NEW YORK – New Yorkers pride themselves on their ability to handle almost anything: Blackouts. Sweltering subway stations. Obscenely small apartments at ridiculously high costs.
But many city dwellers have decided one obstacle is just too much — the upcoming Republican National Convention (search). For these New Yorkers, the prospect of utter gridlock combined with the persistent specter of terrorism is finally enough to make them get out of town.
"I can't stay in the city," said Stacy Winter, who works at a Manhattan law firm. "It's going to be more hectic than ever here. I am a little scared that something will happen — and it will be total chaos regardless."
Winter, 24, said she decided long before the recent terror alerts that she would abandon New York during the Aug. 30-Sept. 2 convention, when thousands of politicians, delegates and journalists will flood the city.
Winter will stay with an uncle in the Hamptons (search), that affluent enclave at the tip of Long Island where many New Yorkers — at least the extremely well-heeled variety — are already ensconced in late August.
Sharon Fein, 26, has placed an ad online to rent her apartment on West 36th Street in Manhattan, just blocks from the site of the convention, for $2,500 for the week — a profit large enough to cover a month's rent.
"It'll be such a hassle," said Fein, who works for a Manhattan custom clothier. "And a lot of my clients will be out of the area anyway. I just feel like the streets are going to be so crowded."
While police have pledged to aim for business as usual in Manhattan, most New Yorkers expect a nightmare of tangled traffic. Entrances to already bustling Penn Station (search) rail terminal will be heavily restricted.
Other city dwellers are being chased away by the threat of terrorism, compounded by new alerts issued in early August. U.S. officials have already warned that al-Qaida may seek to disrupt the elections. And certain landmarks such as the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup buildings in Manhattan have been listed specifically as possible targets.
Counterterrorism authorities, as they did for the Democratic convention in Boston in July, promise unprecedented security.
Alex Wolf, for one, is taking no chances. The Manhattan design consultant said she believed terrorists might try to target President Bush and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a post-Sept. 11 hero, for attack at the same time.
Wolf plans to take her family to see relatives in New Hampshire.
"I don't feel that the terrorists — and al-Qaida specifically — are done with New York," she said. "It's a confluence of events that is uniquely in their interest."
Wolf noted that the convention site, Madison Square Garden, sits atop several major commuter train lines, plus a busy subway station.
At broker Corcoran Group of the Hamptons, a steady stream of callers have asked about renting a home for the week of the convention, said agent Diane Saatchi.
"They have strange notions — that it's possible to get a one-week rental in the first place, and that it would be affordable," she said.
Still, Saatchi said, people willing to give up their homes in the Hamptons to accommodate the Manhattan exodus during convention week are fetching anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000.
"But it's hard to get the people who are here to leave," she said. "I'm really only helping friends."
The state of Maine is trying to capitalize on the exodus — running TV ads featuring serene rivers and enticing vistas. "Looking for the perfect escape when the convention comes to town?" an announcer intones.
Craig's List, a popular online network of forums and classifieds, is teeming with ads for people hoping to make a quick buck — in some cases upward of $10,000 — by renting out their apartments as they flee the city.
One of them is Fein. She's planning to spend the week with her family in the upstate New York town of Stone Ridge, abandoning Manhattan. "I just don't think it's going to be a fun place to be," she said.