This article is part of the The Great American Reach Around series.
We continue our voyage of discovery in the Northeast United States with a trip to New York! For many the city and the state are one and the same, but there is a great deal more to New York State than just New York City. Like, um, some farms. Hang on, give me a minute.
There are some mountains. And Buffalo, home of buffalo wings and the only population decline over the past 50 years that can rival East St. Louis!
Dang it all to heck, let's just talk about New York City.
If the most accurate metric for judging the value and prestige of a city is the number of charts the Nazis drew up to demonstrate the effect of super weapons, then New York City is the number one city in the world. I'm sure New Yorkers could probably find a few more reasons why their city is number one in the world, but they'll never go looking: New York City is the world.
From the garment stands of Chelsea to the noodle stands of Chinatown, all of these other places people keep talking about are just words that show up on a shipping label. Paris, London, Russia, Ice Station Zebra; they're all just words as meaningless and innocuous as the customs inspection number.
New York City is America's most populous city. It is America's most economically important city. Despite what Hollywood wants you to think, it is America's most culturally important city. Everyone in the world old enough to read and write has heard of New York City.
This great city consists of, and is sometimes referred to as, the Five Boroughs. Each of these unique government districts contains a population greater than some of America's Western states. The gem of New York City is Manhattan, home to many of NYC's landmarks and the location of its peerless skyline. Manhattan is the most densely populated region of the United States and it has some of the most expensive property and highest rents in the world. A studio apartment goes for an average of about 2500 dollars a month in Manhattan, but a New Yorker will tell you that you can easily end up paying double or triple that.
Connected to Manhattan by the famous Brooklyn Bridge (among others) is NYC's most populous borough. Brooklyn cradles the western shore of Long Island and is home to over two and a half million New Yorkers. Anyone who has ever watched a movie set in New York City will probably recognize the borough's brownstone townhouses. Even though these historic brick buildings have spread throughout North America, they are an enduring image of New York and Brooklyn.
Compared to Manhattan, which has a diverse working population but is predominantly white, Brooklyn is ethnically diverse. It has a large African American population as well as sizable new and old immigrant communities.
Queens is the geographically largest of the five boroughs and is even more diverse than Brooklyn. In fact, Queens is considered the most ethnically diverse county in the United States and it sports large populations of whites, Jews (who are usually also white no matter what some people say), African Americans, Chinese, Koreans, Greeks, Russians, oh hell, everybody lives in Queens. Contrary to TV media, Queens is not ruled by a King, nor is that show even shot in Queens except for the occasional exterior. It's shot at a studio backlot in Culver City, California. Culver City looks nothing like Queens and may actually be at war with Queens.
North of Manhattan is the Bronx. To a lot of people living outside of New York City the Bronx is "that bad side of town". For decades New Yorkers might have shared this sentiment, but these days the "bad sides" have shrunk and have been scattered across the boroughs.
Mesopotamia, in the crook of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, gave birth to human civilization. The Bronx, in the crook of the Hudson and Harlem rivers, has given birth to hip hop civilization. Love it or hate it, we have the Bronx to indirectly thank for most of the songs on America's top 40. The Bronx remains a cultural center for music and the arts and also spray-painted subway cars to this day.
Staten Island is the smallest and least populous of the five boroughs and is isolated on an island southwest of NYC. Can you guess the name of the island?
Staten Island has the distinction of being the only borough with a boat named after it that has eclipsed the borough itself in terms of fame. The guided missile cruiser USS Brooklyn isn't more famous than Brooklyn. The E-War Frigate USS Manhattan is not more famous than Manhattan. Yet the Staten Island Ferry is more famous than Staten Island, which is amazing when you think about that. Go ahead and think about that.
There are things to do on Staten Island, plenty of fun to be had, as long as you're Italian. If New York City could be said to have a suburb this close to Manhattan, it would be Staten Island.
So what makes New York City so great? Why is it special? I'm glad I asked myself that question on your behalf! It could be the character that oozes out of its many historic neighborhoods and monuments. It could be all of the hard-working and creative people living in New York City. It could be the great food. It could be the long history of tribulation and triumph. It could be all of those things and more, but I don't have an easy answer. Hey, cut me a break here, Woody Allen has devoted his entire career to answering those questions.
What I can speak to is the character of New Yorkers. They are proud of where they live and fiercely loyal to their city. It's a common trait among people who live in big cities, but New Yorkers take it seriously. They tend to be brusque in a way that borders on hostility, but that doesn't mean they don't give a shit. If anything New Yorkers give too much of a shit.
In LA people will be late to a meeting or to a party with friends and no one will care. In New York a late arrival is just as likely, but that tardiness will become the central issue of a long discussion about the shitty traffic in midtown. That cabbie in the Mets hat that cut them off will spawn a heated argument about Daryl Strawberry's drug-fueled wife beating.
It would be impossible to write an article about New York City without mentioning the events of September 11th, 2001. Over 3,000 people died and New York suffered a permanent loss to its skyline when the World Trade Center was destroyed by Al Qaeda terrorists. What most Americans and most people around the world fail to comprehend is that for New Yorkers this was first and foremost an attack on their city.
Once the smoke had cleared and the scale of the attacks had begun to sink in, New Yorkers overcame their fear and anxiety and drew on their rage. They didn't think about bombing someone because every attorney, barista, scam-artist, prostitute, and fashion designer in the Five Burroughs wanted to tear apart the people responsible with their bare hands. While people in Washington and around the world talked about coming together and battles against evil-doers, people in New York took the attack personally.
As the years wore on and New York increasingly became a symbol for America attacked, New Yorkers themselves became disenfranchised. September 11th was no longer about an attack on them; it was about an attack on America. It was a symbol every politician trotted out to underline the importance of their favorite policy or war.
Ask a New Yorker now about September 11th and they can recall the fear and anger of that day, but there is a bitter taste of betrayal to it now as well. What happened to all of that money meant to help rebuild and safeguard America's first city? Why are millions going to secure Wyoming when New York is asked to make budget cuts? Why didn't anybody take care of the firefighters and people who cleaned up the toxic mess left behind? Why have almost six years passed and the one asshole they could point to and say "this guy did it" is still thumbing his nose at them?
There are no good answers for New Yorkers, just photo-ops for solemn politicians looking to get elected. New York City is a symbol of America, but it's sick and tired of being a symbol for America's actions.
Even though New York City's extended metro area constitutes well over half of the population of the Empire State, there is more to New York. Let's move on and find out just what there is to see and do elsewhere in New York!
We might find we have more in common than we think if we just stop fighting long enough to combine our bodies into a singular organism.
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