Comparing Manhattan against San Francisco

A couple of weeks ago I spent 24 hours in New York City.

It wasn’t my first time, but this whirlwind visit gave me a chance to refine or solidify lots of my opinions about the Big Apple, especially in the context of my new familiarity with San Francisco.

FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD (on every corner!)
First, there are the street food carts. In Manhattan, you can buy gyros, fresh fruit, fajitas, hot dogs, bagels, and tons of other carb-laden delights ranging from health to heart-attack-on-a-stick.

But you know what? In my unscientific sampling, I found all the selections to be both yummy AND cheap. Try finding THAT in San Francisco. In fact, try finding food carts at all in the city. Okay, maybe one or two selling lousy pretzels around the Wharf (ack!), but why can’t we grab a tasty gyro after clubbing on a Friday night or during a fast lunch break in the Financial District? In a liberal city like ours, are our supervisors so damn uptight that they’ve restricted such entrepreneurial potential ventures from competing with our overpriced and oft-slow restaurants?

In New York, there seems to be about one taxi for every three people. In SF, there are about three taxis for every one hundred thousand people. Basically, if you don’t have your SF hotel hail you a cab, you’re gonna be walkin’ mister. And you may be walkin’ anyway, since the cabs around here seem to subscribe to the wacky notion that they’re doing US a favor by actually coming to pick us up sometime in the next four hours.

And of course, there’s the inevitable comparison of public transit. NY subway: seemingly 50+ stops, many open late night. SF subway (BART): about 7 stops in the city, all closed by midnight. WTF is up with that? And on holidays, it’s even worse. I flew back into the San Francisco Airport at 11pm on Labor Day… and I had to have my roomie pick me up because public transit stopped running at 10pm. What, the transit agency figured no one would be coming back late after a long weekend? Idiots.

People watching seems more fun in New York. Sure, in SF we have the weirdos in the Haight, but that only supplies entertainment for so long. You’ve seen one ugly dude with 17 piercings begging for money for his 18th piercing, you’ve seen ’em all. In New York, downtown seems vibrant in a way that I’m not accustomed to experiencing… people from every ethnicity. Folks in suits, peeps in jogging outfits, students, tourists, yeah, lots of tourists.

And contrary to conventional wisdom, people in NY are no more unfriendly than folks in any other big city. In fact, in my experience, I’ve found them to be more friendly than folks in most other major cities I’ve visited. I struck up quite a lot of fun conversations with random street vendors, lunch-eaters, pretty much with everyone except for the uber-snooty employees at the Hilton hotel I stayed at.

In fact, I could write a whole entry on that lousy place (and indeed, someday may), but let me just cut right to the chase: Think twice before staying there. Ugly-ass rooms, surly help, and nickel-and-diming for every fricking thing under the sun. When you’re paying that kind of money for a room (okay, so I was a cheap bastard and got a deal via priceline, but still), you don’t expect to be charged $1.50 for a 1 minute local call, $20 for Internet access, and $5.95 for half a grapefruit?! Granted, I wasn’t stupid enough to actually order any of this stuff, but still…

But I digress.

What’s not to like about NY? The weather! Oh my God, I felt like I was in a city-wide sauna without the ability to take a cold shower or jump in an icy lake every 5 minutes as needed. The atmosphere reminded me of a slightly-lighter Dark City, even at 3pm. Dank, oppressive, dim.

86 degrees with, apparently, 100% humidity. 100% humidity. How is that different than rain, you ask? Well, rain generally falls downwards. 100% humidity sans rain, however, is like being next to a fog machine. In an oven. But with non-oven’y smells.

Indeed, NY smells. And not so good. A mixture of sweat, tar, dust, and other icky stuff. The city is dirty, dusty, loud, chaotic, and — in Times Square — very unattractively and obnoxiously blinkingly garish.

But luckily, everyone and everything moves so fast that you’re never stuck with the same flashing neon or bad smells for very long. Part of this, I figure, is due to all the signs that say “No Standing” every few feet throughout the city. I eventually figured out that those wacky sign-makers meant “No Parking” but enough of us tourists were encouraged to hustle and bustle that the fluidity of the city was augmented by a measurable amount, no doubt.

* * *

Alas, I lost my camera midway through my trip, so I don’t have any captivating photos from this trip to break up this long and quasi-boring text. But you’re in luck. I have a few dozen photos from my 2000 NYC trip, which actually lasted for more than a day and included much merriment and photographing.

Enjoy. Savor. Comment upon.

And then rip into my commentary, pontificating upon how I got all the details wrong and how I don’t appreciate my fine city or how I’ve insulted NYC or how I should go back to timbuktu or whatnot. Go on, I can take it.






One response to “Comparing Manhattan against San Francisco”

  1. Allen Tsai Avatar

    One thing I always found amusing between the two cities was escalators. In SF you stand on the left (or is it the right), in NYC you get yelled at.

    Speaking of smelly sweaty people, never sit near a door on a subway, especially during rush hour. Inevitably someone will run to catch the door before it closes, and bam. You’ve got a sweaty ass on your shoulder.

    Having lived in both cities, I prefer the SF personality but the NYC convenience.

What do you think?