). Although field-tested in New York – where I could personally benefit – they would roll out to markets worldwide for the good of city dwellers everywhere.  All I ask is to retain a humble 3% equity in each business, meaning if even one of these offerings pans out like Uber’s $41 billion valuation, I’d be fine with my stake of $1.2 billion. See what you think – my home phone number is listed.

1.    Business Finder– For anyone who walks their dog off the leash – as New Yorkers are permitted to do in city parks before 9 a.m. – it’s embarrassing to get called out for missing your best friend’s droppings by that tree over there, only to forage madly in circles trying to locate said deposit. Our new Duty Calls platform quickly corrects the problem, using a combination beacon positioning system with an infrared heat-seeking module that detects steamy changes in ground temperature.  Duty Calls can be synched to your dog’s collar so your phone will emit a low growl when you’re 300 feet ahead and may have missed his needs. And to be sure you’re bagging what’s truly yours, DC comes with a DNA marker that is both rodent-proof and can be used to verify if it was the other guy’s dog, or ferret. Company not responsible for any injuries that ensue from a forensic discussion.

2.   Time Travel – The face of New York is always changing, sometimes faster than we can register the makeover. Scratching your head as you stand in front of that new Chipotle or TD Bank that wasn’t there a week ago?  Turn to your Merchaeology app, type in the street address and quickly get the backstory behind the storefront. Merchaeology’s power search feature culls records from the Department of Buildings, Office of Consumer Affairs, Dun & Bradstreet, real estate media and other sources to deliver a timeline of commercial tenants stretching for  decades – peeling back a layered chronicle of bygone bakeries, shoemakers, coffee shops, video rentals, travel agents, dressmakers, toy stores and other vestiges of old New York.

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 8.06.48 PMPointing your phone at 2181 Broadway on the Upper West Side, you learn that the sterile T-Mobile store now in place was previously a cluttered Love’s Pharmacy and before that a family-run Jewish deli called Gitlitz going back to the 1940s, where patrons were served seltzer instead of water. Our records show it was previously a speakeasy during the Depression. For real history buffs, try Merchaeology Plus, which mines the provenance of every Duane Reade in the city back to Peter Stuyvesant’s day.

3.   Celebrity Sightings – One of the great pleasures of being out and about in New York is the chance of a random encounter with a famous face – there’s Paul McCartney walking jauntily along 54th Street wearing a scarf, or Dustin Hoffman fending off a woman fan near Lincoln Center. You would never dare snap a picture but how can you prove you saw them and perhaps make a little side money? Easy, with NY Pappz, the mobile scanner for New York’s hard-working paparazzi. Photographers subscribe to NY Pappz to monitor bold-faced sightings anywhere in the city, supplied by an army of civilian spotters (you!) who feed information including a star’s name (Matt Damon), exact location (Columbus Circle), activity (eating an ice cream cone) and whether he’s alone or with company, stationery or on the move – film sets and charity events not eligible.

Photographers are contractually obligated to pay spotters a residual fee if the sighting leads to a published image – royalties vary depending on whether credit is Page Six, National Enquirer, Vanity Fair or TMZ. NY Pappz draws a commission from each transaction, and surge pricing may be in effect during the Grammys, Fashion Week, the New York Film Festival or any situation involving Alec Baldwin.

Al_Roker4. Gray Skies Aren’t Gonna Clear Up – It happens more often than you can count: some cheery weather person completely botches the forecast, causing you to underdress, overdress or otherwise misjudge how warm, cold, sunny, rainy or sleety the day turns out to be, which an avid walker can’t help but take as a personal affront. How to exact some payback? Turn to Al Roker’s Wrong Again, which aggregates every forecast by every meteorologist in the NY area – TV, radio newspaper – including the never reliable five-day predictions.  Just like stats that measure the best and worst stock pickers, ARWA casts a cold glare on New York’s weather people – comparing their expansive forecasts with the actual weather to assess who consistently flubbed their weekly calls for expected temperature, wind velocity, precipitation/thunderstorms, and in case of a tie, barometric pressure. ARWA showcases the five most and least accurate forecasters, with bolts of lightning indicating who deserves to have their contracts reviewed.

