With the holiday season now inescapably upon us, I've decided to perform a public service to any of you who might be visiting New York in the near future. I often say "I hate tourists," but it's really not true. I like them. I like that I live in a place that people want to visit. And my business needs them. If I see someone who's confused on the subway I'll usually try to help him get where he's going.
But if I see someone who's confused on the street and therefore has stopped in the middle of a crowded intersection to consult a map, I will knock him down. I just don't get it. What is it about New York that turns people into complete idiots with no concept of the world around them? I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that New York is the most crowded and overwhelming place they've ever been, but in thinking about this post I realized that most people just don't know how to behave in a crowd. And I don't think you can blame that on being from the 'burbs. The mall on Christmas Eve can't be much better than Times Square at rush hour. You may not have subways where you come from, but you still have elevators and escalators and presumably stairs. I got just as frustrated by stupidity in my college dining hall as I do here...which begs the obvious observation, Maybe it's me, but I'm choosing to ignore that for now, and instead take my preferred approach of acting like I know what's best for everyone with the following Tips for Tourists...
- First and foremost, Please remember that people actually live here.
- It's an easy thing to forget, especially as Times Square gets to look more and more like Las Vegas, but this is not Disneyworld's New York Land, it's a city full of people who are just trying to get through the day. The sidewalk is not a line for a theme park ride, and the people who look cranky and rushed are not animatronics. It's fine to idle while you take in the sights, but please do so off to the side, and allow the people who work in those sights get to where they need to go. It's important to remember that not everything here exists for your amusement. It's an extreme example, but in winter 2001 I was appalled to see not one, but several families posing for group photos in front of World Trade Center debris! What the hell is wrong with these people!! Many things are here for your enjoyment. Have fun. Some of us are just trying to go about our business.
- Just because you've reached your destination, it doesn't mean that everyone behind you has.
- Don't take one step on to or off of a subway, elevator, escalator or staircase and then stop. Don't walk through the revolving door into Macy's and then stop. The person behind you will have nowhere to go and have no choice but to shove you.
- Similarly, Don't stop short or make an unexpected turn in the middle of traffic.
- Seriously, I don't care how great the view of the Empire State Building is from the exact spot you just stepped into, or how important it is that you've just realized you passed your destination, or how urgently you need to check your map. Step to the side, and get out of the way, or you will be knocked down. And no one will feel sympathy for you, except perhaps another tourist, who will be knocked down if he stops to help you.
- Don't block small spaces that other people might have to enter or get through.
- Are you sensing a pattern here?
- Don't gesticulate wildly.
- You may not be used to such crowded places. Here's the thing: If you flail about while talking or giving directions, or do that weird power-walking thing with your arm that some people seem to do no matter how slowly they're moving, you will very likely hit someone. And we will very likely hit back.
- Treat your bag as an extension of your body
- It's for your own safety (purse-snatching and whatnot), but for ours too. Just because you can't really feel it when you hit someone with your enormous bag, that doesn't mean the person who's been hit can't feel it.
- I know that you are terrified of losing your family in the big bad city, but please do not walk hand-in-hand in groups of more than two. If you must, walk quickly.
- Most sidewalks are only 3 or 4 people wide in each direction (imagine a 4-lane, 2-way highway). When you create a Wall of Slowness, you're just pissing people off. A lot. Of course children must be minded, but some of you may need to split up into smaller groups. It's okay, you won't get lost because...
- Most of the streets are numbered...
- One of the beautiful things about most of Manhattan is that the streets are in a numbered grid. That makes it hard to get lost. Really. Trust your instincts, Young Skywalker. Or at least your ability to count. Which way is 42nd Street? Well, if you're on 46th Street now, and you were just on 47th Street, you're going the right way. It ain't rocket science, folks.
- ...but you may get lost below 14th Street.
- And that's okay. Many natives get lost below 14th Street, where the grid disappears and named streets prevail. It's okay to ask for directions, you won't get mugged. It is not okay however to forget the golden rule and pretend you're in your own private Sex and the City studio tour. Get out of the way. Don't crowd the shop windows looking at shiny objects if you need to block the sidewalk to do so. Take turns. 'Cause the sidewalks are even narrower in SoHo.
- Okay, enough "don'ts", here's a big "do:" Go to an Off-Broadway show
- By all means, if theater's your thing, go to a Broadway show too. But take a chance. See something else. See something you've never heard of. Go to TKTS and get half price tickets for something that you won't be able to see when the tour comes to your hometown. Just because something's "on Broadway" doesn't mean it's good, or even that it has good production values; it just means it's in a bigger house and your ticket costs more. And just because something's "off Broadway" doesn't mean it's artsy and high-brow or hard to get to. Ask people what they like. Pick up Time Out or The Voice and read some reviews. A few years ago I was in line at TKTS, and a couple behind me was yammering in German about what they should go see. I don't speak much German, but I could tell that the woman was trying to talk the man into something, or explain what their options were. Finally I heard the man say, "Ah! Also! Das Oper mit der Helikopter!" The musical with the helicopter. Miss Saigon. Why travel all the way from Europe to see something you've already seen at home?
