Saturday, March 28, 2009

City loyalty

Pittsburgh is my hometown, and I am proud of that. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to transfer that loyalty, no matter where in the world I live. When the subject of football comes up, I am the first to identify myself as a Steelers fan. I will always have a special pride in things that are uniquely Pittsburgh, from the Original Hot Dog Shop, to the Carnegie Library, to the Point, to all of our awesome bridges.

Still, I think living anywhere for a significant period of time contributes to my sense of identity and, consequently, creates in me a sense of loyalty to the place. I wouldn’t say I developed a sense of loyalty to Rochester “the city,” since I never really explored the community in any in-depth way, but my identity certainly includes the fact that I am an alumni of the University of Rochester. I am very proud of this aspect of my identity, and I will speak enthusiastically with anyone about how great it was to be a member of the swim team, the wonderful open curriculum, and special U of R traditions like Meliora Weekend and Dandelion Day.

Similarly, if anyone asked me about my time studying abroad in England, one of the first things I would say is how grateful I was to have been forced to live off-campus, in the town of Brighton. Initially I was horrified at the prospect of being excluded from “campus life,” since, I had found this so valuable while living at U of R, but the more time I spent in Brighton, the more I fell in love with it. I’m sure that, had I lived in London, I would have grown equally attached to that city, but because I spent my six months in Brighton (when I wasn’t travelling to other parts of Europe, that is), I emphatically asserted afterwards that I was glad to have lived and studied in that town instead of in the big city of London. It gave me a much more relaxing, town-y, “English” experience.

Now I’m in New York City. I don’t think I will ever be able to say I am from New York City, or at least not for the next twenty years or so (I am constantly being called a “tourist” by my NYC friends), but after having lived here for the last nine months or so, I have again developed a sense of rapport with this city.

My first realization of this newfound loyalty occurred when I went to visit a friend in Boston. I had never been to Boston before and was quite eager to explore a new city. Unfortunately, I did not end up seeing much of the city that weekend, as R___ and I mostly went out to eat, walked around Harvard, and hung out at his apartment. However, I did get a general feel for how Boston differed from NYC. The subway system was one major indication. It was so small! Consider this map:

vs this map

Obviously NYC has infinitely more people to cart around, but Boston must be a significantly smaller city, as well, to have so few lines serving such a limited area. And it was tremendously frustrating to have to wait for a train for twenty minutes on a Monday afternoon just to travel one stop!

Another difference that caused me to realize my partiality to NYC was Boston’s lack of resources or, by comparison, NYC’s abundance of resources. On one evening, R___ and I wanted to go buy cookies to eat while we watched football with him and his roommates. Apparently, there was only one possibility within walking distance: a small convenience store located two blocks away. This arrangement alone wasn’t too shocking—if I had wanted cookies at 9p.m., I would have walked to a convenience store near my apartment, too. Even the singularity of our options—one convenience store—I could understand: outside of NYC, it probably wasn’t normal to have three convenience stores within one block of cityscape. What was shocking was the limited number of choices inside this convenience store. The shelves were nearly empty! I am accustomed to shelves bursting with product: fresh fruit spilling out of bins and bright drinks filling coolers jammed along walls. This convenience store looked like it was about to go out of business the next day. We took the last package of Chips Ahoy, grateful that there were even any cookies available, and R___ tested two lighters before finding one that actually worked. As we left, I absently wondered if this was even a 24-hour convenience store or if, had we arrived one hour later, it would have been closed. How unusual, to have cities with bedtimes!

Which brings me to my next trip: Washington D.C. My bus arrived late, putting me into the city at midnight (instead of 10 p.m., when it had originally been scheduled to arrive). My friend K2 met me at the station in order to take me back to her apartment before setting out again to pick up our other friend, K1, from the Reagan Airport. K2 seemed a bit on edge, and when I asked her about her mood, she said she was worried about what time K1’s flight would arrive. Why? Because the DC metro shuts down at a certain time! My mind immediately jumped to how inconvenient my life would become if the NYC metro ever shut down. And to think that I gripe about alternate weekend schedules and limited services after midnight….

To its credit, DC’s metro is incredibly easy to navigate; the next morning, I was able to hop right on and off without any confusion in order to meet my friend Lexi Devourat L’Enfant Plaza (or, as I prefer to call it, Elephant Plaza). Unfortunately, this ease of navigation is also a limitation, as my resident friend K2 tells me that a car is a near necessity to access certain areas of the city, and that one derailed train will disrupt the entire system. Fifty percent of my reason to live in NYC is in order to avoid owning a car! If one derailed train delayed the every other train in the system, NYC companies would have to do away with start times (which may not be nearly such a bad thing)….

Here is the DC metro map, for comparison:

Finally, one last thing must be said about each of these cities’ metro systems or, actually, about their physical structures. Boston’s cars are quaint and homey-looking. They remind me more of old-fashioned train cars than underground subway cars. The cars’ exteriors resemble trolleys, and the train stations are enormous, cave-like places. DC’s cars are a bit more modern, but much more posh, with bright orange, red, or blue cushioned seats. The floors are even carpeted. Additionally, these cars are built to be “handicapped friendly,” which basically means the centers are wide open spaces where there is nowhere to hold on during rush hour. DC stations, however, are extremely similar to Boston’s stations, with high ceilings and smooth gray stone walls. The primary difference in DC is that every station has more escalators than stairways. A city primed for lazy tourists…? NYC’s cars, compared to the subway cars in these other two cities and have gritty uncarpeted floors, are usually dimly lit (unless you are fortunate enough to catch one of the newer ones with the florescent lighting and automated station announcements). They are designed for one purpose: to squeeze in as many people as possible. Moreover, NYC’s subway cars are ten times more advertisement-plastered than either DC’s or Boston’s cars. Although if you want your product to be seen, I guess you have to advertise in the place where most people will see it. The most crowded city in the world’s transportation system is probably prime for that!

So when all is said and done, I cannot help but find myself partial to NYC’s metro system. Ours is the biggest, the most efficient, but also the most complicated. If you can navigate the metro system in NYC, you can navigate the metro anywhere. (Except perhaps in Greece. Any country where you don’t speak the language—that barrier trumps all. Trust me—been there; done that.)


Mike S. said...

Great post Allison. Got me all warm and giggly with Pittsburgh Pride. Especially since Pitt just lost :(

agoldste said...

Thanks. Yeah, I'm pretty sad about Pitt. The one NCAA game I finally watch....

filiak said...


Anonymous said...

Interesting that you talk about choices Allison. I remember a time, not long ago when you were living in Brighton, you commented on how many choices Americans had vs those abroad. You mentioned that the US just had too many to chose from and that things would be far simpler & less cluttered with fewer choices.
As far a cities go, each one has their own unique identity and history that brought it to where it currently is; from the people that founded and migrated there to those yinzer natives who have never experienced anything outside their local. Again, just an observation.

Neen said...

Yay! PGH pride! Also, I cannot believe that you were in DC and I didn't get to see you. Bum-mer!

Having lived in Boston and DC, I have to say just how surprised I was when I moved here at the sheer convenience of the trains. The T can be somewhat unpredictable and the DC metro was a relief. That said, NYC takes the cake. Anywhere, anytime? Yes, thank you!

Also, when you lived in Brighton, did you ever have a chance to go to a soul food restaurant there called Mama Sherri's? (I know, so random...)