The other week I joked that I was tempted to run off and become an illegal immigrant in New York. This week I’m serious. [Note to immigration officers everywhere: This is also a joke, sort of.] Some things about this city have changed—it’s noticeably cleaner and the phone booths that used to stand on virtually every street corner are gone. But I’m sitting in Times Square, using free public wi-fi, and if it’s a little depressing that the capital of sleaze now looks much more like Disneyland, it’s still wonderful.
New York is my ideal metropolis. This is how a city should look and work. Mass public transport, including a fabulously intricate subway that is rarely more than a couple of blocks away and that, by the way, was built in the nineteenth century; street lights that take pedestrians into account; friendly cops who will give you recommendations for where you might find a nice little place to eat; people and food from all over the world; a throbbing night life; and incredibly tolerant people. And if all this means you get a few crazies thrown in for free, so what?
I walked around Ground Zero for a bit, since it’s the precise epicentre of the history of the decade between my last visit and this one, and the defining event of my generation. It’s now a big construction site. (Quite literally next door is St Paul’s Chapel, which famously didn’t suffer even a broken pane of glass, and where people volunteered their time after 9/11 to provide food and massages to rescue workers, festooned with testimonials.)
It’s all quite moving, in the way that these things can be, and yet, a couple of nights later I was in a great little bar called the Stoned Crow, chatting with a native New Yorker who thought that everyone should get over themselves and turn the damn place into a mall, and why was it taking so long to build the new tower and the memorial? It’s good to be in a city where people can separate the law of the land and its founding principles from what we in India are pleased to call our sentiments. (And speaking of great little bars, that’s the other vital component of an excellent metropolis. I wish Delhi would stop thinking that every bar should look like a Greek dwelling with candles in niches.)
Of course New York is the temple of consumerism, but the real pleasure of being here comes entirely for free: the great parade of people from every conceivable country (I crossed Central Park in a pedicab operated by a young Tajik who claimed—dubiously—that there are only a hundred Tajiks in New York, and also that his real job was teaching physics in a university) of every conceivable shape, size, colour and sexual orientation, wearing every conceivable kind of clothing, speaking every conceivable language and working at every conceivable kind of job. I could spend all day, every day, hanging out on the street, people-watching. Joy, thy name is diversity. And although people have tried to persuade me for years that New Yorkers are rude and aggressive, I’ve never found a single one that was anything but pleasant and helpful.
So much as I’ve tried to resist my impulses, I can’t. This is it. Wish me luck as I prepare to move into my hovel inhabited by twelve other illegals from Bangladesh and the Ukraine and start my life over, bussing tables at Dunkin Donuts and dodging the law until I’m able to start my own drycleaning business.
[Note to immigration officials everywhere: I’m kidding! Or not.]