Culture Shocked (West Coast Bias)

John Smistad

Copyright 2019 by John Smistad


Photo of angry taxi driver.

I am a western U.S. guy. Born and have lived most of my life in western Washington state. Grew up in Texas. Spent a stint in Salt Lake City.

As such, I'm a pretty laid back lad. Easy goes it. Take it as it may come. On the whole, even downright friendly. That's my lease on life.

So when I took a trip eastward to the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, it was a totally different world, baby. 

I'm not gonna say that everybody was overtly rude, exactly. Just way more direct than I was accustomed to. Yeah. We'll go with that.

For example, consider this exchange at the fast food joint drive-thru:

Me: "Hey. How ya doin'?"

Disembodied Voice: "Wut do ya want?"

Okay. Small talk summarily dismissed and dispensed with.

On another occasion I found myself at a dead stop and sandwiched in between two cars on a one-way New York City side street. We are all immobilized in a traffic jam for which there is no apparent explanation. And this guy behind me actually starts honking his horn! I turned around in my driver's seat and looked out the back window to insure that he could see that I was laughing at him. He took a break from leaning on his horn to flash me the customary Big Apple extended finger "term of endearment". I continued to smile. He resumed his honking.

My cousin, a veteran resident of the region and long-since desensitized to indigenous behavior, was given his newspaper from a parking lot valet who had taken it from his vehicle to peruse during his down time. "Here's your 'Times'", he said. As we got in the car, I asked Mark if he was miffed that the dude just helped himself to his periodical out of the front seat. He said, "I just let stuff like that go. Ya gotta. I've learned. At least he gave it back. And nobody got mugged."

Seemed like small concessions for which to be grateful to me. However, this is the frame of reference of a fellow who has lived his life at least 2000 miles away from these states of, ahem, "selective manners" in which I was immersed at the time.

Perhaps the most truly awe-inspiring moment of my stranger in a strange land experience came to pass at Times Square during rush hour. Almost precisely at 5 o'clock quitting time on the nose, as I was casually window shopping outside the plethora of merchandisers which populate the famed (or, depending upon the hour, infamous) sector of The City, all of the sudden it happened. In an alarming flash, manageable foot traffic exploded into an avalanche of humanity. And the mushrooming horde all seemed to be marching steadily toward me. Was I intimidated? Hell yeah. Shock waves of high anxiety coursed through me. But soon something would make itself progressively apparent. Hey, this is all relatively orderly and systematic. What was completely alien to me was merely business as usual for those who do this as a matter of routine, and without so much as a flinch, Monday straight on through Friday. I walked away, emotionally a trifle shaken, but bodily, and miraculously, intact.

As I boarded the plane to jet back to the people, places and temperament with which I am familiar, I felt a two-pronged sense of appreciation. One, that soon I would be back to the comfort and joy of home. And secondly, that I was leaving a locale that, while (for the most part) fun to visit, I may never be compelled to experience again. (Turns out I would make several more return journeys as it happens. But each time the westward wind would soon be hastening me homeward. And for that, just like my cousin that afternoon at the high-rise garage, I am most grateful.)

John Smistad is a published author of short stories, movie reviews, essays and poems.  He lives with his beautiful wife, son, cat and dog in The Puget Sound area of Washington state.

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