If You Like Piña Coladas’
Rupert Holmes’ 1979 hit Escape/The Piña Colada Song, perfectly describes a lifelong New Yorker’s experience with NYC trip planning service LOCALIKE
Article by Christen Fisher
For the past few years, I have made it part of my daily mindfulness practice—in addition to yoga and meditation—to deliberately whack out the Amazon shopping algorithm. Yesterday’s Amazon search included fishing waders, adult diapers, PEZ, a nursing bra, alfalfa pellets, and Ian McEwan’s latest novel. Today’s Amazon suggested purchases included a bedpan, tackle box, dressage saddle, and a pram—none of which I will EVER buy.
I believe screwing with Amazon to be a moral imperative akin to saving the children and boycotting Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Don’t get me wrong; I like Amazon just fine. It’s terribly convenient to have my beagle’s weight control, small bites kibble shipped to my door same-day. And I find it fascinating that my cart can hold laser tag equipment, vitamin C with bioflavonoids, and food for the aforementioned hound, but it makes my teeth itch when based on those purchases and the browsing that preceded them, Amazon begins to “suggest” stuff. Like it knows me. Like it’s got my number. Like I can be reduced to a number. As if, Jeff Bezos!
If this is how I feel about shopping, you can imagine what I might do to an algorithm-based dating service. Profile photos with equally astounding amounts of cleavage and facial hair come to mind underscored by captions like enjoys yurt-building, collects empty play-do containers, and passionate about aluminum foil. Can’t you just see smoke coming from the top of the eHarmony building?
Given my marital status, it would in poor taste for me to join an online dating service even with intentions as honorable as inciting algorithmic chaos. So recently I came up with another plan in which my husband and I each create and submit a profile to see if the algorithm suggests us to each other, sort of like a modern-day Piña Colada Song. Ever the voice of reason and good sense, the aforementioned husband refused to participate, my what-could-possibly-go-wrong argument falling on deaf, albeit cute ears. His refusal would normally call for a good sulk, but before I could assume the position, Riddle called and asked me to review LOCALIKE New York Trip Planner, an algorithm-based travel guide service for New York City.
God closes a door, but opens a window. S/He either wants me to jump or take out a personal ad.
You see I’ve lived and worked in and around New York City my entire life. The idea of using a tourism service to show me New York is almost as good as setting up a dating profile to see if my husband will answer or match it—dangerously and pointlessly circuitous on the one hand, but on the other an irresistibly fair test, not to mention the basis for a fantastic song. If anyone could measure the efficacy of a matching service, it’s someone who has been passionately matched for her entire adult life. And if anyone could tell you whether or not a travel guide service is really showing you, as LOCALIKE claims, “the real New York,” it would be a real, lifelong New Yorker.
If you like Piña Coladas….
I selected a two-day planner for $129 USD. (Planners range from $79 USD for a single day to $449 USD for ten days.) Then I started on the profile, which asked about my interests, food preferences, walking ability, travel style, etc. It was tedious, involved, and took me about 30 minutes to complete, but I got through it answering everything as thoroughly and honestly as I could. I’m deeply interested in art, cinema, literature, and oddball history. I tend to like vintage shops and flea markets more than couture boutiques. And I’m a bit of a food slummer, so burgers and beers are preferred over gluten-free, vegan fusion, haute cuisine tasting menus. There was a spot to include my trip dates, so I chose a random weekend in February. In the notes section, I wrote that I didn’t want to freeze to death on a long walking tour, and that I’m allergic to wine, so no tastings or wine bars please.
I clicked send and “waited with high hopes…”
Four days later, she didn’t so much “walk in the place” as I received an email from my LOCALIKE personal consultant with a link to my algorithmically created and human reviewed personalized trip planner. Recommendations were grouped by neighborhood, and included photos as well as a map with each stop pinned for my convenience. Each recommendation listed an address, cross-streets, a phone number, website, hours, and a snappy, informative guide-written description, all of which is easily accessed from my iPhone. The only drawback was that for a short, two-day trip based on a profile in which I checked boxes that said stuff like late sleeper and likes a slow rhythm to the day, there were 27 recommendations. Overall, the guide was thorough and well organized, if a bit overwhelming.
The recommendations themselves centered on Brooklyn and the Chelsea, Gramercy, East/West Village neighborhoods of Manhattan which in my opinion are trendy to the point of being cliché and constitute the kind of knee-jerk mathematical response I would expect from an algorithm: Creative person = gentrified Brooklyn (Argh!). But that’s not to say that the recommendations lacked merit. There were actually quite a few I knew well and others I didn’t including an art house movie theater, a French bakery, and a theater/performance art experience that I would be willing to tolerate a trip to Brooklyn to check out—no small feat. Additionally, LOCALIKE offers to replace up to 30 per cent of their recommendations for free if they’re not to my liking. They’ll also make reservations and arrange tickets as part of the service, helpful if time differences or language barriers pose an issue.
I’ve taken graffiti lessons from a legit graffiti artist, played drag queen bingo with real drag queens, attended lectures by Margaret Atwood and Joyce Carol Oates at the New York Public Library and Zadie Smith at Barnes & Noble in Union Square. I know the best movie popcorn is at Film Forum; that the only burgers worth eating are served at J.G. Melon on 74th; that Campagnola’s Ian is New York’s greatest bartender; and nobody does a blow out better than Vu Nguyen of Vu Hair on the top of The Peninsula Hotel. Like I said, I’ve known New York all my life and I don’t believe that an algorithm can supplant the organic human experience, not with shopping or mating or travel, but as it turns out…
“I knew her smile in an instant. I knew the curve of her face. It was my own lovely [city] and she said, ‘Oh it’s you.’ Then we laughed for a moment and I said I never knew…” You know the rest. So if you’re planning a visit to New York, and you’d like a guide, LOCALIKE might help you find what you’re looking for. Fill out a profile and escape. Personalized travel guides from LOCALIKE begin at $79 USD.
Enquiries: LOCALIKE New York, 154 Grand Street New York, New York 10013 | +1.646.568.3171 | www.localike-newyork.com/