My wife and I recently made a pilgrimage to New York City to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. As usual, we enjoyed outstanding dining, listened to some superb jazz in the Village, and of course, checked on the weirdos in Times Square. Best of all, we got to visit with our daughter who works in the city. At the time it was just between winter and spring. It was still cold, but you could visibly see signs of spring starting to appear. Late one afternoon, I craved a cigar and decided to go out in front of my daughter's apartment building to smoke one. It was still cold outside but it was a beautiful day nonetheless. As I stood outdoors, I looked around my daughter's neighborhood and studied the local architecture, which I judged to be built well before World War II. As it was a nice day and I was enjoying my cigar, I was in somewhat of a jovial mood. As people passed by me on the sidewalk I would try to be pleasant and say something like, "Beautiful day isn't it?" or simply "Good afternoon" or "Hello." Unfortunately, the sentiment was not reciprocated by the passersby who all kept looking forward in mute silence. At first I thought maybe there was a problem with myself, that perhaps I looked too menacing (cigars tend to do that) or perhaps they didn't understand my language; after all, New York City is the melting pot of the United States with many cultures residing within it. I decided, No, it was nothing more than the mental toughness of New Yorkers.
New Yorkers live in a rather complicated and hectic world. Eight and a half million people live within just 468.9 acres, which means there are approximately eighteen thousand people per square mile which is some pretty tight living quarters by anyone's estimation. Because of the odds, a New Yorker has to become rather competitive in order to survive. As a result, they develop a hustle about them where they are always looking for an opportunity on which to capitalize. This also means they develop an acute case of "street smarts" that most outsiders cannot comprehend. Having lived there now for the last few years, my daughter now understands it and has acclimated to the environment.
New Yorkers possess a zeal for competition in both work and play. When they win, they applaud, but quickly move along to the next challenge. To illustrate, back in the mid-1970's I watched Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" win back-to-back World Series baseball championships. Understandably, Cincinnatians rejoiced. In October 1977 though, I happened to be in New York on business. I went over to a Manhattan landmark, Toots Shor's Restaurant, to watch the last game of the World Series pitting the New York Yankees against the Los Angeles Dodgers (representing a very old rivalry). Keep in mind, it had been fifteen years since the Yankees had won the fall classic, an eternity by New York standards. Having just witnessed the celebration in Cincinnati, surely the "Big Apple" would celebrate a World Series victory more boisterously than the "Queen City," or so I thought. As the last out of the ball game was made, thereby giving the Yankees the championship, the bar exploded into applause with some scattered cheers. Following this, I hoped there would be a more raucous celebration. Unfortunately, none was forthcoming. After the applause diminished the New Yorkers began talking about what the team needed to do next year. Shortly thereafter, I stood nearly alone in the saloon. The lesson here was that competition never takes a break even when things are going your way. If New Yorkers lose, they immediately start to scheme a way for conquering or bypassing the problem. They are quite tenacious in this regard. New Yorkers always find a way to overcome adversity. It make take time, but they always find a way.
The competitiveness and sense of survivorship of New Yorkers creates an esprit de corps, a kinship. For example, on this recent trip I observed a one-eyed panhandler, wearing a patch, who was holding the door for customers going in and out of a drug store. In a feeble voice he would mumble, "Spare change?" and it appeared business was going well for him. As it happened, another beggar walked by pushing a grocery cart containing his worldly belongings. He was dressed flamboyantly in a dirty purple cape and wearing a crown; it was rather amusing to say the least. His face was haggard and dirty though. Interestingly, as the caped crusader passed the eye patch, the latter called out to him in a clear resonant voice, "Hey Nate! My man, how's it going?" And they briefly exchanged pleasantries. As his majesty departed, the eye patch didn't miss a beat, he quickly returned to his duty of holding the door where he looked pitifully at the next patron and in a feeble voice squeaked out, "Spare change?" As I said, New Yorkers have mastered the art of the hustle.
Outsiders typically mistake New Yorkers as pompous and arrogant. They're not. It's a toughness which is instilled in them the moment you start to live there. New Yorkers may not be the biggest, the strongest, or the fastest, but you'll never meet anyone as determined or persistent as New Yorkers. It's bred into them. If you positively have to get something done, regardless of how dirty a job it may be, you get a New Yorker to do it, but understand this, it won't be cheap.
No, New York is not for everyone. If you do not enjoy the pace, you will not survive, nor will you enjoy visiting it. However, there are people who are invigorated by it. Here in Florida, for example, retired or transplanted New Yorkers are quick to tell you that although they love the weather down here, they miss the hustle of the city. So, getting back to my observation of people failing to acknowledge you on the sidewalk, it's not that New Yorkers are heartless as much as they are hardened.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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