Monday, May 17, 2021

Getting Help in NYC

 Annamaria on Monday

When someone needs help in my beloved city and doesn’t get it, the lack becomes newsworthy.  Such incidents make it into the international newsfeed. I am sure you have heard of them. I swear to you—they are noteworthy because they are rare.

Here are two examples of more typical behavior, ones I experienced in the twenty-four hours before I began writing this post.

This past Saturday, I was looking forward to a lovely weekend.  At noon I set out on the mile and a half walk to the Morgan Library and Museum, where I was to meet my oldest closest friend for a gallery visit.  She and I and two other friends were then to have lunch nearby.  Then Rosemary and I would return to my apartment to pick up my overnight bag and set off in my cute little red buggy for her house in New Jersey.  I contemplated a delightful spring weekend among the flowering dogwoods and vibrant azaleas in a lovely, leafy suburban town.

About half way to the museum, I saw the first, lovely indication of New Yorkers helping people on the street.  Just ahead of me, on the sidewalk was a boy of about three crying his eyes out.  His scooter wheel was stuck in the subway grate.  His mother was ahead of him pushing an empty stroller. His five-year-old sister was running to help him.  A tall man passing by paused, reached down, freed the scooter, and placed it on the concrete.  The crying immediately disappeared.  The people in this story hardly stopped moving in the few seconds it took for this to transpire. I called out to the man, “You’re a hero!”  He turned and gave me the thumb-up sign, which I returned.  A New York moment.

The museum visit and lunch were delightful. Two of the friends headed back to NJ, while Rosemary and I took a cab to my place to pick up my overnight bag and my car to go to her lovely abode.  But...

As we left my building, Rosemary tripped and fell, injuring her wrist and sustaining a cut on her forehead that began to bleed.  I got down beside her to do what I could.  In seconds, a guy who had been standing nearby, came to us, and said “She’s bleeding.  I’m calling 911.”  

Within another minute, a man in suit and tie showed-up with a first-aid kit.  By then, the bleeding had stopped.  He handed me a sterile pad, then some antibiotic cream, and a bandage.  Rosemary said she needed ice, that she thought her wrist was broken.  The guy in the suit took an ice pack out of his kit, crushed it, and handed it to her.  By then, we could see the flashing lights of an ambulance that had turned onto the block.  The EMTs took over Rosemary’s care, and the men who had pitched in received our thanks and disappeared back to whatever they had been doing.

Rosemary’s wrist is broken but not her indomitable spirit.  By the time you read this, she will have contacted her orthopedist.  I along with all her friends and family pray she heals quickly. 

For now, we both know we owe a debt of gratitude to the bystanders who helped us.  And I know for certain that many people may think their stepping in was unexpected from stereotypically cold-hearted New Yorkers. They would be wrong. 

Many a time, when I have seen people on the sidewalks of NYC, looking confusedly at the screen of a phone or a map in a guidebook, I have approached them and asked, “Can I help you find something?”  All too often, those people have expressed surprise at offers of help.  They almost always say something to this effect: “We never expected New Yorkers to be so nice.  You are all so kind and helpful.”  I ask them where they got the impression that we were not nice.  Regardless of race, creed, color, religion or national origin, they all answer with the same word.  “Television!” I tell them that those TV shows are written by guys in their twenties who live in LA.

Oh, and speaking of race, creed, etc, in the events I have recounted here, the helpers and the helpees were not the same.  Almost all true New Yorkers do not make decisions on such a basis.  My favorite way to explain this is by referring to the poles in the subway.  Anyone who becomes enough of a New Yorker to use the trains (as we call them) for everyday transportation holds onto the pole when standing.  When one does, the hands gripping above and below come in all the beautiful shades of human skin. 


This is more than a metaphor.  It is a lesson in the meaning of life on Earth: We are all in this together.  “We are all holding onto the same pole!" Here in NYC, the symbolism works its way into our hearts and minds.  The kids who grow up here—like my daughter and grandchildren—begin absorbing this lesson from the age of four, when all they can see standing there and holding on is the other hands.  They get it on a visceral level.  For the rest of us, it comes unconsciously from that symbolism.  It seeps into our hearts and minds, especially if we fall down and people nearby converge to help.  Or see what  happens when a little tyke’s scooter gets stuck.

Oh, how I wish the rest of the world would get on board with us!


  1. Lovely post, Annamaria. I, too, have always found people incredibly helpful in NYC, willing to help a lost visitor with a map. And the nice little asides that make such good anecdotes. I remember crossing a six-lane street in New York with Lawton. We were against the light, and suddenly realised that the traffic was bearing down on us at some speed. A quick sprint was called for. As we leapt safely out of the road at the far side, giggling, a guy walking past nodded to us and said, "Hey, nice turn of speed, guys!"

    1. Thank you, Zoe. And yes, we often randomly cheer one another on! Or share recipes in markets. Sometimes, we just say, “You look great,” to a perfect stranger who looks particularly well turned out. New York can bestow anonymity. But that is not the same as going around feeling all alone.

  2. Great post, AmA. I've always thought that a lot of the reason "rural white America" is so intolerant is because they're rarely exposed to anyone that is DIFFERENT from them in any significant way. Familiarity breeds tolerance.

    1. Thank you, EvKa. I totally agree. I think that is also why the young are more tolerant than their forebears these days. In school, in the Post Office, etc. they see people who are “different” doing their jobs. Also in films, for their whole lives, they have seen actors of color play the part of heroes. Not enough. We need to see that more. But at least we have made a start.

  3. If only the people who voted for the last guy in the White House could accept this is a multinational country and learn to recpect all people. And that is a beautiful thing.

  4. As much as I agree with your take on New Yorkers being a helpful lot in times of crises, Sis, I've also found that to be the case in most places where I've lived. People by and large want to look out for each another...but acts of kindness don't often make the news.