I’ve never been to Mumbai, nor Mexico City nor Tokyo but I’m prepared to bet that the noisiest major city on earth is NYC. It’s the thing that hits you most whilst strolling around. And Harlem must be the epicentre for loudness. I’ve already mentioned that the folks here tend to shout rather than speak and that hip hop music blasts out from every other car. But that’s the least of the street sounds.
First off you notice all the horn honking. There’s an expression called the New York Minute which actually translates as a fraction of time. It’s meant to signal the fast pace of life in NYC compared with everywhere else. But perhaps the best definition of the phrase was given by Johnny Carson who described it as the amount of time it takes when the lights change to green and the driver behind the guy on the grid starts honking his horn. It happens instantly and everyone does it. It’s not a road rage thing; it’s just what everyone does even when the honking is having no significant impact on the road situation.
The other evening we called an uber cab to take us to the train station. We had two cases and we were waiting for him when he arrived outside our apartment. The driver flicked the tail gate to allow me to put the cases in the boot whilst Carol got in the car. As I was loading the first case a woman pulled up behind the can in a car and just started honking. I leaned in to her open window and said I wouldn’t be a second and was just loading the cases as she could clearly see. The taxi driver shouldn’t block my way she replied. I guess but I’ll be done in a about 30 seconds and we’ll then pull away. She ignored me and started honking again like it was going to change anything. I leaned into the window again and asked her with as much pleasantness as I could muster to shut the f …up. She kept on pipping. That’s NY patience for you. I took about 6 minutes to pack the last case in the boot. Noisy bitch.
But perhaps more ear-splitting yet more forgivable are the sounds of sirens from the myriad collection of emergency vehicles that tear through the streets morning and night. And Harlem must have the highest crime, the most fire incidents and the greatest incidence of accidents and emergency injuries/health issues necessitating medical treatment and ER admissions because you cannot walk 100 yards without seeing an emergency vehicle en route to somewhere in the neighbourhood.
Here’s a shot I took looking out from the elevated train platform last Friday evening along 125th st towards the Triborough bridge. It’s only about quarter of a mile of road but there were three separate incidents requiring differing emergency vehicles – all with sirens blazing of course…
If you want to hear what the sirens sound like check out this YouTube vid. No wonder Sinatra described it as the city that never sleeps. Enjoy