I was on a bus in Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago.
My eyes strayed to a seat across from me, and I saw that a young woman was smiling at me.
She had a five or six or year old boy in her lap. It was a bit different than holding a toddler in one’s lap. The boy was restless. But the mother and her son and seemed to be totally in sync.
“Is he going to school. Or he is too young for that?” I asked.
“No, he’s going to school,” she said, still smiling.
Then, I got off the bus. She waved at me and wished me a good day. It was as if we had been glad to meet.
This little encounter — unanticipated, most would say totally inconsequential — set me up for the rest of the day. It was as if somehow I had made her morning pleasurable. She certainly did that for me.
A reason I am writing about this is because this sort of thing happens to me very often in New York. I doubt such encounters would be as likely in the suburbs. (Certainly not if one were driving to work or an appointment.) Rubbing shoulders with others as a matter of course is something I love about living in NYC.
When I first moved to New York as a young man, everyone seemed to in a hurry, and the City seemed cold and impersonal.
It’s exactly the opposite. Many New Yorkers have told me that their experience has been the same.
In his poem “Mannahatta,” Walt Whitman said something very similar:
Rich, hemm’d thick all around with sailships and
steamships, an island sixteen miles long, solid-founded,
Numberless crowded streets, high growths of iron, slender,
strong, light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies, …
The mechanics of the city, the masters, well-form’d,
beautiful-faced, looking you straight in the eyes,
Trottoirs throng’d, vehicles, Broadway, the women, the
shops and shows,
A million people–manners free and superb–open voices–
hospitality–the most courageous and friendly young
— Roger W. Smith
Thanks, Elisabeth! Input much appreciated. It’s rarer than you might think, and always welcome.
Great story. I have recently been in New York for the first time and I have to say that New Yorkers are so friendly! They are welcoming, open and eager to know you. This is something I never found in the UK, where people are so self-absorbed and cold to strangers. It takes nothing for New Yorkers to come up to strangers who look lost and give directions on their own initiative. The friendliest people I ever met.
Thanks, Diana. I really appreciate the comments and your insights, which are right on target. They should get wide circulation. When I meet visitors to Manhattan asking for directions, I tell them to take the subway. It’s by far the fastest and cheapest way to get around. They say they don’t know the subway. Don’t worry, I tell them, someone will always be able and willing to help you and, if need be, walk the visitor through a tunnel or corridor to show them the right platform and train. I myself do it often. Your input is much appreciated.