I know it’s not a popular position to take, but my family and I just returned from a trip to the Big Apple, and I have to admit, I am not equivocating when I say I’m not crazy about it. I don’t feel safe. I don’t like the rudeness. I don’t care for the smells. It’s too big and has too much going on. It’s just too much everything.
I have lived in the South, or south of the Mason-Dixon Line, almost all of my life. While I live in what would best be described as a small, generic city, I’ve been to big cities many times. San Francisco, Chicago, London, Paris, Washington DC, Phoenix, Atlanta, Los Angeles…I actually quite enjoy a nice vacation to an urban center where I can have the kinds of experiences that are lacking in my own town. I love to visit museums and eat fabulous food and walk and explore. I could navigate public transportation on my own if I had to, although I generally am with my family when I do. I feel comfortable, even when I am out of my element.
I have been to NYC before, although it has been almost 20 years since my last visit. I’ve done some touristy stuff. I’ve gone cheap, and I’ve had a touch of luxury. It doesn’t matter how I travel there; it’s just not my cup of tea. I grew up in a time when New York was considered dangerous, and clearly, it left a big impression on me. When I think of New York, my mind goes to some dark places. Rape in Central Park, muggings on street corners, Son of Sam during a black out kind of dark places.
I never said my New York state of mind was rational.
Our recent trip did not change my opinion. For starters, we went during a bit of a heat wave, when the temperatures creeped over 90 degrees every day. I am used to heat and humidity, but I am also used to functional air conditioning. New York’s buildings are sorely lacking in good A/C. Ducking into a store does not offer you any relief from the oppressive heat. Restaurants won’t give you ice unless you ask, which may be the norm in Europe, but doesn’t fly in the US. Schvitzing doesn’t even begin to describe the kind of sweaty mess I became.
Everywhere we walked was filthy. Not like cigarette butts and empty Big Gulp cups filthy, but actual trash bags piled torso high on every street, food and feces on the sidewalks filthy. You would think over the past hundred years or so they would have come up with a better system for public sanitation than throwing your trash in the streets.
There was a constant rivulet of water flowing along each curb, rehydrating the forgotten garbage, which we referred to as “street juice.” On our last morning there, we were treated to a true New York moment. A rat skittered out of a construction site near the Hotel Chelsea, where Sid murdered Nancy, to gingerly sip at the street juice before darting back to the safety of darkened building. We silently ate our doughnuts and watched the spectacle.
Last year, when we were in San Francisco, we marveled at the commitment to public recycling that one would expect in California. NYC doesn’t give a shit about the environment, which is why tossing your trash in the street is just fine. In fact, a small population of elderly people takes the garbage sorting literally into their own hands, most likely as a way to make ends meet. You can feel bad about the pollution and the lack of public services for the needy at the same time.
If you really want to feel bad, check out the handwritten cardboard signs in front of many homeless people around the city. I couldn’t buy a bottle of water for everyone, and I couldn’t reconcile doing nothing. Instead, I avoided eye contact and felt like an entitled piece of shit.
While riding in a taxi, we saw a homeless man pissing on the sidewalk. Common decency would dictate we look away, but my curiosity got the better of me. I was treated to a view of him using a wad of discarded napkins to wipe his ass inside his shorts. You better believe I thought about that the rest of the time we walked around the city, which made me feel even more like an entitled piece of shit.
Did I mention the incessant honking? What is that going to accomplish? Also, is there any time of day that an emergency requiring firetrucks, police cars, or ambulances is not occurring? The City
That Never Sleeps needs to give it a rest.
Everything in New York is so GD expensive. My husband kept joking about eating in NYC for $400 a day, but seriously, other than the Staten Island ferry, nothing is free. The food is crazy expensive, as are the museums, hotels, transportation, clothing, etc. It was frequently cheaper to take Uber everywhere for the four of us than it was to ride the subway or a taxi. We did use the subways a few times, and they rival the streets for the dirtiest spots in the city. The black grime that covers most surfaces is not just a few decades of buildup; it is the actual decay you would expect in a dystopian movie. I kept yanking my older daughter away from the edge of the platform while we waited for a train. She just wanted to find Pizza Rat, and I was petrified some lunatic would push her on the tracks.
Let’s take a moment to talk about Times Square. Why is it a thing? Part of the road is blocked off for pedestrians, and that area is lined with concrete barriers to prevent crazies from plowing their cars into the crowd. Inside the barriers, however, anything goes. Women with their breasts painted in patriotic colors posed for photos with tourists. A variety of statues of Liberty stood around with sunglasses and flags in case you want the ultimate picture. The crowds. The smells. The noise. The flashing signs. My ADD self didn’t know where to look, and the overstimulation was practically debilitating. Nothing about it was fun or enjoyable, and none of it felt safe. It was the kind of atmosphere that could turn bad at any moment, and I didn’t want to be there when it happened.
I don’t want you to think that I hated every moment of my vacation, because I didn’t. I had a lovely time, in fact. I reconnected with a dear friend from high school. I marveled at the skyline from the Empire State observation deck. I saw the newest production of 1984 on Broadway. I tasted pastrami at Katz’s. I strolled the High Line. I took a picture of my husband grabbing the balls of the Charging Bull on Wall Street, although I am not allowed to show it to anyone. We covered a lot of territory, and we ate some marvelous food, and all in all, we had a great time.
I’m just not eager to go back again any time soon.