For New Yorkers, the upstate/downstate divide is the foundation for an occasionally uneasy relationship. Many residents of New York City, which they dare to call, with typical humility, "the City," lump anything north of Manhattan into "upstate" and think of it as an unappealing mix of wilderness and blue-collar towns. While some Manhattanites owe their sanity to weekend and summer houses upstate or on the East End of Long Island, other city dwellers recoil at the thought of peace and quiet -- and critters. Addicted to asphalt and yellow cabs, those urbanites find bewilderedness in the country, not escape.
Upstate New York has suffered through the devastating loss of manufacturing jobs and sluggish agricultural times, with many towns struggling through severe economic depression. Young people graduating from high school and college upstate bemoan the lack of local opportunities, and a large percentage of them beeline to New York City to look for work. Of course, New York City hasn't escaped economic hardship; as headlines make all too evident the investment banking, media, and insurance industries headquartered in New York have been front and center in the recent economic and housing crisis.
New York City is inextricably tied to the rest of the state, and not just because of what does (or does not) go on in the capital, Albany. New York depends on the watershed of the Catskill Region for its fresh-water supply, a fact that has preserved much of the natural beauty upstate but also precluded development. Even if upstaters resent that critical relationship, they also know how linked their economic fortunes are to weekenders, visitors and economic resources flowing north from the City. Of course, that doesn't stop upstaters from mocking city residents who believe they can pop over to the Finger Lakes (five hours by car) for lunch as if they were crossing the 59th Street Bridge to check out a new ethnic restaurant in Queens.
Not unexpectedly, New York also plays an outsize role in national politics. When former Governor Eliot Spitzer, a crusader for cleaning up Wall Street, was busted for frequenting an uptown call girl, it was national news and fodder for comedians. After leaving the White House, former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton became the junior senator of the Clintons' adopted state (they reside in Westchester County's tony Chappaqua), a position she used as a platform to run for president against her fellow senator, Barack Obama. And of course, New York and especially Wall Street have been a major focus of the economic crisis, with the collapse of major banks like Lehman Brothers, the absorption of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America, and the federal bailout of the mammoth insurer AIG. With job losses, a declining real estate market, and revelations that Bernie Madoff, a former chairman of NASDAQ, swindled investors out of $50 billion in a Ponzi scheme, New Yorkers perhaps aren't feeling as on top of the world as they once were.
That said, resilience and certain toughness are almost a prerequisite for being a New Yorker -- whether a resident of the biggest and most dynamic city in the country or the vast state that lives in its massive shadow.
New York Sports -- Sports fans in New York have their hands full. New Yorkers are as sports mad as they come, and the Yankees, Mets, and Knicks all have passionate local and national followings. New Yorkers' loyalties are fiercely divided. You're either a Yankee fan or a Mets fan, but as many a politician has discovered, rare is the local fan who cheers for both. Love one, loathe the other. The New York Knicks are the East Coast equivalent of the Los Angeles Lakers, media darlings without the string of championships. The Knicks draw regulars like Spike Lee and other New York-based celebrities, who, along with diehard fans, year after year lament the absence of a championship (and just to keep things interesting, cross-river rivals the New Jersey Nets will soon have a new home in Brooklyn). NHL fans root for the Rangers, who play at Madison Square Garden (also the home of the Knicks), Long Island's oft-beleaguered Islanders, or the Buffalo Sabres. Upstate fans also cheer for the NFL's Buffalo Bills (the only New York football team that actually plays in the state, since both the Giants and the Jets call New Jersey's Meadowlands home) and top college basketball programs like the Orangemen of Syracuse University, former national champions. The U.S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing Meadow, Queens -- where over the years the Americans McEnroe, Connors, Sampras, Agassi, and the Williams sisters have reigned -- is the largest single sporting event in the nation, while the Saratoga Springs Race Course is among the most prestigious and beautiful thoroughbred racing arenas in the world.
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