In the event you think all I ever do is work blue, drink too much and sling bad musical advice, here’s a chance to peek at my literary life. Of course, this little exercise in flash fiction is all about a caustic, down-on-her-luck dipsomaniac who stumbles into a subway jam fest, but I prefer to think of these as just a few of the many leitmotifs of my life, rather than signposts on the road to Betty Ford.
Now get out of my way.
Like virtually every member of my extended family, many of you, I’m sure, maintain a firm “no New York” policy when it comes to vacation travel; however, for the intrepid souls who are considering venturing forth to the metropolis now that the tourist season is officially upon us, I have some advice. First-timers should pay particular attention. This is insider stuff you won’t find in any guide book, no matter what the cover claims.
Disclaimer/qualifications: Please note, I am not a native New Yorker, but a transplant. Most of the people who live here are. I have, however, resided in the city continuously since 1989 and in that time have called both Manhattan and Brooklyn home. Over the years, I have cultivated more than a passing acquaintance with the city’s museums, restaurants, bars, emergency rooms and (better) trial attorneys, so when I tell you this is inside stuff, you can believe it.
First let me say, welcome tourists. You may think New Yorkers are brusque, standoffish, even rude, and you may be right, but please know we do appreciate your visits, and more importantly the dollars, euros, pounds and yuan you spend, give away and are unlawfully relieved of from the moment you arrive until the second you leave. You are our piggy banks, our income stream, our cash cows, and we know it. So when we jostle you on the street, shove you into a subway car, or scream at you to get the fuck out of the way at the top of the escalator at Saks, think of it not as rudeness, but as our way of saying “howdy friend!” We are like the nippy border collies whose sole aim is to ensure the safety of the herd. If on occasion we have to take a chunk out of your ankles, rest assured it’s for your own protection and well being.
Imagine the sheep with little fanny packs and you get the idea.
Since we are on the subject of herding, I’d like to offer a few tips for safely navigating around the city while you are here. If I may.
GET THE LEAD OUT. PLEASE.
On the sidewalks, especially on weekdays, you must get out of first gear. This is particularly important if you are strolling en masse as a family or friendly group of fifteen. Like an interstate highway, the streets of New York have a minimum speed at which it is safe to travel. Unless you’re blind, wheelchair-bound or towing an oxygen tank, this applies to you. As a group, New Yorkers are hopelessly late, massively over-scheduled and chronically underfed, all of which makes us rather cranky and subject to fits of pique, so you’d be well advised to keep it moving. Dawdling, shambling, shuffling and strolling will get you injured. It’s not that difficult. Think of it as a matter of pride — do you really want to eat the dust of a scrawny little old lady in three inch heels as you shamble along in your Sauconys? Alright then.
STAY OFF THE SUBWAY UNLESS YOU KNOW HOW TO USE IT
Though safe for travel at most hours of the day or night, the subway is the native’s domain. We rely on it to get to work or cross-town meetings on time when traffic is hopelessly snarled (which is every day), if it’s raining and there are no cabs, or when we’re low on funds. As such, we are seldom at our best below ground. So if you take nothing else away from our little chat, please remember this: Step into the subway car and continue to the interior. Do NOT step in, stop and gaze in wonderment at the vast expanses of space, the lounging street people or the guy wearing the tinfoil hat, hip waders and a thong. There is nothing more infuriating than having the subway doors close in front of us because some rube is pondering whether to turn left or right, or worse, is completely oblivious to the six people trying to force their way past him. We will shove, curse and elbow you if need be, and by the way, we know the difference between tourists and natives. Like Joe Pesci in the deep south, most of you do not blend.
On one of these. Sure they’re ridiculous, but they’ll get you anywhere you want to go and keep you securely above both the ground and the fray. We love them for just that reason and would thank you for riding on them if we had time to chat and you weren’t careening down Broadway ten feet above our heads.
CLUSTER IN YOUR SPECIAL AREAS
It’s for your own good. There are certain corners of New York City where people who live here never go: the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State building and Times Square are the most notable. If you visit any of these wonderful sites, you are unlikely to be shoved by angry office workers, berated by frustrated shoppers or otherwise hassled by the natives, because we aren’t there. Believe me, my neighbors and I will walk ten blocks out of our way to avoid Times Square, not because we don’t like you, but because trying to move along 42nd Street is akin to swimming through cold molasses, and as mentioned, we are generally in a hurry. And cranky. The only New Yorkers you’ll see in these locations want to sell you something, and as such have a vested interest in being accommodating and pleasant. As Fran Lebowitz observed of Times Square, “We built it for you.” Too true.
There is one place it’s entirely safe to visit, where you will see New Yorkers in their natural habitat and need not worry about your pace or placement: Central Park. It’s the only area of the city with enough space to accommodate all of us and all of you, where we tend to slow down and relax, to stop and smell the roses as it were. So take a carriage ride, rent a boat or photograph yourselves at the Angel Fountain to your hearts’ content. But please, keep it moving on the paths.