New York, a city packed and bustling with over eight million people, might in truth be empty. During your day in New York you are likely to see hundreds of people, but how many do you actually speak to? Rushing is the most popular activity for New Yorkers. Everyone is always hurrying to be somewhere, and they never stop to just appreciate where they already are. While we’re all rushing through the city we’re in our own world: reading, talking on the phone, listening to music, running for the bus, or swiping our MetroCards. We go to great measures to avoid interacting with others. Have you ever seen an acquaintance of yours on the bus and tried to avoid making eye contact with them? Feel free to say yes, because I know I’ve done that, and I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one. You probably just weren’t in the mood to talk, or didn’t know what you would say. It’s easier to ignore them and that’s what everyone else does, keeps to themselves, so you might as well do the same. After all, we don’t want to stand out too much; we’d much rather blend into the New York background. That’s the other thing about New York: the monotony. Wherever you are and whatever time it is, you have the same experiences again and again, as if people interact based on some universally followed, unwritten handbook, which dictates that people should act and talk to each other in brief, apathetic exchanges. It seems like this crowded city is often void of something as simple as a little conversation or the variety that might come with it.
New York is a cold, unfeeling machine made up of cogs that spin in unison, incessantly. The people are the teeth of the cogs, which seamlessly mesh together to create one mechanism. Each tooth is constantly coming into contact with other teeth, but since they have to focus on continuing on with their task they can never stop to “hang out”. The machine as a whole is performing one job, but each individual tooth is in their mind only doing the task assigned to it: spinning. We New Yorkers meet all kinds of people throughout our day just as the teeth are likely to encounter all sorts of teeth: big ones, little ones, old ones, new ones, shiny ones, and rusty ones. But there’s one thing they all share; they’re parts of the same machine, or inhabitants of the same city. You choose to ignore them, because it’s easier to keep doing whatever it is you’re doing. You don’t want to stop the natural flow of the machine, which works because each part is only doing its own job. You don’t want to hold things up like that person who can’t get their MetroCard out of their wallet and makes everybody wait forever.
One day in New York resembles another, as we are preoccupied by our own world and performing our own little tasks. The New York life is a monotonous one, since we are parts of a well-oiled machine that just keeps on spinning, spinning, spinning in the same direction everyday. Because of the repetitive, organized nature of this system, we are each able to carry on our daily activities without shattering the barriers that separate our individual worlds. Let’s think of some incidents which you as a New Yorker have surely experienced, to show just how similar all of our lives are. It’s a rainy Sunday and you decide to go to a museum with a friend. The museum on that day is probably packed since everyone else in the whole city had your same idea as a result of the rain. When you get to the exhibit you spend some time in front of a painting, within arm’s length of a handful of strangers who, one can infer that since they are at the same exhibit as yourself, probably have some similar interests to your own. However, you probably wouldn’t think to break the barrier between strangers by making a comment like, “Wow! That really is a beautiful painting, isn’t it?” Or, you might be in your building’s elevator. You see someone press the button for the floor right above yours, and yet you’ve never seen them before and have no idea who they are. The ride up to your floor is full of silence, and when the door opens you exit with nothing more than a soft-spoken, “Have a good day”. How can it be that you know nothing about the person who carries out the majority of their life in a space that is right above your own home? The interaction between you and a person who sleeps no more than a couple yards away from you is limited to just a few words of formal, meaningless small talk. What about when you walk into a store to buy something, let’s say a pack of gum. If you’re feeling really wild that day you’ll say to the cashier, “Hello, how are you doing?” More commonly, though, you’ll just put your purchase down on the counter, hand over the money and leave, without any more interaction than an exchange of goods. But why is this? That person behind the cash register is no less a person than yourself; they have no less of a life than you, and yet to you they are just the person who sells you a pack of gum; a minor character in a play starring you.
Generally New Yorkers continue to hustle along without taking much notice of their fellow New Yorkers, but this momentum is occasionally broken by random mishaps. When something out of the norm happens, people are thrown off balance, which results in individuals mingling. Have you ever noticed that one of the only times you’re likely to have a conversation with a stranger is at the site of an accident? Once the police surround a car crash, dozens of New Yorkers stand around gawking. There you are sure to hear all sorts of conversations between people who under normal circumstances would never break the customary silence between strangers. People inquire about what happened, and they share what they saw, and opinions are given about the best course of action to take. How unfortunate that this sense of community in New York comes at the high cost of other peoples’ misfortune. Another time when people stop minding their own business is around public displays of people’s private dramas, like a fight between a girlfriend and boyfriend. People walk slower and their ears perk up as they try to hear the cause of the fight. There is one kind of person who purposely breaks the usual barriers between strangers: the crazy person. They are one of the few in New York who will directly speak to strangers and tell them just what they are thinking. For example, you’re walking down the street minding your own business, maybe listening to music, when suddenly, without any reason a person starts ranting about Judgment Day and informs you that you will later burn in hell. Well, it isn’t the nicest thing for them to say, but at least they feel more intimate and free to express themselves to their fellow New Yorkers than most do.
People from out of town are always startled by the noisiness, the grumpiness, the hastiness, and the rudeness. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead they could be shown the warmth and cultured life of New York. We, the New Yorkers, can achieve that if we make one change: let our worlds mingle. We shouldn’t depend on misfortune or a wild outburst to be a catalyst for those interactions. We should make it the norm to be friendly and to talk to others, and not think of that as a job reserved for the outcasts. When you walk into a store, strike up a conversation with the salesperson, or, when you sit down on the bus, why not ask your neighbor how they’re doing. You can brighten up someone’s day with a little small talk, and change the world with a “How are you?” We can put an end to the monotony with a “What’s up?” So New Yorkers, let me ask this of you, can’t we just talk? Let us band together and let go of eight million individual worlds, but make sure to keep one big enough for all of us to live in together.
Age 15, Grade 9
Hunter College High School