Dining Solo

Over the past few years, my husband has been taking two-week, twice-yearly work trips, and while he’s away, I’ve made it a point to take myself out, solo, to a few nice meals. I almost always sit at the bar, where I’m able to absorb a bit more of the surrounding buzz. I generally choose spots that are vibrant, but not too new or trendy, so I can read an article, write a poem, or just generally enjoy myself without high-pitched drunken screeching in the background. (Note: it’s crazy how much your tolerance for aforementioned screeching dovetails once you enter your 30s). Also, a nice long bar that’s somewhat removed from any kind of waiting area helps ensure that you’re not dodging elbows the whole night. There are other spots I frequent alone if I’m really craving a signature dish and am willing to contend with the crowds, i.e. the cacio e pepe at Via Carota, the burger at Raoul’s, or the very different but equally as crave-worthy burger at Bar Sardine, but here are the ones I turn to where a low-key yet festive evening is nearly guaranteed.

Ed’s Lobster Bar: This pocket-size restaurant is mostly bar and is probably the most mellow of the bunch. It has a nice, classic Soho vibe, and one afternoon a few years ago, my husband and I saw both Bobby Flay and Alejandro Inárritu (the multiple-Oscar winning director) dining here. I generally come here on a weeknight, get the half lobster roll—plenty of lobster meat, full-size roll, full order of textbook-perfect fries, and nearly half the price at $20—and de-stress from the day.

Porsena: On the Friday night I chose to eat here, there were three other solo diners at the bar, including some industry folk. It was busy, but not crazy—a perfect place to come on a weekend night when you want to be out, but not you know, OUT. It helped that the pasta I had, an anelloni with spicy sausage, mustard greens and toasted bread crumbs, was one of my favorite dishes of the past year.

Simon and the Whale or Studio: I am a huge fan of the cuisine at all of Gabe Stulman’s restaurants, though they tend to get a little nutty during peak hours. Which is why his two outposts at the Freehand hotel in Gramercy, many blocks away from most of his spots in the West Village, feel like a nice respite. The crowd is varied in age, and there is plenty of room to spread out. The other night, I started with a memorable fish sandwich at flagship restaurant Simon and the Whale then moved upstairs for a cocktail and a scoop of ice cream at all-day cafe Studio. And, I felt perfectly at ease in both spaces. On a Friday night, no less!

Fausto: I may be a bit biased, since this restaurant is a 4-minute walk from my apartment, but it’s a solid choice when choosing to dine alone in Brooklyn. I’ve eaten dinner at the bar with my husband, but I recently came for a solo brunch, where I tucked into a massive plate of Instagram-worthy ricotta pancakes. The experience made for a relaxing morning, and the pancakes were divine, albeit the size of a hubcap.

Cervo’s: There’s something special about this Lower East Side Spanish-Portuguese seafood spot. It feels like an undiscovered gem, somehow both revelatory and classic. Here, the bar seats are some of the best in the house, where you can watch the almost entirely female cooking staff whip up dishes like crispy shrimp, Spanish mackerel, and my favorite, a lamb burger with white anchovy.

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Advice for NYC Newbies

Photo courtesy of Michael Nardullo

I asked a few friends of the blog what bit of advice they’d give to new arrivals. All are non-native New Yorkers who have been here for 9 years or more, so they’ve gone through it, too.

Life is stressful everywhere, but it seems to be to the nth degree in this city. It sounds cliché, but I think it’s important to implement some regular self-care practices in your life before the stress has a chance to catch up with you. It’s like the equivalent of preventative medicine, but for your soul. That looks different for everyone, of course. But for me, personally, it’s getting out of the city into nature, meditating and practicing yoga, going for walks, and disconnecting from technology every now and then. And when there’s a little extra money in the bank, I might spring for the pinnacle of self-care: a glorious massage.—Cristina, 14 years

My piece of advice would be to give NYC time. Living here is unlike living anywhere else, so it’s okay if it takes a year (or 3!) to figure out how to survive, and THEN you can start actually enjoying the city. It’s sort of like getting into a good book. Sometimes you have to struggle through 100 (or more) pages before you get used to the author’s rhythm and become fluent enough in their use of language to enjoy reading the story. There are also a lot of cheap ways to see Broadway and off-Broadway theater, so take advantage!—Julia, 15 years

Get a library card (or three — Brooklyn and Queens have their own library systems in addition to New York Public Library, which serves Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx). All you need is some photo ID and a piece of mail or lease agreement with your name and new NYC address. —Brian, 13 years

