More on New York

It’s been a few days since I arrived, and this is my last day in the city. I have learned a lot. First of all, the people in New York are much friendlier and more helpful than I expected. Popular media and urban legends from my homeland led me to believe that New Yorkers were a rude, insensitive, selfish and opportunistic people, and that has not proven to be the case. Everywhere I looked, I saw people trying to accommodate each other, and they were more often helpful than not. On the subway, a woman tapped me on my wrist to make sure I didn’t lose the dollar that was falling out of my pocket, and several times strangers would go out of their way to make sure each other made it to their destination in the best way possible. On the sidewalk, I expected people to bump into and jostle each other with regularity, but everyone tended to move out of each other’s way whenever a collision was imminent.

The main terminal at Grand Central was the epitomizing example of this. With hundreds of people moving in a hundred different directions, I saw each one duck and weave to create their own unique traffic pattern to avoid inconveniencing anyone else. While I was in Chelsea, an older woman engaged me in spontaneous conversation. She had lived Downtown for roughly thirty years (excepting a four-year stint in Virginia,) and had incredible insight into the development of the art community there. While SoHo was a poor neighborhood where artists were free to create whatever they pleased on their own terms, Chelsea was intentionally created as an artistic revenue stream for creative investors. They bought the buildings, injected the galleries, and proceeded to drive up the rent of this new goldmine of city tourism. It’s sprites like these that sold me on the good-natured sense of community in this city, despite the capitalistic architecture of our surroundings. The city is its own organic entity, and demands a certain degree of consideration when interacting with her. She has her own pulse and pace that must be accommodated, but the process is quite fluid if you dive right into it. The street lights and “walk” signs require a certain regard, there are unspoken rules of sidewalk traffic, and a definable etiquette on the subway. The temptation to litter is persistent, but the dense population of trash cans curbs that inclination. Organisms in New York all start to resemble each other because of this common need to appease a city that imposes itself on them. Squirrels, cats and pigeons resemble the people above them in the way they keep to the trails that weave their way through the city, and in the regard they show for each other and the humans above them. The people resemble flocks and herds that respond instinctively to the ebbs and flows of city life. It’s very easy to be alone in New York. In fact, it’s harder to be with other people you know than it is to be on your own, on your own time and following your own instincts. I found that trying to decide on a destination together, then agreeing on the route to get there and the stops along the way was incredibly challenging. Left to my own devices, I never had difficulty getting from one place to another, quickly, and with all of my necessities tended to along the way. (About necessities, I wish I had thought to bring an umbrella and my tobacco. I spent, without exaggeration, forty dollars on an umbrella and a pack of cigarettes when I got caught in the rain.

This city is very receptive to my habits and instincts. I have an uncanny ability to act with a great deal of regard to the people around me, and have had no negative interactions in the five days I’ve been here. A natural sense of direction has left me guessing my way through the Boroughs with a surprising degree of success, and I found myself more than once offering directions to other people, even city locals. It would be a very challenging thing to live and work in this city, but I believe that everything is totally manageable. Well met, New York, and farewell.

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