Reality Check

Jennifer Goddard Huete

Everything I thought I knew about New York, as told to me by my television

Growing up not in New York City meant always dreaming about one day visiting and someday living in the Big Apple. Why? Television says it’s the most exciting, dangerous, eccentric and promising place where the richest, poorest and most talented people on Earth live. From our first introduction on Sesame Street to annual televised reminders of the city’s vitality on New Year’s Eve, I was destined to experience life in New York firsthand.

Dressed in my new “Manhattan uniform” (all black), I soon learned the truth: Just as actors aren’t the characters they play, New York City is not exactly what you see on television. After a decade of living here, the New York I see in dramas and comedies is a distant cousin to the one I experience daily. Here’s everything I thought I knew about New York, as taught by my television.


TV MYTH: No matter how far you’re traveling through New York’s five boroughs, it will always be five minutes or less. It takes Gossip Girl’s Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) more time to walk up the steps of the Met than it does for her to visit Dan “Humphrey Dumpty” in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood via taxi from Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

REALITY CHECK: On a good day with light traffic, a cab from the UES to DUMBO takes about 30 minutes and costs around $25. On a bad day—and especially if you’re already late—it takes three hours and costs your sanity.


TV MYTH: Getting mugged is a rite of passage for New Yorkers that’s celebrated by spray-painting a subway train with graffiti to mark the occasion. It’s easy for CSI: NY’s Detective Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise) to stay up all night and be married to his work: Every block in NYC hides a crime scene waiting to be solved.

REALITY CHECK: New York’s crime rate has dropped to historic lows—the Big Apple didn’t even rank on U.S.News’ “11 Most Dangerous Cities” list for 2011. Mac would have more work and even less sleep if he transferred to CSI: Miami, the city that’s No. 7 on the list with a crime rate three times higher than the national average.


TV MYTH: Even if you’re broke and can’t sell a 50-cent cupcake to save your life, you can still live in a giant apartment in one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods. In her spacious Williamsburg, Brooklyn apartment—which boasts a backyard and space for a horse—2 Broke Girls’ Max Black (Kat Dennings) dreams of opening a bakery so she can quit her two crappy jobs as a diner waitress and nanny.

REALITY CHECK: If you have a backyard, exposed brick and a horse in Brooklyn, you’re either rich or living in the NYPD’s horse stable. The average one-bedroom apartment in Kat’s neighborhood rented for $2,400 a month in 2010, tack room not included.


TV MYTH: Entry to New York is granted if you can prove you’re anything but normal. Squares are free to visit but only allowed in Times Square, appropriately enough. How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) is a freak for business suits, bros and hos who hangs with his best friends at MacLaren’s to slap each other and toast “the Bro Code” over exaggerated tales of his latest sexual conquests. And that doesn’t even mention his news reporter friend, Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders), aka “Robin Sparkles,” a onetime Canadian pop star with hits like “Let’s Go to the Mall” and “Sandcastles in the Sand.”

REALITY CHECK: OK, this one is mostly true—this place is a freak magnet. People-watching is pretty much a year-round sport in New York City for good reason. There’s no shortage of quirky characters waving giant freak flags here.

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