Wednesday, August 27, 2008

City Fits, Eventually, for New Arrivals

"I knew it wasn’t going to be easy — it was something I had to do. I am in love with the city. And what relationship is good if you don’t work for it?"
IAN INGERSOLL, 25, on being a newcomer in New York City.

In the New York Times this morning, the narcissist in me was struck by how many times I felt like Cara Buckley was citing my blog for her N.Y./Region article Newcomers Adjust, Eventually, To New York. It wasn't my blog they were referencing, however, but it featured the same stories that average New York City transplants seem to share. Like Mr. Ingersoll, I worked three jobs for a year and saved $11,000 to fund a comfortable transition to New York. Once I was here, it took me almost a year to establish a circle of good friends, and I still feel incredibly lucky to have the amazing group I found. Our first Christmases in the city were similar, too. He spent his wandering alone in Central Park. I spent mine in 2006 watching the Kaleidoscope Light Show in Grand Central. I sat on the east staircase of the main terminal and watched three shows back-to-back ... or one 10-minute show every 30 minutes for an hour and a half.

Sometime over the course of a person’s first year in New York, there usually comes that moment. It can happen in the first days or weeks, or after 10 months. It can happen repeatedly, or without people noticing, at least not at first ... Newcomers suddenly realize either that the city is not working for them or that they are inexorably becoming part of it, or both. They find themselves walking and talking faster [and looking up less] ... The subway begins to make sense. Patience is whittled away; sarcasm often ensues. New friends are made, routines established, and city life begins to feel like second nature. In other words, newcomers find themselves becoming New Yorkers ... Gabrielle Sirkin’s moment came on the heels of Thanksgiving Day last year, five months after she moved to New York. Every day until then, she felt as if she was doing battle daily with the city. But suddenly, on a night flight to Kennedy International Airport from California, Ms. Sirkin, 26, caught sight of the glittering skyline, and, to her great surprise, felt a surge of joy ... “I was really caught off guard by my reaction,” she said. “But I could see Central Park, and the lights on the Chrysler Building, and I wasn’t looking at it as a tourist. I was looking at it as though I was home.” ... Mr. Ingersoll painstakingly saved $8,000 over a year and a half in Seattle, working three jobs to prepare for life in the city of his dreams. He burned through it in no time when he could not find full-time work. While he had admired New Yorkers’ famed acerbic attitude from afar, he found the brusqueness wounding once here. Making friends also proved hard; Mr. Ingersoll spent last Christmas wandering alone through Central Park ... But for many, the thrill of arrival is often tempered by the sinking realization of what an alienating place the city can be, especially for those who are not wealthy or who do not have a pre-existing network of friends. Nothing comes easily, even if one can get past the dauntingly high cost of living. The subway maze seems indecipherable. People are everywhere, but ignore each other on the street. Friends might live in distant neighborhoods, and seeing them often requires booking time, like an appointment, weeks in advance ... “My friend said, ‘The city abuses you, and you just have to abuse it back,’” said Ms. Sirkin, who grew up in California and moved to New York reluctantly, after having visa problems in Italy last year. “The subway doesn’t work in the morning, and you’re a half-hour late for work, and that’s not in your control. You have to find ways of surviving.” ... Ms. Sirkin’s friend Sarah Kasbeer also recalled being consumed by a common strain of existential New York City angst: the sense that no matter where one is, something better is happening — the real New York is in full swing — somewhere else ... But sometime during her first year, she stopped trying so hard. “I just realized that I didn’t need to find ‘it,’ that my place in the city would fall into place,” she said. “Now I don’t make an effort; I roll with things. It’s not just the city, it’s yourself that you have to deal with as well.” ... “Every day you encounter situations where you have to step out of your safety zone, and it’s really kind of a self-discovery experience,” she said. “I see myself fighting it, but I also I see myself, every day, becoming a New Yorker."

A version of this article appeared in print on August 27, 2008,
on page A1 of the New York edition.
Click here for full online text.

A Year Ago Today: Side Order of Life
Two Years Ago Today: Kudos for Halle Berry


LuLu said...

I love this! Thanks! It's nice to know there are other people going through this as well. :)

Dina said...

Girl, you need your own COLUMN!!! If, I mean WHEN YOU DO...MAKE SURE YOU TELL ME, I don't want to miss a thing you write about!

Anonymous said...

great blog. ive only been in new york for 5 months and its interesting to read how people adjust. i think i know sarah kasbeer and i've been trying to find her for a year or so. my name's dan and she and I studied abroad to together. if you know her (and it's the same Sarah Kasbeer) could you tell her to come find me. I'm somewhere in Brooklyn.


KJS said...

TN & Dina,
Thank you for your comments!

The NYTimes article referenced in this post was written by Cara Buckley. I do not know any of the individuals that were quoted. Sorry I cannot be of more help.