Five Months in NYC – My Observations

It has been five months since I arrived in NYC.  I arrived on a warm Wednesday before Memorial Day.  The weather was summery and the locals were preparing for the Hamptons, Jersey and Martha’s Vineyard.  Meanwhile, after a life with no allergies, the dirt and dust of NYC wrecked havoc on my senses.  My eyes watered like a fountain and itched like a rash.  I kept Alaway in business the first six weeks I arrived here.  Every morning and afternoon, I’d have a sneezing fit for a good twenty minutes.  It was gross.  There was black dirt spots in my Kleenex.  I am a city girl, never on a farm.  Within days of arriving to NYC, I could immediately tell the difference in scent of horse/dog/human manure.  The city is dirty.  However, that didn’t deter me. 
Do you guys remember the crazy guy that ran for president in 2008 on the platform “rent to d*m high”?  He was from NY and I quickly realized he wasn’t crazy, he was telling the truth.  In NYC, rent is too high for a space the size of a Pod storage unit. Fortunately, a friend in Chicago helped me find a room to rent.  I was a tad worried because I haven’t had a roommate since freshman year in college.  My roommate is cool – a Midwesterner by birth but a New Yorker through and through.  He has a personal sense of style that makes me feel bad walking around in my sweats.  He is short on words, but to the point.  He also has this look when he thinks I am making up stories about my adventures in the concrete jungle.  My first weekend in the City and it’s Memorial weekend and Fleet Week.  Locals gone, but tourists and sailors in droves.  I spied a bread place and checked it out.  I am a picky in all respects, particularly food.  My style is simple elegance.  Don’t fluff stuff up, use simple ingredients and let them speak for themselves.  I hate frosting, whipped cream and other things people use to hide mistakes in cooking.  If it is fresh baked, I expect the smell of butter to abound.  So I walk into Amy’s Bread.  I smell butter, flour… I spy ginger snaps.  Not the ones in grocery stores.  These looked like the dark molasses used for cooking them.  Oh yeah, ginger and molasses in the first bite.  I tried a plain peanut cookie – no frills.  I taste peanut.  The plain Jane in me satisfied, this place is now on my list.  I spied almond brioche bread.  I figured that would be good with coffee before church visiting. 
Sunday morning I wake up excited for the almond brioche.  Like most NYC restaurants, sitting is sparse.  I see a woman at a table appearing as if she is leaving.  I motion towards her seat and she says sit.  Oops!  Before I could put my coffee on the table she’s asking me to take her picture for her eHarmony profile.  Take the picture in the store?!  She says yes.  I oblige hoping it will make her leave.  Wrong.  She proceeded to tell me her dating history and surprise – none of the men she stalks are returning her calls.  She wonders why?  The same reason I am regretting sitting down at this table.  Trying to enjoy my brioche and coffee, she talks about living in the same apartment she grew up in.  How pathetic she says.  I’m thinking rent controlled so stop complaining.  I eat so I can’t talk to her.  That doesn’t stop her from filling the silence.  She finally gets up to leave and says “we could be best friends, give me your number.” Oh she is SWF (single white female) crazy! I reply “but I don’t have a pen.”  SWF is quick to the trigger, “don’t you have a phone? Give me your number I’ll call you and then we’ll have each other’s number.”  Darn, I wasn’t expecting that.  To top it off, she mentioned that she lived ON MY BLOCK.   Now I have two problems.  Do I have to stop going to Amy’s Bread to avoid SWF and how do I avoid her walking down the street?  Just when I found a place with good ginger snaps and peanut cookies. Man.  I have to give up Amy’s Bread unless I want crazy SWF to stalk me.  I tell my roommate about SWF.  That is when I came to recognize his “look.”  He had a look and then said “please don’t invite your crazy friends home.”  I told him, “she isn’t my friend.”  At that moment, I thought he would revoke the roommate situation.  A few days later, crazy SWF called and left a long message.  Again my roommate gave me the look, “please don’t bring kra-kra here.”  She’s not my friend.  I’m afraid of her crazy.  Turns out SWF is crazy and forgetful.  Two Sundays later, I left for church taking an alternate route to avoid her and walk right towards her.  She doesn’t recognize me.  Whew.  Dodge a bullet there! Roommate is now used to my unusual encounters in the city.  He still gives me the look though.  He also introduced me to the wonderful world of Broadway theater.
