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Sunday, November 14, 2010

New York at Christmas: A Guide to Sidewalk Etiquette

Dear Tourists,

It's that time of year again—city sidewalks have become busy sidewalks, and tourists are pouring into Manhattan faster than you can say Bloomberg. Unfortunately, that speed doesn’t extend to the typical tourist's walking pace. The thing is, tourists, that we New Yorkers love when you come to our city, spend money, employ us, and increase Manhattan’s desirability...but please, please, walk a little faster.

I am quite certain that the notion of New Yorkers as overly harsh, jaded busybodies stems from tourists' ignorance of unspoken sidewalk rules. We're perfectly pleasant as long as you keep pedestrian traffic moving at a steady clip. If you stroll—ugh, even the word gives me shivers—you might hear a few well-chosen curses fly your way. In an effort to decrease the tourist/local divide, I am humbly offering you a little gift this holiday season. No, it’s not a figgy pudding. It is a guide to Manhattan sidewalk survival. Feel free to share with absolutely everyone you know. In fact, I insist on it.

1. Manhattan has tall buildings, historic landmarks, and homeless people. You're welcome to gawk at any or all of these things. But if you do, move to the right-hand side of the walkway.

2. Never walk at anything slower than a semi-rapid pace. My Great Aunt Mary once got a ticket for driving too slow in a construction zone. Don’t be Great Aunt Mary.

3. Don't litter. Just don't. I wouldn't toss a dirty street meat wrapper on your Home Depot-ed lawn, so please don't drop one on my pee-soaked, rat-infested sidewalk. It's rude.

4. Do not take up the entire sidewalk by walking in a long row with 18 of your closest friends. Walk in pairs so that I can pass by when you inevitably slow down to laugh at a lame inside joke. Never fear—you can catch up with your friends when you wait two hours for a table at Carmine's.

5. Never expect cyclists, bike messengers, or pedicabs to adhere to the rules of the road. Or common sense.

6. You can still cross the street even if the electronic hand is flashing red. I promise.

7. You have a 3.6 second opportunity to take a posed photo. I will pause and wait for you for exactly that long. If it takes longer than that, you might discover that an image of a blurry stranger has obscured your shot of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Side note: Figure out how to use your camera before you leave home.

8. If you have to look at a map, make a phone call, reprimand your child, or pick your nose, move to the side. Don't make your problems my problems. 

9. Don't stop pedestrian traffic with a mid-sidewalk "Where should we eat?" group conversation. I am a 5'2", 105-lb mild-mannered Catholic girl, but if you’re in my way, I will start throwin’ some ‘bows. If I were foolishly holding you up from getting to your audition/yoga class/office, I would fully expect you to do the same unto me.

10. As for umbrella etiquette...don’t get me started. Don’t
even get me started.

11.
Think twice before walking at a snail's pace with one of those giant SUV strollers, simultaneously slowing me down and blocking me from passing you.
Your baby doesn't have anywhere to be.

I do.

12.
Jaywalking. Get into it.

13. Channel the spirit of Johnny Cash, a man who wore almost as much black as the average New Yorker, and walk the line. A straight line. Don't drunkenly weave back and forth, making it impossible for anyone to pass you. I know a number of trannies named Sue who would gladly accept a Folsom Prison sentence for the pleasure of clocking a sidewalk rover.

14. Manhattan drivers are erratic, but standing two feet back from the curb when waiting to cross the street is an overly excessive safety cushion, and it blocks the sidewalk for people trying to cross your path. Stand a little closer to the curb. Or maybe even in the street. You won't get hit. Usually.

15. If you have shopping bags from Century 21, Chinatown, and American Girl Place, keep them tightly by your side. I really don't feel like being bruised by bags containing discount designer merchandise, fake Prada purses, and/or creepy dolls dressed exactly like your children.

And the simplest but most important (drum roll, please!)...

Walk on the
right side of the sidewalk! The right! Exactly the same way you drive and skate around a roller rink! The right!!!

***********************************************************************************

Again, tourists, please don't be mad. I'm trying to help you. I love you. I need you. Your hard-earned cash pays for tickets to the show that employs me. I understand your cluelessness, and I want to clue you in. Plus, I am one of you...or I was. Just like Eva Peron and her descamisados. In closing, tourists, my message is this: When in Rome, do as the New Yorkers do. Treat the sidewalk as you would a highway—maintain a steady pace with the traffic, keep to the right, and stay in your own lane. 

...And if your to-go bag of leftover soup, salad, and breadsticks from the Olive Garden smacks me in the shin one more time, you and I may find ourselves in a road rage-induced fender bender.

Love, 
Me

P.S. When I visited NYC for the first time in March of 1999, a friend took this completely embarrassing picture of me high kicking in front of Radio City. At the time, I thought it was the coolest. Now that I’ve lived in Manhattan for nine years and actually work at Radio City, I am slightly appalled that I ever blocked the sidewalk and halted pedestrian traffic by doing such a thing. You see, we all make mistakes.


11 comments:

  1. I couldn't agree more. I can't even begin to describe the rage I feel at times when walking around this city, ESPECIALLY around Radio City. The photo-taking-phenomenon I find especially poignant. Yesterday, across from RC, I was trying to walk between 50th and 49th on the little plaza on the west side of 6th Ave. And there was a family of about eight, posing, taking multiple photos right in this plaza area that I was trying to walk through. But I was weak, I didn't go through their photo field in an attempt to not ruin their shot. Foolish me. And I won't do it again.

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  2. Haha! It was so nice of you to wait...just this once. I felt really bad the first time I ruined somebody's picture. Then I decided that I would rather be at work on time than be nice.

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  3. nice column. That pic of you kicking. ha

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  4. Thanks! I'm pretty sure I wouldn't still be able to kick like that on a freezing cold day without warming up first. I'm old now.

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  5. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!

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  6. This is too funny....its great! Great job.

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  7. Thanks so much, Kelly and Amy Conner! You made my day!

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  8. Amen. You should think about printing and selling a pamphlet. People could hand it to obnoxious tourists. There would be no danger of accidentally handing it to a real New Yorker because a real New Yorker wouldn't take the pamphlet.

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  9. Curt, you are my hero. If only I had thought of that!

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  10. Yeah! Christmas is fast approaching and thanks for reminding. it's a pleasure reading your blog. And nice pic there by the way.

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  11. Thanks for the shout out, Anti Money Laundering!

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