I’m sitting here in an apartment overlooking Midtown and listening to the sounds of New York City. I’m at a white desk, typing on my laptop and I wonder: is this what Carrie Bradshaw felt like? Did she sit, narrate in her head, and write with awe and wonder at the city around her? Or does New York City lose its magic once you’ve lived here?
Does living in a place make you love it less?
I visited New York in 2006 for the first time. Then I came back in 2014, 2016, and now twice in 2018. Of course, this year’s trips were work-related: I’ve gotten the chance to perform in Carnegie Hall twice this year (seriously, I’m freaking out, but I’m trying to channel my inner Carrie Bradshaw and say this all cool and matter-of-fact.)
The first time I came to the city, I didn’t even know what to expect. I got off the plane naive and starry-eyed, filled with wonder and amazement and a little shock. I was not prepared for the amalgamation of cultures that New York City has. Or the many lifestyles. I grew up sheltered in a small town. The most diverse we got was when a family had a blonde kid and a brunette kid.
Walking into New York City the first time was magical. It was like entering a portal into this world where I was free to be the person I had always dreamt of being. I could sing show tunes in the middle of the street and nobody would look at me, unless it was to join in with a chorus. I could stay out after 9 pm and there was stuff to do. Places were still open. In fact, it seemed, a second wave of the world was just beginning to rustle from their slumber and begin their trendily-dressed, power-walking nighttime activities.
I couldn’t imagine a world that had so much to offer after the sun went down. My hometown rolled up the sidewalks at 8:45.
When I left New York at the end of that trip, I felt as though a hole had been ripped in my heart. Seriously. I had true separation anxiety from this amazing place I had quickly grown to love. I mourned its absence in my life. But I knew there would be no way I could return anytime soon. I was about to be a college student and cash was not going to be plentiful for at least four years.
So I waited it out. I waited until the next chance I got to visit.
The chance finally arose eight years later, when my wife and I took a trip with my best friend and her husband. I had some fears that The City was going to somehow be different. I worried that maybe the magic I’d experienced at 18 years old would have disappeared. Or that maybe I’d made more of it than I was. I worried that my imagination had transformed my memories into something unrealistic, filled with childlike wonder and not at all accurate.
But I stepped off that plane with my eyes still filled with stars, and my dreams still full to the brim. I saw the city with older eyes, but it was still magical, still wonderful. It was still the amazing place I’d been longing to return to for eight years.
We went to shows and ate the best food I’ve ever had and stayed out after our bedtimes. We brunched with The Ladies Who Brunch and we drank mimosas and we trekked out the The Village. We did touristy things–went to the Empire State Building and cruised past the Statue of Liberty–but we tried very hard not to behave as tourists. I wanted the true New York experience. I wanted to get a feel for the actual charm of the city, not just Time Square. Not just the tourist attractions. We saw museums and shows and lived our best New York lives.
My next opportunity to visit New York came two years later. My wife and I went to celebrate our anniversary. This time, we felt confident in ourselves to be able to really fit in like New Yorkers. We navigated the subways with very little issue. We went out to The Village and ate good food and browsed The Strand bookstore. We went to the ballet and to see Fun Home. And New York was still just as magical. It was still the world where my dreams of publishing and music converged. It was still a world I pictured myself in. It was still the place I wanted to be.
New York’s Siren call haunted me every day for another two years before I could return to this city I love. Only this time, I returned in an unusual and amazing way. I was returning to live out my lifelong dream of performing in Carnegie Hall. This trip to New York was a very different experience for me than ever before. I was working. I spent every day in rehearsal, several hours a day. My wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and good friend had all come to watch me perform and got to spend their time visiting the city, my city, while I rehearsed and prepared for this momentous occasion in my own life.
What that meant, though, was in the free time I did have, I got to experience New York in a different way. I popped in my headphones and navigated the city without issue. I rode the subway and ate alone and did the New York thing in a different way than I had before. This was the first time I had really felt like a local. I was working. I was here, making music in New York City, living life with those around me. It felt–for a brief moment in time–like I was here and part of the fabric of the city.
It was hard to leave New York that time. I could really see myself living there and thriving. I just thought: I’m an artist and a musician and a writer. I have a masters degree in education. I could survive in New York. I could find work and be close to the things I love the most.
But alas, all good things have to come to an end.
Soon enough, something amazing happened, and I was invited back to Carnegie Hall with the same orchestra I had joined last time. And this time was different; I only had one rehearsal, not four days’ worth. I was going to get to see the city and work like a performer.
And see the city I did. I ate delicious food. I walked everywhere. I dressed like a New Yorker. I stayed in an AirBnB and not a hotel. I tried to entrench myself in New York. I tried to become New York.
I know it’s silly, this love I have of this city that I’ve never lived in, that I’ll probably never live in. But it’s the place I love. I love the noise and bustle and the people. I love the culture and the food and the sights and the smells. I love the scaffolding. I love that New York is always under construction, always changing, always becoming something new.
I jokingly made this metaphor with my best friend on this trip: we are all New York. I went on to say that it all makes sense. We are all always changing, growing becoming different today than we were yesterday. We are always putting up scaffolding and changing ourselves everyday. Much like New York, we are always under construction. We’re always seeking something different.
We really are all New York.
Again, I must say goodbye to this beautiful place that I love so much. But now I leave with the understanding that anytime the Siren’s Call is too much for me to stand, New York will always be there, waiting for me to discover more of its secrets and weave myself into its fabric a little more. Maybe I’ll never live there, but it will always feel like home to me.
I am New York.
We are all New York.
The Plucky Reader