Friendly Contradiction

New Yorkers have a reputation for gruff discourtesy, and Friday night at the drugstore I thought there was going to be a riot at the cash registers as people desperately bought sunscreen before fleeing the city for the holiday.

At check out counters all over town I smile, ask the workers how their day has been, say things like ‘thank you’ and ‘please.’   I sound like a total tourist.

The people working at these registers often have no interest in acknowledging there’s a human being holding the credit card; they’re just trying to get through the day.   Sometimes I get a friendly and relieved smile in response, but other times it backfires tragically. They eye me suspiciously, wondering if I’m a company spy or if I’m stealing a roll of toilet paper hidden under the fruit.

So you’d get the impression the people who live here are rude and mean. Right?

At least three times a day I strike up a conversation with someone on the train, waiting for the train, at a museum, eating a meal, walking down the sidewalk and these are the nicest, friendliest, most genuine people I could possibly imagine talking with.  They tell me intimate stories about their lives, their lovers, their drugs of choice.  They give me their phone number and email addresses.

Now I’ve been told that people often create their own little bubble in this city, which is in itself a giant bubble, and only interact with necessary participants in their lives.  This explains the total indifferent rudeness at the check out line.  But the ebullient conversations with me – a total stranger – shows how lonely people are here. 

Maybe this time, they think, I’ll meet someone who will be my best friend.

Something similar happens in  LA, except everyone is nice to everyone because they think Maybe this time I’ll meet someone who will make me a star.

In Texas we’re just friendly.  Because.

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