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A Reflection on My First Year In New York

Last month marked my first year as a New Yorker. And with that mark, I decided I had to write one of those “what I learned” posts. So, here goes: 

My whole life, I saw myself here. Racing through Midtown in the morning to make a 10am call. Barreling through the doors of a packed express train at rush hour. All of that stuff.

What I didn’t see was everything you have to go through to first get here — and then make it here. So, for all the people out there that see Gotham in their future, listen up:

Need an apartment? Up your game.

Everyone warns you how nearly impossible it is to score an apartment in the city. While it’s no cakewalk, it’s really not that difficult if you understand how to communicate well. If you’re dealing with brokers, be direct and quick to respond. They’re busy. If you’re dealing with potential craigslist roomies, be friendly, personable and make them feel comfortable. And overall, make sure you have all documentation readily available to act at any point. And be aggressive. If you prove to have your shit together, you’ll be surprised at how accommodating people can be from thousands of miles away. I say this all from experience.

Getting here is expensive, but staying here doesn’t have to be.  

Getting here will — no lie — rob you of every dollar you’ve ever had. Just getting into the door of an apartment costs thousands of dollars, as you’ll typically need 3X the monthly rent just to sign a lease. And then there’s the actual moving part, which can be astronomically pricey. But there’s a silver lining. Living here doesn’t have to be expensive. Sure, the rent’s higher than anywhere around, but not having a car helps take the sting away. There are also decent discount grocery stores with daily sales. And as far as cheap entertainment goes, believe it or not, it’s everywhere. Even in Manhattan. Just follow local blogs like Gothamist and Timeout to find it.

Lower your expectations for living space.

Unless money isn’t a thing for you, you’re going to have to get used to a pretty universal standard of apartment living in the city. The buildings here are ancient. They were built before washers/dryers, central A/C and dishwashers existed, so, there’s typically none of those things. Closets are small because people in the early 1900’s didn’t have 45 pairs of pants. Halls and doorways are narrow, because superfluous space wasn’t always a thing. And appliances are still small and compact, because kitchens in already-tight spaces can’t make room for 8-burner ranges and sub-zero refrigerators. There is really no silver lining to this one. You simply have to either suck it up or move to an outer neighborhood where there are more options.

Walkup = fierce ass of steel

While we’re on the topic of apartment spaces, let me tell you one thing. Do not be afraid of a top-floor walkup. Sure, you’ll be totally winded after your first trip up to see the place, but you will no-doubt get used to it. I’ve been in my 5th floor walkup for a year now, and have consistently been able to talk myself out of a gym membership — just by looking down at my calves and my steel shelf-of-a-derriere.

The subway system is the best thing, but only in theory.

I have a love/hate relationship with the train. On one hand, it’s a truly brilliant idea. Quick, cheap, 24-hour underground transportation. Accessible from pretty much anywhere in the city. What more could I want? And then the reality of it sets in. Litter everywhere. Strangers crammed intimately together in cars and on platforms. Rats so huge, you can sometimes see their facial expressions. And the smells. DEAR GOD, THE SMELLS. This all equates to the train being the best thing, but mostly the worst thing.

It’s pretty safe at night, but weird stuff still happens.

Despite ever-dropping crime rates since the 1980’s, New York still seems to have a reputation for being a dangerous place after dark. However, it’s not really that dangerous anymore—in my opinion. Gentrification is in full-force and nearly every neighborhood in Manhattan (even most of Harlem) seems to be on the upswing. But despite decent safety, there is still some weird stuff that goes on after dark. Don’t be surprised if you’re offered cocaine by strangers on the street or see prostitution acts taking place. You’ll also probably get yelled at by a homeless person at some point in time. However, since there are so many people constantly around, random acts of violent crime rarely happen so long as you don’t act a fool and don’t show fear if you’re ever confronted.

No friends? No worries.

New York is a place where most people like to get out and do stuff. With so many transplants, finding people to go out and have a good time with is pretty easy. You’ll surely meet people through friends of friends, at work, in your building, and if that doesn’t work, well, it’s the digital age, and pretty much anything is possible. I came here knowing two people. I now have several good friends and I met them all through natural progression. My word of advice: give it time. Collecting a circle of friends won’t happen overnight. But if you’re kind, adventurous and put yourself out there, you’re sure to find a fellow crony or two in this overpopulated place.

Life happens fast.

The other day, one of my clients was telling me that she came to New York with intentions of staying for 2 years only. And then she woke up one day, and 10 years had passed.

It’s rare to see someone whose appearance is completely on-point.

People here are well dressed, no question. But, if you pay close attention, you’ll notice that even the most put-together person has something really “off” about them. I’ve seen the grubbiest hands carrying Birkin bags, the ashiest feet accented with Louboutins, and every walk of life seems to carry their lunch and other stuff in a shitty, crinkly shopping bag. In my own personal opinion, carrying chicken salad in a Victoria’s secret bag is a little much. But besides the crinkly bags, the quirks are kind of cool, because it really does show you that New Yorkers aren’t putting on a show for anyone. You can spot us in a great trench coat, but we might be having a terrible hair day, because we don’t have time to do it all, all the time. We’re busy people, so you get what you get.

And there you have it.

My list of the things I’ve learned in my first year of living in the city. Despite everything being a little bit smaller and a little bit more cumbersome to do, where else can you look out your window and see a sprawling concrete jungle that’s full of life at any given hour, where pretty much anything is possible if you want it bad enough?

Okay, maybe there are a few other places like that, but as far as I’m concerned, New York City is the hub of the western world, and I’m happy to do what it takes to be here.

This also appears on Michael’s Tumblr and is published here with his permission. Check out www.michaellalley.com for more.
Title photo credit: flickr

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