New York City: A Hillbilly's Perspective

Kolleen Gladden ‘21

If you tried to tell my friends back home that I was from a “small town,” most of them would laugh at you. Joplin, Missouri, is a bustling metropolis, and by that I mean it has both a Chipotle and a Target. It is, by far, the largest town within a seventy-mile radius. However, when I first told someone that Charlottesville was the biggest town I’d ever lived in, I was met with first confusion and then outright horror. That reaction started to make sense when I began my love affair with “The Big City” in fall of last year. After recently spending another week in NYC, the differences between The Big City and my Ozarkian home became even more glaringly and hilariously apparent. Without further ado, I present New York City, through the eyes of a simple Missourian.

Kolleen Gladden ‘21 strikes a pose with fellow feminist Lady Liberty. Photo Credit César Andrés Sobrino Acuña

Kolleen Gladden ‘21 strikes a pose with fellow feminist Lady Liberty. Photo Credit César Andrés Sobrino Acuña

On driving: When driving through C’ville for the first time, my dad chuckled and mused, “You’re not going to like the traffic here.” He was right. After graduating from dirt roads to Barracks Road traffic jams, I felt ready to tackle Manhattan during rush hour (a great decision, really). NYC driving has become my favorite variety of traffic. There are truly no rules. Turn signals are a long-gone memory, a distant fading dream. With my massive Yukon and Missouri license plate, I ruled every road I turned onto. Watch out, there’s a Midwesterner on this road and she doesn’t fear death. All went smoothly until a car cut me off, causing me to shift over one inch and mirror-first into a semi parked halfway into my lane. If you see me driving around with a duct-taped mirror, go ahead and mind your own business.

Side note: Next time you meet Midwestern folk, go ahead and ask them if they’ve ever accidentally honked at someone. They will look off into the distance, far gone, lost in a jarring piece of the past. By contrast, New Yorkers seem to have this perception that, upon the moment of a light turning green, the car in front of them can accelerate at the speed of an attack helicopter. My apologies, Peggy, I’ll be sure to drive my Bugatti Chiron next time I visit.

On road signs: What are these “no standing” signs? What do y’all have against standing? Does everyone have to move forward at all times?

On the streets: I am convinced the reason New Yorkers are stressed is because there aren’t any dirt roads to take it out on.

On the trains: I’ve become more experienced at navigating the subways, but we’re still working out the kinks. My dear friend César and I were sitting in a subway car, blissfully unaware that the train had been stopped for a while and every other person had vacated. Suddenly, the doors closed, and the train barreled into the distance before halting in the darkness, screeching the entire time. César looked around, obviously concerned, before taking a sip of his green tea and musing with a smirk, “I’ve lived a good life.”

On restaurants: I knew my down-home days were behind me when I heard the words, “would you like sparkling or still?”

On Times Square: No matter how far you walk, all Manhattan roads lead back to here. You trek for hours. You see lights up ahead. They are unfazed, ever blinking. Your eyes glaze over. It is never dark.

On the people: I love New Yorkers. I’ve never met a group of people so totally infazed by such a plethora of things. During my time spent on the subway alone, I saw walking transformers, pole dancers, preachers, rappers, wildly vicious arguments, and pyramid schemers of all varieties. Nobody so much as took a headphone out of an ear. And yet, so many of them are apprehensive of anything that isn’t New York City. I had a conversation with a tough-as-nails woman when it came to all things city who said she was terrified of the Midwest because it’s dark and quiet. I also had three people specifically tell me they thought that the Ozarks was a place conjured up by Netflix for their series Ozark. “I thought that region was mythical,” one person told me, “you know, like Narnia.”

On Madison Square Garden: It is neither square nor a garden. We were all disappointed.

On Columbia: As we scoped out the campus, a tour guide walked past. She gestured at the pristine, sprawling lawns. “When the weather is nice, we like to come out here and protest.”

On thrifting: Those who know me know I am an avid thrifter. I like to stroll into a secondhand store, grab a ridiculous pair of pants for five bucks, and get out. NYC thrift stores are more of an experience. I’d rather not spend ninety-five dollars on a used pair of paint-stained jeans while a DJ spins records on vinyl behind me. With that said, there are bargains to be found if you know how to hunt. Awoke Vintage has a bin of cheap items, and I snagged a $3 floor-length tweed coat from a street vendor in Morningside Heights.

On Sak’s Fifth Avenue: We walked into the store. We found a clearance aisle. We found a pair of boots for $1,600. We walked out of the store.

On Nina: Nina is an absolute gem. She works at a vintage shop in Williamsburg, never wears shoes with less than a six-inch platform, and hates the outdoors. She warmly spoke with my friends and me for an hour about her love for the city. My favorite quote was, “I love NYC rudeness. I lived in LA for a year. They’re too friendly there. Just one time, a man pushed me so hard I almost fell over. I loved it. He didn’t even say sorry.”

On public restrooms: Do y’all not have bladders???

Overall, the city of New York is an eclectic, fascinating myriad of unique people and neighborhoods. I suspect the love affair will continue a while longer––even if I am the only one wearing cow-spotted kicks.