This post is the result of this exchange on Twitter:
I'd write the reverse as someone from AL in NYC.
"Try as I might. I couldn't ignore the stink of the city or the frightening noises from the jabbering vagrants. I watched one, clearly on drugs, wash his anus in a water fountain. That was treated as normal. Just the local flavor."
— GunFreeZone Blog (@GunFreeZone) September 24, 2023
After 120 likes and several positive comments, I decided to write it.
Every detail that I give is true. Hand to God, swear on a stack of bibles, these anecdotes really happened.
It was a beautiful day in Rapid City, South Dakota. Rapid has a lovely downtown area. The eight-block stretch along Main Street and Saint Joseph in the middle of the city was revitalized with nice restaurants and stores to cater to the tourists who come to visit Black Hills National Park, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Monument, and the other natural beauties of Western South Dakota. The buildings are refinished old brick, the streets are clean, and on every street corner is a life-size statue of an American President.
I was headed to one of my favorite business establishments in downtown, First Stop Guns. First Stop is truly one of the most beautiful gun stores I have ever been in. Fine taxidermy, wood-paneled displayed, antique guns behind glass, it has the decor to perfectly into the modern cowboy aesthetic that Rapid City embraces.
I had parked about a block away and was walking toward the store when I heard a combination of hysterical crying and a cascade of profanity. I, like a few other locals, rushed towards the sounds of distress to see what was the matter. What I came across was a family of four, mother, father, and two children. The mother was holding her progeny’s faces into her body while shrinking in between gasping sobs. The father was red-faced and yelling at everyone in the vicinity about what sort of inbred, shit-kicking, podunk morons we all were. After a few minutes and several questions, we were finally able to ascertain exactly what set off this emotional outburst. A man had exited the storefront a few feet away, carrying a gun, he walked down the street, got into a truck, and drove away. The sight of a man carrying a rifle down a city street sent them apoplectic with fear. The storefront, was, of course, that of First Stop Guns, a gun store. A man exiting the store carrying a rifle is a fairly normal occurrence on that particular city block. These people explained that they were from New York City, and such things are not normal or common in America and we backward country bumpkins should understand how terrifying that is. America, apparently, is the five boroughs of New York City.
This was not my only experience with New Yorkers in Rapid City, South Dakota that gave me an insight into how that group of people thinks. Another time, I was in Rapid City Regional Airport coming home from visiting my parents. While waiting for my checked bag, I overheard half of the conversation between the pater familias of a touristing family and his travel agent. Understand that Rapid City Regional is a tiny airport with only one terminal and a single carousel for baggage claim. The father was upset that there was no public transportation from the airport to the hotel near Mt. Rushmore and a cab won’t go that far. Mt. Rushmore is about 30 miles outside of Rapid City. He was very upset that his vacation might be ruined because of a lack of ground travel options (this was long before Uber was a thing in the heartland). Deductive logic suggested that the travel agent was unsure why the man was having difficulty doing what every other tourist in the region does, which is rent a car, because the father exclaimed quite loudly, “I’m from New York, I don’t have a driver’s license.” I learned a short time after that, that more than half of lifelong New Yorkers do not possess driver’s licenses.
The New York mentality isn’t just present in people born and raised in NYC, but can infiltrate the mind of any person who lives there long enough. I had traveled back to my childhood home from Rapid City over the Christmas holiday, and while I was there, I met up with some friends from high school who also were visiting their parents over the holiday season. One had moved to New York City, Manhattan to be specific. He was regaling us with stories about his glamorous New York life. The celebrities he saw in restaurants, the important people he brushed elbows with at upscale retail establishments. He looked at me and said, “I heard from [the mother of a mutual friend] that you moved to North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming… one of those rectangular states out west.” That is an area a thousand miles in diameter that crosses three time zones. This is a young man who had graduated from an Ivy League institution, an Ivy League institution in New York City. He was an encyclopedia of the important elite geographical places in the 22 square miles of Manhattan but had no idea what the middle of America was like. When I explained to him that I was in Rapid City, South Dakota, he asked if I lived in a teepee and had running water. Yes, his mental image of the second most populous city in the Rushmore State was entirely informed by HBO’s Deadwood, which takes place in the 1870’s. Again, this young man went to Columbia University and didn’t know the western United States from an HBO TV series.
My specialty as an engineer has turned me into somewhat of a tramp. Every few years I pick up and move on as work demands. A few years after these experiences, I moved to Huntsville, Alabama. It was during this spell that I had the opportunity to travel to New York City on business. I contacted another friend from high school who had moved to New York City to work on Wall Street. Since I was going to be in town, I thought it would be nice to meet up with him and catch up.
Before then, I had only been to New York City once before. I went on a high school field trip with the Model UN, and so we didn’t do much besides attend our school-sanctioned function and get shuttled around to some museums. This might come as a surprise to the people who know me because my father’s side of the family is from Long Island. My Father left NYC to attend college in Washington DC and never returned. My grandparents moved from New York to Broward County, Florida, in the 1970’s and severed all ties to the Empire State. This was going to be a new experience for me.
My flight arrived late, delayed due to weather, and I took a cab from the airport to the hotel. It was when I got to the hotel and tried to check in, that my adventure began.
My room had been given away to someone else. Due to my flight delay, I didn’t check in before 10 PM, at which point, hotel policy was to consider the reservation void. There were no more rooms available at the price that I had booked, according to company policy. After some debate with a very rude check-in clerk and the manager, it was agreed that they would give me a suite at the lower rate for a single king room. The suite had a balcony. After the manager had departed, the check-in clerk asked for my ID to book me into the room. I handed over my driver’s license. She stared at it for a few minutes, at which point she looked up at me and said, “Alabama? Are you in the Klan? I’m an Ashkenazi Jew from Miami with a very Ashkenazi Jewish name, so suffice it to say, I am not. I guess that the same mentality that makes New Yorkers assume everyone in South Dakota lives in a teepee, makes them assume every white person in Alabama is in the Klan.
