On my way back to Utah and home, sweet home, I spent two nights in New York. The real New York, okay, guy? Not some upstate backwater like Schenectady or Buffalo. I spent two nights at a winning hostel – same one as last year with an identical layover – to correct for jetlag, do my laundry, and get to know some new, New York friends. There’s a strange thing that happens to me with regard to New York City. While I’m there, I love it. As soon as I walk away from it (or ride an airplane away from it, as it were), I remember that it is a bad place. It’s a failed city, in fact. What drives me most crazy about its status as a failed city is its inhabitants having all drunk the Kool-Aid, so to speak. They are the perfect evangelists, where every point against New York actually is a point in its favor.
It bothers me. New Yorkers always seem to assume that New York City to be the single greatest place on earth. They say things like… “[Insert any other city] is nothing compared with New York City” and “[Insert clearly better place] almost as good as that neighborhood in New York…” as if New York were the rod by which we measure the successes and failures of every other place on the planet. But Eden it is not! (Do they believe this because seeing the world as it is would destroy them?)
I am disgusted by what either is their inexperience or their willful ignorance of experiences as well as those blindness that follows as consequence. They are fanatics who see the very things that make their city a failure as a positive thing. “Our transit system is tops,” they’ll claim. Oh yes? Have you been to a city with a functioning train system that isn’t prohibitively expensive and whose complimentary public transit elements actually work in neat conjunction with that train system? They might tell you, “Our city is safe [compared with the insanely dangerous city we had in the 1970s],” but they’ve apparently never been to a place where the idea of getting stabbed or shot in the street by an insane person is not something any midnight wanderer would even think of as a possibility. The culture! Ah, yes. There they have us. But they do not notice that other cities have equally good cultural options with fewer drawbacks. Without 150-year old infrastructure. Without prices that put people with what, in any normal city, would be considered a high-paying job, into poverty-like conditions. Without danger around every corner, the danger that keeps MTA workers cooped up in those boxes and so suspicious of robbery plots by the people who pass by their windows all day. While I was wandering Manhatten this time, I found myself thinking about how much I like the city. It’s invigorating to be there, and I worry that sometimes I judge it too harshly. But it’s also depressing. The sheer number of people who are killed by Metro trains every year (___) is shocking. The spell wears off when I leave for parts east or west, north or south.
I’ll tell you what New York is. It’s not quite as good as Berlin. It’s like an old, run-down, overpriced and less-historically-interesting version of the proper city that is Berlin. Have you seen its transit system? And the culture… Or Salt Lake City. What a place. New York is really nothing like it, when you compare the two – it pales in comparison…