Anonymous

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I work at home, in a suburb of New York City. The people here like to think of our town as “city facing.” It’s got a train that takes you directly to Midtown, often in less time than it used to take us to get there on the subway from Brooklyn.

I don’t commute regularly by any measure, and when I do have a reason to go into the city, it’s usually at an off-hour. This week I went in two days in a row — for dinner and a concert, and for a meeting with a potential client the next day. When I came up the stairs out of Penn into the stir of Seventh Avenue, I realized it had been a while.

Not that it didn’t exhilarate me, as usual, to be part of the flood of people pouring out of the station and going in all directions, like an exploding star, once they reached the street. It still feels impossible that so many people in so little space can fairly easily get where they need to go and do what they need to do.

The thing I love about New York is that, once you know what you’re doing and how to get around, you can truly be anonymous. Even in that crush on a street corner or in a crowded subway car, you are your own small universe.

When I commuted from Brooklyn, I followed my routines like dance steps. The same route to the subway station, the same not-so-good coffee from a street vendor. The same grubby staircases and subway doors. (Even my place on the platform was a constant; I could just barely see the Statue of Liberty.) I worked for a different magazine every week. For each office, I had my subway plan — the best places to sit and stand to easily get to the door that would take me to the station exit that would get me to the corner I needed to be on, or even right inside the building I was working in. It sounds obsessive, but it didn’t feel that way, and it didn’t cause anxiety — it smoothed things out. The rhythm was such that I could get through a crowd practically without ever bumping up against anyone else.

New Yorkers know how to act in a crowd. They understand personal space and coexistence without any obligation to interact. It’s not that they’re unfriendly; they know when and how it’s appropriate to engage, and they will do it genuinely, looking you in the eye. If you need help, 10 people will be there before you even hit the ground after tripping. They also know when not to engage or get involved, to let the things and people that might seem insane to an outsider be.

I liked being able to slip into Manhattan to work and then sneak back home to Brooklyn. Maybe it speaks to the introverted part of me that I appreciate this so much — it turns out this big, glamorous, pulsing city is perfect for cave dwellers.

It’s a little different taking a commuter train in and then going back out to Jersey; you’re really leaving it behind, just sampling it for a while. It makes me a little nostalgic and homesick for Brooklyn, though I love where I live now. I like the quiet and space. I like to drive. I like seeing people I know on the streets and in the stores. The community feels good.

But it’s nice to reconnect to anonymity every once in a while.

 

 

 

 

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