New York, New York

New York was a city where you could be frozen to death in the midst of a busy street and nobody would notice.

Bob Dylan

I have been to New York City twice now–both trips happen to be for business. I’ve never had the pleasure of coming here with family or friends to see the sights and the shows. I hope to make that visit one day, but these business trips have taught me much about the Big Apple.

Before my first visit to New York in January of last year, people told me many things about the city and its people. “Try not to make eye contact,” one person had told me. “Don’t apologize or hold the door open for anyone,” another had said. I thought to myself “Could it really be that different?” As it turns out, all of these things are true and none of them.

New York really is a place all its own. In Bob Dylan’s quote on the mentality of the people in New York (quoted above), it is very much like that. As someone who has experienced living in many different areas (California, Georgia, Idaho, and Texas), I have seen firsthand the many different cultures we have in the United States. However, at the heart of all these cultures, is a basic communal requirement. While some cultures outwardly show their emotions to others in the form of direct politeness, others emotions are hiding just beneath the surface–you just have to ask for it.

So as I made my way to New York for the second time, I decided I would be polite to each person I met. To my surprise, I learned that the outwardly tough and introverted appearance of many New Yorkers was just a facade. Laying just beneath the surface was a person just trying to make it in this very challenging environment.

The elevator in my hotel was very small (maximum of 3 people), and for some reason, it always stopped at every floor on the way down. I shared one long elevator ride with a room service attendant. When I entered the elevator, her eyes immediately fell to the floor. As she stared at the ground, I decided to make conversation with her. While her English wasn’t perfect, she loved to talk. I asked her about her day, her job, and what the commute was like. This woman works 12 hour days, six days per week. She commutes via the subway each day to the Upper West Side of Manhattan from the Bronx. Coupled with the time she is working, this woman has a very long day indeed.

As a parent who has never lived in a city as large as this one, I was most interested in how other parents do it. During my excursions to the culinary wonders of New York, I saw mothers walking with their children–likely on their way home from school. What was interesting about this was that the anxiety I felt for their children’s safety wasn’t present in their mothers and fathers. Only feet away, cars were speeding up and down 106th street, horns blazing and tempers flaring. While the biological imperative to protect and nourish their children was there, these mothers teach their young children about the dangers of the world at a very early age. The level of trust they had for their kids immensely overshadows the trust I have for my own children in those dangerous situations.

The most exciting thing about my trips to New York isn’t being able to see the diverse crowds of people, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, or the Empire State Building, it’s being able to visit the training academy for the fire department.

The training grounds are located on Randall’s Island, which is located between Manhattan and Queens and just south of the Bronx. The island is also home to a mental institution and playing fields. Located on the eastern side of the island is the training campus. The campus has several large buildings used to train the men and women of FDNY in many different scenarios. Their training program is so robust that police, military, and other first-responder groups come from all over the country to learn what these brave men and women have to offer.

What is most amazing about these young men and women is that they have decided to devote their lives to a cause, a brotherhood. When I was their age, I never had any personal exposure to first-responders, so when it came time to choose a career path, I was focused on the private sector as my parents before me. As I reflect back on my old age (a rapidly graying 31 years old), I wonder about the possibilities and whether it is past my time to join something bigger than myself.

My hotel overlooked Central Park–my room certainly did not. To entertain some Law and Order: Special Victims Unit nostalgia, I went for a run in the park. The park is an oasis located in the center of Manhattan. The park is filled with fun activities for people to do and provides an escape from the bustling city that lays beyond its borders. There are several trails throughout the park that are great for running and hiking. If you look closely, you can see the city’s darker side laying just beneath the surface. I came upon a Trojan condom wrapper (thankfully, I didn’t find its contents) and even an empty dime (gram) bag which indicated the parks interesting nightlife.

“New York is the only place in the world that you can get a pastrami sandwich at three in the morning.”

Bill M.

I wasn’t able to get a pastrami sandwich at three in the morning because I was too busy being sound asleep, but I am thankful that the option was there for me if I so desired. New York is New York–unlike anywhere else in the United States. The people have adapted to survive the struggles of an inner-city life, but they really aren’t all that different from you and I. For those of you that are planning a trip to the Big Apple, make it a big trip–and be sure to be yourself.

I can’t help but imagine what microscopic organisms live in this pond. Next time, I will have to collect some samples for analysis.

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