Thursday, June 22, 2006

This city grows on you.

The city that never sleeps starts out relatively slowly in the morning. Everything is relative; If there were this many people walking the sidewalks in McGregor, Waco, or eve Dallas it would be amazing, but compared to the foot traffic of the afternoon/evening/night, this is nothing here. Here.

Yesterday morning I walked down to the UN building. I got there just in time to catch the sun peeking over its shoulder. On my way back to the hotel, I enjoyed the rush of passing through Grand Central Station at the peak of rush hour. I was looking for the S train to take me to a connection at Times Square. It was like no mass of humanity I'd ever been in the midst of.

The crowd was as one exiting or entering a stadium for the world champoinship, except that the crowd was moving. Fast. In all directions. U2's "New York" was blaring in my ipod. Not only was the crowd moving fast in all directions, but people were nearly seamlessly weaving past one another with barely any contact.

What struck me most, though, was that there was no interaction. I was learning to stop bothering to say "excuse me," which I realized is reflex for me. Just keeping, going somewhere.

The only reaction I saw was when a slight woman in front of me didn't quite get out of the way of a rushing man. He knocked her hard to the side, but, a veteran of the subway, she kept moving. The woman walking to my left was close to it, and let out a strong "Jesus!"

That was it. Only one person missed a step in all that, and we all kept going.

I am tempted to dismiss all this frenetic madness and movement with a wave of the hand under the heading of cold lack of caring. Perhaps that is unfair. Perhaps each of these people has somewhere to go, and the focus and drive to get there, no matter what.


At 11:30 AM, Blogger John said...

While in the City, have you gone to the Metropolitan Museum of Art?

At 8:01 PM, Anonymous Mike Baughman said...

I'm so jealous you were in NYC. I miss that place. as one of the few people who worked in the city who are likely to read you site, I feel the obligation to comment.

What you saw was, indeed, a different culture and not a cold lack of caring. IN the NE (and especially in the city), time is one of (if not THE) most valuable commodity. To interrupt another person's pace for something as trivial as a nicety is rude. If, however, you asked any of those people for directions (an interruption that would be of real value to one of the parties involved), I bet you that 9 out of 10 New Yorkers wouldn't hesitate to answer your questions and give you a hand.

It isn't that New Yorkers (and the NE as a whole) don't care about other's just that the culture has developed in a way in which simple but essentially hollow niceties (at least from the NYers perspective) have been let aside.

At 8:12 PM, Blogger Steve Heyduck said...

Thanks, Mike, for confirming my suspicion. Almost all the interactions I had with "locals" were pleasant.

Here's the second part of my theory - that many of us who are from much smaller, seemingly friendlier places, are offended by the anonymity and pace of the City as though people don't care, dont' have time for others, etc. I suspect that some of this is actually OUR frustration with conceiving a soceity where we can't know everything about everybody else, as we like to assume we can in our bergs and hamlets out in the country.

At 11:33 AM, Anonymous Mike Baughman said...

That makes a lot of sense. Here's the other side of this culture thing:

Grocery stores drive me nuts around here. Why? Because the check-out person talks to me. From my NE sensibilities, I experience it as rudeness--not being polite. I don't need to have a relationship with the checkout person and their futile attempts at establishign one that will last for 4 minutes slow me down. BEcause they take my tinme away, I get agitated. Although not consciously, I think it's because some part of my brain thinks it's rude of the person to slow me down for something that will probably not benefit either one of us. I know it sounds harsh and weird, but ultimately I think that's why it bothers me so much. I've stoppped going to the tellers at the bank for the same reason.

I think I was conditioned in the NE to invest in relationships...but primarily the ones that will matter. Of course I mentally acknowledge the fact that you never know what relationships will matter in the end. I realize that a "hi, how are you" could make someone's afternoon. Of course someone else's "hi, how are you" might make me late and ruin mine. ;-)



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