The Great Invisible Wall of New York City
Is there anybody out there?
Things are different for non-city dwellers. Space isn’t at a premium, but then time fills in the equation. When you spend 2-5 hours commuting everyday that loss of time puts constraints on you.
Several months ago, while living in midtown, I was walking home at rush hour from the Amazon Go Store when 2 blocks from the apartment, across from Bryant Park, an early 20 twenty something Sikh in a crisp white turban, clean and neatly dressed and who clearly and respectfully spoke native english, was approaching random people on the street.
“Excuse Me!, Excuse Me!, Excuse Me!” he said to people in the throng as they passed by him, rushing willy nilly up to them, then being ignored, abandoned the effort and tried again. Of course, this being NYC, he was completely ignored, nobody even broke stride.
He was invisible.
As I passed him by, exasperated, he said to the air, and to himself, “Why won’t anyone even acknowledge me? Where is the subway?”
I stopped short, turned around and looked him straight in the eye:
“Now there is a question i can answer.” Still wary due to his suspicious behavior, I asked:
“Which Subway?” He stammered. I was a nanosecond away to ignoring him again but being the kind, empathetic, native New Yorker that I am, I invested a few more seconds:
“There are a lot of subways within two blocks of here, It’s Times Square, you know, The Crossroads of the World – Where do you want to go?” He had the choice of NQRSW1237BDFMS456. You can get literally anywhere in the world from Times Square! He would have to meet me part way, if I was going to give him useful instructions.
He said “Tri-BeCa” – i’m not sure if he knew how to spell it or why it was called that. But we were two short blocks from the subway that would take him there and I told him so. “Walk the two blocks with me and i’ll show you where to get on.”
“Thanks! I’m from Boston, you know.”
“Someone has to be, I suppose.”
“How come nobody acknowledged me I don’t understand it?”
I thought about how I was going to explain to him in two short blocks. I didn’t know how to condense it, so I just told him “You’re approach was all wrong.” It most certainly did not have to do with him being a Sikh and wearing a turban. In fact i’ve never had a Sikh in a turban try to scam me on the streets, or anywhere.
The precocious, intelligent, cute guy asked immediately: “What should my approach have been?”
So I explained that he was approaching New Yorkers going home at rush hour and asking them for time – attention. That’s a breach of Etiquette (watch this video for more information on NYC Etiquette). More so 99% of all the scams start with someone getting your attention. We guard our attention jealously. “We all thought you were scamming us when you tried to stop people by saying ‘excuse me.'”
“What should I have done?”
‘That’s easy, just put out to the world, Say out loud “Where’s the subway?” and probably 5 people would have stopped short to help you, that’s why I did. Here’s the subway, it was nice meeting you, enjoy the rest of your trip. Welcome to New York.”
He thanked me and we parted ways.
Social rituals are upside down here in Sub-urban/rural New Jersey.
I went for a ride on my 27 year old one-off pink bicycle with orange handlebar tape and lime green rack and blue pedals the other day. People are out walking their dogs, or working on the properties. Every person i rode by smiled, waved, said hello. I was getting paranoid! Why are they acknowledging me like they know me? I KNOW not a single person around has ever seen me before, or my bicycle. I just wish they’d stop and leave me alone!
Then I took out my car. I know nobody knows that either, but each person I passed by, looked up, smiled an waved or acknowledge my presence. It’s very unsettling.
My sister explained to me that they KNOW I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t ‘belong’ here.
AH! I understand the problem. I’ve never belonged anywhere in my life. I’ve always been the black sheep, the outsider, someone to be suspicious of, someone to blame.
It certainly is not the complete anonymity you get in a crowd in New York City.
It’s also not as intimate as having friends and neighbors in NYC. These people wave at each other but don’t know each others names. Can you imagine how much time and effort that would take in NYC?
I don’t know if I can get used to such familiarity among strangers.