New York: The Empire State, The Big Apple, The Concrete Jungle where Alicia Keys thinks dreams are made of.
New York was always somewhere that I was afraid to go by myself and I am rarely afraid to go anywhere by myself. Like, I even go to the cinema alone—I know, shock/horror. So, when I was on the flight over I naturally had repeated oh-fuck moments in between the in-flight films, as I grappled with my decision to book a ticket to New York with no plan.
But it’s just a city in a developed country, right? With one of the lowest crime rates in America. What is there to be afraid of? Yes, but it’s bloody big and I am small and feeble and I can’t read maps. Also, my hostel was next door to the projects and I had to walk through that every time I caught the wrong subway line.
But, now, as I sit in the departures lounge at JFK at the end of my week in the city that never sleeps (it definitely sleeps. I couldn’t get a doughnut at 1am) I feel like I did well to survive a place that is completely against my entire being. So, I decided to write a guide on how to survive New York if you’re fucking terrified of everything. I realise though that everyone has pretty much been to New York—everyone except me until recently—so I’ll try not to over-state the obvious. However, most people aren’t as nervous as I am, so I feel I’ve got something to bring to the New York table. So the guide—ahem— let it begin:
How to survive New York if you’re more timid than a virgin at a pool party:
New York city consists of five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island. Within these boroughs are many neighbourhoods but most people know that so I’ll shut the hell up. The city is divided up into a grid system that consists of 11 avenues from East to West and the streets that off-shoot these avenues are numbered in an increasing fashion. It’s meant to be easy to navigate but then there’s me – who would struggle to find Wally in an empty room. But it is easy for the average human. Okay, geography done – it was never my strong point.
Unlike the tube in London or the bullet train in Tokyo, the subway in New York does not glide past with a satisfying whoosh – nay, it roars and rattles by the platform with enough force to give foreigners a severe case tinnitus. The subway is reasonably straight-forward though, in a coloured and random lettered sort of way but if you’re not from there you will need a map. Be warned though, the subway maps aren’t built to last and generally disintegrate within a few hours. It’s almost like they grow impatient with your incompetence and tap out. It is probably best to get the map on your phone because flapping about a shiny-coloured papyrus screams I’m vulnerable and lost! Please rob me, or death stare me until I too disintegrate with my map.
Look, at the risk of offending any New Yorkers or anyone who loves New Yorkers, they are in a word – rude. Rude, rude, rude. But that’s to be expected in a city of 8 million. But also, all I did was efficiently order a hot beverage that barely passes as coffee so there’s no need to pretend that I don’t exist or to death stare me – yet again.
Whatever you do, do NOT smile at anyone. Not only will it not be reciprocated but you will probably just make the average New Yorker more infuriated by your selfish need to exist. My unrelenting need to smile at everyone infuriated every single cashier, waiter and bar tender that served me. I couldn’t understand how they could be so angry. That was until I was bolting through Broadway as I was running late to see my favourite comedian and I turned into an elbow-jabbing smart arse as I was like – movvvveee mother fuckers! Get out of my way! I’m running here! Bloody tourists.
Ah yes, the monetary gift of thanks that is not only expected but enforced. I would be so fine with tipping if A) the food wasn’t overpriced and terrible and B) if, oh I don’t know, you cracked a fucking smile or smirk when you took my order and didn’t forget half of it. But no, nobody has to work for tips because it is expected. And if you’re terrible at maths like I am then good bloody luck!
Finally, the most important element to any city – how good is the coffee? Apparently there are many excellent Australian-run cafes that do top-notch coffee but I didn’t have time to go searching. Instead I thought I’d give Starbucks a crack thinking that it must be better in America because most New Yorkers seem to don an iced coffee in a Starbucks cup like an accessory. For the record, the coffee tastes like the stuff that you clean an espresso machine with but it still induces the desired heart palpitations, so who’s complaining?
Overall, New York is a really versatile place that has so much life and it certainly has something for everyone. However, it does take getting used to and as such, I don’t think I belong there. So – onward to Los Angeles.