Now methinks it is time for more meditation upon the topick of la ciudad Nueva York, as I have now resided here for 8 months, and have become a daily inhabitant of its subterranean commuter lifestyle. Many New Yorkers seem to have a distaste/idealization of California in general, whereupon they either think that Californians are too laid-back and boring, or they think that California is paradise. As a native Californian, I can now bear witness to the differences between NYC and Californian lifestyles: really, the only difference comes down to a matter and concept of space. Allow me to elaborate.
In California, we are accustomed to vast amounts of physical space. We drive on wide freeways and vast suburban expanses. We sit in our SUVs and trucks by ourselves, and grow agitated when people drive too close to us or cut us off (although we are accustomed to sitting in thickets of single occupant cars in the midst of traffic jams). We think backyards are normal, and we are off-put by giant crowds.
In New York City, physical space is negligible, for both rich and poor alike, though obviously the rich have more routes and spaces of escape, and they tend not to be packed into their apartments like sardines. All riders of the subway brush up against each other during rush hour, are pressed against strangers in the compress of Times Square, are sideswiped by other shopping carts in the narrow lanes of gourmet grocery stores. All drivers here expect and are undeterred by the close proximity of other vehicles, bikers, and pedestrians.
In NYC, the people are somewhat more homogenous in a sense. Fashion on the street is echoed everywhere—women wear the same Uggs, men wear the same stiff caps, hoodies, or black jeans. There is a certain type of coat and messenger bag style that proliferates. Both women and men here tend towards a fashionable kind of asceticism: stick thin, utilitarian, and dark colored. There is a certain style of self-consciousness in many New Yorkers. They are accustomed to being overheard, stared at, and ignored.
Thus, there isn’t really all that much substance to the stereotype of “New Yorkers are aggressive”, and “Californians are laid-back”. It’s simply a matter of density. When you are shoved all together into a small physical space, then you kind of have to be “aggressive” in order to move forward. But contrary to the stereotype of “aggressiveness”, New Yorkers are also much more accepting in the face of adversity, as they know that people being in their way is a part of life. And contrary to the stereotype of Californians being “laid-back”, Californians tend to be very good at being completely unsympathetic to people and situations outside of their comfort zones, as they aren’t used to being forced to deal with diversity and difference.
What I love about New York is that people of all types are forced up together. And while they may not like each other, they are used to dealing with one another.
What I don’t like about New York is that it is dirty and industrial. All of the subway stations are falling apart, and as good as the public transit system is here, it still sucks—if you take middle-of-the-night trains like I do and you have to actually get somewhere on time. Too many people still insist on driving cars, and drivers here don’t have any patience for pedestrians. Let’s face it: NYC is the epitome of industrially created environments. It’s a completely leveled island on a nearly perfect grid system. This is both what makes it cool and what makes it suck, because all of what makes it hold together always seems on the verge of falling apart.
New Yorkers, being near the northeast with its abundance of rainfall, also don’t seem to understand the preciousness of water the way Californians tend (relatively speaking) to. All day long, I walk by New Yorkers with hoses spraying down vast swaths of concrete, as if that’s cleaning anything. What a waste of drinking water. I’d like to see how New Yorkers would cope with a drought.
I’m still ambivalent about what I think about NYC, just as NYCers themselves seem similarly ambivalent in their views of California. I like that even as big and dirty of a city as it is, people here love their neighborhoods and their communities, and this tends to imbue the city as a whole with a feeling of belonging and acceptance, even in the face of all the travails (i.e. unemployed young men) that urbanity brings.
In any case, I’ve developed an intermittent Queens-style accent, which seems to enable one to make sarcastic and ironic statements in a conversational manner. I have a tendency to adopt regional accents when I am trying to fit in somewhere, such as while I lived in South Lake Tahoe, I developed a slight drawl, or while in Peru, I would speak English with Spanish inflected vowels. Although I have been told by a New Yorker that I have a “California accent”, so the ruse is not complete.
As to where my affiliations ultimately lie, I will always love California, but I don’t know that I want to live there again any time soon. I think that I could live anywhere, and I will always take a little bit of that place with me, and I will always reject some part of it. I am an American, I am a nature boy and an urbanite, I am a hippie and a capitalist, I am a writer and a retail worker. Will I ever find some place that I can finally and with finality call home? We’ll see.