5 Of America's Big Cities (That Have Underreported Downsides)
America is an incredibly vast and diverse country. Every town has its own problems, which are often completely incomprehensible to people even the next state over. But Cracked.com has been all across this great nation, at least before moving to our current offices in lovely Jonestown, Guyana, and we're here to give you the inside scoop on America's greatest cities and the ridiculous crap you have to put up with while living there.
New York City Lives In Fear Of SantaCon
As the greatest city in the world, New York is basically paradise. Not only does the city offer affordable accommodation (paying $4,000 a month to something called the Gaddafi Family Investment Trust to sleep in an old dog crate in an alley), but excellent career opportunities to boot (hanging around a coke dealer's house hoping a Wall Street guy hits you with his car). There's also world-class nightlife (one thousand suspiciously identical micropubs called Brass + Hops) and convenient public transport (the city's last functioning subway train is now horse-powered and moves slowly enough for you to notice the distant fires and strange pale figures lurking in every side tunnel). Yes, life in the Big Apple would be just about perfect, if only the entire city wasn't suffering under a terrible curse: SantaCon!
The first New York SantaCon was held in 1998, when hundreds of Santas brought joy to the city by caroling through the streets. Unfortunately, the mayor must have angered a leprechaun, or possibly a team of leprechaun hunters angered Mike Bloomberg, because the event quickly turned evil, beginning a reign of Santa-based terror that continues to this day. By 2011, the event had turned into a massive pub crawl, with tens of thousands of drunk guys in Santa suits besieging the East Village. It got to the point that bars began hanging up "No Santa" signs, pledging to ban "anyone dressed as Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, sexy Claus, elves, sexy elves, reindeer, sexy reindeer, snowmen, sexy snowmen, candy canes, sexy candy canes, Krampus, sexy Krampus, or any other holiday-themed costume or sexy variant of that costume."
The debauchery only got worse over the years. One bar owner turned against the event after being threatened with a big candy cane and informed "Santa doesn't pay." Bouncers struggled heroically to persuade a female Santa she couldn't bring her baby into the strip club. There were reports of Santas puking on terrified tourists and brawling with elves in the street. Frantic residents erected signs begging Santas to "take your bodily fluids...elsewhere." As one anti-Santa activist put it "If you're a five-year-old kid, the last thing you want to see is one Santa Claus beating up another Santa Claus or Santa lying in his own vomit holding a bottle of Jack Daniel's. If I saw that, I'd be like, 'Santa is dead.'"
By 2014, the East Village was point-blank refusing to host the event, and plans to move it to Bushwick had to be cancelled after residents insisted that "Bushwick does not need a pool of talking sewage slithering through our streets." The event ultimately went ahead in Midtown, after organizers promised the Santas would be on their best behavior, which we assume means they stopped smashing all their empty beer bottles against local front doors. But you can't break a curse just like that, which is why the most recent 2019 SantaCon featured reports of Santas brawling in the street and peeing in the middle of a McDonald's while children screamed in terror.
Indio's Economy Depends On Coachella Existing
Indio is a city in the Inland Empire, a region of California that absolutely does not deserve a name that cool. Indio itself was founded by grizzled 19th century pioneers, who recognized the peaceful valley as the perfect spot for investment banking interns to take molly and jam out to "Snack on that Smurf" by Fingalicious. Unfortunately, that turned out to be an unviable economic model in the 1870s, and the town was forced to limp on as a supply depot for the railroad to Yuma, Arizona, which had been mistakenly built through the area in the incorrect belief that anyone would want to go to Yuma, Arizona. The town finally made it big in 1999, when a failing concert promoter managed to trick a bunch of bands into playing a music festival there by hanging around a rainy Glastonbury Festival and talking about how lovely and sunny California was that time of year.
