Nov 18, 2004

I want to wake up in the city that never sleeps

Having been in New York now for around 4 months let me make a few comments about what makes New York unlike any other city I've ever been in.
  • The city does in fact never sleep - Bars open till 4 and joggers start around 5. There's very little point in having bars close at all if they are open till 4 but that seems to be the limit to this town's sinning.
  • Density breeds detachment - It's probably just an aspect of the incredible density of people in this city but there is a distinct look on people's faces in NY - detachment. Part of it is the ubiquitous beggers. If you actually gave in to these guys on a regular basis you would be broke. But part of it is just creating your own little space. It's like a survival mechanism.
  • "Please"? "Thank you"? - I don't think I've heard these words spoken once in this city. A co-worker held the door open for someone today and they didn't know what to say. It's the sort of thing you never expect to have to deal with and therefore you don't have a comeback line. When I got here I would say "Good Morning" as I walked to the subway and people would just stare. They weren't quite sure what to make of this new lifeform. Now it's become a sport for me to see how many people I can freak out.
  • The Subway - Everyone has a love hate relationship with the subway. On the plus side it is an incredible form of transportation. I miss my car but it's far less convenient. For around $50 a month (I get a slight work discount from $70) I can travel unlimited for one month. I used to spend $50 every 2 weeks just on gas. And you really can get everywhere you want to in the city. On the downside you invariably get the one guy who is doing something weird. Let me continue on the next bullet point
  • Diversity - You get everything here. In front of me today was a very erudite looking young woman reading Chekov and the guy next to her (I'm not sure if she noticed or not - see 2nd point above) was clipping his nails. Clip - boing. Clip - boing. It was like the Fourth of July but with nails. He didn't care one bit. The day before? What I can only describe as an octogenarian Jamaican playing an incredible set of Beatles covers. Panning for money but he was good. Day before? Some guy whose goal it was to collect every can in NY and haul it into the subway. 12 Hefty bags worth. Took up 1/4 of the car. Smelled nice too. Day before? Woman picking a huge booger out of her nose. I exclaimed, "WHAT are you going to do with that?" She proceeded to actually be aware that she wasn't on her own and quickly hid her hand behind her handbag. This detachment is kind of like the detachment people get when driving. It's like no one can see you. Hence, the reason a lot of boger picking occurs there. And certainly no one actually talks to anyone else. Hence, her shock that I said something.
  • Ipods & CD players - Everywhere. Again it's a way of avoiding the people you meet on the subway. There is a clear distinction though between the yuppies (that would be people like me) who simply must have the Ipod and your regular joe who can only afford a CD player but is, thankfully, not ashamed of the fact and doesn't try to hide it. Me? I have nothing yet. I'm still fascinated by watching everyone.
  • Newspapers - Man everyone reads out here. Be it the New York Times or the Post (again there is a class distinction that occurs with papers) everyone reads. I suspect again it's a reason to ignore the crazy person next to you. Again why bother with a paper with these kind of people in front of you.
  • Regular people underneath - If you are able to break the shell that people put up it's actually a bunch of regular people. It's hard to believe that given the stand-offishness of people but it's true. If I ever get to a point where I break the ice, everyone is invariably quite interesting.
  • Expensive - Duh. Cigarettes $7.50. Crappy crappy 1000 sq. ft. rental apartment in the city $4,000 a month. Crappy crappy 800 sq. ft. apartment in the city $800,000. Dinner at most places for two $100+. Drinks $5-19 leaning towards the $19 if it's a nice place. I don't know how some people make it.
  • Priceless things - Renovated MOMA, Katz's pastrami plate, Central Park, Guggenheim across from the Met. Damn near the best sushi I've ever had (Nobu). Damn near the best French food I've ever had (Bouley), The Subway, every play imaginable, Guss's Pickles (his spelling not mine), bars devoted entirely to sake, unlimited jazz clubs, etc. It's pretty overwhelming and one reason why most people kind of stay within a few neighborhoods. It's like the coffee scene from Moscow on the Hudson. You would go crazy without narrowing your choices.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

it's good to have you back after your long (but understandable) hiatus.

some of your descriptions remind me of tokyo, modulo the thing about people behaving as if they're wandering the streets alone. in tokyo, i doubt you would see booger-picking or anything akin to it. despite the density, there's a measure of awareness without acknowledgment. many people actively hide their true personas (e.g., almost universal usage of brown paper covers for books being read on the subway), while still maintaining a measure of decorum.

i think high-density living in general breeds a set of behaviors that belies our 'social nature' (or at least points out other aspects of it). we are social up to a point, but then overload sets in and these shielding mechanisms pop up. i often think of this when passing people on the street and saying nothing - there was a time when human population density was so low that you would *never* do this.

i've often said that i would love to live in new york for a year. i'm interested to see if, after a year, you become one of the converted, and never leave the island that never sleeps...

- rPm

Chookster said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chookster said...

I screamed at a cab driver the other day and violently hit the elevator button to avoid another delay of someone getting on and holding me up. I reguarly mutter under my breath about how slow tourists walk while aimlessly staring the sky Meanwhile I have visions of what I might do to them that would make Tarantino squirm. I have been assimilated my friend.