I am resurfacing, finally. Life in New York has been equal parts draining and exhilarating, ego-boosting and bruising. I’ve produced a lot of work and learned a new industry. I’ve navigated most of this concrete maze. I don’t love New York the way some people do, but I am warming to it.
2015 was a year of frantically treading water, of feeling pulled by an undertow of responsibilities and bills and comparisons. I bobbed and sputtered a few times.
I now live in the West Village. Or is it Greenwich Village? Let’s just call it “The Village.” My apartment is a cozy walk-up wedged between Indian and Italian restaurants. Coincidentally, there is a Georgian restaurant called Old Tbilisi a stone’s throw from my doorstep. I stop in once every few weeks for good, overpriced khinkali and the chance to eavesdrop on conversations in Georgian. I’m rusty but I can still discern story lines.
I run along the West Side Highway often. There’s a clear view of the Statue of Liberty, some patches of grass and trees. I can wave hello to New Jersey and breathe in the rank, fishy waters of the Hudson while dodging strollers. The other runners are, like most non-tourists on the streets of New York, insulated in invisible bubbles of podcasts and phone calls and imminent business. Every footstep is tracked and recorded and relayed to Global Positioning Satellites and displayed on graphs and charts and synced to their fitness logs. Running regimes are complemented by regular Barre classes and hot yoga and juice cleanses and offset by nights of cocktails and champagne and dollar slices of pizza. Balance is attacked with vigor and noted in self improvement journals.
I work in Midtown East. Every day I challenge myself to beat the traffic lights along Third Avenue from the subway to my office building, less for efficiency and more to combat the boredom of walking the same path twice a day, five days a week. Suits, laptop bags, clicking heels, honking horns, disgruntled traffic cops, muddy puddles, far more cigarettes than I ever remembered seeing in America, coupons for lunch specials, disabled veterans with plastic cups of spare change. Tiny obstacles and tokens in my daily Mario Kart routine.
I’ve dipped my toes in the bright, rich, tasty, sparkly stuff of New York night life. Not being a tall, heavy-lidded model, I tend to blend into the surroundings and can objectively watch the animals at their watering holes. I’ve decided I prefer dimly-lit wine bars with espresso machines behind the counters.
And what about community? The greatest of the gifts my travels gave me? I’m working on building one. It’s not easy here. The sheer density of humans makes meeting people easier than anywhere else, but meeting the same person more than once requires work and luck. Clubs and organizations rise up around shared hobbies (books, microfinance, French) and young professionals gather around open bars to support their preferred causes (Young Members Supporting Museum X, charity balls to donate used Sperrys to orphans in Sri Lanka). But community built on serendipity and kindness? A guileless search for friendship? That seems to get rolled over by the great machine of time management and prioritization and networking.
But I’m still kicking. There’s good stuff here. There is opportunity and creativity and energy. Culture and capital and lessons to be learned. But staying above the surface requires constant vigil. The riptide threatens to suck you down into a murky world of missed rent payments and sub-par performance evaluations and self-medication and emotional vampires. That undercurrent empties out on the shore of Mom and Dad’s house in Minnesota, if one is lucky enough to have that option. For others, it’s a plastic cup of spare change.
I can’t say when I will be traveling again, but for now I hope you will join me in exploring this loud, concrete island.