Ah, suburbia. You are beautiful. You are full of golden retrievers, wrap around porches, hot moms, minivans, shopping malls and plenty of handicap parking spaces. You were a wonderful place to grow up and, while I wouldn’t change a single thing about my childhood and the incredible life with which my father has provided me, there are still a few things I wish I’d learned before I moved to a big city. These are the things you don’t learn when you grow up in the suburbs:
1. How to use/pay for public transportation
When you grow up in the suburbs, your mom drives you everywhere. She drives you to the movies, to the mall, to your friend’s house, to the bowling alley, to the mini golf place. (There aren’t many other options). She returns to pick you up from all of these places, until you yourself learn how to operate a vehicle. You don’t learn how to take the bus. You don’t learn how to navigate the city via the subway system. You are the kind of passenger that gets picked up, curbside, free of charge. If I could go back in time and appreciate that service, I totally would.
2. How to parallel park
Sure, you probably had a driving instructor teach you how to turn the steering wheel and line up your shoulder with a cone and viola!, you were parallel parked and suddenly had a driver’s license. But that’s not how it works in the real world. There are no cones to line your shoulder up with. (Am I the only one who learned to parallel park this way??) There are, however, angry honking people in a rush to go somewhere and they have no patience for your poor parking skills and sweaty, panicked brake-riding.
3. What diversity actually is
I went to a high school with approximately 1.5 black kids. There might have been twelve Asian kids and like four Indian kids. Seriously. This might explain why I went to college and started dating/making out with any dude who wasn’t white. I was just so excited! Diversity, hallelujah! Come kiss me!
4. How to drive on streets that aren’t two car lengths wide and untouched by human feet
I cross the street anywhere I want and I’m sure that all drivers hate me. I would be a straight-up nervous wreck driving around a place as small and heavily populated as New York. I could not do it. The roads I learned to drive on were so wide that I could swerve a little, drive with my foot out the window and scarf down some lunch, no problem. I once hit a mailbox with my sideview mirror on my way home from my boyfriend’s house late at night. In New York, that mailbox would have been a human head.
5. How to share your personal space
I’m almost certain that I have been violated on the L train on my way to work at least seven times, but I have no real way of knowing because everyone is grinding up on each other so it could be accidental, or not. There is no such thing as personal space on the subway. I once fell on an old man’s lap and I suspect it was the most action either of us had gotten in a while. A far cry from a good old solo car ride, belting Joni Mitchell to my steering wheel in suburbia.
6. How to kill bugs
Thank the heavens for my roommate who can kill large bugs without so much as flinching. Bugs are my kryptonite. I slept in fear of large centipedes for weeks after I saw one fall from the ceiling and onto her bed. I would shriek and leap onto the couch when they scurried out from their sneaky hiding places, and she would have to kill them. Eventually, I saw and killed (with help from my landlord’s son) two cockroaches, and now the centrillipedes ain’t no thang. So I guess I’m making progress, right?
7. How to wear comfortable walking shoes and forget about high heels
I found out the hard way that you look like an idiot traipsing around the dirty subway halls in espadrilles. I seriously thought that I was a genius when I started wearing flats to work and changing into my high heels that I kept hidden under my desk. This was of course, not a stroke of genius, as every other woman in the city had already figured this one out and had been doing it for years, just with awful Reeboks instead of cheap H&M flats.
8. How to carry your groceries
You don’t think much about the amount of groceries you’re purchasing when you’re going to push your cart to your Jeep and drive them back to your apartment, where you can take multiple trips to and from the car to unload all of the goodies. You should think twice about the amount of groceries you’re purchasing when you’re carrying them all back to your apartment by yourself via the subway. This is especially challenging if you decided this was also a good time to pick up a case of wine at Trader Joe’s. Thank goodness for guy friends, otherwise that wine would not have made it back.
9. How to deal with people begging you for money
I was physically and mentally exhausted for the entire first month that I lived in New York City. I was adjusting to the lifestyle and constantly searching for an apartment, but I still felt like I shouldn’t have been that tired. A work friend told me the same thing happened to her, and it was because she was so affected by all of the homeless people on the streets, in the park, on the subway, asking for money and holding heart-wrenching signs telling their individual sad stories. You don’t see many homeless people walking around in suburbia. I wanted to give everyone a dollar, but I soon realized that it was not only impractical but also impossible, unless I wanted to end up sitting down there with them.
10. How to always have cash
My dad always told me to carry at least 100 dollars in cash on me at all times, but having that much cash readily available has always really stressed me out. As a result, I usually have no cash on my person, thanks to direct deposit and the fact that I am no longer a babysitter and therefore no longer get paid cash under the table (those were the days!). SO MANY restaurants and bars in New York only take cash – many more than I anticipated – so I always have to remind myself to take out cash every week so I’m not the girl frantically fleeing one bar and running to the next, in desperate search of an ATM.
11. How to not look anyone in the eye, like ever
When you live in a small town, or anywhere outside of a big city, you smile at passersby and sometimes even make small-talk. That doesn’t happen in New York. Ever. One rare time I shared a knowing glance with a woman on the subway who was on the other side of a dirty, smelly sleeping man who alternated between falling asleep on me and her. That’s the closest I’ve come to human interaction on public transportation. Not counting subway performers. They’re almost too friendly.
12. How to put a little more effort into seeing your friends
Sometimes, just the thought of getting on the train and making the trek to the Upper East Side from my Williamsburg apartment is enough to spur a panic attack. How will I get home? What if the trains aren’t running? How much would that cab ride cost? AH, PANIC. But the truth is, it’s worth it. Even if it’s a long commute, you have to make the commitment to seeing your friends. Even if it isn’t as easy as hopping in your car and driving for less than fifteen minutes, which was the radius of the area in which I grew up. You have to make a little more effort to see friends when you are relying on public transportation. But good friends are worth it, so suck it up, pop in your headphones and get on the train!