Surface City It was an early evening in the fallthe sun was setting on the horizon while the crisp air flowed seamlessly through the dense smoke of automobile exhaust and pollution. Engrossed in a moment of contemplation, I was startled by a loud noise. Get the fuck outta the way, yelled a taxi driver in that typical New Yawk accent. I had lost myself in my thoughts for a momentI tend to do that often. I didnt realize that I was standing in the street, blocking his path to the intersection between Broadway and Eighth Street. His kindness, though, really struck a chord with me. I apologized and yelled that I didnt see him. In conventional New York fashion, he screamed some more obscenities and then began to drive away. I was puzzledit wasnt as though I had never seen this before, but this time I was involved. I could understand his frustration, but why such rage? Why such uninhibited emotional conviction? He had a passenger in the car and if I did anything, I increased the fare because I made the ride a few seconds longer. After a few minutes of running the situation through my head, over and over again, I was able to brush it off. I wanted to walk around and experience the most famous city in the world; the city that has a life of its own; the city that never sleeps. I had heard that New York City is a place of spontaneity and energy, of diversity and opportunity; of action and expression. That seemed like quite a spicy mix, but I wanted to develop my own opinion; I wanted to craft my own New Yorknot hear about it from those around me. With this quest in mind, I sought to explore. I wanted to absorb the aura of the city. It took me about three blocks to find my first homeless person of the day. I followed along with everyone else and simply stepped over the sleeping body covered by black rags and a winter hat. I continued down Broadway at a steady pace; pedestrians brushed up against me without even looking back; people walked with a distinct urgency, as if they had to be somewhere even if they were going nowhere. Of course, the girl with blonde hair, dressed in Abercrombie, with those annoyingly large sunglasses that she wore even though the sun had set, was talking on the cell phone. She made gestures as if she was attempting to sign language. It was just a dramatic effect thoughI mean, I, just like her, couldnt believe that Johnny slept with Melanie while he was dating Rachel and Rachel still hasnt found out about it. Such intellectual conversation as that is truly difficult to come across in New York. A few blocks later I stopped to buy a water from a street vendor. After the exchange of $1.50, I opened the bottle whose white cap seemed to have some substance (shit-like in texture and smell) that revolted me. I drank anyway. I was thirsty. As I picked my head up, I noticed another homeless man across the street. He sat next to a coffee shop, bundled up with a blue hooded sweatshirt, a pair of ripped jeans, and purple slippers. He held out a cup, hoping to collect spare change from pedestrians, but each person who passed had the same look in their eyesan impenetrable glare that only looked ahead. Not one person acknowledged the desperate man on the street. Not one single person. I began to think: is he really a human being? Or is he the part of us that we dont want to acknowledge? Is he the piece of our being that we leave behind when we come to New York City? As I stood there and stared at him, more and more people passed. People with cell phones, i-pods, blackberries, and people with nothing in their hands, all walked the same path without even a glimpse at the man. They came in different shapes and sizes, different colors and genders, different personalities and appearances, but they all had that same gaze in their eyeslooking forward, not backward. At this point the sun had almost fully set, but if there is an abundance of one thing in New York (besides the rats), its the light. All over Manhattan, the lights unite to combat the darkness of the night. The lights come from an infinite amount of sourcescars, stores, billboards, street lights, and anywhere else imaginable. They create a playground that never closes; a playground where all young children come to dream about their futures; a playground where winning and being on the popular team are all that matter in life. I continued my walk along Broadway. I spotted a group of young men walking, or strutting shall we say, in the street. They were dressed in oversized jackets, oversized jeans, an oversized t-shirt that slid out from under the jacket, and of courseoversized hair. This oversized attire seemed to represent their bloated egos. They possessed a confidence in themselves, superiority unlike any that I had seen before. They walked the streets like they owned them, like they got down on their knees and paved it themselves. I could not help but gaze at this group of individuals. While they seemed to be cocky, they blended right into the fabric of the city. They moved along as if the world revolved around them and not the sun. They swaggered as if every step that they took deserved to be recognized and applauded. They appeared to think that they were New York City and not just a small part of it. That day brought me to a realization. New York City is not just a place; it is a way of life, a mindset if you will. It is not just a place to go to experience the world in a few square miles; its not just a place where everything moves fast; its not just a place where you can spend your life savings in one day. Rather, its the idea that we as individuals matter most. I do not mean this in a collective sense, as if to say that we New Yorkers as a group are the best in the world. I mean that each individual solely values himself. The New Yorker comes here or stays here to embrace himself, to put himself first, to care only about his needs and to fulfill his desires. He knocks you over without a glance or an apology because you do not matter. You are not beneficial to him in any way; therefore, you are worthless to him. He walks the streets as if he owns them because he does, he is most important. He speaks loudly on his cell phone because he is in his own little world; you do not matter. He, the New Yorker, is the center of his universe. The city brews a batch of people from various ethnic backgrounds, skin colors, sizes, genders, and personalitiesa diversity of immense proportions to say the least. At the core of it, though, is the same individual disguised in a different body. He is aloof to his surroundings and engaged in himself. New York City is not a united district; it is a collection of individuals looking