Bernie Sanders is a lot of things.
He is a 2016 Democratic presidential hopeful and a U.S. senator. He is a politician who hopes to change Washington D.C. from the inside out, reform Wall Street from the outside in and turn the establishment upside down. He is the reason the Bernie Bros.™ have risen from within their Reddit threads and out into the political mainstream, ready to partake in nonviolent revolution -- the keyboard both their shield and their weapon. Bernie Sanders is also a white guy who looks a hell of a lot like Larry David.
But as of this week, there is one thing Bernie Sanders most certainly is not: a New Yorker.
Now, when people who live in New York talk about what it is that makes them New Yorkers, it is almost always obnoxious, whatever the reason. But then again, they're New Yorkers, what do you expect? So much of living in New York City is awful -- the rent, the trash, that neighbor above you who is always screaming -- that we have to justify our decision to live here by pretending that we are superior people for being able to do so. It's why you always hear New Yorkers take pride in bizarre things, like their ability to stand next to a rat without flinching or live in a claustrophobia-inducing shoebox that costs $17,000 per month.
But what makes you a New Yorker isn't either of those things. And it isn't the fact that you use the word "bodega" in place of "corner store," or that you have lived here for five years but have yet to step inside the Empire State Building, or that you eat pizza with your hands, or that you remember when that Duane Reade around the corner was a sick karaoke bar.
No, all of that hogwash is just the sort of woe-is-me mumbo-jumbo people in New York spout to justify staying here under the false hope their dreams of fame and/or fortune will one day be realized. In truth, what makes us New Yorkers is something much simpler than any of that: We know how to ride the goddamned subway.
Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, doesn’t anymore. In a recent sit-down interview with the New York Daily News, the Brooklyn-raised politician was asked a simple question: “How do you ride the subway today?”
“What do you mean, ‘How do you ride the subway?’” he responded.
“How do you get on the subway today?”
“You get a token and you get in.”
WRONG, INDEED. While many people much smarter than me have focused on the degree to which Sanders understands the steps needed to break up our largest financial institutions, or on the specifics of his foreign policy positions, I will not do any of that. I will instead die on a hill, and that hill has an MTA subway stop that requires a MetroCard to enter.
As any real New Yorker knows, the way you get on the subway in 2016 is this: You fork over a seemingly ever-growing percentage of your paycheck in return for a small, flimsy MetroCard. You then slide that card through the turnstile while roughly 45 people impatiently stand behind you. After you first swipe, the turnstile, without fail, will scream, "PLEASE SWIPE AGAIN." After you do so once more, it will scream, "SWIPE CARD AGAIN AT THIS TURNSTILE." That process repeats itself three or four more times. Finally, you are allowed onto the subway track, by which time you have missed your train and must wait between 5 and 45 minutes for the next one. You then reuse this MetroCard for approximately two more weeks, at which time you are required to lose it and buy a replacement.
That is how it goes now, day in and day out, ride after ride after train-delayed ride. And if you don’t know that, then you aren’t a New Yorker, even if you were once; it’s really as simple as that.
Up until 2003, the beloved token of yesteryear would have been an acceptable-enough answer. But it's not anymore. New York changes, and if you can’t keep up, you’re out. That bar you once threw up in is a specialty foods shop now, and that restaurant where you finished the first book you truly loved is an overpriced gastropub. Your first apartment is now a health-care clinic dedicated to the needs of tiny, well-dressed dogs and their high-income walkers. But most important, your subway token isn't a subway token anymore. It is a MetroCard.
The thing about all of this that’s truly disappointing is that it means if Sanders has ridden the subway since, say, 2003, someone bought him his fare, and no one who is a New Yorker has someone else purchase their fare for them. I hope we can all agree on that. You know who has people buy their MetroCards for them? Parents who are visiting from out of town, and we all sure as hell better agree that parents visiting from out of town are not New Yorkers.
Naturally, most of the people reading this will disagree. As a New Yorker, I do not care what you think. But, as a journalist, I feel compelled to refute the counterarguments coming my way.
What about all the rich people in New York who take cars instead of the subway? Those people are not New Yorkers; they are rich people.
Well, what about the elderly? Elderly New Yorkers are badasses. They take the subway. If you don't think so, you don't ride the subway enough.
Well, Bernie Sanders was born and raised in Brooklyn. Doesn't that make him, by geographical definition, a New Yorker? No.
The good news for Bernie is that he can always make things right. All he has to do is walk down into the subway, shove someone out of the way and fumble around with the MetroCard machine while his train leaves the station. That, right there, is what distinguishes New Yorkers from the rest. It's really not that complicated.
And, no: Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg and Donald Trump are not New Yorkers, either.