5.  Laughs to Go – So, you’re walking down Central Park West for the thousandth time, eager for fresh diversion beyond another Jimmy Kimmel clip. What to do? Log onto Stand-App NY, an entertainment booking platform that instantly flags all stand-up comics within a $10 cab fare who can meet you at a chosen intersection for a live sample of their act. A wide choice of comic styles always on hand – topical, observational, sketch, political, impressions, magic and mind readers, insult, even improvisational, drawing bike messengers and UPS drivers into the bit. A 10-block/10-minute minimum performance required, whichever comes first. All comics vetted and certify they have at least one open mic performance under belt.

Headliners available on first-come basis – assuming you have the dough to get Jim Gaffigan or Sarah Silverman to show up at 79th Street and Columbus Avenue before you reach your destination. For premium members, register your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles and Stand-App’s comic can personally roast you upon arrival. And watch for our upcoming new service offering on-demand mobile therapists – Freudian and Jungian – available ten minutes before the top of each hour.

6.  Come Nosh With Me – Rushing from meeting to meeting to Fairway, you wish there was someplace in your day where you could stop for a few minutes of conversation and a treat that doesn’t involve a barista and 40 laptops. Meanwhile, countless New Yorkers stare out their windows, longing for a little companionship and someone with whom they can share their babka. Now there’s a way to bridge the connection with SnackChat – the ultimate snack-sharing app and a profitable way for New Yorkers to draw down their leftovers and empty their refrigerators before the expiration dates hit.

snacksProspective hosts post photos of their kitchens and pantries, and an inventory of plates du jour – creamed herring filets, Nicoise salad, grandma’s brisket, or just a box of Entenmann’s. They can also post short videos demonstrating their conversational style – manic, languid, droll, etc. Our roster includes many foreign speakers and signers.  Registered snackers, upon completion of background checks, choose from a wide menu of cuisines and dietary needs, including vegan, nut and dairy-free, kosher, gluten-free and low salt. Snack prices negotiable but must be paid in advance. We’re signing up new locations every day – from brownstones in Harlem to penthouse duplexes on Fifth Avenue (approved hosts must be 21 and complete a personality assessment). Substitutions require snacker’s permission, preventing sudden bait-and-switch servings of last week’s stewed beets. Ditto with shopping list requests – “Can you pick up a red pepper and bottle of truffle oil on your way over?” All hosts are subject to a five-plate/five-apron rating, leading to Zagat-like rankings for the city’s best pit stops. SnackChat is expanding soon for full-course dinners and break fasts.  For now, any sessions lasting longer than 90 minutes, please use Tinder or Airbnb, or call an Uber car to get back to the office before that 4 p.m. conference call.

7.  Crowd Control – Unlike many of your friends, you actually enjoy tourists, snapping their portraits, giving directions to Strawberry Fields and waving back as they ride by in the Big Bus. But when a group is milling about the Museum of Natural History or The Dakota, blocking your way with selfies and oblivious to traffic patterns, it’s a different story. That’s when you need Hey, It’s….!, the international voice-throwing, decoy distraction app guaranteed to stop a crowd in its tracks and let you slip past before they realize they’ve been had. Research shows that a pack of tribally related travelers will react in synchronicity to a loud command – standing still or moving in unison.  And nothing grabs a tourist’s attention like the prospect of a real celebrity nearby.

tourHere’s how it works: Point your phone at a herd of visitors as you approach (up to 100-foot range) and Hey, It’s…! language software identifies their national origin; snap a photo and the app processes their demographic profile and popular preferences. Within 20 feet of colliding, your phone shouts out an urgent heads-up in native tongue certain to halt all motion – even texting and smoking. Thus, a load of seniors from Ireland might hear, “Hey, It’s Liam Neeson!” Or a school trip from Paducah, KY might be hit with, “Hey, It’s Justin Bieber!” A Serbian tour group hears, “Hey, It’s Lebron James!” A Japanese convention is frozen with “Hey, It’s Scarlett Johansson!” During their statuesque stillness, you glide through the throng without so much as brushing a Uniqlo jacket. Hey, It’s… voice-scrambling, echo-ventriloquist technology places the yell somewhere deep within the group and in your opposite gender, further deflecting suspicion.  And it works in 175 languages and local dialects, including Basque, Sicilian, Cantonese and Aboriginal.  For super-sized gatherings of Midwesterners, you can immediately tap the app’s default megaphone voice, ordering “Everyone back on the bus.”

