I've been living in the city for four years, so I've earned the equivalent of a bachelor's degree in urban living. I've had all the rites of passage: My apartment's been burglarized, I've had a regular flasher, I've braved the Whole Foods lines after work, I've gone to the beach by train, I've watched the fireworks from a rooftop, and I've eaten pizza standing in the street.
They say you have to toughen up to live in a major city, and in a lot of ways, it's true. For every extra convenience, something else is a little harder. And in turn, we get a little harder. For instance, I knew I was a real New Yorker when . . .
My girlfriend and I were leaving a party late on one cold winter's night, and we were desperate to catch a cab home - along with apparently everyone else in New York. The streets were lined with people waiting for a taxi, and each one seemingly on a luckier corner than ours. But the thing about a city is, at any given moment, there are roughly 100 people wanting to do exactly what you want to do. So we waited, shivering on the sidewalk for a good 20 minutes while we watched occupied cabs fly by with their cozy, smug passengers in the back.
Finally, one with its light on came our way and slowed at a traffic light. We raced over the cobblestones in our heels like mountain goats; this was our cab, broken ankles be damned! I lunged for the door and shouted our destination. The cabbie gave a wordless nod, unlocked the doors, and we hopped in.
We'd just buckled our seatbelts and breathed a sigh of relief when the cabbie asked me to repeat our destination. I did, but this time he shook his head and said only, "No."
"I'm not going that way, I'm going north."
"It is north."
He shrugged. "It's northwest."
"So you won't take us?" my friend asked.
He waved his hand as dismissal.
I groaned, and we got out of the car. I was already looking for the next cab when I heard behind me:
"HEY!" The driver was out of his cab and marching toward me. "Why you gotta slam my door?"
For a second, I was stunned silent. Sure, I was frustrated, but I didn't think I had slammed anything. The cabbie didn't wait for me to respond.
"Why can't you be a lady? Why you gotta slam my door? You gonna break my door."
Had this been my first year in New York, I might have been scared to have an angry man bearing down on me, but it wasn't.
"Excuse me?" I said, matching his volume and raising him a whole lotta attitude. "Break your door? Oh, please. I'm a 115-pound woman. I couldn't break your door if I tried!"
It takes a certain composure to both shout at a stranger and lie about your weight.
The cab driver retreated, and my friend applauded my chutzpah. I felt as if I'd accomplished something in my meanness. I thought I had passed Urban Living 101.
But more recently, something happened that made me think toughness isn't the central message of city life.
I was writing at my desk beside an open window when a giant cement truck just outside leaned on its air-horn for a solid 45 seconds at a parked van blocking its way.
The sound was ear-splitting, so I hung out my window, fully prepared to unleash some Philly-bred, New York-honed rage - but then the driver looked at me. And in that second of eye contact, I saw all of his frustration, and without thinking, I did something very provincial.
And then he smiled.
I put up my hands in the Italian-but-universal gesture for "Whaddyagonnado?" and - get this - we laughed. Genuine, tension-relieving laughter. And that laughter blew off more steam than blasting horns or screaming out windows ever could. I've never felt so bonded to a stranger in my life.
The truck driver proceeded to calmly reverse out of my street, and I gave him a wave goodbye.
Now, I wonder if I had been a little nicer to that cabbie, looked him in the eye, told him I didn't mean to slam his door, and explained that we were cold and tired, too, maybe I would've had that ride back home.
Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella's most recent collection of humorous essays is "Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim." Look for Lisa's new novel, "Accused," in stores now.