New York City Diary

Words and pictures from my interesting life in New York.

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Thursday, May 19, 2005

More Aggressive Behavior

Two incidents from this morning's commute represent New Yorkers acting out the stereotype of rude, overly-aggressive New Yorkers:

1. A local train was waiting at the platform at Union Square (14th Street) just as I got there so I jumped on it without looking to see if an express was arriving on the opposite track. To get to work I take either train to 57th Street. If given the choice I'll take the express, but the difference in time to my destination is barely five minutes, so I don't care much either way.

So I got on the local train, and the doors closed, but as they were closing an express train (Q train) started to pull in across the platform. A guy, mid-twenties, who appeared to be of Latin American ancestry, aggressively grabbed the doors just before they were completely closed and wouldn't let go. He obviously wanted to get on that express train. He was trying to force the doors open to get off the local.

The conductor didn't open the doors immediately, he did that thing that subway conductors do where he opens the doors just a little bit to give people time to get their hands and bags out of the doors so they can close completely. But this guy wasn't having it, he was pounding on the doors, and stuck his face through the gap between the doors and yelled, so everybody on and off the train could hear him, "Yo! Open da doors! I want dat express train!" He was ready to rip the doors apart like a superhero.

After a few awkward moments of this (we normal passengers were giving each other looks that said "What a freak!") the conductor finally relented and opened the doors, and the guy ran over to the express train. Since the conductor left the doors open for a few moments I also went to the express train, only I walked one car to the right, in an attempt to not be in the same car as the freak. We had given each other dirty looks and I didn't want the situation to escalate.

Unfortunately, the freak got in my car and took a seat. I kept an eye on him, just in case. Moments later, the train arrived at the next stop, 34th Street/Herald Square, and the guy got off there! I couldn't believe it. It meant that he did his whole freak act just to save two stops (23rd and 28th Streets) and barely two minutes. He delayed the local train and made a spectacle of himself, and for what? That's solipsism for you. "I'm the only one who exists." Good for you, buddy. Small victories.

Maybe he had to dismantle a ticking time bomb at 34th, but I doubt it.

2. On my walk to the office I stopped at the grocery store to get some "brekkie" as the Brits sometimes call it. I grabbed my food and grapefruit juice and went to one of several working cash registers near the front. A woman was in front of me, fishing in her wallet for change. The cashier was visibly impatient with this, although she shouldn't have been. This grocery store (Associated/Morton Williams on 57th) rarely has the right change to give back to customers. Break a $20 for a four-dollar purchase and they'll press sixteen dirty singles into your hand like it's the most normal thing in the world.

There was nobody behind me in line, and I didn't mind waiting a moment. The cashier (early twenties, also Hispanic) gave the woman her receipt and bag (no "thank you" of course) and then quite loudly yelled "NEXT!" as if I'm not standing right in front of her. I didn't budge. The woman was still getting her stuff together, grocery bag, receipt, wallet, etc., and I was giving her space to do it. These grocery cashiers hand you a pile of bills with a precarious pyramid of change balanced on top of it and expect you to wrap your fist around it and run out the door. In New York you put your cash away before you hit the street. That's what you do. So I waited. This woman wasn't being ridiculous, she was just getting her stuff together like any normal person would.

The cashier wasn't pleased at all. Again, with voiced raised, she ordered me to "JUST COME AROUND" the woman and put my food on the scale. But it would have been a tight, awkward squeeze, and for what? To save five seconds and then be in the woman's way? No. There was still nobody in line behind me.

So I told the cashier "I have time" and I said to the woman "please take your time," and she gave me an appreciative look and left.

The look the cashier gave me was decidedly not appreciative. She huffily rang up my purchase, pushed my changed at me, and neglected to thank me. Fine, screw you too, jerk.

Believe me, I know what it's like to be in a New York hurry. I was running late to work myself, weaving and dodging other pedestrians on 57th Street.

But you've got to pick your spots, and you've got to keep your humanity about you. You lose more than you gain by being an asshole like that, but some people will never think that far.

We are not all like that. Many New Yorkers are kind and patient and generous, despite the poor example set by others. But even after more than a decade of living here, I'm frequently amazed by how obnoxious some people choose to be. May they reap what they sow.

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