out only for themselves. It is the gaze in the eye of the pedestrianlooking ahead to his future and turning a blind side to anyone elses present. Its where the soul goes to die and the body goes to live. As the night grew older, I realized that I had to meet my friend for a late dinner. I had become so engaged in my surroundings that I had forgotten that I had made plans. I went into the armpit that is the subway and zoomed up to 72nd where we met. As we sat down to eat, he asked, So, whaddya think of the city? After looking down at the table for a moment to think, I responded as best as I possibly could, I think its a bit overrated. My friend sighed, rolled his eyes, and retorted, You are the biggest pessimist that I have ever met. Do you ever think anything is good? How can you say that New York City is overrated? You have everything at your fingertips. Its the best place in the world. You just dont get it. Maybe I didnt get it. But by the way that he reacted, you wouldve thought that I called him a useless piece of shit. He was so offended by my comment that I felt as though I had criticized him personally. He was a transplanted New Jerseyan who had moved to the city. He wasnt born herehe had only been here a couple of months. Why the anger? Why the harsh response? The reality is this: if you criticize the city, you criticize every person in it. A New Yorker is not only someone who lives in the city, but is also someone who is the city. His actions, his thoughts, and his words embody the idea that represents the city that never sleeps. He personifies the idea that he is most important. His schedule is all that needs to be followed; his stories from the day are all that need to be heard; people should kowtow to his demands because he deserves it. He has no need to defend his lifestylehe counts most, he is worth something, he is going somewhere important, he has a freedom dictated by his determination. He owes the world no explanation for his existence, yet he needs to be accepted for whom he is not and instead for whom he wants himself to be. He is unique and damn proud of it. By deflating the image of the city, I called his bluff. I questioned who he is. After dinner, I took the subway back to my dorm. The ride, though, seemed longer this time. I continued to think about the city itself. I recalled a drive that I had once taken along the Hudson River on the New Jersey side. I remembered looking out over the water to see an abundance of buildings in all their glory; it was picturesque scenerybeauty at its finest. The Empire State Building pierced the soft, dark surface of the summer sky. Its lights ranged from red to blue to green to orange. It looked as though it had fallen straight from heaven. It was an invitation to come to the city; to absorb the beauty and the brilliance; to take refuge in the glistening lights. It was so enticing that I knew there was nowhere else Id rather be. When I did enter Manhattan itself, the smell of garbage permeated the air; the rats ran rampant all over the subway tracks; the fumes from power plants and automobiles filled my lungs; the pot holes tripped me repeatedly, and the crime frightened me to death. This was not the place that I had seen from the outsideit was a place of filth; it was a large garbage dump along the Hudson River. Yet people stay. They still call it the best city on Earth. They still walk the streets at a steady pace. They push through the garbage on the sidewalk and climb over the helpless body of the homeless man. They walk with their cell phones attached to their heads and cross the street without looking. Why, though, do they stay? Why do they remain in the filth of the city? The answer to this question lies in the clashing characteristics of the interior and the exterior of the city. We seek to glorify ourselves, to put ourselves first, and to see ourselves as better than who we are. We construct an exterior as bright as the lights that illuminate and beautify the city as seen from the outside. The citys outer attractiveness is how we want to present ourselves, but its inner filth is what we become on the inside. We compromise all that is moral and good within ourselves in order to pursue who we want to become; to value ourselves most. We cannot stop to help the homeless man because we refuse to acknowledge the part of us that we disregard when we come here; the part of us that values others as much as ourselves. We move quickly not to get somewhere, but to convince ourselves that we are not going nowhere; to reassure ourselves that we are important even though we are not. The taxi driver honks and screams not for the sake of his passenger, but to continue driving, to continue moving towards a future that he sees as hopeful, but in reality is bleak. He is fooled because he can only see the reflection image of optimism through his rear view mirrornot the image itself. He thinks so highly of himself, though, that he will never realize that his dreams will never come true; its simply impossible for him to fathom; he is too good. We do not leave the city because this is how we want to live. We want to see ourselves and our futures as blissfully and as beautifully as the Empire State Building shines at night. We want to see ourselves for whom we want to be and for whom we are not. We walk through the filth of the streets because that is who we are on the inside. We are New Yorkers and we are the city. After a ride that seemed to last for eternity, I finally arrived at my stop. The conductor yelled with a strong Jamaican accent: Thees ees West 4 Street. Next Stop: Spring Street. Brookleen-bound A. Pleeese stan clear of thee closeeng doors. [Pause] Stan clear of thee doors. [Pause] Stan clear of the doors! I heard the ending of his announcement as I was walking along the platform towards West 3rd and 6th avenue. I couldnt help but laughsomeone seemed to be in a hurry. As I passed through the turnstile I realized I had no money left on my metrocard. I approached the token booth and forked over $40 for a new oneI would need it in the future; I had places to go. I climbed up the stairs and onto West 3rd and 6th. A man offered me a free newspaper, but I simply diverted my eyes from him and looked ahead. I drifted a few more blocks and started to play music on my i-pod; the sounds of the city were now muted. I proceeded to Washington Square Park to take a shortcut. I walked a few more blocks, stepped over a homeless man to enter my apartment, and took the elevator to my floor. I opened the door to my room, got changed into my pajamas, and huddled under my blanket to dream of what the future had in store for me.