New York City Ramblings

Last week, I took my first trip to New York City, staying for five nights at a basic little Comfort Inn in Hell’s Kitchen. Nothing fancy but, if you know me well, you know I’m not close to fancy. I picked this hotel for the price and its location; it was in a NYC neighborhood and only a few blocks from Times Square. It was perfect.

With this being my first experience in NYC, I didn’t want to get caught up in doing a lot of scheduled tourist activities. I wanted to watch the city. I wanted to learn it. I wanted to get a feel for it. But first, I needed to comprehend the size of the city and the size of the population.

I knew NYC was crowded, but to mentally grasp the physical extent of the city, the size of downtown, and the number of people, I played with Google Maps and some numbers. Below is a map of New York County, one of the five counties inside NYC (read that again…there are five counties inside NYC). The large green area I have outlined above Midtown is Central Park, which takes up a decent-sized area. That park is a half-mile wide and 2.5 miles long.


I transposed (to scale, as best I could!) the outline of Central Park onto maps of Nashville and Knoxville. On the Nashville map, see that green area on the inside-left of that rectangle? That is Centennial Park. Imagine Centennial Park extending all the way downtown to the Cumberland River.


On the Knoxville map, imagine a park going from Main Street all the way up Gay Street past West Summit Hill Drive, and then stretching all the way into Sequoyah Hills. That is New York’s “city park”. Seeing this helped me understand the physical size of NYC.


Then I looked at the number of people that fit into this city. Wow. This helped me understand where it was New Yorkers were coming from, both literally and figuratively. As I mentioned earlier, there are five counties, or boroughs, inside NYC. Below are some comparisons between NYC and some cities and counties we know. And note that Nashville includes all of Davidson County.


Population, est.

Land Area, sq. mile

Density,          people/sq. mile









Knox County




New York City












The Bronx








Staten Island




NYC is about 60% the size (a little over half the size) of both Davidson and Knox counties, but it has over 12 times the number of people as Davidson County, and almost 19 times the number of people as Knox County.

The city of Knoxville has 186,239 people in it. The Upper East Side, a “neighborhood” of Manhattan, has over 230,000 people in it. Knox county has almost the population of Staten Island, though in a much larger area.

Davidson County has 1371 people per square mile. Knox County has 898 people per square mile. New York City on average has 28,188 people per square mile, with the borough of Manhattan having 72,033 people per square mile. Things are different in NYC.


To transport me around the city from place to place, I used the largest subway system in the world. This system involves multiple subway lines that cross each other and run along with other lines in the same direction while at the same time all lines going both directions and sharing subway stops, and all of this is underground. Wow. If I was ever a civil engineer, I would have overdosed on subway design.

But this isn’t a numbergasm about New York City, nor a discourse on mass transit. Unfortunately, though, I have no wild stories about those Broadway after-parties I attended, the clubs I threw down in and got kicked out of, or the famous people I partied with all night long. I mostly just walked around and loitered; my watching of the city.


My trip had no primary focus. I tried to visit a different part of the city each day I was there. Monday, I visited the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum, and then hit 5th Avenue and Central Park. On Tuesday, after the rain finally stopped, I went to Brooklyn to watch Living Colour open for Fishbone at Brooklyn Bowl, a small concert hall with a stage and a bowling alley in the same large room. On Wednesday I walked from Midtown down to East Village, and that evening included a Lucinda Williams concert at the Beacon Theater in the Upper West Side (with my 5th row seat!). For my last full day, I rode the Staten Island ferry, walked Wall Street, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Lower Manhattan. And I got to everywhere by either walking or riding the subway. My evenings would always end back at Times Square, with the thousands of other people lining Broadway, watching the countless huge video screens, eating a warm potato knish with mustard, and people watching.  Then I’d walk the three blocks to my hotel in Hell’s Kitchen, usually getting there sometime between midnight and 2:00am.


Yes, there are all sorts of touristy things to do in New York City, but the most “New York” thing I found about New York City, was the people. Everywhere I went, I people watched, and talked to people, and listened to people, immigrants from Egypt, vacationers from Australia, residents of Hell’s Kitchen, people walking the streets, people touring museums, and people sitting across from me on the subway. All the food wagons I ate from at Times Square and all-around town were operated by immigrants. Heck, the only chain restaurant I ate at all week was at Sophie’s Cuban Cuisine along 8th Avenue, and that chain has only ten locations, all within New York City. The people I spoke with were mostly cheerful and conversational and seemed to be happy or interested in talking with me. That was unexpected, and memorable.


The common feeling, that I ended up with at the end of each day, was the feeling that the city was larger than everyone’s personal world. That their entire world (and for those five days, my entire world) was inside New York City, and they shared that world with 8,622,697 other people. Indeed, as a friend told me, there is no one so provincial as a New Yorker. In Nashville or Knoxville, it isn’t difficult to get out of the city and quickly be somewhere completely different. Doing that takes quite a bit of time and effort in the New York City world, but I want to return to that New York City world again; soon. My next NYC trip will probably have a specific theme to it, like a five-night marathon of off-off-Broadway plays. Or maybe a week of sleep-all-day, jazz-club-all-night adventures. Luckily, Spring Break will be here before you know it :^)



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