Routine and Survival in NYC

With each passing day, expediency gains a stronger hold on human values.

New York City churns out innovations by way of the people who trample through its streets like cogs in a machine. The sheer number and diversity of tourists and New Yorkers provide an audience for everything from cat cafes to sex museums. The endless sights and world-renowned arts make New York City an icon. It is the dream of never being bored, of having newness and vibrancy thrust upon oneself, that attracts each individual. But as I settled into the city, Times Square’s flashing billboards led me not to new stores, but instead to a maddening routine. Each day, faced with a thousand options,  I retreated to a tiny asian woman whose name I did not know. Whose store name I never bothered to check, this store that gave me hundreds of packaged food options. The store from which I bought the same packaged one hundred calorie brownies each day. I, faced with New York City, faced with Broadway, faced with my block of seven food options, faced with a bodega, only tackled a one hundred calorie brownie.

Bodegas are miniature New York Cities. Like flashing billboards, each bodega has its own unique name and sign, trying to compete with the next. Some bodegas have cats, others prepare their own inventions like cronuts or pizza mashed potatoes. How does one choose where to shop when each store has its own undiscovered food? One must remember “that” strange food in “that store,” that bodega , which is also a “corner store,” “convenience store,” and “corner deli.” How can a shopper be expected to choose food in a bodega if he can’t even choose a name for the store?

I step into the crowded bodega where saturated fats and salty chips chirp at me from each wall. Dazed, I stand in the middle, until a little asian woman, peeps, “Hello,” breaking me from concentration. Ever aware of her presence, I move towards the shelves while she stares at me. Bodegas are maintained usually by only one or two storeowners, and because of the quick turnover, only one or two shoppers shop at a time. She watches, and now not only am I questioning my food choices, but I hesitate to read food labels. What will this asian woman think of me? That I’m particular, that I take too long, that I make poor food choices, that I’m an obese American? I am a mouse navigating a cheese maze, being watched by the same scientist each day. Ultimately, like the mouse, I choose the same path each day, knowing that it is a food I like, wanting to quickly escape this awkward, contained bodega I find myself exploring.

Some shoppers choose to push carts, carrying goods through the crowded city streets. These, the regular shoppers, no exactly what they want, and they load the cart with the necessities. Even as people arrive to order from the fresh food buffet, the tiny asian woman knows what they will order. She speaks little English, often there is no exchange between the customer and herself. She simply hands the elderly man an italian hero and the schoolboy gets an egg sandwich. The bodega presents, I would estimate, over one hundred packaged food options, a full buffet, and a small grill for breakfast sandwiches. Yet, most people only utilize one of these stations, even one singular aspect of the station. It is safe for the New Yorker to avoid looking like a tourist in his familiar bodega. He does not take the time to explore, to try new things. He avoids the awkwardness of prying eyes and bumping into other shoppers. This ‘shopping’ is not an examination of goods, prices, or nutritional value. It is instead an act of familiarity, a false comfort created by routine and assurance specific and unchanging to each individual. We build routine around things necessary for survival, as the routine is more likely to stick.

AC MoyerComment