Falling for New York City

12 Aug

 

 

Photo by DMT

 

Three years ago, my best friend, J., and I traveled to New York City to celebrate my 4oth birthday. We stayed in the SoHotel at night, and by day, we walked the sidewalks searching out the best breakfast restaurants, finding small fabric stores, exploring the nooks and crannies of Greenwich, Chinatown, and Little Italy.  One memorable day, we walked down 5th Avenue, and stopped in H.Stern, where I casually convinced J. to try on a $12,000 necklace. My friend is an experienced traveler who had visited New York many times before, but she patiently did the tourist things, like waiting in line for over an hour to ride the elevator up to the top of the Empire State Building so that I could see the view and take the same photos that millions of other tourists have taken – poorly.  J. is also a serious foodie, so she had mapped out our meals from day one to day four.  We ate breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien, lunch at Balthazar and picked up cheese, hard salami and good French baguettes at Dean and Deluca for dinner.  Another night we ate dinner at Hampton Chutney Co., and then stopped to sample rice pudding at Rice to Riches.  If you want to eat your way through New York, J. is hands down the best person to plan your itinerary.

It was a painful trip for me, not only because I had failed to bring comfortable walking shoes and wound up with blisters on the first day, but also because the trip illuminated the fact that I was not at all happy in my long-term relationship.  New York made me realize that my life in Michigan had become miserable and small.  I could see that I was definitely not living the life I loved nor loving the life I lived. This epiphany, combined with the blisters, did not make me the best traveling companion, but J. was more than understanding about what was going on and took it in stride. We had an incredibly good time in spite of everything.

I returned home with a vague nagging sense of wanting something more out of life, but I had no idea what that was.  As life with my partner became less satisfying, I would look toward New York as an example of something bigger, richer, and more fulfilling.  I would think about it, search out information about it, and talk about it non-stop until one day it struck me – I had had a brief, but torrid affair with New York City.  I didn’t want to admit this because it made me feel guilty and ashamed, but the more I thought about New York, the less happy I was in my relationship.  My partner wasn’t as exciting, interesting, or engaging as the city had been.  New York was sleek and sexy, and when I flirted with it I felt vibrant and alive again.  I wanted to be living a fast-paced life full of activity with interesting places to go and new people to meet. Instead, I was sitting on a suburban couch watching other people living interesting lives while I wasted mine simply observing.

A year and a half after my birthday trip the relationship hit rock bottom.  I told my partner that I wanted something more out of my life and moved out. I set about reclaiming my life and began to enjoy it immensely, and for a while, my new-found freedom was a substitute for my city crush.  I began doing all of the things that I had been dreaming about, and though I didn’t feel the urgent need to leave Michigan, after a few months I knew I was beginning to settle for something less than I wanted.  Detroit would never be New York City – not even close.

I had only visited New York City for four days on that first trip, but the memory of it lingered, and I wanted to know more.  I’d scour the shelves in libraries and bookstores in search of new guide books, photography collections, or even novels set in New York.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Invisible Man, and even American Psycho found a home on my bookshelves. I rented any movie that even mentioned New York, and I watched Manhattan, Wallstreet, and When Harry Met Sally so many times that it became more economical to buy my own copies than to keep renting them.  I begged a good friend of mine, D. (who lives in the city), to send me anything he could find having to do with New York and he generously fed my crush by supplying photographs that he took as he moved around the city for business and pleasure.  I couldn’t get enough of them.  As the months passed, I found myself lost in D.’s photographs and my own memories of walking on the cobbled streets in SoHo, riding the subway, and peering down alleys as J. and I explored the city.

I’d spent four short days getting acquainted with the city, and now I was dreaming about it like an obsessed lover.  I was falling. I yearned for the city.  I wanted it, and yet I did everything I could to deny that I was practically physically aching to return to it. And as is true of all illicit love affairs, the denial ran deep.  I would tell people that while I loved the history, the buildings, and the culture, I couldn’t really see myself actually living in a concrete jungle.  I would laugh as I reassured others that this was just a phase I was going through.  I wasn’t that invested in it. I could stop any time I wanted.  I wouldn’t actually move there.

Would I?

Maybe?

No, I couldn’t.

In the spring of 2009, I began contemplating what it would mean to actually return to visit New York.  At first it was just a promise of another brief rendezvous.  I would go alone and stay longer – maybe two weeks? As I calculated and recalculated the cost of flights, hotels, and all of the museums and restaurants I’d visit, I realized that two weeks would be expensive and not nearly enough time.  I planned and plotted ways to lower the costs and extend my stay – even just a few extra days – but I knew it wouldn’t satiate the need.  Secretly, I began to fantasize about what it would feel like to pick up and move to New York permanently.

