Growing up in Coop City wasn’t easy. Coop was home to 55,000 people and it was a true living experiment of diversity. It was a city within the city, a bubble of sorts. If you want to know what it will be like to live in a community on Mars, head to Coop and don’t leave the boundaries of the area. You could easily get on fine without leaving. Most of us ventured out into the wild and would head out to other areas of the Bronx or Manhattan. We called Manhattan “the city.”
I always felt like a New Yorker, but I didn’t like Manhattan. I thought there were too many people and always felt on edge. It wasn’t a place that I wanted to have a family because I never felt safe. Traveling from one place to another was always a pain. Having to take a bus or train meant I’d potentially have to interact with people. Most people were fine but getting into trouble by looking in the wrong direction for too long was always a possibility. For as challenging as it was, I made it. I knew how to handle myself and get by. I also planned to leave the area as soon as I could.
New York called to me over the years as I grew older. I looked for the familiar conversations on the street, the honest dialogue, the positive interactions, the food, and the beauty of it all. I didn’t want to live in the city, but I wanted to be close enough so that I could have some positive experiences and minimize the negative. I also wanted to take the opportunity to share with my family some of the best things about NY.
I’ve been back in the area for some years now and I am disappointed. Every time I venture into the city, I leave thinking I don’t want to go back in unless I must for some reason. I realize that we can say “If you don’t like it, don’t do it.” It’s like something that I easily forget until I go back. I tell myself it isn’t going to be that bad and that it is a new day. When I go back, I regret it.
The city smells like weed and urine everywhere we go. On every block and every walk, there isn’t any escape from it. I have always supported the right and liberty of people to do what they want for themselves, but people simply don’t seem to respect each other. I went to a baseball game at Citi field and from the start of the trip on this one day, it was a great reminder. Since I don’t travel into the city too often, I’ll share this one simple day.
I boarded a NJ transit train in the early afternoon. The train was empty so I grabbed the first seat I could find. It was a four-seat configuration with two facing two. I’d made it through a few stops past Sommerville when four young people boarded the train. A young woman with a baby literally stepped on and over me to take the seat next to me. Her companions stood in the isle looking at me. The train was fairly empty but it was clear they wanted to sit together. They didn’t ask, the they didn’t even act like a human being had been there sitting in a seat. I asked them if they’d like me to move and they didn’t understand me or pretended not to understand me. I just got up and moved.
When I got to NJ Penn, it was the normal pouring out of people fighting pushing and shoving for the nearest door. I walked around and down to a fairly empty open area where I could access the same floor as the people fighting for the same tiny bit of space. A man with a shopping cart full of luggage and old hats and things was walking down with his pants to his knees inside the station. We normally don’t pay attention to such things, but you know mental health is a crisis so call 988. Someone will be down to help this man straight away.
I forgot to mention that the four young people got into an argument with the train conductor because they didn’t all buy tickets. He was yelling at them and forced them to buy tickets at one of the stations. They also didn’t understand him but since there was a Spanish speaking passenger also talking to them, they couldn’t use the language barrier as the reason. Oh yah, fun ride that was.
Back to NY Penn. When I finally got to NY Penn, the fight to get off and into the station was on. If Covid is an issue, it surely doesn’t seem like it matters. There were people on top of people, just a stack of moving bodies. People smoking along the way, yelling, pushing. I was feeling anxious and regretful. Why the hell would I put myself in this situation for a baseball game?
You know, it can’t be all bad, I’ll just pull it together and find some space. I’ll regroup, meet my friends and get on the LIRR to the game. Again, between the homeless people living in the station yelling and screaming, the marijuana smoke everywhere uncontrolled and the sheer amount of people on top of each other it was too much.
Getting out to Citi Field and getting off the LIRR was no different. When you get off the train people push and shove to get where they want to go. Everywhere there is weed. You can’t escape it. At the game, people cursed, yelled, pushed, shoved and smoked. The whole game I couldn’t figure out which direction the weed was coming from as the air would blow from multiple directions. I finally figured out that people were smoking and vaping all around me.
After the game, the fight to get home was on and the platform was full. People pushed and pushed each other. A young girl fell between the gap boarding the train and her person had to pull her out. Once we got onto the car we were packed in, two young men sitting in a 4 seat configuration decided to put their legs on the seats opposite from them. That’s right, a full packed train with no seating left, they decided to use the seats for their legs. That didn’t go over well with some people standing and it turned into a screaming match where fists were almost sure to follow. One of the passengers decided he would take the open seat and forced himself onto the boy’s space. The kid must have been late teens or early twenties, it was close to a fight, but all the older crowd assured the young men that it wouldn’t end well for them if they started a fight.
On the way home, we would pick up a car in a garage near Penn. When we got to the garage it was again full of smoke, people waited for their cars and the lines were long with people fighting to get their tickets taken. One couple decided they weren’t going to wait. They walked down to the area that was restricted to get their car. Of course, they couldn’t get out because the cars were stacked in a row. This turned into a screaming situation between the people running the garage and the car owner. Everywhere was F you and F you and F you.
This was only one day. I’ve been to other major cities in recent years and seen advances in homelessness, drug use and dilapidation but my home city NY is heading in the wrong direction. I have to ask, who wants to go there anymore?
After Covid, I know many people who refuse to commute to the city. They won’t even take a job there for more money. It isn’t worth it to them.
They have a mayor with swagger! The stores are closing, the city stinks and it isn’t safe to go there. What will be left? What direction is New York headed?
Maybe we never had civility? Maybe this is the true nature of people seeking to live in the wild and building a concrete, glass and metal mecca only to destroy it.
I know today that navigating the great city of NY is now beyond me even though I was a native. I am now as much or more foreign aside from knowing which directions the streets flow, I don’t know this place and her people.
I wonder if other people feel like I do about it. Citi Field was full, it won’t miss me but I won’t be back. Maybe that is the way it will be.