Recently I had the pleasure of visiting my cousin in New York. It had been about 4 years since I last visited. In fact, in the past 2 decades I had visited New York like every 4 or 7 years. Long enough to notice the changes and short enough to compare. My first time there was around 1996 and I remember a darker New York; a more dangerous city than in the years to come. In the year 2000, when Lenny Kravitz played at the start of the millennium, I was back and enjoying the city. That year I did the typical tours, but also visited the not-so-touristic neighborhoods. I noticed security improved greatly and the city was super accelerated. Then, after 2001, I felt that the city had slowed down and was under hyper-vigilance and paranoia – logically traumatized. But then, NYC came back with renewed energy. This year was fantastic. The city felt younger, more elegant, and cooler than ever.
The excitement is palpable in the pubs and restaurants during Friday’s rush hour in Manhattan. Bearded men with their stylish trims (you know, buzz-cut on the sides with the sleek top) trying to impress the well-dressed ladies. They impregnate the air with an irrefutable energy, making you feel that everything is possible. It’s a contagious rush that I could feel running through my veins. What really hit me was the increase in the number of gyms, yoga studios, and organic food places all over the city. It’s as if there was a massive communal awakening about the need to keep healthy and in shape. Then, the moment of shock came as I was mapping my way to my cousin’s place in Brooklyn and dealing with the Subway ticketing machines. I must admit, I was kind of lost and very tired from my bus trip. My patience was tested as there was no personnel around that I could ask for help. There was a visibly stressed and sweaty woman behind me who was constantly bringing her hands up to her head in a clear sign of desperation. She clearly needed to get somewhere ASAP. Still, I dared to ask her for directions. To my dismay she was super nice. She patiently explained the best way to get to my destination. But it didn’t end there. As I offered to let her go ahead of me, she kindly declined – probably because she could see the state of extreme fatigue I was in.
The area was riddled with CCTV cameras and police men with bigger guns. Yet, they were really discreet, and the people that at first did not appear to be friendly, were incredibly warm and nice. People from all social statuses and ethnic backgrounds just blended. People stopped being Latinos, or Italians or Indians or whites; they were all, simply, cool New Yorkers.
That feeling was further supported by my experience at the SOHO Festival of San Genaro. There were all kinds of people hanging out together, eating Italian food, just being. French, Italians, Russians, Indus, you name it, they were there. What I learned was that while each community had its own character, they all came together to enrich the city’s culture as a whole. First and foremost, they are New Yorkers. From the Italian Café in Brooklyn, in the middle of what I thought was a Latin neighborhood, to the juice bar in Soho – all were willing to learn from each other. From the concert of Metallica in Central Park to the High Line food kiosks; walking by the “if you see something, say something” campaign; it was very clear to me: they were all, primarily, New Yorkers.
I loved the experience; I loved the kindness of the people, which was once again exemplified by the patience and TOLERANCE of the bouncer dealing with drunkards messing in the line and potentially ruining the mood of those waiting to get in. So, when I said “what an asshole”, this bouncer used his kindness to control the dick causing all the ruckus and then hugged me and said: “it’s OK buddy, you are so kind”. Once again, I was floored.
New York really taught me that tolerance and a sense of community bring all backgrounds and social statuses together. New York taught me that with patience and determination you can come back from a traumatic experience cooler, stronger, bigger and nicer than before. New York taught me how respecting our differences does not mean alienating cultures, but actually, bringing them all together for a much richer, elegant, and fantastic experience. New York could teach the world how being nicer to each other goes beyond being politically correct. Despite the initial dryness of some people, they were all cool, kind, proud New Yorkers. They were focusing their efforts in not trying to be better than other cities, but in making each and every experience the best one possible. Ironically, despite the possible ego-war one can imagine on Fridays during after work drinks and dinner, it was as if they forgot about their own self-importance to serve to a superior cause.
Thank you New York!