Lessons from the Concrete Jungle

Sitting on the steps in Times Square

I’ve been set on visiting the big apple for a long time now. Between James and the Giant Peach and Elf (one of my all-time favourites), I romanticized New York City and the lifestyle that accompanied it. The bright lights, the beautiful people and the nonstop buzz. Although I got a little taste of that in the 6ix, I thought it couldn’t hold a candle to New York City. This trip was more about proving to myself that I did have agency and I could do (in a lack of better words) whatever I fucking wanted. But the story behind all of that is a whole other story. Even though it was a vacation, it was a chance for me to reflect and do some thinking. Without further ado, here are a couple things I learned/thought about in my short 3 day (80km worth of walking) stint in New York City.

Everyone is here to get their own. If you’re talking about competition and drive, you’re talking about New York City. Everyone is trying to make it out here, everyone. From the beggars, to the comedians, to the Broadway performers, to the Shake Shack workers. Everyone is trying to put food on the table and to become the best of the best. Talk about being a small fish, in a big fucking ocean. You can tell everyone was here to hone their craft and that they give it their all, 100%. Not at any moment did I feel anyone was lazy or not trying to improve their economical, social or political position. People were always trying to do something to better themselves and it was really eye opening. I can only describe it as pure determination and motivation.

Silence is golden. One thing I didn’t expect about New York City (which I should have) was that it is loud. And I mean, constantly loud. There was always cars honking, people screaming, heaters buzzing.. whatever it may be. It’s hard to find a second of piece and quiet. It sort of relates back to life. It’s easy to get lost in the noise, to create this noise and forget to listen. Sometimes I found myself just trying to focus on things around me, I guess that’s a more polite way of saying eavesdropping, but it was weird. The more noise there was, the more I just wanted to shut up and experience things. We take things like silence for granted, but as much as we want to contribute to the energy, sometimes you need to pull back and take in the things around you.

Breaking boundaries and conventions. I don’t think a norm even fucking exists in New York City. Rules and laws are a mere suggestion. I can easily say I have become a jay walking expert after being in the city for 3 days. I also had a couple near death experiences and witnessed a couple more. But even when it came to things like style, oh man. Where do I even begin? Almost everyone is extremely well dressed or had their own spin on things. Hipster Central. Whether it be fashion norms, social norms or gender norms, it almost felt like these things cease to exist in New York City. It was fucking refreshing. In a way, people were themselves, and no one was apologetic about it. It’s a good way to live and I think we can learn a lot from that.

Culture, so much damn culture. I can’t even begin to talk about the rich history and multiculturalism I found in New York City. It is such a melting pot and you can see everyone was tolerant and experienced other cultures. I visited a Chinese restaurant and easily saw half the tables were not Chinese. People seemed to enjoy themselves and genuinely accepted and appreciated other cultures. There is such a great diversity there, I think more so than Toronto (I might be bias). It has motivated me to go out and experience more and to learn more about others. There is so much out there and I have only barely scraped the surface.

Star spangled banner. I have not seen this much national pride ever. Every home, every building, every street corner had an American flag floating majestically in the wind. We often take this as arrogance, thinking Americans are in love with themselves. But fucksakes, they really do pride themselves for being American. There was a sense of comradery that was second to none. However arrogant it was, it was also cool to see how proud they were. I don’t know if we share the same sentiment as Canadians, atleast definitely not on their level. And I haven’t decided whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But they’re proud of who they are whether they are right or wrong, they can stand behind themselves. I think that’s the main takeaway for me.

The rich and the poor. There is homelessness in every metropolitan city, but things are pretty bad down in New York City. Beggars are on every street corner and even come onto subways to give monologues about their struggles. At the same time, they have areas like Wall street and downtown Manhattan where people are probably walking around with seven figure plus net worths. I am not going to get into this 1%, distribution of wealth stuff. But damn, there is a stark contrast. New York City is so expensive, the food, the entertainment, everything. I can’t see how anyone could live comfortably here without a six figure salary. It’s grandiose and the epitome of luxury. This makes you think of the expenses of life, quality of life and where you are willing to spend your money.

Talk the talk. If you ever thought you knew how to talk, you need to visit New York City. Everyone is a salesman, they can convince you to buy a paper bag if they wanted to. They’re articulate, persuasive and full of character. People are also talking themselves up constantly and also networking constantly. Every interaction is an opportunity and people take advantage of that. I believe that I received some of the most courteous service (which was surprising tbh) in New York. Whether it be the cashier at McDonald’s or the workers at Uniqlo, everyone knew their stuff and could talk about it with a level of professionalism. This is something I need to work on for sure, I feel like everyday interactions are tongue twisters for me and I can barely speak English (how did I pass that grade 10 English proficiency test?).

So there you have it. All in all, it was an amazing experience. I have been waiting for years to visit and not going with my parents was nice. I could do what I wanted. I ate what I wanted, went to off-broadway and comedy shows. Walked everywhere (my feet still hurt, this is why everyone there was fit). Also, their subway system makes ours look like complete trash, get your shit together TTC. The TTC is a pathetic excuse for public transportation. I think I also learned on this trip that you can always seek out more, and New York City was my more (atleast I thought so). I thought it was a magical place that would change my life. In some ways it did, it some ways it didn’t. I think by the end of day 3, I felt like I had been living there for months. I was able to navigate the subway system with ease, I had seen Grand Central Terminal, Empire State, New York Public Library, Brooklyn Bridge and Times Square. I had done all the cliche things, but I am sure there is still much more to explore. It all felt very old and comfortable to me already — so maybe the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, just a different species.

Final shoutout to my boy Kwasi for putting up with my shit and taking this impromptu trip with me. Hope you had a good time as well and we’re definitely in for more adventures soon.

Now I must snap back to my painful reality — thanks for a great time New York City, I will definitely be back (hopefully in better weather).

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