March 07, 2006

Near-death experiences in NY

Last weekend was my first trip to "the greatest city in the world" on pleasure. I went, on a whim really, to visit a friend. As I actually got to spend time in the city (which was bitter cold but gloriously sunny for this Seattlite and which we canvassed on foot for two days straight), I got a totally different look at it than ever before:

1. First and foremost, it reminded me that I am a small fish in a very, very big pond. There's something thrilling about feeling so incredibly tiny.

At home it's the opposite. After a few weeks in Seattle you can pretty much get a handle on the city. It's friendly, manageable. Everyone has the weather, coffee, the Mariners in common. Buses run regularly behind schedule and 50 percent on bio-fuel, but people mostly ride bikes or drive to the city from the suburbs just north or east. It's mild, in every sense of the word. Some crime, but not a lot. Some culture, but it's rarely shocking. A little attitude, a little sun, a little snow. Geeks. Technology. Coffee. Books. Drizzle. Seattle doesn't wear a lot of makeup, but is expressive: lots of water, lots of mountains, lots of green -- beautiful, smart, unpretentious. Easy to come home to. And you can get comfortable to the point where you can actually make yourself believe you have a handle on things -- even that you ARE somebody -- simply because you can usually pay rent, only get lost occasionally, have never been assaulted, and have stopped carrying an umbrella. In other words, big fish, small pond syndrome.

In New York, this was not the case. There, there was no question that no matter what I did or said or where I came from, the city was enormous, sharp, hungry and indifferent and that I was very, very small. Anonymous. Forgettable. This sounds really depressing, but it wasn't. It was actually inspiring to feel challenged and unspecial -- like I simultaneously had nothing and everything to prove to this place that hardly noticed me scurrying about open-mouthed on its patchwork of pavement. Whatever. This is getting obscure. The point is that it's, like, big and rad and stuff. Anyway...

2. New Yorkers are practiced at being unfazed by everything -- including certain death. You can tell which pedestrians are tourists and which are not because the tourists actually wait for the walk/don't walk signals to change. New Yorkers risk being crushed between two cars or turned into much flatter versions of their upright selves every two and a half minutes -- at every single crosswalk they meet -- dodging in and out of traffic and stepping in front of fast-moving, honking cars manned by pissed-off yuppies or non-english speaking cabbies as if invincable. Then, they actually yell and gesture at the cars who may at any moment kill them (and who have every right to be driving straight through a green light).

And the cab drivers! Being totally prone to terrible accidents and convinced I am destined to die tragically young behind the wheel, under the tires or in the backseat of a car (hey, I'm a classy girl. I meant riding as a passenger, you deviant), some of the cab rides were quite traumatic for me. I actually had to make a conscious effort not to totally spaz out/pass out/vomit in the company of my well-adjusted-New-York-transplant-companion. At one point I actually did squeak a bit and clutch at him in the cab in an attempt to brace myself for my own imminent death, but he just sort of laughed and rolled his eyes as if I were just being dramatic. We repeatedly experienced near-head-on collisions, and routinely braked so fast I would have flown directly out the front windshield, past the driver and into the arms of the jaywalking pedestrian we nearly hit had I not been clinging like a child to his arm. Both of these scenarios also failed to fluster him. Which explained his constant leading of me across intersections where I was sure to be pancaked: he had been desensitized to the fear of death.

3. New Yorkers can sniff out imposters, too, I found. Though I was always accompanied by New York (the person, not the city), I was still attacked every thirty seconds or so by a Louis Vuitton knockoff-slinging Chinese man or some greasy Italian dude standing outside a restaraunt he promised would be "a-nice-a-dinna for-a pretty girl". And I wasn't even carrying a camera or map or wearing an "I heart NY" t-shirt. But I was smiling. A lot. Maybe that was it. Even New York couldn't explain this. Then again, he IS a transplant. Maybe he doesn't have "it".

4. Either the acoustics of the city are remarkable, or it is the single noisiest place on earth. I'm a fan of noise. When I was little (by which I mean until I was about 13), my single favorite passtime other than faking my own death to make my little brother cry (more on this later), was sitting on the floor of our kitchen surrounded by kettles, pans and assorted cookware, which I pounded on like a miniature female John Bonham along to whatever rock and roll was on the radio.

So in New York, the constant racket at all hours of the morning (and night) appealed to me. The fact that it was in three different languages made it even better. But yes, at 5 through 8 in the morning when I was working on sleeping off all the drugs and alcohol (just kidding mom -- no drugs, seriously) it was slightly less charming than at 2 in the afternoon. And I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out what would be worth honking and swearing at the top of your lungs about for 5 straight minutes, but I spent some time thinking about that while cursing the previous evening's beverages when it woke me every morning.

Also, garbage trucks came every single morning. Also at about 6 a.m. And they sounded like they were actually backing their trucks into the building I was sleeping in while a team of garbage men drug sheet metal up and down the sidewalk, occasionally bashing into parked cars and yelling. New York should consider recycling. Everyone would sleep a hell of a lot better. But I digress, and I think my Seattle roots are showing like Heather Locklear's brunette, so we'd better move on...

