Lessons From New York City

Today as I absent-mindedly doodled in my planner while on hold with yet another potential venue for voter registration events, a little note i had written at the bottom of today’s date caught my eye: 3 weeks left. Excuse my french, but holy shit. Where the hell did the time go? I feel like it was just yesterday that I excitedly got into my first New York cab at LaGuardia, and rode to Brooklyn, craning my neck along the way to catch just a glimpse of a skyscraper. I didn’t have a routine down until about a couple weeks in. By routine I obviously mean having a favorite Starbucks picked out, a quick route to work memorized, and knowing a few clutch sushi places to hit up after work on days I’m too tired to cook (which seems to be most days, lately). Even then, I didn’t feel like a true New Yorker. I think the transition process goes in phases- somewhat like the stages of grief, really.


1. Denial

At first, I found it hard to believe I was in New York at all. “This can’t be my real life”. “Wait, I live here?” There was a moment in a particularly swanky night club my first night out in the city, where I caught myself thinking, “This is a New York City night club. This ain’t no Mikes in Pullman, Joe’s in Tulsa, or even Trinity in Seattle. This is an actual club.” I had to keep reminding myself that the restaurants, fashion, nightclubs, museums, and even the people, are imitated world-wide. New York City is the place to be, or so a large majority of the world seems to think. So many people dream of being in the big city, but don’t have the means or talent to make it there. How lucky I was to be starting off an entire summer in the place where all of those dreams begin.

2. Anger

Well, anger is a stretch. I am obviously not angry about being here. There have been several moments of deep, bitter frustration,
however. New York City is a rich man’s playground, in a slightly less shameless way than Las Vegas. You can get whatever you want, see whoever you want, at pretty much any time and any where.  Where else can you say that? Well, you can’t necessarily say all those things if you don’t come here with pockets full of spare cash. As Jay-z and Alicia Keys say, it’s the “concrete jungle where dreams are made”- but those dreams will cost you an arm and a leg- and that’s before you pay rent.  I was talking to a coworker the other day about what it means to live here as a young professional, and we both agreed that it can be very intimidating and frustrating to be here on a limited budget.  I came to realize that I wish I could tell all of those people who wish they could ‘make it’ here, that they should plan on making it big elsewhere, then make your way out here when you have the bankroll to afford it. What leaves me frustrated in all of this is simply being a student on a counting-quarters kind of level, yet knowing that I have expensive taste which I cannot pay heed to at this point in my life. Long story short, New York makes the greedy greedier, and the poor feel even poorer.

3. Bargaining

Now this one I can really relate to. Based on said broke-ness, bargaining is something I have grown used to. But, rather than bargaining with God as one usually associates with the stages of grief, I mean bargaining with my bank account. It’s not always pretty, but it’s what you have to do when you’re trying to get by on $200 a week in NYC. “If I buy lunch today, I will pack a lunch tomorrow and not have Starbucks for the rest of the week.” Reasonable, right? The only problem is that by the end of the week when my weekly draw from a separate account is two days away and all I can afford to buy for that time is one falafel sandwich, the bargaining gets ugly. “If I buy the fall edition of Vogue, I will chew gum when I get hungry the rest of the day and use up the rest of the chicken broth and broccoli in the fridge for meals tomorrow.” Yikes. If you see this mom, sorry….and no, this isn’t a plea for money! (I mean, unless you want to call it an early labor day gift?) Just kidding! …Or am I?

4. Depression

Well kids, this is the slightly dark side of New York life- depression. It’s actually pretty amazing how alone you can feel on an island with more than a million other people. I always assumed that most people here are transplants anyways, so we would all find a way to fall into step with one another. But realistically, when everyone is on their own agenda and moves at their own pace, it’s easy to feel just a bit invisible. Now don’t worry, this isn’t a wailing post. But I will say that moving here alone is tough stuff if you’re a West Coaster like me, with all of my friends west of the Mississippi. I’m used to my family moving around (my parents currently reside in a small Iowa town), but it’s the detachment from my closest friends that guts me the most. They have always been my backbone and my safe harbors in rough waters, so to be this far from them is definitely a huge test for me.  Last week, I was couch-ridden for almost 4 days straight, which didn’t help my growing homesickness at all. One night, I called my mother, and finally released everything that I fear I had been running from when I traveled east. It was completely necessary, and made me realize that while the couple weeks leading up to it had been murky, the worst had passed, and the rest of my time was bound to be unforgettable.  In the nick of time, my best friend Alex came to visit, which was a sudden break in the clouds for me. She split her time between her family here and me, which made me feel like I was finally not alone any more here. It made me imagine us living together in a new city, which made me more optimistic about my future in general. It’s amazing what best friends can do for us, isn’t it?

5. Acceptance

Lastly, we have acceptance. Like I said, having Alex here has led me to a new optimism about the remainder of my time here (and after I graduate). I only have 20 days left before I head back to Pullman for my last semester of college.  In those 20 days, I have quite a bit going on. I have a cousin visiting, a weekend trip to Washington DC, a yankees game, Ellis Island to see, 3 museums to cover, and a handfull of stores I still have yet to leave little puddles of drool in. All I can do now is to continue to stay positive, focus on enjoying myself and making a good impression at work, and the time will fly by in a blink.

I said when I first got here (almost jokingly) that I would feel like a true New Yorker right before I left. I had no idea how right I would be. I feel like now that I finally feel like I’m starting to get the swing of things for real, I’m almost on my way out. Before I know it, it will be syllabus week again, and I won’t have the world’s greatest city right out my front door. So tomorrow, it’s back to exploration mode. They say that you can tell New Yorkers from tourists by one thing, and no it’s not simply who is carrying a map. New Yorkers never look up. They never stop and look around at the amazing things that they live below every single day. I vow from here on out, to never stop looking up.

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