5.17.2015

Becoming a New Yorker

Growing up in Boston, I was always anti-New York. That's just how it is. New York thinks it's the top banana, or, rather, the ONLY banana. I knew better. Other lovely cities abound. So, even though I've now lived in New York City for over ten years, when people ask me where I'm from, I always say, "I live in New York but I am originally from Boston." Short, sweet, and most definitely to the point.

Since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, though, I've begun to feel differently. I was in New York City on 9/11 (doing research at the Barnard Archives for my senior thesis for college) and I moved to New York during the August 15, 2003 blackout (I was supposed to move in on the 15th, but had to move in on the 16th, instead, due to the blackout). I was here for the great transit strike in December of 2005, which had me walking to and from work each day. (An entirely manageable 2+ mile walk each way, but I had to wear a lot of layers because it was a particularly cold week!) I was here during the great bungled-by-Bloomberg snowstorm in the winter of 2009-10, when some streets in Northern Manhattan simply NEVER got plowed. I was here for Hurricane Irene in August 2011, and my bedroom ceiling leaked. (For real. A window leaked on the 6th floor, which leaked down to the 5th floor, which leaked down to the 4th floor, which leaked down to my apartment on the 3rd floor. I woke up to a distinct drip-drip-drip and some soggy things.) I was here for Hurricane Sandy.

And...I feel kind of like a New Yorker. Like it is no longer something to be embarrassed about, since I know that there are so many lovely cities out there and New York is just one among many. New York has its faults, but it is also a city that honestly knows how to pull together and whose residents are mostly extremely nice and friendly, given how many strangers they have to interact with every day. People have pointed out when I've dropped things or my backpack pocket has been open, and I've done the same for others. People have held doors, as have I. Someone held a subway door for me recently for about two seconds and I was so grateful. It allowed me to catch a train that I needed to catch. My neighbors regularly hold the elevator for me, and I for them. It's a city full of anonymity (I don't really know any of my neighbor's names, although I say "hi!" to them when I see them), but also full of acts of kindness both large and small, between complete strangers.

Judaism calls this "chessed shel emet"--kindness that can never be repaid. Typically used to refer to acts of caring that we do for the dead, I see it every day in this little slice of urban living, le'havdil (I'm not comparing my anonymous co-residents to the dead!). I may never hold the subway door for those particular strangers who held the doors for me. I may never again see the woman who pointed out that liquid was spilling from my lunch bag. (Argh!) It's okay.

I do not mean to claim that it is all peaches and cream here. There are inconsiderate people here, too. Fellow straphangers who play games on their phones and DSs without headphones. People who fail to move to the inside of the subway car, despite crowding. People who stand and text or check their phone at the tops and bottoms of subway station stairs. (WHY?!)

It's not just the random, inconsiderate people who make living here hard. It is an awfully crowded and expensive place to live, at least in Manhattan, where I reside. I share a converted one-bedroom with a roommate, and I'm 35. ("No fake walls," I proudly tell people, "so it's not too bad!") It's getting a bit old. (The rent is *really* cheap, though, which is a huge blessing when you are a graduate student or a freelancer.) The streets are full of garbage most of the time. The elevators in the subways sometimes smell like urine and sometimes smell like crack. (I didn't know how crack smelled, but when sharing an elevator with a particularly strong odor that wasn't urine, a fellow rider told me that it was crack. You learn so much living here!) It's very, very loud. Most of the time, in most places. A quiet apartment is a relative term--there are always buses and cars going by.

But it's also not just random acts of kindness between strangers that make this city great. It is also extremely convenient. Public transit runs all the time. I feel safe taking it until midnight, and sometimes even later (just don't tell my mother). Public transit is a quick and relatively inexpensive way to travel between 1-100 miles. (I don't really know the outer limits of MetroNorth, NJ Transit, and LIRR, but it seems to be that or much, much more.) When I've visited friends in other cities with good public transit, the public transit is sometimes slow or doesn't take you where you need to go. That's never the case here, as far as I can tell, at least within the areas that I travel. In other cities, you need a car plus public transit. You really don't need a car anywhere in Manhattan. At all. There are sidewalks everywhere, and most of them are wide enough to walk four across (two people going in each direction). There is live music to be heard, for free, at all times of day and night. Grocery stores and drugstores open early and close late (not as much in Washington Heights as they did on the Upper West Side, but, still--a 24 hour pharmacy is always, at most, a short cab ride away).

So...against my better judgment, I seem to have become something of a New Yorker.

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