by Dan Rafter
We’ve always heard that people on the coasts think of the Midwest as fly-over country, a place to ignore.
But maybe this isn’t accurate. I recently traveled to New York City for a family vacation. And I found plenty of real New Yorkers who actually longed for our Midwest way of life.
Start with the taxi driver who hauled us from LaGuardia Airport to our hotel. We arrived at LaGuardia just before 9 a.m., which means our cabbie had to drive to the center of the city during rush hour. I live in the Chicago area. I know how bad rush hours can get. But this was something else. The total trip was less than 10 miles. But it took us just under an hour to get from the airport pick-up lane to the front door of our hotel.
Along the way, the cabbie, who had only been in New York City for about four years, sighed continuously, and complained non-stop about the traffic, telling me that the traffic here makes earning a living as a cabbie a non-stop headache. As we struggled through the bumper-to-bumper traffic and inched along the highway, it was hard to argue. When I told the cabbie that the traffic in Chicago is horrible, too, he just laughed.
“Not as bad as in New York,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind Chicago traffic compared to this. There are too many people here.”
And that was a common refrain. The man working the gift shop in our hotel – a gift shop that never seemed to close; it was open at 11:30 a.m. one night when I needed a Diet Coke fix – told me that he worked in Queens, a subway ride away from his job. He said that the rent for his one-bedroom apartment was more than $1,500 a month. That’s a monthly mortgage payment for many three-bedroom single-family homes in the Midwest.
That figure didn’t surprise me. The Diet Coke I was buying was $4.
“Money in New York City has no value,” the clerk told me.
When I asked him why he didn’t move, he told me that he’d lived in New York City for 14 years, and was too used to the city to move. But he did say that he sometimes was jealous of people who could rent bigger apartments in the Midwest for less than $1,000 a month.
Rents, of course, is just one expense in New York City that is out of whack when compared to the Midwest. The city has great food. But it is not cheap – at least in the city’s center, where we were staying. Even street food came with a big price tag. We ordered what was basically a Cuban tortilla with chicken. Once I added avocado and a spicy sauce, the single tortilla cost $18. When I expressed shock at this, the clerk working the counter laughed.
“You’re not from here,” she said.
She told me that food prices are lower outside the heart of the city, which makes sense. But she still said that most people her age had to rely on Ramen noodles – or something like it – for at least a handful of meals each week to make ends meet. Her thoughts on the dining costs in the Midwest? “That sounds really good.”
So, yes, East and West Coast residents might often dismiss us Midwesterners. But when it comes to daily living? There are plenty of New Yorkers who wouldn’t mind trading places with us … at least for a week or two.