Explore a bunch of different neighborhoods and talk to people you meet along the way. It’s rare to be in such a densely packed space with so many different types of people.—Justin, 17 years

In the summer, hold your breath in the subway elevator. If one subway car is empty, but the rest are full, there’s a reason.—Amanda, 9 years

A few things to share:

  • When you first move here, try to live in Manhattan. If you want the full New York experience, that’s where it’s at.
  • Try to keep in mind that [Manhattan] is a very small island, so act accordingly—take only one seat, watch where you’re going, tolerate your personal space being violated, etc.
  • Drink the tap water, it’s the best.
  • When it comes to subway passes, get a per-ride, you’ll walk more. [Ed Note: would recommend this only for Manhattanites]
  • Be prepared to walk… a lot. More than you think.
  • Try to remember that everyone who’s moved here has heard the expression, “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” and then decided to accept the challenge and moved here. This is a city of hustlers trying to be the best at what they do. —Joe, 13 years

Don’t run to catch the train. Like, really, almost never-ever-ever let yourself run to catch the train. Just take the next one. It feels great to consciously rebel against the mad rush around you. And when one pulls in that’s packed door-to-door and floor-to-ceiling? Just take the next one.—Jonathan, 15 years

Be patient, and try not to get disillusioned if you have some terrible days early on. The thing about NYC is that a truly heinous day can be followed by one of the best days of your life. That’s just how things work here; everything is heightened, so you experience the most intense version of every possible situation and emotion. Granted, that kind of life is not for everyone, which is perfectly fine, so if it’s not for you, don’t feel like a failure for recognizing that and moving on. Also, remember that it takes a little while to get those necessities—job, apartment, friendships—in order. Soon, chances are, everything will feel comfortable and familiar, in a way that’s hard to imagine now.

I wouldn’t necessarily describe most New Yorkers as mindful, but boy does this city reward mindfulness. (I’ve gone so far as to call it “the introvert’s city.“) Stop, look around, and absorb that skyline view, or perfect park day, or buzzy ethnic enclave. These are your reasons for being here. The city is a sparkling, chaotic supernova of people and culture and food and architecture, and you’re here to experience it all. Amazing, right?

And lastly, EXPLORE! All over the five boroughs! Don’t know where to start? Go to Queens, where wandering a neighborhood like Astoria (Greek and Arab), Flushing (Chinese and Korean), and Jackson Heights (Latin American and Indian) can feel literally transportive.—Me, 15 years

NYC is a Place of Dissenters and Immigrants

How many times must it be said: “dissent is patriotic.” Maybe saying isn’t enough. Maybe shouting it, over and over, is in order. American history is filled with examples of dissenters who have moved the country forward by helping it realize—in actuality, not abstraction—the ideals on which it was founded. Labor organizers, suffragists, Civil Rights protestors, LGBTQ organizers, anti-war activists. Many of these protesters were immigrants who saw in this country a place that could be transformed into something better, because the mechanisms for transformative change were in place. They had the tools to see it through: a democratic, though flawed, election process, a forward-thinking Constitution, and an active and stand-alone judiciary.

Nearly every single milestone right we’ve won has been the result of years of dissent and provocation, much of it on the streets of this very city. My heart swells when I pass a protest, even when it’s a message I vehemently disagree with. I’d say I’m happier to witness a protest I disagree with, because it furthers the idea that all can be heard here.

We are closer to what we were meant to be because we question, fight, and work for a better future. We openly criticize policies, politicians, and outdated laws. Want more proof that critique is utterly American? Our First Amendment protections are the strongest in the world. In essence, it is our duty to call out, without fear of retribution, what we believe is problematic.

As an immigrant from the Soviet Union, where dissent was verboten and my own great-grandfather was murdered for casually remarking about a life outside the U.S.S.R, I love this country because when it shines, I see the very best of humanity—openness, civility, and liberty. It’s the promise of America that makes it great. Whether it always lives up to that promise is a different story, but as we’ve been taught by our great leaders, progress isn’t linear. Our country’s history is an amalgamation of heroism and tragedy, of puzzling contradictions. As we were preparing to go to the moon, police officers, with tacit approval, were brutalizing peaceful Civil Rights protesters all over the South. As the United States was engaging in a battle to defeat fascism, Japanese-Americans were being held prisoner as possible traitors for simply sharing the same country of origin as America’s enemy. (No such internment took place for German-Americans, who hosted a thousands-strong pro-Nazi rally right in Madison Square Garden in 1939. Another example of how race has played an ugly role in how this country treats its immigrants.)

