New York City: An Outsider’s Perspective

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New York City: An Outsider’s Perspective

Posted on: May 21st, 2014 by tommyj

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I lived in New York City during the mid 1990s, back when I was in my early 20s, for about a year. What I remember most about New York City is that I was very poor. I ate a lot of macaroni and cheese. I also remember, one time, a hometown friend came to visit me and we took the NBC Studios tour. It cost about ten bucks; we saw photographs of Saturday Night Live hosts, the entrance door to the empty Phil Donohue Show studio ("If the door wasn’t locked, we’d let you have a peak inside,") and our tour guide also showed us how local TV stations are able to project a map behind the weatherman. Even back in the 1990s, cheap green screen technology was not state-of-the-art, nor was it remotely impressive. For that same ten-dollar ticket price, I could’ve bought five boxes of macaroni and cheese. Or I could’ve just flushed a ten-dollar bill down the toilet. Either would’ve been a better value than the NBC Studios tour.

It has been said, about New York, that "if you can make it there, you can make it anyway." I couldn’t make it in New York City. On the other hand, I haven’t really made it anywhere else, either. I bet there are people who have made it in New York City, but who would fair poorly in a North Korean prison.

I’m about a three-hour car ride from New York City. I drive in maybe once a year. That doesn’t make me a real "New Yorker," of course. However, I feel I’ve logged in enough hours so that I have some legitimate city cred. For example, I’ve earned the right to irrationally hate the tourists, just as real New Yorkers do. "You wanna get where? Buddy, this isn’t freakin’ Texas! It’s pronounced House-ton, you ignorant imbecile!"

So here are some observations from an out-of-towner with a touch of N.Y.C. cred…

New York City is home to about ten million people. None of them speak English. That includes Donald Trump.

Some New Yorkers make very little money. They live in small apartments, and they’re forced to ride the subway. Some New Yorkers earn large salaries. They eat out at fancy restaurants and buy expensive shoes. But everyone in New York City is living paycheck-to-paycheck.

There are so many things to do in New York City. That’s the reason New Yorkers say they never leave town. They’re lying. The real reason most New Yorkers never leave is because they don’t own a car.

The most frustrating thing about living in New York City is the vehicle situation. Outside of New York City, a car means freedom, independence, the ability to get from one place to another on your own. But in New York City, owning a car means traffic, theft, and, oh crap, did that cab driver just back into my door? Yeah, that’s gonna leave a dent.

Even people living in New York City who own vehicles don’t drive often, which is good because in the entire borough of Manhattan there isn’t a single gas station.

The most frustrating thing about visiting New York City is also the car situation. The GPS was a great invention, unless you’re using it in New York City, in which case your normally reliable device becomes Jarvis in Iron-Man 3. "I think I may be malfunctioning, sir." Trying to track a location in N.Y.C. using your GPS is like asking your wife directions to a brothel; good luck with that.

Worse than driving in New York City, though, is parking. The average cost of leaving your car in a mid-town parking garage is 900 dollars for the first hour, and for each hour after that they start cutting off fingers.

I will visit New York City more often once they invent a car that folds neatly into your pocket.

Most New Yorkers will brag that they’ve never visited the area’s most famous landmarks, like the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. However, all New Yorkers have, at one time or another, waited in line to get into a bar. Look, it’s not for me to judge one’s priorities. But I promise you that the magnitude of standing up close to the Statue of Liberty is more impressive than the Taj Lounge in Chelsea. Just sayin’.

There are indeed a lot of things to do in New York City, but they’re not cheap. There is a thought that just walking around the busy streets of Manhattan is an exciting activity unto itself. But that gets dull rather quickly. Standing outside Radio City Music Hall or the Ed Sullivan Theater is kind of neat at first, but pretty soon you want to go inside. It’s sort of like how one feels at a Kesha concert, but in reverse.

Most impressive are New York City’s numerous museums.

