New York is my home for two months out of the year, but I only recently became acquainted with it. Growing up in Texas, I got the idea from my dad that NYC was some kind of devil city. He regarded it as a liberal place with people who walked too fast, and were too greedy. The first time I visited in my mid-twenties, I realized just how wrong he was.
My first visit
At this point, I was liberal myself, and the city didn’t seem particularly evil to me. There were people literally EVERYWHERE, though in less quantities than Taipei and Chennai, both of which I visited before NYC. The density of any of those cities is slightly overwhelming for me, as I’m happier in a group of 2–6 people, but I learned quickly that I can put my headphones on and they disappear. To a degree, music makes the city feel like a river that I’m floating through or a strange movie set. Interactions with strangers aren’t necessary in the way that waving at folks on the street seems normal in Portland or Texas. In a way, I found the anonymity and brusqueness refreshing.
As a food nerd, I also find the ubiquity of delicious meals incredibly appealing, though I will never get used to the constant lines and hype around restaurants who can only hope to fit a handful of people at a time, ensuring long waits. Still, I feast each time I visit my 2nd home. Often I will pick a particular cuisine, and try to find the 5 best examples of its preparation, be it ramen, izakaya food, or southern fried chicken. Food tourism is a major industry from what I can tell. Food isn’t cheap, but then neither is anything else in NYC. I budget to spend $60 a day in NYC on food alone, and many times I’ve blown right by that. I’d imagine if I lived there more regularly, I would cook more often, but the temptations of restaurants and carts is too high for me to pass up during each visit. I’ve yet to dive into the fine-dining scene, as I’m loathe to wear heels or hose, but I’ve heard great things about upscale restuarants. For now, I think I’ll stick to the sub-$10 congee bowl with youtiao.
A huge part of my love of the city is the transport. Many of my friends in NYC seem to avoid the subway, opting for Uber, taxis, or bicycles, but I love it. To me, trains are a pinnacle of old, cool technology. They’re dependable (largely), safe (except occasionally from scary folks), and inexpensive. Waiting on the platform, or slumped in a molded plastic seat, I have time to read books, listen to music, and contemplate hard problems at work or in life. In a city that moves so quickly, these brief pauses are my respite. Without them, I don’t think I could handle the bustle or the pace of NYC.
That said, I think the city wants us dead. The distinct sense I get from NYC is one of antagonism. The people can be ok at times, but the city itself pulses with too much, and too harsh. Not only are there actual dangers in the city, but the sheer speed at which everything is moving ensures that if you stumble emotionally, physically, or in spirit, the weight of the city-as-inexorable-movement will grind you into dust. Perhaps the industry or part of New York you encounter on a daily basis can mitigate this for a time, but by and large, NYC is hard to thrive in. High rents, cold winters, humid-as-hell summers, and complex transit — if you are thinking of visiting or moving from a sleepy locale, test the waters in a few seasons first.
For myself, making friends was the most important part of enjoying my time in NYC. They ensure that I have activities in the city or in Brooklyn, as well as support and kind faces. With growing familiarity and the increased time I spend in the city, I now love it as a second home, and am excited to drop in for a few weeks at a time, to partake in the drug of NYC. And I’m equally happy to fly home, disembark from the plane, and breath in the cool, crisp air of Portland.