Try to be trite and you'll likely come up with the best answer

'SO HOW do you like New York? Do you miss California? Which do you like better?"

So asks a composite character representing friends, acquaintances and strangers. We'll call him "Robin."

"Aaagh, I hate answering that question," I groan loudly, drawing attention from the financiers and plucky immigrants peopling the subway car.

"So-rry! Just trying to make conversation," Robin says.

"Well, it's the same thing everyone else asks. Or that you always ask, I should say, since you're actually a bunch of people."

"Touche. Well, you should just make up a stock answer for me, and that way you won't have to expend any effort thinking of how to placate my superficial curiosity every time I ask. Kind of like how you've given up on restaurant hostesses and taxi dispatchers taking down and pronouncing your name correctly, so now you just lie and say your name is Vicky."

Robin had a point. I pondered the topic as we climbed out of the subway station and wandered among the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Ground Zero, Rockefeller Center and Central Park, all of which are, of course, in the same neighborhood.

"But it's a false dichotomy. Everyone has some pet theory on the big difference between New York and the Bay Area, even though they're more alike than different."

"How can you say that?" exclaimed my astonished companion. "In New York everyone complains about money and inconvenience all the time, but in the Bay Area it's taboo to whine without also acknowledging the silver lining, even if you have to make one up."

"Hmmm. If that's true, then that would explain why San Franciscans get defensive about their city being just as good as New York. New Yorkers come to visit, eat all our fresh produce and complain because that's what they do, while San Franciscans who go to New York just relax and enjoy it."

"Well, another reason that SFers get defensive could be that New York really is a better city. There's transit, nightlife, culture ..."

"... and snow," I finished, slipping on a week-old pile of slush. Ten silent, faceless passers-by helped me get up, right myself and collect my belongings, then disappeared in the fear that their generosity was but a prelude to humiliation on a hidden-camera reality show.

"Maybe the snow helps," Robin said thoughtfully. "Maybe achievement of any kind resembles poetry or sport, and the only people who do amazing things are the ones who work against constraints. Necessity is the mother of invention."

"You are NOT going to bring up that old hypothesis about how cold weather turned Europeans into imperialists."

"Well, now I'm not, but instead of pouting I will simply point out that you are the one with a 1980s-era World Civilization Chart timeline on your wall that ends with Watergate and includes items like 'Negroes arrive in Africa from Asia.'"

I stewed over this smear on my decor while Robin bought and ate a New York-style pizza bagel.

"Maybe the silver-lining stuff in San Francisco is because the people who made it all the way there had to be optimists, because they were pioneers," I suggested. "Optimists went west, and pessimists stayed on the East Coast."

"That has as much statistical validity as your thing about schools getting worse as you go west," Robin snorted.

My family had moved westward across the U.S. during my childhood, and I'd learned fractions over and over in successive math classes. I'd concluded that public schools got worse as we went west because the practitioners had less time to perfect them. In retrospect, my sample size could have used some work.

"So we just end up where we started, with cockamamie theories and broad generalizations."

"Not true," Robin said. "We're on top of the Empire State Building."

"That's not what I meant," I said, idly watching Tom Hanks swat King Kong off a ledge. "I mean, I need to come up with a snappy answer when people ask which I like better. All I have now is a bunch of on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand comparisons. Transit's better here, but produce is better there. I miss my friends, but my new job is great. Not better or worse, just different."

"There you go! Trite and glib! That's exactly the answer I wanted," Robin said and vanished.

I sighed and trotted off toward my new home, across the Brooklyn Bridge, which I bought when I got here.