I grew up in New York City, and except for college and a failed attempt to expatriate myself to Seville in my 20s (I’ll teach English! I’ll drink sangria! I’ll pantomime my distaste for rabbit entrails to a man named Carlos who either had a novia or a novela, I’m not sure!) I’ve lived here my whole life.
My theory is this: The best way to measure the age of New York woman is not by how she looks (she always looks amazing) but by her relationship to public transportation. (For you non-New Yorkers, this is a twice a day mandatory up-close-and-personal interaction.) There are distinct behaviors and emotions associated with every life stage. I am in the process of working my way through all of them. To wit:
Little girl You ride public transportation for free and old ladies on the bus tell your mom how cute and well-behaved you are. You draw hearts with your finger in the condensation you breathe onto the window and think yourself very clever. The world is a wonderful place.
Grade schooler You have a bus and subway pass (nowadays a school-issued Metrocard) and if you’re alone, you feel mighty grown-up and offer your seat to old women because you’re still nice. But sometimes they look displeased and say no. You’re not sure why.
You also notice that some of these older women complain about a lot about things, such as how long the bus took to arrive and the way the driver overshot the stop even though THEY WERE WERE STANDING RIGHT WHERE THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO! If you did that your mom would refuse to respond until you changed your whiney tone.
Middle schooler You are an utter nightmare on all manner of transportation, goofing around at decibel 11 with your friends and eating nasty orange Cheeto-like snacks, making people want to use backup birth control and/or change cars/and or pray for an early death (yours). You are completely unaware of how excruciating your antics are for tired people schlepping home after a long day, because of your sluggish frontal lobe development or total lack of empathy or whatever. Or maybe you are aware, and are defying your parents by proxy. You pretty much suck.
High schooler You are most likely doing homework on the subway or bus on your way to school, and are still occasionally a nightmare, giggling idiotically and rolling your eyes while the male of your species does parkour on the D-train to impress you.
20something God, you would never take the bus—not if you ever wanted to GET anywhere. Not that you can afford taxis. The subway, while gross, can sometimes be kinda hot. If you’re up for it, you can exchange smoldering looks with like-minded 20somethings, and perhaps even more. (FTR, I met my ex-husband on the subway when we were in our 20s.) It’s cheaper than a night of drinking at a bar, right? And one time you met a guy who was actually not an intern, you know?
30something You still try never to take the bus–it freakin’ crawls and is full of older ladies who kvetch about the service they’re getting. You cannot imagine having the luxury to complain about such minor stuff. You are a very busy human, in career ascent and likely starting a family. Public transportation is strictly for getting to point B from point A, and to maybe to tune out because everyone wants a piece of you.
If you happen to be pregnant, you conduct sociological experiments in your mind to see which guy is most likely to offer you his seat–blue collar/white collar, black/white/Latino/Asian/Arab, Hassid/hipster/talking to himself etc. Most don’t. Unreal! You discuss this endlessly with your pregnant friends.
40something This is where I am. You start to kind of like the bus—except for those unbelievably rude middle schoolers!–and maybe yours are the cute little kids over whom old ladies coo. If you have middle schoolers, you talk to them earnestly about BEING CONSIDERATE, as if you were never an obnoxious junior high schooler some unfathomably long time ago.
Sure the bus is slow, but geez, the subway is so loud! Was it always that loud? It seems like there are more people in the city than there used to be, doesn’t it? In fact, nowadays you might let three packed trains go by rather than squeezing on. What’s the big damn rush, anyway?
You start to feel a certain kinship to the older bus ladies who threaten to call 311 if the driver misses their stop. I mean, it’s hard getting older, especially in New York City. Come to think of it, maybe you’ll just politely mention to the driver that the bus arrived early the other day and that there wasn’t another for 20 minutes. You know, just a quick word. He should know what’s going on.
50something I’ve got a few years, but I can already see where this is going. You are a junior member of the kvetchers club (even if you kvetch only inwardly) and by decade’s end, simply disgusted by the state of youth today. I mean, one of them actually offered you a SEAT! Should you call your dermatologist? How old did she think you were anyway?
60something You kvetch at decible 11, and you have rewritten history. You no longer recall that you once were all the very people that get on your nerve, and that things were actually worse, not better, when you were riding public transportation in earlier decades. Now there are buses that bow down to you like you’re a princess, to make it easier to get on, and the subways are far less filthy and have clearer announcements.
But GOD you’re just tired, and CAN THEY AT LEAST STOP AT THE BUS STOP? No, you’re sure that’s not too much to ask. And those announcements about assaulting a bus driver being a felony? It must happen quite a bit if they need to make an announcement about it. You’d never assault a bus driver! But if they’d just STOP AT THE BUS STOP you wouldn’t constantly want to.
70s and beyond The bus is rather delightful when you’re retired and can spare 90 minutes to get across town. You love talking to all the little kids—so well-behaved, for the most part. The bus is a little microcosm of society. Really, not riding public transportation during rush hour makes New York City a much more habitable place.
When young women (and by young, you mean 40something and above) look so worn out or kvetch you smile at them but don’t join in. Such negative energy. Who has time when there’s that Yoko Ono one-woman show at MOMA? Such an interesting woman, and so unfairly blamed for the Beatles breaking up…anyway, thank GOODNESS there’s such good public transportation in New York City. You can’t imagine living anywhere else at your age.
<—That’s my bad-ass, bus-riding mom!