Empire State of Mind
In 1999, I was an unworldly freshman at Rutgers University. Located pretty much in the center of New Jersey, the university provided the perfect battleground for North and South to become acquainted with one another. Within no time, I was enlightened to the unofficial fact that whenever one makes reference to the “the City,” he was referring to New York City. Not any other city, especially not Philadelphia. And if anyone innocently slipped and failed to reserve this title for the Big Apple, he would promptly be reminded and on occasion, scolded. Those of us who were dealt the shorthand and hailed from places other than New York City or its suburbs seemed to submit to this demand without a fight, although many of us did so begrudgingly. Not so much a battle I would say. And how could we not have succumbed to such cowardice? Our tormenters spoke with such fierce confidence. Their town dictated what the coolest hairstyle was and what music was popular. Their baseball team, the Yankees, seemed to be playing in the World Series just about every year.
After college, many packed up and moved to the Mecca of all metropolises. Some went to pursue careers in a city that offered pretty much everything and anything. Others went simply in search for adventure in one of the most eventful places on earth, if not but only for a small, temporary portion of their lives. And then there were others who went out of a yearning to claim the great city as theirs. Other cities were just not good enough, not big enough. They wanted to don the Yankee blue baseball cap and root for a team that was tried and true with a century’s worth of success. Such a place like New York City is built on migrations of the noted types of people. People want to live in New York City simply because it was New York City.
But New Yorkers and self-anointed New Yorkers should respect the fact that many of us acknowledge what makes their city great but our envy stops there. For every time you speak with an air of arrogance and condescension at all things not New York, realize that somewhere in a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, a kid wearing his Steelers’ jersey doesn’t care how splendid the new Yankee stadium is or how much you spent on a bottle of vodka in the V.I.P. section of the club you waited 3 hours in line for. Nor does a guy sitting on his porch on Wingohocking Street, North Philly care whose rooftop you partied on in Tribeca. When a guy in Detroit talks about how much he loves his city, he means it every bit as much as the Upper East Side socialite who sings praises for her city.
While people want to live in New York for the simple reason that it is New York, there are many of us who don’t want to live in New York because it is New York. It’s not our city and we love our city for all the good and some of the bad. This is not a jab at New York City or New Yorkers, but it would be nice to see the grandiosity toned down a little bit. We would all appreciate a little tweaking of that empire state of mind.