The One About the Box
For reasons which are obvious and painful to recall, there's a big emphasis placed on security in New York City. This manifests itself in tons of different ways, but witnessing it depends on where you are in the city and what you're doing. I tend to think the most obvious indications of the beefed up security can be found on the subway system, though the sudden appearance of cops on street corners around important holidays is also a bit startling. On any given day on the subway, you're very likely to find police officers searching bags or overseeing the constant streams of pissed of/frustrated/crazed commuters running around trying to get where they're going on time. I have, indeed, once been pulled aside once to have my little purse searched, but I'm not really sure if I'm supposed to feel proud or ashamed of the fact. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a little bit comforting to have them there, but after a while they become invisible--and sometimes they aren't there at all. See, New Yorkers are supposed to take it upon themselves to live their lives by the creed, "See something, say something." They'll make announcements about it frequently, and they sound very similar to the don't-be-a-dumbass-and-hold-strangers'-bags recordings they play in airports.
But, and maybe this is hard to imagine if you haven't spent a good deal of time here, the typical New Yorker reaction to Possible Danger is much different than their reaction to Actual Danger. People roll their eyes when they play that announcement. They shrug in the face of danger--because, hey, what's worse than what they've already been through? What's worse than Times Square during rush hour? But when something actually happens, it's like a switch goes off inside of them. They generally leap at the opportunity to help someone else who is legitimately in danger. That's why you hear about people jumping down on subway tracks to help help others who have fallen, why that delivery guy I saw who got hit by a taxi immediately had four people by his side, and why people ran toward the WTC to see what they could do. There's an inherent kind of fearlessness (or maybe numbness?) that you build up in response to constantly being surrounded by things that could possibly kill you, as well as eight million other people.
About two or three nights ago, I was on a train, heading home. When we reached 34th Street, a middle-aged woman got on. I'm pretty sure she was a tourist, just judging by the way she was dressed (errrr sorry to be all Judgey McJudgerson about it, but they tend to stand out after a while). I glanced up from my Kindle as she took a seat a few feet away from where I was sitting--or, really, started to. "Who's box is this?" she yelled. "Is this anyone's box? Does this box belong to anyone?!" And then, when no one answered, she... bolted. She bolted just as the doors were shutting and the recorded, Please Step Away From the Closing Doors came on. This woman was so terrified by this box (which I couldn't see from where I was sitting) that she ran into the closing doors, got back up, and pried one side open. I'm sure it was probably pretty painful to have the door repeatedly attempt to shut on you, but she managed to make it out and the last I saw her, she was running back up the stairs to get to the upper level.
The rest of us just sat there. A few guys actually started laughing, but, and I'm kind of embarassed to admit this, my first thought was: Maybe I should get off, too.... I actually did get off at the next stop, only to get back on the next car over (like that was going to protect me if a bomb went off in that box), because I was hungry and tired and didn't want to have to wait for the next train. And THEN I went home and laughed about it with Jules until I cried.
So I'm not really a New Yorker. I can't laugh in the face of danger, only after the fact. But I did learn that I'm mostly motivated by hunger, not fear--maybe I'm getting there?
Have a great weekend!