Living in New York City is a completely unpredictable affair. Some mornings you wake up, stagger out of bed, and the city passionately kisses you, filling the day with idyllic charm. Other mornings begin with what feels like a perfectly timed kick, worthy of the last penalty strike in a World Cup soccer match, that lands superlatively between your legs. Often, New York City greets you with both.
After 15 years of these kisses and kicks, it’s time for me to bid mercurial New York adieu; I’m moving to San Francisco. It’s a tough farewell, to say the least, but it’s time to say goodbye. (I’ll be staying with The New York Times, just working from the San Francisco bureau.)
I first arrived here in the summer of 1996. I was 20 years old at the time: skinny, nerdy and cluelessly wearing massive round glasses. I also sported raver pants too; a public uniform that paired with my spectacles, made me look like Harry Potter going through an identity crisis — minus the wand of course.
I entered the New York City alone. Slowly dragging the half-dozen tattered cardboard boxes that cointained my life across the piping hot concrete slabs of the city during summer. I remember feeling utterly forlorn when I arrived at my new home: a 7 foot by 10 foot box on 23rd Street and Lexington Avenue — I later learned that New Yorkers call this “an apartment.”
The city was incredibly gritty and grimy back then, overrun with crime, club kids and politicians who knew how to hide their infidelities. I was warned by my first cab driver to steer clear of dozens of neighborhoods, including Alphabet City, Bushwick and the Lower East Side. In the mid-90s these areas were cesspools; now they are stacked with multi-million dollar glass condos, fake speakeasy bars and more hipsters than cockroaches.
I remember the panic that took ahold of me when I finally realized I was in New York, contemplating the reality that I didn’t actually know a single person among the 10 million I had just moved in with. I barely slept a wink my first night as I lay awake listening to the chaos below: endless stream of police sirens, screaming homeless people and gunshots in an alleyway nearby. (I learned the next morning that someone was shot over a drug-deal gone awry. Welcome to New York, as they say.)
Yet looking past my early fears and trepidation here, and the thousands of kicks between the legs, I really do owe New York City everything.
I came here without a job and now work for the best newspaper in the world: The New York Times! I’ve written a book here. I’ve been in a few bar fights; won some, lost more. I fell in love for the first time in New York. Then I had my heart broken into a million pieces. And I fell in love again, then had my heart broken again, this time into a trillion pieces. I’ve cried in parks, movie theaters and on random city streets. I had a girl throw-up on me during a first date in a bar (we didn’t make it to the 2nd date). I was trapped on the Subway during the blackout, forced to clamber through the tunnel with the sounds of rats scurrying nearby. I stood motionless downtown on a warm, cloudless September day and helplessly watched thousands of New Yorkers perish in the World Trade Center. I then melted into a city of millions who came together to help one another while F-16 fighter jets watched over from above. I met truly amazing, intelligent and caring friends, family and strangers here. And of course I met a fair share of jerks too. Like most New Yorkers, I never did visit the Statue of Liberty.
Yet in the end, I fell in love with a city that I can only hope fell in love with me too.
So, with that said, it’s time for me to say thank you and goodbye to New York City — for now. I’ll see you in San Francisco!