Of course! I was a wide-eyed first time visitor to New York and pretty excited to see all the regular touristy spots the city had to offer. I had three days at my disposal for all the sight-seeing.
New York consists of five boroughs….. Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and the Staten Island. Of all boroughs, Manhattan is not only the most densely populated but also mostly the area which people are referring to when they talk about being in New York !
Every day after having a filling breakfast at our hotel in Newark, New Jersey, we would board the subway from Pennsylvania Station to midtown Manhattan. It took all of 30 to 35 minutes from buying the ticket, boarding the train to getting down at Manhattan station.
On our third day in the city, at the Museum of City of New York we chatted with this smart old woman at the help desk:
Old woman : Visiting for the first time? You stay here in New York?
Me: No, we are at vacation here.
Old woman: Oh okay where are you coming from?
Old woman: Oh wow, all the way from India? So, Did you like New York?”
Me(little carefully…lest I upset her): Umm…its er…fast.
Old woman: Oh! you are telling me?…This place is changing. It is deteriorating…too much crowd, too much of everything …earlier it was nice ….I have seen it change having grown up here…
So despite the Empire state, Chrysler Tower, Guggenheim Museum, MOMA, Rockefeller Centre, WTC Freedom tower, the Statue of Liberty, United nations headquarters, Wall Street, Times Square, Central park, the huge glamorous stores of Macy’s, Rado, Gucci, Tag Heuer, Nike, Rolex, Armani (phew….you name it and it is there!!)…….Why did I not fall in love with New York?
Reason 1: They don’t talk much!!
Though I found the Americans very helpful always but what surprised me was that everyday during the 20-25 minutes ride in subway nobody spoke!! Every person on the train either had a newspaper or earphones stuck in their ears. The commuters always looked tired and sleepy. Some spoke softly on their phones but not to the person nearby.
The three of us…. my husband, my 11 yrs old daughter and me…..were overly conscious and spoke too softly to discuss the day’s itinerary. We were nervous that people would stare at us if we talked …..coz nobody else was talking, not smiling, not acknowledging the presence of others!! It was as good as nobody was on train because the sound which interrupted the silence was only of the recorded announcements….
Now, I have travelled in the local trains of Mumbai too. Agreed, that compared to New York metros, there is overcrowding and cacophony of voices in local trains of Mumbai but then….a strange camaraderie is also forged between the regular commuters of the route…….they offer the seat to the known face before alighting on their stops, they smile, they show concern by asking “Kya bhai, dikhai nahi diye kuch dino se? Sab thik-thak? (How are you? Didn’t see you since few days? All okay?)”…they discuss cricket and politics, they advice, they share newspapers , eatables and sometimes a coin or two too…..and nobody seems to object! A ride in Mumbai local train is not always relaxing but it sure is entertaining and yet people don’t look as much tired as the New Yorkers.
Though I am not a very talkative person and neither do I find myself befriending every passer-by but I definitely don’t enjoy travelling with no one to talk to. Afterall ….
“It’s the friends we meet along life’s road who help us appreciate the journey”
Reason 2: Miles to walk before I sleep!!
Robert Frost must have visited Manhattan at some point before penning the poem!
Manhattan is planned on an extensive grid pattern with streets intersecting the major avenues at right angles. All those streets and avenues crossing each other make up a vast area to cover on foot. People walk, walk and just walk all the time…
Traffic was maddening and flagging a taxi was not only expensive but seemed unnecessary since there was a lot to see. Also the best way to discover a place, they say, is on foot and so there we were observing every billboard, every neon sign, every store and walking from one intersection to other, dodging vehicles, stopping for a bite, evading the tip-expecting street-performers,, visiting museums, theatres…. At some areas as the Freedom Tower of WTC, due to construction work, vehicles were not allowed… everybody had to walk all the way.
By end of the day we had to walk down to the subway station which again was a long walk. By the time we reached our hotel, we were exhausted and the legs felt like lead.
Reason 3:It is NOISY!!
Oh yes….. You think of a sound and there it was…. There was a continuous hum in the air… Yellow buses rumbled by carrying school students, the green, red and blue buses transported thousands of tourists from one stop to other…the yellow taxis and thousands of cars scurried past, ambulances hurried about with a loud hoots, announcements could be heard , sounds from the construction works, the delivery vans, garbage trucks….The tremble and low growl of the subway could be felt and heard through the vibrations as we stood on footpath…
Recently I met a New Yorker who was visiting India. He was enjoying the calm and peaceful desert camp at Khuri, Rajasthan. As we got talking, he told us of his plans to leave his job in New York and move to quieter parts of the country!
At Times Square , I felt like being trapped in a giant gaming arcade with loud blips and electronic sounds shooting me down…..People rushed past talking on their phones… It was a never ebbing sea of Homo Sapiens….So many soundscapes that it was difficult to differentiate one sound from other….
By end of the day, the hotel room seemed unnaturally quiet… I could feel the silence! So accustomed are the New Yorkers of these multiple sounds bombarding their eardrums day in and day out that if some day the city sounds stop even for ten minutes, I am sure, they wouldn’t know what to do!!
Reason 4: Electricity
So much electricity!! Even during the day….Times Square was lit up as if Diwali (our festival of lights) or Christmas!!
Billboards flashing advertisements of all kind of products….cars, lingerie, toys, movies, clothes, electronic goods….I can not even list so many things….I counted about 70 and then lost the count of flashing boards…
The night-time New York must be visible from space with so many lights on! The offices in the tall buildings were all lit up even after the working hours….
I like a good night sleep with lights turned off….and had I left the curtains open, I would have never been able to sleep at night because of the lights from the buildings across the street. There are still many villages here in India which do not have electric supply…many cities still suffer long hours of power cuts. If even for a day New York switches off its lights and send it to us somehow… I am guessing, at least hundred of our villages could be lit up.
Reason 5: Too many tall buildings
Yep! that is me craning my neck to see the sky scrapers piercing the sky…..
Sure, I too love all that steel and glass facades, the sheer verticality, the challenge of designing a building that kisses the clouds but…only when there are a few of them, only when I can still see the skies above, only when the sun can spread its warmth on the ground below, only when I do not feel like sandwiched between two too huge rectangular blocks!
I do appreciate the architecture and engineering behind tall buildings but the street was full of too many tall buildings trying to surpass each other and yet all looked the same with their glass cladding….they were huge rectangular glass boxes with artificial light and ventillation…where was the beauty? Where was the fresh air to breathe? It was more claustrophobic and over intimidating, and not pleasing!
Reason 6: Expensive
You bet it is! New York is world’s fifth most expensive city. Taxis were expensive, we walked to avoid shelling out dollars… restaurants were expensive, we avoided stepping into one and ate pizza slices most of the time for our stay and chose to eat the complimentary breakfast at our hotel before venturing in the city.
May be I found it expensive because of being a tourist but what I could sum up after chatting up with a few friends who moved from New York was that rents for smallest of rooms even without window was a lot and everyday living in the city was expensive.
While writing these reasons of my not liking New York , I came across some thoughts on New York by Ryan Holiday. Though I was pretty surprised after reading his version of New York but I am sure that if ever given a choice and opportunity to choose between my small city in India and New York , I would prefer my much smaller and quieter city….
3 thoughts on “Why I did not fall in love with New York; the city that never sleeps…..”
That was an awesome account you gave of life in New York, Shoma! And, I will give you a lot many brownie points for giving the ‘ thumbs up’ to our Mumbai locals! I could actually imagine life in that city, which never sleeps! Fabulous! Looking forward to some more…
Thanks shilpa…u motivate me.