Big apple, little apple

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“There are many apples on the tree, but only one big apple.” So the old saying goes in show business, and the reason why New York City – the largest city in the USA, home to 1 out of every 38 Americans – is sometimes called “the Big Apple”. Late last month and early this month, my family and I took a bite out of the Big Apple and visited NYC for a week. 

Being a lifelong rural dweller currently living in a town of about 500 people (which is in fact larger than the town I grew up in), visiting a city of almost 9 million people was quite something. It’s a different way of life, but it works… well, most of the time. 

Our first time in Manhattan, my wife pulled over the car and had me switch with her within the first 10 minutes. I was the designated NYC driver from that point on. My wife cited the fact that NYC drivers are “mean” as her reasoning. While I wouldn’t dare disagree with my wife in print, I think that I can safely shed some light on what we learned about the pace of NYC. 

Much like we would get angry at big city drivers travelling down our county roads, blowing past tractors and tossing litter into cornfields, NYC drivers have a very low tolerance for those who add to the already near-constant congestion in their packed streets. I learned some things: 1) Don’t bother signaling, just merge. 2) Never wait for a pedestrian to fully cross the street before proceeding, if there are a few inches of space, that’s good enough. 3) People riding bicycles can do so opposite to the direction of traffic and even diagonally across intersections – deal with it or go home! 4) In reference to rule #1, if someone is merging, let them merge. 5) Stay right on the backside of any car in front of you, even if you anticipate you will just end up waiting with them at the next red light. 6) Honk your horn incessantly. 

As much as these unwritten rules are not what I’m used to, I understand them. A different pace requires different rules. The first time someone honked at me for not speeding up to bridge a gap of about three car lengths in a street that was moving at a snail’s pace anyway, I couldn’t understand it. “What’s the point?” I thought… I would just be hurrying up to stop again. But then I realized, in a city where traffic congestion means that every green light may only offer the opportunity for a few cars to proceed, it’s actually quite selfish to block the path for those trying to get through the intersection behind you. Every unwritten rule has its purpose.

We saw all of the places that one would hope to see in NYC – the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the High Line, the 9/11 Memorial, Times Square, and more. These are things for which pictures just don’t tell the whole story. You need to see it for yourself. We met lots of interesting people and adjusted relatively quickly to the pace, though even the kids had sore legs from all the walking which NYC residents are no doubt well accustomed to. We even got a couple of opportunities to ride in a classic NYC yellow taxi and the underground subway system. 

Besides NYC, we also had a few experiences in another US state – New Jersey (shall we call it “Little Apple”?). This is where our hotel was located, just 15 minutes from Manhattan in good traffic, accessible via the Lincoln Tunnel which lies some 97 feet below the Hudson River. New Jersey was able to offer something that NYC could not – a hotel swimming pool and queen sized beds at an affordable price. Unfortunately, there were points when it also offered more than we bargained for. I felt that I narrowly escaped being “jumped” on two separate occasions, and in a third, our entire family was targeted in our vehicle after my wife didn’t let someone cut her off. It was scary indeed. We have since decided that NYC prices aren’t so bad!

It seems that after every rendition of my own travel musings, I reach the same conclusion: visiting other places is great, but there is no place like home!

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