New York, New York
My first visit to the Big Apple was in 1961 with the family on vacation. We stayed at The New Yorker hotel across from Penn Station, saw a filming of The Price is Right, and toured the usual tourist sights - the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, Empire State, and Times Square. My dad took my brothers and I to a Yankees baseball game.
In 1972, I went on a Study Tour with Advertising, Theater, and Public Relations majors from the University of Texas. We stayed in the Century Paramount Hotel which was later remodeled by Ian Schrager into a boutique hotel.
During the 1970s, I took several trips to New York while working with the Pressman Company to produce and market the Round Backgammon Board.
While teaching at the Visual & Performing Arts High School in Dallas, I took a great group of kids to see the Big Apple. That got me hooked on guiding student Study Tours to the city.
At UCO and OSU, I continued the tours with college students.
During each of over 20 trips to the Big Apple, I would comment on how much I would like to live there. So, in 2004, I bought an apartment in New York City.
Why I love NY
The best of the best
Some of the best museums, theater, art, architecture, music, restaurants, parks, design, neighborhoods, shopping, and historical sites in the country. People who strive to be/do the best often make a pilgrimage for New York City. The high standard seems to encourage a level of excellence unmatched almost anywhere else in the world.
Intellectual reasonable people
New York seems to contain a greater percentage of people who operate more on reason and rational thought than feelings or beliefs. Sophisticated, respectful, civil (New Yorkers rarely butt in line), and educated; New Yorkers like to linger over meals or coffee and converse about issues and ideas. The influx of people (see below) and quality (see above) may foster more of a desire and thirst for rational and tolerant discourse. They seem to be more 'fluid' - they can adapt and flow with their environment.
People from all over the planet, sharing their cultures, recipes, neighborhoods, ideas, and festivals enhances the environment and experiences of all New Yorkers and tourists.
The city is one of the major cities on the planet. It is connected and part of the larger world - what happens in NYC often impacts much of the world.
There are so many layers of cultural, visual, and intellectual stimuli. Overlapping. Lives overlapping - words, glances, colors, here and there, each touching us in a different way.
The physical size, the importance, the architecture, and the robust in-your-face attitudes.
The beginnings of the USA - financial, cultural, commercial. George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Washington Square, Stock exchange, World's Fairs, Prohibition, art, Bowling Green, Battery Park, Fraunces Tavern, theater, and on and on - years of richness.
The excitement of the sights, sounds, people, and activities contribute to a fluid momentum of energy and enthusiasm. Clerks, waiters, deli people - among others - all have a sense of speed, efficiency, and hustle.
Opportunities to enlarge oneself
The city makes it easy to expand one's horizons, experience new phenomena, grow and learn; assuming one wants to.
Touching the natural world
Ships on Hudson Bay, the waves, birds, the parks - there are numerous opportunities to connect with nature, even in the big metropolis.
Well-known and familiar icons - Empire State, Carnegie Hall, Times Square, the Met, the Statue, Central Park - help one connect to a shared heritage.
The vastness of the city allows endless opportunities to set out on adventures, to find new things, to discover people, places, and activities. True experiences of serendipity - finding the unexpected, the spontaneous.
As a result of the above, the city is full of creative and intellectual stimuli.
Some notes made while sipping coffee in a cafe, April 2005
Everyone seems to have a cell phone stuck to their face.
To slow down, stop, and sit, you almost have to put it on
your to do list and make an effort to make it happen.
People move with a purpose - where are they going.
So many people - where are they coming from. And Why.
Sometimes there is just too much to do.
How many cups of coffee are served in one day.
How many pretzels.
Where is the Walmart?
Music. Sound. Horns. Traffic.
Why does this big city attract so many people.
What is the draw.
Snapshots of people alone in the crowd.
Smell of fresh coffee, the river, hot 'everything' bagels.
Helicopters overhead overheard.