But our greatness is carved into our bones. The fact that, despite being seemingly unconcerned with the fact that his own words didn’t apply to enslaved black people or women, Thomas Jefferson was still able to construct one the most powerful statements ever written: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” To me, the most moving part isn’t “all men are created equal”; it’s the first clause, that equality is a truth that doesn’t need explanation. This sentiment is not something anyone needs to prove. It just is, no questions—especially here, in the city of dissenters and immigrants.

A Recent Encounter

I had one of those unpleasant big-city encounters a few weeks ago, the kind that makes small-town folk say, “see that’s why I could never live in the city.” It was a crowded morning commute and a man who looked mentally unwell singled me out for some very nasty verbal abuse. I put on my headphones and tried to drown it at as best I could for as long as we were stuck between stations. After I transferred trains, I had a strange realization. I wasn’t that affected by it. Yes, I felt disgust toward him, but it was fleeting. It was hurtful, but it wasn’t “real” in the sense that his words didn’t actually mean anything concrete. They weren’t pointed. They didn’t get at true insecurities. But more than that, I realized that I’d grown thicker-skinned since first moving here nearly 15 years ago. I almost expected the encounter? How can you not, when traveling twice a day, for 30 minutes at a time, in a metal tube trapped with total strangers who embody every kind of human. “New York City” makes one thick-skinned, I thought.

And then immediately after, I thought something else: the city makes one more empathetic, too. And somehow those two states of being exist simultaneously. In the same moment as I was observing myself more unbothered than I expected by his abuse, I felt sorry for him. Actually, not so much “sorry,” which is a passive emotion, but truly empathetic. I thought about his brain, how it was misfiring, how hard it must be to live that kind of life, especially when the illness manifests in vitriol towards other people. I wished he’d find help. New York City, if you let it, can make you more empathetic, because the suffering is in your face, you can’t hide from it. Some grow callous, but that’s not a given. Not if you really see our fellow New Yorkers. A thicker skin and greater empathy aren’t inherent contradictions.

The city forces you to confront these layered emotions. It requires constant mental recalibration, which is equal parts exhausting and exhilarating. Once you’re here, it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else.

What’s Your Favorite New York Book or Movie?

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A few friends of the blog share their favorites. What are yours?

I get a kick out of the slightly skewed perspective of New York showcased in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Characters climb into a taxi with the door painted “Gypsy Cab Co.” The family lives in a mansion way uptown and attends the 375th Street Y. As a bonus, Anderson makes many allusions to J.D. Salinger’s Glass family, some of my favorite New York characters in literature!—Kevin, Park Slope

Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon really encapsulates the desperation felt in late summer in New York City when all the wealthy have fled to the Hamptons and you are stuck here boiling. The movie also provides a good sense of how New Yorkers interact with one another when they are forced to. —MacKenzie, Greenpoint

Eyes Wide Shut – Film as fugue state as metaphor for so many Saturday nights in the city.—Jonathan, Windsor Terrace

Does Eloise count? It was my first introduction to New York City as a child, years before I even had the chance to visit. To this day, the book captures the magic of the city for me, the feeling that anything is possible here.—Lauren, Downtown Brooklyn

Rear Window highlights some of NYC’s worst qualities – sweltering summers and extremely close quarters. It’s not a love letter to the city yet manages to make you feel proud to be among those who can stand the heat.—Jen, Brooklyn Heights

Everything there is to know in life, we learned from The World of Henry Orient. Two teen girls follow a mysterious concert pianist around 1960s Manhattan, therein discovering the true meaning of friendship, how to put on rouge, and that the big rocks in Central Park are perfect for a stakeout.—Beryl and Jennie, Morningside Heights

I like The Liar’s Ball.  The book is about the sale of the GM Building and includes all the big real estate players—Trump, Harry Macklowe, Will Zeckendorf.  It’s a very cool look inside a big New York real estate deal.—Justin, Midtown West

My pick: I adore how Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem embraces the grit of 1980s New York with earnestness and awe in Coming to America. The film speaks to how the rawness of the city can enchant. And while I hold no romance for petty theft, crappy apartments, and armed robbery, I do think the movie effectively captures the essence of the weird and wonderful people who inhabit this city—from the barbershop men to the gawking subway riders to Elaine Kagan’s scene-stealing turn as the sarcastic Western Union worker.

