As a journalist, I’ve often been interested in how a city defines, or how it molds, the people that live within it. How the two become symbiotic. How they become symbols for each other.
An example: New York City. I’m on a crowded train into Manhattan on a Monday morning. In the middle of the car is a rather large pocket of standing space. I make my way over and grab the metal pole above my head. Two teenage girls sit loosely on the seats in front of me. One has short, coarse Ronald McDonald red hair spiked with Sunkist orange tips. A tiny samurai ponytail holds onto whatever strands can be gathered up top. Her eyes are closed, her mouth is half open, her head rolls in jerky, gravitational swings, guided by the course of the train. The other young lady is swathed in a hoodie, bent over, head dangling between her Carhartt legs. Sharpie squiggles cover her right hand.
For a fleeting moment I think “Really? That’s why no one’s standing here? People are weirded out by these two?” We all, on any given day, on any given train, have seen much worse.
The train comes to a stop. Ronnie’s head practically hits the pole to her side and Ms. Hoodie lurches forward. Peeking out from M.Hood’s lap is a bag of imitation Doritos. It dawns on me. They could puke at any moment.
That is what separates a New Yorker from a non-New Yorker. Experience. Preventive measures against inconvenience. A collective sizing-up of a situation without saying a word, without gesturing that anything is indeed a big fuckin deal.