New York is an amazing place. I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I’ll freely admit that I have something of a prejudice against anything on the East Coast of the US. In my mind I imagine that everyone and everything on the East Coast is a caricature of the worst stuff you see in TV and movies. I expect people in suits who are oblivious to their own privilege and the suffering of others and I expect the rest of the population to be kind of hard and unfriendly. What I’ve actually encountered on this trip is pretty inspirational.
People are friendly and helpful to random strangers lost on the Subway. They are engaged in a million interesting things, from classes to interest groups to favorite crafts. People on the Subway actually dance to the music playing through their headphones. There is a creative energy here that I’d heard people speak of before, but had always discounted for some strange reason.
Part of me feels like I shouldn’t admit publicly that I’ve had anything other than a high opinion of this city all along. It’s not culturally acceptable to say that you have any prejudice at all. But, I think that it’s good to recognize the prejudices that stop us from exploring the world around us. I may have a very open mind and I may be an explorer by nature, but I still have those misconceptions that hold me back. It’s important to face that head on if I’m ever to change it.
I’m writing this post on Saturday, sitting on the Subway on my way to a conference in the Hotel Pennsylvania, listening to Sarah Bareilles singing about Manhattan. It’s funny how it all rolls together. “Oh, yes,” my inner voice says, “Now I get what she was singing about. It all makes so much more sense.”
I have had some hints of the the less friendly side of this city. Local friends have been concerned about my safety a couple of times while I was out late, lost on Subway trains that are not stopping where I need them to this weekend. I was told that some random group of citizens has put up signs around the Subway system in the same fonts and design of the official signs that try to make the system a little bit more legible to tourists and other people new to town. There is apparently some backlash about that, and the MTA is going to take them all down. I’m baffled by the idea that someone in officialdom thinks that the system is better if it’s less legible. Baffled, too, by the idea that some locals are so opposed to tourists finding their way around town that they don’t want those signs available to point the way.
Maybe it’s just that they all like helping poor lost souls like me so much.
No matter where I go, I wonder what combination of influences makes a place feel the way that it does. What percentage of the experience comes from history and what percentage comes from something inherent in the place itself? But New York… how long has it been this amazing creative space? What exactly led it to be so energetic, sleepless and driving? Is it just human history? Or is it the voice of the land itself?
There’s not much that you can tell about a city in just one week there. But there are two guys doing an acrobatic performance in the middle of this train car, and I can’t very well sit here typing while they do that.