Filtered through the perspective of a visitor, many aspects of New York City have made me become more infatuated with it and more reluctant to pack my bags at the end of the week and return home to Atlanta — where the weather is sunnier but everything else feels a touch drearier.
This isn’t my first trip to New York City.
In fact, this is the second time that I’ve been up here in the past two weeks — driving, this time, with a friend from New Jersey who sped up the interstate like a maniac, as those who learned to drive in Jersey typically do. Throughout the 13-hour drive, he drank so many cups of coffee that I felt sick just watching him, but we managed to make it in one piece if a little frazzled.
Though I visit semi-regularly, I haven’t lost the sense of awestruck wonderment that I experience each time I come here — which adds an extra sparkle to every occurrence from eating delicious, dollar pizza purchased at a grimy dive a few blocks away from Washington Square to meeting a group of Irish finance-students-turned-gap-year-bartenders during a night out in the Village to fawning over the latest pieces at a gallery in Chelsea, discovered by accident. These bits of happenstance seem more thrilling here than if they had occurred elsewhere.
Recently, a friend pointed out that I’m romanticizing this city in which I have never lived, and I know that. She has lived on the Upper West Side for most of her life, but the longest amount of time I have ever spent here is a week — once, during the summer, when I crashed on a friend’s air mattress in a pocket of town near Nolita and now, on another friend’s couch in East Village, just in time for the remaining chunks of winter ice to melt completely from the sidewalks. I don’t know if I would tire of the city if I lived here, if my stays were anything other than brief reprieves from real life. I run away to New York City whenever I get the chance — when life in Atlanta is too dull, and I need a change from the same people and sights. New York City is my escape from reality, but perhaps, my love for it is only a function of my transience; if I lived here, I might start to hate it.
During winter break, I met up with an old friend who goes to school in the city for dinner. I told him that he was lucky to live and complete his education in what I thought of as one of the greatest cities in the world. In Atlanta, my friends and I have found it difficult to venture out to different parts of the city — particularly those that are far away from the suburban bubble that surrounds our campus. Spotty transportation and traffic, for which Atlanta is notorious, are always concerns, and we end up staying within the comfort of the familiar.
He and his classmates, on the other hand, took advantage of the fact that they have the whole of New York City at their fingertips — or so, it seemed. They could and would hop on the subway and go anywhere they wanted on whims. There were always people to meet and admire and fall in love with. Art to absorb. Bars to hop. Parties, Sunday brunches, poetry readings, film screenings, museum exhibitions, or more and more and more.
“No,” he said, abruptly correcting me. “It’s not as exciting as you make it out to be. Sometimes, it’s just overwhelming.”
He remarked that dressing himself in the morning could often feel like arming his defenses that day against the city. New York City, for all its splendor, had a seedy underbelly, he explained. It was a place that could invigorate you, make you want to go out and accomplish something — anything. But, it was also a place that could break your spirit, make you desperate enough to consider packing your bags, calling it quits, and retreating to somewhere easier.
“It will exhaust you,” he added, matter-of-factly. “When you move here, you’ll see.”
He took a sip of water and changed the subject.
At the moment, however, I am only passing through, and New York City continues to be as shiny and glossy and exciting as I have always imagined it. It is the city that I have seen in films and television shows — media that glamorizes the grime and presents the image of a place that anyone would be foolish not to adore. It is the city that doesn’t sleep, they say — that buzzes with energy at every hour of the day. It is the city that you can go to become Someone Important or where you can go to lose yourself, if you want, in the masses.
I’ll be back in New York City — for longer, I hope — but for now, I will leave my rose-tinted glasses on when I make the most of what it has to offer me.