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New York Fleet Week, the Movie

“I feel like I’m in a movie right now,” Petty Officer Third Class Ayanna Crawford said last weekend as she navigated the bow tie of Times Square, with its hordes of panhandlers costumed as Elmo, Minnie Mouse and Spider-Man. “I’m in culture shock.”

Petty Officer Crawford, 20, who serves on the Wasp-class amphibious assault vessel U.S.S. Bataan, had cruised into town with a fellow crew member, Airman Kobe Brents, 22, and many of the roughly 2,300 sailors, Marines and Coast Guard members who alight in New York each Fleet Week for a weeklong annual celebration of those who serve and protect the United States at sea.

Held nearly every year since 1984, Fleet Week often has the unintended effect of reminding even the most jaded of locals that the gritty and complicated place they call home remains a peerless backdrop for what can sometimes seem like an never-ending cinematic reel. It was the film director Milos Forman who was reputed to have termed New York “the only city which in reality looks better than on postcards.”

Clockwise from top left: Ayanna Crawford and Kobe Bennett; two sailors wearing Naval Academy rings; an obligatory Theater Row selfie; and midshipmen in their whites. Credit…Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

He might have added that it is also a city that, perhaps more than any other, is conscious of starring in its own movie. This is never clearer than when Manhattan fills up overnight with thousands of crisply uniformed sailors looking like extras from “On the Town.”

For Petty Officer Crawford, who accessorized her regulation whites with a chic black Valentino shoulder bag bought while on leave in Cyprus (“It’s a real one,” she said), what most surprised her about a city she was visiting for the first time was the variety of stuff people wear on its streets — and equally what they do not.

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