My Four Years in New York City
I hate it when people in NYC talk about how they couldn’t live anywhere else. Warning: this post is one of those.
Why is New York City so hard to leave?
The streets are gross. Rent is too damn high. And you have to wear a puffer jacket in April.
Three strikes right there.
Plus, it’s a humbling place to be. Humility is a good thing, but to a point. I’m a married 30-something and my wife and I have good jobs.
But we live in a 358 square foot apartment in the West Village. No dishwasher. No washer/dryer. And we’re in a 4-year war against cockroaches and mice.
Our place is so small and outdated that when our families come to visit, they take a look around and ask us if we need money. Not the best feeling for a husband. Sigh.
Maybe it’s the energy of the city?
As an Oklahoma kid from the burbs, NYC is the ultimate playground. The restaurants. The bars. The shows. The people watching. And it’s happening all around you.
I’ve stumbled upon a Nike-sponsored basketball tournament at Rucker Park with Kevin Durant playing. We saw Amy Schemer and Judd Apatow pop into the Comedy Cellar for an impromptu show. For me, those last two things are my heaven.
But let’s be real, we don’t take advantage of the city every weekend. More often than not we’re hitting our local spots (shout out to The Grey Dog and Tartine) and then retiring to our home with a bottle of wine and Game of Thrones.
Is it the people?
I think this is it. I’ve created post-college relationships with some fascinating people. New York City is filled with so many inspiring individuals who (wholeheartedly) follow their passions. It’s energizing and contagious. It’s those relationships that lead to the most exciting opportunities.
But these people don’t just exist in NYC. They’re everywhere. You just have to be willing to connect with others wherever you go. I’ve realized I was lazy about expanding my network before I moved here. I didn’t branch out from my immediate friend group.
Is it the NYC dream? (Spoiler: the NYC dream is a lie.)
First off, everything I thought of NYC growing up turned out to be a lie. Carrie Bradshaw could never afford her $25 million West Village townhouse as a fashion writer. Jerry should never have left his door unlocked for a neighbor like Kramer to pop in. And the coffee shops never have local musicians playing Smelly Cat — just long bathroom lines and overpriced gluten-free scones.
Second, winter last way too long in NYC. You basically live in your warmest wool coat for 6 months. That beautiful fall foliage you see in the movies is true but for three weeks, maybe five weeks. Lies. Lots of lies.
Growing up, I didn’t really dream of living in NYC. I didn’t dream of living anywhere. As an average white kid from middle America, I assumed I would play in the NBA for a few years, travel around the country and settle down in a place like Dallas. That dream came to a quick end when I realized that the NBA scouts looked beyond the OKC Catholic League for potential draft picks.
I didn’t visit NYC until my senior year of college. I came up here to visit my sister and I was blown away. I had never been in a city with so much happening. I was hooked. (Maybe a little drunk.) But I wanted to live here.
I love the energy and the attitude of the city. It’s the reality of the city that gives it character and gives it soul. It’s the attitude that was lacking from the shopping centers I was used to in the 73120 zip code. (No offense to the Chilis, Best Buy and Big Lots.)
I didn’t make it here after of college. I took the long route by going through Dallas with a few stops at KPMG and a small investment bank. My opportunity came along after I cold-called a NYC-startup that was hiring in Dallas. I jumped on the opportunity because they said if I did well then I would get to move to the headquarters in Manhattan. I was in.
The transition from finance to a small startup wasn’t pretty. But in January of 2012, they asked me to move to NYC in 6 months. Game on! That same month I met a girl. And after our fourth date, I asked her to quit her job and move to NYC with me. Little did I know that having your best friend in NYC is what makes the NYC moments so sweet.
Alright, about these NYC moments. Here are a few of my that come to mind:
A One Way Ticket
There is something terrifyingly energizing about buying a one way tick to NYC. It’s like saying, “Crap, I guess we’re doing this.” Then you find yourself in the taxi line with 171 pounds of luggage and a stupid smile on your face. (I was in my late 20s but felt like it was my first day of college.)
