Do you love where you live? Really love it? Happy people do. A good friend of mine loved the wilderness. She lived in what most people would call a hovel, but she chose to live there so she could be an artist and spend her life in a forest, surrounded by mountains and trees, many miles away from civilization. The wilderness was in her soul, and she loved where she lived.
Not everyone has that luxury. If you’re a top executive, you go wherever the CEO sends you and you don’t expect to get too attached to any town. That’s part of the reason all upscale suburbs look so much the same: you can move from Greenwich, CT to Rock Hill, NC and not miss a beat. Same houses, same shopping malls, same furniture stores, nice leafy trees. In 2 to 5 years, you’ll up sticks and move to the next leafy ‘burb. If you’re in the military or academia, same deal – although professors tend to stay put once they get tenure. Not sure about the military.
I love New York City. New York was my first real love, and it has lasted. Oh sure, I get disenchanted every now and then. I threaten to move to Tahiti in February, or Scotland in August, or Canada during election years, or Amsterdam when I get all theoretical about quality of life. It’s possible I may do any of these crazy things, since I’ve learned never to say never. Yet even as I threaten to go, I remember that I’ve lived in Manhattan for my adult life except for 1 year, and in that one year, I bitterly regretted leaving the city I love.
Once, I met someone in a small town upstate who dreamed of moving to Los Angeles. In fact, after 2 beers, that’s all he could talk about. When I revealed that I had spent my formative years in San Diego, I was suddenly his LA Expert (they’re not the same place, but it seemed impolite to quibble). This guy hated his small town and wanted the bright lights, big city, surfable ocean, palm trees, glamor, the whole package deal. Problem was, he’d never been to California and he was intimidated. “Oh fer cryin’ out loud, you’re young and single. Just buy a plane ticket and go for a while!” I said. “You’ll either love it or hate it, and you can figure out what to do next.” But LA Dreamer had lots of objections, mostly that he was broke. “You can be broke in LA, too, you know.” I told him. No. He had another plan: “Maybe I’ll go to Phoenix first. Or Denver. Ease into it.”
Fine. Speaking from personal experience, I’d probably go with Santa Fe or Boulder instead, but whatever! The point is, LA Dreamer was already scaling down his dream. Never do that! If you want to live in Paris, go to Paris. Don’t tell me maybe you’ll try New Orleans first. And if you want to live in New Orleans, do it! Don’t tell me that Memphis would be an acceptable halfway station.
Not everyone is that tweaked about where they live, because they love what they do. Maybe they have a big, close knit family that anchors them; location becomes a secondary consideration. Maybe they have no affection for their town, but love their job. Either way, they’re happy. And I’m happy because I’m in New York City.
New York grabbed me young, and it didn’t let go. It’s my center of the planet. It’s my island. It’s my city on the hill. Even after all these years, I can still walk down a street I’ve never seen and be amazed all over again. I feel the energy every day. Not just the lights and the crowds – you can get that anywhere. New York is not a big sporting event, although sometimes people seem to believe it is. There’s a sense for every true New Yorker that New York is feeding you its own raw energy, and you’re adding to the city in your own way. Every time you cross a street, every time you use New York body language to tell someone without words that you’re not going to yield the right of way, every time you use some fast-talking smart-mouth expression that instantly says “I’m from New York”, you’re contributing. It’s your duty to uphold the reputation. Whether you’re scaring Soccer Thugs in the UK just by talkin’ Bronx , or throwing around Yiddish words* like you know what they mean, you’re doing your part.
So why do I love it? Let me count the ways.
It’s a city of stone. The robber barons of the 1890s built beautiful public works that are still the heart of New York. Take a look at the building facades with lovely details throughout the city. Beauty mattered. It’s a city of glass and steel, too. The Chrysler Building takes a back seat to no one. More recent additions have an attitude, too. You have to, if you want to be part of this skyline.
It’s a city of water. New York is a port city, and all of it except the Bronx is on an island. New York owed its early prosperity to the now-forgotten Erie Canal systems that connected the inland wealth of America to the rest of the world. The harbor, the waterfront, the rivers, the beaches, the ponds, streams, and fountains make New York what it is. Did you know that small, natural, freshwater streams under Harlem to emerge in Central Park? I admire the desert kingdoms of the world, but I’m glad New York has a wealth of H2O.
It’s a city with a past that’s not afraid of the future. New York was one of the first and biggest settlements in the New World. There are structures dating back 400 years. I know that’s peanuts if you live in Europe or Asia: people living in Florence can routinely be heard to exclaim “Oh, great. Another frickin Early Renaissance fresco by Giotto, a minor but influential artist, is behind my bathroom wall,” when all they want is to put in a new shower. In the US, though, 400 years is impressive. This sense of history gives a solidity to all we do. It’s our bedrock.
We love the past, but New York is willing to tear it down and build again, over and over. Some people find this extremely distressing. It’s what keeps us fresh, though.
It’s a city of people. There are multitudes here – not just numerically, but in cultural diversity too. The world is here. There are dozens of religions, languages, habits, cultures. You are part of a larger picture. Immigration has created New York City and immigration shapes us to this day. We are a city of immigrants, and, frankly, that makes us stronger and better. It’s not a peaceable kingdom – don’t get me wrong. There are always rifts, clashes, conflicts, rivalries. They are part of the fabric of life, and if people don’t understand that, they are shunned until they do. You are allowed to hate your neighbors, but you are not allowed to tell them they have to be exactly like you. There is no “normal” here.
It’s a city of freedom. Anything goes in New York. Are you a data manager who longs to lip synch in drag clubs at 2 am? Get in line, pal. Do you come from a small village of Sikhs? You’ll fit right in if you move to Hoboken , join a local temple, and get a job across the river. Are you an artist who gets called “strange” or worse back home? Move here, become a “living statue”. Do you want to be part of a “thruple”? Spend your nights in sex clubs? Not my cup of tea, but you can do it here and no one cares. If your church tells you you’ll rot in hell, you can find another religion (don’t forget the Zoroastrians!)
It’s your choice. And I chose New York.
*To paraphrase Lenny Bruce, “This is New York City. Even if you’re Catholic, you’re Jewish.”