New York City- The concrete jungle
Updated: Mar 21, 2019
New York—what is there to say about New York that hasn’t already been said? Every visitor’s experience is unique, special, and yet, there is a common, shared, seemingly indescribable experience, “New York,” that all understand and all can relate to. Maybe it’s the amplified human proximity. The countless bodies passing you by at any given moment, trapped in the apparent hopelessness of a city so crowded with humans, it’s a challenge to actually feel like a human being. The dirt, sweat, splashes, smoke rising from the subway, honking, yelling, barely breathing in the subway air.
And then, just as you are starting to give up on the whole damned place, a quiet village street stumbles upon you, offers you a moment of repose from the chaos. And on that street, you find a corner of humanity still preserved.
Or maybe it’s just that: the amplified human proximity. The sudden, unfiltered access to human energy. Being plugged into this ceaseless current, feeling powerless to unplug. Maybe it’s the energy of people from all walks of life, who have made the pilgrimage to the center of the universe, to find themselves, create, or maybe even recreate themselves. Each day, a chance to start new, with the slim-to-none chance that yesterday’s faces will reemerge.
My first trip to New York City was in April 2015, at age 25. I spent two days solo, and then was joined by friends for another two days. I remember thinking, at first impression, “what a clusterfuck of a city!” People anxiously powerwalking, bikes zooming by, narrowly missed by pissed off taxi drivers, and tourists only amplifying the residents’ emotions.
Nevertheless, I was hooked. The sheer energy of the place was intoxicating. As an LA native, I was simply overjoyed at the idea of being on foot all day, dipping into the subway (or train, as I often forget it’s called), climbing back outside, emerging onto a new surface of this wonderful metropolis. Maybe it’s the extra activity, blood flow, steps walked, etc., but the pace of the city makes long walks effortless. 10 blocks or 30, almost nothing is out of reach so long as you have two healthy legs and comfortable shoes. You never know what you will see, hear, or experience on the way to your destination, or what wacky conversation you will overhear. Yes, it can get loud, dirty, and smelly. But having grown up in a city where practically any and every trip is done in a car, I welcomed the intimacy with my fellow humans.
However, a romantic city New York is not. Comparing to the great cities of Europe—Paris, Rome, Barcelona, I couldn’t help but notice that New York does not lend itself to the serendipitous interactions that you'd expect. Blame all the romcoms that we’ve been raised on. Most people in Manhattan are not home-grown, but are transplants to the big city. That means that anyone you may encounter is quite temporary: a student on a 3-month internship, a foreigner studying abroad, or a professional planning to move to the suburbs by the end of the year. The city thrives on this feeling of seemingly temporary living. Everyone is partaking in the big “New York” experiment, where anything can change in an instant. And so building lasting, meaningful relationships can seem challenging. Manhattan is a city of workers. Between the hours of 8am and 6pm, most everyone is in “work mode.” While the city may provide the backdrop and human audience for your very own “When Harry Met Sally” romance, I found that unlikely to happen. I think that because people are so focused on their jobs and careers during the day, it leaves little room for lingering subway glances, notes left at cafes, and promising small talk. It also doesn’t help that most people have encountered their fair share of strange people in the city, and so they’ve resorted to walking around with headphones in their ears. New York City—the city where you can be surrounded by millions of people, and yet, be completely isolated, with your Spotify playlist playing the soundtrack to your big-city loneliness.
But, as soon as happy hour rolls around, the citizens of New York shed their day-long armor and unwind with their fellow laborers over oysters and cocktails. The very same temporary environment that makes people pass up one another during the day now lends itself to a sort of “speed socializing.” The potential energy of meeting a completely new set of people at a bar every night sets the stage for an unparalleled social experience. Best friends are made in an hour, lovers in half the time. The seemingly endless opportunities to make connections are easy to create, but also easy to replace. The very same reason that one might avoid people during the day--because they are a random person from a crowd of 10 million--is now the exact reason to meet them. It is almost a guarantee that any debauchery, hedonism, and general foolishness will go unnoticed and promptly forgotten by the time lunchtime comes around the next day. Unless they are connected to your immediate friends, it’s unlikely that you will ever see that person again. “Work hard and play harder” was born here. Such is the endless supply of NY humanity, as well as its endless potential.