Scene: 42nd St- Port Authority Subway Station – Uptown Side. Karen is waiting for the A train to go back to Harlem after returning from a weekend at home. She is listening to music with earbuds and wearing her legit backpacker’s backpack that is now filled with clean laundry. A flustered man approaches.
Flustered Man: Do you know which train I take to get to JFK???
Karen: (Takes out earbuds. Les Mis is blaring.) I’m sorry, what did you –
Flustered Man: JFK! Do you know how to get there?!
Karen: Oh. Yeah. Sorry. I was thrown off because you actually want to be on the other side for the downtown—
Flustered Man: No that’s not right. I want to be on this side. I didn’t realize you weren’t from here. It’s fine – I’ll ask someone else.
Karen: But I am! You don’t want to go up—
Flustered Man has now run to some other (more legit) New Yorker who will confirm he is on the right side and tell him to take the E.
In a perfect world, I (or even better, Flustered Man) would have seen the sign with directions to JFK. Or I would have realized that just because the best way to JFK was the A in Brooklyn, that is not the case from Midtown. Or Flustered Man would have been a little less flustered and let me explain why I suggested going downtown and we would have had a good laugh and casual conversation while we waited for our trains. But all he saw was my Kelty Coyote 75L Women’s Backpack. And as badass as it looks, I guess I surrender my New Yorker status when wearing it.
However, if we all go by what Flustered Man thought or the flock of tour guides in Times Square thought when I was on my way to the bus station, then people who do in fact live in this city and just happen to be going on a long trip (or going home for the weekend to do some laundry) get lumped together with the tourist crowd.
But really, is that so bad? Yes, they walk much slower than the rest of us hustling to make the next train. Sure, they stop and take pictures of buildings at every corner while we’re trying to make it across the street before the light changes. And absolutely, they make this city a billion times hotter with the increasing number of bodies crowded on the sidewalks. But they’re walking slow because they are unsure about where to go next. They’re taking pictures because they want to remember every single thing they’ve seen while here. And the whole reason they’re on our sidewalk is because the city called to them in some way and told them to come see it for themselves. But that wasn’t me too long ago. Isn’t that how most of us ended up here any way? Hearing about or seeing this wondrous city at some point and deciding you had to end up here one way or another, come hell or high water? Who’s to say that the girl who can’t choose what to order off the food cart because it is so overwhelmingly fantastic won’t have a NYC zip code next year? The fact is NYC is special. To all of us. And maybe the fact that we all ended up here is the only thing that counts toward becoming a real New Yorker.