A New York Minute

What’s a New York Minute?  Everyone talks about it.  It’s a major cliché.  People who have never even been to NYC will say things like “You better get your butt over here in a New York minute!” There was even an unwatchable teen movie with the same name, which you can probably find on YouTube if you have 90 minutes of your life you’d like to burn up.

How long is a New York minute?  Most people think it’s “a flash” or “an instant”, but I disagree.  A New York minute is the length of time that a New Yorker actually thinks of as a minute.  I’d have to do a survey to get the data, but my gut feeling is that it’s anywhere from 11 to 27 seconds.   When you hear someone in a midtown Starbucks tell the barista

waiting in starbucks
This is taking too long.

“where’s my latte?  I’ve been waiting for 15 minutes!”, it means they’ve actually been there for six minutes and 45 seconds.  It just feels like 15 minutes.

Everything in New York is fast…unless your car gets towed and you want it back.  That’s slow, but everything else is fast.  The pace, the talk, the time between when those tickets go on sale and when they sell out, the expectation of service.  That’s one of the things that bother new arrivals about living here.  “The pace will get you down.”  “Everything is so quick and noisy!” “We kept hearing people mutter ‘excuse me’ under their breath while we were window shopping on Fifth Avenue!”

Yes.  We’re fast.  New Yorkers talk fast, walk fast, and think fast.  Our reflexes are good.  Our kids can catch fly balls heading towards them in Yankee Stadium during a world

german ny minute
I think this might have lost something in translation.

series.   We enjoy peppering strangers with rapid-fire questions.  Long pauses in a conversation, apparently normal in other parts of the world, are considered a sign that something is terribly, terribly wrong here in NYC.  As one sociologist put it, when New Yorkers engage in conversation with non-New Yorkers, a normal show of interest (such as encouraging exclamations of “No way!  Get outta here!”) can shock the other person into  speechlessness.

We go places fast.  Adults use kick scooters, just to get somewhere fast.  In fact, it’s fair to say that the slowest New Yorkers can probably outpace 90 percent of the rest of the country.  I’ve seen one-legged guys on crutches walk up Third Avenue faster than a family of Texans trying to get to “Pirates of the Caribbean” before the rest of the crowd.  I’ve seen old guys sitting in electric scooters zip across Broadway in front of speeding cars.  While chatting with their caretaker.  Fat middle aged women (ahem ahem) able to cut adroitly through a sauntering herd like a knife through butter, and never touch

Great reflexes.

a single person.  Commuters here can shave significant time off their day, just by being fast even if the trains aren’t.  My own family’s local cheap and cheerful Chinese takeout place (source of much of our nutritious meals) is so fast that I swear they position the delivery guy outside our building, order in hand, before I even punch in the number. “Wow, that was fast!” we say…and we live here.

There are advantages to being fast.  Walking fast is less tiring than walking slowly – you get the momentum built up, and there’s less energy involved.  Slow down and smell the

fast walker
I can still beat a Texan across the street.

roses?  You can smell them when you speed up, too.  No one likes waiting, and we New Yorkers hate it more than most.  You gotta keep moving, do two things at once, walk and text without running into a lamppost (full disclaimer – I can’t actually do this).

Fast is a badge of honor here.  Fast lets you get home quicker, and we love going home.  Why?  Because we know we won’t have to cook dinner, wash the car, or pick up the dry cleaning (all that stuff is done for us, at no additional charge).  Fast means zipping past the ushers, under the ropes, and into our theater seat just as the doors are swinging closed.  Being the last one into the theater means bragging rights at the bar..although,  bragging in the bar was probably why you were the last one into the theater in the first place.

Sometimes, though, we need to slow down.  That’s what separates the true New Yorker from the rest of the herd – we control Fast, Fast doesn’t control us.  Everyone has their own strategy.  Me, I’ve got the “millisecond rule”.  This is a semi-legal term that can be invoked whenever necessary.  Here are some examples.

Example One:

you can just mute it next time.

(Television):  “But HOW the Mayans constructed such a complicated structure without metal tools is an amazing feat we’ll discuss after this commercial break…ONE EIGHT HUNDRED CARS FOR KIDS, KAY-AY-AR-ZEE…”

Me: Mute it!  Mute it!

The Hub (finger already on mute button, but neurons to move finger haven’t yet fired):  Millisecond rule!

Example Two:

(traffic light): red…red…red…red…GREEN!

car honk
It’s been one second!  Move it already!

My Uber Guy:  Honk! Hoooooonk!

Driver of car in front  (foot was already on gas, but spark had not yet engaged to propel vehicle forward):  Shut up already, jerk!

Passenger: Millisecond rule!

In short, the millisecond rule can be invoked whenever you need more than one millisecond to respond to a situation before anyone else offers a helpful prompt.

In other words, you need to control Fast before it controls you.  If you need some help doing that, here are some ideas.

Fast Stress Relievers

  • Go to live theater.  Not the movies – something with actors on a stage.  You’ll get a 2 hour vacation into another realm (4 hours if its an opera), and you don’t have to spend a lot if you go off-off Broadway.
  • Get outta town (for a weekend).  I love three or 4-day weekends to the country (try Cooperstown, the Poconos, Catskills, the Jersey Shore, Lake Placid, or anywhere in Vermont).  Cheesy resort destinations are fun, too:  Niagara Falls is a hoot.
  • Take a mini-vacation.  Shuttle bus to Ikea?  MetroNorth to Mount Kisco?  Apple picking in Jersey?  BBQ with a pal in the burbs?  B train to Coney Island?  Go for it.
  • Sneak out of work and go to an afternoon tour somewhere, or walk around by
    Combining two stress-relievers into one.

    yourself in a museum you haven’t visited yet.

  • Walk the dog.  Yes, you can happily keep a dog in New York City, and walking your dog is a great way to take a break.  Go to the park.  Meet other dogs and their owners.  Watch Fido chase a stick.  You can even take your dog to some restaurants.
  • Ignore people.  Sometimes you just have to shut everyone out for a while, and get back to them later.  There’s an app for that. Music and earbuds help, too.
  • Sleep.  Yes, you can get by on 5 hours of sleep per night, but why?  Actually let yourself sleep in late for once.  Don’t worry, the city will still be there when you wake up.


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