I’m in New York City today for a quick trip, staying just next to Times Square. Last night I went for a walk before dinner and realized, again, what a special experience it is to take a walk in Manhattan in the midst of its extended pedestrian rush hour.
If you’ve only been walking recently on the sleepy streets of a city like Columbus, you’re really not prepared for the Big Apple pedestrian experience. Not only are there fewer people walking around Columbus — by a factor of about 50 or perhaps even 100, I’d estimate — but there aren’t as many sidewalk obstacles, either. No pop-up vendors shilling stocking caps, no dirty water hot dog stands, no mounds of trash bags waiting to be collected, no building scaffolding at some point on every block, no bike messengers zipping in and out. When you go for a walk in Manhattan, in contrast, you’ve got to be aware of all of those things as you navigate the crowded sidewalks. Your mental reflexes had better speed up considerably, or you’re going to find yourself in trouble.
Walking to work in Columbus is a reasonably pleasant experience, where you can put your brain on autopilot and let your mind wander a bit. In New York City, that approach would be fatal. You’ve got to adopt a much more active mindset, with all senses on high alert, as you calculate distances, scan for openings in the ebb and flow of pedestrian traffic, and make sure you don’t tumble into an open cellar door or invade the space of a homeless guy sitting at the foot of a building who wasn’t visible until the last second when the foot traffic parted to pass him.
It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing the thought processes of a race car driver. If I speed up, do I have enough space to pass the slow-moving guys in front of me and get back to my side of the sidewalk before the people coming in the other direction start cussing me out for disrupting pedestrian flow? Should I cut around the street side of the scaffolding to avoid the woman with the baby carriage who’s blocking the way, or if I do that will I be able to get safely back onto the sidewalk before the approaching traffic arrives? And when you’re walking in the area around Times Square, there’s the ever-present possibility that the person in front of you will stop in the middle of the sidewalk without warning to take a selfie or a photo of the Allied Chemical Building, so that factor also has to be added to the mental matrix.
Walking in New York during a busy period isn’t for the faint of heart, but it does get your blood pumping. I can’t imagine, however, what it would be like to try jogging in this busy place, where everything comes at you even faster.