[Editor’s note: Every Wednesday New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or — no surprise here — a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
I’ve been living in NYC for a couple years now, and my small-town country-living parents are coming to visit me. They hate the big city — they say it’s too crowded, too loud, too expensive, too EVERYTHING. But I love it here and want them to see what I see in it. Any idea what I can do make them love this city as much as I do?
– Big City Bull
Dear Big City Bull,
One of my best friends is from a small town in Texas. He travels constantly and has been all over the world, including spending lots of time in big cities like New York. Recently, he was staying in Manhattan and invited his parents to come stay with him for a few days. It was a perfect opportunity for his mom and dad to see the Big Apple for the first time. Reluctantly, his parents agreed, but insisted on getting a hotel room near Times Square, rather than staying with him at his friend’s house in Queens.
Even though my friend doesn’t live in NYC full time, he’s familiar with the different neighborhoods and really wanted to give his parents a taste of what New York has to offer. On the first night, my friend made dinner reservations at a legendary one-of-a-kind Italian place in Greenwich Village. He figured they could walk from the hotel and see all sights as they built up their appetites on the way. After about three blocks, his parents started asking, “How much further?” and “Why are we walking so far?”, only to gasp when he said it was over 40 more blocks. They refused to walk any longer, so my friend suggested they take the subway, for the speed and the experience. They refused, citing filth and danger and insisted on a taxi instead.
They hailed a cab and began to drive downtown. As my friend pointed to landmarks and funny stuff out of the window, his parents were more interested in the touchscreen TV in the taxi’s back seat, and avidly discussed the news items and entertainment tidbits on display. When my friend encouraged them to take advantage of the convenient city tour the taxi’s view was providing, they shushed him and said, “We’re trying to watch this show!”
They finally made it to Greenwich Village, and had some time to spare before their reservation. My friend suggested they walk around the neighborhood a little, but his parents said they were exhausted from the cab ride and would rather just find a place to sit down. They went to a Starbucks and proceeded to make phone calls to their friends and family back in Texas — checking in and asking about the latest local happenings, despite the fact they had been away from home for less than a day. Finally, dinner time rolled around and the three of them proceeded to the Italian restaurant. The restaurant’s candlelit charm was “too dark,” the waiters Italian accents were “too thick,” and the food was “too spicy.” They rushed through the meal, in a hurry to get back to the hotel by 10 p.m., in time to catch a TV show — I think it was the nightly news. My friend was pretty dejected by this point, and more or less gave up trying to further interest them in the city.
As they took the taxi back uptown — during a rare look away from the TV and out the window — they noticed an Olive Garden restaurant a few blocks from their hotel. They became enraged: “Son, why on earth did you drive us to some no-name Italian restaurant when there’s an Olive Garden literally next to where we’re staying!?” They spent the rest of the weekend in the hotel.
I’ve had similar experiences to this, and I no longer try to “make” people like New York City. In fact, I don’t really try to make people like anything. I just like what I like, and if they like me, maybe they’ll get into it too. Or maybe they’ll just appreciate that I’m passionate about something and we can bond over other stuff. I’ve had plenty of people try to convince me as to why Paris is the greatest city in the world, but it just never really clicked with me. To each their own. I can respect and understand all sorts of stuff that people love and feel strongly about, and that can be enough to get along with someone. I actually like being around people with much different interests and tastes than me — it seems to make life feel less claustrophobic and the world feel larger.
Personally, I agree with your parents about New York. It is “too everything,” and that’s what I love about it. Living in a city isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be amazing. I live in Midtown, near Times Square, because I love the “too everything” feelings from this area. I feel most out of place and lost in this part of town, and after all these years living in New York, I feel warmly stimulated by its chaos. I’m at home in the discomfort of it all. I didn’t move to New York City to have a quiet and reasonable life — I came here to have an unreasonably awesome life. I remember when I first visited NYC — it felt more than overwhelming, it felt painful. But it was the kind of pain that I could tell makes you a bigger and stronger person. I could tell that even though it was hard to deal with this place, I was supposed to be here, and be in the throws of it all. I wanted to be around every kind of person, including people I couldn’t relate to at all. I still want to be around the kinds of people who look at the world with a sense of awe and mind-blown dizziness. Tourists, business commuters, street vendors, chain stores, everything — none of it makes any sense, except that it’s happening here, and that’s how it’s always been.
Rather than try and make your parents like NYC, instead allow them to make you experience the world through their eyes for a little while. Perhaps their distaste for the city will give you a whole new perspective and appreciation for how incredibly intense it really is. It’s an absolute miracle that New York — or any city — can exist at all. It’s a team effort of humanity. Every day, millions of people get together — whether they realize it or not — and make this world exist, and your parents are part of that phenomenon. They made you exist in the first place. Everyone counts, and everyone here adds to the sum total of experience. Besides, your parents don’t need to love where you live, they just need to love you.
More:Ask Andrew W.K.