In the city that never sleeps, a resident learns to walk faster. He learns to swipe a MetroCard at just the right speed; how to enter a turnstile without touching it; how to find a comfortable position on a crowded train. He may be harassed daily by the notion that he hasn’t “made it” in his field, but the moment he goes to sit on a park bench and cry about it, he sees his fellow New Yorkers carrying out an entertaining spectacle that makes him forget why he was so distraught. Maybe it’s two drag queens dancing to a homeless person’s radio. Maybe it’s a group of Chinese women doing tai chi. Maybe, as the comedian David Cross observed in the days following 9/11, it’s a rollerblader wearing a gas mask.
In New York, as Cross likes to say, “You are constantly faced with this very urgent decision that you have to make about every 20 minutes. You have to decide immediately, ‘Oh my god, do I look at the most beautiful woman in the world or the craziest guy in the world?'” There are more than eight million other people bookended by those two superlatives, and while some, like your boss, might contribute to your stress, many of them reduce it.
But being a New Yorker, it’s more complicated than that: you’re a bike commuter, but the traffic and pollution is killing your buzz. You love living in Greenpoint, but it means living above a 17-million-gallon oil spill. Or, you love living in Park Slope, but the strollers! You love your job, but you can’t ever afford to get away. You love your apartment, but you can’t afford it. You hate your roommate, but you can’t afford to move out. Or maybe, as Rosecrans Baldwin, author and co-founder of the website The Morning News, has said, you’re an aspiring author who can’t stop imagining “six million writers doing the same exact thing at the same moment with more imagination.”
Baldwin, whose first novel You Lost Me There came out last month, moved to the area outside Chapel Hill, NC from New York partly due to the experience above. He and his wife had also spent some time in Paris, but now in rural North Carolina, peaceful but adjacent to a vibrant creative scene, Baldwin was able to finish and sell his novel, and is now at work on two other books. The tranquility also enables him to read other people’s books in one sitting. His is a more tempered version of the Onion‘s recent article, “8.4 Million New Yorkers Suddenly Realize New York Is a Horrible Place to Live,” in which a picture of a U-Haul-filled highway illustrates the moment “all 8.4 million citizens in each of the five boroughs packed up their belongings and told reporters they would rather blow their brains out with a shotgun than spend another waking moment in this festering cesspool of filth and scum and sadness.”
Among the 8.4 million catalysts for the mass exodus: “a blaring siren that droned on and fucking on,” “two subway rats gnawing on a third bloody rat carcass” and “muddy, refuse-filled puddles that have inexplicably not dried in three years.” Of course, if nothing good is coming of one’s New York experience (North Carolina was the Drano to Baldwin’s writer’s block), one begins to notice rats eating each other, puddles that haven’t dried and blaring sirens. But for the happy New Yorker (OK, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves: the content New Yorker), the features above blend into the landscape. The landscape is dripping subway station ceilings, wiley cab drivers and trash piles. But it is also the High Line, the Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park.
Nearly half of all residents of New York State live in New York City. The city’s demographics are famous for two reasons: population density and cultural diversity. According to 2005 data from the New York City Department of City Planning, the countries with the highest immigration rate to New York City are the Dominican Republic, China, Jamaica, Guyana, Mexico, Ecuador, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, and Russia. That’s quite a list. And according to 2006 data from the Comptroller’s Office, 170 languages are spoken in the city. These statistics alone are reason enough to move here. Indeed, in a 2009 Pew Research Center study, nearly half of people aged 18-34 polled said they’d like to live in New York. This statistic was cited by New York Magazine‘s April 2009 cover story about young people flocking to the city in spite of the recession, which hit the city particularly hard (ahem, Wall Street). But that article neglected to mention that there were quite a few cities ranked higher than New York: San Diego, Orlando, Seattle, San Francisco, Denver and Sacramento.
The truth is, while it might be hard to “make it” in New York City––the target, in all likelihood, keeps moving––it’s not hard to make a living that you’re proud of, and perhaps to take your life in a direction you never thought it would go. There are so many opportunities in New York that its residents often find themselves stressing over the sheer number of options they have. Which adventure to choose? Which job to take? Which apartment to live in?
For those who’ve had enough, the small-pond allure of Orlando or Denver might simply be that amenity so elusive to New York City: nature. But it’s not so simple. More nature and less people also means it’s easier to find your way. In a smaller pond, it’s harder to get lost.