Exasperated with this interaction, I took the elevator up to my suite. I entered the room, put down my bags, and decided to step out onto the much-lauded balcony. New York never fails to disappoint.
My balcony was about the size of a small desk. There was just enough room to stand on it and stare directly into the windowless brick wall across the ally. The odor wafting up the alley was nauseating, emanating from the dumpsters used by the hotel restaurant kitchen a dozen stories below. The balcony itself was thickly coated in a sludge comprised of pigeon guano and the oily precipitation of the exhaust of a million idling taxies and livery vehicles. After ten seconds, I had had enough of the balcony of what was nominally a $600 per night room.
I went to my business meetings, which were uneventful. The next day, I met up with my friend. He though it would be nice to take me to see some of the great New York City landmarks, guided by a local.
First on the list was Central Park. Central Park is an affront to the beauty of God’s creation. A rectangular plot of land where tree are allowed to live, pressed in on all sides by a hundred billion tons of steel and concrete. Central Park is the perfect representation of New York, where Mother Nature becomes another New Yorker, boxed into a cramped and tiny space, all the while the pop culture tells us how great it is.
The two things I remember the most about Central Park were the vagrants and recognizing certain landmarks as places Lenny Briscoe made cutting remarks over a dead body in the opening minutes of an episode of Law & Order.
One of the most interesting New York behaviors is that New Yorkers have an incredible ability to tune out just about anything. We would walk around and I would watch New Yorkers step past jabbering vagrants talking to themselves, people passed out on benches, a naked man washing his anus in a fountain, and it was as though my friend couldn’t see them at all. It’s not as though I’ve never seen homeless before. I’m just used to seeing them put into the back of police cars and taken to shelters. In New York, they are allowed to roam free. Feral homeless shitting on the street and sleeping in doorways.
Walking down a city city street, I was accosted in nearly every dozen feet by someone aggressively trying to sell something stolen or counterfeited off a blanket or a card table. There was a constant cacophony of noise from vendors with their music, the honking of horns, and buskers. A busker, as I was to learn, is a fancy term for a homeless bum who bangs on an empty bucket for money.
And the entire time, New Yorkers were oblivious to it all. That was not within my capabilities. My olfactory senses had not become accustomed to aroma of the city and I was brought to near retching by the odors of feces, rotting garbage, and marijuana that made it difficult to breathe at some points.
Another thing to note is that New York City is filthy. Every surface of the city is covered with a oily black grime and garbage was strewn everywhere. There wasn’t a surface in public that I wanted to touch.
We went to dinner, which is a bankrupting experience. Every meal I had in New York seemed like it was at least twice the price it should have been.
Afterwards, he took me for drinks to meet some of his finance buddies. Had I not experienced being looked down upon by New Yorkers already, what happened next would have been jarring.
My friend introduced me. One asked where I was living, and I told him. They were flabbergasted that someone from their inner circle in New York would know someone who lived in Alabama. I explained that I moved there for work, I was an engineer and I worked in the aerospace and defense world. Huntsville, is after all, home to NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and Redstone Arsenal. It is the birthplace of America’s space program. It has more engineers per capita than anywhere else outside Silicone Valley.
To which the retort was, “I didn’t know anyone in Alabama could read.”
I told him that yes, in fact, people from Alabama can read. My favorite book “is about an anonymous antagonist who attempts to inveigle the protagonist into consuming verdant breakfast foods.”
That was another shocking thing about New Yorkers. The alacrity by which they would brutally insult total strangers who lived outside of New York. I lived in Omaha, Nebraska for a bit between South Dakota and Alabama. Between Nebraska Nice and Southern hospitality such displays of rudeness are unthinkable.
After drinks and skepticism that, yes, people in Alabama wear shoes and don’t have rickets (I swear that is true), we took a cab back to my friend’s apartment.
My master bedroom in Alabama was larger than his entire living space. Again, I found myself confronted by a weird inversion of reality. My house was several times the square footage of his apartment and the rent on his apartment was proportionally several times the mortgage payment of my house. I asked why he would chose to live in a place both so small and expensive.
“I can walk to the Guggenheim from here.”
“I didn’t think you were into art museums, have you ever been to the Guggenheim?”
Outside of New York, people choose to live near where they work or shop regularly or have good schools. In New York, the value of a place is directly proportional to its proximity to a place you never go to, but have bragging rights about living near. I couldn’t fathom it.
Late that evening I went back to my hotel and the next day flew home.
I landed in Alabama and exited the airport to the smell of fresh air where you can see the sky not blotted out by buildings. Where people have homes with yards and the grass grows and the only poop you have to avoid stepping in is from your dogs.
New York is another world, alien to the rest of us. Where millions of people live packed in assholes to elbows into a stinking, fetid, dystopian Hieronymus Bosch painting, all living on top of one another, utterly catatonic to every horror the city besieges them with in order to preserve their sanity. I am convinced that the overwhelming sense of superiority that New Yorkers have, their out of date stereotypical assumptions about people from outside New York, and the rapidity at which they will insult those people based upon those stereotypes, is a psychological coping mechanism to deal with the fact that they are subconsciously aware of how bad New York is and how much they are paying to live there.
I had my fill of New York on that trip, enough for a dozen lifetimes, and God willing, I will never have to go back.