Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sacramentans Are Kind

This weekend, Andrew and I went antiquing in Midtown. And we found treasures, bureaus and desks and shelves and buffets we don’t have nearly enough room for. We didn’t have much luck at our first stop, Homestyle (2403 21st Street); there were some beautiful pieces, but too beautiful for our budget. We fared much better at our next stop, at the antiques place on J Street in the 20’s (I’m not actually sure what the name is…). This enormous furniture and knick-knack warehouse was crammed with dusty bookshelves, colorfully-painted bureaus with charming rounded edges, dark wooden buffets that made me wish we owned a big Gothic mansion.

Still not ready to commit to anything, we drove on to Shabby Shack (3655 J Street), where we instantly wanted everything inside: farmhouse cabinets with peeling paint, worn-looking chests of drawers, cupboards with stained-glass doors.

Ultimately we chose a cream-colored cabinet, and delivery was promised within the hour. When the man arrived, he helped Andrew carry it all the way into our apartment, then tried to refuse the tip I offered—I had to insist.

But even greater helpfulness awaited us when we returned to the place in the 20’s on J, where we bought a great green desk. We were confident it would fit in the trunk of our car; but after turning it in every possible direction, it became abundantly clear that we were going to have to carry it home or return it. Then a man approached. “Where do you live?” he asked. We told him, and he held out a key to Andrew. “Take my truck,” he said, pointing to a white pick-up. “Just put a little gas in it.”

Seriously? I followed Andrew home; we unloaded the desk; and then we drove back to return the truck, where we gave the man $10 (“It wasn’t the money,” he said. “Just a little gas,” which made us feel like we’d been somehow unappreciative or had done an unseemly thing by giving him the cash.)

This would never, ever have happened in New York. Maybe—MAYBE—someone seeing us struggling fruitlessly to fit a big desk in a small car would have offered to drive it for us, and payment—probably $50 or so—would have been negotiated. Even this seems unlikely. (It’s why there are so many MAN WITH A VAN ads on NYC’s Craigslist.)

I’d never say that New Yorkers are unkind—not at all; it’s just a different place. There are different rules, different expectations. My experiences there covered the spectrum: When I worked in midtown Manhattan, I had a doughnut-cart guy greet me with my favorite doughnut every morning; and when I worked in Union Square I had crowds stream past me as I sat on the subway stairs, working through a fainting spell, with not one offer of help. I had a landlord help me sop water up from a flooded bathroom; and I had another landlord show up on my doorstep on moving day with a bowie knife on his dashboard (long story). I heard Marty Markowitz—the Brooklyn borough president—shout warmly “You’re back in Brooklyn now! Everything’s okay!” when I trudged with the crowds across the Brooklyn Bridge one winter during a transit workers’ strike (and had a cup of hot chocolate pushed into my hands from a Red Cross volunteer); and I had my purse snatched, complete with my eyeglasses and undeposited paychecks.

This is a long post, so I’ll cease and desist with the trip down mixed-memory lane. I guess my point is this: many people in New York have been helpful. But never has a person handed over the key to his truck and let us drive it away. For the first time, I can hedge a speculation about Sacramentans: they seem kind.

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