The Coachella Festival quickly became a massive success, because Californians love nothing more than driving for nine hours to hallucinate from dehydration while watching Brockhampton pause mid-set to take a call from their mortgage broker. In fact, Coachella was such a huge boost that the town decided to double down and rebrand as the "City of Festivals." It now hosts more than 20 major festivals, including Stagecoach (Coachella for country music), Desert Trip (Coachella for old people), and the International Tamale Festival (Coachella for tamales). Seriously, if you live in Indio your whole working life is quite probably structured around these festivals. So what happens when they go away?
Coachella 2019 was the most successful yet. But then Covid hit and the city's been trapped in a horrible cycle of cancelling festivals ever since. First it was Coachella, then Stagecoach, then the Tamale Festival, which normally brings around 150,000 tamale-crazed revellers to town for a two-day bacchanal of corn-based partying. Even as 2020 ended, city officials were hopeful Coachella 2021 would still go ahead (it was cancelled in January). Meanwhile, Indio's hotels are empty, there's a massive hole in the city budget, and local grocery stores are replacing Pabst Blue Ribbon and bandanas with rice and beans.
Many tourism-dependent towns have found themselves in similar situations, but Indio's in a particularly rough spot because the mass gatherings the town depends on are likely to be among the last things to reopen. Although, we do have one suggestion. Back in 2012, Coachella infamously hosted a performance by a hologram of Tupac Shakur. The show proved extremely controversial, but why not flip things around and have the real Shakur perform to an audience of holograms? It's the perfect solution! Oh, and if you live nearby, consider a trip to the tamale festival when things safely reopen. It sounds delicious!
New Yorkers Hate Flybys (And The Government Won't Stop Doing Them)
Everyone loves a flyby, that magical moment where jets zoom overhead in celebration, delighting spectators on the ground. Well, unless you live in New York, where an entire generation was so traumatized by 9/11 that anything larger than a frisbee zooming overhead is met by a combination of screaming and light artillery fire. This wouldn't be a huge problem if not for the federal government, which has repeatedly been surprised to learn that New Yorkers don't appreciate attempts to celebrate Arbor Day by flying a 747 upside down through Fifth Avenue.
The problems really started in 2009, when the White House Military Office decided that they needed some new glamor shots to spice up Air Force One's portfolio. The last stock photos of the plane, featuring Mount Rushmore in the background, were placed under formal review and determined to be totally butt. So they decided to replace them with some dramatic action shots of the president's plane soaring over New York, accompanied by an escort of two fighter jets. Unfortunately, they neglected to inform basically anybody in the city of this. Which meant that a bunch of Manhattan office workers happened to glance out their office windows and saw a plane flying low over the city, making sudden turns and swoops, apparently pursued by military jets. Pandemonium ensued.
Offices all along the river were evacuated, with employees reportedly sprinting down 20 flights of stairs in a blind panic, something that usually only happens when the taco truck pulls up. Others were observed sobbing hysterically in the street, although to be fair there's at least three people doing that on every New York sidewalk at the best of times. The official responsible was forced to resign and the White House issued a full apology, noting that President Obama wasn't aware of the plan. He wasn't on the plane either, sadly for those of us picturing an incredibly confused president trying to negotiate a Macedonian trade deal while his plane does loop-de-loops around the Statue of Liberty.
It would take the memory of a goldfish to forget that embarrassing incident, which brings us to Donald Trump. Back in 2020, Trump announced that it would mark the 19th anniversary of the September 11 attacks by flying an F-18 low over the Hudson River. Feedback from New Yorkers was not exactly positive, ranging from "I hate this" to "Everyone hates this" and “What idiot thought this was a good idea?” Staten Island Congressman Max Rose posted, “Are you out of your mind?” The flyby was eventually cancelled due to popular demand, and the Trump administration presumably moved on to planning a fireworks tribute to the Challenger Shuttle Disaster.