Rats have hips and things fly that shouldn’t.  Maybe it is because there are no alleys.  Whatever the reason, NY give super-rat a whole new meaning.  I was warned before arriving to watch out for rats on the subway platform.  We’ve all seen the internet video of the subway rat climbing on the sleeping homeless man on the train.  Gross.  One morning I am off to a temp gig.  It’s close enough to walk but it was hot and I didn’t want to arrive sweaty so I take the subway because it has air.  It was packed and we get off at Lexington.  There are four lines formed for the escalators.  All of a sudden, the guy ahead jumps like he’s a Edwin Moses in the Olympics.  I look and a rat big as a cat with what appear to be hips, yes hips, scampers along the entrance to the escalator.  OMG!  I HATE rodents. So much so, I don’t like Ratatouille.  That movie is gross and nasty.  Rats carry diseases and they are preparing food in the movie – please! I almost lost my composure in the subway.  Then there are the flying water bugs or cockroaches.  I’ve only seen stuff like that in the south.  What is it doing here?  Make sure your windows have screens and be sure to check between the sheets or you’ll have a surprise.  
Beggars on Broadway.  I stay close to Times Square.  Every morning a certain group of panhandlers, take their stations along Broadway and Eighth Avenue looking pitiful and asking for change from tourists.  What the tourist don’t know is that those people live in SROs (single residence occupancy housing) and hit up the tourists from about 9am til noon and then go chill.  A few will switch spots – move from Midtown West to Midtown East.  Most of them recognize me and they don’t bother me with the spiel when I pass.  I went to an interview in Midtown East and the “homeless” guy that I normally see in my neighborhood recognized me.  “Hey there Miss Lady see you tomorrow morning.”  I had to laugh.  Now I do have respect for the ones that earn the tourist money.  Every New Yorker has a hustle (side gig).  Friday and Saturday around pre-theater dinner, a certain homeless man comes on my block and strategically targets middle-aged couples walking down the street.  He approaches the male and asks, “would you mind if I serenade your lady?”  He then sings “My Girl” better than the original Temptations.  Half way through, he looks at the guy and says “come on join me, let her know how you feel.”  He has his hustle on!  I can appreciate that.
Warning to Tourists.  Now I understand why New Yorkers yell at tourists.  The tourists come to our neighborhood or as they are walking down the street, they suddenly stop, blocking all walkways and pull out a map or start taking pictures.  What?!  Or worse, they walk four deep, side by side, hand in hand.  Didn’t you ever go to school?  Remember, single file line.  That’s why New Yorkers yell, “I’m walking here!”  If you’re driving a car and you are lost or have an emergency you don’t stop in the lane.  You pull over to the side.  Same logic applies when walking New York streets.  People live above the storefronts.  Stop blocking entrances and walkways.  Also, stop sitting on stoops.  You don’t live there, so get your bottom up and go to a park or café to rest.  Our building had a chain across the stoop because tourists would park their butts on the steps, eat lunch, leave wrappings, sit to smoke leaving butts and ashes, or worse puke after leaving the pub.  You can’t tell me these suburbanite tourists would allow a stranger to park their butts anywhere near their front porch.  Be respectful. We’re walking here and we live here.  I can’t say that since I’m new to the city.  However, I almost cried laughing when I saw a man in a wheelchair yell it while on 42nd St.  It’s rush hour and people are walking opposite traffic rules.  The wheelchair guy yells, “you can’t all be stupid. One side walks east one side walks west.  I know you see me here.  Oh, pretend you don’t see me and I’ll run your *** over!” Hilarious.
Respect the Lines.  New Yorkers will stand on line for the bus, at the their favorite restaurants, even the street meat vendor stand.  Don’t make the mistake and cut line – you’re cruising for a bruising.  Regarding the bus, people cue in line during rush hour.  I was on the bus and it pulled at the next stop.  I was wondering why were all the people neatly lined up like school. Duh, they are all getting on the bus. A thirty something hops on then an elderly lady follows him to the back of the bus.  She’s petite and matronly.  She looks at thirty something and says, “you know what you did. You saw all of us and jumped ahead. Don’t do it again!”  The way she said it made me think the little old lady was packing heat, so I took to heart what she said even though the message wasn’t for me. Another time I was in line at Dishes (they love this place particularly fried chicken Fridays).  There’s a line to get in the store and  a line to pay.  One guy jumped to the cash register.  A woman said, “so what do you think we were all doing here.  Don’t act like you didn’t see us.”  Lesson to the wise, don’t jump the line.  Oh yeah, double strollers.  In the words of one New Yorker, “I’m not the one who decided to have two kids so move your double wide stroller out of my way.” 
