Walking in New York right now is like stepping into the welcoming heat curtain that greets you in department stores in the winter, only to find that you never make it through to the other side. Shirts are drenched through within seconds, and your only hope of looking vaguely respectable at work is if the laws of evaporation kick into major effect in the sub-zero climes of the air conditioned subway cars and offices.
Of course, in the near 100 degree heat/100% humidity that New York has been experiencing recently, thermometers aren’t the only indication of temperatures are rising. Everybody may be in a good mood in the warmth of the sun on a day off, but when you’re weary after a day at the coalface, the punishing heat can be enough to send people over the edge.
Right now, New Yorkers have approximately 37% less patience than they would on a normal grey day in the city, according to official government studies. That means that they honk their horns at cars that fail to move off from traffic lights within 0.04 seconds of the light turning green, rather than the normal 0.06. The
pavementssidewalks are littered with tourists who’ve been skittled out of the way for walking slowly, rather than just being shoulder-barged and sworn at in normal circumstances. And insurance companies are refusing to cover Starbucks baristas, just in case they forget to leave the whipped cream off a customer’s iced soy vanilla macchiato.
But it’s on the subway that tempers flair most, largely due to the fact that the stations are hotter than an out-of-condition Bulgarian weightlifter’s armpit. The subway system is hardly the most convivial place in the first place, but right now it’s how I would imagine the atmosphere to be at the Jerry Springer Show if the whole audience had just been told that each of their mothers had been sleeping with the 17 year old greasemonkey who’d just wandered on stage chewing tobacco.
Last week, as my train pulled into the furnace that they laughingly call a station, a middle aged woman attempted to barge past a younger woman so that she’d be ahead of her when the doors opened. The younger woman gently but firmly reasserted her position, and stepped on to the train first.
Behind her the middle aged woman tutted loudly, and then turned to a seeming stranger, and launches into a vicious fifteen minute tirade about people who only look out for themselves.
“The problem with people is that these days they’re all about themselves. I used to let people on first, but it got me nowhere. Everybody would take all the seats. Now I make sure it’s all about me.”
Clearly I gave her my best ‘you realise that what you’ve said makes no sense, right?’ look, but to no avail. She continued apace.
“You know, it’s not the New York City people who are like that.”
Given that she’d by this point given the coffee cup-toting woman next to her (who happened to be wearing a hijab) a mouthful about not spilling it all over her, I mentally readied myself for the worst.
“No no, New Yorkers have been brought up properly. They know how to behave. No, it’s the people from elsewhere you have to watch.”
Here we go, I thought. Which ethnic group is she going to have a pop at first? My money was on the Indian sub-continent, although you never can rule out the Chinese in circumstances such as this. I braced myself for the xenophobic onslaught.
“You know, like people from Ohio. Or Kansas City.”
She may not have had much of an understanding of the world at large, but the ranting misanthrope had a fairly clear understanding of her future direction of travel when she finally pops off this mortal coil.
“I’m going up. That’s my plan. I’m looking out for myself, because I’m going upstairs.”
Personally I reckon the universe might have something a little warmer in store for her.
An eternity spent on New York City subway platforms would seem to be a good start.