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There’s a certain air of magic that is used when describing New York City. It’s the concrete jungle where dreams are made up, and the headquarters of all things fashion forward and cool. I recently found myself city bound, taking the train to Penn Station. I had landed a spot on a podcast, a huge dream of mine, and I couldn’t have been more excited.
I haven’t been to NYC for years and this was the first time I was making the trek alone. I was understandably nervous about getting around. A friend who used to live downtown gave me some pointers and looked over my planned subway route. “Just try to look like you know what you’re doing and you’ll be fine,” she reassured me.
When I arrived at Penn Station, I was sweaty, confused, and in desperate need of a bathroom. Once I took care of business, the real terror of the trip began as I tried to unsuccessfully navigate the subway system. I was looking for a “C” line, but there are also numbered lines that really threw me for a loop. I ended up leaving and re-entering the station, paying for two tickets in the process. Once I was onboard, I suffered through a man giving a lofty speech about how he needed money (not for drugs) and would be accepting patronage from anyone on board. During a line transfer, I watched the fattest rat in the world drag a churro underneath a concrete barrier.
While I was waiting on the platform for my second train, a woman approached me and asked if I spoke Spanish and pointed at a map she had in her hand, presumably looking for help. I used my extremely limited Spanish vocabulary to apologize that I didn’t speak the language but could try to help her. It didn’t work with the language barrier, and she moved down the line looking for someone else who could lend a hand. I watched multiple people ignore her, and the train arrived before I could see if she was ever able to find someone willing/able to help her.
When I finally arrived at my destination, I emerged from underground onto the noisy streets like a mole. The sun seemed so bright, the air too brisk. I had only been traveling for 45 minutes but it felt like I had been in the tunnels for years. I started the 10-block trek to my destination. To say the walk was a sensory overload would be an understatement. I was meeting up for the podcast at someone’s house in Brooklyn, and they lived in an area I learned afterward is considered a dangerous part of the city. Sirens wailed, construction equipment chattered away, and cars and people were flying by in all directions. Two men got into a heated argument as I walked by a bodega and I almost peed my pants when I thought one of them was talking to me.
Later that afternoon, I witnessed an incident that could be used as a textbook example on city people. A woman tripped in front of me on the sidewalk, her entire body falling flat onto the concrete while the iced coffee in her hand spilling everywhere. I asked if she was alright, and offered to help her up. There were dozens of people streaming by, and I was the only one who stopped to say anything. Not a single person wanted to get involved. I had always known that New Yorkers are described as heartless, but I didn’t realize how on par this characterization was.
As I headed home that night, I can’t say I was sad to be leaving. It had been a fun day, but that environment is so draining.
I can understand that you need a thick skin to survive in that fast-paced world, but the amount of not giving a shit is borderline psychotic. I’m convinced someone could die suddenly anywhere in the city and most of the population would simply push them out of the way to make room to walk by. Waves of people are drudging down dirty subway steps, fighting for hard plastic seats. That is how they will live indefinitely: cold, unkind, and compassionless.
I can’t imagine I’m going to be the spark for change in reforming an entire city’s mentality. I don’t live there and probably never will so it doesn’t even affect me in that big of a way. But for the sake of the confused Hispanic woman and the girl who ate it on the sidewalk, I think someone needs to get a conversation going. Anyone who lives in New York should encourage others to display the smallest amount of human decency, and I imagine the entire landscape of the city would change. It’s a dirty place, both physically and metaphorically, and mankind is entirely to blame for that. .