A Dragon In New York

I have been to New York many times, going all the way back to when I was 14 years old. I go there semi-regularly for business and pleasure. I was there yet again last week for the Blackdragon Retreat, and it occurred to me that I had never made a travel post about New York.

So now’s the time! Many of you have either lived in New York or visited New York often. That’s great. Like most of my travel posts, this post is geared for those of you who have never been there.

To be clear, when I say “New York” in this article, I really mean Manhattan and to a lesser degree its four surrounding boroughs. I’m not talking about the greater state of New York nor areas such as Long Island, Jersey City, and other places one could easily mistake for “New York”.

There’s a lot of good and bad in New York. Some things I love about it, but I’m also going to describe its negatives. Regardless of its problems, I think everyone in the world should visit New York at least once in their lifetime. If one city could be chosen as the center of the world over the last 100 years, it would be New York. Although America continues its decline, and New York is not the star in the crown it used to be, it’s still an important place and will remain so for at least a few more decades.

If you’ve never been there, you should go. There’s no other place in the world quite like it.

Here then, are my observations on New York as compared to the many other cities all over the world I’ve spent time in.

1. New Yorkers are assholes. Let’s get this out of the way first. Yes, I’m sorry to say the stereotype is generally accurate. New Yorkers are the rudest, angriest people as compared to any other city in the world I have ever visited in my entire life. That’s not to say there aren’t other “asshole” cities out there. People in Mexico City and Shanghai are pretty coarse, but New York takes the cake.

If you spend a few days in New York, you will get screamed at or insulted at least once or twice. You’re definitely going to see people scream at each other a few times on top of that. It’s just part of the culture. Plan on it and consider it part of New York’s “charm”.

If you come from a part of the world where people are “nice”, like the American west coast, Canada, or Japan, this will be some serious culture shock to you. Just relax and take it in stride.

The first time it happened to me was when I was 14 years old. It was my first visit and I was spending the entire summer in New York with my best friend at the time. We were at a pizza restaurant and when it was my turn to order a drink, I ordered milk. Immediately two guys from the next table started snorting and insulting me. “What kind of idiot orders milk?!?” They were not being funny or sarcastic; they were insulting me to insult me.

My friend’s mom, herself a New Yorker, rolled her eyes at me and told the two guys, “He’s from out of town.” She wasn’t a big fan of my milk-drinking either. As we walked back home, she scolded me, “Don’t ever order milk again.”

Since revisiting New York countless times, I have been snipped at by taxi drivers, restaurant employees, cops, and random assholes on the street. And so will you. As I said, just go with it and laugh it off, and don’t let it surprise you.

One side point about this…if you can overcome their assholeness, I actually like New Yorkers, and love working with east coasters in general. They tend to get down to business faster than their more relaxed, false-smile west coast neighbors.

2. It’s not crime-ridden anymore. Back in the 70s and 80s, New York was a cesspool of crime and trash. Bums would piss right on the sidewalk in front of everyone. Rapes in Central Park were common. There were parts of the town you didn’t want to drive through during the daytime. Back then two friends of mine actually witnessed people getting shot in the streets (one of them in Queens, the other in the Bronx).

Since then, several tough mayors have cleaned up New York, and it’s become a surprisingly clean and safe city, at least as compared to other cities of its size. I’ve never felt unsafe there, and I know many people who now live there who have never had a crime problem.

I have found that a lot of people, especially less-traveled folks, still think of New York as this dangerous, high-crime city. These people are just wrong. (Chicago is much worse, for example.) I think New York still hasn’t outgrown it’s bad rap from the 70s and 80s, which is a shame. If anyone ever tells you to “be careful about all the crime” in New York, ignore them. Of course you want to take all the usual precautions of any large city, and keep your eyes open, but New York is just fine.

3. When it comes to women, New York is the City of Sevens. I’ve called NYC the City of Sevens before. When you walk around all those millions of people in downtown Manhattan, every woman you see is a seven. I’m exaggerating of course, but not much. Every woman you see is trim, fit, and not ugly. The problem is they’re not hot either. None of them.

I’ve talked before about how I can walk around a huge Chinese city for several days and not see one woman I’d be excited about having sex with. New York is almost as bad. I’ll be walking through Manhattan all day long, amongst millions of women, and maybe see two women I think are really hot. Two. Out of millions.

