From the readers: Inside the Apple
New York from a Garlandite’s perspective
The homeless man finished the final chorus of the song and offered to sing another one for us. By the time the train was in sight he and my co-worker were yelling at each other so harshly that a police officer had to step in and intervene.
When the train came, my co-worker strolled into the train car as if nothing had happened. But I couldn’t just yet. I approached the homeless man to apologize and was shoved back by the police officer, who demanded that I go away. I told him I wanted to apologize, and approached the homeless man again, but the result was no different—the officer shoved me again, this time with more force.
In the train car, my co-worker asked me what I thought I was doing. He said it like he thought I was an idiot. I told him I wanted to apologize because something hadn’t felt right about the whole ordeal. He told me I was a moron.
“What if that cop had punched you in the face?” he asked.
I said that didn’t seem likely to me, but regardless, figured that he—my co-worker—wouldn’t just stand by if I was punched in the face. By anyone. Our argument lasted the whole train ride, but it was repeated to me over and over that he couldn’t care less if I was punched by a police officer. He had himself to take care of, and no New Yorker, friend or co-worker or stranger, would do anything different than he would’ve.
It was too cliché. The young, somewhat naive kid from Texas (the cultural and social antithesis to New York City) being forced to face the dog-eat-dog realities of the Big Apple, where outward kindness often is thought of not just as a flaw, but as a sign of stupidity.
A few months ago, Manhattan was visited by a fat, windy rain. Since rain in the Northeast often lasts only a quarter of an hour or so, I didn’t bring an umbrella. Surely the rain would go away by the time the train got to 34th St.
It didn’t, and once off the subway, I had to wait outside for the friend I was visiting. I resigned myself to getting soaked. I wasn’t thrilled by the idea, but I could either whine about it or get over it, and regardless of what I chose it would still be raining.
And then a well-dressed man rushing to the train station noticed me. I was drenched. My shirt was plastered to my body and my hair was a dripping mop. He handed me his umbrella and shouted over the rain, “You need this more than I do!”
The difference in how often stories like the first happen versus the second in New York City is exaggerated. Stories like the first have happened to me maybe once a month. Probably less. And stories like the second happen just as rarely. So what’s it like most of the time?
Garlandites as I remember may not always like each other, and in circumstances may act similarly to my co-worker or the umbrella-sharer, but they don’t tune each other out. New Yorkers, however, tune almost everyone out. They do this to counter the testy feeling that comes from being around so many people at once. It’s at once both a logical and problematic response. I don’t think that technology is the root of the issue, but people usually achieve this by being on their cellphones. The whole train car and all the homeless people in the world can disappear when you’re on your phone. Better that than lash out at people, right?
Maybe not. The best subway rides I’ve ever had were because of interaction between strangers. You can’t force everyone to be chatty, but that’s certainly not the point. What I love most about Texas—and what is so dramatically different about it from New York—is that trust and kindness amongst strangers isn’t seen as a mark of naiveté. It’s a different beast, here. Sure. But not one in which altruism is impossible, or just another non-native New Yorker’s pipe dream. After all—
“You need this more than I do!”
Submitted by Dakota James