Houston Rodeo Is The Drunking-Drivingest Time Of The Year
Back in the early 1900s, the city of Houston had a big problem. Packs of feral cows roamed the streets, attacking pedestrians and mooing in wild triumph at the moon. Long regarded as the world's deadliest apex predator, the cows ran rampant throughout the city, forcing terrified Houstonians to hide shivering inside their homes (hence the origin of the word "cow-er"). There seemed to be no escape from the disgusting land-manatees until 1929, when the citizens hit upon the idea of holding a big rodeo. Thousands of cowboys flocked from all across the state and successfully defeated the bovine menace with heroic displays of trick riding and hiding in barrels while dressed like clowns. Since then, the Houston Rodeo has grown into a popular yearly event, commemorating mankind's final victory over the cow.
These days, the Houston Rodeo is a major tourist event. Millions of spectators from across the country flock into town to enjoy a beer at the rodeo, or some live music in the popular wine garden, followed by a margarita at one of the evening concerts, then quick bottle of purse wine in the parking lot, or maybe a hip flask full of peach schnapps while hiding from security in the bathroom...look, people drink a lot at the rodeo, is what we're saying. And don't take our word for it: The Houston Chronicle concluded that "it's always five o'clock somewhere during rodeo," with even a member of the organizing committee declaring that "It's the thing to do. There isn't a person on rodeo who doesn't drink." Which is unfortunate, because drunk driving arrests absolutely skyrocket during the event.
Texans love their cars, and an alarming number of people enjoy a nice day at the rodeo and then end up ramping their F-150 directly into the back of a cement truck. Houston's Harris County has persistently had one of the highest drunk driving rates in the country and an alarming amount of that comes during the rodeo. During the 2019 rodeo, police officers had to be posted in large numbers to the area, making 535 drunk driving arrests, while the state regularly makes breath tests mandatory for traffic stops during the event. The spike is even greater than New Year's Eve, America's traditional drunk-driving festival.
And, look, to a certain extent it's to be expected that a major event like the rodeo will leave people intoxicated, but it's still surprising because of how it conflicts with the traditional image of the rodeo. Sure, a cowboy may enjoy the odd whisky, but we're not sure a good old-fashioned rodeo involves drinking nine chardonnays at a Toby Keith concert and gunning your Kia Soul into an unfinished swimming pool. At least have the decency to get your DUI on horseback!
The Santa Ana Winds Lay Waste To Los Angeles Every Year
Picture the scene: You've just moved to Hollywood to live the American dream (making $11,000 a year as social media manager for a company that sells cigarettes to puppies and twice that secretly renting your neighbor's apartment on AirBnB while he's working night shifts). A company just reached out about becoming a brand ambassador on Instagram and you haven't figured out it's a scam yet. Life's never been better!
But one day you wake up and just feel awful. Your throat feels like you ate a bowl of salt for dinner and a plate of tile grout for breakfast. The air is boiling hot, and vaguely gritty, like you spilled sand in a hairdryer, then tried to smoke a cigarette through it. At brunch, you can barely finish your third frozen mango-lime coronarita. You can feel your sinuses gradually beginning to throb. It hurts to breathe. In the hills, there are fires.
Well don't worry about any of that: It's just the Santa Ana winds, the simple air movement that wreaks absolute havoc on Southern California between October and April every year. The Santa Anas start inland, becoming faster and drier and hotter as they roll down the Sierra Nevada mountains towards the coast. By the time they hit the coast the winds can blast you with 100 degree heat at 100 miles an hour. The winds dry out vegetation as they go, fanning some of California's worst wildfires.
Meanwhile, the sudden drop in humidity leaves many people with flu-like symptoms as your sinuses frantically try to re-irrigate the entire L.A. Basin with mucus alone. There are rumored to be weirder effects. Angelenos have long believed that murders and other violent crimes spike every time the winds hit, although there's scant evidence for this and it might actually just be something Raymond Chandler made up for a short story ("It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks.") Either way, the effects are dramatic enough to be felt throughout the region. Which is why we propose killing two birds with one stone and holding the next SantaCon during a Santa Ana. Even if the murder spike isn't real, you have to assume dehydration get most of the Santas before they can even ruin a single childhood.
Top image: Timothy S. Allen, Sergei Bachlakov/Shutterstock