Today marked my one-year anniversary of moving to New York City.
“That’s quite the change!” is the normal reaction I get when I tell people this—and of course it is.
I am a West Coaster through and through—born in California, raised and went to college in Washington. For the last seven years I have hopped between large national parks in the Western USA and Alaska and my family’s home in Western Washington. But New York has so much going for it, that I think it is major change for anyone, not just park rangers like me. But here I am, having survived a humid summer, explored the city during a too-brief fall, out-lasted a cold but not very snowy winter, and enjoyed the explosion of spring at New York’s many city parks.
There are a lot of thing I love about living in New York as I compare it to my “former life” in semi-remote national parks. Here I can walk down the street to buy groceries, to find a tailor selling thread, or to head to a camera repair shop. I don’t have to search online to buy books or new shoes. I can walk to my doctor’s office and am back seeing a dentist twice a year (this last one is both a plus and minus…). I still don’t have to buy a car but have three international airports just an hour subway ride away.
I have adjusted to my new life in New York, gotten into a routine. I wake up, walk to the subway, swipe in, and put headphones in as I wait for the train. I get a lot of reading done as I travel underground. I usually have time in the morning to walk in Lower Manhattan and decide if I am going to head straight down Broadway, pass the Stock Exchange, or head to a longer stroll along the East River or Hudson River. Every evening I come home on the subway, eat dinner and enter the Hamilton lottery. (Every morning at 11:00 I get an email that I didn’t win the lottery.)
I have adjusted, for the most part, to east coast city life. I have figured out how the subway system works, have my Brooklyn library card, have my go-to grocery stores, and even own my first ever umbrella (both Washingtonians and park rangers do rain coats). I have found a New York equivalent to my favorite Washington beer (Ithaca Beer Company’s Apricot Ale to Pyramid Brewing’s Apricot Ale). I have learned to be careful on the street grates which you can walk over but sag, and occasionally are open to reveal a whole world of basements below, where piles of cabbages or boxes of beer live under restaurants. Like tourists, I still look up at buildings, but like a New Yorker, I look down too, mostly to avoid walking in dog poop (this is tougher on rainy days where every damp napkin or small bit of cardboard has disintegrated to the point that it looks like it too might have once come through the digestive tract of a poodle or Dachshund).
Even living here for twenty years will never make one a New Yorker, but I’ve become a little more of one in the year I’ve been here. I catch myself saying “out west” to refer to the Western US as if it was a place as distant as Mars. The subway is “the train,” as in “I am waiting for the train,” “the trains were running crazy tonight,” or “when I was on the train this morning, there was a guy carrying a Christmas tree.” I defend NY bagels and get impatient when people are walking too slowly on the sidewalk. I don’t know any of my neighbors’ names but I know I live next to a dog named Shayna. I have adopted the Brooklyn Nets as my basketball team. I make fun of New Jersey. I even caught myself rooting for the Yankees at a baseball game I went to, but have since come to my senses again.
What I will never adopt is using the term “on line” for waiting “in line” and I still don’t order food from apps and to get it delivered to me by bike. I still walk a lot—even more than the average New Yorker—but have yet to take a taxi or Uber in the city. I still dress much more casually and brighter than most of my fellow New Yorkers, who prefer black for every occasion.
When people ask what my favorite thing is about New York, my answer is “the diversity of people.” It’s a little bit of a cop-out since that can also cover the fact that I can get Malaysian or Colombian food if I want it and talk to people both at MoMa and the Flushing St. Target, but I am a big people-watcher, and I have never been to a place that rivals New York for people watching. I can walk twenty blocks from where I live in Brooklyn and start in industrial buildings on the waterfront and move to neighborhoods and small shops, first predominantly Latino (a mix of mostly Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Colombian judging by the flags I see in apartment windows), then to Chinese and Taiwanese neighborhoods, then to a practically 100% Hasidic Jewish neighborhood. All is New York. All American. It is said that there are more languages spoken in New York than any other place on Earth and between immigrant groups, multi-generational pride in one’s roots, and tourists, I think it must be true. I like what the diversity of New York has taught me about different cultures, interacting with people, and being forced to confront serious poverty and social issues our country is still dealing with.
I also love the history here (Revolutionary War battles! Ulysses S. Grant’s tomb! Site of the first hot dogs and pizzerias in the US!). Though New York is in fact not the center of the universe (friendly reminder to my fellow New Yorkers), history and power in the United States has concentrated here. The New York Stock Exchange. Ellis Island. The UN Headquarters. The World Trade Center sites. Broadway. There is so much in New York that people are somewhat familiar with before they come because things that happen in New York do permeate much of American life elsewhere.
I will argue with New Yorkers who feel like they don’t need to ever leave the city because of New York’s diversity and offerings, but I do love that I can try Georgian food in the Bay Ridge neighborhood (that would be from the country not the state), then head up to Prospect Park and see West Indians playing cricket, then hop inside a museum to see an exhibit on Frida Kahlo, one of Gilbert Stuart’s original portraits of George Washington, and 3,000-year-old Egyptian sarcophagi and papyrus scrolls. And that’s just in Brooklyn. There are things I miss by living in a city—mostly I miss mountains and seeing a night sky—but as long as I balance taking advantage of living in this city of 8 million people, taking the occasional weekend trip away, and being my regular introverted self hiding away in my apartment, I have no desire to move elsewhere right now.
I know my year in New York has changed me. I grew up calling my home state simply “Washington,” with our nation’s capital shortened to “D.C.” to distinguish the two. Here though, when I talk about “back home,” I do call it “Washington State,” while Washington is that city four hours south that will always be playing second fiddle to New York.
I won’t ever be a New Yorker, and I don’t plan on being here forever, but I’ll defend this city with the best of them.
One year in, life in the City is good.