New York is legendary for many things. Pizza. Street meat. Theatre. Night life. Parks. Museums. Film and TV.
But, perhaps above all, the city and its residents are known for their irascible attitude. New Yorkers have evolved a brand of cavalier frankness that helps them survive in a fast-paced urban environment. To outsiders this can sometimes seem like sheer rudeness. But there’s also something endearing writhing pit of madness and blunt honesty that is NYC.
These folks recently took to the internet to share their best ‘only in New York’ stories. We hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoy the city that never sleeps.
20. Mobile Home
I was boarding a train at 11pm and there was one car that was almost empty, so I got on it. Big mistake.
There was a guy laying on the ground in a sleeping bag, whistling in his sleep. He seemed alright at first, but then he started rolling around and making weird noises, and it was starting to freak me out.
Then he woke up.
“Hey dirtbag,” he said. “I live here. Get yourself out of my house.”
I just turned and looked away from him.
“How would you like it if I just sat down on your couch?” he asked. It was my first experience sitting on a metal couch.
“I wouldn’t,” I said.
“Then why the [bleep] are you in my house?!” he demanded.
“You don’t live here, this is a train car,” I finally said.
“What?” he asked. There was a brief pause.
He got up, spinning around like a lunatic.
He started yelling, “[Bleep] you Chad! I knew it was too good to be true. A house in Manhattan! A house in Manhattan?!”
I just stood there with a frozen expression on my face.
“Hey Charlie, thanks for opening my eyes,” he said looking me directly in the eyes. “I’ll never forget this day.”
We pulled into the next stop and he went to disembark.
“You’re an angel in disguise Charlie! Catch you on the flipside!” he yelled as he left the train.
The doors closed and I sat there wondering who Charlie was.
19. Thanks For All Your Help
When I asked a doorman at a jazz club for directions to a non-numbered street, he just continued to stare straight ahead with his arms crossed. He just acted like I wasn’t there. Nobody was at the door but him, so he wasn’t busy. He was just choosing not to help me. I waived my hand in front of his face, thinking he might be hard of hearing, but he whacked it away. I called him a real piece of work and made to leave. As I walked away he shouted, “At least I know where the [bleep] I’m going!”
18. A Real New York Love Story
My then-boyfriend at the time and I were still out in New York around 4:30 a.m., so I thought we should stay up and watch the sunrise. I was imagining the whole deep talks on a bench movie scene. Unfortunately my night was not a rom-com in the making.
We found three locked parks on our way back. At this point, I was ready to settle on an unoccupied railing. Outside the fourth park we tried, there was a man with an unopened six pack. He offered to share it as long as we listened to his woes.
We followed him to the sidewalk across the street and loitered as he started to talk about his boring office job. We nodded along but paid minimal attention.
Then a woman came out of the building. And the screaming commenced.
We hadn’t finished our drinks and felt we owed this poor man his dues. As a result, we stood around for thirty minutes as they flung insults at each other. I was convinced they were lovers.
They reached an impasse and opted to use us to break it. Turns out, they had met only hours earlier. She was nursing a drink at a bar alone, and he asked if she wanted company. They spent the whole night talking. He “graciously” walked her home and asked if she wanted to continue partying with him. She agreed. He bought the pack and returned to find out she was married.
She said her marriage was a sham but that she had to stay in it. Unfortunately for him, she hadn’t kissed another man in the 20+ years she had been married. Turns out he was 31, and she was in her sixties. We all paused to stare at her in disbelief. I wanted to ask her about her skincare routine.
He processed the information and started to yell about how she took advantage of his generosity. She tells us that she had no romantic interest in him from the start. He took this as her coming out because no woman could ever fail to be interested in him.
There was this moment where he was yelling “YOU MUST LIKE GIRLS”, and then out of nowhere he just grabbed her face. They kissed passionately for two minutes while my boyfriend and I looked at each other in shock.
They shoot a lot of romantic comedies in New York, but this is what really goes on.
