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The Thinnest City in the U.S. - New York

Traveling the week of Thanksgiving has become an annual tradition for my brother, my niece and me. This year we went to New York City, and on Tuesday, as we were walking a mile through Central Park to get to our subway station, my brother commented, “It’s easy to see why New York is the thinnest city in the country.”

I hadn’t actually known that, but it made sense. For instance, consider the number of stairs. You run into this a lot in any city with a subway system, but I always seem to forget the reality of it until I’m back in such a city. Some stations, of course, are handicapped accessible, or have escalators, but that’s not a guarantee that they even work. It means that simply getting from place to place involves a fair amount of walking, and of stairs.

It’s not just the subway, though. Being densely populated, NY goes up much more than out, with many of its iconic images rising tall and majestic into the sky. One example is the Statue of Liberty. We went on a tour of Liberty Island, and we quickly discovered from signs and announcements that the elevator to the pedestal wasn’t working. They were quite matter-of-fact about this, even though it meant we had to climb 158 steps if we wanted to get there. At least they had encouraging little signs along the way about how many stairs were left.

Climbing those stairs, I couldn’t help doing a compare and contrast. I was able to negotiate the stairs in the city reasonably well, even the ones in the Statue of Liberty. I got a bit winded, but I didn’t have to stop. But when I was in college in Boston, it was another story altogether. Weighing a little over 100 pounds more than I do now, I hated the stairs with a passion at times, especially when carrying groceries or luggage. Back then, I sometimes had to stop at each landing to catch my breath and muster the will to go on while the rest of the people were forced to split around me. It was humiliating, but I will say this – with all the walking and stair climbing, I managed not to gain weight in Boston, despite a very unhealthy diet. Whereas as soon as I moved back to Maine, within a year I gained twenty pounds, even though I ate a little better, simply because I lost that built-in exercise.

The other stair-related thought was at Belvedere Castle in Central Park. The day we went was gorgeous, and we were eager for the view from the top. The only way to get there, though, was via a tiny, one-way winding staircase. And I realized that, at my heaviest, I might have simply not fit, even if I could do the stairs. This goes back to my earlier entry about the amount of space heavier people take up. I’d experienced the thing in Blarney Castle in Ireland, but it’s still somewhat disconcerting.

So I can see how New Yorkers are thin, and how I managed to lose a pound during our stay despite eating more than I usually do. Now I’m back in Portland, which has its own distinction – being the foodiest city in the country (according to Bon Appetit Magazine). Without the subway, I have to invent my own exercise, such as walking to work, walking to Rosemont, or just going out for a walk without any particular destination. While I sometimes wish that exercising was more of a default here, instead of something I specifically have to do, it’s not enough to make me want to move to NY, thin or not.

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