Why Are Strangers Nicer in Bad Times?


New York City had its first major snowstorm of the winter season last Thursday, November 15th.  The snow started around lunchtime and by the time rush hour rolled around, there were several inches of snow and slush on city streets and sidewalks.  What  appeared to be missing, however, were snow plows.

By rush hour, 5 to 6 pm,  many important streets in Manhattan were gridlocked.  I was leaving an appointment on the upper east side and attempting to return to the upper west side.  The trip, with 2 city buses, usually takes about 45 minutes:  a crosstown bus at 66th and another bus that goes up Broadway.

Around 5:00 pm, I managed to get on a packed M66 bus at East 66th and York Avenue.  It took us 25 minutes to make it 200 feet to the corner of East 66th Street and 1st Avenue.  A little short of the corner, one woman screamed, “Can we get out!?”  The driver, possibly fearing a mutiny,  pulled over, and I was one of about 30 people who joined the insurgent getting out.

After waiting 25 minutes in the snow and sleet for the M15 bus on East 66th and First Avenue, I walked to another bus stop at 72nd Street.  There I also waited about 25 minutes for the M72.  What was nice about that experience was how friendly everyone was.  There was real solidarity in our group of strangers huddled under the bus shelter as we complained about the weather, the MTA and wondered whether NYC was now Atlanta, in its ineptitude to deal with the snow.  The same friendliness was also evident on the platform of the Q subway train at 72nd Street, roughly 20 minutes after that, which I where I trudged in my 4th attempt to get home.

At 72nd and 2nd Avenue, I wound up taking a Q train south and down to 42nd Street to catch a #1 train north up to my stop on the upper west side.  In NYC,  sometimes things are counterintuitive.

A trip that would normally take 45 minutes took almost 3 hours. But the good news of that evening was how friendly New Yorkers were.  People who wouldn’t ever talk to other people seemed to enjoy doing just that.

We all likely made it home that night and I subsequently learned on the news the next morning of those poor folks driving cars, whose trip home took 8, 9 or 10 hours.  So I can’t complain about my paltry 3.

But if there’s one take-away from the experience it’s that New Yorkers are nicest when things are really rotten.


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