Thursday, September 27, 2012

NYC -- New York in the Flesh

Times Square: along with hoards of other tourists!

  From the second I stepped foot onto Manhattan soil, one thing was glaringly obvious: New Yorkers are a different breed.

  I took a weekday red-eye from Portland to Newark. And after relatively painless flight and an easy bus ride out of New Jersey, I arrived into Manhattan before the workday had even begun. With the hustle and bustle surrounding me, I did my best to gather my bearings, and figure out which way was up (or in this case, which way was towards Lexington Ave).

  It was the epitome of being a small fish in an enormous pond. Nevertheless, I found my way.

Navigating the Big Apple
Cab line-up at Grand Central.
  Manhattan is incredibly easy to navigate and maneuver around. All you have to do is pay a little attention, and know how to count. 'Avenues' run north and south, while the numbered 'Streets' run east and west. 5th Ave. separates the east and west side. There's one little caveat, once you reach lower Manhattan, the easy-navigable grid system goes out the window. But really, there's no excuse for getting lost (for too long anyway) in NYC. 

  Right off the bat, New Yorkers pay zero attention to what the crosswalk light says. 'Walk' or 'Don't Walk', if there's even a slight opening in traffic, they're across the street. When there were cars and cabs whizzing by every which way, I thought they were crazy -- standing two to three feet off the curb, so they could get a good jump. But I guess that's just their norm, and what they're used to. By my second day in the city, I was following suit.

  My mode of transportation while visiting NYC was how New Yorkers get around each and every day: on foot, or on the subway. It was refreshing not to rely on a car to get around town. Though the hot, humid summer days had me sweating barely five steps out the door!

  I've always thought the best way to explore a city, and to get to know a new city, is by walking it. So what did I do? I walked over 34,000 steps on my first day in the city (so says my Nike FuelBand). And I bought a seven day unlimited trips MetroCard for $30 that I put to good use during my five day stay in Manhattan.

  Subway trips are interesting. And during high volume traffic times, they can be a bit uncomfortable. So many people, so little space. I found that most New Yorkers opt to stay in their own little worlds during their commutes: either by reading, listening to music, catching a few extra minutes of sleep, or on their phones (or sometimes, all of the above).

Thought I was doing something wrong: An empty subway car??
Grand Central Terminal
  That's another way New Yorkers are different: though they encounter thousands of people on a daily basis, there is zero interaction between them. Both on the subway and in the streets. I found it to be very disconnected. Not that I chat up every Joe Schmo I pass by either. But I've grown accustomed to occasionally saying hello, making eye contact, or exchanging a nod or a smile with people I encounter in Portland. (Portland can't be the only city that does this.)

  To be fair, when you encounter thousands of unknown faces day after day, I suppose you're bound to start ignoring them fairly quickly.

Day-to-Day Life
  Everyday living in Manhattan also seemed like something that would need some getting used-to.

  I made the mistake of stopping in at the Trader Joe's near Union Square at 5:30pm on a weekday. Mass chaos is an understatement. There were easily 15-20 checkout stands open, and two lines still wound around the entire store. I realized my error in timing, and actually had thoughts of putting my basket down and walking out of the store. But I needed some groceries, so I gave it a shot.

  To my surprise, it was well-organized, and went fairly quickly. And it would have to be. I can't imagine New Yorkers putting up with an inept system that took too long, or was too inconvenient. The really smart shoppers got in line immediately, and did their shopping as the line wound throughout the store. They were obviously longtime Trader Joe's vets.

  For me, grocery shopping would be a big stumbling block. You could never buy too much at once because you still have to get it home! I'm sure there's a way around this problem that has already been solved: perhaps online shopping and delivery is the norm?

Flatiron District.
  With space at a premium, apartments have the bare bones. You learn to live with what you need, not necessarily what you want. Kitchen amenities, laundry facilities, outdoor living spaces, etc; unless you have a money tree, chances are there will be something you'll have to go without.

  Finally, dealing with the influx of tourists day after day has got to be tiresome. What part of Manhattan isn't 'touristy', anyway?

Brooklyn Heights
  While it would take me some getting used to, I actually think New York-living is something to be admired: public transport, modest living conditions, living off of need, not want.

  Five days is hardly enough time to know what it's like to actually live in a city. Even though the pace, and the number of people wore me out after just a few days, I found New York City to be spectacular.

  And while living there might be biting off a little too much for me to chew, I would love to spend more time exploring and getting to know NYC!


Statue of Liberty ferry.
Busy Mid-Town streets.
More Mid-Town.
Radio City Music Hall
Flatiron Building.
Hudson River. Looking at New Jersey.
Statue of Liberty from Battery Park.
Central Park.


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