Saturday, April 16, 2011

N is for New York City

I grew up on Long Island about a 45 minute train ride from New York City. My mother used to take me to NYC to go to the doctor and get her hair cut. Two things she thought you were better off doing in a city like New York. For me, the best part about 'the city' was that I got to go to a toy store near my mother's hairdresser. And they sold muppet baby stuffed animals.

After spending time in Ithaca, London, and Boston, I finally settled my roots in the city I always thought I'd known but never really knew. Before I lived here, New York represented a place of wealth. A place where you could be and do anything. And you could do it bigger and better than anywhere else.

I soon learned that, not only is New York bigger and better, but it is taller than you. It is smarter than you. It gets better grades. And it wins more games. It gets the girl. And the boy. It can eat more than you and stay skinnier than you. And it has A LOT more money than you.

When I first moved here, I made $24,000 a year and I lived in a teeny tiny room in a 3 bedroom apartment that I paid $800 a month for (and that's considered cheap). There was one week where I had $20 in my bank account and I ate the following: A banana every day for breakfast. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day for lunch. And pasta for dinner. One day, I got 5 dumplings for a dollar in chinatown and that was considered a splurge.

Somehow, I still managed to buy $15 martinis every weekend.

New York City is nothing if not completely impractical.

And when I first moved here, I thought the $15 martinis were the thing. The elaborate Broadway shows. The wild crowds in Times Square. The carriages in Central Park. The meat packing district clubs. The Upper West side penthouses.

As it turns out, that's not New York at all. New York is 5 for a dollar dumplings in Chinatown. It is the markets tucked on the lower east side. The dog run at Tompkins Square park. Dive bars, cozy cafes, and used bookstores. The bike path up the Hudson. The deli on the corner. The bagel shop. The restaurants you have to walk downstairs to. Sunday brunch at the diner with friends. The toy store with the muppet baby stuffed animals.

It upsets me when people think that New York is high heels and Wall Street and Times Square and $250 broadway tickets and long waits at the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. I was guilty of it when I first moved here. But if that's all you see, you've missed out on the best parts of New York. They are the things you can't see right away. You find them when you turn a corner you never turned before. And they don't cost a lot of money. The best things are the things that don't boast or make any promises at all.

Is there something about your city or town you wish people knew about?


  1. Loved this post, although I almost fainted at the price of your rent. In my neck o' the woods, you could almost rent an entire house for that :)

    What I wish people knew about where I live? Well, I love that I can drive an hour one way and be in West Virginia, surrounded by nothing but nature. But if I drive an hour in another direction, I'm in D.C. It's like the best of both worlds.

  2. I've always loved the idea of NYC, because I was SO SURE that I would be on SNL as a kid. I've only visited the city twice (clearly didn't achieve my dream...) and still loved it. I did touristy things the first time, but I didn't enjoy them. To me, NYC was more walking everywhere on the stinky hot streets, or being afraid of dying in a cab, and finding awesome holes-in-the-wall, and avoiding looking like you're a tourist.

    I still have dreams of living there (and Boston!) for at least a year, maybe, if I ever get the $$$ and balls to do so. Til then I'm living vicariously through your blog.

    - allison writes

  3. Melissa, as a former New Yorker, born and bred, I absolutely love this post because of its truth. Now, when I visit, I get to do the Broadway show thing, but my favorite thing is to stroll around the Upper West Side and stop in the neighborhood shops.

  4. This was so well written, and I know what you mean. I am not a NY lover, but when I break the immensity down to its unique neighborhoods, I understand it. Oh, by the way, did I mention I have a single 32 yr. old son who works in NYC? recently broke up with his longtime girlfriend?
    Love your posts.

  5. Oh Melissa,

    I love your posts too.

    This is a great and very timely post for me because the week before last, I should have gone to New York for a short break with my family but I was ill and we had to cancel :( You've made me want to go more than ever. And I WILL go one day.

    We have some of the most breathtaking scenery in my part of rural Shropshire in the UK. There are probably quite a few places/things I should tell people about, but I'd rather keep them to myself so it never gets tooo busy ;)


  6. I grew up in NYC and know exactly what you mean. :)

    I live in South Beach. When I mention where I live, people assume it's a place of heavy partying. They don't see the peaceful, quiet side of it.

  7. ARGH. That rent was awful. I've always heard New York is expensive. I know you love living there, though. I heard that from your words, girlfriend. :-)

    My home town was Key Largo. Where the only month you can't swim is January. Now I'm in NC. I live near the Biltmore Estate. It brings in a lot of tourist money to Asheville. :-)

  8. Thanks for this post Melissa! I am coming to NYC for my very first time, for the BEA. I'm coming a few days early to be a tourist. I do have to take the ride around the Statue of Liberty because that is the first thing my grandparents saw when they immigrated here. Other than that, I would love to see some stuff "off the beaten path". Are you going to the BEA? It would be so cool to meet you f2f.

  9. Wonderful post, Melissa! I can't wait until I have a good excuse to come to NYC! I've been watching SNL for 32 years. OMGoodness that makes me sound really old! I started watching it when I was 13... I would LOVE to go to a showing on Saturday night....

  10. They say that the best things in life are free - or almost! I love this view of New York. I have never been there, but I know that there is always a hidden side to everywhere. If I visit, I shall look for it!

  11. This is such a great post :) I've only been once, but I adore NYC. I love the idea that there are sides to every city that only those who live there really know about. I'm from Utah, and there are so many weird ideas about what Utah is. Sense of place is so interesting :)

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)