Big Apple not for the weak of heart

Stephanie Sano

“So where are you heading after graduation?” a parent, friend, professor or random acquaintance may ask a college senior.

“New York City!” an overly enthused future grad may respond.

“What do you plan on doing there?” the original inquisitor may ask.

“Oh, I don’t know. I’ll figure something out. I’ve just always wanted to live there!” the senior may respond.

In a New York minute, the city can be overrun by college graduates who are merely there because they think it’s the greatest city on Earth. And arguably, it probably is. But for many people fresh out of college, New York isn’t anything like what they see on “Sex and the City.”

New York really does have it all: culture, arts, theatre, sports, nightlife, history, every cuisine known to man, a stellar public transportation system, incredible architecture, an unrivaled skyline, and, quite possibly, the most diverse accumulation of people ever to coexist in the world.

Of course everyone wants a piece of it, but New York is by no means a place for the sheltered, the closed-minded or the conservative folk set in their ways. Nor is it a place for the timid, clueless or otherwise emotionally fragile – because we’re in too much of a rush to stick around an extra 2.5 seconds to hold the door open for you, and we won’t even think to apologize if we have a minor collision while speed-walking down the sidewalk.

What attracts outsiders to the city is the glitz and glamour of being a New Yorker: the glittery sidewalks, the spacious high rise apartments in Midtown, the high-fashion designer duds, the bright lights that illuminate the biggest tourist trap better known as Times Square, and the endless clichés, such as quiet picnics in Central Park, and ice skating at Rockefeller Center near the big Christmas tree. The sidewalks only glitter in the Theatre District and a few other select places-cigarette butts and seemingly knee-deep potholes adorn most other streets. Unless the weather is horrendous, have fun trying to find a remote and private area of the Park. Good luck waiting on line to ice skate at Rockefeller Center any time after Thanksgiving and before Valentine’s Day.

And although Carrie Bradshaw had a rent-controlled apartment on the Upper East Side and dozens of pairs of Manolo Blahniks, you won’t. Even if you did, you almost definitely would regret setting out for a typical thirty-block trek in stiletto heels. And trust me: New Yorkers do a lot of walking.

And here’s another news flash: yes, as a college graduate, you will live in a 10×10 studio whether you like it or not, unless you’re a trust fund casualty, of course (in which case you might fit right in).

And you most likely won’t be living in Manhattan at all, so get ready to embrace the boroughs. (Yes, Manhattan is only one of five boroughs of New York City; no, Harlem isn’t one.)

And ah, the transportation. You won’t have a car because you won’t have anywhere to put it, unless you’re willing to pay enough in parking fees to rent a studio apartment above Tony’s Little Gift Shop (which, I must add, is Chinese-owned and operated) in what used to be Little Italy.

Even if you did have a car, you probably couldn’t hack the driving. These aren’t country back roads. These aren’t suburban thoroughfares or even eight-lane highways.

But, if you insist on driving, remember that that cab that looks like it’s about to cut you off, will – without signaling. And so will that bus. Never block the box (if you don’t know what that means, please get your car out of the city now). And finally, never show the whites of your eyes.

Cabs get expensive, so let’s go below ground to the subway. It’s hot. It smells. There are enough lines and variations of schedules and express/local runs to make you dizzy. Watch out-you could accidentally end up on an express 7 and end up in Flushing, Queens when all you wanted to do was go from Times Square to Grand Central. While waiting on a platform, a random loiterer will make you a (sometimes homo-) sexual proposition for five dollars. You might even slip on half-dried urine while walking through the miles of tunnels to get to the correct train. And rarely will someone help you up, unless you’re a relatively good-looking woman.

No matter what, the trains are always crowded, so embrace that body-odor ridden fat man whose armpit is in your face and make sure you’re somewhat near the door when your stop comes up because the doors will slam in your face before you can push through the crowds.

This is why real New Yorkers love New York – it’s not so they can prance around in Versace suits and spend $15 on a martini at the historic 21 Club. It’s not so they can sit on a bench across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral and marvel at the architecture.

It’s because of the underlying heartbeat of the city. It’s in the somehow quiet lull of taxis and buses driving by at all hours of the night and day.

It’s the cabbies honking angrily and flipping the bird when someone walks in front of their taxi. It’s sitting on a cross-town bus and looking out the window, watching pedestrians beat you to the next corner.

It’s in knowing that the best pizza is from the hole-in-the-wall place down that sketchy street, and that there is so much more to see and do than the things that appear in tourist guidebooks.

So if you appreciate the grimy sidewalks, the smell of train brakes permeating subway stations, the nauseating rush hour taxi rides, and that lovingly obnoxious New Yorker attitude, then by all means, please, find yourself an apartment that’s so uptown it might as well be the Bronx and make sure you learn those subway lines.

Remember not to look up at the tall, pretty buildings for too long – there’s a decent chance you will get mugged in a heartbeat and not even realize it until two hours later when you try to buy a twelve-ounce bottle of water for $2.50.

Don’t sympathize with every bum you see – you’ll go broke in a week, and there’s probably a very good chance that they’re just buying booze anyway.

But most of all, don’t gawk, and especially don’t cringe – at the gay couples in Greenwich Village, at the pierced and tattooed crowd around St. Mark’s Place, and the sketchy people pushing drugs in Washington Square Park, and the cross-dressing transvestites in the Meat-Packing District.

This is their city just as much as the suit-and-tie men on Wall Street whose Park Avenue wives are sending their kids away with their nannies to go play in the park. It wouldn’t be New York without this acutely random mix of people.

Good luck, future graduates. This is New York. It’s not changing for you, so embrace, enjoy and love it for what it is, from the glitz and glamour right down to the grime and grunge. If you can handle it.