I told no one, and it gave me a delicious thrill when, late at night, I would pull up my web browser and scan the apartment for rent ads in the Times. I dreamed about living in Harlem or Brooklyn or Queens.  When I finally confided in D., a former Midwesterner himself, that I really did want to move to the city, he replied with a matter-of-fact, “Then you should.”

However, when I’d hesitantly tell Michigan-based friends and family members that I wanted to move from Michigan to New York City, most would give me the “why the hell would you want to do that?” look.  I’d listen to their laundry lists of reasons why New York is a “nice place to visit, but not a place you’d want to live,” and logically, I knew they had a point.  I was raised in the suburbs where there was plenty of grass and lots of space.  New York City would be loud and crowded.  The cost of living in Michigan was reasonable and affordable.  Living in New York would cost me an arm and a leg, at the very least.  And as they’d point out, I’d be so far away – from them.  I’d acknowledge their concerns, but I’d be looking off into the distance, while replying, “There’s just something about it that really appeals to me.  I love it.”

They would remind me (in their practical, grown-up voices) that sometimes love is just not enough, and I’d dutifully nod as I reminded myself that a one-sided love affair wasn’t logical, rational, or realistic. I was basing my love on one short visit, and a collection of someone else’s photographs. I told myself that it was ridiculous to want to move to an unknown city where I’d be utterly alone.  I’d be thousands of miles away from my family and friends. I had no job or apartment, and I definitely didn’t have enough of a savings account to get me through the rough times.  Yet, every day I would sign on to the New York Times site, devour the regional news and follow it with a chaser of the Times Real Estate section. I couldn’t stay away.  I didn’t want to stay away.  I wanted to get closer; to embrace the city.  I wanted to love the city — and have it love me back.

Then, one night, D. sent me a shot of 42nd Street, and it looked like everything I had ever dreamed New York City would be – bright lights, whirling colors, constant motion. The moment I saw it, I began to sob.  I couldn’t deny it any longer – I was absolutely, totally, head-over-heels in love with New York City.  It wasn’t rational, reasonable, or logical — it was pure visceral emotion.  That night I decided that no matter what anyone said, I was going to find a way to move to New York.  I was determined that nothing, absolutely nothing, was going to weaken my resolve.  We would elope if we had to.  I would throw my suitcase out my bedroom window, shimmy down the drain pipe, hop into the waiting car and head out to meet the city!  I would do it, and nobody could stop me!

The next morning, I woke up and realized that my idea didn’t make any sense.  Kicking common sense to the curb and running off to live in New York City without a well-defined plan might be romantic and exciting to dream about, but in the end it was the equivalent of a Vegas wedding between two tipsy strangers.  I was being irrational and overly emotional.  I needed to grow up and be more practical about my decisions.  I’d been swept up in the moment and the emotion, but it was a love affair that would only end up breaking my heart — and, most likely, my bank account.

I began to build new walls of denial as I constructed yet another logical and rational defense, but all the while I could feel the pull of the city – stronger this time.

Soon I was back in the bookstores, renting movies, and begging D. to take more pictures. I wanted – no, I needed – to know what the city was doing, so I signed up to receive updates from Daily Candy, which told me about new museum exhibits, concerts, restaurants, and sales.  I combed the announcements, located everything on a subway map I’d kept from the trip, and then pestered D. to go and check out the things that I thought were interesting.  He was incredibly patient, and compromised by sending me pictures of things he was interested in, but basically told me that no human could keep up with my demand for information – at least not one who had a job.  And while he was happy to provide photos for me, he wasn’t interested in becoming the middle man in this growing affair, and I had to find other ways to connect.

Late one night last winter, I found myself exploring the streets of Chelsea using Google Earth.  I wanted to know everything there was to know about the streets of New York. I wanted to see them, to learn them and feel them.  When I finally looked up at the clock and realized that I’d been “walking” the streets for four hours, I knew this had become more than just a casual affair.   My cheeks flushed as I finally admitted, to myself, that I was in love.  Admitting that was scary, but sometimes love requires a leap of faith, and after all of my hemming and hawing, I was finally ready jump.  I would find a way to move to New York City – by any means necessary.

So, here I am and the fall of 2010 is on it’s way.  I have acknowledged that I love New York City in a way that transcends rationality and reason, and that I am ready to make a commitment.  However, I need a plan. Where do I want to live? Where can I afford to live?  What will I do for work? Where will I shop?  Is it safe?  Are New Yorkers really that rude? Will I be as in love with the city when I am living in it or will I find that I’ve made a huge mistake? I have a million questions, and not a lot of answers.

I have no idea how this is going to turn out, all I know is that by January 2012 I plan to be settled in an apartment in New York City.  Stick with me for the next year, and find out how I make my way from Detroit, Michigan to New York City, New York.  I may not know exactly how I’m going to do this, but I do know that I am incredibly motivated, willing to take action and unbelievably stubborn.

Especially now that “I’m in a New York state of mind.”

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