Tomorrow I’ll fly from JFK to SFO. It’s a flight I’ve taken tens of times before; the only difference is that this is a one-way trip. It will mark the end of my tenure in the only city I’ve really known as an adult (occasional forays to Jacobs Field and Richmond’s college-bar scene notwithstanding).
In seven years I’ve called Hoboken, the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, and Williamsburg home. My experiences are in no way special, nor are my insights profound. If anything, I write this post primarily to remind myself of how lucky I was to spend my 20s living carefree in the Big Apple.
“New York exceptionalism” is definitely a thing, and it’s annoying as all hell. During a lengthy visit to the nascent United States of America, French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville coined the idea that America was “exceptional” due to its unique origins and mindset. de Tocqueville described a people whose work ethic and respect for individual liberty and accomplishment were unmatched in the civilized world.
A similar attitude exists among New Yorkers. The idea is that because New York is such a massive, rough-and-tumble city, New Yorkers are hardy individuals simply by virtue of surviving there. This mindset is pervasive in conversations, pop culture, and even state government-financed ads about healthcare. It’s also total BS. Why? Partially because I don’t think that New Yorkers, if you’re comparing employees within the same industries, work any harder than their non-Californian counterparts. NYC happens to just have a lot of financial and legal pros. But also…
New York is not a tough city to live in if you can pay rent. I constantly hear about what a tough city this is to live in. Financially, absolutely: it’s the most expensive real estate market in the country, and I don’t mean to remotely belittle how hard working class folks bust ass to make ends meet here. If you’re living in Manhattan or Brooklyn on a blue-collar wage, you have my utmost respect for making it work.
But among the college-educated/employed crowd, this claim is total nonsense. The subway system is extensive, and the city’s small blocks and deference to pedestrians make walking quite safe. It’s insanely easy to do errands; if you live in Manhattan, you probably don’t have to leave a 10-block radius to do anything short of work or jury duty. You don’t need a car and thus never need to drive anywhere. All of your friends are close by should you need them…you’re never alone.
And you have to go really far out of your way to be in a dangerous area. New Yorkers tend to look out for each other; one of my best friends was helped by an umbrella-wielding grandma when he was harassed on a subway.
Hipsters really are the worst, but Brooklyn is still awesome. If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t move to Williamsburg earlier. You get a nicer place for the same money, and most parts of it make for an easy commute into Manhattan. The bar scene is more friendly to a late-20s/30s crowd than, say, Murray Hill, and it’s easier to get into a good restaurant with no line. It’s also nice coming home from work and not being surrounded by skyscrapers.
Everything, literally everything, about hipsters and their culture is insufferable and awful. But they’re not threatening, unless you’re scared of a penciled-on mustachioed 120 pound white dude ripping your coffee order. To me, it has been a tremendous trade-off.
When I walk to work in Manhattan, I often imagine that I’m an NFL running back. This is primarily because I am pathetic, terribly unathletic person. But hey: you’re cutting through scores of people, all of whom are moving unpredictably and at different speeds. Your walking effectiveness can easily change your commute by five minutes either way.
So I turned it into a game, complete with mental commentary from ESPN announcers. (“See here how Ruddock recognizes the tourists about to stall in front of the McDonald’s; he leads with his left foot, but then plants HARD right. The tourists bite on the counter fake, and Ruddock is off to daylight. This one-cut running style and vision makes him one of my top-rated running backs for 2015.”)
New York will do long-term damage to your liver. There is so, so much cool stuff here. And what I tended to do was check many of them off of my list once, sporadically, over the course of seven years. (“MOMA? Nah, I did that like four years ago!”) The vast majority of the time, weekends were spent at bars, or drinking at cool places. Some of this correlates to my age/recovering frat-dog status, I’m sure…but I also think it’s broadly true of most folks in New York who don’t have kids.
Most people leave New York during summer weekends, and this is kinda silly/overrated. The city is as close to vacant as you’ll see during summer weekends; seemingly everyone summers at the Hamptons, Jersey Shore, etc. If you have access to a free/family shore house, that’s a different story. But why people shell out $2K+ a summer to have the privilege of leaving work early to endure a 5+ hour, horrific round trip commute is beyond me.
New York is actually pretty sweet during summer weekends because everyone leaves! The crowds are a lot more manageable and people are more relaxed. Day-drinking in Central Park’s Great Lawn is, if not explicitly legal, not really policed either. You bring a few backpacks full of beer and wine, red Solo cups, and some lawn games, and it’s 90% of the benefit of the beach minus the sand.
And while the Jersey Shore has received a fair amount of national ridicule, trust me: the Hamptons is even worse.
New Yorkers are kinda assholes, but that’s OK. While they will stick up for you if you’re actually getting beat up, strangers won’t hold a door open for you, make eye contact, etc. Pedestrians will cut you off; subway goers will take a running start to jump into the back of your knee to get into the train; guys won’t give up their seat for a woman, etc. If a store clerk takes five more seconds than a customer thinks should be necessary, expect some serious huffing and puffing. New Yorkers’ reputation in this regard is well-earned.
At first it thoroughly annoyed me, but eventually acting like a decent, polite person became a badge of honor. And when you do actually commit a routine act of kindness, people really appreciate it. In a way, it’s helped me reinforce my identity and build confidence. I take pride in acting to strangers in accordance with how I was raised and how folks treat people in Ohio. (I should also note that all of my friends who were actually raised in the tri-state area are exceptions to this rule.)
I couldn’t have asked for a better city to spend my 20s. Without getting mushy (bros don’t have emotions, duh), my seven years here have been more than I could have hoped for. I was lucky enough to know a lot of people going in, but the city also made it easy to meet people through work and mutual friends. Its convenience and energy make it a great place for someone with a job to live in their 20s; the expansion of Brooklyn, Long Island City, Jersey City etc. will only make it better and more affordable.
New York introduced me to people from diverse racial, financial and cultural backgrounds that I would have never met in Ohio or Virginia. While I spent a lot of time with friends from Cleveland, our circle soon included people with experiences and upbringings far different than my own. Sure, we all ultimately agreed that beer was an a priori moral good, but hey.
As excited as I am for the next adventure, I’ve been extremely lucky to have a great run here. I’ll miss the place dearly.