I recently visited New York City. Walked about 30 kilometers in three days. I hate the subway, don’t really like paying for taxis, and believe the best way to truly experience a city is on foot. If you haven’t already seen the adventure, check out the video where I tried to meet Casey Neistat. I didn’t meet him, but it was good material for a vlog.
As I walked the streets, Darwin’s theory of evolution often came to mind. Darwin observed that islands, depending on size, distance and duration of separation from mainland, tended to develop their own unique systems. Animal and plant life develop unique traits, characteristics and processes best suited to insure survival in their particular island ecosystem. I realized that Darwin’s theory of evolution is as true of the natural world as it is of the unnatural / human world. Manhattan Island has developed its own unique human ecosystem. It’s only natural, with nearly 2 million people living on such a densely populated, highly built-up, crowded island. And the systems that have been developed are truly incredible.
The first system I noticed was the parking ritual. Twice a week, for 90 minutes, cars are not allowed to park on alternating sides of the streets. On Monday and Thursday, from 8:00 to 9:30, parking is not allowed on one side of the street. Tuesday and Friday, 8:00 to 9:30, it’s not allowed on the other side. Parking spots are in high demand in New York.
Thursday morning, I stayed in my car, on the illegal side of the street, hoping to wait out the parking police. I noticed that there was a driver in every car, both in front and behind me. After about an hour, I thought the parking police were not going to come, and I prepared to leave for the day. But just then, I noticed that everyone started pulling out of their spot, and stopping their car perpendicular to the street. And then I saw the street cleaner coming. Like a bizarre trance-induced ritual, every car did the same thing, like a mechanic wave, as the street cleaner passed. And once the street cleaner had cleared a spot, the cars backed into that spot, and continued waiting until 9:30. Then, at 9:30 sharp, like a siren had been sounded, everyone left their cars and went on with their week.
I noticed that people talk to each other in New York. A lot. They talk to their neighbors. To city workers. To store owners. They want to talk to someone. They love it. And in a way, they have to. If only for some internal, subconscious reason. New York is a big city. It’s huge. Intimidating. And ironically, it’s easy to get lost in the city – both physically and emotionally – because of how big it is. Talking to one’s neighbor is the psychologically natural way of fending off this loneliness. And in the Darwinian sense, it also increases the chances of survival – both of the individual and the community. New York City is one massive thriving community that consists of smaller, equally thriving communities. It’s a beautiful thing to experience.
That said, predators have also developed their own system of survival. New York is not all salted pretzels and dinges. It has its sharks. Its scavengers. Its opportunistic hunters. Street vendors, taxi drivers, retailers can quickly spot a visitor to the island, and adjust their prices accordingly. I stepped into one of those unmarked taxis who wanted to charge me 40$ to drive 4 kilometres. I swiftly got out of the car (video coming soon). Street hustlers are everywhere, waiting to exploit the most naïve intruders. At a comedy club (the one where there were only 12 people for the show, described in a previous blog), two young first-time visitors to the island purchased their tickets off a street vendor who promised them that Tina Fey was the headline act.
The island has developed its own distinct quarters within the greater ecosystem, where life has adapted at the micro level… People dress the same in certain areas, either for social, religious, or hipster reasons. And sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. The island is both a magnificent macro and microcosm of the natural world.
Did I mention that I got to see Jerry Seinfeld? First night in town, I go to a comedy club. Just arbitrarily picked one of the top five, reserved a ticket, and headed down. Jerry Seinfeld wasn’t on the ticket. The headliner was Gad Elmaleh (who was absolutely fantastic). Right before Gad took the stage, the MC announced she had a surprise. Yes, Jerry Seinfeld. I even got to talk to him.
New York City is awesome (although I am assured that the rituals that entranced me become tedious after a certain period of time). But Montreal is my island, with its own amazing and unique ecosystem that I hope comes through in my videos. And here’s one of my favourites!