Are you relatively new to this bustling metropolis? Don't be shy about it, everyone was new to New York once upon a time, except, of course, those battle-hardened residents who've lived here their whole lives and Know It All. One of these lifers works among us at Gothamist—publisher Jake Dobkin grew up in Park Slope and still resides there. He is now fielding questions—ask him anything by sending an email here, but be advised that Dobkin is "not sure you guys will be able to handle my realness." We can keep you anonymous if you prefer; just let us know what neighborhood you live in.

Here is a short list of questions that didn't quite make the cut for a full Native New Yorker response, but which I still felt merited a reply. Thank you to everyone who submitted a question this year! Please keep sending them in and I will keep trying to come up with thoughtful and/or sarcastic responses.

Unwrapping Christmas presents in Park Slope, 1978. Jake is wearing the barrette. (Courtesy Jake Dobkin Private Collection)

1. Is New York Dying?

Hi Jake,

I've lived here for about 8 years and grew up nearby in Jersey. I've loved New York all of my life and know it's the greatest city in the world. I too believe in all of the virtues you point out in this column week to week.

Lately though, the city seems existentially off. Maybe it's the characterless luxury high rises and office towers that keep emerging out of the ground and the displacement of the less fortunate to the city's fringes. Or the closing of legacy businesses—bars, restaurants, venues, oddity shops and the like—in favor of "authentic" establishments that are all carbon copies of each other (try distinguishing between new coffee shops or bars these days). Or the precipitous rise in homelessness and the feckless (and frankly cold) response of local and state authorities. Or the increasing dysfunction of the MTA.

More often than not, I feel that I'm being sold a watered-down, Instagram-friendly version of the city I know and love. It seems that this city is someone else's.

Now, it could just be all in my head. But I have to ask, in your opinion, is New York just dying a slow death?


Dear Anonymous:

Nostalgia is death! New York has been changing from the moment the first Lenape step foot on Manhattan Island. This constant change is the heart of what makes our city great. It is very human to wish that the New York you feel most comfortable in would exist forever, but like all desires, this one is impossible to satisfy and will eventually make you unhappy. Instead, focus on the present moment and all the things in New York that are interesting and fun, as well as on working to make the city a little more just and habitable and human in your own way.

Yes, we face difficult times: a housing crisis, a homeless crisis, an inequality crisis, a governance crisis—but New York is still the greatest city in the world, and with luck and hard work we shall one day overcome these problems. Despair is not a New York quality; it's more of a Jersey thing. Keep hope alive!


2. Do New Yorkers Cook?

Dear Native New Yorker,

I recently moved to NYC from Boston (don't kill me) for a new job and have been reading through all of your native New Yorker articles to try and get a grasp on "best practices." My questions on subway grates, giving money to the needy, and jaywalking were answered previously (thank you) but I did have one burning question remaining: Do New Yorkers ever cook?

Back in the days where my kitchen was bigger than a closet, I had counter space, and groceries were reasonably priced (I just spent $3.00 on a vanilla Chobani), I'd cook about 5 nights a week. Since moving here over a month ago, I have cooked a total of 2 times and have instead been walking around my neighborhood trying restaurants or ordering off Seamless. Am I alone here, or have I quickly started to assimilate by default.

Thank you!

-There's Only Snapple & Hummus In My Fridge,
Upper East Side

Dear Snapple Hummus,

Of course New Yorkers cook; given the usurious rents we pay, most of us don't have enough cash left over to eat out every night—unless by "eating out" you mean getting a $3 falafel at Mamouns. The trick is just to develop New York cooking skills (or move in with someone who has them). Tiny kitchen with no storage? No problem: shop for fresh ingredients a few times a week at the green markets and better grocery stores—you won't waste money on stuff going stale in your refrigerator. No counter space and no time to prep? Find dishes that require very little work: one pot stews, grilled steak or fish, a simple pasta dish. Leave the fancy food to the professionals; most of the time fresh ingredients simply prepared will be tastier and cheaper than anything you'll get in a restaurant.


3. When Should I Call 311 On Homeless People?

Hi Jake,

I work in that terrible stretch of 8th Ave that the New York Times wrote about a couple weeks ago. I've been walking down the street only to have the person in front of me nod off mid-step more than once. There's always several people "sleeping" on the sidewalk no matter the time, weather, etc. I've been working here for five years, and I couldn't tell you the number of people that I've had to play the "high or dead?" game in my head about.

