A Greenhorn Visits New York City

New Yorkers will probably roll their eyes when they read this. But to a lowly visitor, NYC is an mind-boggling experience. Crazy, vibrant and loud come to mind.

It never occurred to me that walking in a straight line on a street is a luxury and shouldn’t be taken for granted. In NYC it is impossible. The sidewalks churn with people en route to the office or one of the hundreds of coffee shops, vagrants in pursuit of the next meal and tourist trappers who sell tickets to everything from peep shows to city tours. And of course gawking tourists. As a result one must weave, push, hurry along with rushing New Yorkers who, by the way, all wear black. One thing is imperative: DO NOT STOP or you will be mowed down.

New York Times building and cabs on the street in front of it
The New York Times near Ripley Grier swarmed by cabbies – Courtesy of eflon

Crossing the street is particularly hazardous when one doesn’t know the rules. And they have nothing to do with the crosswalk signs because nobody follows them. Instead it is some secret code when to venture into the melee will not cost you a leg. In the five days in NY I’ve seen people get nearly killed sixteen times. Somehow they managed to wiggle past the unyielding bumpers of NY cabbies, who were honking up a storm, chasing the next passenger while accomplishing the seemingly impossible feat of advancing past one intersection. Driving in NYC is NOT a good idea – unless you’re a masochist in search of a heart attack.

Prices in Manhattan are outrageous. A beer averages eight dollars. We thought we’d be smart to buy a bottle of wine instead. The white wine which costs nine dollars at my grocery store was $25. Well, you don’t go to NY if you want to be frugal.

It also never occurred to me to be photographed every time we entered a building. Attending the Algonkian Writers Conference at Ripley Grier Studios, our faces were cataloged with big-brother like efficiency, a sad byproduct of 9/11. As we left the Empire State Building – worth the $25 entry fee – police in full riot gear with machine guns were taking position. Even if our hotel provided a reprieve (read my Trip Advisor Review), I felt a slight unease, a faint prickling at the base of my skull. Or maybe that was because I didn’t sleep for five days.

I’ve visited large cities, i.e. San Francisco, L.A., Vancouver, Chicago, Berlin, Hamburg and Paris. None compare. Everything about NYC is superlative: sky-scraping buildings, cavernous restaurants, the roads practically yellow with more cabs on one block than I see in a year, dozens of languages spoken by thousands of enterprising immigrants.  Despite its reputation for rudeness, the people we met were friendly and helpful – all of them trying to scratch out a living in this richly alive city that truly never sleeps.