We are New Yorkers because we walk… I don’t drive. I have been full of good intentions to get my driver’s license since I was sixteen, but only managed to let my learner’s permit slowly expire. It will happen one day because I know that having a car and being able to drive is useful in some universe, somewhere. However in New York, you don’t need to drive because New Yorkers walk.
Working in Midtown, I spend a lot of time walking, especially to meetings. All meetings are within the same square radius in Midtown, stretching from 59th to 42nd Streets and 3rd Avenue to 7th Avenue. It’s the same people crossing the same square, walking up and down and back and forth. These are business walks made up of points A and B and back again, usually fifteen minutes each trip and, maybe, with an iced coffee on the way back as a reward. I use tunnels to get from Grand Central to Madison Avenue when it is raining and from 6th Avenue through Rockefeller Center to St. Patrick’s Cathedral when it is cold. I cross streets like an idiot, making sharp turns to cut across when I see an opportunity, a gap in traffic. I only realize that I’m walking like an idiot when I am with other people and make a quick turn without letting the other person know, losing them for a few steps—sorry guys. Meanwhile it is the same with everyone else, as people cross against the light and cabs make too-quick turns to get to where they need to go. Everyone has somewhere to be and they are getting there first, before you do.
Midtown loves this type of walking. This aggressive, me-first, professional walking and moving is part and parcel of the neighborhood’s personality. This is the hard New York we often hear about, committed to “getting things done,” working later than anyone else, building bigger, dressing richer, emailing while walking and making more ?. The culture trickles down as the big guys dictate what the middle guys and the little guys do. Midtown moves.
It is easy to lose it once in a while, by moving a few steps slower than everyone else. It is easy to get frustrated when tourists stop in the middle of the street or walk 20 people wide down the sidewalk for school trips, middle-aged mom trips, European-spend-money-while-the-dollar-is-weak trips, and all in matching t-shirts. Stopping. Lingering. Looking up. Looking different. Looking green, driving me nuts. And I realize I’m caught up in this whole Midtown thing.
I’m this little cog turning and going even though I go home to Brooklyn and believe in the small scale, taking everything in and the unwavering integrity of rock n’ roll and denim. Some days, Midtown seems to chug through and cheese to 80s movie-montage-synth soundtracks. As a result of everything—being a part of the mob and letting the mob get to you—it pays to stand still in Midtown, apart from the people traffic and watch how everyone moves.
They flow down the sidewalks in direct paths, all in a jet stream, becoming a part of this giant weather system, little arrows coursing down city blocks. Midtown moves with its eyes forward to anticipate all incoming obstacles. People pass within inches of each other, keeping a balance between momentum and personal space. They move and glide by on tiptoes to avoid obstacles, while passing on the left and right, changing lanes, and keep going, going, wherever their important place might be. When you stand still for a few moments with human currents going past you, it is possible to observe a keen ballet to human movement. It seems as though they know exactly how to control their own personal space and maintain momentum at the same time. They were meant to move that way, driving on and dancing out motions that are natural and perfect and amazing. Realize then, that everyone is actually moving together.