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On Life, Love and the Pursuit of Happiness

A Tale of Two Cities: New York vs. San Diego (Part 1)

Robert Manni - Friday, September 28, 2018


East coast / west coast comparisons are nothing new. For years conversations have pitted the Big Apple against the City of Angels. But after decades of New Yorkers migrating to L.A. beyond cars versus taxis and subways, is life that different in these two cities?

Sure, L.A. is an industry town while New York is the capital of finance, media, many other businesses, and arguably the world. But over time, the world has gotten smaller and the cultural chasm between these two coastal metropolises has shrunk. In fact, although I am a New Yorker, I feel right at home in L.A.  I can get all the same stuff and I deal with lots of New Yorkers who, by the way, brought their attitudes along when they moved out west.

That said, during the course of a recent two-week trip to San Diego and the gorgeous surrounding area, I noticed major differences between coastal lifestyles than I’ve observed when visiting LA over the past decade or so. In fact, some of those differences in San Diego living reminded me of So Cal back in the 80’s and 90’s. Simply put, San Diego is a picturesque laid-back So Cal city that is not L.A. and nothing like NYC. With this in mind, I offer you a tale of two cities or my Guys’ Guy’s Guide to the Differences between New York and San Diego.

So, in no particular order here’s the insights your Guy’s Guy absorbed over the course of a few vacations to San Diego and a short stint living there back in the 80’s.

1. People – People are people. Every one of us comes from the same source. We all share divinity and deserve to me recognized as such, regardless of race, creed, color, religion, sex, etc. In my opinion, the differences we see in people who live in various places around the planet can be attributed to culture an environment. So, let’s be clear about that and get that issue out of the way first. We are all the same.

That said, life in San Diego versus New York City can be very different and as a result people’s behavior in each city can be very different. San Diego reminds me of how I always saw So Cal: laid back, sunny and warm, gorgeous spaces and healthy people. The pervasive attitude in San Diego is chill and friendly. If you ask someone for directions they come to a full stop, consider your question and do their best to be helpful. When you buy something in a store or visit a restaurant, the staff is polite and friendly, every time.

In NYC, when a tourist asks for directions on the street or in the bowels of the subway, the natives are helpful. But if you are a local and you need help to ask someone something you’ve got to make a real effort to connect with people. And they might even give you shit.

Quick story. The other night, I was heading home on a crowded C train. I saw an empty seat and was ready to sit my ass down when a guy across the car yelled, “No, no!” I did not realize he was speaking to me so as I began to sit down I realized there was an undefined puddle of liquid on the seat. The guy saw my lowering my tush and yelled again, “Man, I told you not to sit down!” Only in New York do people try to help you and then yell at you. I only got one cheek wet and I thanked the guy while he was shaking his head and looking down like I was a total idiot. Hilarious.

New Yorkers move and think fast, real fast. When you attempt to ask a question to a New Yorker, the other person immediately begins qualifying you. While they remove one ear bud, they size you up and ask themselves, “Is this person going to hit me up for money? Does he have a knife? Will he rob me? Is he going to expose himself?” A million thoughts blow through New Yorkers minds when a random person attempts to ask them a question. After you’ve past the “he’s not going to kill me” test, I’ve found most New Yorkers to be empathetic and helpful. But is this a healthy way to live? I’ve gotten used to it over the years, but this hard truth hits home whenever I return to New York after visiting another city or country. The tone of life can be harsh in New York.

Not so in San Diego. People migrate there for the lifestyle and the weather. They like to relax and hang out. They are proud of their city. In fact they love it. I have never heard anyone complain about San Diego, especially the way New Yorkers often bitch and moan about our urban landscape with all its warts. Even New Yorkers who love the city complain about it when warranted, and that is often.

There is also major difference in the level of anxiety between people in the two cities. I was not subjected to any anxiety or anxious people in San Diego. Here in New York, the level of anxiety is palpable. The people and life in general in New York is intense and competitive. Upon my return to New York I noticed a difference in how people communicated to each other, even in friendly situations. There is an underlying level of competitiveness and need for validation. Someone asks you what school you are sending your kid and you find yourself feeling that you need to justify your choice at the risk of being judged by your neighbor. It can be that crazy here.

I reckon a lot of these types of interactions also take place in San Diego-- maybe it’s who lives in the better neighborhood—but I did not experience the same level of nervousness or paranoia as I get in Manhattan.

To me, the people in San Diego seemed a lot happier and relaxed compared to life in New York.

