What’s a godless, earthy-nutty-crunchy pinko commie San Franciscan supposed to do in the city-to-end-all-cities, the City of New York?
Why, anything at all, really. That’s the point of New York, from a certain angle.
Bluster aside, I am at a bit of a loss: it has been a very very long time since I have been a stranger in any city.
I don’t count Amsterdam, back in August, 1999. That was a strangely familiar place, even though it was the first time I had ever been there [in this lifetime, anyway. —Eds] See what I mean? Northern California freak, here. At your service.
And I don’t count the half of day spent in London on that same trip. After spending a slow-paced, get-to-know-it-well bicycling trip with a completely unimaginative, culturally xenophobic boyfriend, riding about atop a tourist bus with a droning British voice playing through headphones hardly counts as a real visit there.
No, the last time I was a stranger in any city was when I first moved to Chicago(land) back in June, 1992.
Oh, I have been to NYC before, but not in forever (since before Chicago, anyhow), and then only to certain specific places (Central Park South, Times Sq, Macy’s, etc.).
I have had several hours to myself here, arriving from Wilkes-Barre by bus at 1pm (an under-three-hour trip), spent mostly walking about. From Port Authority (40th & 9th Ave), up to 42nd Street/Times Squre—when the fuck did 42nd Street turn into a scene from Bladerunner?—over to 5th Ave, then up to 59th & Central Park South. Not a bad hike.
From there, back to 6th Ave, down to Rockefeller Plaza (6th Ave & 51st, approx). Back to 5th Ave, down about 6 blocks before I caught a taxi down to Union Sq (17th & Broadway), where I’m to meet up with someone.
Once down here, I walked down to about 9th St, across to 4th Ave, and back up here to 17th & Broadway.
Lots of walking, lots of things to observe wryly, enviously, perplexedly, nostalgically, judgingly, humbly, profoundly, superiorly.
We San Franciscans pride ourselves on our diversity, but overall, perhaps out of my own personal familiarity there, it seems to have a theme to it, or at least a harmony. Yes, better word, harmony.
Here, it’s a jumble. Strange and wonderful and silly juxtapositions of things.
The parks here (“squares” to follow the vernacular) seem to show prejudice towards the pigeons, the larger areas of lawn and vegetation fenced off from humans.
Walking around today, by myself, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Our fair and lovely and dreamy and magical hamlet could not sustain even the simple pace of pedestrians, taxis, other traffic that New York seems to thrive on. My biogeek side sees the streets as capillaries, the movement as red blood cells cram-jamming their way through ever-narrowing pathways.
There is so much here—and again, I’ll chalk it up to my lack of familiarity with this city—that I find myself taking a big picture view, a map view if you will, and then zooming down into specific neighborhoods to find what I’m looking for. Then back out to do it all over again.
After nearly 10 years in San Francisco, on the other hand, I am more familar with the paths from one section to another, one neighborhood to another, than I am with looking at a map of the City. I am, to this day, continually surprised that Glen Park is so close to Old Miraloma, for example. To me it’s still a longish drive around the base of Mt Davidson.
In a sense, heading out into the streets of New York reminds me of jumping out onto the rollerskating rink in 7th grade, when I was just getting my legs for it: you must take a leap, and, apprehension notwithstanding, it’s better to match the pace out there as quickly as possible.
New York is not for the timid just as San Francisco is not for the rigid.
I don’t mean to say that New York is scary. Just like any other place, it certainly can be, but that’s not my point here. Instead, I mean to say that it’s daunting. The sound, the color, the intensity, the lack of immediate congruity, the size, the depths. But mostly, it’s the aura. I’m in FUCKING NEW YORK CITY. THE New York City.
Accepting—and bearing—that you’re at the swirling vortex at the center of the overarching bulk of Western Civilization is not for the faint of heart. You can get pulled under and want to escape it if you’re not projecting your own gravity well, your own presence in the face of all that other presence.
It would be easy to lose one’s self here, become mere chips in the flood, bits of flotsam that end up on some alien shore with no remembrance of how to get back.
You can lose yourself in San Francisco, but that’s more of a blending action; instead of chips in the torrent, your own special colors bleed into the shiny sparkle deep green sea. For many there it’s just as difficult to get back to who you were, but honestly? I don’t know of many San Franciscans who long for that.
A sustained presence as a quotidian New Yorker is like forever-cardio: it’s work, but you know that you’ll be fitter, in better shape, for all the effort.
And from my own personal experience with New Yorkers, I wouldn’t fuck with that.