Sometimes, I'll walk around the block to see if they've moved at all. I don't want to be one of those terrible people featured in a "look how many people walked past this dead person" post, but, quite honestly, if I called 911 for every potentially-dead person I've seen, they'd block my calls by now. I end up seeing the same people I was confused about later.

So, my question, is: what am I supposed to be doing?
Trying to not be terrible

(Part 2)

Dear Jake,

This one's a different twist, and an admittedly less severe one, on the "begging mom" question posed by Hot Child in the City.

I live in a building attached to a small public space. By definition it's open to everyone, but it also essentially doubles as the backyard for building residents—especially those with small children.

A woman has essentially taken up residence on one of the benches: shows up by mid-afternoon, unpacks her various bags and spends the entire night. She has enough money to frequently order dinner (for delivery to "bench #2" of four benches). She's harmless, but a quick attempt at conversation makes her mental instability clear. She often calls out non-sensical things to people in her vicinity.

Several of us in the building have debated what to do. On the one hand, she's not a physical threat, and calling the authorities on her seems mean. Plus, the space is in fact for public use. On the other hand, her presence has the result of limiting many other people's use of the space, and it's absolutely impacting the area residents' quality of life.

One of the appeals of our building is its attachment to a public space. And, most important, some of us are concerned for her: she's older, doesn't look well, and her health would appear to be in jeopardy.

I'm here for 30 years, but sometimes still feel ignorant to the ways of a New Yorker. What do you think?


A Native New Yorker responds...

Dear People With Homes:

I think it is admirable that you are concerned about the homeless people in your neighborhood, and are trying to treat them with the respect every human being deserves. These people are by and large homeless through no fault of their own: they are the result of a society which fails to treat mental illness and addiction as a public health problem, and instead heaps the blame on the afflicted. You shouldn't have to make these decisions: every street homeless person in our city should be in supportive housing, and hopefully, that will happen soon.

Until that time, use your best judgement. If the person seems like they are in immediate danger themselves, or creating a dangerous situation for those around them, then call 911. If they have simply overstayed their welcome, call 311, perhaps (if you are able), speaking to them first and seeing if there's any way to help.


4. What should I do about distracted taxi drivers?

Dear Jake,

I grew up in DC, not the fucking suburbs, inner-city Washington DC. I'm tough as hell and have huge brassy ones; but I have a problem...

Taxi drivers who text, social media, everything but look at the goddamn road. I don't care if the cab is stuck at a light, or driving in slow traffic; I want a safe ride home. It makes me crazy, and frightened. What should I do? Bitch a fit as soon as I see it, risking getting kicked out of the cab? (That happened once before, several years ago. I did report that.) Keep my mouth shut and report it later?

Washingtonian Wanderer

Dear Washingtonian,

In New York City, "drivers are not allowed to use cellular phones or any communication device, hands free or otherwise, while operating a cab." However, just as in D.C., this rule is widely flouted—talking on the phone, fiddling with the five Uber/Lift/Gett screens, swiping through Tindr, etc.

As long as they're not actively swerving or running lights, we locals tend to let this behavior slide. It's not easy being a taxi driver; the pay is low, the hours grueling. It's also widely assumed that they've got the skills to keep the car on the road, because they also don't want to die. However, if you have your doubts about this, or their behavior appears particularly egregious (surfing PornHub, hosting a Livestream, etc), feel free to tell them to knock it off. You've got the law on your side, and what's the worst they can do to you? Knock your Uber rating down a half star?


5. Is It Okay To Eat On The Subway?

Hi Jake,

I am not a native New Yorker and have only lived here a handful of years. However, one thing that I have always been curious about is whether or not it is ok to eat on the subway? I occasionally see it happen, and usually am not bothered unless it's something especially smelly. The other day I saw a guy getting down on some Taco Bell crunchy tacos with absolute disregard to the half of the taco he was spilling on the ground. I am assuming that's not ok, but then again who I am to judge? I'd appreciate your thoughts.

Sometimes Hungry on the Subway

Dear Hungry,

The rule here is that subway noshing is acceptable if you can eat it with one hand, without dropping anything on the floor AND it does not smell strongly enough to disgust a passenger in the next seat. Okay: granola bars, a roll, a smoothie, a small sandwich. Not okay: a McDonalds value meal, soup of any kind, jambalayas, paellas, etc. Remember to clean up after yourself: the only thing more disgusting than watching a person eat a large meal on the subway is stepping on to a car paved with the remains of chicken-and-rice or whatever. Bon Appetit!


Ask a Native New Yorker anything via email. Anonymity is assured.