Wiping away the peeling, sunburned skin from my forehead, the loosened flakes trickle over my hands and fall through my fingers, reminding me how fast this week has passed.
I’m sitting on a bench in Central Park, resting quietly, but wondering loudly what it would take to succeed in this city. I’d need to have the enterprise in myself to meet challenges that scare the average person, things that cripple the weak, and if I could do this, I’d be successful. Maybe not by making lots money or having lots of fame, but at least somehow rising, which is all anyone can ask for in this culture.
Growing up, as far as I can remember anyway, there has always been this phosphorescent stereotype hovering over New York City. It’s said to be an aggressive city, and made out to be this cold and unforgiving place to live. It appears the people of New York have just as many stereotypes attached to them as we do here in the Midwest.
I’ve heard it hundreds of times. People here in the Midwest are supposed to be underdeveloped and living in towns ranging between 100 and 500 people, while driving covered wagons to work.
As touristy as possible, the first place I went in New York was Times Square. I had heard of Times Square and seen it on television, but I still felt like I’d been airbrushed into the first twenty pages of GQ magazine. Walking out of the subway out onto the sidewalk I was greeted by block-wide billboards of the latest movies, buildings holding up football field-size tarps of Puff Daddy and ESPN’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning,” and just as expected, a community more diverse than a Crayola sixty-four pack (with the built-in sharpener of course).
After walking around the city for a few days, surrounded by thousands of people with backgrounds far different from mine, there appeared to be a certain acknowledgement from one person to the next that they knew I was different but accepted the fact. People walk by each other not so much ignoring but more like accepting of the disparities. No one goes out of their way to intimidate you, hurt you or help you unless asked. Several times people reached out to help, either with subway directions or saving me a buck here or there, picking things up others dropped. All I needed to do was ask and someone would help. I knew there were nice people living in New York before I got there, but it was still a shock to find it out in the street.
Was I silly to have developed such an unintimidating fairytale view of a city which, at the wrong time and place, could surely be just as mean and cold as anyone has ever said?
New Yorkers do seem very cautious. They don’t go the extra mile to help out, because there is someone who needs just as much or even more help around the corner. Where do I draw the line? Who do I give money too? Who do I feed? We here in the Midwest are so lucky to face only a minimal amount of poverty, unlike the New Yorker who faces an ungodly amount of human tragedy daily.
Inside the best days of the city, are moments when a homeless mother begs for the smallest bit of change in hopes that she can feed her children before nightfall. And as she moved from one subway carriage to the next I watched her legs become heavier and her head sink lower, avoiding the eyes that only stare when she’s not looking.
A part of me wanted to reach for my wallet but then another person would approach me for money and then another and another; I knew this by my second day here. And by the end of every day, by the end of the week, it was a little harder to show warmth to anyone, to help in time of need. Tack years onto this and it might explain something of the coldness woven into New Yorkers.
Though these things were hard for me to deal with, the city that never sleeps contains within it the uncanny ability to help me move on, a galvanizing energy that kept me going faster, farther, and for longer than I knew I could.
And here I am at three in the morning, again under the billboards and lights of Time Square, mowin’ down my second vendor dog of the night, drunk out of my mind and proud to be from the Midwest, from Fargo, and proud of being my individual self, and nothing awful has happened to me yet. Am I homesick? Ask me tomorrow.
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