I spent several hours at the Liberty Science Museum across the Hudson River in New Jersey. They have impressive exhibits. The day I went was also the day that 2,000-3,000 kids from the Police Athletic League went. Despite that noise and crowd, I observed some neat stuff:
• In the IMax theater (where I saw a big movie about Hurricane Katrina and the loss of wetlands in Louisiana) a chaperon was telling his charges, "Move down" (he meant move along the row). The kids looked confused. They had just climbed up the steep aisle stairs looking for seats. The chaperon could have meant "Move down" (to another row). 'Move down the row' and 'move down a row' are very similar commands. Often, the context helps us determine which is meant, but, in this case, the context didn't help much - "Move down" could have easily meant either option. He had to keep repeating himself and gesturing before the kids understood exactly what direction to move he meant.
• Exhibits that were 'hands-on' were much more popular than those with just text, images, or stuff to look at. Kids even punched 'buttons' that were actually just bolts or circles. This generation has gotten used to a push-button world that was the stuff of science fiction not too long ago.
• In the Communications exhibit, a father was getting impatient with his girls who were at a busted exhibit. "Come on girls, that's not working." "Come on." he repeated. He probably couldn't understand why anyone would stay so long at an out-of-order exhibit. Finally, one of the girls turned to him, "We're pretending". How cool - the girls found a way to make the exhibit work - just use your imagination. Old guy couldn't see it cuz he probably lost his inner child a while back. The girls played a bit longer, then joined dad and the rest of their party who had moved on.
In New York this summer, I went to a great design exhibit called Sauma [Design as cultural interface]. It is a showcase of innovative design from Finland. From the wall text: The task of the designers is to create the best possible solutions by merging the wisdom of tradition and the excitement of innovation. The designers are deeply rooted in the traditions of craftsmanship and cultural environment. They shape our daily experiences by creating tangible objects that give us a way to relate to the world. As keen observers, the designers translate the newest technical innovations into practical tools. Thus design can be understood as a cultural interface that facilitates navigation in the world of ever changing cultural, social, and technical demands. Their website. 2006
While riding on the subway, a woman got on with a large trash bag full of something soft - maybe clothes. Even though there were several empty seats, she scrunched her bag and set it on her lap so she wouldn't take up two seats. People were leaving the seat next to her empty, thinking she might want to set the bag there. But she never did. She was so considerate and mindful of her space and the needs of others. I couldn't help but watch this sweet woman. She also had a very nice smile to go along with her demeanor. I was somewhat envious - this woman, with her big load, still managed to be polite, courteous, and considerate of others. I so wanted to say something to her but couldn't think of the right thing to say. I thought I could at least tell her she had a nice smile. But then my station approached and a crowd came between me and her as we stood to get off. Another opportunity missed. How often I wish I had acted on my impulses.
Summer with no television. Well, there is a television in the apartment but the antenna only picks up a slightly fuzzy educational station from New Jersey. To get good reception you have to subscribe to cable and I have yet to do that. It doesn't make sense for the few weeks that I would use it. But, okay, here's the real reason - I just hate the cables that are stapled along baseboards and over door trim to get to the television. The jack in this apt is on the opposite wall from the TV. I played with a different arrangement to get the TV by the jack but it just did not work as well. Anyway, a summer without television has been sorta nice. I can go down to the club room to watch the big screen as I have done a couple of times to watch Desperate Housewives, Boston Legal, and The Office. I am much more productive without the regimen of television and enjoy my evenings much more while walking along the Hudson, talking with people, and interacting with the city instead of with equipment. I will see how much of this carries over when back in Oklahoma. I will try to watch less television. 2006
I often see people looking at maps, looking at street signs, or just looking lost. I will go ask them if I can help them find something. I have yet to be stumped. In my naberhood there are many questions about the World Trade Center and how to get there - I guide them there and tell them about the exhibits and models of the memorial and new office towers that are on display. I guide people to subway lines, Brooklyn, Times Square, Little Italy, etc. Someone pointed out (while waiting on me to help some lost folks) that it is the teacher in me, wanting to help and guide people. I also wonder if it is the training I got for 4 summers while working at Six Flags to help guests. Whatever, I enjoy it. I want these tourists/visitors to have a good experience in New York and to not think all New Yorkers are abrupt and rude (I don't let on that I'm not really a New Yorker) More. 2006
Gettin' into the flow. There is a fluid energy that permeates the city - there is a beat, a rhythm, that should be tapped into. If not, its easy to bump into people, to be a nuisance, to be like a tourist. But, once the rhythm is established and one gets into that groove, once can navigate tight openings in crowds and cross streets without disrupting traffic.