The Meaning-Seeker’s Guide to NYC

There’s a reason the night sky plays such an active role in nearly every culture dating back millennia. It is our tether to the scope of everything. Without the stars, we lose our footing and forget that we are, in fact, part of something vast and glorious and, well, magical.

When we look for meaning, it’s not just about understanding why we’re here, in the very practical sense of why consciousness exists. It’s also about feeling a part of something, a great human tableau that seems to have a collective soul of its own.

We matter, just for the simple reason that we exist alongside each other, and here are some places in the city that help remind us of that.

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Central Park bench plaques: When I need to feel especially attuned to cosmic interconnectedness, I trudge to Central Park and take my time strolling around and reading the plaques attached to the benches. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, these plaques are used as a fundraiser, and at $10,000 a piece they endow the important work of the Central Park Conservancy. More than 4,100 plaques have been added to 9,000 of the park’s benches. The inscribed messages range from marriage proposals to thoughtful obituaries to musings on the beauty of the park. Each is a tiny but intimate window into the life of a New Yorker or New York lover. I’m usually in tears a few plaques in. (There are lots of obits.) Pro tip: Go now, when you’ll have plenty of empty benches to peruse, as opposed to in summer, when they’re all full of weary park goers.

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Chuck Close subway mosaics: Art can make us feel spiritually fulfilled. Something about the way in which it captures us—our moods, our moments, our likeness—and reflects it all back in a way that makes things a tad more comprehendible. Recently, one of the installations that moved me most was not in a museum. It was public art, part of the 86th station on the newly opened 2nd Avenue subway. The station is filled with 12 large-scale Chuck Close mosaic portraits in a variety of styles, featuring tiny glass pieces, large painted tile, realistic rendering, Close’s signature circle mosaics and more. The massive scale makes each portrait especially poignant. 

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Scales of the Universe exhibit: I’m of two minds about the universe and how its scope relates to our own philosophy of relevance. On the one hand, it seems we matter less if we’re so infinitesimally small in relation to what’s out there. On the other hand, we have the power to learn and understand the “bigness” of what’s out there, so maybe we really do matter after all. Come face to face with these grand questions inside the striking Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. The Scales of the Universe exhibit circles the Planetarium, using the sphere as a scale of reference for the macro and micro measurements of our world. It starts as a representation of the observable universe and ends as a representation of rhinovirus, so you can try to understand both the universe’s enormous expanse as well as its precision. 

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Sunset Park overlook: There are boastful views. You know the kind. They’re grand, and they know they’re grand. These include views from places like Top of the Rock and One World Observatory. Sometimes, though, it’s more low-key perches that invite a literal and figurative change in perspective. Take this view of Manhattan from Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. It feels almost like a discovery, like you’re one of the few people who’ve come upon it. The unexpectedness of it makes it that much more impactful. In a way, it’s a subtle reminder of the power of a different angle. 

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Lady M crêpe cake: Some people say that the meaning of life can’t be found on a plate. To these people, I say: you haven’t had Lady M’s signature crêpe cake. There’s no way for me to praise this dessert without coming off as melodramatic. It is a soft, delicate flower after a warm, spring rain. It is a first kiss with your first crush. It is the reason why the universe exists. Wait, did I go too far there? Excuse my sensationalism, I was mid-bite. This dessert’s perfection stems from its simplicity—20 thin crêpes, delicate cream, a crème brûléed top. It’ll help make you a believer. 

Favorite Things Lately, Volume 11

Rose Main Reading Room at NYPL: It’s almost a religious experience walking into this world-famous, recently renovated space. Behold the chandeliers, the stone archways and oversize windows, the intricately molded ceiling. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the room resembles a kind of cathedral as it seems to be a literal monument to the power of ideas and scholarship.  It’s also my favorite place in the city to write.

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Mini Zip Wallet from Everlane: I happen to be somewhat wallet-averse. I need to keep things light in a purse I lug around all day, and most women’s wallets are way too bulky. I’ve been stuffing everything into a threadbare Anthropologie giveaway change purse for the past 4 years. It’s gotten super gross. Enter this adorable mini wallet from online clothing and accessories shop Everlane. The company is all about ethical sourcing and transparent pricing, so every item has a breakdown of all related costs (labor, materials, duties, etc.). At $50 (with a true cost of $23), this wallet, made in Spain, is a very good deal as far as small leather goods go. My husband, a product developer and industry insider (who does not work for Everlane, promise) praised the workmanship and the price.

