Today I’m putting down the cash for my tickets for this trip, and I have to chose my final destination. So I’m thinking about the end, where I am going to end up. And it’s always that same damn merry go round for me – New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles.
The appeal of Los Angeles is the comfort of your private life: your car, your house, your family unit, the small yet completely owned and cozy private sphere you live in and can’t get out of because of the traffic. There’s also the high school/clubby atmosphere of the industry; knowing people who know people and who know your people. Wearing flip flops all year because it’s always summer here. Having your nice, manageable, private chunk of a big city that has everything. And if you want to change your life, you just move to a radically different neighborhood and do that for a while. But why would you want to? You are comfortable where you are. No matter how hard it gets, on some level it’s always easy. And the East Coast people appreciate that the most.
The appeal of San Francisco is the righteousness. Working at a job for a high tech company that’s just about to change the world or just did; or for a cutting edge green non-profit that’s just about to change the world or just did; and knowing you are living better and greener and more justly and just more healthily and with better, cheaper wine than people in any other city in the country. Being highly educated yet working a nice 40 hour work week with your similarly highly educated friends who are smart enough to care about their lifestyle; riding your bike to the Whole Foods; drinking your soy decaf latte at the independent coffee shop; being a flexitarian and having people know what that means and what to serve you; being in a place that is pleasantly and easily diverse on the outside, but so very pleasantly homogeneous on the inside. East Coasters who move here appreciate the like-mindedness.
The appeal of New York City is that it is the center of the universe. That’s not so much of an appeal as it is a simple fact. Everyone acknowledges it, and from there it’s just a question of whether you want to live in the center of the universe, or someplace a whole lot nicer on the edge of the empire. Because it’s cold and nasty and brutal in the center. You can’t just live here in peace. You can’t wear flip flops; your feet will get filthy. You can’t work 40 hours a week; someone younger and more energetic will eat your lunch. Your sexy wardrobe will be covered up by a shapeless puffy jacket 25% of the time, if you don’t want to die of exposure. You don’t get a private corner, and you don’t get to bike to the Whole Foods, and you don’t get to wear beach attire or impossible heels, and you don’t get a square mile neighborhood where everyone voted for Obama, and you don’t get valet, and you don’t get to feel comfortable, and you don’t get to be righteous. You are in the center of the actual universe; you don’t get to be at the center of your own private universe.
At the center of the universe there’s a protracted scrapping going on over limited resources. No matter what you have, someone a few blocks away has much more. You got a TV show on Bravo? Great, your neighbor has a better one on NBC. You went to Wesleyan? Your neighbor went to Harvard. Your kids are at Berkeley Carroll? Your neighbor’s kids are at Dalton; and his neighbor’s kids are at Exeter. (If you don’t know those schools, you are pre-fucked – don’t bother moving here). You drive an Audi? Your neighbor drives a Porche, and can afford better parking than you. You work at Bank of America or the NRDC? Your neighbor works at Goldman or the Ford Foundation. Your $3 million dollar real estate investment comes with a postage stamp sized yard or roof deck; and no parking spots at all. In New York, no matter how much money you make, you will be paying 60% of your income for housing and taxes and you will feel like the working poor; even though most New Yorkers make at least 50% more than their comparable average American family unit.
At the center of the universe, whether you are here by choice or by accident of birth, there is always the awareness that you are struggling to make it; that grind that thrums keenly below the surface of everything you do. The city can spit you back up and out at any time, without warning. You are not safe. Even truly rich people don’t feel entirely safe. And you can’t pull enough privacy around you to protect you from the overwhelmingly public nature of the effort everyone is expending just to live here. Money cannot buy you protection from the beggars, the sirens, the snow storms, the garbage strikes, the taxes, the cacophony of foreign languages, the menacing teenagers, the crackheads, the humidity, the grime, the ambitious immigrants from the Midwest to West Africa; the off duty cabs spraying you with muddy water as they wiz by you in the rain; the molesters on the subway; or the proselytizers with their megaphones, pamphlets and vans. If you walk a city block from anywhere to anywhere, you will be exposed to this grind. You must expend effort to live in New York City. It’s not supportive.
Yet every New Yorker is always on their way back to New York in some way or another; no matter how long and loyally they have lived anywhere else. And you know it. You, New Yorker, will be back to New York. You will be back in the dead of winter for the holidays. Or you will be back in the awful heat of summer. Or you will be back and you will have accidentally forgotten the Yankees are in the playoffs, and your traffic will be awful. You will ditch the rental car and get your ass on the dirty subway. And you will probably be back more than once a year! You probably haven’t ever gone more than 12 months without a visit home. Because if you don’t come back, you don’t feel right. When you don’t come back, you feel loss. And when you don’t come back, you are in fact losing something. You are losing why you enjoy living elsewhere, you are losing what makes it great to be a New Yorker living anywhere else on earth. You are losing the ability to be in Greenwich CT at breakfast, Mexico at lunch, France for dinner, India for your yoga workout at 8, France for your dinner at 9:30, and Jamaica when you party that night at midnight. You are losing your fluency and tolerance for people who do not look or think like or smell like you. But worst of all, you are losing that gutter rat instinct for hustle and survival; that keen understanding of just where you are and just where you are not in the social pecking order; that ability to throw a sharp elbow to get someone out of your way on the train; that awareness that the quality of your life is determined only by how hard you are willing to work and what you are willing to put out there into the public. You are losing the knowledge that life is not a private beach party or a cozy Democratic fundraiser in someone’s Berkeley Hills living room. You are losing the knowledge of how much it really hurts to strive and to live and what it really feels like to be on your fucking grind when everyone is better than you. So you come back.
I openly adore the Bay Area. I am in love with it. The Bay Area always rescues me. I come home here to be safer and cleaner and to feel the ideal of how I would like to be; it’s the proverbial city on a hill. And I begrudgingly love Los Angeles, because she grew on me. She sucked me down into amnesia and somnolence and it was easy and it’s nice and necessary to have the reminder that things can be easy sometimes. But I need New York. I need New York to slap me around and remind me that I’m not as smart or as ambitious as I think I am. I need New York to remind me that I don’t want to be anyone’s dinner; and that if I don’t want to be anyone’s dinner, I have to work a whole hell of a lot harder. I need to be in New York as much as I need to periodically leave it.
Can anybody else out there relate? Can I get an amen?
So I think I’m buying my return ticket for New York City. Who knows how long I’ll stay this time, but Lord knows I’ll always be back.