Hello, tourists! Also: Hello, residents! Please allow me to be the first, and possible the last, person to welcome you to New York City. It is, you have probably noticed, a very big city. The buildings are tall. There are lots of people. The transit systems seem to have been designed by sadistic mental patients formerly consigned to Roosevelt Island. (Fun fact: They were!) Simply getting from place to place can be terrifying. Why, you might bump into someone! Or offend a native! Or be run down like a fixed-gear bicyclist by a garbage truck!
Unless, of course, you follow these two principles for Getting Around New York City™. I will tell you now: One of these principles is self-centered and rude, while the other is broad-minded and conscientious. I will leave it to you to decide which is which.
Principle no. 1: Get the hell outta my way!
The first thing you should remember when it comes to Principle no. 1 is that you should get the hell outta my way! I don’t care who you are—tourist or native or ex-resident returning to the once-forlorn neighborhood of Brooklyn where you lived 30 years ago—but you just need to get the hell outta my way. I might be walking, or biking, or driving; it doesn’t matter which. I might be moving fast or slowly, toward you or away from you. There might be other people around into whose way you must move in order to get the hell outta my way. That doesn’t matter! What I need for you is to anticipate MY NEEDS, where I’M GOING, and get the hell outta my way. I could be going up or down subway stairs; you should move aside. I could be trying to browse B&H for camera gear I can’t afford; you should let me through. All that matters, in the end, is that you get the hell outta my way.
What happens if you don’t get the hell outta my way? I may bump into you, perhaps roughly, perhaps not. I may give you a dirty look, and you’ll be both cowed and angry. I may suck it up and walk around you. I may call you a jerk, or whisper “Jerk!” under my breath, or think about what a jerk you are later, when I’m home and enjoying a nice glass or whiskey. Good luck recovering from that, jerk!
Principle no. 2: No sudden movements, please
This one is simple. Whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it. If you’re walking, keep walking. Don’t suddenly stop. Don’t suddenly turn to the right. Or to the left. Don’t break into a sprint. Or drastically reduce your walking speed. Just maintain a steady pace … and ignore what everyone else is doing around you. Yes, I know that requires you to violate Principle no. 1 (a.k.a. “Get the hell outta my way!”), but it will work. In fact, it will work so well that you can even walk slowly—we New Yorkers won’t mind, just so long as you don’t suddenly halt to sip your Starbucks or pause in a crosswalk to read a map.
Look, we just don’t want surprises. Surprises surprise us, and then we have to jump, swerve and stumble to avoid them, whether it’s a tourist flipping open a map on the subway steps or a cyclist running some red lights but not others, or a suburban sedan that can’t decide whether it wants to keep looking for on-street parking or should just go back around to that overpriced parking garage. If that’s how you behave, we’re liable to maybe bump into you, call/mouth/think you a jerk, and fume for hours afterward. And you really don’t want that! So, be consistent. Keep calm and carry on, as the Brits used to say.
Okay, you say, but what then should an ambulatory person do when said person needs to stop, to answer the phone or put on a pair of Marc Jacobs fingerless gloves or whatever? Think of the sidewalk (and the subway and streets and everywhere else) like a highway. If you need to stop, you don’t just stop. You find a place on the side where you can pause, and you decelerate as you pull over. Then you take care of your business—iPhone Google maps, nose-picking, wet-wipe-showering, whatever—and gradually accelerate back into human traffic. It’s very simple, jerk.
I’m not going to get into the corollaries here. Suffice to say that, in combination, these two principles lead to a host of other sub-principles that guide ideal maneuvering around New York City. But I’ll leave it to other writers to deal with those issues. I’m late already to bike into the city and pick up my daughter from preschool, and there’s bound to be all kinds of jerks in my way.