Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Lessons From The Big City

I was on the phone with one of my sisters the other night when she mentioned that, while she was talking to me, she was cleaning up her house from a barbecue dinner she had with my other sister. And as it always happens when I hear about the two of them getting together, I felt a little stab of sadness that they were together without me.

This isn't an unusual occurrence; on the contrary, it happens all the time because they both live in Cleveland, Ohio, while I have made my home in New York. We talk and visit all the time and we keep in touch through near daily e-mails, FaceTimes and the like, but it's hard to replicate the kind of closeness that comes from living in the same city, and sharing all the little moments that make up a life, even though we try as hard as we possibly can.

But the truth is, as much as I miss my sisters, I wouldn't trade my life in New York for anything right now. I love this city. This city where I moved right after college that grew me up. This city I left but still return to every day for work. This city that gave me a career I love, a man I love, and friends that have become family. This city that has taught me to embrace all the different parts of myself that used to seem contradictory but that now seem utterly right.

I read a post last week called Go To New York and it made me think about all the lessons that I learned over my years in the city. I let my mind wander back nine years and, awash in memories, I came up with this. These are the things I learned from New York:

You will feel a little sick as you watch your parents drive away after they move you into your first New York City apartment. You will want to jump back in the car and beg them to take you home. Resist that urge. You think that you'll be terrified to be alone in the city but surprise yourself by waking up the next morning not scared at all.

Embrace the fact that you will, at one point, take the wrong subway and end up in Brooklyn. Just go with it. Eventually you'll find your way back.

Learn to navigate Central Park. Learn all the different ways to walk straight through from west to east, but don't forget to sometimes veer off the path and take the long way.

Learn the mileage of all the loops of Central Park and run them without music. There is so much to see and to hear and you don't want to drown it all out.

And while you're at it, it would also be helpful to learn the location of all of the public bathrooms in the Park. You never know when one might come in handy, especially when you are rounding 110th Street in the middle of a 10 mile run and have already had 2 gallons of water because it's also 110 degrees outside.

New York City is a grid. If you remember that bigger means uptown and smaller means downtown, you can get anywhere you need to go above Houston Street. 

Once in awhile stop and give a tourist directions and remember that there was once a time when you didn't know that Madison came after 5th either.

You can, in fact, walk 20 blocks in heels.

Bloomingdales. Macy's on 34th Street. South Street Seaport. The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting. The Empire State Building. Chelsea Piers. These are all places you need to go to once, but once is definitely enough.

You can never have too many $5 pashminas. Stop standing in front of the street vendor for half an hour asking yourself if you really need the green one that's really similar to the other green one you bought last week. The answer is invariably yes.

Take yourself out for breakfast. Sit by the window and eat eggs and watch the city rush by.

That drink called the Red Devil may taste like a Shirley Temple, but it will make you feel like death in the morning. Don't drink the second one.

New York has a way of magnifying emotions. Laughter is louder, happiness is bigger, grief is deeper and sadness is stronger. 

At least once a summer, go to an outdoor movie in Central Park. Sit on The Great Lawn with thousands of people and look south towards the buildings soaring over the trees. 

Celebrate. Celebrate birthdays, holidays, new jobs, new apartments, and Tuesdays and remember the places where you did. And when your best friend wants to meet you and your brand new fiance at 11pm on 73rd and Amsterdam to celebrate 10 minutes after you get engaged, go. It will be your favorite city memory.

Some of your most important moments will take place at 2 in the morning in a New York City diner.

Buy a really good umbrella and the very best rainboots you can find. You won't want to spend the money. Spend it anyway. The first time you get caught in a downpour with no subway in sight, you'll be glad you did.

Don't take the M96 cross-town bus. Ever. You can walk faster than that bus drives. But take the M5. All the time. It can get you basically everywhere you need to go.

Find one coffee shop, bagel store, and nail place you love and go there all the time. It feels good to be recognized in a city where it's easy to be completely invisible a lot of the time.

Notice the man who helps a stranger carry a stroller up the subway stairs and the woman who lets you go ahead of her in the Fairway check-out line because you only have 2 things and she had a whole cart-full. There is a surprising amount of humanity in this concrete jungle.

You'll love the city even though you always assumed you would hate it. The fast pace. The grit and the glamour. The people. The way it feels both small and impossibly huge all at the same time. All of it.

You think you'll just be here for a few years but then a few turns into almost a decade and the day you drive away you'll feel like you're leaving a piece of your heart behind because New York is a city that gets inside and changes you.

When you come back to the city - every day for work or on the weekends to meet friends - you will see yourself on every corner as you were. As a fresh college graduate new to the big city. Carrying a bag filled with heavy law books. Strolling hand-in-hand with the man you will marry. As a newly-wed. Laughter. Celebrations. Tears. Fears.

Because this is the place that made you. These are the streets that tell your stories.


  1. so true! i relate to pretty much all of these. although i took the train once, okay three times and wound up in the bronx accidentally. yeah. and you actually can have too many pashminas, but never enough random bags or converse - we can walk those 20 in heels, but who wants to! ;)

  2. I love this! I wish I'd gone into the city more, especially now that I'm leaving NJ. There are for sure things I meant to do that I didn't get around too. I'll have to visit once a year for my coveted broadway shows and to check off the other things I missed. Will let you know if I can squeeze in lunch. I hope so but it's all pretty overwhelming!

  3. I used to go to NYC all the time for work and I fell in love! Then I got married and had babies. The last time we were there, we were on the ferry sailing around the Statue of Liberty and then visited the Twin Towers. We flew out the Monday before 911 - and I've never been back. But your post has inspired me to plan a trip!