Well before the South American gauchos rolled through the subway that lolled from Uptown to Brooklyn, I knew most of my preconceptions about New York City were flat wrong. As the two men sang over guitar and accordion, moving down the Sunday morning train to collect the small tips that most riders provided, I thought back over the last few days. It had been a scurry of literary readings and writing panels, late-night dinners and subway rides, and miles upon miles of Manhattan walks. And through it all, the generosity and diversity of New York and its residents never waned.
Before landing in LaGuardia for my first trip to New York City, before the plane’s panoramic sweep over Manhattan, I braced myself for two realities: 1) that New York would be overwhelming, considering the scale of its buildings and the sheer size of the metropolis; and 2) that New Yorkers themselves would not only be unfriendly, but downright rude. Isn’t that, after all, what the media has taught us?
But when I went to claim my baggage that had already arrived, I was guided by a friendly airline representative, right away fracturing the abrupt NYC stereotype. That evening, as my Tucson comrade and I made our way from the New York Hilton to Grand Central Station and down to Greenwhich Village, often getting turned around in the lighted canyons of the city, a resident was always willing to help us find our way. Time after time—whether skirting Central Park near 102nd Street or making our way to a music hall in Brooklyn—residents were eager to help us.
When I mentioned to one resident, at a bookstore in Soho, my surprise at how friendly folks in New York are, she just sighed, as if she’d heard that line from tourists like me a thousand times. “People in New York are the friendliest people in the world,” she said. “I moved from Minneapolis, and it doesn’t even compare. We get such an undeserved bad rap.”
The city’s reputation as a dark Gotham a la Batman is also undeserved, at least in the parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn I visited. Another bad rap. Despite its breadth, New York is not overwhelming for a singular reason: it is pedestrian oriented. Blocks are walkable, sidewalks are wide, street vendors are available but not aggressive. The skyscrapers climb hundreds of feet, yet at eye level everything is the right scale. Shops and restaurants—and what restaurants there are!—line most streets. Awnings and handrails and street lights and furniture. Wide windows and porticos and street trees and signs—all feel right, work well, and provide delightful surprises at every turn.
Indeed, the only risk to pedestrians seems to be a penchant for looking up at the tall buildings, the glorious architecture, and walking into the person in front of you. I’m guilty of that more than once!
As I slipped into a Central Park tourist shop to pick up “I Heart New York” t-shirts and purses for the girls back home, I came to an easy conclusion: I too love New York.
All photos by Simmons Buntin. View more of Simmons Buntin’s New York photographs.