New York City is a strange and thrilling wilderness, full of exciting and exotic species one would never find in the rest of America. Shops that sell only tiny, bite-sized cupcakes. Corner stores where wedges of Brie sit next to the Kraft singles. Parks built on elevated railroad tracks. Stores that sell only superhero supplies. Restaurants that contain four tables and have months-long wait lists.
But the things New York doesn’t have are, in many ways, just as defining.
Below, please find profiles of four of New York’s rarest and most fascinating species. Though none of them are actually extinct—yet—they are so hard to spot that they are steeped in legend. Among native New Yorkers, many of whom have spent a lifetime trying to spot them, they are widely believed to be mythical.
Mythical creature #1: The Quiet Cabbie (Transportius silensius)
In the first thirty seconds or so of their cab rides, many commuters mistakenly think they’ve bagged a Transportius silensius, that most elusive of species. But nearly all of these poor souls find themselves disappointed in the end. Based on looks alone, Transportius silensius is indistinguishable from its much more common cousin, Transportius clamorous—only by observing the behavior of individual animals is it possible to differentiate between the species. Transportius silensius is recognizable by its tendency to drive with both hands on the wheel, to keep its eyes forward, and to vocalize only when confirming directions. Transportius clamorous, on the other hand, may chatter loudly into a cell phone in a variety of languages, play the radio while simultaneously singing an unrelated song, give unsolicited relationship advice, or pontificate at length about goat-farming methods in Eritrea.*
* All of these things have, no joke, happened in cabs I’ve ridden in.
Mythical creature #2: The Functional PA System (Addressus functionatus)
In the far distant past, when the New York subway system was new and shiny, it was populated by a breed of lovely helpful creatures, the Addressus functionatus. These animals, which were most closely related to African grey parrots, had beautiful silver plumage and the ability to relay important information, such as, “Ladies and gentlemen, due to a track fire at 157th Street, southbound 1 trains are running with delays. For downtown service, take the 2 or 3 trains, which are running normally.” Unfortunately, scientists believe that the population of Functional PA Systems was too small to sustain an optimal level of genetic diversity. Today’s PA Systems are a filthy gray color and often have loose wires hanging from them. Their inbreeding has caused their calls to become garbled, and today they usually sound more like this: “LADIES—fffwwshhhhhhh sshhhhhh shhh shhhh HISSSSSSSSS beeeeeep beep beep BEEP SCREECH—THUNK—forty-second str—SSSSSSSSSS ka-THUNK.”
Mythical creature #3: The Coffee-Shop Electrical Outlet (Powerus starbuckus)
Unlike the previous two species, Powerus starbuckus is not actually rare, per se—often, they are simply difficult to spot. They are masters of camouflage and are quite adept at blending in with baseboards, hiding behind table legs and messenger bags, and lurking in hard-to-reach corners. If you can find and tame a Coffee Shop Outlet, you will find it a loyal and helpful companion, willing to power your laptop or phone without even so much as a treat in return. Even adults who are generally quite docile have been know to whip themselves into screaming, frothing frenzies when they think someone has stolen their outlets.
Mythical creature #4: The Second Bathroom (Bathius additionalis)
In most parts of the country, young bathrooms are born in pairs. There is generally a larger bathroom with more amenities—the Bathius primus—and a smaller twin, the Bathius additionalis, colloquially known as the “half-bath.“ But in New York City, space is so limited that young bathrooms have little space to grow and flourish. This remarkable, adaptable species now generally gestates only one fetus at a time, resulting in a severe underpopulation of Bathius additionalis. New Yorkers become extremely excited when they spot one in the wild. “You have a half-bath?!” they are known to squeal. “I aspire to a half-bath! Is this place rent controlled? It’s huge!”
This is, of course, hyperbole. There is no such thing as a huge New York City apartment.