17. Mood Swing
Back in the day, I had a bit of a short fuse. I have mellowed out considerably, but it took me a while to learn that in New York City you sometimes have to bite your tongue. Even if you’re in the right and the other person is in the wrong, some people’s fuses are even shorter and they will cut you if you give them lip.
I was on a crowded train, trying to find a seat. I accidentally brushed up against a man who was panhandling. “Sorry!” I said politely. I didn’t quite knock him over, it was literally a faint brush. Not the biggest deal. I didn’t successfully nab a seat, so I was standing in the aisle. I heard him mutter something nasty about me under his breath. This is the part where I should have shrugged it off.
Instead I said something that rhymes with “cluck sloth.”
”What did you say?” he demanded.
I repeated myself for good measure. Bad move.
His eyes went dark and he yelled, “Witch! I will cut you! You wanna go?! I’ll do it!” Being young and stupid I said, “Cool, go for it.” I’m acting like I don’t car, but dying on the inside. The passengers on the train were silent and looking down. No one was getting involved. I was convinced this is the end.
I realized that I was on an express train and we were skipping about a dozen stops. Point being, I was going to be on this train for a few minutes and this dude looked like he was ready to pounce on me.
He screamed even louder. “Did you hear me? I said I will cut you. I’m Satan! I’m Satan!!!” This guy was serious as a heart attack. I’m not sure what prompted me to actually do this, but I decided I could not let this guy actually see that I was scared.
I got down on my hands and knees and bowed to him.
“All hail, Satan!” I said as I bowed three or four times.
Instantly the man’s eyes softened, the corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly. After three seconds that felt like an eternity, he burst out laughing and gave me a high five. He was laughing for a solid couple of minutes.
“That was hilarious!”
For the next five minutes we chatted and he told me he was just having a rough day. I had several more stops to go, but I got off at the next stop just in case his mood changed again. He asked me if I had any change. I gave him a few bucks and darted off that train like Speedy Gonzalez. As I was leaving, I saw the entire train was completely engrossed in the exchange.
Only in New York can a complete stranger go from wanting to literally kill you to saying you made his day in about 30 seconds.
16. Less Restaurant, More Cafeteria
My best friend was in a bad marriage. Her husband had suggested moving his mistress into their home and she said she was considering it. This sounded insane to me and we decided to have dinner together in New York and discuss it.
If you have dined in any restaurants in Manhattan you know how close together the tables can be. These were literally inches from each other.
So we sat and discussed the state of her marriage. There was a single man at the next table and I knew he could hear every juicy word; he couldn’t help it. Finally, I turned to him and said, “I know you have heard every word we have said. What do you think she should do?”
He said, “ I think she should leave him.” And he continued to give us a man’s opinion of the subject. I can’t imagine another city where either the tables are this close or where it would be okay to start an intimate conversation with a neighboring table like this.
Another NYC episode comes to mind. During high school and college I did a lot of babysitting. I was home in New York City for a college break one Christmas and I got a phone call from a college professor I worked for. He asked if I would babysit for his sister’s children in Manhattan and I agreed.
It was a very elegant Park Avenue address and a lovely apartment. During the evening, when the children were asleep I glanced through the personal telephone book of the family. It was filled with names like Jacqueline Kennedy, Willem de Kooning (the famous artist), Truman Capote (the famous writer). All their private phone numbers. I never asked if the people I was sitting for were famous too. But now that I write this I wonder who they were. I should have asked.
15. Personally, I Find The Open Hostility Refreshing
14. Don’t Believe The Hype
On my first trip to New York, I took the Chinatown bus from Washington to spend the day with my brother in law and sister who were flying up from North Carolina. I arrived in the wee hours of the morning and knew almost nothing about this city. I got directions to the nearest subway station from a local and bought my pass. Next, I went to the map to figure out how to get to LaGuardia. I had to take the train to Grand Central and change to the Number 7 that goes into Queens, get off at Jackson Heights and take a bus. No problem.
I got to Grand Central and made my way to the correct platform and sat down to wait for the next train. After a while, a couple of guys who looked exactly like Mario and Luigi came walking out of the tunnel. I remarked, “you guys don’t look like the Number 7 train.” They kind of blinked and asked why I was there, to which I explained that I was trying to get to LaGuardia. They were incredibly friendly and helpful in getting me to where I wanted by another route.
