When we moved to NJ from New York City (NYC) four years ago, we did so kicking and screaming (our rent increase of $1,200 forced us out). We thought this might be a “five-year plan,” which aligned perfectly with my personality as I’ve never lived anywhere for more than four years. We moved to the first building off the George Washington Bridge, which is as much NJ as we could tolerate (“just the tip”), but our license plate brands us wherever we go.
My husband and I strike up conversations wherever we go; Whole Foods, the DMV, doctor’s offices. Standard chatting; you know, revealing our life stories openly amidst curses and jokes to anyone who will listen. (Forgive us, we work from home and when we drop the kids off at school, occasionally we unleash ourselves onto the world.) Strangers tend to react positively to our “When Harry Met Sally” style of ping-pong / interrupting story-telling as we wait for our applause; even in the frozen food aisle.
After two recent conversations, people on the receiving end of our banter have said, “You guys don’t seem like you’re from around here. You seem like you belong in the city.” This is when we launch into our tirade about how we “used to live in the city.” Clearly. “And thank you for very much for noticing,” we say as two huge smiles form instantaneously on both our faces. We are flattered to be considered city folk.
NYC is where my husband and I met and engaged in a quintessential romantic comedy cinematic courtship. We fell in love and NYC happily served as the painstakingly perfect backdrop. The city’s appeal goes far beyond the abundant museum and theater culture; it transpasses the varied architecture or the remarkable skyline. NYC wears its heart on its sleeve ready to bleed for any lovers bold enough to jump. Generations of passion have seeped into the concrete here; it draws a certain type of lustful person.
Many people visit NYC and spew the typical cliche, “Great place to visit; I wouldn’t want to live there.” Living in NYC isn’t the easiest choice, nor is it rated “Best Place to Live” among any real life standards. Cost per square foot in real estate is too high and the price of milk and bread is double what it should be; sometimes the entire length of 34th Street smells like garbage in the summer. Housing projects exist next door to million-dollar high-rises and the unfairness of life with its blatant dichotomy of social classes slaps you in the face at every corner. Women in furs step over homeless men into their limousines, but it’s OK because they’re going to a fundraiser at the Waldorf to raise money for the less fortunate. Artists come in droves to NYC to suffer together and make their dreams come true; because NYC isn’t as much a destination, but a bucket list item.
You live in NYC for the intangibles; it becomes your eternal “I used to live in the city,” defining personality characteristic. It says something about the people who made it here; Frank Sinatra knew what he was saying (from Hoboken) as he said, “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” There is a magnetism emitting from the core of the earth here and it is made up of the collective souls of every artist who sat in a Village cafe and tried; of every immigrant who peddled at a pushcart; of every politician who energized a revolution; of every real life genius and superhero villain. NYC is where fantasy and reality meet and form a new life which reverberates on every NYC street. It is sexy and elitist and scary and exciting, and it is thoroughly romantic in every season.
This is why our favorite date nights are us wandering the streets, lost on purpose, basking in the free entertainment surrounding us. In the graffitied walls and in the colorful personas which confetti the streets; from mohawk-sporting, leather-clad punk rockers to Paris fashion runway glamor and everyone in between. It doesn’t get old or boring and there is gridlock traffic in the East Village after midnight and we linger at the red lights and kiss like we’re kids again. It’s the electric energy in the sidewalks which travels like shocks up our legs and into our hearts and we realize why nowhere else will make us feel this alive. The skyscrapers dotting the horizon, the bridges, the buildings, the voices, the smells – this geographic marvel – soothes my soul like no other.
The feeling of home isn’t necessarily where you are born, but where you land – and where you choose to stay. For those of us who [used to] live here, you understand the urge, the tug, the illogical rationale for why you’d chose a more expensive, less comfortable lifestyle. But for those who make it home, NYC is like no other. For those who leave, we gain membership in the lame “I Used to Live in the City Club,” and eternally use our membership card as gateway conversation starters to justify how we were once way cooler than we are now.