I am probably not sophisticated enough to be a New Yorker
Washington, DC, is soooo not New York City. Or any city, as we’ve discussed here. It’s basically a tepid swampy backwater lacking any type of culture. Like universities that compare themselves to Harvard, come up short, and deem themselves thusly unable to function (cough, cough, WM), District dwellers love comparing ourselves to a singular place and lamenting the sad, sad state of their lives. Or at least, we did.
A few things have changed that lately, and those things include and are limited to being dissed by New Yorkers. Last week the New York Times published this piece on how posh and luxurious the District has become using your tax dollars. The NYT prides itself on publishing “all the news that’s fit to print,” which this year has included hard-hitting pieces on Seth Meyers’ use of the word “really,” a discussion on whether Jerry Seinfeld is actually funny (and of course Seinfeld’s now-infamous letter to the editor), and pieces by Nicholas Kristof. So you know you’re getting only the best and most stereotype-driven information about the District from a piece based on a reporter’s interview with a luxury condo developer in Rosslyn (Virginia, for you plebeians who don’t know) with vast knowledge of mythical public-salaried 22-year olds who have pockets deep enough to plunk down $3,000 per month for rent.
Maybe District-dwellers are just feeling a little sensitive, especially since they know that the NYT is widely known for being the unpretentious paper of the masses and therefore taken seriously by Middle America. DC is gentrifying (and, well, is America’s capital after all), which has made it the subject numerous writings such as this Time article and this piece from The Economist, which ignored socioeconomic changes entirely and discussed how dark and scary the District used to be before we had a police force. Or something. The litany of problems with these articles has been somewhat covered on forums like this one, so I won’t re-hash them here. As soon as the dust settled, though, one of the District’s newest New York imports, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, went on the book-selling trail and bemoaned how primitive our takeout/delivery joints are compared to those in America’s One True City.
As it turns out, nobody puts Baby City in a corner, except Baby City dwellers, and District patriotism has swelled during the past week (I think. I’ve skipped town, so I don’t really know). In order to set the record straight, and mostly because I already had a research trip on the books, I headed to the Big Apple this week to see for myself what New York is really like. After all, as someone with some journalistic training and experience (the cause of my first-ever trip to NYC so many years ago), I too feel qualified to write an article about an entire city based on my preconceived notions and experiences in heavily-touristed areas.
To begin, I resolved to walk the entire seventy blocks from Penn Station to my hotel. It would certainly be a long journey, but I knew my load of bags and lack of directions would help me blend in perfectly with the natives. Plus I’d save a whopping $2 on fare for the subway that could basically have taken me door to door.
Jason was not as enamored with my plan as I was.
“Just take the subway. What do you think you’re going to see? People peeing in cups? That’s all they do there. Why do you want to see that? What’s wrong with you?”
There’s nothing wrong with me, for Heaven’s sake! I just want to experience real New York, and if that means seeing whatever I need to see, then so be it.
As I left Penn Station, I knew I’d come to the heart of real New York. Everywhere I looked there were people—Foreigns, Ethnics, Midwesterners all coming together in one giant melting pot and shuffling down the sidewalk at a rate of -2.14 miles per hour. The first thing I discovered about New Yorkers is that they’re very patriotic, which must be how they became such a functional place. Every person I saw wore an “I Heart NY” t-shirt or carried a bag with the logo. If only DC had so much pride!
The second thing I noticed about New Yorkers is that they’re not very good at counting, probably because they don’t have that many higher ed degrees. I must have looked like a Genius District dweller with my bag slung over my shoulder and my brain inside my head, because several patriotic people approached me to ask for directions.
“Excuse me, which way is Fifth Avenue?”
I pointed, and soon folks began to doubt my directions.
“Are you sure? Not Fifty-Sixth Street. Fifth Avenue.”
“Yeah, it’s that way, because I just came down Eighth to Seventh, and the numbers keep getting smaller that way.”
“Okay, but are you sure?”
I don’t know, lady! All I did was use basic math to deduce that the island of Manhattan is based on a grid, and then I walked down the street, er, up the avenue. No wonder these people needed Sesame Street! They love the city so much but have no idea how addition works! Oh well, not all cities can be comprised entirely of Geniuses.
At that moment I was snapped out of my observations by the sight of pedestrians running across the road, reaching the other sidewalk, and being almost run over by cyclists who in turn smacked the front hood of any car daring to come within seventeen feet of them. What? That would never happen in . . . okay, maybe we do have a few things in common.
As I continued toward my hotel on the upper Upper West Side, I noticed that I appeared to be departing from real New York. I had left the melting pot behind and entered an Isle of Caucasia. Now I knew what the Wonderland Ballroom was trying to replicate. Fake New York! No wonder DC was so complainatory; fake DC was so far behind fake New York, what with the continued presence of Poors in our midst, there was almost no chance of catching up and becoming a real, thriving, diverse city like this one.
By the time I was halfway through my walk, I began to worry that I’d left New York. After all, in forty blocks I hadn’t seen one person peeing in a cup. Judging by the smells around me, people had either missed the cup entirely or decided not to use it, so maybe Jason was wrong. Maybe times had changed. After all, New York is well-known in the District for being so clean; it probably meant folks had jilted the cups in favor of direct sidewalk access. Best way to prevent litter, you know?
I also realized that I’d reached some wildlife refuge on the outer edges of the city (and my hotel room even overlooked it, which was especially adorbs because dogs romping in snow), and all around me I saw signs instructing me not to interact with the squirrels, what with it being “illegal and unsanitary.” Wow, New Yorkers must not be too bright if they actually try to be unsanitary, but it’s not their fault. I mean, how are Real City folk supposed to know how to deal with pigeons and rats? They don’t, which is probably why they have employed hawks like the one I saw rat-catching in the park. They need to do better, though, because when I made like a real New Yorker and ate at Shake Shack, I went to the counter to collect my food and came back to find three squirrels and a pigeon in my seat. I didn’t want to be unsanitary, so I just ignored them in hopes that they’d go away.
They sort of went away, but I didn’t have too much time to think about it, because I spent the rest of my time at the New York Public Library, conducting research and hoping that nobody took away my access after reading this post. You see, unlike the District, which just has lame stuff like the Library of Congress and National Archives, New York is cultured enough to have a public library with archives open for five whole hours per day where you can find old papers and stuff (including, doncha know, Ralph Bunche’s DC parking tickets, which I’m assuming must have been stored here in order to keep them a secret). I did my research, which left little time for anthropological studies—mainly because I’m not an anthropologist—but I did notice a few more ways that the New Yorkers were so sophisticated, like the woman wearing a Red Riding Hood cape/coat (I don’t know what you call it; I’m not that trendy), which I assume must have come straight off the runway. I’ll remember to bring that singular style back to the “the unstylish land of think tanks and tepid salmon lunches and boxy women’s suits,” as we’ve been affectionately dubbed.
All in all, I’ve had a productive trip to New York. It’s hard to argue that True City Dwellers are not, in fact, better than us. After all, the subway is, like, the cleanest thing and newest on the planet and always runs on time. They have libraries and fashion. The wildlife didn’t give me rabies. The health department gives out so many free condoms that, according to the woman I overheard at Starbucks, you can “almost OD” on them. There are hipsters roller skating in the bike lanes using ski poles and people wearing those aquatic rubber non-shoes that mimic the lack of shoes in Ethiopia and therefore turn everyone into a marathoner (okay, maybe we do have that in common). The only thing I’d suggest is that they just use those cups every now and then. It might make the True City seem littered like the District, but that’s a small price to pay.