When I was a kid, I loved the accent. Really, I loved all accents, but that nasally New Yawk sound was like music to my ears. Now that I’ve been a parent for over 20 years, I know that there’s no explaining why kids are drawn to some people, places or things. Sometimes the fascination dies away and sometimes it hangs with us for our entire life.
I finally got to the Big Apple in my senior year of college. We “attended” the national convention of our professional fraternity. A professional fraternity – don’t be fooled by that distinction. There wasn’t much professional behavior going on and there wasn’t much “attending” going on either. Ah, 1987. One-way flights to LaGuardia for $17 on People’s Express airlines. I loved every minute of it, from the squeegee people to the cramped hotel rooms to the knishes.
Two years later, I was dating my husband, a man who had lived in New York City after he graduated from college. This was one important and infinitely fascinating attribute that drew me to him. We would go on to visit the Big Apple many times during our married life. Every time there was something new to discover. The place just never gets old to me. We infused our daughter with the same love of the city that never sleeps – so much so that she is now living there. “Living the dream” – I proudly tell anyone who will listen.
If you’re paying attention, you remember that I said that my husband lived in NYC after graduating from college. Lived. Past tense. We have spent our entire married life in our hometown of Buffalo, NY. When he is asked why he came back here, his answer is usually the same – “it’s a tough place to live if you weren’t born there”. The more time you spend there for more than a day or two, the better it is to understand why this is so. Truthfully, the things that make New York City so exciting are also the things that turn everyday life into an endurance race.
Everyone knows how expensive it is to live there. Pretty much everything costs more. Toilet paper, laundry detergent (yes, my daughter bought the giant bottle of Tide while on her visit home last week), everything. Trader Joe’s bucked the trend and did not inflate its prices when it opened a NYC location. Cue the queue. As in, big lines at the store. You’ll need patience and a lot of it to pay those un-inflated prices. When my daughter told me about it, I envisioned something like Groundhog Day meets Black Friday. We all know about real estate prices. My daughter and her boyfriend share a one-bathroom, three bedroom apartment the size of my living room with three other people. In total, the landlord collects a cool $3600 a month in rent in exchange for this urban living experience.
Transportation. I personally love the New York City subway system. Once you have a basic understanding of it, you can get anywhere from Coney Island to Queens efficiently and painlessly. Well….. usually ….. Unless a track is under construction. Or you’re exiting at the South Ferry station on the 1 train. If you’re not on the first 5 cars, you can’t exit because of the short platform (??) So there we were, doubling back to the Rector St Station then getting out and racing on foot up the platform to get back on the train at car # 5. Queue huffing and puffing x 5 people.
So, why would anyone in their right mind want to live there, you are asking? Let me count the reasons.
Food. Food. Food. And did I mention…. food? In fours days, I experienced the best Italian, sushi, pizza, bagels, general breakfast magnificence, hamburgers, and that’s just on my most recent visit. All accompanied by the best coffee, “drinks”, etc. You can live large and spend a lot of money satisfying your gustatory desires. You can survive on a variety of street food. I’ve done it both ways and been perfectly happy every time.
The Arts. This city oozes music. All genres of music in halls, on the street, in the subways, in places of worship, and Broadway (which deserves a blog entry of its own.) For anyone who has even the most slight of musical bends, there is no place in the world like New York City. I’ve heard music at a church service that would be concert hall-worthy most anywhere. Amazing street performers. Bad street performers – there are many uninhibited musicians in NYC – ha! Chamber music in St Paul’s Chapel. On and on and on….
Energy and quality. These go together in my mind, because it takes a great deal of collective energy to maintain a quality of life that somehow seems to be constantly elevated. This is where the conundrum comes in. Despite the aforementioned price inflation and congested transportation, despite the dirt and grime, despite the crowded living conditions that people like my daughter are enduring, this town always seems to get so many things right. I’m sorry that I have no specifics to back up this claim. But anyone who has visited NYC frequently will know what I mean. I should start keeping a diary of the times I’m doing something there, and I think to myself (or say out loud to my companion or to nobody in particular) “well, this was done right”, or “they know know how to do it here”. There is always the inevitable comparison to how they do things “back home”. Back home is not bad. Simply put, back home is home, period. It’s comfortable and familiar and friendly. It’s not New York City. I think that every city is shaped by its history and it moves and morphs based on its history. There is no denying it or trying to “shed” it. There is no other city like mine. There is no other city like New York City. New York City never pretends to be anything but what it is. Gritty, real, simultaneously tough and welcoming. New York City never apologizes for being what it is.
I’m no longer dumb enough to think that I could live there given my current income level and energy level. I’ve listened to and observed my daughter. The sheer effort that it takes to simply get through each day there would probably be more than I’d want to deal with. I guess with maturity comes the realization of one’s limitations. If I win the lottery, however, all bets are off…..
Love your city, love its strengths and weaknesses. Love it for what it is, not what it could be or should be. There will never be another Buffalo. There will NEVER be another New York City.
I’ll say goodbye to all my sorrow
And by tomorrow I’ll be on my way
I guess the Lord must be in New York City
I’m so tired of getting nowhere
Seein’ my prayers goin’ unanswered
I guess the Lord must be in New York City
Well, here I am, Lord, knockin’ at your back door, hmm
Ain’t it wonderful to be where I’ve always wanted to be?
For the first time, I’ll breathe free
Here in New York City ~ song written by Harry Nilsson, featured in the movie “You’ve Got Mail”.