What do I know about New Yorkers? Like most Mid-Westerners, my knowledge of those in the Big Apple is based on having watched countless episodes of Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, The Sopranos, Seinfeld, and Sex in the City. I know the place is inhabited mainly by, hookers, pushers, pimps, cops on the take, wise guys, rude cab drivers, soup Nazis, a mayor that doesn’t like Big Gulps, and fat cat one percenters who work on Wall Street and live in the Upper West Side.
I know they speak with an accent that to my ear can be loud, boisterous, assertive, threatening, and at times, whinny. I know that none of them can be trusted, they’re all on the take, they are cold and uncaring, they think out of towners are rubes, and most of the women wear stiletto heels costing thousands and with which, they would gladly poke a hole in your heart.
I also know that little of what I’ve just written is true. It is the mythological, stereotypical, nonsense we’ve been programmed to believe about New York City and its people. Certainly some of it is true, just as it is true that not everyone in the Mid-West is a farmer with three virgin daughters. The truth is, New Yorkers are just like people everywhere, most are good, decent, people trying to make it through the day and some are thugs who make for good television.
In the five days my wife and I recently spent in and around NYC we were simply overwhelmed by how untrue the TV/movie stereotypes are. Without exception we were helped by everyone we sought assistance from. We failed to encounter a cabbie who was anything but willing to get us to our destination without once circling the block to run up the fare. Service people in restaurants and shops were kind, attentive, and pleasant to deal with. Even iron workers on their lunch break at the One World Trade building gladly sat down their thermos jug or sandwich to point us in the direction of the memorial gardens.
On two occasions we were totally confused about the subway and train system and sought help from a local. Each immediately whipped out their smart phone, got online, checked the routes and schedules, and got us straightened out. Matter of fact, each time they took the extra step to say, “Wait a minute, let me double-check that just to be sure.” That is exactly the kind of thing I’ve seen a skillion small town Americans do when a stranger pulls up and asks how to get to Dismal Seepage.
All this isn’t to say there isn’t some grumpy old bastard at the corner of 7th and West 49th who wouldn’t give you spit if you were dying of thirst. Certainly those people exist. And, not all New Yorkers are nice to each other. We did witness a testy exchange between a hotel doorman and a cabbie regarding how many passengers the cabbie should be willing to stuff into his ride. We were also privy to a heated moment involving a black man and an Asian cab driver. I don’t know what the problem was but the cabbie insisted on repeatedly shouting “mother fucker” at the black guy and at any second (borrowing a scene from NYPD Blue) I expected the black guy to “pop a cap” in the cabbie’s ass. Didn’t happen though and I later decided the Asian cabbie was just practicing his English.
Speaking of English; one thing that can be said of New Yorkers, they come in all different nationalities, religions, and tongues. New York is a city of nations and at times one can get the idea that they may be the only one in town who isn’t multilingual. It is what it has always been, a study in the history of immigration to America. It is the melting pot. It is the gathering place of the world’s huddled masses. It is not a place where a conservative, jingoistic, xenophobic, type personality would feel secure in. But it is a place where there is a reason or a purpose for all the variety, even if it is for nothing more than uniqueness.
Our last people related experience in Gotham was a more than wild, Friday evening, rush-hour, cab ride from Times Square to Penn Station with a Tibetan cabbie at the helm who considered the streets of Mid-Town Manhattan to be a NASCAR short track. This former yak driver loved his cab’s horn almost as much as he loved being first into whatever gap opened in the traffic pattern. It was one hell of a ride but with a smile on his face, he did his duty and got us to the church on time.