Image by hankoss via Flickr
I had been to NYC once before this last week but this trip was different. I had a baby. This made all the difference in the world. Getting around NY with a baby gives you a very unique peek into Yankee hospitality. When we arrived in NY I had an instant dread of how rudely we were going to be treated since having the Squeaker with us meant that we were going to be moving around more slowly than most. I could not have been more wrong.
We did a lot of bus/subway/tram rides around town. Let’s say we rode an average of 6 rides on public transit per day and we were in NY for 6 days. Every single time (except for one tram ride) someone gave up their seat for me since I was carrying O. (If you want a visual, I was carrying her in a Moby) I was floored. These hardened New Yorkers were giving up their seats for me. An obviously wide-eyed, naive tourist. How nice.
This hospitality, though, definitely is different from the southern kind. It’s not warm. There’s no small talk. They just do it and pretend nothing happened. It’s just helpful. As if everyone is secretly looking out for everyone else without letting down the icy, don’t-mess-with-me guard. After being privy to this side of NY life, I really saw this attitude everywhere I went.
Our friend, S, broke her foot a few years back and had to walk around with a boot for a while. I think she described it perfectly with the following: “I would get on the subway with my boot and a big, tough guy would get up and offer his seat. It’s not a ‘Oh, you poor thing. Here, take my seat.’ It’s more a ‘Take the seat, bitch’ kind of thing.“
The first time we encountered this was when Kraft was trying to give me directions to Union Square where I was going to meet S. He was going in the opposite direction to get to his conference. The idea of me and O wandering around NY alone was scary but I didn’t want to be stuck at the apartment alone either. We stood there in front of the escalators with Kraft giving me directions and me obviously in a semi-panic when this guy kinda yelled at us across the lobby and asked where we were going. New Yorkers, I found out later, are really used to giving lost people directions. I saw this happen countless times as we rode around the city. Later, S told me that everyone will help you get on the right subway because everyone knows how much it sucks to be on the wrong train and lost.
Another thing I noticed was that the people that offered me their seats spanned all classes, ethnicities, ages, and English-speaking abilities. I don’t remember every single person that offered me their seat but I do remember a middle-aged, nicely dressed white woman; a Hispanic teeny-bopper with a Bob Marley necklace and a crazy strong Brooklyn accent; and an older Indian man who barely spoke English. Seriously, everyone was willing to give up their seat. The second I got on a subway train, if there were people standing, they would start looking at the people sitting to see who was going to get up for me. Kind of like if no one was going to get up right away, the people standing would stare them down until someone did.
I got to see this happen to pregnant women, too. Whenever a pregnant woman would get on the subway or bus I would watch to see how people reacted to her. You could see a line of people trying to catch her eye to offer their seat. They really had a keen eye. I wouldn’t say that people seemed particularly happy or excited to give up their seat, but when duty called, they were ready.
It snowed a lot the last few days we were there and after a lot of snow, comes a lot of melting snow. As the snow melted it would slip off roofs or awnings. One time in particular we had just gotten off the tram and a mother and her young daughter were unlucky enough to have a lot of snow fall on them as they were walking along the street. Immediately a group of people circled them and helped them brush the snow off. It was amazing to see. There really were about 4 or 5 people helping them.
I thought, OK, New Yorkers are just helpful when it comes to somewhat vulnerable women and children in the city. Nope. When we were walking around the Met (which was so freakin’ awesome, by the way), Kraft dropped his map and another guy walking by immediately picked it up for him. No hesitation.
I know New York City isn’t perfect. I know there are lots of problems. But, man, after last week, I have a whole new respect for New Yorkers. I really liked their hospitality. It was a really humble kind. A kind that did not expect any gratitude at all.
Thanks New York City, for having our backs.