Monday, January 30, 2012

GET LOST: A New York Tour Guide's Guide to New York #3


I had a group one time that I believe was from the Midwest. I noticed something odd about their behavior as we walked down the street. I wasn't sure what it was, but it was as if they were in their own little universe. They seemed very isolated somehow. I later learned that they'd gotten some advice, presumably from their tour director, which I thought was one of the stupidest things I'd ever heard: Don't make eye contact with anyone.

As most people know, this is primarily a pedestrian city. That means that you're coming into almost direct contact with complete strangers all day long. Most of the time, you don't have the (limited) protection of being in a moving, lockable vehicle. As I already began discussing, you need to be aware of your surroundings at all times. You need to be watchful for not only where the Crazy is coming from, but also what kind of Crazy is headed in your direction.

I'm not trying to encourage paranoia. Most of the Crazy is not much more than a nuisance. Other kinds of Crazy should be heartily avoided. If you're looking at your own feet, the storefront windows, or your travel companions instead of what and who is around you, you're putting yourself at risk of unnecessary hassles.

Looking someone right in the eyes and using the instincts all humans share is a great and easy way to determine if this is a person who ought to be avoided, and a second is all that takes. Trust your own gut. Over meekly staring at your own shoes, that look shows confidence (unless you have a scared expression on your face), which makes you less of a target. If the person is up to no good, they will know that you have seen their face and might potentially be able to recognize them. It's also friendlier. You will never personally interact with ninety-nine percent of the people you see. But looking people in the eye is a subtle way of indicating that you respectfully acknowledge their presence as a fellow human being in the shared space of a city street without having to say anything.

On the other side of this coin, please, don't stare. Yeah, there are a lot of weirdos here. I meet people from every part of the world in my job, and trust me, I've seen some pretty bizarre-looking people from where you live, also. That's no excuse. It's just plain bad manners. Just tell yourself, "everyone is different," and go about your business. As far as the crazy people go, who are purposely making a spectacle of themselves, they're probably the ones at whom you least want to be caught staring.

©2012, Ryan Witte

4. Quiet Down

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