I realized something when I was at home last weekend for Easter. I will illustrate with the story rather than start with the realization. :)
I was at my grandma's house chatting with my family- I was on the couch with one aunt, who was talking to my grandma, while I was having a separate conversation with another aunt and cousin. My conversation finished and I happened to hear my aunt mention my brother's name, so I tuned in... and she continued on chatting about "where could JM (my brother) be," as he was no longer at the house. I immediately chimed in, "He went to Walmart. He'll be back soon."
They both stopped talking and stared at me with that look of "Um, hello, where have you BEEN for the past 10 minutes??" Apparently they had been talking about my brother for a good 3-4 minutes, wondering where he was, what he was doing, etc. All the while I was sitting there, no more than 2 feet away, and they were baffled that I hadn't noticed.
SO, this brings me to my realization. I have become a "New Yorker" in this sense. In that, I quite literally tune out everything around me except that on which I am directly focused. And you know why? Because literally every day of my life I am surrounded by hundreds and thousands of people- on the subway, on the sidewalks, in my office, at the gym... everywhere. Sensory overload. 24/7. And so, the coping mechanism that has resulted is to tune it out. All of it. If I paid attention to everything (or anything) that was around me everyday, I would quite literally be overwhelmed somewhat constantly. And that would be disastrous. Yet even though I was in my grandma's living room in quite, calm, peaceful central PA, I still did it. I've been here long enough that it is now the default.
Musing on this a bit further, I realized something bigger... that if this is something I do, it's likely something that other people do. And in fact, if you think about the reputation that New Yorkers get, this actually makes perfect sense. People accuse New Yorkers of being rude, unshockable, oblivious to anything around them, "eyes straight ahead," types. When in reality, I actually think we may be a city full of people trying to cope. Because really, isn't it more likely that an ENTIRE city of people simply has to find a way to cope with the cabs/homeless people/street performers/horns/construction/tourists stopping in the middle of the sidewalk at rush hour to take a picture of the Chrysler building that they deal with every day all day than that an ENTIRE city of people is simply rude and uncaring?
Yes, I think so. I live in a city of copers. And, entirely unintentionally, and altogether naively, I have become a coping New Yorker too.