Monday, October 16, 2006


Some time ago, I read an article in some magazine that talked about how walking speed in major cities around the world related to the stress/angst/some other word level in those cities. I tried to find that article so that you too could peruse it and marvel at its insights, but alas, even the internet, the worlds formost detective, could not crack the case. I did find an interesting study on walking, talking and money counting speeds in major american cities, also chalk full of fascinating if useless insights into american urban life, but its wanders from my point.

And that point is the speed of this city. Its truly remarkable. Its like the earth spins faster right under New York and we are all just struggling to keep up because if we can't we would slide out of the city like someone slides off a too-fast jogging machine in a bad physical comedy. Earlier, I wrote that people here don't have time for your shit or even their own, and that is true. In fact, I think that people here don't even have time to register that they don't have time for your shit.

So that speed goes unnoticed. The whole city is fast and just by living here you get faster. You walk fast to the subway or bus stop because you don't want to miss the next one. You eat fast because you have places to go because here in New York you must have places to go (also because the amount of food you get is much smaller contributing to the meal moving by more quickly), you talk fast because people here are used to the frenetic and if you don't keep their attention with your speed you will lose them, although your fast speech does not guarantee that you will be understood ... in fact it is often the opposite, that you speak quickly to keep peoples attention, but by speaking that fast you hold their peripheral attention and slide the point of what you are saying right by them because you are speaking so quickly.

In any case, speed is the norm.

But despite this, or more than likely because of it, it is the slowness of things in the city that reall causes them to stand out. There are the beautiful things you notice when you slow down, the leaves changing in the park, the incredible variety of faces moving by you on the street, the exceptional quality of whatever you are eating (because more than likely if it is here and you paid for it its good ... for food, New York is that city), the way the buildings turn downtown Manhattan into a dark urban jungle, complete with sunlit plains and deep rift valleys, in the middle of the day. But more than anything else, you notice your own slowness when it is forced upon you by others.

The man in front of you at Costco who wants a slice of pizza, but won't eat pork so has the counter girl go over the ingredients of every damn slice behind the counter for 10 minutes while the line builds up back to the registers, only to finally get the cheese slice and decide that his important aversion to swine is not so important and spends yet another 10 minutes trading his pizza for a slice of pepperoni.

The brilliant women who decides that the middle of the busy intersection is a crucial moment at which to get out of her car and check that some useless trinket is still in her back seat. She spends ten minutes, three full light cycles, completely oblivious to the honks and yells of the cars she is block, finally digs out a small umbrella, then throws it back in the back seat. Presumably, now that she knows its there she can go on with her day.

The movie production that decides that the middle of the day is the perfect time to close down Columbus cirlcle for a shot, moving everyone out of the way in a loud, haphazard fashion for a shot that takes 1.2 seconds to record nothing. They then allow the circle to fill up once again, before yet again starting to clear it out for another split second glance at a New York that would never exist, one with empty streets.

The oh-so-thoughtful short lifters who dominate the elevators in my building to the point that it it would be faster to walk up 7 flights carrying a bookshelf. Or a buffalo. Or even an anchor that was dragging you down onto the floor with 100 times the force of gravity. You watch the elevator stop and each floor, as people get on and off at the next floor, oblivious to the fact that elevators were designed as a TIME SAVING DEVICE ...

All in all, for a speedy city, the number of people who do committ heart-breakingly slow often mind-bogglingly stupid, illogical acts is incredible. Not incredible that those folks exist, it would be incredible if they didn't. Just that they exist here, in this city, defies evolution. Its amazing that the rest of the speedy folk here have not eaten them by now as a means of enhancing the overall pace of life. Maybe the day of reckoning for these slow folks is coming, but probably not. For now, all I can do is hope the gaggle of chinese grandmothers on the first and second floors of my building learn to find the stairwell ...

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