5. Saw RENT. [Had great seats, the show was amazing, yadda yadda, insert raving and details of fabulous show here.] Later that night, New York's roommate, (who had been somewhere drinking while we were show-watching, which was made evident by the fact that his eyes were almost entirely closed when he spoke) said, through a mouthful of Parliment filter, something to the effect of "Isn't that the one with that song that goes... uh... 'five hundred, twenty five thousand goddamn minutes' or sompthin' like that?'" while sorta swaying and half conducting with his right hand from a semi-reclined position on the couch.

Yes, yes it is.

So now, if you ask me when I'll be ready or how long something will take, my standard response is "five hundred goddamn thousand mother fucking minutes", and I'm not sick of it yet. Maybe when I mentally and emotionally graduate from junior high school, gratuitous swearing will be less entertaining. You think?


Look, I'm not going to run you through the whole experience, but let's just say it was a memorable weekend. I am typing this from Harborview Medical Center, however. You see, I had raging bronchitis and strep throat when I went (or maybe just a head cold) and the sub-zero temperatures and constant exposure to the elements have depleted my immune system to such an extent that I actually have to be quarantined. They say I can go soon, but will have to be entirely protected from the outside world until I make a full recovery -- and until then, I will have to roll around in one of those plastic inflatable globes like Bubble Boy. So it turns out the dangers of NY are not restricted to the traffic, cabs and extreme noise.

On the upside, I've never seen a frat-dick looking dude deliver a cheesy pickup line to a sniffling girl in a giant plastic bubble suit. Which means it looks like I'm temporarily spared the trials and tribulations of dating until I make a full recovery. So at least there's that.


The Bourbon Samurai said...

You should know that those guys who try to get you into dinner or to take a tour bus pretty much just accost everybody. If Mayor Bloomberg walked by they would ask him if he wanted to take a ferry out by the statue of liberty.

Trebuchet said...

Yes, I realize, and I really think it's a poor business model. Were I at any time hungry in their presence, I think I would actually avoid the restaraunts with the creepy front-men in favor of someplace I could wander into of my own volition.

I'd like to do a study, in fact: I'd like to take two restaraunts with "Hollaback boys" and let them do their standard slinging one week, then remove the sleezebag for a second week. Then I want to compare earnings. I would be willing to bet the amount of business those boys bring in doesn't even balance out the amount spent paying them to stand there and leer.

God, I'm a nerd.

rdl said...

I love NY! cliche i know, but i do, but i grew up in NJ so NY was always exciting to me. Thanks for stopping by.

auntiegrav said...

In Milwaukee, there is a -fest for every ethnic group in town and then some. There's Germanfest (Oktoberfest), Italian Fest, Polish Fest, Etc. (I can't remember the names of the ones for Africans, Asians, and Latins). There should be tours of cities for these kinds of things. Instead of travelling to Europe, you can travel around all the 'LuxembourgFests' in America (NY, Chicago, StanFrancisco), see what the different geography has done to each one. (Yes, LuxembourgFest is in Belgium, and BelgiumFest is in Luxembourg due to a mixup in the post offices).

Ron said...

I can't resist.

You know what they say about Jersey girls...some people say that they are trash but that's not true because trash actually gets picked up.


Anywho NYC is a very interesting place...I think I've driven up to the city about 15 times in all...and had a rollicking good time everytime. I've gotten used to the mean streak of the people and the irrationality of every aspect of their "reasoning" for their actions. Also I've learned to stay the hell away from the tramps and vagabonds at Penn Station.

I've seen Rent on Broadway twice. The second time I went to see it with a Spice Girl starring in it [Scary Spice...she wasn't that bad] and that was the same day that I ran into ( friend and i were rounding a block) Will Ferrell and Reese Witherspoon on their way to TRL.

Trebuchet said...

Aaah. That was one element of NY I missed out on... a famous person sighting. Didn't see a one.

Eh, well... maybe next time.

Loved RENT -- knew I would because La Boheme is my favorite Opera of all time, and who can resist a good story updated with early '90's music and lots of dancing and sex in tight clothes? It was truly fabulous. I'm a total sucker for the theatre.

Ron said...

Hey also you should get better -- being sick sucks.

Guess what? The last time I was in New York was about two weeks ago and I'm going to New York this weekend with some of my friends to see Rent. Weird, huh? We just made the decision and it's gonna be's been about a year since the last time I saw it on Broadway and I guess that's the new pattern [since the last time before that was also a year]...

emynd said...

No offense, but a couple people who's opinions I value highly think "Rent" is the worst piece of crap ever. I haven't seen it yet so I'll refrain from passing judgment, but I find my tastes parallel theirs pretty closely. In other words:


The taste-makers are coming!

In other news, I DJed last night until 2:30, drove home, went to sleep at 3:15, woke up at 5:45 and now I'm at work hallucinating. I did that for 4 months--DJed every Thursday night then showed up to work working on between 2 and 3 hours of sleep.

Lifestyle of a hustler.

The typos were incredible, though.

In still other news, come to Philly. It's beautiful.