While visiting New York City recently, a thought crossed my mind, “Is It True That There is a Place For Everyone?”
Apparently, everyone who moves to New York becomes a New Yorker instantaneously! New arrivals to the city attest to that, as do former New York City residents, ask me about the latter. I moved to NYC from Boston, MA in 2005. Interestingly, I never felt a belonging to Boston, perhaps because I lived there as a student and within the Boston students “inner enclave”, shut off from the locals! No doubt, Boston is the epicenter for high intellectual learning in America, offering abundant students opportunities: to hangout with fellow students, enjoy student events and student life. Though, migrant students into Boston live largely oblivious to the presence of real “natives” or “locals” in the neighborhood, whose claim to belonging is not a two-year, four-year, or seven-year stint in pursuit of an academic hood and cap!
So, when I moved to NYC, it did not take too long before I felt a sense of belonging. I caught on so quickly like a wild fire, assumed my entitlement on the first day I stepped out to start my job in Manhattan. Every morning and evening when I took the train Brooklyn-Manhattan-Brooklyn, I felt as much a part of the subway ride, the street experience, the music and rats on the illustrious subway. NYC brought back memories of Kampala, my city of birth in Uganda. Similar hustle and bustle, and “everyone got an attitude and knows it” style. Like NYC, Kampala has something for everyone, street fanfare – art, food or accessories vendors, bike or food service delivery, lost souls and homelessness, plus abundant space to make, break or re-make anyone. In 50c lingua, “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
But there is a price to pay for that “Free society” kind of Kampala or New York mindset. Certainly true in NYC! You will meet a lover for a minute or day, an admirer of your art, an ear to listen, a dance partner, entertainment, or free exhibition, gallery or museum opening with free cocktails! None of these ‘freebies’ promise to stay for-ever, especially when you are living it out solo in The City! In that sea of people, it is 10!% possible to feel lonely. Single life is abundant in NYC, finding love is water in the desert, tougher for women who out-ratio men in the city. Out at a bar or dance lounge, you will mingle and easily make ‘friends’ for the night. But they will quickly become strangers as you exit; don’t try to claim you know them on the streets!
My recent trip to NYC brought back all those memories, images and mixed emotions, looking at lonely people, homeless, robotic pedestrians, wannabes, freestylers, hustlers, friends and lovers. The city looked calm; even Chinatown looked too cool and clean for my liking, sadly! Not to suggest that I did not see happy people, street performers, beautiful boutiques, trendy stores, global brands or juicy splashdown sales. Or the corporate careerists, bubbly college students, colorful fashion, minimalist eateries.
Truth is, I did not feel the Joni “Squeal’ Ernst, “The Greatest Country on Earth” vibe! I didn’t feel as much bustle and energy that tourists feel and bring crowding NYC streets, or the colorfulness that fills NYC streets on Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Rockefeller Christmas Tree or the Caribbean Labor Day Carnival. It was a cloud of loneliness that typically engulfs NYC residents whose lives do not allow them a joyride on the the cities Citi Bikes, to look up in the skies and count the clouds, a walk in Central park, a minute break to enjoy the street performers on 14th street, the gifted artists on the subway platform, or the “bright city lights” of Times Square. I saw many more lost far from the magnificence of the Big Apple, for whom sinking $4.99 into a street meal would mean a lifetime of bad investment .
Yes, NYC reminded me that there is a place for everyone! From dog walkers, street artists, natural foodies, executives, academics, fashionistas, bus drivers, tourists, smokers, little schoolers, corporate junkies and hourly workers. They wore their “I am a New Yorker” attitude, but the streets also told another side of their stories. There was a lot of emptiness! From Canal, through Chelsea to 14th street, it was not the “Brand NY” anymore, per me. Even parents walking home from school with their children along Broadway and 14th street, or mom and daughter seated in a pizza joint in The Village did not stimulate my duct bile for “My New York”.
The young woman, who spent over thirty minutes in a restroom at Dunkin Donuts, turned the clouds grab! After waiting [im]patiently to use the bathroom, for what could have been thirty minutes, she came out looking timid, reminding me of the ‘hard-knock’ living it out in The City. She was carrying many bags in her hands, looked a little ‘freshened-up’, put on her ‘fresh jacket and scarf, and headed headed out for the day. Thankfully, DD provides the opportunity to use a restroom sink and sitting area, for those without a permanent home or waiting area.
Lest we forget, NYers come together in time of great need, to share stories of inspiration, pain, achievement, accomplishments, sacrifices and life events. Indeed, no better platform captures the sprit and convergence of the New York sprit than Humans of New York (HONY)! In true American Spirit, no better non-institutionalized non-conscious establishment can replace HONY, providing a platform for NYers to be the random strangers becoming friends, they are good at, reach out for one another in words, skill or process, and share concern, courage and encouragement with each other.
With all its variety of global cuisines, the breathtaking architecture, the ‘walking’ Zombies, the burbly or mechanical lifestyles one encounters on NYC streets, plenty are prancing up and about the streets in desperate search for “the next rent gig”, for love, security and stability. “The Place for Everyone” is also a scary place for plenty of others looking for more than a cosmopolitan affair or wild city dream. True, NY eats natural, organic and minimalist, except when worshiping at the altar of Haute Couture, splashing off Runway, or committing to remain Forever 21. Public spaces are abundantly curved out with seats in the middle of the street for a coffee, bite or to bask in the lunch-time sun at Herald Square, illustrious runways at Bryant Park and dog play park at Washington Square. New York City wants to be that artistic piece that never fades of anyone’s imagination and longing, a lover entrapping one into a lifetime relationship. Yet with all its welcome and host to feet from all walks of life, its spirit does not belong to everyone, its soul ages with time, and its culture is a mixed bag of post-realism, hullabaloo and a lot of emptiness!