It happened again today. I’m at least a thousand miles away from home and someone said to me, “You look like a New Yorker.” They’re right, of course, but they said it with such a surety I wondered if they somehow also knew what side of the bed I like to sleep on.
In case you’re wondering, yes, I was wearing all black at the time, a classic tell. If you’re ever on an airplane going to New York City, it’s easy to pick out the tourists from the locals. The tourists seem to embrace all that Roy G. Biv has to offer. The New Yorkers look like they’re going to a funeral. People think we dress in black because we’re trying to look cool. No, we’re trying to be economical. The Big Apple is an expensive city and black goes with everything.
I haven’t seen any formal studies on this, but the anecdotal evidence suggests that people who wear bright colors in New York City are more muggable. They’re easy to spot and clearly have money. If you visit the City and you want to walk around looking like be a big bright ATM machine, knock yourself out, but you’ve been warned.
In my defense, I wasn’t completely gothed out in my black cargo pants, black T-shirt and black jacket, but I guess my black and tan baseball cap that says “Alaska” wasn’t fooling anybody.
I wonder though if more than my attire gave me away. Is there something in my posture, my stance? Do I swagger? Is there something about New York City living that has left its mark upon me in a more subtle yet perceptible way?
Do I look like I can I pick out an undercover cop as easily as spotting a taxi cab? Do I look like my idea of bar hopping is going to Starbucks? Do I look like I’d sit down in said Starbucks with a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee, daring somebody to say something to me? Do I look like, even in a crowd, I can manage to create my own impenetrable zone of personal space?
Do I look like I would literally fight for a parking spot? Do I look like I can decode parking signs like archaeologists can decipher hieroglyphics? Do I have that look of someone who’s sat in traffic too long and inhaled my fair share of George Washington Bridge, Triboro Bridge, and Cross Bronx Expressway car exhaust fumes? Do I look like when the car is not an option, I have a metro card at the ready?
New York City changes from block to block. One minute you’re walking down a lovely street, the next you’re sprinting through a bucket of blood. Do I look like I know the right routes that will keep me safe? Or, more to the point, do I look like I know that bad things can happen to good people in nice places so, no matter what, stroll responsibly?
On occasion people have been just as sure that I look I’m from India, Trinidad, and the Dominican Republic. Many times when I’m in an airport, an elderly Hispanic woman will toddle up to me and ask me a question in Spanish. I studied it in high school and lived with a family in Mexico, as part of a student exchange program, but I’m nowhere near fluent enough to help anybody. And saying, “Lo siento, Abuelita, Yo no hablo español,” doesn’t help. Because, of course I speak a little Spanish. I’m from New York.
Oddly enough, my fellow native New Yorkers always assume that I’m from the South. I pick up accents easily and my travels through the South have allowed a bit of a drawl to creep into my speech, despite my City girl roots. I’m also painfully polite. Not that New Yorkers are rude — stop laughing, we’re not — but my quickness to utter a “yes, ma’am” or a “no, sir” registers on their radar, as “You’re not from around here are you, Baby?”
In a way I’m grateful that my native origins are so obvious. If I ever get amnesia my geographic aura will be like the name tag little kids wear on school field trips: “If Found, Please Return to New York City.” And hopefully my fellow Gothamites won’t reroute me south.
Join The Urban Erma on Facebook or follow on Twitter. You can listen to the podcast on Podbean or subscribe on iTunes. Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. Check out her upcoming shows @ www.VeryFunnyLady.com. Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.