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A place so nice they named it twice

Posted By Tim on November 23 2010

The bus from the Bronx into Manhatten arrived on the dot of time. I stepped up out of the lashing rain and swirling leaves into the cold stare of the Puerto Rican driver who took one look at the twenty dollar bill I proffered and told me I could not “pay cash”. If I didn’t have a Metrocard I’d have to get off.
I protested lamely and was granted clemency to sit and await someone nice enough to pay the fare for me. I fell into a seat behind an old Jewish man in a crumpled black fedora and great flourishes of grey beard. He looked at me through thick glasses so completely scratched that it was a wonder he could see me at all. 
“What’s up buddy” he greeted me, before launching into a monologue of Jewish jokes which leant considerable weight to my growing theory that New Yorkers are all insane. On this subject, he was defensive: “we gotta bad rep, but we got big hearts”. And it was shortly after this that a man in a flat cap boarded the bus and paid my fare. “Forgeddaboudit.  Someone did the same for me once.”
We have travelled through many cities over the course of the last 15 months in America and otherwise but none of them were as gritty or as entirely urban as New York. With steam rising from the sewers, claxon sirens, skies hidden by skyscrapers, blackened water towers and lingering smog it felt like stepping into an industrial age. 
We struggled to adapt, feeling quite the tourists. Lost in the vaults of the subway a businessman dismissed our plaintive request for help with a worried look and a wave of the hand.  Later, queuing for breakfast bagels I felt the breath of the man behind me on my neck, pressurising me into a bad breakfast decision. 
“Gimme a cream cheese on everything bagel” he demanded over my shoulder. 
New York English has a brusqueness, a cruel syntax to match the pace of life. No pleases, no thank yous, no time.
But for all its coolness New York, New York showed us something of its big heart, through the strangers who stop to shoot the breeze with you and those who invited us in to stay in their apartments. New Yorkers displayed a natural affability which is thoroughly un-British.  It all made me wonder whether the image of home and London that I had created for myself over the course of our journey would stand up to such scrutiny on return.

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