Rick Magee (opinion): I went to New York City and lived to tell about it. So can you.

Pedestrians walk through Times Square.  

Pedestrians walk through Times Square.  

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

A couple of weeks ago I went to New York City for the day. My wife and son went with me. Some of my poetry students met us there and we checked out several bookshops.

The experience was not terrifying.

Everyone had a great time.

Manhattan was not a war zone.

In pointing out these blandly obvious facts, I realize I’m defying the accepted wisdom about the deadliness of American cities, but my experiences have never matched the fearmongering I see on social media.

Here is the point where I need to give the full disclaimer: I lived in the Bronx for six years. I was a doctoral student at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus, which is where I met my wife. When I got the acceptance letter from Fordham I was living in California, where I was born and where I grew up. My friends all shook their heads at my decision to move to the Bronx. “It was good to know you,” more than one person said to me.

So I’m comfortable with the City. I rode the subway and Metro-North. I tramped on sidewalks from Battery Park to the Botanical Garden. I hung out in bars. I rode my bike on busy streets.

I sort of understand my friends’ trepidation 27 years ago. We had that small town idea that anything outside of our county was dangerous. When, at 18, I moved to Berkeley for college, I got almost exactly the same reactions from friends. “Have fun getting killed in the slums,” my best friend told me before leaving for the safer environs of Davis. It didn’t matter that I lived in an apartment two blocks from the original Peet’s Coffee in a part of town called the "Gourmet Ghetto.” It was the slums.

The fear that drives these discussions is puzzling. I have seen many people on social media talk about the idea of walking in New York City as something akin to walking in Russia while wearing an anti-Putin T-shirt. Usually, weirdly enough, these same people proclaim themselves to be brave alpha males.

What is it about New York that causes such extreme reactions? I did a quick search of crime rates, and the murder rate per 100,000 in New York City is 3.39, which is exactly that of Garland, Texas. To put that in perspective, both Memphis and Cleveland have rates of over 27, so statistically Manhattan is nine times safer.

I thought about this a lot on my most recent trip. Some of my students had made the trip before and were old hands. Others were very nervous but were nevertheless game to take the chance. So what did we see?

Lots of people, mainly. In the Strand bookstore, one of our most important destinations, we saw huge crowds. Young hipsters with brightly dyed hair next to old men. Women in hijabs waiting in line behind young women in fishnet tights. On the streets the smell of coffee and roasted nuts competes with the whiff of cannabis, which is a new sensation following the state’s legalization in 2021.

My son wanted to check out some comics, so we hit Forbidden Planet, where we saw a dizzying assortment of comics nerds. He didn’t seem at all bothered by the scene, as he stared covetously at the giant Pokémon selection.

This final view probably explains the fear of cities. People of all sorts challenge the view that your sort is the only valid one. People of all sorts going about their business undermines the doctrine of fear and suspicion.

Finally, this: one of my more timid students told me she is very excited for her next trip to the City. Truly terrifying news.

Rick Magee is a Bethel resident and an English professor at a Connecticut university. Contact him at r.m.magee.writer@gmail.com.