I was in Midtown Manhattan the other day on a lunch break and I wanted some food from a place a few blocks away. I was crossing East 54rd Street, and there was this family of out-of-towners waiting at the corner, stuck. It looked they wanted to cross the street, but they couldn’t get their feet off of the sidewalk. While they hesitated, cars and cabs kept making the right turn from 3rd Avenue onto 54th.
As I got closer to the family, the mom looked toward me, clearly frustrated, and said, “You’d think these cars would let us cross!” And I was walking pretty fast. I’m tall, so I have a naturally long stride, but it’s also New York, so everybody walks kind of fast. I didn’t even break my pace, but I turned to look at the lady as I stepped into the intersection, telling her, “You just have to walk. You just have to go for it. The cars will stop.”
I kept going, I made it across the street all while the lady stood there holding hands with her family, that distressed look on her face, me on one of the street and her on the other, both of us now separated by a whole line of cabs already continuing their endless stream of right turns. This whole interaction took maybe ten seconds, and once I was safely across the street, I turned forward and marched on.
But I couldn’t help but thinking about this lady and her family, were they on vacation? How long were they planning their trip to the city? Now that they were here, were they having fun? Sure, it’s a lot of filling in the blanks based on the fraction of a moment that we were in each other’s lives, but there was something there, there was us, there was a street, there were pained facial expressions.
I spent the rest of my walk imagining that family making it back to their hotel room later in the evening, they’d be exhausted, all of that walking around, nobody behaving in traffic like they do back home. How many times had she stopped random pedestrians to complain about cars? Was she giving that same confused/pissed off look to every single driver that didn’t stop and wave her along with a smile?
In my head she went back home to wherever she was from, her friends and extended family members would ask stuff like, “So how was your vacation? How was New York?” and not wanting to give the impression that they had a bad time, she’d lie, “It was OK, but everyone is in such a hurry. Everyone is so rude!”
And yeah, I’m in my head here, but this isn’t that uncommon of a thing to imagine, right? New Yorkers have a reputation of being rude. On season five of True Blood, this guy’s about to get killed, so he starts crying, hysterical, he’s like, “I never got to go to New York, to see the Big Apple,” and Eric the vampire says, “New York smells like pee and everyone is rude.”
Are New Yorkers rude? I don’t think so. I’m going to fault the tourists in this situation, that lady and her family. I’m presuming that they took this vacation and found themselves on the streets unfamiliar with the pace of everyday life. Unable to cross the street on account of traffic not coming to a halt simply because they were waiting on the corner, they reached out for a little sympathy from a fellow pedestrian.
But I didn’t give any. Imagine if every single driver stopped at every corner where a group of people happened to be waiting for a light. Cars wouldn’t be able to move an inch. Traffic would remain at a permanent standstill. There are more people than cars, and with heavy foot traffic, the lights are necessary to keep people in line as much as they’re there to regulate the cars.
I try to reverse the situation in my head. I picture me going on vacation to some small town somewhere. I’m driving along and as I’m about to round a corner, I see a family waiting to cross the street. If I just kept going, like if I aggressively made that turn without their consideration, they could look at me, they could give me that, “What the hell?” face, and I’d clearly be in the wrong. But I wouldn’t do that, because I’m not rude, I’m not an asshole.
What I’m getting at is that I don’t travel to other places and walk around acting like the whole world is New York. People from out of town should come to New York and be prepared for things to be different than the way they are back home. It’s not rude. In fact, I think if anybody is rude, it’s the person that travels around and acts as if every social code and rule is somehow universally based on how people get along from where they’re from.
I’m being way too judgmental here myself. I hate it when New Yorkers talk down to everyone else, like we’re so enlightened. As a waiter, I can safely say that a good chunk of New Yorkers are indeed rude. In fact, a lot of them are assholes. At least when they’re hungry. Does this just contradict everything that I just wrote down? Whatever, I’m probably being a huge asshole myself. Yeah, I just reread this whole thing, definitely, big-time asshole. Still, I’m right about the street crossing thing.