NEW YORKERS are always complaining that "foreigners" (those who don't live there) are giving the city a bad name. Actually we "foreigners" would have no idea what was going on unless New Yorkers told us.
I had the occasion to go up to New York on Sunday last week and spend the afternoon in Queens at a gathering of friends. Then I announced I had to go into the city.
"How are you planning to go?" someone asked.
"I thought I'd take the subway."
"You can't take the subway!" the person said.
"Why? It's Sunday. The subway shouldn't be too crowded."
"That's just the point," another friend told me. "It's much more dangerous to take it when it isn't crowded. You could be sitting in a car all by yourself, and that's when they'll get you."
"If they don't get you, the subway will," another person said.
"How could the subway get me?" I wanted to know.
"It's always breaking down. You could be stuck under the East River all night long."
"Maybe I'd better take a taxi."
"Be careful. Don't tell the cabdriver you're from out of town or he'll take you to Manhattan via Staten Island. They wait all day for people like you."
Another friend said, "If he does take you be way of Staten Island, don't argue with him. There was a story in the newspaper the other day about a man who complained the taxi was taking the long way from Kennedy Airport, and the driver beat him up with a tire iron."
"How long are you staying in Manhattan?"
"Just a couple of days."
"I'd take off that watch if I were you. They're getting awfully good at ripping off watches. If your wife is going to be with you, tell her not to wear any gold chains. They'll rip them off, too."
"Where are you staying?"
"Down in Gramercy Park," I said.
"You weren't planning on going out at night, were you?"
"I was hoping to. I understand there's a lot to see in New York City at night."
A friend said, "It depends on where you go. Always walk on a lighted street near the curb, and if they ask for your money, give it to them without arguing."
"Better still, don't walk anywhere. Take a taxi and tell the driver to wait until you get into the hotel lobby," someone added.
"Is it all right to go the the theater?" I asked.
"It's all right to go. But coming back is where you could get in trouble. Whatever you do, stay off Eighth Avenue. That's where all the crazies hang out.
"Before you go, put all your valuables in the hotel safe, and be sure when you get back to your hotel you double-lock your door. I know a guy who was sleeping in one of the best hotels in the city and found someone going through his trousers looking for his wallet."
"I think I'd better take notes," I said. "I hear the restaurants are pretty good in New York."
"It depends if they know you or not. If you go to one of the better ones, make sure you slip the headwaiter a $20 bill, or you'll be standing at the bar until 11 o'clock at night."
"When you're leaving for the airport during rush hour, give yourself two hours. If one car breaks down on the East Side Drive, you're a dead duck." h
"Gosh," I said. "This sounds like a tough city."
"Why do you say that?" someone asked in a defensive voice.
"No reason," I replied, realizing I was on dangerous ground.
"That's the trouble with you out-of-towners. You're always knocking New York because you don't live here. It's the greatest place in the world."
"I wouldn't live anywhere else," another friend added. "I love New York."
"I better get going," I said.
"Why? It's only 4 o'clock."
"Well, if I'm going get beaten up with a tire iron, I'd better allow time to go to the hospital."
"If you go to the emergency room on Sunday," a friend said, "make sure there's an English-speaking doctor on duty."