Big cities give me the creeps. As a kid from a small town who hadn’t seen much of the world, I had what I presumed to be a panic attack one time in San Diego and left that supposedly serene city at 2:30 a.m. because the noise and activity were driving me crazy.
Cars backfiring, Jake brakes braking, sirens singing, airplanes landing, fog horns and T.V.’s blaring and phones ringing through the thin walls of the cheap motel where I was staying. It sounded like a chorus made up of a dozen heaving horses, a pack of coyotes and a howler monkey from the San Diego zoo trying to pass a gallstone. I left skid marks in the parking lot, leaving that stinking landfill gone wrong.
I’ve self-diagnosed myself as an urbanaphobiac and I’ve been this way since birth. I get anxious in unfamiliar settings and claustrophobic in any elevator with myself and more than one suitcase inside. I hate big cities so much that I haven’t been in a city of over 50,000 in more than five decades. I first knew I had this phobia as a kid when I went into town on a day the elderly got their Social Security checks, which caused a riot in the bunion and laxative aisle of the drugstore. I barely made it out of there alive.
I take no pleasure in admitting I’ve been to all 10 of the largest cities in this country, and I know this will come as a shock to their economies and chambers of commerce, but I don’t have plans ever to return. Easily, the worst of the 10 was New York City. You must understand, I live in such a quiet place that I can hear the clock ticking in the neighbor’s house 100 yards away, so the cacophony of New York City was an assault on my senses. The writer O’Henry hit the nail on the head when he said, “If ever there was an aviary overstocked with jays it is that Yaptown-on-the-Hudson called New York.”
Not that I wasn’t warned. My more urbane and urban friends told me to: (1) never smile in the Big Apple because the muggers might see the gold in my teeth and abduct me; (2) leave my good watch at home; (3) don’t carry a wallet in my back pocket, or my front pocket either; (4) always carry $15 in cash to give the pickpockets and muggers because they have a minimum wage law for crooks in NYC; (5) don’t go in the subway after dark, or before dark for that matter; and (6) make a list of all my credit cards so I could cancel them immediately after they’re stolen.
I’ve been in The (rotten) Big Apple three times. The first two were going and coming to visit my brother at West Point. I got on a bus at a hell-hole called the Port Authority Bus Station, which had more muggers per capita than the wild cow milking at a ranch rodeo. I left for home through LaGuardia Airport, where the folks were as cordial as a pen of bucking bulls at the PBR. I went once more to NYC after my wife and I were married because I thought I wanted to see a play on Broadway, but we left after being there for only an hour and I vow that in the future the closest I’ll ever come to being on Broadway is visiting the auction market in Amarillo on Manhattan Street.
I read that 40% of New Yorkers are foreign-born and I think the other 60% came from New Jersey, which explains why I didn’t understand a single word the entire time. As far as I’m concerned, they can put up a five-wire fence around the place, make it its own country called The United Nations, and require vaccinations and a quarantine if New Yorkers ever want to leave and rejoin humanity.
If I recall my U.S. history, the original Pilgrim real estate developers paid the Indians $24 worth of junk jewelry for the land upon which New York City now sits. Conventional thinking says the Indians got snookered, but I bet if you offered it back to them for the same money today, they’d laugh in your face and decline the deal.