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The Good People: Memories from My Days in New York City

And a street photography project from the summer of 2011

© Maliha Mannan

It was June 2011; I was two and a half weeks away from graduating from college. As I sat on my desk, typing away the final project report, a thought came to me.

Why am I still in Colorado?

I was two weeks shy of being a jobless bum, and there was absolutely no reason I couldn’t be a jobless bum anywhere else in the world!

Well, technically, I couldn’t be anywhere else in the world if I wanted to find a job in the United States, which I did at the time. I had to make sure I was able to answer my phone if a potential hiring manager decided to call me instead of shooting me an email (turned out some hiring managers in the cutting edge tech industry still preferred to pick up the phone rather than typing up electronic mails, how quaint!)

That evening, I did a quick mental math. I had around 2K saved up in my bank account (not too shabby for a college kid, eh?) which I figured would last me in New York City for about two months, three if I was frugal about it. I put up a “Room wanted for Jul+Aug” ad on Craigslist and went back to writing my project report.

© Maliha Mannan

If you asked me now why I chose New York City, I wouldn’t be able to give you a good enough answer. I don’t know why I chose NYC. I just did. I thought… OK, I’m done with Colorado. Where to now? And the first place that came to mind was Tokyo. But since I didn’t want to leave the country, the second place I thought of was NYC. And that was that.

© Maliha Mannan

One of the first photos I took in New York City was on Spring Street and Broadway. These young ladies were looking totally fab on a scooter and I asked if I could take a photo. Of course, they said yes. I’ve never had anyone say no to me in NYC.

The coolest part was however, after taking that photo, the girl in the muscle shirt asked me if I’d take another one and give it to her if she paid me for it. That was the very first time I was offered money for my photograph.

I walked away with 5 bucks that day.

SoHo was always a favorite hangout spot for me. The people there were always fashionable, cool, chic, and I loved the diversity in the streets, diversity in the people, diversity in the shops, diversity in the food they sold; I could spend hours there just watching the waves of people passing by.

© Maliha Mannan

It was often fun to observe people in the mornings. Quite a few of them would commute from one of the other boroughs to Manhattan, sit and catch up on the news or write stuff, get coffee from Starbucks and wait until it was time to go to work.

© Maliha Mannan

I decided on the street project pretty much on the spot (like everything else in life that I do). I wanted this project to be special. The photos themselves had to be special, although, I wasn’t sure what exactly I had to do to give them that special feel. I thought maybe I’d take black and white photos… but most street photos were black and white. It didn’t feel special enough.

And then it hit me, out of nowhere, in the middle of the night.

Polaroids!

The next day I took the subway to the Impossible Project flagship store on Broadway between Canal and Howard streets. I specifically picked out the black and white films for the Polaroid Spectra since the format was slightly wider then SX-70 or 600, perfect for covering just a bit more background area.

© Maliha Mannan

I love sitting at a coffee shop, Starbucks or local, and watch people. I think my love of people watching started (or rather, I first noticed) when I moved to NYC. Before then I wouldn’t have had neither the time nor the opportunity to sit at a coffee shop for hours without doing anything meaningful. Life up until then had been a constant GO GO GO.

It’s strange, really. People often think of New York City, and relate it to a life of hustle. For me though, it felt as though I finally had the time to slow down and relax. Even after I got a full time job and started freelancing on the side, life was significantly more chilled than it’d ever been.

© Maliha Mannan

You know how some people say that New Yorkers are rude, that they don’t care about others, and what not. I’m sure it depends on individual experiences, no matter where in the world you are at. Every city has its good folks and its bad folks.

Personally though, I’ve only ever come across the kindest people in NYC. Women who’d offer to show the way if they thought you looked lost. Men who’d be more than willing to give you all the deets on which laundromat folded your clothes the best.

What the New Yorkers don’t do is sugarcoat their words. Some people may think that’s rude, to me though, it felt like a breath of fresh air. I wasn’t always second guessing or doubting people. For once, I was completely comfortable, at peace, and at home.

© Maliha Mannan

One particular incident comes to mind, just to show you how untrue it is when people say that no one in NYC cares about others.

I had a photo shoot early in the morning. I was taking the subway to Broadway and Canal but in the middle of my commute I suddenly felt sick to my bones. Out of nowhere, something came rushing over and I felt like everything inside of me was going to come out one way or another.

The train was jam-packed and the only thing I could think to do was to get off at the next station.

Once I was out, all I could do with my leftover strength was to walk a few feet so I was out of the way from the commuters and the train tracks.

I found a pillar, and flopped down on the dirty cement floor against it, with my camera bags and laptop case all around me.

A woman stopped by soon after and asked me if I was alright. She could tell how difficult it was for me to speak, so she kept it short.

“Do you need a doctor?”

“No.”

“Where are you going”

“Q to Canal…”

“OK, I’ll help you. The Q is here, can you stand? Don’t worry about those…” — she said as she picked up my camera bags and laptop case in both her shoulders. If I’m not wrong, I had four different cameras with me that day.

We got on the train, jam-packed as expected, but she asked a young man to make room for me because I was sick.

I doubt I thanked her enough when we got off at Canal. I was pretty out of it and remember just grabbing my things and making my way out of the underground station.

If by some crazy coincidence you’re reading this, kind lady in the subway, words won’t be enough to express my gratitude for your help that day!

© Maliha Mannan

Almost 1.5 years after I moved to NYC (intending to spend only two months at the time), I accepted a different job that took me out all the way to Dallas, Texas. Another year later I found myself back in the familiar hoods of Colorado. Life’s turned upside down many times in between, and the roller-coaster of a ride has been pretty exciting, if you know what I mean.

New York City though, will always be home even if I spent only a year and a half there. It’s just that kind of a city. Perhaps that’s why no one really wants to leave it even when they complain about the traffic, the failing subway system, the rent, and basically, everything else. And even when they do leave, they just can’t stop dreaming about it.

It’s a city that makes you feel at home no matter where you’re from.

It’s a city like no other.

It’s a city that embraces you no matter the time of day.

New York, I love you!

© Maliha Mannan