Then I got to Jackson Heights to find the bus. There was a lady under the tracks selling tamales and 4 or 5 young men hanging about. I asked where was a bathroom. They replied with, “no speak english.” So, I asked, “¿Donde esta el bano?” and they brought me into a store to use the head. When I got back, I bought and enjoyed one of the best tamales I’d ever had.
I’d always heard that New Yorkers were unfriendly and acted like Jerry and gang in the last episode of Seinfeld. Completely untrue! The folks that I met were some of the friendliest and helpful folks I’ve met. Totally a New York morning.
13. New York Naïve
I was a kid the first time I came to New York. My school band performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade many years and I’ve loved the City ever since. Here are some of the ‘only in New York’ moments I’ve experienced:
My friend worked for MTV in the early days and I stayed with him for a while at his 5th-floor walk-up in Greenwich Village. It was three buildings down from the intersection of Christopher and Gay streets and lots of his neighbors were aging drag queens with tiny dyed poodles. They’d worry and watch out for us young kids. We were hassled once late at night — one of them came down and beat the tar out of the big, scary guy who was after us before clucking after us like a mother hen.
I’ve walked down Broadway in the Bad Old Days when it was all peep shows and working women. There was guy handing out flyers and he tried to give me one. I laughed and said (naïvely) that those shows were for men. He wriggled his eyebrows and said he’d get me in for free. Who knows? I might like it!
At age 16 I saw the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen. He was dressed in white from head to toe and wore an ermine cape. The man was simply exquisite. He was also not a great guy, as I realized when I saw several women come up to slip money into his jacket pocket as he bounded regally down the street.
I used to spend a lot of time in Central Park and always came and went the same way. Jackie Onassis was on a similar schedule — we passed each other on Park Avenue so often she started to recognize me. She’d nod at me, and I at her, though we never exchanged a word.
12. The People Are The Place
11. Celebs Need Cough Syrup Too
I’m not sure what qualifies as being a “New York” moment anymore. My time here has been filled with so many bizarre, extreme, and wonderful experiences. Here’s a few I can think of off hand:
I’ve worked insane hours as a banker and spent way too many nights with coworkers in night clubs only to show up at my office at 8am the next morning ready to do it all again.
I was laid off during the financial crisis and was hanging out with my friend who was styling a Maybelline commercial when I found out I had landed a new job. The models (one of whom has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated) all hugged me in celebration.
At my local Duane Reade (a pharmacy), Al Sharpton and I had a discussion about cold vs allergy medicine, after which he got into his Bentley that was parked on Broadway in front of the store. Also ran into Fat Joe at a grocery store in K-town and randomly ended up talking to him about apartment costs in the city. The normal-ness of celebrities doing the same thing I was doing always felt very NY to me.
After my dog suffered hind-leg paralysis from slipped discs, I not only coughed up the money to pay for surgery but then took him to swim-therapy for months. I can’t believe my complete jerk of a boss at the time let me leave work for 2 hours at a time to do this. As another person mentioned, NYC loves dogs.
Dated a comedian who used me in his material for his sold out show at Gotham Comedy Club.
As Cindy Adams puts it: Only in New York, kids.
10. Space Is At A Premium
When I was visiting my sister in NYC we went to this cafe/bar kinda place. I asked somebody where the bathroom was and they just pointed the way and laughed at me.
I opened the bathroom door — well, tried to but it would only open halfway. Instantly I thought to myself that it must be occupied so I quickly shut the door.
After some time passes, a guy comes and stands behind me. “Hurry up!” he yells. I echo this demand to the person in the bathroom. Then the guy behind me gives another holler but this time he’s telling me to hurry up. I’m thinking, “Is this guy dumb or something?”
Then he yells at me again. “GO! Do you need me to help or somethin’?”
Before I can respond, he reaches for the doorknob and thrusts the door open hard and fast. Again it only opens halfway. Apparently this is as much as the door will open.