Even then, those hot women are usually from somewhere else. Seriously, just about every time I see a hot babe in New York, as soon as she starts talking she speaks in a language that is not English. All the rest of the home-grown New York women look like Tina Fey, who I think is about a seven on her best day. (Many of them act like her too…not a good thing, at least in my opinion.)

It’s a stark difference from places like Los Angeles or Tokyo, where gorgeous women are all over the place, or Mexico, where fat women are all over the place, or where I live in the Pacific Northwest, where there are lots of hot women mixed in with equal numbers of fat/ugly women. No, New York is a place jam-packed full of nonfat, average-looking women. Very strange.

4. The taxi situation is…interesting. Much has been said about New York taxi drivers, some good, some bad. Since owning a car while living in New York would be stupid, taxis and subways are the name of the game there.

Two big problems with taxis in New York. First, in most cities, taxi drivers do not give a shit how you pay for your taxi ride. Cash or card, they don’t care. But in New York, if you try to pay using a credit card, they can take it, but they hate it. Taxi drivers will actually complain to you, often loudly and rudely, if you attempt to pay with a credit card instead of cash, and some will actually get visibly upset.

Sometimes I stick to my guns and tell them tough shit, and other times I’ll just pay cash. Since I try to carry as little cash as possible, and since credit card (really debit card) transactions are more easily tax deductible for me, and because I like to get my 1% cash back, I like to pay with cards when I use taxis. Everywhere else in the world, this is fine. But in New York, expect a lot of resistance.

The second thing is just a minor irritant. In most cities, including the Asian super-cities that are bigger than New York, as soon as you walk out of the airport, you walk right into a taxi and are on your way. Maybe you might have to wait a few minutes at worst.

Not New York. In a city famed for having so many taxis on the road, at JFK airport you’ll have to wait in a huge, Disney-theme-park-sized line for upwards of 45 minutes. Just to get a fuckin’ taxi. It’s bullshit. Either there is some price collusion going on among the taxi companies (likely) or this is a result of New York’s hyper left-wing addiction to overregulation (also likely). Or both. Whatever it is, it sucks.

Negatives aside, it is very true that you can learn a lot of very interesting information from talking to NYC’s taxi drivers. I’ve had my share of very interesting conversions, and have learned a lot of interesting NYC trivia from them.

5. The food is amazing, and the pizza is literally the best in the world. Every time I go to New York, I have to get me some NYC pizza. No other city in the nation or the world (that I’ve ever been to anyway) does pizza as good as New York. A few years ago I took my son on a week-long trip to New York, and I made sure to take him to all the “famous” pizza places like Lombardi’s (my favorite) and Rays. But honestly, even the many “crappy” no-name pizza places serve pizza that tastes like heaven. I’m not kidding.

I don’t care what kind of diet you’re on. If you visit NYC, you need to eat some pizza. A visit to New York without eating pizza is like having sex while wearing a wetsuit.

It’s not just pizza either. Indian, Italian, Chinese, Greek…because of the diversity in New York, the food there is varied and spectacular. The food is still not as good as Hong Kong’s, but it’s a close second.

6. New York has a run-down feel. The reason I’ve never really gotten “into” New York like I have other cities is because the buildings and infrastructure of New York has a very outdated, tired, run-down feel. For example,

  • Every building there looks like it was built in either the 30s or the 70s. Mostly 70s. How did the 70s look?
  • Driving round the five boroughs, all you see are miles and miles of squat, crappy, rotting brick buildings, and old, rusted metal bridges. Graffiti covers a lot of these things, and its crappy graffiti, not the creative, colorful graffiti you’d see in other cities. The taxi ride through Queens from the airport to Manhattan always puts me in a glum mood seeing all this crap. Brooklyn is even worse.
  • Even in the nicer hotels, buildings have cracked walls and a slightly musty smell that never goes away.
  • The sidewalks are all cracked and uneven. It seems like I’m constantly tripping all over the place like Gerald Ford every time I walk around New York, but I never have that problem in any other city. You’d think with all of New York’s tax revenue they could clean up their ridiculous sidewalks.
  • The roads are ridiculously pot-holed and bumpy, almost like they were built that way (though New York’s freeways are not the shitty, third-world freeways of Los Angeles…don’t get me started on those).

Don’t get me wrong. The people of New York are fast-moving and vibrant, but the infrastructure of New York is like looking at a tired, old man you feel sorry for. It’s just…depressing.

