I think NYC gets a bad rap- and I don't know
why. So often when I hear folks in North Carolina- and elsewhere- talk about New York, they refer to it as unfriendly, the people as pushy and impatient- and perhaps some are. But those are not the folks I have been encountering on these 9 days so far in the Big Apple. On every subway ride, I have been offered a seat by someone younger than myself, that seat generously given with a smiling response to my expressed thanks. Doors are held open, with one young man even apologizing when he failed to notice me and hold the door.
When I smile- as I do often- people smile back. When I make a comment or ask a question, I receive a friendly response. Today, I had four lovely conversations- no, five- with a young woman at the bagel shop, caring for her 6-month-old nephew while her sister is in the hospital; with a tall, handsome young man at the table to my left, eating a beautiful salad, when what he really wanted, he said, was a great big hero sandwich, but "I just came from working out at the gym and, you know...", shrugging his shoulders, his smile tinged with more than a bit of regret; with the dad sharing a late breakfast with his toddler, gladly giving me directions to the library; with the young clerk at the Co-op grocery when I told him that I belong to a similar Co-op in my home city; and with a woman with a bit of a frown on her face, standing outside of an apartment building on the next block, who responded to my "good morning" with a big smile, sharing with me how much she was enjoying the sunshine and the warmer temperatures and the blue, blue sky. And I almost forgot the young couple with the beautiful baby, finishing their breakfast at the next table, the one on my right. After I commented on just how beautiful the baby was, they smiled- the dad broadly, the mom shyly, thanking me, and then wished me a good day as they went on their way.
Perhaps this sense of community I feel is about walking everywhere- people being on foot so much of the time, and so encountering other human beings directly instead of being insulated and isolated by the imprisoning steel and plastic boxes we call cars.
Yes, the city is messy. Yes, I believe more could be done to encourage responsible disposal of trash. Yes, public transportation is crowded and somewhat noisy and resonant with the many and varied odors of human life. But there is an energy, a spirit, a sense of connectedness which I find lacking in other less-urban places.
As I sat on the Manhattan-bound subway one
day last week, I noted that on the seats across from me were two Caucasians, one a Jewish man wearing a yarmulke, two African-Americans (though I suspect one was actually an African immigrant), one Pakistani or Indian, one Asian, and two Latinos. Their ages ranged from teens to probably eighty or so. I seldom see such diversity displayed right before my eyes in the cluster of small NC cities I call home. This, to me, IS America. And this is what
makes life beautiful.