Stranger in Strange Land

This just in:  I recently returned from a week-long vacation in New York City.  As a country boy from Wasco, a 29-mile tractor drive from Bakersfield, I expected to be unimpressed.  I expected crowds.  I expected traffic.  I expected noise.

What I didn’t expect was to be impressed….but I was.

How did this happen? 

Let’s start with the sights; things tourist go to take pictures of as proof that they had a good time.  Yes, I saw Times Square.  I rode a subway. I paid my respects at the 9/11 memorial.  I saw Billy Joel (and surprise guest John Fogerty) at a sold-out Madison Square Garden.  I walked through Harlem and peeked into a window at the Apollo Theater.  I walked the grounds of Columbia University and I ate a pretzel as I strolled across the Brooklyn Bridge.

I didn’t hit all of the sites.  I didn’t get a chance to see the Eiffel Tower or the Giza Pyramids.  The Louver was closed that day and the line was too long at the Mount Rushmore ride.

Then, the most extraordinary thing happened in the most ordinary of places.

I was at an intersection.  There were impossibly large crowds at every corner.  My corner army made eye contact with those on the opposite side.  The light was about to turn green.  The stage was set for a middle-ages battle scene.  I reached for my broadsword.

Then it got weird.

The crowds rushed towards and through each other with a practiced fluidity that defies description. There were no “bumps” or “get out of my way!”  We just walked forward and ended up on opposite sides; unscathed.

Something had just happened, and I didn’t quite see it yet.

As time went by, I began to notice two things.  First, it was always crowded and yet didn’t feel that way as people noticed each other and each made small movements to accommodate the other.  Secondly, I noticed that the population seemed diverse.  I’m not talking about some white guys and some brown guys.  I’m talking about dozens and dozens of nationalities.  Men, women, old, young, suits, rags, rushing, coasting, laughing, reading, texting, talking, tall, short, skinny, and… robust. There were business suits chatting with pink leather pants.  Gays, straight and miscellaneous getting on with their lives, free from judgement…or judging.

Languages shifted as one group passed out of earshot and another approached.

I expected white men in suits, rushing off to Wall Street and what I got was a cross section of mankind flowing seamlessly in and out of each other’s lives. 

I watched the Lyft driver and the shop keeper, and the subway rider and the ticket taker, all treat everyone as if they were the same.  That sameness being that they were all different.  All different.  All equal and all part of New York.  Even as a tourist, I was the same.  While I was in New York, I was one of them and they were glad I was there.

I eventually spoke to a few locals about what they liked most about their city.  Without exception, the first comment was, “The diversity.”

I’m not sure how New York pulled this off.  I suppose that if you put few million people into a single city they must choose between peaceful coexistence or self-annihilation.  Whatever happened, it appears to be self-sustaining.  It works for them with such success that they embrace it with seemingly every moment of every day.

I wish I could spread the word.  If the people of the world, just for one day, became New Yorkers, there would be no more wars…ever.

I’m now longing to go back again.  I want to wake up in the city that never sleeps and walk out into a world rich in colors, sounds and voices.  And…if the line isn’t too long, I’m going take a ferry over to see the Rock of Gibraltar.

Up, up and away…


Note: The title of this post is in reference to a book by Robert Heinlein of the same name. Read it!

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