Sunday, December 20, 2009

How seems happiest walking down East 40th Street in New York City, early in the morning.

A week ago Wednesday I was in New York City having breakfast outside a Dunkin Donuts on the corner of 2nd Avenue and East 40th street. It was a bit cold, but I was comfortable enough in my warm coat and fur hat. There was only one other customer braving the cold, a younger man who was constantly negotiating ‘deals’ on his cell phone.

The ‘sidewalk cafe’ served as a vantage point for watching passers by, most walking very fast with intense expressions on their faces and often preoccupied with cell phone conversations. People walk much faster and seem more purposeful than in DC.

I decided to take note of whom, among those striding purposefully down East 40th Street between 8:30 and 8:45 on a cold late fall morning seemed most happy. The results of this informal survey and assessment follow.

Most happy were the handsome young men and women featured on a poster advertising a condo across the street that was soon to be opened. They looked carefree and relaxed. I saw no one who remotely resembled them on the street.

Next were mothers walking with small children, holding their hands. Mothers pushing their children in strollers did not qualify. They all seemed to be talking on cell phones, walking as rapidly as other passers-by and looked stressed.

Next most happy were pre-adolescent children, apparently walking to school. Like the mothers walking with small children, their pace was slower and they were mostly holding each other’s hands. The seemed connected with one another.

Next were people walking one or two dogs. They seemed to be connected with their pets and enjoying the outing. People walking three or more dogs did not qualify. They looked stressed and unhappy. I assumed they were paid pet-walkers.

The street sweeper who was cleaning the sidewalk in front of my vantage point at a deliberate pace also seemed reasonably content. He responded to my greeting with a slight smile and a fairly cheerful ‘good morning.’.

The pigeons who clustered around my feet waiting for a handout seemed in good spirits. If they were disappointed that I had finished my somewhat meagre breakfast before they arrived, they kept their feelings to themselves.

As I said, most others strode by at a rapid pace with serious expressions on their faces, not looking from side to side and often with cell phones at their ears. They appeared to have urgent, important work to do and to be in a hurry to get to it.

This small slice of New York, at least, did not seem like a very happy place.

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