A Year In New York

A Daily Bite of the Big Apple

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Day 191: Now THIS is Rush Hour!

January 6th · 4 Comments

This post comes from Chennai, the largest city in southern India, where in a few days (on Jan. 9) my love Anjali and I will have a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony.  Just about everything is different than it is in New York but I thought I’d share the very most obvious: traffic.

First of all, I have determined that New York City is not actually that crowded of a place. Sure there are eight million residents, but usually they are having cocktails on the 55th floor. Chennai has four million people and buildings that are only three-four stories tall. This steamy city on the Bay of Bengal can do with less housing because at any given moment, half the city’s population is on the city’s comically crowded roads.

From the moment one takes a deep breath and dives onto C.P. Ramaswamy Road, where Anjali’s uncles live, one contends with swarms of yellow auto-rickshaws blatting along on three wheels with their little lawnmower engines; cars, like the India-built Ambassador, always painted white and  which hasn’t had a design upgrade since the heyday of Humprhrey Bogart, and brand-new Suzuki subcompacts carrying yuppies to the office parks, and tiny microvans that are so cute you want to squeeze them; bicycles doing a languid slalom from curb to curb; the tricycles, two kinds, the first being the old-school rickshaw with its wheels in back, invariably driven by a grizzled septuagenarian with a long gray beard, and the second being  the front-wheel cart, delivering pyramids of guavas or battered fuel canisters; motorcycles driven by young bucks and the scooters, often steered by an off-duty security guard with a child astride the handlebars and the wife riding sidesaddle in back; and finally the transit bus, lumbering like an elephant among the lesser vehicles and piled high with women in purple, pink and green saris.

And I haven’t even mentioned the pedestrians.

They are walking two abreast on the “shoulder” since they can’t use the sidewalk. The footpath is blocked by squatting vegetable vendors and piles of rubble. All of these people and conveyances are traveling, like the advanced level of some video game, on a street as wide as one and a half lanes on Broadway, maybe two. There are no stop signs, few lane lines and occasionally a stoplight.

I have seen exactly two traffic cops, standing in the middle of the road in khaki uniforms and waving batons fruitlessly in the air.

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lisa // Jan 6, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Better start practicing your Frogger game!

  • 2 Bev // Jan 8, 2009 at 12:47 am

    Hope all the congestion doesn’t hold up your wedding march. Congrats and all the best!!! Why did you not ask ME to apt. sit??? 😉

  • 3 Lisa Cordova // Jan 20, 2009 at 1:21 am

    Hello David–
    Wow!! Long-time no chat. Our UC days in Mexico seem soooo long ago. I had to laugh b/c when I first logged on soon after you moved to NY, someone posted something about you and your headlamp. To this day, I associate you with headlamps b/c I remember the all-night bus ride to Chiapas and at some point you standing up in the bus aisle (towering over the indigenous riders) with your head lamp on. A new sight for many on the bus, including me. Funny, random moment; but apparently you’re known for your donning of headlamps on a regular enough basis that it draws comments. 🙂 Congratulations on your marriage! I’ve enjoyed looking through your blog–you’re having some traveling experiences I can live through vicariously ’cause I’m not getting out into the world much these days. We hope when our girls are older to do some decent globe-trotting. It’s fun to read about your adventures! I logged on today for the first time in ages, thinking I’d find you in NY, NY but there you are in India. Fabulous. Take care and congrats again. –Lisa

  • 4 B & Mara // Jan 25, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    I still can’t believe the traffic madness to road rage ratio. You’d think people would be in constant fracas over the traffic they have to endure.

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