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courtesy of Everlane

Turkey Leg Sandwich at Henry Public: After half-a-dozen years, this iconic sandwich ($17) is still worthy of gushing prose. The sandwich’s juiciness is derived from the very un-Kosher process of braising the pulled turkey leg meat in milk for hours. Add crispy, deep-fried onions, a heaping side of French fries, an expertly made cocktail, and you’ve got the ideal meal for these short, dark days.

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oo35mm: A haven for beauty junkies who’ve tired of Sephora, this pocket-size, 2nd story Chinatown shop is brimming with an assortment of beauty products, many of them imported from South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. The employees are super helpful, especially when asked to talk through the dozens of single-use sheet masks, infused with a variety of ingredients like rose, honey, and 24K gold. Some even resemble animal faces! They’re an affordable indulgence at around $1.50 to $4.50 a piece.

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The “I’d Actually Want This” NYC-Themed Gift Guide

I’m by no means a minimalist, but unnecessary tchotchkes do tend to make me anxious. I’d never buy an item without first imagining where in my home I’d place it. All of the below are gifts I either already own–and think you should own, too–or things I’d happily own. Each represents the city in a specific, unique way.

1. TWA vintage NYC poster: I’ve had a mild obsession with vintage airline posters recently, and this David Klein creation (from $26 for 16 x 20) is one of my favorites. The vibrant colors, the cubist reimagining of Times Square–the design is a work of art. Which is exactly why it’s part of MoMA’s collection, with prints sold at the MoMA Design Store.

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David Klein: New York Fly TWA print; courtesy of MoMA Design Store

2. Good Morning Asshole mug: Okay, this mug ($14.95) from cheeky New York-based tableware purveyor Fishs Eddy isn’t explicitly NYC-themed, but it reads like something one New Yorker might say to another. We don’t mince words around here, and insults can actually be used affectionately. This mug is wishing you a good–versus bad–morning, right?  Give to friends or family members who need to be reminded they are, in fact, assholes before their first sip of caffeine. I’ll even forgive the missing comma.

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courtesy of Fishs Eddy

3. Serenity Now clock: Seinfeld is the archetypal New York show. More so than its story arcs, the sitcom had an overarching NYC ethos–biting, nihilistic, sarcastic–that’s difficult to properly articulate. Channel your inner Frank Costanza (possibly the show’s funniest character) with this modern, attractive “serenity now” wall clock ($30), and hope to avoid Lloyd Braun’s “insanity later” fate.

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courtesy of Society6

4. Juilliard T-shirt: When I was younger, a local college t-shirt or sweatshirt was one of my favorite souvenirs when I visited a new city. I used to focus on Ivys or the bigger state schools–Dartmouth, Berkeley–but apparel from small, niche institutions seems a bit more memorable. I adore this vintage-inspired T-shirt ($30) from NYC’s own Juilliard, the nation’s best performing arts conservatory.

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courtesy of The Juilliard Store

5. Katz’s Delicatessen chocolate egg cream candle: Have you ever had a chocolate egg cream? If not, you’ll be shocked to learn there is, in fact, no egg and no cream. It’s actually a fizzy concoction of chocolate syrup and seltzer. Sounds strange, but I highly recommend it! The drink was, for a long time, a staple of NYC delis and soda shops. Get it in candle form ($28) from NYC pastrami kings Katz’s Delicatessen.

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courtesy of UncommonGoods

6. Levain Bakery cookies: I have a dear friend who lives on the Upper West Side. Whenever she arrives for a party in Brooklyn, she brings cookies from Levain, a bakery in her neighborhood. Why? Because she’s smart. She knows the cookies are an NYC mainstay and that people are obsessed with them. Levain’s cookies are huge, gooey, under-baked and somehow stay fresh for days. People swoon over the chocolate chip, but I’m gaga over the chocolate with peanut butter chips. The 8-pack assortment ($49) is ideal for an NYC expat.

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courtesy of Levain Bakery

7. The Light of New York book: There is a beautiful, moody quality to the ghostly black-and-white images of New York City in The Light of New York ($75, Assouline). Jean-Michel Berts captures a city at dawn, empty of its citizens and sparking with a just-under-the surface energy. My husband and I used it as a sign-in book at our wedding.

