The Pressure of Helping Tourists

Last night, on my way to Yankee Stadium, some very friendly visitors to New York asked me a question about the subway map.

“What’s the difference between the dots with the white circles and the dots with the black circles?”

“I don’t know. Where do you want to go?”

“86th street.”

“You’re fine.”

Then, for a while, I was tortured worrying about them. What if the train doesn’t stop at 86th Street?? Things are always changing around with the subway lines, and I usually walk everywhere. I’m not up on the current status of the subway. What if 86th Street is under construction??

Here’s my problem. I take questions tourists ask me very, very seriously. Whether they’re asking for directions, or suggestions about where to eat, shop, or walk around. I take it so seriously the minute they ask me I panic. Sometimes I just blank.

“Where did Carrie Bradshaw live?”
“Um … it’s … close …”

I live exactly one block away.

And they always ask me. Last night I was listening to my ipod on the subway platform. I must have looked like I was a million miles away, and still, of all the people on the platform, they asked me. They always do. I could be walking down the street a thousand miles per hour, with my sunglasses on, my ipod blaring, and still they will ignore everyone else and flag me down. I think it’s because I look the least likely to hurt them. And they are right to ask me. I take it like it is my life’s mission to help them. I must get them where they want to go. I must come up with the best restaurant.

Every once in a while when giving directions I realize a minute later that I got one part wrong. This is the worst. I’ve gone chasing after people to provide corrections, but I don’t always find them and then I am in anguish, thinking they’ll think that I got them lost on purpose, confirming all the bad things they’ve heard about New Yorkers.

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

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