Today I’ve been running last-minute errands and pondering what it all means, spending a year in New York City. I’ve worn through a lot of shoe leather in this crazy town and learned some hard lessons, and now it’s time for me to pass those lessons on to you.
1. The World Won’t End If I’m a Jerk. I am afflicted with the niceness that is so common among people from San Francisco. I used to treat everyone, even telemarketers, with kindness because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Then I got pissed off at Rebecca the Mattress Saleswoman and learned that in New York brutal honesty is nothing short of essential; if you don’t raise your voice no one notices you’re there. A few days ago, the moving company tried to screw me, and I chewed them out before firing them. Felt like I’d gained a superpower.
2. Manhattan Is a Childishly Easy Place to Live. Those who say life in New York is hard are only half right. Fighting through the crowds every day is hard, and if you want the corner office you have to work like Sisyphus. But those plotlines ignore what a Disneyland Manhattan is for those who can afford the ticket. Taxi? Right here, sir. Tired of the Broadway shows? Try off-Broadway or off-off-Broadway. Fresh cherries on the street at 3 a.m.? Wine at your door in ten minutes flat? Check and check. An entire life is delivered spoon-to-mouth, and this makes Manhattanites the most spoiled infants I’ve ever met. They make a Costco run look like a towering act of adult sacrifice.
3. The City Is Expensive but the Fun is Free. Often in this blog I expressed my indignation at $7 toothbrushes, $55 lampshades and $7.49 toilet paper. Looking back, these expensive staples were the price of admission to amazing moments that cost nothing at all: listening to the New York Philharmonic in Central Park, playing word games with writers, taking the ferry to Staten Island, attending a taping of the Today Show or puckering up at International Pickle Day.
4. To Live In New York Is To Brave the Elements. I thought that highrise living and easy public transit would protect me from the weather. Not so. Every workday I spent at least half an hour on the street, pelted by rain, jumping over slush, and baking in the heat. Wind barrels down the avenues and the taxis disappear when it rains. I’ve spent much more time outside in New York than I did in sunny California, simply because I didn’t own a car. Which explains why…
5. I Have a New Respect for Overcoats and Scarves. As an outdoor athlete, I scoffed at the formal dress codes of the East Coast; no way would Burberry keep me warmer than the Gore-Tex, fleece and polypropylene I brought from California. Then I got my own overcoat and scarf and discovered that those suckas are warm. And I looked…quite dashing.
6. New York Humbles Your Greatest Successes. This year I wrote a long, in-depth story for Sierra magazine that would have earned me applause…if I still lived in San Francisco (see Niceness, #1). No one in New York could care less. What, the story wasn’t published in a New York magazine? And you haven’t authored a book? And it hasn’t been on top of the Amazon bestseller list? Not even for a minute? Then who the hell are you?
7. Manhattan is My Top Adventure Cycling Destination. When I bought the Superstar and began cycling New York, I imagined myself a kitten being fed to pit bulls. Over time, though, I learned to run red lights with impunity, read the acceleration habits of transit buses and UPS deliverymen, and measure exactly how much handlebar can fit between two vehicles’ side mirrors. I never felt more a part of the city than when I pedaled through it, drifting alongside taxis and squiggling past pedestrians, swimming deep in the urban canyons.
8. Cell Phones Blunt the New York Experience, and Sharpen It. I can’t tell you how many times I missed out on a conversation with a taxi driver because he was already talking to somebody on his Bluetooth. I hate what mobile technology has done to New York. People hunch over their screens like gnomes instead of noticing the pageant of life around them. But they do offer the voyeur one spectacle: The Argument. Every day I saw at least one person mashing a phone to his ear and engaged in a shouting match with a girlfriend, spouse, business partner or landlord. Thank you, o clueless ones, for serving your private dramas for all to see.
9. I Can Carry Almost Anything on Public Transit. Like a hundred pounds of groceries home from Trader Joe’s, or a red lounger all the way from Harlem.
10. A Vertical City Breeds Unhappiness. I’ve never seen more stressed and unhappy people than I have on the streets of New York. Why? An answer occurred to me every time I entered Central Park. The transition was dramatic. One moment my yardstick was people: hurried expressions, angry horns, towers occupied by people richer and more successful than I. The next moment, my yardstick was trees: leaves nodding in the breeze and shade beckoning me to relax on the grass.
11. The New York I’d Imagined Was A Fantasy That, Just Once In A While, Came True. In the depths of February, I concluded that the visions I’d had of Big Apple life were a bunch of stinking compost. With every passing day my desire grew stronger to leave this anthill. Then, without warning, the city would sweep me up in one of its singular moments: a poet’s unexpected ode to March, the eco-party where Selso turned from a woman into a man, the glint of sunrise on the Queensboro Bridge, weekend getaways to the Hamptons or the Poconos, the earnest chewiness of an H & H bagel.
My yearlong affair with New York is over. But she is a mistress I have every intention of visiting again.
(P.S.: Now that I’ve polished off New York City, I’m on to Washington D.C. Check out my latest stories at The Ferris Files.)