Thursday, May 2, 2013
What Makes Someone a True New Yorker?
Looking for a little writing inspiration so I went back into my journalism archives to find this commentary I did about NYC. In my opinion it's one of the best things I've written, and one of my favorite college memories. Check it out, let me know what you think!
What Makes Someone a True New Yorker?
The journey began at the Eltingville train station on Staten Island. Waiting for the train in the chilly morning air is always enough to fully awaken even the groggiest morning person. On the train were a collaboration of business suits and the bright uniformed sweaters of Monsignor Farrell students. The faces and the atmosphere told the story of monotony, as the train was quiet except with the sounds of newspaper pages turning. The operator came on after a delay and announced, “Due to fallen leaves on the tracks we are forced to ride slower today. We may still make the nine o’clock ferry.” The train became filled with the concerned and panicked moans of the patrons on board worried about being late for their obligations.
Worry turned into ease as the train arrived with five minutes to spare. The once flustered crowd settled into their standing room spots until the ferry doors opened. Then like before, it all turned into chaos as everyone rushed on board like there were no seats left. People disperse and the tourists stand on the outside in hopes of capturing a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. They then line up to take a photograph of the incoming skyline of a noticeably empty Twin Towers. To the average person the skyline becomes routine, but perhaps for the true New Yorker it’s an act of trying to not bring back memories of that fateful day.
Pulling into the Manhattan terminal was like déjà vu. The boat empties, and there goes the rush of people moving with no regard to life except for their own to make the bus or train. Out the doors a few people stop to grab some fresh fruit or pastry from the little market upstairs. Beyond the fruit stands and escalators is a whole new world right through those doors. All around is a city of skyscrapers that descend up forever. To think just eight years ago, in what seems like an eternity and yesterday at the same time, these very streets were filled with confusion, destruction, and death. Not more than a few blocks away are the former sites of the World Trade Center.
Known to the average person as ground zero, most considered it a piece of their home. Sadly at this juncture in time not much progress has been made to restore it back to its former glory. What was once filled with the hustle and bustle of workers, and the ca-ching of money being made through firms and businesses is now filled with the sounds of passing trucks and construction work. Cranes and caution tape cover a fence put up to obstruct any view of the crater that once was the World Trade Center. At the corner next to the tribute museum is a Burger King. In such a historic place the only scent is that of Whoppers and the dust of construction. The sacredness of the once thriving business capital of the world is gone. At least there is a consolation of hope in being between Liberty and Church Street, but what’s really in a name.
A trip on the Subway brings you to a new city. Gone are the monstrous buildings and traffic infested streets. Walking around W165th Street feels more like a quiet part of Brooklyn or even a small city in California. The people are classy looking and dressed casually sharp. Local eateries and fancy restaurants and cafés dominate the lining of the streets. In the middle of it all is Columbia University. Walking inside is kind of like walking into the European charter schools you see in the movies. The architecture resembles London with the high arching ceilings and old rustic textures of the buildings. Even the libraries look like grand churches or law buildings. Oddly enough walking the grounds is a bohemian and Cali kid population. Students are wearing flip-flops and shorts, and almost all but absent is a baseball cap. The girls are wearing hoodies, and most aren’t socializing but just trying to get to class. Passing through from one side of campus to the other transports you back to the quiet city experienced before. This stays intact until the East Side.
This is Harlem. From Columbia to Harlem is a rapid change of scenery. Harlem looks like a more built up Flushing Queens, but nevertheless is mostly run down. Graffiti infests the buildings, and the stores alternate between barely living, and brand-new. The air is filled with the chatter of what looks to be an active community with people everywhere doing something. Boom boxes are blaring old school rap, while even the old men walking by are dancing to the beat. The hip-hop scene is clearly evident in the Latino and African-American minority made majority in Harlem. While many of the brownstones were in shambles they still looked beautiful. A sense of pride for some residents was seen with fresh coats of paint and a manicured garden. These few bright spots provided a stark comparison between houses.
The smells of culture ran loose from block to block. One moment you could smell chicken or fish being cooked, while the next moment you breathe in lamb or heavy incense. The streets seem to get progressively better looking as the Apollo Theater grew closer in radius. On one of the buildings surrounding the Apollo, was a huge mural expanding over two walls. The mural expressed the importance of themes like: love, self image, respect, and hope. This makes for a wonderful motif for Harlem. Better times are coming, keep persevering.
The day was coming to a close, and yet in this small sampling of culture it’s not hard to see the ecliptic group of people calling this same place home. Though the lifestyles may vary, we are all New Yorkers in the same. What does it mean to be from New York? It means living your life the best way you can in an environment that caters to nearly every person imaginable. It means looking past stereotypes and being able to walk in the shoes of someone else and understand they are just like you in some way. It’s a privilege to be able to say, “I’m proud to be from New York.”