If you're going to New York City, fortunately you won't have to worry about driving -- the public transportation there is awesome.
I live in Ohio and to me, NYC is a whole other world in itself! There is no way you can compare NYC to the rest of the United States, really. Our life here is so different than there -- my two oldest daughters live in New York City and I LOVE it!!! But life here is much, much more laid back. Even our biggest cities here don't bustle like the Big Apple.
People are afraid of us??? I guess I am surprised to hear that! I must be naive, but I feel pretty safe here in the U.S. I'd be far more afraid to go to a country where you can get thrown in jail for exposing a lock of hair.
One of my favorite things about NYC is the street musicians. And sometimes they play in the subway, too. So fun! You can expect to see just about anything there! (Except guns. They show up on tv dramas but you are not likely to encounter anyone pulling a gun on anyone in real life! Lots of sensationalism out there. The odds are good that you will be perfectly safe.)
Another great thing about NYC is the FOOD -- you can eat ANY cousine you desire. There are restaurants from every part of the world on practically any given block! Alas, yes we are all about the supersize portions here, which may be disturbing but it is always ok to take a "doggie bag" with you when you leave. (Do you have this expression? You take some food home "for the dog," which you may in fact give to your dog, but most of us save and eat for lunch the next day
You will love it here! Have a great trip!!