- Hobo: (To a guy standing in front of him until he left) You live to serve, not to BE served! Jesus himself was a -- hey, man how you doin'?
- Me: Uh, I'm doing well!
- Hobo: Hey man, hey...see that girl over there? (Points to a very nervous young woman listening to headphones) ...she wants me, heheheh (exposes a grin with many missing teeth) but I'm too old, y'see - HEY, MISS. I'M TOO OLD FOR YOU! Heheheh...Listen, man, you look for the right girl for you and treat her right, y'hear? You look very charismatic, I'd say you're the BEST from wherever you're from.
- Me: Wow, thanks.
- Hobo: Where you from?
- Me: I -
- Hobo: Naw naw naw, lemme guess...(scratches his chin as he leans in to stare closely at my face)...Bolivia?
- Me: ...No.
- Hobo: You must be Bolivian, you - EXCUSE ME, MISS? DO YOU WANT A SEAT?
- Woman: (Just walked on the train) No, thank you. I'm fine.
- Hobo: I BET YOU ARE! (Grins at me again)
- The woman and I share a knowing glance. This guy is hamming it up for everybody.
- Hobo: ...Really? You're not, uhhh, Colombian? Venezuela? Mexico?
- Me: No.
- Hobo: (Stares at my face for an uncomfortably long time) Naw, you can't be from Mexico, you look...you look more black. Brazilian?
- Me: Sorry, wrong continent.
- Hobo: Where you from then?
- Me: Thailand.
- Hobo: (leans back) Whoooaaaaaa....now, THOSE are some people you don't wanna mess with. I hear the nightlife there...DANGEROUS.
- As I get off on my stop, he's flirting with the woman again.
- Hobo: You're a very nice lady, you - HEY MAN, TAKE CARE A YOURSELF, MARRY THE RIGHT GIRL, ALRIGHT?
- Me: Ok, thanks.
- The woman starts laughing as I walk off the train.
This past week has easily been one of the most epic weeks I’ve ever had. Certainly the best first week of work thus far, considering I don’t really count ASUW Arts & Entertainment as full-fledged work. For how much fun A&E was, it pales in comparison to moving to New York City for a job with Vimeo, in every measure.
First impressions of New York needless to say have been incredibly mixed. The wide-eyed optimist not jaded by the hoards of people who pour out of the subway entrances like an anthill looks at New York City with a combination of awe, reverence, excitement, and a pinch of fear. I’m not saying I’m a small town kid coming into the big city, Seattle conditions you that way – especially via Spokane, WA. But I can admit to a sense of idealism that New York is a whole other entity – not only a new city, but a new way to perceive the city, or the many other ways people pack themselves together.
Is it super cliché to say that one of my favorite reflections on New York so far is that it’s a slice of America? Like most city vs. town analogies, New York is the point of collision for people of every background, more so here than ANYWHERE else. A week here and I’ve already seen people knock heads with each other, not just ethnically and culturally, but mentally and emotionally. From people honking at each other on the street and yelling expletives in multiple languages, to a frustrated businessman yelling at a custodian for not cleaning the bathroom fast enough for passengers coming off the plane from Minneapolis, to a frustrated older woman yelling at a drugstore clerk (“Whatever shit you got to say, you can say it to my face!”), to a college couple I overheard in my apartment having a relationship-bending yelling contest (“You either want me, or you don’t”). Although the boroughs serve as a little bit of class division, the people of New York really can’t hide from each other, no matter how much they try. Sharing the space of the city demands confronting and negotiation each other’s difference, with both peaceful and violent outcomes.
While my parents were stuck in the Holiday Inn Express in Times Square because of hurricane – ahem, sorry, tropical storm Irene, we walked around the city Ensminger-style (love you, Mom and Dad), and proceeded to wander aimlessly through Times Square for 4 STRAIGHT DAYS, or until Dad found a shiny neon tourist diversion and buzzed into the shiny light of discovery (like Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, and Ripley’s Believe or Not – or this stupid simulator-type ride in the Empire State building that was narrated by Kevin Bacon and had not been updated since it was made in 1993). To my parents’ credit, we nailed all the typical tourist attractions of New York in one fell swoop, so I never have to take a picture with wax Nicolas Cage ever again cuz I knocked it off my life’s to-do list. But it was in Times Square that for a few hours I was already SICK of New York. Bumping into walls of people and seeing all the Dasani bottles, Coke cans, Starbucks, and ads for CBS and NBC shows, the worst memories of Disneyworld and Universal Studios started flooding back. Every consumer culture and marketing, entertainment, and tourism gun was drawn at the teeming crowds of Times Square, and I was terrified. I definitely remember thinking, “This town can definitely be a land of opportunity, and probably was for more people before, and it can definitely be another man’s definition of Hell. Hell is real, it’s at the junction of Broadway and 7th Avenue, and it’s televised on every major network.”
So…my argument FOR New York’s chaos. Some military general or the Joker once said that there’s no progress without chaos, or something like that, maybe not verbatim. New York is unique as a city in its history, where for the most part it was constructed and called home by people who went a long way to get there - and still continue to come from everywhere. Though not every conflict Americans have with other Americans is had in New York, the conflicts that happen here have been going on for a long time, and have been shared by many. I guess this is shared by the other big cities, L.A. especially in relation to the riots. More people in close proximity results in a magnified look at the conflicts that happen in an entire country. Black vs. white, rich vs. poor, good police vs. bad criminals, non-criminals vs. bad police, Christianity vs. Islam, etc. Anger has been known to yield positive results, if we can recall. Entire music genres are defined by the frustration a group of people as had with their situation, nurtured and broadcasted by life in the city. Jazz and hip-hop come to mind immediately. These music staples lend a lot of their extensive reach to New York, which in many ways has its pulse on pop culture a lot better than L.A..
I know this New York condition I talk about is common knowledge to people, and is a signature impression New York has on people. But personally, as someone who is mixed race, has transitioned geographically and economically, and is in general confused about life, I can’t help but take the bad with the good. Again, as an idealist, I look at New York so far this past week as a reflection of myself in some ways – racially conflicted (most of you guys wouldn’t believe it if I told you), negotiating with what’s in and out of its control, detached tom some extent from a set of old values and forced to derive new values, and trying to go through each day given its circumstances. Sounds a bit like, oh, I dunno, AMERICA. So now that I’m living here, am I more American? I kind of think so. The New York condition is a product of the world condition, it reflects on the American condition, and in many ways the human condition. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Well, the world, like New York, is diverse and for better or worse stuck with its denizens for the long haul. So whether or not it’s good or bad in the long run, it’s what we have to deal with and negotiate with.
So I guess I can say that New York is an appropriate location for me right now. I’m not gonna say I’m living close to the streets. But relating the confusion with my own confusion helps me relate, and doesn’t make me afraid to walk through the streets of New York.