- On a similar note, don't eat at the Olive Garden or Applebee's.
- Nothing against the Olive Garden or Applebee's. I'm a big fan of Chevy's myself. But again, why would you come to New York get the exact same food you get at the mall at home? Sure, it's safe and certain, but take a chance! Pick up a guidebook, ask your friends or your concierge. You'll probably wind up with better food that costs less. Use the money you save to go to another show.
- The subway isn't so scary.
- It's a big system and it can be a little confusing. But look carefully at the map, and don't be afraid to ask for help. Most importantly, remember the above rules and you'll be fine. The numbered streets go up for uptown, and down for downtown (aka north and south, just like on a map). Don't stop in the train doorway if there's room in the car, because there will be people behind you who will push you without a moment's thought (the conductors aren't kidding when they say "step all the way into the car"). Let people off before trying to shove your way on. (It always baffles me that people don't get this -- it's common sense: if people get off first, there'll be more room for you. It's also the same etiquette for elevators.) If the door is closing on your bag (or your ass) over and over and over again, you're holding people up. Move it. If you can't move it, get off the train and wait for the next one. Don't stop at the tops and bottoms of escalators without taking a few steps first. Don't linger in the middle of high-traffic areas. Go with the flow, read the signs, and...
- ...Learn to use your Metrocard
- I feel this warrants its own entry because one of the most irritating things in modern New York is being in a packed subway station with nowhere to go but forward when the person in front of you discovers his card is out of money or he doesn't know how to work it. True, I shouldn't be tailgating you, but sometimes there's no choice in the crowd. And sometimes people are on the other side of the turnstile trying to get out at the same time. Have your card ready as you approach the gate, so you don't have to stop to get it out while in people's way. It's really simple technology, just swipe the damn thing -- but not too fast. Here's a genuine tip: If it's really not working, blow into the reader then swipe again. They sometimes get dusty and have issues. You'll feel silly doing it, but 99% of the time it works.
- Children don't belong everywhere.
- New York has many wonderful things for you to do with your kids. But there are attractions, stores, restaurants, etc. where they simply don't belong. At least not unless they can behave themselves. Not to get all Samantha Jones on you, but it is your responsibility as a parent to use proper judgment and remove your child, say, from the theater if he is screaming his head off. Sure, it sucks that you have to miss part of the play, but that's a chance you take, and what were you thinking bringing a toddler to Taboo anyway? And the subway? Not your daughter's private playground. Forget about it being rude to the other passengers, it's not safe for your child.
Okay, I could go on and on, but I fear I'm starting to repeat myself and not being nearly funny enough. It's hard living here sometimes. I love living here, and I really do try to be as charitable to tourists as I can. But that's often at odds with my general policy of being extremely uncharitable towards stupid people. It's tough when you're cranky and just want to live your life and there are all these people in your way. Although the truth is I wouldn't have it any other way. I just ask that you use common sense.
As I was writing, I realized the majority of my "rules" boil down to one thing: traffic. And while I don't quite understand how you can avoid any type of crowd for your whole life, I do understand that a lot of people just aren't used to being pedestrians. So my final tip is this: Pretend you are driving at all times. Think about it: If you were in a car, you'd check out the directions before you left and you'd pay attention to the road signs. You'd never drive on the left, never make a turn without first making sure no one was in your way, would certainly never stop in the middle of traffic. If your kid were making a fuss, you'd get him to stop so you could concentrate on the road. And if you had reason to be slow or were carrying an extra large or hazardous load, there'd be a sign to warn the rest of us. And if all that's not true, I don't ever want to be on the road with you.
Be smart, and you'll have a better time here. So will we. And if you're coming to town, send me an e-mail. I'll recommend some restaurants and some plays and give you good directions for getting there.
Okay, I have to be honest here, not so much because I want to but because I'm sure someone will call me on it: New Yorkers break all these rules all the time. I just prefer to believe that it's all the damn tourists' fault, because I prefer to believe (as so many of us do) that New Yorkers are better than everyone else. Or at least smarter than everyone else. Sadly, it's just not true. But perhaps I can help, and those of you who are reading this will be better prepared for your visit, or your lunch break, or whenever you next hit the streets.
Just remember: the city, like the world, revolves around me.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! See you next week.