A Prairie Homo Does New York: Moving at the Speed of New York

A couple of days ago I stepped off the train and a middle-aged man walked right into me. I think he was middle-aged, but to be honest, I’m not sure. I only had time to see a hint of greying hair and what looked like a frown before he had pushed right past me and onto the train. There was no apology, no eye contact, no acknowledgement of what had just happened. In fact, if I hadn’t been holding a hot coffee cup that had been pushed against my chest when he walked into me, I might not have even realized what had happened. Instead, I quickly checked my dress to make sure it was coffee-free (it was) before continuing, quite unfazed, on my morning commute. This was completely out of character for me. Usually when someone bumps into me I automatically say “sorry!” like a walking, talking Canadian stereotype – apologizing for something that isn’t even my fault. But the more time I spend in New York, the less I do things like say sorry and the less I care if I bump into someone or someone bumps into me. There’s just no time for sorrys and cares!

In New York, you don’t wait for the light to change before you cross the street. It would be rude to stand still at the curb and wait because you’d stop all the other people behind you from moving. And if New York could be described in one word, I think the word most suitable for this city would be movement. As soon as it looks like your chances of getting hit by the oncoming traffic are relatively low, you hurry across the street. Waiting for the light to change doesn’t even increase your chances of staying alive. I’ve seen far too many cars, trucks and even tour buses drive straight through red lights like it doesn’t even matter – like a red light has no place telling a NEW YORK vehicle it has to stop. Stopping is something you just don’t do in New York.

A few months ago, I watched a great documentary, The Business of Being Born, with my mom. We learned that New York has an unreasonably high number of scheduled c-sections. Back in Edmonton, I wondered why. Did it have something to do with the ridiculous, for-profit American health-care system? Well, maybe, but extremely high numbers of scheduled c-sections are a New York problem, not a general American one. Now that I’m in New York, it makes perfect sense. If you don’t have time to wait for a light to change or to say sorry to someone you accidentally bump into, how in the world do you have enough time to push a human being out of your vagina?

Some may call this need for speed insanity, others call it energy. I’m not sure how I feel because… feelings? Who has time for feelings? My feelings come in spurts and jumps here in New York. They play hopscotch, jumping from heart to brain to back again. There are endless possibilities in this city and an exhilarating sense of momentum seems to be in the air, wafting around with the car exhaust and the garbage fumes, available to anyone. Another substance readily available to everyone is coffee. New York probably has more coffee than it has taxi cabs. It makes sense because coffee is needed to fuel this momentum, this speed, this energy, this insanity – whatever you want to call it. Since I arrived, I’ve been drinking way more coffee than I usually do, just to keep up with New York.

I walked across the Williamsburg Bridge a few days ago. I’m used to thinking of bridges as peaceful places, but peace isn’t the first word to come to mind when crossing a New York bridge. Walking on the Williamsburg Bridge felt like being suspended right in the middle of a clash between natural and man-made worlds. I could smell the water which made me think of family vacations, summer and relaxation; yet the roar of the cars and the trains surrounding me contradicted all that. On the horizon stood New York: tall, impressive, overwhelming. I felt small and insignificant, which I am compared to a roaring train, a huge river and skyscrapers. Yet, I also felt powerful and accomplished for being able to walk through all the noise. My legs burned because I had been walking quickly for a long time. My face was sweaty because you’re always sweaty in New York. And, to add to all the contradictions at play on that bridge, I felt more at peace than I had in days walking across the Williamsburg bridge surrounded by all that noise. I wondered if maybe happiness is the perfect mix of noise, sweat and contradictions. But I didn’t have time to wonder for long. I had to keep on walking, keep on moving. This is New York, after all.

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Malaika likes books, drinking tea, long conversations, dinner parties, making funny faces, bike rides, and dogs. Originally from Edmonton, she now lives in Montreal where she edits, runs, and writes about the Alberta Tar Sands for The Media Co-op. You can follow her on twitter @Malaika_Aleba.

Malaika has written 84 articles for us.


