New Yorkers are watching the world's greatest athletes in the London Olympics. We're marveling at the physical prowess, all in the spirit of international competition.
Yet we're overlooking, or at least underappreciating, an important fact. New York City already has its own Olympics. Every day, city dwellers and suburban commuters perform athletic feats ranging from the difficult to the outright impossible.
That's largely because the five boroughs are an obstacle course without equal the world over. Our ultra-challenging municipal infrastructure serves as a training facility and built-in field of play all in one. Just getting around town -- and living to tell the tale -- is inherently a free-for-all that calls for all the strength, speed and stamina we can command.
Every rush hour we shoehorn ourselves onto subway cars and lurch down the aisles as if we just downed a six-pack. Just to remain marginally upright -- or stick a safe landing in a nearby seat -- we must telescope our spines by several vertebrae, squeezing into a space in the known universe where none previously existed.
Take the technical skill required of commuters in perhaps the most daring of acts, freestyle all-terrain jaywalking. We edge out from between parked cars, rocking on our heels in that insinuating jitterbug so popular among base-stealers, then make a break for it. We sprint around potholes and narrowly sidestep kamikaze bicycle messengers, flirting with death or, worse, a traffic ticket.
Consider our sidewalks, a gauntlet of cellphone conversationalists, fire hydrants, skateboarders, parking meters, wide-load tourists, scaffolding and that most dreaded creature, the outcast cigarette smoker. To reach our destinations on time, we wedge through the inevitable bottlenecks and, elbows out, fend off near-collisions.
And that's on a slow day.
Because New York City is an ecosystem that encourages competition, all of us are routinely pitted against each other, whether we vie for jobs, cabs or that glazed fried shrimp at the deli salad bar around the corner.
Ever try, for example, to get onto an elevator before the passengers already onboard press the "close" button? We vault across the threshold, arms spread wide, legs kicking scissorlike to lengthen our flight, in a grand jete second to none.
Ever wave your arms to signal a busy Upper East Side waiter for another glass of wine? The finesse that's mandatory, not to mention the sheer upper-body strength, is all but superhuman.
No wonder our reflexes are stropped to stiletto sharpness.
In short, the London Olympic Games have nothing on everyday life in New York City. We're all warriors, putting on our game faces daily. Whatever we venture to do -- tossing soda cans into corner waste baskets from beyond three-point range while fingering a BlackBerry, or ducking to avoid getting beheaded by giant umbrellas in a downpour -- a high degree of difficulty is a given.
Yes, New York City lost its bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. But no biggie. If we had won, it would have turned out to be redundant. After all, the Olympics are already right here.
Reader Bob Brody is a public-relations executive and essayist in Forest Hills.