Psychologists tell us that the more stimuli people are bombarded with, the more they will recede into themselves and ignore others. So why is it that New Yorkers, who are certainly confronted with enough stimuli, do the opposite? I have already given a few possible answers, but here's one more: the special difficulties of life in New York—the small apartments, the struggle for a seat on the bus or a table at a restaurant—seem to breed a sense of common cause. When New Yorkers see a stranger, they don't think, "I don't know you." They think, "I know you. I know your problems—they're the same as mine—and furthermore we have the same handbag." So that's how they treat you.
This belief in a shared plight may underlie the remarkable level of cooperation that New Yorkers can show in times of trouble. Every few years or so, we have a water shortage, and then the mayor goes on the radio and tells us that we can't leave the water running in the sink while we're brushing our teeth. Surprise! People obey, and the water table goes up again. The more serious the problem, the more dramatic the displays of cooperation. I will not speak of the World Trade Center disaster, because it is too large a subject, but the last time we had a citywide power failure, and hence no traffic lights, I saw men in business suits—they looked like lawyers—directing traffic at busy intersections on Ninth Avenue. They got to be traffic cops for a day and tell the big trucks when to stop and when to go. They looked utterly delighted.
New York seems like a good place to be.