Last June, I made a great big life change and moved to New York City. While I don’t claim to be an expert yet, I certainly do feel like I know a thing or two at this point. Spending my days riding about on subway cars and walking the seemingly endless streets of this sleepless city, I’ve managed to make a surprising observation: the silence here is deafening!
I find it absolutely remarkable that in a city where you can find crowds of people at literally any hour of day or night, people don’t talk to one another all that much. Your thoughts are drowned out by busses and taxi cabs, trains and planes, and the general buzzing noise that people make in large numbers. Sure, some words are exchanged here or there, but it’s mostly in whatever remains of pleasantry. Thousands of people, some of the most unique and interesting people in the world, on any given train…and everyone is in their own little bubbles.
The only intelligible (and that word is used ever so lightly here) words most often come from the train speakers. Something about why we aren’t moving yet or a mumbled request to not hold the doors. “Come on!” someone will exclaim to nobody in particular. After exchanging commiseratory (yeah, I make new words on the regular) glances with one another over our being stuck on the same metal tube, everyone is back to silence. Track lightning will crackle, someone will laugh at an amusing line in their novel and there will be squawks of success when the asshole playing Angry Birds finally beats the level he’s been stuck on for the last 23 minutes. All this, and still the person across the way refuses to lock eyes with you for more than a moment let alone say hello.
Panhandlers make the same announcements as all those before them and as all those who will inevitably follow. Words are spoken, but it’s more like a living recording than a conversation. Feet shuffle around uncomfortably until they move on. Everyone sighs, shares another glance, and then disappears once again behind their bubble walls.
These bubbles dance their way around one another, silently interacting as little as possible. It is quite a sight to see, really. Occasionally, I’ll surprise someone. They sneeze and receive an unexpected “bless you.” It’s a 50/50 shot whether I get a grateful look or one of bottomless suspicion. That’s the real problem, I think. Everyone here suspects some form of ulterior motive. To avoid these suspected motives, they simply don’t make conversation with people unknown.
For my part, I’ll make it a point to break the silence in my own way. Sing a song, continue the “bless you” trend, and even dare to say hello. Maybe it will catch on. Goodness knows somebody needs to make some noise around here. Might as well be me.
Happy Monday Fun Day, y’all.