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Separating Tourist Chaff from Local Wheat

August 26, 2008

It’s generally not that difficult to distinguish tourists from locals in NYC. It used to be that tourists walked with their heads to the towering building tops, while the locals looked straight ahead. But that has changed somewhat. Towering and impressive buildings are quickly becoming more common around the world, and street-level marvels in the City are attracting more attention.

Larger than life eye-level attractions are increasingly more common in NYC these days.

Larger than life eye-level attractions are increasingly more common in NYC these days.

Recently, right outside tourist destination Grand Central Station a generic sporting store, Modell’s, was attracting as much tourist attention as the magnificent sculptural facade of Grand Central Station and the spectacular Chrysler Building behind it. Like moths to a light people were drawn to Modell’s window display of a large American flag created out of chromatically arranged baseball caps. Day after day people clogged the street corner taking turns photographing and posing in front of the red, white, and blue caps. It was a bizarre spectacle, indeed.

Modell's store windows sometimes attract more attention than its surroundings.

Modell's Store windows sometimes attract more attention than their epic surroundings.

Where, what, and how people view the city might be one way to identify tourists, but there’s another way. NYC street corners separate tourist chaff from the local wheat. When the red crosswalk hand urges pedestrians to stop, most people do so. A few grains of NY wheat continue onward, challenging the red hand and oncoming cars. For those that heed the call of the red hand, a mass of harvest remains. But one by one the tourist chaff gets separated as the NY wheat filters forward, step by step into the oncoming traffic. No matter how perilously close one person meets the oncoming traffic someone else inches forward past them. They challenge each other, and pressure the traffic to narrow their lanes, making new opportunities for seasoned pedestrians to press forward. It’s a NY ritual that leaves a huddled mass of tourists standing on the street corner contemplating the meaning of the red hand.

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