A few months back, there was the streetcoffin incident. (Spoiler Alert: It involved a coffin in the street. Like so:)
Earlier today, a seemingly-normal man in the coffee line behind me at Dunkin' Donuts called out, "Live by the sword, DIE BY THE SWORD!" and then just...continued standing in line, patiently waiting for his turn.
Don't even get me started (AGAIN) on the neighbors. Or, for that matter, my many hobo friends.
I've been living in and around NYC for over 10 years, and as much as I often feel like I'm living in a Fellini film, I love this place. I bring this up because a large portion of the email I get is from people who are planning trips here, and want travel tips/ideas for places to eat/reassurance that no one will shank them on the subway. I love answering these questions, and I've noticed that as BlogHer (taking place in NYC this summer) grows closer, there's been an uptick in the NY-centric emails. I decided to do two things, that (I hope?) might be of some use to people:
(A), I've put together a brief, basic five-point field guide. We'll get to item (B) in a minute.
HOW TO NAVIGATE NEW YORK CITY WITHOUT FEAR, PANIC, OR SUBWAY STABBING BUT I MAKE NO GUARANTEES ON THAT LAST ONE.
1. Have a general idea of where you're going, and how best to get there.
Hopstop is a great resource (and they have an iPhone app!) for people traveling via public transportation in a number of cities (including New York City). Simply plug in your starting point and your destination address, and, boom, it provides you with clear, concise directions through your selected, ah, method of conveyance (i.e., subway, bus, car, walking). I use it myself all the time for subway trips to new places.
Speaking of the subway: You pay for it with a MetroCard, which can be purchased at kiosks all over the city, and in the actual train stations. It's $2.25 a ride to anywhere on that line, and some transfers, depending on the station. If you believe you'll be taking the subway a lot on a specific day or throughout your time here, you can look into a 1-Day Fun Pass (unlimited subway and local bus rides from first use until 3 a.m. the following day) or a 7-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCard (unlimited subway and local bus rides until midnight, 7 days from day of first use), respectively. (Here's more detailed fare information.)
And a word about cabs-- although no one expects you to know the precise distance from point A-Z in a cab, have a general idea of the time that should be involved, so you know if you're getting jerked around. You have specific rights as a taxi rider, and if you feel they've been violated, by all means, report the driver. If you're flying into any of the area airports, I highly, HIGHLY recommend taking a cab into the city, rather than public transportation. I did the bus/train/walking thing once, and it's NOT WORTH THE MENTAL AND PHYSICAL TOLL, I SWEAR TO YOU. A cab from the airports into Manhattan should run you around $35.
2. Dress the part.
I am by no means advocating dressing like SJP in the opening credits of Sex & the City, but rather, getting rid of anything that screams, "I am a tourist! Please, take my money and also possibly my kidneys! They are quite plump and healthy!" Such items include money belts purchased at Brookstone, fanny packs, shirts proclaiming affinity for Empire State in any way, shape, or form, and the ubiquitous green foam Statue of Liberty visors. It also means not wearing your camera around your neck.
3. Be savvy.
By this I mean, take cues from the environment. Talk quietly on the subway. Or if you get on an escalator at 9 AM in Grand Central Terminal, for instance, standing is fine, but do so on the right side of the escalator, so crazed, rushing commuters can pass you on the left. It's also important to bear in mind that although crime has dropped considerably in recent years, be aware of what's going on around you. Keep your wallet in a place where you can keep close tabs on it. Stay away from the unwashed man clad only in a torn basketball jersey and dirty shorts claiming to be Jim Morrison. By the same token, don't listen to the well-coiffed guy who's all sheepish, going "oh, I forgot my wallet and oh this is so crazy but can you accompany me to an ATM so I can get some cash? I'LL TOTALLY PAY YOU BACK." Because he won't. And most importantly, know that if a guy is trying to sell you a Chanel bag from the back of a truck, the likelihood is great that the bag is actually a Chanell, and likely made by a 12-year-old kid in Chinatown.
4. Keep your eyes on the road.
Far and away, the most common complaint New Yorkers mutter amongst themselves about visitors is a tendency to kind of...stop in the middle of the sidewalk and check a map or gaze up in wonder at the skyline. New Yorkers have many fine attributes, but patience is not one of them. I will admit that I'm personally guilty of getting a little eyeroll-y at even the sweetest-looking family, all because they were blocking the sidewalk and taking pictures as we -- a full-on wall of people -- tried to maneuver around them to get to work. (Look, I'm not saying it's NICE, I'm just telling you how we can be.) If you need to consult a map, do your best to move out of the main path of the sidewalk. If you'd like to take a picture, take a quick look around, and make sure no one's going to bump into you/you're not stopping the flow of foot traffic first
5. If all else fails, don't be afraid to ask for help.
Asking for help can also mean "looking around plaintively." Contrary to legend, most New Yorkers will not try to steal your organs, and are generally pretty knowledgeable. I can't speak for all of us, but I always, ALWAYS stop when I see lost-looking people making That Face. You know, this one:
We want to help. We like to help. It makes us feel useful. (Plus, it makes us feel less guilty about giving that nice-sounding but slow-moving family the evil eye in the middle of the sidewalk that time.) So, by all means, feel free to ask us for directions to the "R" train, Bloomingdale's, or a place to explore that's off the beaten tourist track. Our favorite bar, the best pizza, the most amazing cupcake in all of New York…chances are, we have an answer, and we'd love to share it with you. Truly.
All of which leads me to Item (B): If you have any NYC trip-related questions that I can assist you with in advance of your next trip here (for BlogHer, or otherwise!), I'd be happy to help out. Food? Logistics? Clothes? Absurdity? Fire away! I'll put together a follow-up Q & A to address 'em.