I started to wedge my way into this small closet-sized room that had a toilet and a what looked like a small drinking fountain. I couldn’t get in all the way in unless I wanted to step in the toilet, I peed with the door half way open.
When in New York, do as New Yorkers do.
9. The New York Trade-Off
I took my sister to Carnegie Deli when she came up to NYC to see the sights.
Anyway, we get in and you know how New York seating is: tables right next to each other, all packed in. The waiter comes over to get our drink order and give us our menus. He’s kind of short with my sister and rude as per normal. She’s always been kind of picky in restaurants; she wants her food the way she wants it and she expects friendly, helpful service.
But this is New York.
I’m just sitting there watching and snickering. The waiter leaves some pickles and coleslaw and just walks off. She’s like, “Can you believe how rude that guy was?!” I’m laughing and telling her it’s just part of the tradition of the place. It’s been around longer than either of us have been alive.
She’s not too keen on this nonsense, until she eats a pickle. “Oh wow!” Yeah sis, they make those. She’s also a big fan of coleslaw, a Southern thing in her mind. She tries theirs and is blown away. Says nothing even comes close. Now she’s reading about some of the history of the place and how much they make from scratch, the meats they cure and prepare etc.
We get some more gruff treatment from our server, but now she’s playing along. This is part of the trade-off of New York: a little rough around the edges, but high quality.
8. Salvation Train
When I first moved to New York, I lived in the East Village because it was affordable (for Manhattan). I have to admit that there were some strange characters who lived in my neighborhood, ranging from amusingly eccentric to creepily insane.
Anyway, there was a woman in her 70s who stood by the turnstiles where I’d get on the train. Every day she was preaching loudly, saying stuff like, “It’s not too late to save your soul,” and “Jesus is alive in New York, you just have to look for him.”
Nearly everyone ignored her. She’d go on about how we were all going to suffer for our poor choices. After a couple of weeks, she started to recognize me.
She’d start trying to ask me questions when I walked by. “Do you know who Jesus is?” she’d ask. “It’s not too late to redeem yourself. Don’t hide from your sins.”
At first it was just annoying, but soon it was downright scary. She would flail her arms around and I was pretty concerned that she was going to follow me into the train or throw something at me, since I ignored her every day, and she just seemed to be getting angrier.
One day I was coming home from a pride march, and I didn’t realize that I had a pretty sizeable rainbow button on the front of my shirt. The woman sure did.
“Sinner!” she bellowed. “Come with me. I can save you from your fate. Redeem yourself and go to Heaven.”
Finally, I snapped.
“I’m going to the other place anyway so I can meet my friend, the Devil,” I said.
“Oh,” she said in a hushed voice. “Oh no.”
“I worship the Devil, so you better not anger me,” I said.
She was speechless. I thought she was really going to let me have it. But that’s not what happened.
“Burn,” she said quietly. “Burn for all eternity.”
Then I walked away.
After that, she went quiet whenever I walked by, and I think she thought I was really working with the Devil. After a few months she just disappeared.
7. The City Never Sleeps
Walking home late one night around 4am, on a deserted street, which was pretty dimly lit, I suddenly felt like I was not alone. So I looked to the side, then down, and noticed a couple doing it right on the sidewalk, in the shadow of a parked truck! We all made eye contact and it was the strangest little moment I’ve ever been caught in. I thought to myself, “Nothing in this city could surprise me after that!”
Then, as I continue on my way, I notice a tree sort of shaking, which was very strange. I kept looking up it, and as I passed I saw another couple doing it, this time in a tree! Twice, on the same night, on the same block! Even for the city, unbelievable. This was less than 10 years ago too, so it’s not like we’re talking way back in the day.
6. C Is For Cold, Hard Currency
Cookie Monster tried to fight me. Cookie Monster was soon joined by Goofy and some comic book heroes. Seriously. This happened. Times Square is full of actors 24/7, dressed up as all kinds of famous characters. And if you take a picture, be prepared to pay them or have your childhood characters forever ruined as they pressure you for money.