Score a point for SD.

2. The service – When you go out to eat in New York City the service can be harsh, but it is usually efficient. In New York, how many times has a server tried to take your plate away before you are finished eating? Lots of times, right? The good news is restaurant service usually is swift and often works like clockwork no matter how busy a restaurant gets. The waiters can be friendly or gruff, but you’ll rarely wait for your entree or the check. Retail shops are another story. There are some great salespeople in New York, but often the staff in stores can be amazingly unfriendly and borderline rude.

Last night I met a friend for a drink. I’m a boomer. My hair has lots of gray. When I entered the restaurant filled with business people, the guy working there blocked my path. I attempted to sidestep him, but he would not let me pass. He asked for my I.D. I asked him if he was actually carding me and he asked for my ID again. I pointed to my hair. I was way older than him. He told me if I did not like it to go somewhere else. This was an interesting way to treat your customers, but that type of nonsense often happens here. I also notice that many times store staff does whatever they can to prevent you from getting the right price. Like if something is marked on sale and it rings up at the old price or a sales sign offers 30% off and the staff insists the sign should have been moved because the sale has ended or some similar nonsense. We New Yorkers put up with this crap on a regular basis.

Of course there are lots of very nice folks in New York working retail. The issue is training. Staffs need to be taught the importance of being respectful to customers and not viewing the customers as the enemy. But unfortunately in New York, I have often learned that the “the customer is not always right”. Too often customers have to fight for our bargains.

Not so in my limited exposure to San Diego and the surrounding area. The peeps working retail are friendly and polite. Frankly, it does no cost anything to be civil. That said; service is faster and more efficient in NYC.

I’m still going to give another point to San Diego.

3. Food – Overall, the cuisine in New York City is the best and as varied as any city I’ve visited in the world. In New York, you can get anything at any time and it’s usually tasty and fresh. Like everything else, food in New York can be pricey, but you can also find authentic and affordable versions of anything and everything somewhere in the city. New York has it all.

Well, let me rephrase that. We have it all except for good Mexican food. You would think that since Mexican food traveled east in the 80’s that by now we’d have our pick of cheap tasty Mexican food and walk up taco joints that could compete with those on the west coast. But, it never happened.

In San Diego, Encinitas in particular, the food at the Taco Shop is fresh, fast, casual, delicious and cheap. It was just one of a plethora of casual Mexican joints that are better than any Mexican food in New York, and over the years I’ve tried most of the Mexican places in the city.

San Diego also has a Little Italy that is much nicer than the tourist trap in Manhattan. So Cal has many fine dining establishments. But overall, you can’t beat NYC for food. And yes, the pizza is still better here than anywhere.

Let’s give one point for the home team.

4. Real Estate – We all know how expensive it is to live in New York. But, So Cal, and especially the communities south of LA are no bargains. The locals say that you pay for the weather. That’s true, and although you can buy a house for the price of a 2-bedroom condo in Manhattan or Brooklyn, like NYC, it’s going to cost you over a million. During our trip, with Berkshire realtor extraordinaire, Susan Deetman, we explored the lovely coastal communities around Del Mar, Encinitas, and Carlsbad, as well as a few other bedroom communities further inland where the temps are ten degrees hotter and the risk is higher if the economy craters again.

In NYC you can make money by staying ahead of the curve. In other words, in New York you can still find neighborhoods that are ready to turn. We moved to Harlem in 2010, two years after the crash, and we bought a two-bedroom condo a few blocks from Central Park for under a million. In just eight years the price of similar units has doubled as Harlem undergoes its renaissance. Unlike NYC, in San Diego, the only new areas to buy a home moderately cheaper are further from the coast. But, in the areas north of the city of San Diego the public schools are highly rated. Yet, overall it isn’t cheap to live in San Diego, and your investment will not appreciate at the same pace as in NYC.

Another major difference between housing in NYC and San Diego is there is more variety when looking to rent in NYC. You can rent a new condo in downtown San Diego, but the prices are not that different from NYC.

Let’s give another point for New York.

We’ve covered a lot so far in my tale of two cities, but there is a lot more to consider when comparing these wonderful, but very different areas. Next time we’ll match up the beauty of the cities, recreation, entertainment, sports, getting around, weather, and the pace of life.

Until then, this week’s GUY’S GUY of the WEEK is the late Tony Gynn, a former San Diego Padre, true Hall of Fame talent, and one of the greatest hitters in NL history.


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