An SF Techie in NYC

Striving for 9 5's

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Photo taken while wandering in midtown

Through various forms of media, I’ve been hearing about the large divide between rich and poor in the US. In New York City, one area this manifests itself is customer service. For example, my fiancee (Emily) was trying to print wedding ceremony programs in a nearby copy shop. That copy shop’s employees would barely acknowledge her existence, and after some prodding, begrudgingly told her that they don’t run print jobs on Sundays. In contrast, another location of that shop in San Francisco has given her astonishingly cheerful and helpful service. Sadly, this apathy has extended to clothing shops, transportation employees, wine shops, and other stores. I felt like the average level of service I received as a shabbily dressed, greasy-haired teenager in Old Navy in CA was better than the level of service I received from many mid-range stores in NYC.

At Takashi in the West Village

It’s not all bad news though. The smattering of higher-priced restaurants and stores we’ve been to have given us some of the best service I’ve experienced. Just last night, we went to Takashi in the West Village. In addition to serving us some of the best tasting meats we’ve had, they took away our plates before we could think of asking and paced our dishes just right. It was not an inexpensive meal, but the level of quality and service made it worth it for us.

Another time, we were browsing through Bergdorf Goodman.  Every sales person we encountered was so helpful. One of them walked us to another department on the opposite side of the floor. As we were about to leave, Emily saw a purse she liked. While futzed around with my phone, I was pleasantly surprised by how genuinely helpful the salesperson was to Emily. She chose not to buy the purse. On the way out, the security person at the door cheerfully told us “That purse will be in your dreams…”  and wished us a good day. Not once did we receive a hard sell at Bergdorf.

As Emily has told me, in NYC in particular, the level of service you receive at a retail establishment correlates strongly with the life situations of the employees. Living in NYC can be very tough if you’re not financially fortunate. Combine that with the harsh weather (it hit 100+ degrees recently), cramped average apartment size, and other factors, and you can understand why some (not all) poorly compensated employees may not feel completely happy-go-lucky. On the other hand, the employees at the more luxurious places — the people who probably get paid and tipped much more and are in more pleasant environments — can give you a level of service you didn’t think was possible.

At the very least, living in NYC has been an education in human nature for me.

Filed under nyc new york city customer service

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For various reasons, I felt like getting Thai food delivered today.  So, I called up Pongsri Thai (on 23rd St) to place an order.  By the time I found the cash I needed to pay the bill, the delivery guy had already arrived!  They couldn’t have taken much longer than 5-10 minutes.  I couldn’t even personally pick up the food that fast, since that requires a round-trip between my place and the restaurant.  

New Yorkers move even faster than I realized…

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Two days, two different people relieving themselves in the streets. I see NYC hasn’t lost its rawness.

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NYC first thoughts

Photo by Jerry Ferguson and licensed under Creative Commons.

Recently, I’ve been traveling between SF and NYC, and this is the first time I’ve gotten to stay in my new NYC apartment for at least a week. I’ve been walking around a lot, trying to notice as much as possible. Here are my observations in completely random order:

New Yorkers walk fast. Then again, maybe I would walk faster if I had a regular job.

This city really doesn’t sleep. NYC really does live up to its reputation. Paraphrasing Jon Stewart: “If you can’t buy it at midnight in NYC, it probably doesn’t exist.” Emily even found a 24-hour hair salon!

The NYC tech scene is burgeoning. No, it’s not as large as the Bay Area’s. Then again, even in Silicon Valley, it’s sometimes hard for me to see past the 5,014 deal-a-day sites and the 4,713 photo sharing apps that vary in ways I can barely discern.  I felt a really good vibe at TechCrunch Disrupt NYC, so I’m cautiously optimistic.

NYC’s reputation for rudeness seems to be overstated. While people are nicer overall in the Bay Area, I haven’t had any real issues with rudeness. Maybe it’s because I’m a fairly to-the-point engineer. One exception, though, is customer service in non-trendy/luxury places: it’s often worse (and sometimes much worse) in NYC.

There is a lot of most things, and at least a little bit of everything else.  In my neighborhood (Chelsea), there are what feels like 5 Thai restaurants on every block. Emily even found a place that makes only wedding veils. The other day, I ate an arepa (Venezuelan sandwich) for the first time; on the way home, I walked by 3 other places that specialize in that very dish.

The food is world-class.  I’ve lived in the Bay Area from my childhood until very recently.  With few exceptions (mostly Vietnamese food), NYC has the best food of any American city I’ve visited.  I’ve eaten at many amazing NYC restaurants.  Average Yelp ratings are actually a good indicator of restaurant quality here, unlike in SF where 3 1/2 stars too often means “that was pretty bad and overpriced.” Affordable, tasty eats can be found too, such as the $1 peking duck buns in Flushing, the countless Halal carts in Manhattan, and Mamoun’s Falafel in the Village.

There’s a lot more variety in weather than in CA.  When I flew here in February, it was about 20 degrees.  For a Californian, that’s about half the lowest temperature I remember experiencing in SF.  Now, it’s in the 80’s with higher humidity than I’ve experienced in the Bay Area.  On the plus side, during the summer, men can wear shorts and women can wear dresses even at night.

Jeans and shorts are an endangered species (on weekdays).  There are many more people wearing suits here, even in more affordable restaurants like sandwich shops. As a guy who only wears suits at weddings and funerals and needs to watch YouTube videos about tying ties, this was at first daunting. I was relieved to find more jeans- and shorts-wearing compatriots at TechCrunch NYC and geek bastions like General Assembly. Fortunately, even many trendier restaurants are fine with you wearing jeans as long as you’re wearing a nicer shirt.

Walking here is awesome. According to my FitBit, I’ve tended to walk around 15-20,000 steps per day in NYC. Compare this to my average of 3-4k steps per day in SF. While walking for just 5 minutes, I can walk by hundreds of restaurants, shops, and other businesses. In SF, I often get bored while walking, because even the busy stretches (like the Haight, Mission) end pretty quickly compared to NYC.

I’m loving NYC so far.  Time to eat.

Filed under nyc new york city