7. Everything you could ever want is within a five minute walk. Some cities are built with “regions”, others are decentralized. In New York everything is decentralized, which is fantastic. This means anything you can think of is just five minutes away, often within walking distance. Want Chinese food? Or office supplies? Or want to go see a movie? Need to go grocery shopping? Or go see the doctor? All of these things are minutes away. It’s great. True, some other cities are like this, but New York really shines here.

There’s an interesting dark side to this. I’ve heard stories about people who were born in New York and lived to age 70 and beyond, without ever traveling more than six blocks away in their entire lives. Everything was only a few minutes away, so they never “needed” to. Amazing! (I’d kill myself of course. I love to travel, and the farther the better.)

8. The trains suck. I’m talking about the trains in New York, not the subways. While the subways are dinosaurs compared to Asia’s subways, New York’s subway system is fine and I have no major complaints. The Amtrak trains on the other hand, are a complete and total cluster fuck.

If you’re unlucky enough to need a train in New York, you are teleported back in time to the 1930s, with equivalent levels of speed and technology. A few years back I had a bad experience with the train system there, but this time I wanted to give it another chance. I booked a train ticket to Washington D.C. so I could spend the day there visiting with clients and seeing the sights. Oh, Blackdragon, you moron.

Because Pussy Barack was speaking to the United Nations that day, traffic was bad, so my taxi was late getting to Penn Station. That’s not the train’s fault, so no harm no foul. Running as fast as I could, I got there just in time…only to find out my train was 45 minutes late. Let me say that again. 45 minutes late. Now think about this. What if I was taking the train to go catch a plane? Or to make a business meeting that was happening at a specific time? Or to catch another train? 10 or 15 minutes late I understand. But 45 minutes late? WTF?

Fortunately I did not have an appointment I needed to keep, so I just waited. However, at Penn Station, there is no place to wait. There is nowhere to sit. In the main Amtrak atrium, you literally see about 300 people just standing in silence like zombies, staring up at some 1970s-tech display screen. It’s moronic.

So, fine. I walked around, killed some time, and did some business on my smartphone.

After 45 minutes was up, the display changed from “45 minutes late” to “1 hour late”. Okay, fuck this. At this rate, with the train ride from NYC to DC at three hours, I’d only have about an hour or so to actually spend time in DC.

So no problem, I’ll just cancel my appointment in DC, get a refund for my train ticket, and spend the day in Manhattan instead.

Can I get a refund for this ticket? Oh certainly sir. You just need to go wait in that massive line over there.

So I wait in line. For 50 fucking minutes. Just to get a fucking refund on something that was their fault.

An hour and a half of key time completely wasted. A trip cancelled. An appointment cancelled. Hey, I gave the New York trains a chance. Twice. Never again.

Unless you live a very boring life with nothing to do, don’t take the trains in NYC. You’ll regret it.

9. The skyscrapers, while not as cool as the more modern ones elsewhere, are still very cool. I’m a skyscraper junkie as many of you know, and I’ve visited every major skyscraper in NYC, and been to the top of all of them. This includes the original twin towers before they were destroyed.

On this trip, I was very excited to visit the new World Trade Center tower, but was pissed when I found out it was not quite complete yet and the public is not allowed inside. Regardless, I visited the surrounding buildings and was able to get right up to the tower for some good pictures. Here’s one of them I took:

And I just had to visit the New York Stock Exchange and take a few photos:

Such a pity the NYSE and Wall Street have become bastions of corporatism instead of capitalism. Still fun to visit though.

Like I said at the beginning of this article, New York isn’t what it once was (because America isn’t what it once was) but it still has its magic.

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  • Matt T.
    Posted at 06:27 am, 10th October 2013

    Did you visit the Charging Bull and rub its horns for good luck financially and its balls for virility? Maybe you could have asked it for good luck with the Amtrak trains…

  • Blackdragon
    Posted at 10:12 am, 10th October 2013

    I did last time, not this time. I once joked to a friend there that I wanted that bull in my living room.

  • R1J2
    Posted at 10:17 am, 10th October 2013

    We’re not assholes. We just have to be somewhere and you’re walking too slowly, walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk, gawking at tall buildings, stopping in the middle of sidewalks, holding the subway trains up.

    You know, all the touristy things.

