This is Midtown Manhattan. This is where I work. Midtown is large, its core reaching from 31st to 59th Street, from 3rd to 9th Avenue. It is the epitome of business, commercial, retail and what most tourists think New York is about. The heart of the Big Apple employs more than 700,000 workers who make their way into this busy center of New York each day. I am one of them.
Every morning I hop of the blue line at Penn Station on 34th St and 8th Avenue, finding my way through the usual suspects hanging around as soon as I reach the top of the stairs. Most major bus and train stations not only are a means of travel for tourists and commuters but also show a high amount of homeless people, drug addicts, and seedy characters. Penn Station does not differ from this image – a situation I had to get used to in the beginning. It surely was a change to see a business man in a dry-cleaned suit walking past an unkempt and unbathed guy in a dirty sweater and filthy pants. Just another hint to the wide gap between poor and rich and how this city deals with all their different social statuses.
There is always this big group of homeless people around 35th Street, lingering around a food store and talking loudly about whatever is on their minds (not always in a coherent manner). My coworker used to joke about her not being dressed up enough if one of these men did not whistle after her when she got off the train on any given day.
Midtown is relatively sleepy in the morning, awakening from its shady night business, being a home to the early sightseers and people who have to get to work on time.
Among the suit guys, the extravagantly dressed girls, the tourists, and the crazy men I make my way up to 36th St and enter the building with 20 floors. Not the highest around, but not the shortest, either. Double security check is required around this area, making me show my electronic ID to the woman at the door and having an electronic key for the entrance on our floor, past another grimly looking security guard. I found out that this procedure is common here in New York, maybe it makes some people feel important when they have to go through all these obstacles before they can actually do what they are being paid for.
When I exit the building again for lunch, I find myself in a bustling Midtown, as alive as it can get, for now the late tourists, the retail stores, and almost everyone else, who has to go to work, has awaken. Now is the time the minimum-wage workers stand on the streets, dressed up as a mascot or wearing a sign around them, advertising for pubs, pizza places, or jewelry stores. Some do their job convincingly, some just stand there wordlessly and hand me their flyer. Lunch options are vast in this area and, surprisingly, you can get a good deal because of all the competition going on. There are at least seven different pizza stands, half of them offering the $1 pizza special. Some are good, some are not even worth mentioning. At the corner of 37th St the 2Bros subsidiary has opened up a $1-pizza bistro, which is always packed, and its line continues to attract an even longer queue of hungry people. As I found out over the period of 9 months, you tend to get tired of it very fast, so diversity is important.
There are two good falafel places two streets away, and the shops Amici and Food Emporium offer every other kind of edibles such as a full salad bar, sushi, or cooked goodies. They do have their price, though. Fast food joints have opened up all along 8th Avenue, making White Castle one of the worst and McDonalds one of the most popular.
The proximity to Hell’s Kitchen seduces many people to grab their lunch at a good-tasting Thai, Irish, Spanish, Chinese, or other restaurant on 9th Avenue. The prices are good during restaurant week in January and July, offering a prix-fix meal at a relatively low cost without having the quality suffer.
Once in a while I use my lunch break for a shopping trip to Macy’s at Herald Square. Distance is not relevant, as it is only 7mins away. I try to only stay in that store and to not look around to see what GAP, H&M, Victoria’s Secret, and Daffy’s has to offer. I try.
The Post Office Building on 33rd St and 8th Avenue is a cultural eye catcher as it was built in 1912 and displays many Roman architectural elements. Sometimes I feel like sitting on its steps and taking in my food while viewing rushed people, relaxed people, freaky people…you name it! I have also found that I am not the only one doing this and that some guys consider it a great spot to whistle after a random girl who walks past them while high-fiving each other for their courageous move. People use it as a meet-up point (you definitely cannot miss this building), hurry inside to take care of their mail errands or simply just sit in groups and are absorbed in their meal.
This neighborhood is mellow, compared to the one and only tourist hot spot: Times Square! Occasionally I find myself going to 42nd St, about a five-minute walk from where I work. I pass Port Authority with its commuters and buses coming to and from New Jersey (the picture very much resembles the one at Penn Station). The Times Square insanity already starts on 40nd St and 8th Avenue and I only make it up to Broadway until I decide I had enough and walk back, this time escaping the foreign crowds by taking some back roads.
There is nothing that beats the view you have of New York in Midtown, though. Sky-tall buildings, one cab after another, rich people in pimped up cars with chauffeurs, models on their way to a call, either dressed up or looking natural… One day I saw an obese girl in a pretty blue dress walk down the sidewalks while posing in front of a video camera. I guess they were filming for a new show. Another day a grungied up Punkrock model catwalked across the street in front of Penn Station – and had to do it again as the photographer was not satisfied with her first three performances.
After work, while on my way to the subway, the Midtown rush and hurry has vanished, giving way to tired business guys who are either going home or coming from a different district. People are getting ready for an eventful night out, starting out with a drink at happy hour price, chatting with their coworkers at a local bar, or simply enjoying being off and in Manhattan. They go shopping, since retails stores are open until 8 or 10PM. They run all their errands they weren’t able to do during lunch. Or they simply hop on a train to get out of the business center and dive into calmer realms.
Working in Midtown – you gotta love it or hate it!