Friday, May 31, 2013

Ten Years Later in NYC

I remember being in third grade in 1989 and hearing about the new decade coming. I’d lived through the turn of the last decade, but was only a few months old at the time so this was a novelty to 9-year-old me. Ten years seemed like such a long time. It still does. And yet, here I am having lived a full ten years in New York City. 

My dorm room at Columbia in 2003. No pictures of my Upper West Side sublet exist, and for good reason.
I moved to the city on June 1st, 2003, somewhat reluctantly I might add. A year prior, I saw myself moving possibly to Chicago once I finished grad school at Syracuse. New York was nowhere on my radar. But as I progressed through my master’s program in television, radio, and film, I learned that I really had two choices: New York or Los Angeles. I gave LA about 30 seconds of thought before deciding on New York. And just a few weeks after graduation, I was riding across I-80 in my dad’s SUV headed for the big city. I figured I’d hang around a few years, get myself established, and then move off to a cheaper and easier place to live. At some point in the first few years someone warned me that I might fall in love with New York and stick around for the long haul. I didn’t believe them at the time, but they turned out to be right.

As noted, I resisted moving to New York. My advisor at Syracuse pressed on it pretty hard, insisting that to gain the kind of experience I really needed, that’s where I had to go. I distinctly remember a moment when I was driving into Erie from Syracuse a few weeks before my grad program ended. I was coming up I-79 passing the Millcreek Mall exit -- anyone from Erie knows that exit very well. And I’m not sure why, but I started to think about how I knew every road and route that led away from that exit. I knew a dozen different ways to get to my parents’ house from Interchange Road. I could go in any direction from there and not get lost. And then I thought, “This is exactly why I can’t stay here.” I had no intention of staying in Erie anyway. I knew that, for what I wanted to do with my life, there wasn’t much there for me. But this was a bigger realization. It was a realization that I had to keep challenging myself. I had to constantly expand my world. And that was the moment I came to peace with the idea of moving to New York. It was scary as hell and that was the biggest indication that it was the right thing to do.

But a few months later, in my dingy sublet room on the Upper West Side, I almost quit. I’d just accepted an entry-level job at the audio studio I’d interned at over the summer. That was, in theory, a victory. But the pay was low, even by Erie standards let alone New York. I was sleeping on a futon mattress on the floor that was hurting my back. I’d recently broken up with my girlfriend and most of my grad school friends in New York were scattered about and scrambling to start their careers, so seeing them was rare. I felt defeated and trapped, run down by the giant city I was reluctantly in. I tried calling several friends that night but couldn’t reach anyone. I broke down and sobbed. I remember saying aloud through my tears, “I want to go home!” The next day I got in touch with my parents. A bit more collected, I told them I was having a tough time. I also told them about the futon mattress and my sore back. The very next weekend, they made the eight hour drive to New York to see me. They even brought a real mattress. (Luckily my parents are packrats.) It wasn’t exactly luxury, but it didn’t hurt my back. My parents knew exactly what I needed and went out of their way to make sure I knew I wasn’t alone. I’ll never forget that. It kept me going in a town that is known for chewing people up. Within a few months, I’d moved to a great apartment in Queens with a friend from grad school, met some new people, and gotten a raise at work.
My bedroom at my Astoria Apartment. A significant upgrade.
Ten years on, I’ve had countless adventures that have dramatically shaped who I am. I’ve built a career, I’ve traveled large swaths of the globe, I’ve joined a church, I’ve made incredible friends, and I’ve gotten married. Everyone changes and evolves as they grow older, but this city has played an outsized role in who I’ve become. When I moved to New York, I considered myself a Republican. Being such close and intimate contact with so many different people has shifted me to the left while the Republican party has shifted to the right. When I moved to New York I had an undeveloped sense of faith. I still have an undeveloped sense of faith, but I’m on the journey now, giving serious thought to who and what God is. (Let me know if you know anyone who actually has a fully developed sense of faith. I’m willing to bet he wears sandals and hangs out with outcasts if you do.) When I moved to New York, everyone told me that it was “a different way to live” what with all the walking and train taking. It now confounds and disturbs me that walking to things is such a novel concept in most of America and I can’t ever imagine myself living somewhere where I couldn’t walk and take transit to most things.

Our yard at our current apartment in Brooklyn, complete with lots-o-friends.
I’ve truly come to love this place. For all its faults, it’s shaped me. And while I poke fun at Erie from time to time, I don’t begrudge it. It shaped me for the first 22 years of my life and when I see its real estate prices and Presque Isle Bay glistening in the summer sun, I get why people like living there. But I had to move on to become who I was to become. Now, ten years later in a nice apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn where I can walk to get anything I need, take the train to my job, meet up at world-class restaurants with amazing friends, and go to one of the most beautiful parks in the world with my wonderful wife, I no longer yearn to go “home”. I’m already here.