There may be those who would be offended by the idea of “the average New Yorker.” New Yorkers, you see, all think that they are completely “individual,” entirely one of a kind, unique in every way. Of course, in God’s eyes, everyone is unique, a completely new creation. But I, who unfortunately lack divine vision, go to the Columbia campus and see hundreds of morbid looking metrosexuals with tight black jeans, multiple piercings, all of them sporting a solemn grimace. Perhaps there is a tattoo here and there, or some dyed hair ranging in color from jet black to fuchsia. New Yorkers most certainly suffer from the delusion that they are counter-cultural: they try so hard to be one of a kind that they succumb to a uniform “counter-culture” culture.
Perhaps it is too harsh to dismiss all New Yorkers in this way. This is likely, as New York is, despite the large number of similarities between its residents, a fantastic place for people watching. (I do, however, believe that the best people to watch are either not residents or among the few who actually do succeed in being individual.) Today, for instance, there were several characters worth mentioning. While sitting in Washington Square I spotted a couple leaning on each other on a bench listening to a street performer. The lady was a beautiful black woman, extremely well dressed. The man, on the other hand, was a regular Rasta, completely covered in hair with a long, straggly beard hanging from his face and an even longer, solid dread dangling from behind. An odd pairing, I thought. Later, while passing Grammercy Park, I saw an older fellow playing away on a tiny coronet no bigger than his withered hands. His eyes were closed and his chops were well-rehearsed and sagging. He looked as though he wouldn’t want to switch places with anyone in the world. Then there was a young twenty-something wearing tennis shoes and short shorts. He had a huge duffel bag hooked over his shoulders like a hiking backpack. His legs were strong and lean, so we figured that he had walked to New York from Alaska just to see the Empire State building. Five minutes later, he walked back in the opposite direction, making us think that he succeeded in his quest and was headed back to Alaska.
So there are exceptions to the Average New Yorker. I know there are more, and I always love a good story about these characters. Nevertheless, New Yorkers definitely have a similar strain of characteristics among them. The most dominant is a general cynical attitude. This manifests itself in the grumpy treatment of neighbors. There are very few people in New York who will help you without provocation. If you ask them for help, then they are usually happy to oblige, but it requires the asking. This theory is substantiated by New Yorkers’ comments after they return from trips to Chicago: “It is like a smaller New York, but the people are so much nicer!” New Yorkers seem dumbfounded by this nonobligatory kindness shared amongst Midwesterners. Chicagoans will help you if you merely look lost, where as this concept is lost on New Yorkers.
And then there is the crazy driving. When people visit New York, taxis are an experience in and of themselves. New York drivers are extremely dexterous and daring if not flat out aggressive and rude. Some people think that this is a manifestation of New Yorkers’ grumpiness. This may be true, but I find it is only part of the answer. New Yorkers in general, even the happy ones like me, have an addiction to efficiency. If you go anywhere else in the world, practically, after living for a considerable amount of time in New York, the tempo of life might drive you mad. Now, I tend to find New York tempos inhumanly fast, frankly. I am a firm believer in smelling roses. However, I take for granted the fact that there should be a drug store within walking distance where I can purchase practically any last minute need. I also enjoy the ability to get wherever I want without having to wait more than fifteen minutes maximum for public transportation. In Manhattan, the subways are usually quite reliable, as long as there is no construction. This is not the case in other cities, and most certainly not the case on the south side of Chicago, where the #55 can leave you for hours in -15degree weather. I also find myself getting unjustly agitated if anyone wastes even the smallest increments of time when getting from point A to B. There is no reason, in my mind, why anyone would walk a 90degree angle–make a hypotenuse whenever possible, that’s my motto. But the question is why? Why is that so important to me? How much time can I actually save, and to what ends? I attribute this, along with the drug stores and functional subways, to my addiction to efficiency. New York City is an enabler for an extremely efficient lifestyle. People there like moving fast, thus creating a demand and a subsequent supply for daily needs on the move. When I travel elsewhere, I try to overcome my New York cynicism and other distasteful New Yorker attributes, but boy, this efficiency addiction is hard to shake.
I have several other ideas for what creates the character of New York, but I feel I must draw to a close for now, as it is late at night and I spent the day carousing a good chunk of Manhattan. What I can say for New Yorkers is that, though they breath cynicism and carbon monoxide and try so hard to achieve an angry affect, most of them, beneath their tough surfaces, are actually extremely happy to be where they are. Ask a true New Yorker if he would ever leave New York, and the answer would likely be a solid No, though perhaps with a few added expletives.