Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Perfect Storm (Part 3)

No doubt the title of this post is an overused phrase, but I had a week that lends itself to discussing our book (as in: all the things I wanted to blog about converged on a single passage of the book).

As I posted on the Tickle Closet, I found a dead life-form on the train tracks in Albertson, NY. But the point of that post was a realization about how we should spend our internal vigor. To put it simply, this week has made me revisit my basic assumptions about New Yorkers, Americans, and humans in general.

I took the train to Manhattan this week. I needed to use the Subway to get to Union Square once I arrived at Penn Station, but I assumed there would be signs clearly pointing the way.

Instead, what I found when I stepped off the train was that there are certainly signs clearly pointing the way, but that there are two separate lines that service Penn Station and they are on opposite ends of the station. I stood there dismayed. I knew I needed to go downtown, but had no idea which line I ought to take.

My confusion must have been obvious because a young woman appeared in front of me, "Where do you need to go?" she said. I just stared at her. See, I was suffering from some preconceived notions about people in big cities and New York in particular...

When I drive to my father's house from where I'm living in Long Island, I cross the Throgs Neck Bridge. The toll for the bridge is $6.50 both ways, which would be enough to make someone grumpy, but the drivers at the toll plaza are unbearable. Every time, the cash line is backed up and there is about a half hour wait.

I've been a well-behaved driver recently, so I pull into the back of the line and wait my turn. But, many New York drivers are not so courteous. As you could expect, most of them drive in the faster lanes until right before the toll gate and then try to wedge their way in. After twenty minutes or so of observing this (and realizing that if they wouldn't do that, the line would move faster), I was not in my typical jovial spirit. When it was my turn to deal with these inconsiderate drivers, I maintained a 1-inch gap between my car and the car in front of me, periodically revving my engine for additional intimidation factor. Now, I know my Corolla is already pretty fearsome (just look at it here posing in Bozeman, MT),

but I honestly felt the need to make a particular effort to stare-down the other drivers. Trust me, I won and they gave up. But this experience stayed with me (as did the toll attendant's comment of "They're idiots" when I related my frustration to him). Ultimately, I began to believe something very negative about New Yorkers.

This was maybe unfair. After all, besides drivers in Wyoming and Montana, what state has divers who are completely loving to each other? Further, the New Yorkers at my Crossfit box (yes box, we call them boxes instead of gyms–probably because they're small and square and made of... regular building materials) are some of the kindest people I know.

To make a long story just as long as it actually is, this is why I was surprised when this young woman accosted me with helpful kindness in Penn Station. I managed to recall for her that I was trying to get to Union Square on the subway. She handed me a subway map out of her purse and gave me detailed directions (later, while I was looking at a larger subway map, a man stopped to make sure I knew where I was going). Before I could fully comprehend her gesture of kindness, her train arrived and she climbed aboard.

As I studied the map she gave me, I realized she had given me something extremely valuable. Not only had she extended genuine kindness, she had given me a very special subway map she had been keeping since the U.S. Open in 2005.

Further, on the reverse side of the map... you're not going to believe this... she has pasted the exact image of Andy Roddick's personal American Express card!

As you can see, I've mirrored the image to protect his finances.

Anyway, the point was that she was nice and helpful and essentially restored my faith in the goodness of New Yorkers, the American people, and humans in general (after the 2010 midterms, I had begun to doubt).

On the first page of the first chapter of our book (sometimes I hate prepositional phrases) Jeff Gates writes:
While self-interest is certain to remain a driving force in the success of free enterprise, democracy has long been animated by a latent generosity that longs to be unlocked. Humankind is predisposed to generosity. (3)
This is, undoubtably, one of the most important statements he makes throughout the book. There has long been a debate about whether humans are basically good or basically evil. If left to our own devices, will we be kind to others or will we descend into selfishness and thereby destroy ourselves and others? Note: I'm making a huge assumption here: that selfishness is inherently destructive. If you're a fan of the Bible you probably don't have a problem with that, but if you're a fan of Ayn Rand, you probably do. Take your pick.

I'd like to suggest that we are both good and evil (though I'm going to try to avoid getting into deep theology here). On one hand we have God and love vying to turn us into kind creatures, but on the other we have Satan (no I don't really mean school here, but school's objective isn't too far from Satan's) and hate encouraging us to succumb to selfishness and greed (is that redundant?).

Every moment of every day we choose which force we'll comply with. Giving a lost stranger Andy Roddick's credit card. Or cutting in line at the toll both. Take your pick.


  1. I like your approach at the toll bridge--when the turkeys abound, rev on, bro, rev on!(fJb)

  2. Ha ha. I don't know if it could be classified as "Christ-like," but I thought someone should prevent such abuse. fJb