I’ve been in this wild city for six months now. It’s had its ups and downs but one thing is certain: New York City has taught me bucket-loads about urban landscapes and my place within them. Today, I’m sharing a handful of skills I’ve developed during my time here, plus a few things I could stand to improve on:
What I’ve Learned
- Moves like lightning— I think there was a time in my life when friends would accuse me of being a slow walker, but not any more! In New York City, you snooze you lose, so you better believe I am speedwalking down those streets and running up the steps from the subway platform. (I get my fair share of actual running done in Central Park too.) The New York style of movement is about more than just speed though, it also demands limberness and careful maneuvering. You have to be ready to dodge that pack of tourists, sneak around that man dawdling with his shopping bag and get to the door in time to help that woman pushing a stroller—all in a manner of seconds. I’m glad I’ve honed this skill because I use it every day.
- Spotting the un-crowded places—In a city of 8.3 million people, open space should be cherished above most other things. Thus, I am developing a knack for spotting those places with a little more room in them: libraries, cafes (like the one I’m sitting in right now), museums and even calm neighborhoods where one can wander freely, undisturbed. I’m always looking to add to my list of uncrowded places, too. Let me know if you have ideas (but keep your voice to a low whisper. We can’t let too many people in on the secrets).
- Cultural awareness—Back in the Midwest last week, I realized I might be starting to take New York’s diversity for granted. I stepped into a lounge bar in an old warehouse in Wisconsin and the first thing that hit me was not the music or the décor but the enormous amount of white people—more than I’ve seen in one room in months. It’s not that I don’t notice race and class in New York. Quite the contrary: I notice it every day, everywhere I go. But the diversity around me—racial, economic, ethnic, and religious—is beginning to feel normal. Like why on earth would I not hear five different languages on the bus on my way to work? It’s a joy to be exposed to such varied lives and to have my privilege questioned on a daily basis in such an in-your-face way. I won’t get it like this anywhere else so I’m learning from it as much as I can.
- Dressing for all occasions—Let’s start with the feet. Life in New York requires a considerable amount of walking (see #1) so you always need a pair of trusty, walkable shoes on hand. And yet, New Yorkers also spend time at the office and out to dinner and at other venues which require nice-looking shoes. Here, preparation for any occasion is key. Moving upwards, you’ve got to have the right clothing to keep you warm outside in the winter, cool on the subway platform in the summer, and dry during a thunderstorm. You can’t just stash a rain jacket in your car; you have to carry everything with you. This I have learned, but not without a fair amount of mistakes along the way.
- Sucking it up and opening my wallet—This is one thing I wish I didn’t have to do, but sometimes it’s unavoidable that I’m running to an event after work and I know that with subway travel I probably won’t get home till 10pm. On these evenings, it’s inevitable that I’ll be eating out instead of cooking for myself more affordably at home. I keep a mental list of cheap spots near my office and other frequent destinations. However, eating out more has definitely been a mindset shift and I have to compensate for that budgeting in other realms of my life.
- Finding friends in surprising places—When I came here, I thought I wouldn’t know anyone, but that turned out to be wrong. Quite a few people end up in New York City and I am blessed to have rediscovered several friendships from past periods of my life because those people are in New York suddenly too. In addition, I’ve opened myself up to meeting new people through friends, coworkers and roommates. When you’re surrounded by millions of people, you’ve got a pretty high chance of finding some good eggs among them.
- All the other stuff—Naturally I’m learning more than just what clothes to wear and how to walk in New York City. There’s personal growth, career experience, spiritual exploration and all the other juicy things one would hope to encounter in a new place and new phase of life. But I’m not ready to speak on all that just yet.
Areas for Improvement
- An ear to the ground—Within my wonderful network of friends, several are long-time New Yorkers with a serious awareness of what’s going on in the city, and others are just naturally in the know. If I tag along with them, I get to enjoy underground concerts, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and secret neighborhoods that I would never have discovered on my own. I’d love to be able to find these myself though, so that I can pass on the knowledge to future newcomers and visitors.
- If only I could walk in heels…this would solve the whole “carry nice shoes and wear walkable ones” situation. Alas, I possess zero skill in this arena.
- Deep breaths—Patience is not my strong suit and in this fast-paced city, I could stand to cultivate a bit more of it. I need deep breaths for those moments when I’m stuck behind a crowd of people or when public transit fails or when this place doesn’t quite feel like home.
So there you have it: seven lessons learned, three areas for improvement. Maybe we’ll revisit this when my service year is over in August. For now, Happy Monday!
Photo taken in Sunnyside Queens