This summer I was working at Studio-X, perched peacefully on the 16th floor at Varick St. and Houston St. The neighborhood is quaint and mainly comprised of offices and small residences. This creates a relatively peaceful environment, even when compared with nearby Soho. I would take advantage of the surroundings by walking around the block a few times per day. These escapes broke up the day and connected me to the city. One particular experience served as a learning experience for me and highlighted the contrast of everyday living in the city with the romantic nature of this neighborhood.
I was on one of my walks, getting ready to turn from the residential side street back on to busier and commercial Varick St. As I passed a small and shoddy storefront, a bike messenger burst out of the door. He began to run down the sidewalk with his bike before even saddling up. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and the derelict, clown-looking bike messenger screamed “Get the F#@$ out of my way, NOW!” I shifted my step and he sped down the side walk on his very hi-tech bicycle. I was startled. Obviously, I had the right-of-way on the sidewalk. Bikes are meant to be ridden on the street.
I yelled back at him “Get off the sidewalk!” He stopped, turned around, and rode his bike very quickly back towards me. He went through his high-strung bike messenger act, yelling at me and cursing. I told him to calm down, and refused to fight him (A fight would have gone poorly for me). He got his tough-guy licks in, and scurried off to his next destination. I continued back on my walk, into 180 Varick and up the elevator, to the safety of the 16th floor.
This was a learning experience. It is said that some people learn visually and some learn audibly. I learn the hard way. If anyone had asked me “Should you yell at people on the streets of Manhattan?” I would answer “No.” But apparently I needed proof. Midwestern car-culture allows this sort of behavior, as one is protected by the safety of a car's interiority and mobility. Give someone the finger and just drive away, it will be ok. On the mean streets of New York there is no escape and bike messengers will chase you down.
This was part of the New York acclimation process. Sometimes people are having bad days, and the external stressors cause tempers to flare. The dichotomy between the peaceful walk and the bike messenger incident highlights the nature of Manhattan. John Berger describes living here as a simultaneous dream and nightmare being lived by each inhabitant. It is something that takes getting used to.
I also learned that bike messengers are crazy and to be avoided.