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Escape From New York
by Jack Cashill
I recently spent two days in New York City under very nearly perfect conditions. Still, I could not wait to get back to Kansas City.
My reasoning is something that our newly elected mayor and City Council would do well to understand before they let our city planners impose the big boy, off-the-shelf, urban model on our beloved Possum Trot.
Here was the set-up. I was flown to New York to appear on Fox & Friends to promote my new book, Deconstructing Obama. I had a “car” awaiting me whenever I had anyplace essential to go. The weather was super, 70-plus and sunny each day. And I was staying in my sister’s otherwise unoccupied pied a terre in a luxury high rise 51 floors above lower Manhattan and the Hudson River.
OK, you ask, what’s wrong with this picture? Nothing, really. It is just that I have grown too used to life in Kansas City, and two days was just enough time to remind me why I live here.
On day one, I flew into LaGuardia. The plane coasted in so low over Queens I had to avert my gaze lest I look into a passing window and get hit with a peeping-tom rap. I prefer the cows at KCI.
A guy met me at the airport holding a sign that read “Cashill.” That was cool. I always like that. On other occasions, I have rented cars out of LaGuardia. That is not so cool. In fact, on the wrong day, at the wrong time—which is most days, most times—driving out of there can be holy hell.
There is a reason why. About a half-century ago, America’s last feudal overlord, Robert Moses, brutally slapped a freeway system on a city built for horses. Thank God, he did. New York would have shriveled up without them. Still, its highways are positively medieval by Kansas City standards.
Getting to or from the moon is more easily predicted than getting to or from LaGuardia. Last year, for instance, I did a search for the best route from my sister’s New Jersey home. MapQuest cautioned that the trip would take anywhere between 1 hour and 8 minutes and 2 hours and 30 minutes. Try planning around that.
In Kansas City, my trip to the airport takes 29 minutes, give or take 30 seconds. You get used to this.
After walking around lower Manhattan a bit on Day One, I walked to the site of the World Trade Center to take the train back to Newark, my hometown, where I was to meet my family for dinner.
In the movies, when you see commuters on trains, they sit comfortably in cushy seats and read the New York Times. Such trains may exist. I have just never seen one in the real world. The train I took for four years in high school—the same train I was taking this night—was and is indistinguishable from a subway car with all its many charms.
To get to the train, I joined a seething, vaguely angry swarm of commuters surging down a narrow corridor. As I hustled along, I contemplated my publicist’s question as to whether Midwesterners are more polite than their New York peers and, if so, why.
The answer is, ‘Yes, they are.’ As to the reason this is so, it was plain to see. In a metro like New York, people are forever competing for limited resources: the short line at the escalator down to the train, the one unclaimed ticket machine, the last square foot of space on the train, the first seat to come open.
As a boy commuter, I quickly came to an adult understanding: in this world, the choice was either sucker or survivor. I chose the latter. I hit my present size—about 6’0, 200 pounds—as a high school sophomore. In the Social Darwinist lab I lived in, that gave me an edge. I took it.
Pregnant women I yielded to, and maybe people over 80—by local standards, I was a bit of a wuss—but beyond that, it was pure sauve qui peut, a genteel way of saying, “Root, hog, or die.”
Survivor or not, in four years of commuting, I never once got a seat on an uptown subway during a rush hour. Even as a 14-year-old, I remember asking myself why adults would want to live this way.
I had similar thoughts that evening when a little girl in a stroller, surrounded by people four feet taller than she, yielded to the claustrophobia and the sway of the train and vomited on the shoes of about half-a-dozen unlucky people. On the way back into the city later that evening, the number of people arriving in Manhattan just about equaled the number of people departing. This made for some dicey moments in the narrow and now dark corridor leading to and from the station.
Unprepared, I caught a full shoulder from a guy all but running in the other direction. In my prime, I would have done what any good New Yorker would do in similar circumstances, namely turn around and yell “a**hole,” the most commonly used word in New York after “and” and “the.”
I chose not to. I had grown soft living in Kansas City. The fellow might have responded the way any good New Yorker should to such a challenge, “Who are you calling an ‘a**hole?” I then would have had to respond, “Who do you think I’m calling an ‘a**hole?” And who knows where it would have gone from there.
The next day I did everything I had to do by noon. So I had lunch outdoors at Rockefeller Center—octopus salad, at $22 the cheapest thing on the lunch menu—and then afterwards walked uptown along Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This was New York genuinely at its best.
Along the way, I passed thousands of people and heard snippets of conversations one does not hear much in Kansas City: “last summer on the Dalmatian Coast,” “anything more than 10 percent is a f***ing rip-off,” “I’m going to f*** that b***h up,” the last, of course, from one woman to another. People curse a lot in New York.
By the end of the day, I was simply too beat to go to a show—$76.25 and up for Wicked—so I picked up some beer and some chicken wings and watched the basketball tourney on my sister’s big, flat screen TV. Does life get any better?
I flew back to Kansas City the next morning, now altogether appreciative of the everyday things: my comfy car, the easy drives, free parking, my house, my lawn, $4 early birds at the local theater, $3 beers, restaurants that don’t serve octopus salads, and, yes, whole weeks spent without hearing the word “a**hole.”
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