My Bite of the Big Apple

My first impression of New York City, as I emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel on my journey from the airport, was that it is alive. Fluorescent lights blinked at me from every direction, cabs dodged and danced around each other at breakneck speed, and the pavements burst with people worrying in every direction despite it being 1am.

Ever since I visited New York City for a brief sojourn four years ago, I have fostered a fantasy about living in the Big Apple. So, I decided to see just what this fantasy was made of and carry out a kind of experiment. I was in the city for three months with a real job, a real apartment (a real crappy Brooklyn apartment at that), and a real New York City life. Well, I certainly got some entertaining anecdotes. I wore through four pairs of shoes and learnt some hard lessons in that crazy town, and now it is my turn to pass a few on to you. So, here we go:

1. The world won’t end if I’m a “jerk”.

I am one of those people with the affliction that I can’t even be nasty to a telemarketer, because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But then I was accosted by New York City fundraisers, tramps, taxi drivers, concierges, waiters, receptionists, train drivers, businessmen, constantly battling for my money, my time, my dignity. I learnt that in New York, brutal honesty and a firm hand is vital. Now, if some poor sod pisses me off, they’re sure to know about it. I feel like I’ve gained a superpower.

2. Living in New York City is stupidly easy.

Yeah, sure, if you want to live in a penthouse and have a giant office you have to work like a dog, but for those of us who are content with just enough, New York City has everything you could possibly want, and it’ll deliver it to your door in ten minutes flat.

3. Stuff is expensive, but fun is free.

I spent about ten minutes of every day throwing a mental tantrum at the extortionate prices of things; $7 for a toothbrush, $8 for toilet-paper, and $10 for a beer, to name a few. For someone on a budget (a really really really tight budget), this was nearly the breaker of my trip to the city. However, looking back I realise that the expense is really just a small price to pay for a ticket to all the other things the city can give you, absolutely free. Staten Island Ferry? Free. Shakespeare in the Park? Free. Seeing a real gospel choir? Free. Dance party in Coney Island? Free. A poet’s unexpected ode to August? Free. Having a chat with a rapper from Harlem? Free. People watching on the subway? Free.

4. NYC demands braving the elements!

I arrived early July, and the temperatures easily reached the high 30s every day. The city squashes all the hot air in, so it feels about 100,000 degrees hotter than it actually is. Put this together with businessmen cramming their armpits in your face on the subway, and I’m sure you can imagine what I mean by braving the elements. About once a week, the heat is broken by a torrential downpour, the likes of which I had never seen despite being to India and Nepal in monsoon season. As with everything else in NYC, when it rains, it does it properly.

5. New York City humbles your successes.

Everybody in the city is doing great things. So what if you go to a great university, so what if you won a hard-to-come-by internship, so what if you have great ambitions. You haven’t written a best-seller? You haven’t got the corner office? You don’t live on Park Avenue? You haven’t won a Golden Globe? Or the Nobel Peace Prize? Then get out of my way.

6. A vertical city breeds unhappiness.

Everywhere on the streets of New York City are stressed and unhappy people. I often put this down to the hard drive of work, which New Yorkers seem to do constantly, but then it occurred to me one day as I was strolling through Central Park. Why did the people casually walking round the reservoir not have steam coming out of their ears? Come, relax in the shade and take a load off.

7. My pictured New York City was a fantasy.

A fantasy that, every once in a while, came true. On my very last day in the city, I decided to visit my very favourite spot in Brooklyn , get some real New York City pizza, and look at the skyline. It was pouring with rain and I was soaked to the bone. I ate my pizza on the pier, but the skyline was invisible through the clouds! I trudged back to the subway in defeat. But, just as my train was crossing the Manhattan Bridge, the sun broke the clouds and hit the Chrysler Building just perfectly.


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