My morning commute starts on the L-train at 1st Ave. and 14th St., a 5 minute walk from my temporary apartment. Boarding the L-train in the morning is where I have witnessed some of the most savage human interaction play out. After weaving and dodging my way around others to be the first one to get through the Subway turn style, I quickly jog down the steps into the gaping pit of heat that is the MTA system, making my way next to the track, hoping to hop on the upcoming train. I tend to wind up stuck behind a wall of people, waiting next to the man loudly playing Latin tunes on his reed flute. Listening to sharp, staccato notes reverberate off the unnaturally black walls, I brace myself. The L-train rumbles up next to us, filled wall to wall with young, hip Brooklynites headed toward Union Square. Before the train even comes to a stop, we scramble toward the train doors, anxious for them open, hoping to be first one to have to figure out how they fit into the people puzzle inside the car. Inevitably, there are two options: shove your way inside while awkwardly making physical contact with everyone on board or be passive and remain on the outside, kept secure only by the sliding doors, hoping that when they say “don’t lean on the doors”, today will be an exception and they will spare your life. I push and thrust and knock and elbow at least six different people as I make my way into the center of the car, looking for place to hold on to next to the other seven palms gripping the center pole. I feel my clothes cling to my damp skin, my upper lip a sea of sweat and my hair standing on end. As the train starts moving, I feel a large bead of sweat slide down my torso, the source apparently underneath my bra. I feel it crawl down my stomach, leaving a long sweat mark on my shirt. I take a deep breath and turn up the volume on my headphones, hoping to bury my irritability into the intense house beats bleeding into my ears. “Made it” I think.
“So, do you like New York so far?”
I have been asked this question so many times in the last month that I have lost count of the amount of awkward responses I have to it. Do I like never being able to escape the heat of what I can only describe as hellish? Do I like scrambling and fighting with 15 different people just to secure a place to live? Do I like living in a place where every habit or ritual you perform is public? This is a city where just going to the grocery store is an adventure you have to gear up for. How are you getting there? How are you carrying your groceries home? What time should you go so you don’t have to whisper “excuse me” every 2 seconds while you bump into another human?
The city breeds what I call “The Constant.” It is everything, all the time. I had a friend tell me that here in the city is where she’s been the happiest she’s ever been but also the saddest. The city can be extremely overwhelming and, at times, soul sucking. And while I have always prided myself on my adaptability, navigating this grid of nine million people has proved to be one of the biggest challenges of my young life.
However, the city also promotes a lifestyle and culture that encourages human connection and fosters the most incredibly dynamic displays of the human condition. The culture shock may be intense at times, but at other times, it can be so endearing. For example, I am fascinated at the way New Yorkers tend to overdress for everything but only carry an umbrella with them, as if accepting the fact that getting wet is just inevitable, even if they are wearing $800 Balenciaga sneakers. I have witnessed love in every kind of form imaginable — young couples, old couples, fighting couples, throuples, queer couples, and everything in-between. Today, as I stood under a bodega awning, waiting for the rain to pass, I watched a couple across the street from me do the same thing, and as they stood there, they held each other, happy to share a quiet moment waiting on the rain. It’s the tiny things that happen daily that enchant me the most: the time I bonded with the employee at my favorite Mexican spot over our love of mole, the cashier who triple checked with me if I was sure the price was okay when it seemed way too high or the handsome architect on 13th and A who takes the time to wave me at me through the window every morning when I pass by his firm. It’s the only place I’ve been where you can be surrounded by so many parts of the world at one time, like the time I eavesdropped on an argument between a Dominican and a Cuban over which Latin community was “tougher” or the group of Ukrainians we met down at the beach on 4th of July who told us very confidently that the U.S. is “still the best country in the world.” Any type of flavor you are craving, you can find it in the city. That Brazilian-Chinese fusion you didn’t know you wanted? New York has got it. There are so many things to explore and discover not only about the city, but also about yourself, and these little moments of self-discovery and wonderment are the things that have me infatuated with the Big Apple.
So, do I like it in New York so far? Jury is still out on that one. But adding up all these daily, little thought-provoking experiences are starting to sway me.