  1. oh malaika, this piece has my whole heart. i have to tell you a secret, the secret is that i was a little bit nervous when you were going to write about new york. because i wasn’t sure if you would like it, and i wasn’t sure if i would agree with what you said, and it’s a cliche but i’m so damn protective of this city, you know? even when i hate it, i fucking love it. i know that’s boring, i know lots of people feel that way, but it’s true. so anyway i was scared of our very own prairie homo doing new york. but you’re doing it so well and these essays just keep killing it and you’re speaking to my soul in really perfect ways. “stopping is something you just don’t do in new york.” yes yes yes i always feel this, i’ve always felt it, and the times i’ve packed up and left new york have been times when i needed to stop, not even fully stop moving but just let my feelings gather, let my brain exist in a space that doesn’t require it to move nine million miles a minute. and your commentary on feelings and how it’s hard to parse them there is also so real, like no where in the world makes me FEEL as hard as this city does, but i don’t really have time to stop and think and write about them as often as i’d like, and when they build up to a certain point is also when i start thinking about leaving.

    as a girl who has lived in new york for almost seven years now and is going to leave very soon, this post just kills me in all the right ways. thanks for doing nyc so much justice this summer.

  2. I too am fiercely overprotective of this city that I both love and hate. But I am much more fiercely protective of childbirth and the way it’s portrayed in the media.

    New York (state & city) does have an unreasonably high rate of c/s but so do most big cities and countries in every part of the world. Some private hospitals in Brazil have c/s rates in the 90% range! The national c/s rate here is around 32.8% though, NY (including NYC) is around 34.8% and excluding NYC 37.2%. However from 2001 to 2009 the c/s rate in Alberta rose from 22.5% to 27.8% with some larger teaching hospitals over 40% so y’all are most definitely not in the clear.

    Most of it has to do with the for-profit health care system we have and it also has to do with the fact that as a city of over 8 million, we have a significant portion of our population either uninsured or underinsured which greatly affects the method of birth. Did you know that a black woman is more likely to die from childbirth in NYC? The intersection of all things fucked which results in our c/s rates cannot merely be pawned off on not having enough time to push a human being out of our vaginas.

    A lot of fault also falls on the climate surrounding childbirth; our bodies are viewed as ticking time bombs where doctors are the saviors meant to protect us and our children from the unpredictability of our bodies. In reality, they will more likely than not bully you into scheduling a c/s for some bullshit reason that isn’t medically indicated.

    So what happens when a c/s is done that wasn’t an emergency but also wasn’t based on actual medical evidence? It gets charted as a “scheduled c/s”. The doctor won’t let you deliver naturally after a previous c/s, then you’re a scheduled c/s. Your doctor won’t let you deliver naturally after 41 weeks so they offer an induction that will be excruciating and can last for days OR they can schedule your c/s and be in and out of the O.R. within 30 min, most pick the c/s! Baby is breech? C/s! Ultrasound shows baby is “too big”, c/s! Ultrasound shows low fluid levels, c/s! No studies show that a c/s provides a better maternal/fetal outcome for any of the aforementioned reasons but they are all cited as reasons to recommend a scheduled c/s.

    So why does this shit happen? Well it’s a mix of insurance payouts, medico-legal liability, ignorance, and complacency. Why do in depth research, take a non-hospital childbirth education class, and/or hire a doula when you can just trust your doctor! First do no harm right? Not in maternity care! A vaginal delivery in NYC is ~$15k. And a c/s? $30k+!! That’s why doctors try to push sections for any and all reasons.

    Are there folks who schedule sections because they’re afraid to push a human out of their vagina? Of course! Do they make up the majority of “scheduled c/s”? NOPE NOPE NOPE AND MORE NOPE! To insinuate as much is just plain statistically wrong and insulting.

    I’m not even going to touch on the underlying misogyny from that paragraph of yours… as feminists aren’t we supposed to support women’s choices no matter what? Who are you to make any snide remarks on those who opt to schedule their deliveries? Even if you have kids and have experienced childbirth, you have no business making judgments on the personal medical choices women make!

  3. Oh my goodness. You’ve gotten so many of my feelings about New York. I grew up right outside the city (“The City” even now that I’ve moved away, probably for good) and… it’s amazing. and I just can’t.

    I describe it as “too much much-ness” which is a less eloquent way of saying what you said here.

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