There’s plenty more, of course – our walking idea lab is always on the move and has new offerings in the pipeline.  That includes a virtual trading exchange where shoppers at Zabar’s and Citarella can auction off premium spots in line at the fish and deli counters in real time. Or a bounty-hunter app to track and help ticket restaurant delivery guys who ride recklessly on sidewalks. And Series A funding begins soon for ABUL Primate, our new 24-hour, five-borough messenger app turning every pedestrian into a courier – delivering documents, dry-cleaning, stamps, a bottle of Advil, cat food. Who needs a drone when you have people like me all over the place?

Photos via flickr. Wikipedia and Google Streetview.

Allan Ripp runs a press relations firm in New York.

ABSURDITY, COLUMNS, NEWS | 14 comments | permalink
    1. 52 years on the UWS says:

      This is hilarious and useful. I can’t believe
      how well Mr. Ripp gets us New Yorkers. I wish I had all of these apps. Plus I do have herring fillets in cream (and stewed beets) in my fridge. From Zabars. Anyone want to come over?

    2. Daniela S. says:

      The Apps are brilliant. Someone please start developing please. Oh, and please transform that T-Mobile to Gitlitz.

    3. Rachel says:

      I realllly want Merchaeology! Can someone please create it?

    4. Brad says:

      Super funny! I’ll buy them all!

    5. Mark says:

      Is there an app to get rid of annoying people walking around with their heads buried in their phones?
      They are some of the biggest nuisances in the city.

    6. Amy H says:

      I love them all, too! Merchaeology is brilliant, since as I get older, I cannot remember what was where when. A terrific idea! Thank you, Allan Ripp!

    7. UWSNYC says:

      Can there be an app tracking lowest priced food shopping items? I don’t know if anyone has noticed but Fairway has increased their prices across many items about 10-20% over the last month.

    8. JEAN MENSING says:

      What would I do without West Side Rag. And good work, Allan Ripp. Keep up with the Apps. My only dream is to someday write for WSR.

    9. Richard says:

      There are several apps in development that use augmented reality to do precisely what “Mercheology” aspires to. See, for example, Pivot:

    10. Jean says:

      I myself have seen Woody and Mia walking on 88th street. Then saw Dick Van Dyke in the 50s east side.Isabella Rossellini lived in my building on 88th street and a New York Times critic lived there as well.

      It’s a known fact the the zip code 10024 has the most celebrities in Manhattan.

    11. ann says:

      great fun to read and something to pursue, perhaps

    12. Laura says:

      This is great! Thanks for sharing. My husband and I love walking everywhere. He actually created a free site to add to your list. It’s called You put in how far you’d like to walk and it gives you a list (based on how you filter) within that distance-restaurants, bars, ATMs, etc. it works globally so we use it on vacation to to find the best hotels near the most things!

    13. ScooterStan says:

      Mr. Ripp’s ideas ARE great and funny (at parties he must be ‘a real Ripp’) but here’s one he missed: PIGEON-SHOO!

      It would be an app that emits a horrible sound which ONLY pigeons could hear (they do have ears, yes?) and which would drive them up, up, and awayyy from their perch on a tree branch.

      This would be especially useful in places like Tucker Square with its lovely tables and chairs set amongst the trees…and their dang roosting pigeons, resting and reconnoitering the possibility of grabbing tasty crumbs from the many Waffles & Dinges or Europan snacks being consumed by the unfeathered bipeds below.

      A few blasts of Pigeon-Shoo would make them … errr. … ‘get the flock out of there’ and avoid our wondering ‘is that white stuff in my Cafe Americaño extra steamed milk or is it ……..’


    14. Ella says:

      I can’t seem to find ‘Al Roker’s Wrong Again”
      app. It sounds awesome. Is it available for Samsung phones?