So many people are plugged in - they've got headphones on - listening to all sorts of input. This headphone culture has developed a new etiquette. Communicating to people on the street (sales people, passersby) must be done non-verbally - a nod, a smile, mouthing 'No, thank you.' Hearing people is possible but one must work a bit harder to decipher what is being said. Talking to people with earphones on (the dangling wire is the clue) requires a bit more patience.
Listening to music on the iPod makes the entire environment seem a bit surreal. Sometimes the music fits the people, the pace, the activity. Sometimes it defies those things. Either way the music puts a unique twist on the reality of the here and now that is going on.
Sitting in the sun in Union Square. Listening to my Favorites playlist on iPod. Surreal. Time was altered, slowed down. Watching people. Some were reading. Playing music. Sunning. Soliciting. Seeking petition-signers. Cell phoning. Conversing.
A few things to work on
New York City is a great town, no doubt about it. But (there's always a but) here are some suggestions that would make it even better.
Less horn honking
Gee whiz - most honks are completely useless. Just obnoxious and of no value. The honkee is usually stuck - that driver can do nothing about the situation, and the honker is not making things any better. Horns should be reserved for courtesy calls - reminders, caution - or for emergencies. Honking is so prevalent that many people tune them out and when, like the boy who cried wolf, it is really crucial, they would be less effective.
I suggest we initiate devices in all vehicles with three different options for honking a horn:
1. A siren sound that would be used only for true emergencies - it would command the most respect in the surrounding reception area. It could be the sound of a person screaming - as a warning of danger.
2. A brief, friendly toot - this would be used to alert pedestrians and other drivers of a situation that needs attention, like caution, watch out, etc. This would command courtesy and consideration. It could even be like the sound of a person doing the Ahem cough to get attention or Psst - something more human, courteous, and less intrusive.
3. An electric shock - used when the driver is just being rude or stupid or needs to show some power and superiority. The strength of the shock would diminish as the driver gets conditioned to stop being so stupid and rude. This would replace 95% of all honks in the city.
When clerks bag food items, they put in a whole stack of napkins and lots of condiments. I once asked for 2 packets of salt and got a handful. A handful of pepper, too. On the Staten Island Ferry one morning, I ordered 1 breakfast sandwich and 1 bottle of water. The cashier grabbed some napkins. I sat down to eat and counted the napkins - 25. Yes, 25 napkins for 2 items. I got home and wrote a letter to the Dept of Transportation suggesting they could save money and help the environment by giving 2 napkins per food item bought, not 25 napkins per food item. Cutting back on these freebies would cut back on the amount of materials to be thrown away. I have found this one to be true all over the USA but especially pronounced in Manhattan.
There's a lot of trash everywhere - even when there is a trash can within easy walking distance. I often stoop down and pick up trash and put it in the next trash can (granted there are less trash cans around now since some people have become more paranoid that a terrorist will put a bomb in one) but there are still enough around. I do it partly to make the city look better, partly to set an example and show how easy it is, and partly to stupefy the natives. Imagine how great the city would look if every one of 8 million people picked up just one piece of litter each day.
Holy cow! New Yorkers seem to bitch about any little thing. "Fireworks over our head were too loud." "Trucks driving down my street." The examples go on and on. Get a grip - life in the big city will have some tribulations. I don't know if its cuz New Yorkers are spoiled and coddled, are really fragile, or just like to participate in the national sport of bitchin'.