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courtesy of Assouline

8. Hamilton cast recording: It may well be one of the greatest artistic achievements of our time, and you still don’t own it? I can speak for hours about my love of Hamilton, but you won’t understand until you listen (from $18.99). Set in New York City (“history is happenin’ in Manhattan, and we just happen to be, in the greatest city in the world, in the GREATEST CITY IN THE WORLD…”) this multi-genre-infused musical follows the dramatic rise and sudden fall of one of our more-overlooked founding fathers.

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courtesy of Atlantic Records

On Kindness in a Big City

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There are days when seemingly everyone you encounter is rude. And not rude in a subtle, didn’t-keep-the-door -open-for-those-behind-him kind of way. They’re angry and downright hostile, and it can be difficult to shake off those encounters. This is what city people are like, you start to think. They’re selfish; they’re mean; they’ve lost their humanity.

But then, just as you’ve lost hope, someone does something extraordinarily kind, and you realize it’s not about the city–it’s about how people behave in general. They run the gamut from saintly to evil and here in NYC, you have to deal with all of it. Every single version of a human is on perpetual display; there’s no escape. We can’t seal ourselves off in cars or in large-lot suburban homes. We’re crushed together–often literally–as we make our way through the day.

Some visitors might get annoyed that our faces aren’t always open and smiling, but that’s not how city residents show kindness. In fact, smiling at the thousands of people you pass on the street on a daily basis might make you seem deranged. Being aware of how much space you take up, not bothering people if they look like they want to be left alone–that’s what being nice is in NYC. Rules that make sense elsewhere don’t really make sense here. And no, the bar isn’t lower. The spirit of humanity is still very much on display.

If I slip on a city sidewalk, I often have too many people offer to help me up. When my husband and I have picked up furniture we bought through Craigslist, bystanders have helped us secure the pieces to a car, and different bystanders have helped us carry them up to our fifth-floor walkup, all without being asked. I’ve observed fellow New Yorkers help those in distress, help those who are injured or lost. And just yesterday, I witnessed something that might seem inconsequential to non-city dwellers: three separate subway riders gently touched the arms of their fellow commuters to prevent them from sitting in a puddle of water. Initiated physical contact is almost verboten here, so this tiny bit of interaction seemed almost poignant. The rescued commuters didn’t mind being touched; they were grateful to be saved from the indignity of a wet behind. It’s a delicate rhythm, and we try and learn it and live it as best we can.

None of this is to say that every NYC resident is kind. They’re everything and everyone. They’re humanity at its worst and at its best. There are too many New Yorkers, and we’re all too different, for it to be any other way.

Why It’s Easier to Walk in NYC

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There are days when my husband and I may walk 10 or more miles across the city before we realize how much distance we’ve covered.  If it’s a nice weekend day, walking is the activity, and we might cross all of northern Brooklyn, make our way to Manhattan, and then keep walking until it’s time to go home or meet up with friends. We try to choose routes we’ve never taken and streets we’ve never traversed. After 12 years as NYC residents, we find there’s still so much to see. (Like a historic Jewish cemetery on West 21st we first noticed a few months ago.) We’re not superhuman–we get tired eventually, but it’s usually after we’ve already logged more than 25,000 steps.

Last month, while on vacation in South Carolina, I thought about how much easier it is to walk in the city than elsewhere. My husband and I went for a stroll in our beachside neighborhood. After about 30 minutes, my energy began to wane. The houses were beautiful, but they were similar and, at least per New York City standards, spaced far apart.

It’s about stimuli, I soon realized. In the city, especially in NYC, there is so much to look at. And it’s all different. The stimuli–the variation–of a city streetscape can infuse us with energy. This effect was clearly evident when I walked the 25-block length of a street festival in my neighborhood, then turned down a parallel avenue and walked back home along a residential block. After the visual bombardment of the festival, the walk along the rows of brownstones, especially since it was one I’d made many times, felt like a slog.

And while a city walk may not be as ideal as a nature stroll for those wishing to focus or meditate, it’s a nearly unbeatable activity for those hoping to be inspired–writers, especially.

In an experience that echoes my own, a waitress interviewed by The New York Times in 2009 speaks about how she easily walks 20 miles a day in the city. “It’s different to walk here than it is to walk in the country,” she said. After only 5 miles of walking along a road in rural Pennsylvania, she had to call a cab to pick her up. She was exhausted and couldn’t go on. “There was nothing, just fields.”

 

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