New York Values


Our Daily Correspondent

O’Hare International Airport. Photo: Cory W. Watts

The same day I ate the hot dog—indeed, the same layover—I found myself in conversation with a group of other travelers. One commented on the crowds, and another said, “Tampa’s not a small place but it’s nothing like this,” and they all talked about the energy of the city versus the pleasures of having moved to Florida. It was very friendly. Then one woman said, “Not New York, though. I hate New York.” Then they all piled on with gusto, discussing the general crumminess that is New York, the rudeness, the filth, the overwhelming pace, and all manner of other clichés. It all happened so fast that I didn’t have a chance to jump in and defend my hometown.

I didn’t even have a defense, as such. People from other places seem to feel New York is a thing they need to have strong opinions about, like the election, or cilantro. And the truth is, most of us really, really don’t care. At least, those of us who are from here. Never having made the choice to move here, it’s akin to the affection and irritation one feels for a family member. Especially since our families are, you know, here. 

With Gotham skeptics, it can be a sort of party trick to reveal that one is from New York and is a perfectly pleasant person. On the other hand, people are sometimes disappointed with the lack of sexy glamour in one’s life, or the fact that one does not have a heavy Brooklyn accent. (You don’t sound like you’re from New York, they’ll say accusingly.)

During this layover conversation, the rage was amping up: he’d been to New York once; never again. She’d live anywhere, but not New York. “I’m a nutritionist, so you can just imagine how I feel about New York,” said another woman, obscurely. 

I didn’t know what to do. Things had gone too far. I knew I should stand up and say, “I’m from New York,” but that would have been peculiar and besides, I was kind of curious to hear why nutritionists hated the city. I also kind of wanted to correct them; it didn’t seem to me that they were actually critiquing any of the many real systemic problems with the city, focusing instead on a few largely misinterpreted superficial symptoms. 

And then the voice over the loudspeaker called for group 2 service to New York–La Guardia, and I stood up, said, “Well, someone’s gotta live there,” and walked away feeling just like Harold Hill at the beginning of The Music Man after all the salesmen have been trashing him and then he exits the train and smugly reveals his suitcase with the words PROF HAROLD HILL on it. It’s usually more like that than On the Town, even if it is Fleet Week. 

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.