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Monday, November 07, 2011

Guardian Angels

I recently took a subway with a group of friends. As we descended the stairs to the platform, a train was conveniently awaiting. However, as typically is the case, in order to get the train before leaving, there is a stampede for the first car - the one closest from the stairway to the platforms. So, the first car becomes inordinately crowded.

We jammed in, a la Tokyo (but without the pushers). What may come as a surprise is that we met no resistance, even while pressing our bodies against others. In fact, looking around, I would say there was more smiling than frowning. I felt that there was a sense that like it or not, we're all in this together. Who would begrudge others the very same thing they want and have for themselves and have to look at the have-nots through windows as the train pulls away?

I have written a number of stories espousing my dislike and avoidance of crowds in New York City. Yet now, crammed like sardines, I, like the others, actually enjoyed the experience - our shared misery was fun. In times of need, common hardship or common celebration, a crowd of people is just the thing. It is said that one can be lonely in a crowded room, but I find that in times of loneliness, to step out into the world that is New York City can be restorative.

At one time I used to frequent the beaches at Robert Moses State Park on Fire Island and also Jones Beach. In both cases, I would always trek away from the most crowded areas to those more sparsely populated. On one occasion, I found myself chatting briefly with someone who had parked himself and his friends only steps from the concession buildings in the most crowded area imaginable. I offered my knowledge of the island and my strategy, thinking that perhaps he was not aware how much less crowded the beach gets just a short walk away. He informed me that he and his friends preferred being there.

This was revelatory and very startling to me. Growing up in New England, my family suffered any pains to avoid crowds, traffic, and cites, always priding themselves on finding those places that were quiet. But now my worldview was being challenged again by this beach denizen. Much as I grew to love the city, I now saw that there were those who preferred not just culture and amenities but crowds themselves.

There can be a feeling of security amoung a group of people. I often find the same feeling in midtown Manhattan amid buildings, where immersed in the concrete jungle, I am comforted, not overwhelmed, by the structures. Many hate crowds, and some even panic at the prospect of being in New York City with all its horrors, some real and most imagined. I, on the other hand, have been a New Yorker for much too long - I feel safe and secure with the melange of buildings towering over and huddled around me, buffeting the world like my Guardian Angels :) 

Related Posts: Steaming Masses of New York, Huddled Masses, Too Too New York, I Know, I've Got a Feeling, Caught in the Riptide, Do It in the Road, The Subway.


Mary P. said...

We have to remember to look up!

Terry at Blue Kitchen said...

Great post, Brian. I knew a couple from Brooklyn (they had grown up there and were living in Chicago when we met). When they took a honeymoon road trip out west to the Badlands, they were at first overwhelmed by the vast skies and suffered minor agoraphobia for a few days.

New York Wedding Photographer said...

Hey guys!, i feel something strange about this photo, its weird but i said it anyway. lol

Anonymous said...

I Love crowds and thats why I love NYC, I live in London but vacation in NYC, rather than a beach in the sun!
Brilliant Blog :-)

Hummingbird said...

I have just discovered your blog and i love it! We were Aussie expats in NYC for almost 2 years. I found the crowds, sounds (noise...) and colour of NY exciting and comforting. We live in the inner city and our neighbourhood is a buzz of activity but nothing compares to the energy felt in a NY street. Oh how I long to go back....*sigh*...