Holed up in a tiny apartment in Manhattan’s East Village, I was living the life. I thought I had the coolest apartment number in the building. Apartment 3D. It was my space to use for sleep and to cook the occasional microwavable meal. Except that the apartment didn’t have a microwave [or an oven] so everything had to be cooked over a gas stove that looked like something straight out of the 1800s or I had to eat out. Most often, I chose the latter. It was cozy, but not ideal. The wood floors creaked with every step, the window frames collected layers of dust from not being open all winter, the bathroom was barely big enough to fit one person, and the building was quiet, save for the occasional scream induced by unwelcome visits from mice and cockroaches. As dreary an atmosphere as it might’ve been, to have an apartment to myself in one of NYC’s coolest neighborhoods, I couldn’t complain. It was luxury to me.
Every weekend, I’d lug my dirty clothes to the laundromat around the corner. There I would sit tight with a book, observe my neighbors as they came and went, or stock up on snacks at the bodega next door. When all was said and washed, I’d drop everything back at the apartment and walk 10 blocks to the gym (because taking the subway would be cheating). On my way home from the gym I’d stop at a proper grocery store to load up on food, mostly dried goods with a long shelf life, before walking the 10 blocks home. This became my Saturday routine.
Sundays were reserved for exploring, usually within the borders of the villages and the Upper West Side. I wouldn’t allow the heavy crowds in Midtown or anywhere near the Financial District put a damper on my Sunday strolls. I had a knack for finding cool things to do. Gingerbread cookie artwork display? Sounds delicious. Ice skating, meetups, movies, concerts, crafts? Count me in. Pop-up markets? Let me buy all the food. A nice evening bike ride? Sure, I might not be able to see the stars, but the neon signs lining every street will serve as substitutes.
Most often my meandering took me through streets full of boutiques, cafes, thrift stores. Sometimes to deserted parks and seedy Chinatown markets where the smell of fish and old antiques would seep into my freshly washed clothes. On the days that presented a heavy heart or cloudy mind, I’d go sit on the benches in Strawberry Fields and watch people as they took their pictures and paid their respects to Lennon. Secretly, I’d always hope to catch a glimpse of Yoko Ono leaving her lavish apartment building. To no avail.
During the week, I’d walk different routes to Union Square where I was working to find a new restaurant I could try for lunch or dinner. Rarely a difficult task. $2 slice of pizza as big as my face, a set of dumplings that would feed me for a week, maybe just a simple smoothie? The possibilities were endless both in food choices and recreation. Because I was working for a record company at the time, most evenings were spent in concert venues and late night diners. Not a bad way to unwind after a long day. NYC after hours was still lively enough to feel safe walking home but quiet enough to hear myself think. Those were my most treasured hours.
To an outsider, the realities of living in New York may not seem so glamorous, but to me it was, frustrations and all. The city was my concrete jungle gym where each individual is so unique that they all fit in. I was endlessly entertained. After all, when I find a destination that consumes my soul, I put my soul into learning everything about that destination.
Ask me what I miss most about NYC, my answer is always the ability to run across the street at any hour to get waffles, iced tea, or Chinese food. Everything was within reach. And even though I’m not living in NYC anymore, my life there still exists on pause. Every time I visit, I pick right back up where I left off. I peruse the streets, zipping by anyone walking too slow and riding the subway with ease like I’ve lived in the city my whole life. I’m a pro. I’m a New Yorker at heart. Nobody could tell otherwise. When nostalgia overwhelms me, I close my eyes, and the sounds, the sites, the smells all come rushing back. This city, it stays with me forever.