Yesterday at the 86th Street Station, while waiting for the 5 train, I witnessed a man drop his black Amex card outside the turnstile. (Let’s pause for a moment. The black Amex card, known formally as the Centurion Card, is an invitation-only credit card with an initiation fee in the thousands of dollars. It’s so elite that Amex doesn’t really like talking about it. It’s the Mossad or MI6 of credit cards. It’s a unicorn. I’ve never seen one in person until yesterday.) As the man juggled multiple shopping bags and a small child on the train platform, he didn’t realize he had dropped it.
I swear to you that the following then occurred: at least half a dozen people of all races, ages, and genders, yelled at him. “Sir, you dropped your card!” “Your card!” “Dude, grab your card.” Fingers pointed in the direction of the card, which seemed to glow on the gray slab of platform where it fell. The man turned, shocked, and grabbed it. Maybe the card even met him halfway, magnetized to the chip in his finger. (Just kidding. But it did seem to hover.) He then mumbled a thank-you to everyone. It was a collective effort.
Are you surprised?
When I tell you this, I know you’ll raise your eyebrows, but: New Yorkers are generally nice people. I’d been chewing over writing this post all week, racking up anecdotes of the exemplary behaviors of New Yorkers I’ve personally witnessed in my year+ of living here. When I saw what happened yesterday with the dropped credit card, I knew this was something I needed to explore, if only because I’ve been in the position more than once of defending New York to those who hold old stereotypes close.
New York earned a nasty reputation in the ‘70s and ‘80s for being a town where crackheads roamed alleyways, women prostituted themselves in order to buy more crack, and everybody murdered everybody else over crack deals gone wrong. And New York rightfully earned this horrid reputation – it was dangerous then. But then, things started changing in the mid-90s, and there are various theories as to why if you’re looking for a little light reading. But today, New York City is the safest big city in the United States.
(Let’s pause again here. I’m not suggesting there’s no crime here. In a city of 9 million people, of course there is. Times Square, despite Disney and M&M moving in to take over the crack dens, still suffers from a high rate of pick pocketing. We have a serial killer. And we’re still a major target for terrorism. In any big city, caution is key, for women especially. We know to be present and aware. All of the common sense precautions apply even in the nation’s safest large city.)
But the part of New York’s current image problem that bothers me most? The belief that everyone here is rude. Sure, there are rude people here; there are assholes everywhere. Did I maybe see someone shout, stereotypically, “Hey! I’m walking here!” to a speeding bicyclist on the day I moved here from Boston? Maybe. Are we fast walkers and do we get frustrated by slow tourists? Sometimes. Has yours truly had a staredown with a cab driver who tried to run her over in a crosswalk when the hand was still flashing? And did yours truly maybe curse at him? I admit nothing.
But I’ve seen New Yorkers go above and beyond, too. Neighbors who ask about your cat, people who stop to talk to the homeless, the police officer who tells you that you can drive your moving van down the street backward when the street is blocked. And maybe it’s the communal living; people forced into smaller spaces and piled on top of one another sometimes do the opposite of what’s expected: they turn on the altruism, the charm, the manners in order to create an enjoyable environment. I have helped lost tourists, and I’ve seen others do so, too. I’ve had people offer me their car, their apartment, their books, their lunch. I have never had more enjoyable conversations with complete strangers, or seen such diversity embraced, than I have here.
The truth is that most New Yorkers are from somewhere else. So the idea that one area houses the rudest people is really an insult against the nation at large. We are what the rest of the United States is – by wide margin, humane and decent. And this is the greatest thing about New York City: we are the United States.
Now get the hell out of my way. I’m late.