Now that summer is here and the city is filling up with visitors from around the world – over 50 million a year – I thought it would be a good idea to post this excerpt from Markets of New York City, boiling down the Do’s and Don’t's of walking along sidewalks and through the markets.
New York is a “grand experiment” where 8.2 million people live together in the most densely populated city in the US. This city has been around since 1625, so we must be doing something right. Despite New York’s “anything goes” appeal, there are in fact some rules and behaviors that keep the place running. You can slip right into the flow by adhering to a few basic rules.
Start by thinking of New York City sidewalks as high-speed superhighways. We walk everywhere, and we move fast. Like the cars, the pedestrians have their lanes on the sidewalks. If you move out of your lane, you will get a few choice words spat at you at best or cause a pile-up at worst. Here are some rules of thumb to follow:
• Be courteous. Always hold doors and offer your seat on the bus or subway for people who are elderly, handicapped, pregnant, or carrying children (men and women). These rules go without saying everywhere, but I like to reinforce them whenever I can. (Note: When my mom was visiting, not one, but TWO people immediately offered her their seats on both subways we took together. Yay!)
• Know before you go. Spending a day wandering and getting lost in the city is a perfectly wonderful thing to do. But if you have a specific destination in mind, look at a map to figure out how to get there before you step out the door. Subway maps are free at any station with an attended kiosk.
• Figure out the Compass Points. You definitely need to know compass directions to get anywhere in New York. New Yorkers use landmarks, usually big buildings, to find their way. We used to use the 110-story towers of the World Trade Center as a compass to locate South. Now we have to rely on the position of the sun. No kidding. If you can’t actually see the sun (buildings, cloudy weather), just ask someone which way you need to go. (Update: We are now getting used to seeing the new World Trade Center Tower 1 marking the southern end of Manhattan.)
• Don’t cause a pileup. A group of people, a family, or even just a couple can block an entire city sidewalk. If you need to stop for any reason, pull over to the edge of the sidewalk to let people pass. Whatever you do, don’t all gather around a map in the middle of the sidewalk. You will run the risk of catching an elbow from a frustrated person trying to maneuver around your group.
• Pass with caution. If you are in a hurry to get somewhere, or simply stuck behind a group of tourists consulting a map in the middle of the sidewalk, it’s okay to go around them. But make sure there is a room to pass before you launch yourself headlong into oncoming traffic, or you may find yourself causing a pileup in the other direction.
• Ask for directions. It’s okay. Most people will be glad to help. (And guess what? New Yorkers do it too.)
• Follow Cab Hailing Etiquette. If someone is already hailing a cab on the corner, never walk half a block up from them to nab the next cab. Wait your turn, and your cab will come. I realize that this rule is hard to enforce in Midtown, where someone is perpetually half a block up the street from you. But there are enough cabs for everyone nowadays (except during shift changes at around 4PM when nobody gets a cab – utterly baffling to me). Alternatively, you can always take the subway, which is usually the faster option anyway.
• Stay Awake. I’m talking to the people with cellphones, mostly texters expecting everyone else to get out of their way or predict which way they’ll zig or zag like drunken teenagers. Someone I know got sick of adjusting his own direction and invented a game called “Bowling for Texters.” He’s big. Suffice it to say, sleepwalking texters bounce right off him. They may get angry or startled, and they probably won’t even learn their lesson. But it makes him feel better.
So if you want to blend in and move with the ease and grace of a native, just follow these simple rules. You will love New York, and New York will love you right back. I promise.