When I was 7, my mom won a trip to New York City over Thanksgiving. We stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria (in the smallest room known to man), saw some Broadway shows and ventured out to watch the parade. My parents let me walk in front of them because they said I was good at parting the crowds. I just held my hands out in front of me, clapsed together like a rudder, and weaved through the sea of people. (Hey, I was 7.)
In middle school, my mom, grandmother and I flew up for one-day shopping trips during Christmas season. (My mom scared an elderly Asian lady in Macy’s when she put her arm around her from behind, thinking she was my grandmother. Oh, how we’ve laughed about that over the years.)
When I was in college, my dad and I spent fall break in New York, just walking around the streets and hitting all the tourist sites. We climbed the Statue of Liberty, where I had a heights-related panic attack on the spiral stairs, and took a photo at the top of the World Trade Center (freezing, since it was October). I remember feeling so let down coming back to my dorm room that night after I’d spent the morning walking in Central Park.
The catalyst for that trip was an episode of Primetime Live I’d seen earlier in the summer about a new Broadway show called Rent. That trip (and show) changed my life. Later on in college, I met a group of wonderful people from NYC and elsewhere who are still and will be lifelong friends. We became road trip experts, traveling to the city from NC once a month at least. We’d stop at Wal-Mart around midnight for provisions, drive all night in shifts and wake up in the city at sunrise. Yes, we’d kind of lost our minds, and I definitely did not excel at academics that semester. But during those excursions I became a real New Yorker — I learned the subway system like the back of my hand. I met natives who showed me around their neighborhoods, and I lived normal New Yorker weekends: going to brunch, doing laundry, sitting in cafes, browsing shops, going to shows. Leisure times that tourists aren’t privy to.
As I was graduating, I found a PR agency with a four-month training program. I figured it would be a noncommittal way to find out if New York and public relations were really for me. I stayed nearly eight years.
I tell you all of this because even though I moved, I’ll always be a New Yorker. Some people just live in a city, enjoying their jobs, the scene and their neighbors. But New York is a lifestyle, and it gets in your soul. Or maybe it’s already in us, innately, and we just flock there like moths. How else to explain why we defend it so staunchly (and, yes, snobbishly)? To live in New York is to be a part of something, an elite group of compatriots who weather the twists and turns of city living every day.
I so appreciate the city’s grittiness and in-your-face realness. You know exactly where you stand with a New Yorker, which was refreshing for a southern girl used to people cloaking their enjoyment/apathy/disdain/condescension in the same veil of politeness. I hope I developed and have retained that trait — if I don’t like you, I don’t pretend I do. I’m not going to intentionally insult you, but I like to tell it as straight as possible.
I will always admire New York’s history, social progressiveness and unabashed promotion of freedom of speech, art and culture in all forms. It’s a transient crossroads of the world, with interesting people, ideas and food moving in and out constantly. That rapid exchange of ideas and pace of life are stimulating and inspiring, if often leading to sensory overload. Even so, I think New Yorkers can get a bit too wrapped up in themselves, forgetting about how the rest of America thinks, lives and eats, even if they don’t agree with it.
That’s not to say that I wasn’t ready to leave when the time came, but I do daydream about my life there –remembering only the good times, of course. It’s been almost three years, and I’m still readjusting to the reverse culture shock of non-City life. I have a car! I go to Target whenever I want! My grocery bill is half what it used to be! I can afford to own a house! My bedroom is the size of my old apartment!
Don’t worry — I’m not moving back, and I’m pretty darn happy about where I am (most days). But there are reminders of NYC at every turn that give me a pang of what once was:
- I had to cancel my New York Magazine subscription because it was too painful to read.
- I feel like I watch every New York-centric TV show that exists: Real Housewives/Bethenny, Sex & the City, Damages, 30 Rock, Castle, The City, Bored to Death, Mad Men, Gossip Girl, Project Runway, etc. And, yes, I can usually tell what part of town they’re in.
- How I Met Your Mother even did an episode about being a real New Yorker. For the record, I have cried on the subway, stolen a cab and touched a cockroach with my bare hand, but I never did see Woody Allen.
- I keep stumbling on references to E.B. White’s 1948 essay, “Here is New York.” I haven’t read the whole thing, but the passages I’ve seen still ring true.
- And then today, I saw The Village Voice’s “50 Reasons to Be Pretty Damn Euphoric You Live in New York City.”
Sigh. It’s torture.