Thursday, July 29, 2010

I ♥ NY

I am not a fan of the 4 block radius around Times Square. It’s crowded, dirty, filled with mediocre restaurants and retail stores all of which are overpriced and run down. Yet just about every visitor I’ve had explicitly asks to be taken there.

I try to avoid Times Square, but I can’t. It’s on the way to my gym, my favorite Ethiopian restaurant, etc. Every so often, when I’m not too busy quietly cussing out the tourists, it puts a big smile on my face. Frequently, actually. Case point: the photo here. Who doesn't park bumper to bumper in NYC anyway?

I once parked my car in a spot such that by the time we got out of the car to see if all was ok, there really wasn't any space in front or behind. I'm not sure how I made it fit, but who cares, it did. Even then I didn't mean to stop and marvel but my friend, who now lives in Ohio but was once a New Yorker interrupted our conversation to say, 'I'm sorry but I was pretty sure your car wasn't going to fit in there. I just didn't want to say anything so that we'd not interrupt our conversation.' I think I must have asked if he thought that because I was female, as, you know, we’re not expected to park 'well'. The thing is, it happens in Manhattan all the time. You fit your car, your bed, your kitchen, your shoes ...your anything, in small, incredible spaces. Or you die. Ok, maybe it is your bank account that does the dying. Or you just don’t live here. Fit or die!

But I digress.

About a week ago I was rushing through Times Square, and I passed a guy with a boom box and a sign on his neck, like one of those somber people who solicit money with recession themed messages like "I lost my job. I've 4 children and a wife to support. Please help!"

This guy was uncharacteristically more jovial, having the time of his life dancing to his music. His sign said, "Help! I need money for WEED!" Really. The sign was in green for the word 'weed'. I pulled out my Blackberry to take a picture but I wasn’t seeing what I expected to see in my screen. When I looked up I noticed he'd stopped dancing, flipped his sign and was doing a friendly 'no picture' wave. I smiled, waved back and walked on. In this day of telephoto lenses that's silly of him, but I wasn't about to commence a discussion w/ a guy panhandling for weed.

Sometimes I wonder what tourists see in NYC, or what people think of me when I say I’m from New York. Maybe it’s me. When somebody tells me they’re from Waxahachie, TX I think I immediately think … I’m not sure what I think, but if I was to be brutally honest with myself, I think some bearing in my brain reorients itself a little bit. Mind you, I’ve no idea what’s in Waxahachie, TX other than the fact that it’s an important train hub. I’ve never even been to the entire state of TX.

A few years ago I went to Alaska with a friend for a race. After the race we’d about a week where we had little purpose and hardly a tangible destination. Sometimes we drove; sometime we boarded random boats stopping at random towns, random restaurants, glaciers and mountains, which they’d surely call hills.

This was in the post-Sara Palin era and we weren’t really sure what Americans in the Last Frontier were like. As the only two black people in almost any scene we entered, we stuck out like … black, sore thumbs. People were friendly. Check. We expected that.

People asked where we were from. We’d say, ‘New York’. Almost always this question followed, ‘The city or the state?’ We said the city. Then they got excited. They’d either say that they want to visit, or in a good number of the cases, that they’ve already been there. And that they loved it! Ok, not ‘check’.

We started off assuming they were being polite, but they’d chat on and on, telling us what they did, from Times Square to Liberty Island. The most surprising of all was when they told us that New Yorkers were nice. We laughed. One guy was the captain of a boat we were on.

He tried again, ‘No, really. It’s a pleasant place. My wife and I have been there a couple of times already. We will happily do a third visit if we get time and money.’ We laughed more. My friend said to him, ‘I guess at this point I’m wondering if we’re talking about the same city. New Yorkers are many things, but pleasant is just not a typical adjective to describe the place or the poeple. New Yorkers don’t … talk.’

He thought for a bit, and he said, ‘New Yorkers always seem to walk with a purpose. But if you manage to stop them, they’re very polite and helpful.’

We agreed. If I’m walking in Times Square, I’m not there to chitchat. I’m in a rush to get the hell out of there to a destination. I’d never enter that domain if I wasn’t short for time and if I didn’t have a destination beyond it. If you manage to stop me, even if I’ve no clue what you’re asking, I’ll likely pull out my blackberry and look up stuff for you. If you manage to stop me.

I guess I forget the first time I liked NYC. It was after my second visit to the city. My first visit was a day tirp on a gloomy day. I got dumped form a bus full of college kids. I looked at the grey buildings, grey sky, grey streets and wondered, why on earth do people want to live or visit here. I stayed away from the city for the next 3 years.

My second visit was to see the same friend with whom I went to Alaska. She’d finished school and moved to NYC. I took the bus to Port Authority. When I stepped out of the bus terminal at 9pm, Times Square was lit bright as daylight. The place was buzzing like Merkato at noon. When I finally managed to take my eyes off the lights shooting up into the sky, there was a group of familiar faces hopping and yelling, ‘You made it!’ Yes, I had.

Times Square, I guess you’re not so bad.

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