With a suitcase in each hand, the tourist left a third bag under a hotel awning and edged into a drizzly Times Square to ask about bus schedules. A young Jamaican hustling gold watches out of a briefcase watched the scene, his eyes darting from the suitcase to the tourist and back.
When the tourist was 15 feet or so from the bag, the vendor made his move. Stepping forward, he shouted: "You crazy, mon? You can't walk off and leave a suitcase on the sidewalk. This is New York City, mon!"From Little Italy to the Upper East Side, Central Park to the United Nations, crime is the talk of the town. But just listen and it's clear: New Yorkers, not tourists, are doing most of the talking.
In bars and restaurants, crime is where conversations begin and end. How could it be otherwise? Throughout the summer and into the fall, crime has been THE story in the Big Apple.
First, headlines eulogized the number of children shot in the city. Then, the newspapers focused on the murder of Brian Watkins, 22, of Utah, in the Manhattan subway. The Sept. 17 issue of Time featured a cover story on "The Rotting of the Big Apple," and quoted a poll in which 60 percent of New Yorkers said that they worry about crime "all the time or often" and 59 percent said that they would move elsewhere if they could.
And last Friday, the cover of New York Newsday declared the metropolis a "City of Mayhem" and listed a blow-by-blow account of a day's violent crime.
Yet while what some see as a media-fueled "hysteria" has captivated New Yorkers, the dazzle of the city seems to have crowded fear to the back of tourists' minds.
"We'd heard so much about crime that we almost didn't come," said Melanie Sande of Cambridge, England, as she and Bob Roust of Glasgow, Scotland, stood watching taxis shatter the reflections of Broadway signs on the rain-slick Times Square streets. "But we'd heard so much about everything else, we came anyway. "
After two days in Manhattan on the last leg of a cross-country tour, on Saturday, the two proclaimed New York dirty but exciting. Atlanta, they said, had seemed far more dangerous.
Nearby at Millford Plaza, three young Australian women who had just rushed in from an evening of sightseeing also shrugged off the threat of crime. "There's crime everywhere, isn't there? There's crime in Brisbane," said Robin Davis, 18, a tourist from that Australian city. And "Chicago seemed much more dangerous."
In fact, the New York Convention and Visitor's Bureau is scrambling to reassure the 25 million people who visit the city each year with a few facts: New York City ranks 13th in the FBI's "total crime" statistics, below such cities as Dallas, Seattle and Phoenix, Ariz.
Still, bellhops, cabbies, cops and waiters insisted on warning the Australians to be careful, Davis and her friends said. "People are always saying, don't do this and don't do that. It's getting annoying."
Angelo Castaldo, a veteran New York cabdriver, said that he has seen a marked increase in ridership recently. But it is New Yorkers who are flagging him down in lieu of riding the subways.
"I get a lot of New York natives who say they want to leave New York City now because of the crime," he said. But visitors still seem eager to come.
"The tourists are absolutely not afraid of crime," Castaldo proclaimed.