During my Andy Warhol phase, I was excited to visit MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art, an entire building full of paintings that a monkey could do. The Guggenheim Museum, on the Upper East Side, which is a remarkable architectural specimen by the way, is home to older paintings. Or at least I think they’re older. Who the hell knows? I like the idea of art museums better than the actual art. Looking at art on walls is sort of like listening to a Pink Floyd album; after ten minutes, you sheepishly turn to the person you’re with and ask, "You’re bored, too, right?"

As a kid, and even today, I enjoyed the American Museum of Natural History. I’m fascinated by different cultures. Last time I was at the Museum of Natural History, I took an interest in the Pigmy diorama enclosed in a glass showcase, featuring life-size wax model Pigmy figures. At least I think they were wax figures. Wait — did that Pigmy statue just blink?

One of the most popular attractions at the Museum of Natural History is the fossil area, featuring real life dinosaur bones. And I believe the exhibit also includes Larry King’s femur. I wonder — now that we live in a world of Disney World rides and Jurassic Park movies, do children today still feel the same sort of amazement when they see a real Tyrannosaurus skeleton that I did, or are they underwhelmed? Technology has robbed children of their awe. If karma truly exists, Steve Jobs will be reincarnated as a Slinky.

Of course, other cities have museums, too. But I doubt there is another place on Earth that boasts as many quirky, off-the-beaten path exhibits as New York City. Among them are an elevator museum, a math museum and even a museum of sex — featuring all sorts of kinky erotic displays and sadomasochistic devices. In other words, it’s like visiting my kitchen.

The New York City restaurant scene is kind of overrated. In fairness, every city’s restaurant scene is overrated. Every city has Chinese restaurants, Greek restaurants, Italian restaurants, etc. And they’re all usually pretty good. If you visit a friend in N.Y.C., he or she will undoubtedly tell you about "this great new place" that you just have to check out. You will ask, "Why don’t we just go into this Italian place that we’re standing next to right now?" Your friend will insist, "No- this other Italian place is amazing. Trust me." It will turn out that this other restaurant is exactly like the place you suggested- the food tastes more or less the same — only you had to walk an extra fourteen blocks to get there. But New Yorkers like to think they’re all secretly "in-the-know." So just go along with it.

What has changed about the New York City restaurant scene, and in fact pretty much every city’s restaurant scene, is the influx of chain restaurants. Nowadays, in N.Y.C., it’s easier to find a Subway than to find the actual subway. (One is where Jared eats; the other is where he sleeps.) There is an Olive Garden in Times Square. I’ve heard people ask, "Why would you visit New York City and go to an Olive Garden?" I respond, "Why would you visit New York City and not go to an Olive Garden?" I mean — have you had those bread sticks?

I do have a pet peeve about N.Y.C. restaurants. Often, the menu includes a "sharing charge." That means that a baloney sandwich might cost twenty dollars… but you have to pay an extra five bucks if you "share" it with someone else. To me, this is the food-version of Big Brother. Unless I’m making a bomb out of the baloney, it’s not your business what I do with my sandwich once it’s on a plate in front of me. New Yorkers should be more outraged by this. Trojan would make more money if they added a sharing charge to their condoms, but some people still understand the value of privacy. (Incidentally, the person-version of Big Brother was former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s "stop and frisk" policy. If you don’t know what that is, ask a black person.)

Sometimes, I have to explain to New Yorkers that very few people who live outside of New York City care about — or are even aware of — the four boroughs that aren’t Manhattan. One time, I had an argument with a New Yorker who said, "Lots of tourists go to Brooklyn." I explained, "That’s because they’re lost. They’re trying to find Blue Man Group."

Back in the day, I lived in Brooklyn. I rented a brownstone in Cobble Hill, which is next to Brooklyn Heights, which is the home to Montague Street, which Bob Dylan sings about in that song. Every area of Brooklyn is known by a nickname. The last time I was in Brooklyn, I stopped for a drink in a section that had been rebranded DUMBO or FLUMBO or FLIMFLAP or some hipster nonsense. There used to be affordable housing Down Underneath the Manhattan Bride Overpass. Now it’s expensive bakeries and stores that sell fancy handbags. When a place is given an acronym, it usually means the poor people are being forced out.

