My wife and I went on a visit to New York City in July 2007, to spend some time with our son. Talk about culture shock! From what passes for rural living in East Texas to probably the densest city in the United States. Educational.
Disclaimer: We only visited Astoria, and areas south of West 72nd Street. If anything I say here is not true elsewhere in NYC, please forgive me. We flew in on a Wednesday and flew out on the following Sunday, so exposure was not all-inclusive or complete by any means. Also affecting my perspective, is the fact that I am an introvert. What follows is a lot of random observations. Before you get mad, read the whole thing. Also, bear in mind that some of what sounds critical is actually just observation, and itself is part of the experience of going.
The people in New York City are an incredible mix of races, religions, nationalities, ages, physical types, languages, and you-name-it. Walking along most major avenues, or riding the subways, you will frequently hear several different languages. New Yorkers have a bit different perspective on personal space. When walking it is usually easy to find a way through the crowd, although you will do a lot of weaving. On subways you will frequently be standing very close to other people, as if you were in an elevator. And yet, in the subways and elsewhere, most of the time no one will meet your eyes or greet you. And any time a group goes through a constriction, such as a door or the stairs at the subway, you will be in contact with those around you. Nobody thinks twice about this. So far as I saw, people are pretty forgiving of bumps and shoves. But I carried my wallet in my front pants pocket.
I noticed that, walking down the street, you will see lots more New Yorkers smoking, than in East Texas. In the same block you might see evening dress on down to rags. I saw two or three people living in boxes on the sidewalk, and another time we saw a homeless person sleeping in the famous ‘Love’ sign. We stood in front of him to get our picture taken with the sign.
Most of the shops are old, small, many are multi-floor, and yet they do have quality goods generally. For instance, Thursday morning we had breakfast at a bagel shop on the corner – pick your stuff, pay for it, go upstairs to eat while watching the street. The guy who takes your money is polite until he gets it and makes change, but after that he has no more time for you. Next! Prices are generally high – I paid between $5 and $6 for each of three different milk shakes. Bottled water from the numerous street vendors sells for between $2 and $4 a bottle. Hotels and apartments are expensive.
The pavement is dirty unless it is new. Amazing used bubble gum patterns. In the morning, fetid, stinking steam rises from the sewer gratings. And taxi drivers are crazy – one of them told us so.
Subways actually surprised me at how effective they are at getting you from one place to another. You buy a metro card for the time you need, and ride the subways or busses. In the many places we went, guided by our son, most of the time you were within a block or two of a subway station at either end. Generally the wait is not excessive, and it is an effective way to get around. The subway cars are not excessively dirty, and bless them, they are air conditioned. Some are newer than others, and the noise level varies. About one in three people have an iPod stuck in their ear. Nobody meets your eyes. The major killer for me was the walking. I weigh about 260 pounds; after you ride 5 or 6 subways in a day, you’ve gone up and down numerous stairs, plus the walking at both ends – you’re doing a lot of work. So I think the natives are probably generally in better shape than yours truly, who has a desk job.
Central Park is very well done. Everything is mowed, lots of rock formations with glacier scars, grassy areas, trees, paved paths, fountains, benches, very nice. Squirrels and birds are not afraid of people. Hint -you cannot feed just one bird. If you try, you get a flock. Like the city, a wild mix of people come by, if you sit for a while. One individual was either deranged or high, walked by, talking loudly to himself. Don’t make eye contact with crazy people. (Maybe that’s why nobody else makes eye contact! They think I’m crazy!)
There are some things in NYC that just aren’t anywhere else. And some of the things that are elsewhere are done with more class in NYC. For instance, the Apple store under the glass cube is really, really cool.
In no particular order, I was very impressed with Central Park; the view from the observation deck of the Rockefeller Center; the Statue of Liberty; the Museum of Natural History; the Brooklyn Bridge; the St. Patrick Cathedral; and the city itself. The city seems to have taken care to have little parks and fountains, or cozy little places with benches, randomly located in each neighborhood so that it feels like a lived in place – not just all brick and mortar. Each of these things really needs it’s own article, but that will have to wait.
Oh, yeah, we went to see the Blue Man Group. Absolutely awesome – highly recommended.
All in all, I am glad we went, and we’ll probably go again. We had a good time. After this experience, I think everybody should go there at least once – it’s a whole different world.
To be continued…