The Apartment Hunt
I moved to NYC first. My girlfriend (now wife) was a month after me. Our budget was $2k a month and we wanted a one bedroom apartment in Chelsea. After looking at 7 apartments, we realized we had to raise our budget to even get a studio in the city. Every apartment had its “catch.” Great location. Great price. But it’s a 5th floor walkup with a window facing a wall.
After seeing about 30 apartments, we finally found “the one” (translation: we were desperate and it was livable). Fortunately, we were the first two people to walk in, with several others close behind who had checks in hand. We had to make our decision within 7 minutes of seeing the place. It was tiny, but right in the middle of the West Village and it had a window that didn’t face a brick wall. (#win) It would be our home for the next 4 years.
The Week of Sandy
We had been in NYC for just 5 days when hurricane Sandy hit. We had no power in our apartment for 7 days and only cold water. We would walk to Time Square (they still had power) and work from the Marriott Lobby Bar and then walk home to a pitch black West Village. Luckily, our local bar would open at night, well lit by hundreds of candles. Police officers would drive by every 5 minutes so the streets had light. It was a little scary but comforting to see how everyone in the neighborhood was helping each other out.
A Roommate. A Proposal. A Wedding
I proposed to my wife in this city. We got married in this city. See the photo below — isn’t it pretty? What our wedding photo doesn’t tell you is that it was 95 degrees on that day in early September and I was sweating so bad I couldn’t keep my eyes open to look at my beautiful bride. But we had a blast!
Living through the “NYC Struggle”
Now let’s be real. My NYC struggle is a joke. No dishwasher. No washer/dryer. A painful (and disgusting) subway system. These are first-world problems. But hey, it’s all relative. These were our problems. Not having a dishwasher means I had to hand wash every stupid dish, bowl, pan, fork and spoon. Why? It wasn’t to make my wife happy. It’s because if I didn’t I would wake up to a squad of cockroaches chill’n on our skillet. This would be immediately followed by my wife screaming, a cockroach blood bath, 17 Bounty sheets, 2 toilet flushes and a 911 call to our cleaning lady, Jackie. Ah, thank God for Jackie. That’s my NYC struggle. And it was real.
Jonas in Central Park
The day after Storm Jonas might be my favorite NYC memory of all because I’d never seen Central Park so electric. Snow ball fights. Kids sledding down the stairs at Bethesda fountain. And strangers handing out hot chocolate (and not knowing if it was spiked or not). It was like NYC was one big elementary school that was let our for a snow day.
Date Night in the Village
The West Village in September is so special. On Friday evenings, we would walk up West 4th to Tartine and pass the localcellist playing on the street corner, and a local painter, Kaz, sketching the stunning townhomes on Perry street. It’s one of those moments in time the city is bursting with so much cuteness and charm.
Yep, it’s the moments.
NYC is so unpredictable. It’s a place where you can turn one corner and get flashed by a homeless person and then turn the next and physically bump into the most beautiful women you’ve ever seen. (My wife, of course.) You go from “Good f*?!*# god” to “Good god!!!”.
I am not a New Yorker. I only made it 4 years here. Maybe that counts as a NYC bachelor’s degree or something. This is just a small stop along the way. But it feels deeper than that. I grew up here. I married my best friend here.
So as I turn the lights off on my little studio apartment one last time I am not happy to leave. I am sad. Your 30s are some formative years. But no one warns you about them. I heard about high school. I heard about college. But what about 10 years after that?
We worked so hard to get here and now we’re choosing to leave. It feels like we’re leaving too early — like it’s 11:57pm at a house party and they’ve just dimmed the lights and started playing Prince. We can’t leave now!
I guess if you don’t measure life in time but moments then you might like NYC. Love it or hate it, Manhattan forces you to have these memorable moments.
And I’m happy to have the ones I do. Especially when those moments, good and bad, were with my best friend.
But I’ll continue to hate those dumb posts about not being able to live anywhere else.
Originally published at jimwhuffman.com on November 14, 2016.