I don’t like that Brooklyn is considered "cool" now. When did that happen? And why does everything have to be cool? To me, Brooklyn will always be old men wearing big coats and slobs stuffing their faces with hot dogs and Welcome Back, Kotter. Jay-Z can never change that.

I would estimate that 95 percent of people who live outside of New York City don’t know that there is a Staten Island. And I would estimate that 80 percent of people who do live in New York don’t know there is a Staten Island.

And there are also two other New York City boroughs: the Bronx and Connecticut.

But when people visit New York City, they want to see Manhattan; they expect to see giant billboards and Broadway lights and that naked cowboy guy. If you ask a typical out-of-towner to picture New York City in his or her head, they’re thinking about Times Square. Unless it’s a sixth-grade out-of-towner on a field trip, in which case he’s thinking about Chinatown because he heard that’s where you get the fireworks.

Times Square is the part of New York City that never sleeps… though while it might be awake at three in the morning, it’s a lot drunker and scarier. The families who traveled to New York City to see The Lion King are generally back in their hotel rooms by 10:30.

Back when I lived in New York City, Times Square was the capital center of sleaze. You couldn’t turn your head in any direction without seeing at least 27 different X-rated theaters and adult book stores and pornographic establishments and drug dealers and prostitutes and con artists. Now you have to turn your head towards Wall Street.

One time, back when I lived in N.Y.C., I was in Times Square late at night. I was there, for, oh, let’s say a dental appointment. Anyway, between the subway and my destination, I was offered around 14 different various goods and services, none of which were legal.

The Times Square strip clubs hung up signs in their windows that said stuff like "Girls Stripping Their Way Through College" and "Girls Getting Nude To Pay Their College Tuition." Today, all those women are probably college graduates.

Now, Times Square is a family destination, packed with candy stores and Nickelodeon jumbotrons and actors dressed up as cartoon characters. So it’s slightly less traumatic for children than it used to be. Slightly.

New Yorkers mock Times Square as "touristy." But do they realize they live in New York Freakin’ City?! Everything in N.Y.C. is touristy. That’s the point of NYC. People who work at Universal Studios in Orlando don’t mock the Harry Potter ride for being too touristy. Admittedly, I still get a kick out of Times Square… although I wouldn’t go there during New Year’s Eve unless Dick Clark literally came back from the dead and put a gun to my head. I don’t like large crowds. And I like being close to a bathroom.

I generally avoid referring to New York City as "the City", with a capital C. New York City is not the City. It’s a city. I also consciously refer to New York City with the "City" part included. I don’t refer to New York City as "New York." New York is a state. I live in a smaller city in New York State, about three hours north of NYC. When I speak to people from the South or the Midwest, and I tell them I live in New York State, they usually ask something like, "Can you see the Empire State Building from your window?" I’ve given up trying to explain the difference between New York State and New York City; it confuses people. So now I just reply, "Yes."

On the Internet, New Yorkers like to post NYC lists, like "20 Things Only A True New Yorker Would Understand." I’ve read those lists. I don’t think you have to live in New York City to understand them. Honestly, you can get fresh bagels all over the country now. And anyone can Google the worst time of the day to hail a taxi. It is a bittersweet fact that technology and communication have brought us all closer together, at least on a superficial "information" level. Even New York City is, sadly, losing the unique quality that makes it New York City.

Oh, but I love the street musicians. And there is something about meeting a group of friends out in New York City, on a Saturday night, that makes you feel so alive. And I’m a sucker for the street vendor pretzels — even when they have the slight taste of gasoline.

And to my fellow out-of-towners, I have some really good advice. Don’t order breakfast at your hotel. It’s convenient, but a total rip-off. One time, I paid 17 dollars for two pieces of bad French toast.

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