5. The Line Starts Wherever I Want
My partner and I were returning after 2 months in Europe. It was late, we were tired, it had been a long flight, and we still had to work our way through JFK.
We were standing in one of those long long lines when I noticed a man who just walked from the back of the line to a spor a few people in front of me. He sidled along, trying to look inconspicuous, then tried to slide into line.
The man he tried to cut in front of told the interloper that the rear was waaay back there. Nicely, but forcefully, he told the man not to cut in line, to go back to the end. The line-jumper started to argue, but seeing that no one was going to let him cut in, he turned and walked away. I don’t remember everything he said as he turned around, but what I do remember is this:
“Bla bla bla [bleep]! Yada yada yada [bleep]! Mother[bleepers]!!!”
As we all stood there staring at this jerk, mouths open, eyes wide, a security guard strolled up and, with a huge grin, said: “Welcome to New York, folks!”
It was the perfect way to ease the tension and give us all a much needed laugh.
The line-crasher: a total waste of skin. The guard: cool dude.
That is exactly how I picture NYC: a mix of jerks and really cool people.
4. A True New York Welcome
I had just landed at JFK after being away in Europe for school. After 5 months of being away from the States, I was a bit homesick and happy to be back during break for the holidays.
After deplaning and walking down the incredibly long corridor to customs, I’m filled with smiles reading all the NY State advertisements. It was a thrill to see the Big Apple logo in English (I was in Barcelona the whole time) and I was just plain happy. Wearing my NY Yankees cap and in a genuine chipper mood, I waited in line to be called up next. Finally, I approached the customs officer.
Me: “It’s such a wonderful day, it’s so good to be welcomed back and I missed this city.”
Officer #37: “No one welcomed you back and I didn’t miss you at all.”
He said it in a deadpan New York accent while looking me square in the eyes.
Me: “Well [bleep] you too and have a nice day, officer!”
Officer #37: “Likewise. Here’s your passport. Move ahead.”
My European Euphoria had dwindled, but I continued on to baggage claim, still holding on to a semblance of a smile.
My brother called and said he was outside the terminal. As soon as the doors opened, I saw my brother pull up, but a taxi cut him off. Immediately, my hot-tempered sibling went on a cursing rampage and the cabbie responded in kind.
No longer smiling and with the European euphoria completely worn off, I began cursing at the cabbie too. I flipped him the bird which may or may have not preceded me gently kicking his car.
As my brother and I drove off, he finally acknowledged me, saying, “Welcome home and good to see you. But don’t [bleeping] ask me to pick you up again.”
This, people, is how a faux-European cosmopolitan morphs back into a New Yorker.
3. Let’s Talk About This
2. Shields Up!
Getting a cab between 4 and 5 pm is virtually impossible, as the cabs change shifts at that time. So people are jockeying and sometimes fighting to get them (at least in the pre-Uber days).
I was on Fifth Avenue. As a cab slowed down to pick me up, a woman jumped in front of me to get in the cab. I rudely bumped her out of the way, saying, “Oh no, this was my cab.” When she turned around, I realized she was Brooke Shields. That was a pleasant surprise, but not enough for me to give her the cab!
Instead I offered to share and she accepted, so we made some small talk for a few minutes before I dropped her at her stop, which was on the way to my destination.
1. As Long As You’re Alive, I Have A Bone To Pick
I was on the Roosevelt Island bus on a somewhat dark and rainy morning. The bus driver turned a corner and grazed a middle-aged woman who was crossing the street — jay-walking of course, but in NYC you can expect that tourists are the only ones in the crosswalks waiting for the light to change.
So I hear a thump, the bus driver stops the bus and opens the door, then rushes out in the rain to check on the lady. “Are you all right? I’m sorry!”
She’s lying on the road holding her leg and starts screaming at him as soon as the door opens. “You drive too fast! You dangerous driver!”
At the very least, this seemed to assure the driver that the injuries were minor, so he switched tone. “You ran out in front of me. What are you, nuts?! What the [bleep] are you doing running into the street in the rain?”
I just can’t think of too many places where a driver would yell back at a person he just struck with a bus.