Subway vs Taxi.  Traffic in NYC is unreal.  Trying to get cross-town is like trying to win season tickets for the Yankees.  Even if you’re in a cab, you’re just sitting as the meter is ticking. Let’s not even talk about the tunnels. If it’s raining, forget about a cab. The fastest way anywhere is the subway/PATH/LIRR.  The schools don’t even use school buses.  I moved here in the summer.  There was a day care/summer camp of kids around 4-6.  They were all getting on the subway.  The kids were single file, tied to a rope and the teacher yelled, “hurry up hop on.”  At a young age, New Yorkers are indoctrinated on the subway.  And don’t play that, I’ll wait for a train less crowded.  Then you will be waiting.  You get over your OCD and fit like sardines in the subway car. The wealthy and famous hop on the subway.  Just don’t take the elevators in the subway.  They are broke most of the time and if you get stuck in one that breaks, it can be hours before you get out.  Also, the subway system isn’t that ADA accessible. Trains generally run on schedule EXCEPT late night and weekends – a crap shoot then so check the MTA or Hopstop for changes. On the up side, some of the best free music is in the subway station.  I heard some good blues at Union Square subway.  They have a nice mix of musician at that stop and pretty good.  There is a woman that plays the spanish guitar and sings a capella at 53rd E station.  Her voice is so beautiful with that guitar.  There is an older gentleman that plays the a flute/wind instrument.  I’ve seen him at 53rd E and at Grand Central.  He plays the same song.  It is soft and beautiful.  If you weren’t raised in church, you’d simply think it is a pretty tune.  He is actually playing “How Great is Our God.”  When I hear it, I smile and remind myself to go to church.
Expect the unexpected, weird and crazy.  It’s NYC- the original home of freaks.  Stare take pictures. Just don’t engage the real crazies.  If you can’t the difference, good luck.  People watching in New York is the best.  Find a good spot to observe people and over hear conversations.  Here’s one I recently overheard.  A guy is on his cell, “don’t you never ever call me again.  Better yet, only call me when you’re dying.”
Restaurants/Diners/Cafes.  I’m frugal (code for cheap).  Almost all restaurants have a prix fixe menu.  The prix fixe menu is cheaper Monday through Friday than weekends.  New Yorkers love their diners.  I’m a diner person for breakfast only.  However, I have jumped on the café food.  The cafes serve at least six different cuisines for lunch (American, Mexican, Italian, Japanese, deli sandwiches, salads) and made to order so it’s fresh and can you say generally $6.95 or less for meatloaf, pot roast, pasta, salmon and veggies.  You have to read reviews, but I found one next to a temp gig I had.  Teriyaki beef – delicious.  Pot roast – just like moms.  Stuffed sole with choice of two sides – yummy.  The portion size was enough for me to eat half for lunch and take the other home for dinner. Tip: don’t stand in line if you don’t know what you want.  Move away until you are ready to order.  Remember – respect the line. New Yorkers generally don’t eat dessert where they eat dinner.  I overheard one guy, “Sunday after church I generally go to Carmine’s for lunch and then head over to Juniors for dessert.” Oh, everybody delivers – even McDonalds.  Having a dinner party, can’t cook, forgot beverages?  No problem.  Order food for delivery and call the spirits store to deliver your beverages.
Bagels and Pizza.  New Yorkers have a relationship with bagels and pizza.  They say the water is what makes a NY bagel different from any other place.  I went to a café for breakfast.  Hearing New Yorkers order their bagel was like an auction in a foreign language.  I don’t understand the language and I don’t want to mess up the line, so I have not had a New York bagel.  I’m dying for one with a good shmear but until I get the language right – no can do.  I’m from Chicago so New Yorkers shut up!  You don’t have to like stuffed pizza.  More for us!  Yeah I said it.  Get over yourselves.  First, I’m not a pizza fan.  I love a good Chicago dog.  But as soon as New Yorkers hear you’re from Chicago they get all haughty like their pizza is haute couture and Chicago is Target.  Whatever!  They know I’m not from here because I don’t fold my slice.  We don’t do that in Chicago because our pizza has muscles – you gotta’ double fist it to eat it.  Also, the traditional New York slice has a chewy crust.  I prefer a flatbread almost cracker crust similar to a Neapolitan pizza – tomatoes mozzarella and a crispy crust.  Now what NY?!  Forget about it.  
NYC is my new home and no other U.S. city compares to its diversity in culture, people, food and originality.  I love the concrete jungle. But a few things haven’t changed.  I’m a White Sox fan, Michael Jordan is the greatest, the best hot dog is a Chicago dog, and I like stuffed pizza.
For more tips check out All Things Midtown NYC.
Ronda Lee
Founder, Editor-in-Chief
Ronda is an attorney, writer, and entrepreneur. She is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Originally from Chicago, she has lived in Los Angeles and New York. She loves to travel and is passionate about education equity, especially for first generation college students.