    Welcome to New York! Now get out of the way 🙂

  • Ken
    Posted at 10:18 am, 10th October 2013

    Not sure Amtrack counts as a “New York train” … it just happens to stop there. I did a reverse commute on the Long Island Railroad from Penn Station for a couple of weeks and had no problem … was actually rather pleasant. Also have used the trains from Penn Station to/from Newark airport several times and again, no troubles.

  • Ken
    Posted at 10:20 am, 10th October 2013

    Like how the taxi drivers can drive recklessly as a matter of routine and not get arrested for it. They’re pretty good at it and mostly don’t get into accidents, but I’ve seen a couple of spectacular ones. I was in a cab that sideswipped an SUV and the confrontation between the taxi driver and the other guy got really ugly.

  • ellie210
    Posted at 12:33 pm, 10th October 2013

    I remember when I was in Manhattan, on this one way avenue I saw a taxi driver make a left turn on the RIGHT turn lane! So he went through 4 lanes of traffic on his side. Those taxi drivers are insane in NYC. But I love the city, I want to visit there again.

    You should visit Toronto next time you’re around NYC, Blackdragon. We have the same business vibe as NYC, so I’m sure you’d find a lot of prospective clients here. Would love to hear your feedback on my city. 🙂

  • Blackdragon
    Posted at 05:57 pm, 10th October 2013

    Not sure Amtrack counts as a “New York train” … it just happens to stop there. I did a reverse commute on the Long Island Railroad from Penn Station for a couple of weeks and had no problem … was actually rather pleasant. Also have used the trains from Penn Station to/from Newark airport several times and again, no troubles.

    All I know is that I’ve used Amtrak in other parts of the country and never had a problem. I’ve also done the Seattle-Portland run a million times and only had a problem once. But every time I tried a NY-area train, it was chaos and bullshit in a major way. Either I have really horrible luck, or there is something different about the trains in that area.

  • Raven
    Posted at 09:31 pm, 10th October 2013

    Thanks for the article. I never really understood the “the girls there are awesome!” or “the girls there suck!” arguments though. No matter where I’ve lived, I’ve always found girls I’ve been attracted to. Statistically speaking, what you’re saying here just doesn’t make any sense. With all those people in New York your type has to be there.

  • Blackdragon
    Posted at 09:53 pm, 10th October 2013

    I never said women in NYC “suck”. I said different cities have different makeups of hot, average, ugly, fit, and fat women. That’s unquestionably true. Visit one city, then visit a completely different city 3000 miles away, and you’re going to see a completely different makeup of hot, average, and ugly women. Any well-traveled person knows this.

    That means that sometimes, not always but sometimes, the “girls there are awesome” and “girls there suck” arguments are indeed true to some degree.

    Could I find some women in NYC that I think are really super hot? Of course! But I promise you it would take me many hours of poking around to find one. Whereas in suburban Los Angeles it would take me about 5-10 minutes. I’m not exaggerating in either example.

  • Pete
    Posted at 11:06 pm, 10th October 2013

    So Tina Fey is a seven on a good day? This explains why so many of your lays are hot, 8+. You got the scale wrong.

  • Blackdragon
    Posted at 12:59 am, 11th October 2013

    So Tina Fey is a seven on a good day?

    No, I said Tina Fey is a 7 on her BEST day. Of her life. I’d place her at about a 5.

    But even if you and I agreed on her number, I’m sure you’d hate some “8s” I’ve been with and I’d hate some of the “8s” you’ve been with. That 1 to 10 shit is so subjective.

  • hindusach (@hindusach)
    Posted at 08:40 pm, 11th October 2013

    I lived in NYC for 7 year, and i’d have to mostly agree with what you’ve written. especially regarding the general state of NYC infrastructure. Took a recent trip back a month or so ago, and the ride from Queens to Manhatten is indeed glum. It’s like driving through a 3rd world country.

    I stayed w/ a friend of mine, earning well into the 6 figures, and i have to say, general quality of life there just doesn’t compare to most of the other parts of the US…

  • CrazyHorse
    Posted at 01:53 pm, 29th September 2014

    Come here in Paris!

  • Shadix
    Posted at 08:55 pm, 11th December 2014

    Yeah I totally get what you’re saying about every hot woman you see turning out to be a tourist often from another country. Probably like 70% of the people walking around downtown Manhattan are tourists.

    However, I’m not sure if I’d agree that there aren’t many hot locals. I was in Manhattan for a week and I saw some unforgettable women among ones working at places.

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