Getting re-acclimated to a place you call home is a strange feeling. But moving to a quiet suburb where noise dies out after 10 pm after living four years in a city inundated with constant activity would take some getting used to. I forget that people here smile at you and that it’s natural to say hello to someone when you pass them by the street. That wasn’t really the case over there. I guess that in a city of 8 million people sharing a small set of islands, everyone sort of has to keep to their own bubble to let everyone live.
So I’m reminding myself that maybe I could smile when I’m on the opposite side of the counter at a coffee shop and that the baristas here who are attempting at small talk are genuinely nice people. They’re not the quiet-somewhat-snobby liberal arts student who got up at 4 am in the morning to catch the train to open up shop at 5 am only to be shat on by asshole hedge-fund banker types. This means that by the time my 11 am morning cappuccino rolls around, they’re just fried with six hours of latte art to equally vibey people.
“Hey how are you?”
“Good thanks. What can I get you?”
:waits for drink // grabs drink::
“Thanks man. Have a good day.”
“Yeah. You too. What can I get you?”
It’s more than just attempting to entertain small talk with espresso pulling professionals also. There was this card that went along with having lived in one of the most dynamic and vibrant cities in our epoch – and perhaps the history of mankind. There was this huge exchange of information that went through all the 8 million inhabitants that created this electric feeling and buzz on every avenue block, subway car and Lyft cabbie. There’s a visual excitement that occurs just by walking down the street. Take any block, and it’ll probably be the most interesting thing you’ll see that day.
Even the daily commute on the hallowed L train – a line where most 20-something transplants lived off of – felt like a big stage production. I know that sondering has since become a famous blog meme – or whatever kids call it nowadays – but trying to decipher people’s days by the looks on their face and what they were wearing was all the entertainment anyone needs on their ride back home.
Everyone looked like they were part of their own first-person narrative that played out in their heads or their Moleskines. It was a thrill to know that someone on the train could be intently studying me just as I was intently studying others.
It all sounds so egotistic and self-centered, but there was a deep-seated groundedness in all of it because everyone was on it too. Unless you had your own car, and very few people did, your personal space was shared by everyone else. Even living arrangements usually meant that you were sharing the sanctity of your “home” with other people.
We didn’t feel self-centered because city fed off and needed our collective conceit and egoism. It could only claim to be the greatest city in the world so long as the greatest thinkers, artists, musicians, writers, educators, financial minds and basically people who are just plain better than everyone else inhabit it. Head to any random restaurant in any neighborhood, and I promise you that whatever you’re having that night is probably a better meal that the bullshit that you’ll get at a mall. Waiting for the subway? That trio comprised of drums, sax and contrabass playing their asses off in the sweltering heat and humidity of the subway station at West 4th is playing with more intent, conviction and soul than whoever is headlining your local House of Blues – unless of course D’Angelo is hitting HOB that night. Bored? Why not go to one of the many museums and see the the magnum opuses of masters like Dali, Van Gogh, Monet, Pollock and others. Broke? Concerts in the park are available throughout summer. Sometimes hip-hop legends are rocking at the park next to your apartment and you won’t even know it until you hit Instagram. At times, some of the best and brightest instrumentalist provide free concerts of their interpretations of some of the most beloved classical pieces in our collective history.
As hard as living in an egregiously expensive and competitive environment, it had its mental perks. You could place the blame on every bad thing that was happening in your life on the city. Broke? Well everyone is. Can’t find job? So are the 1,000 people applying for that barista job posted on Craigslist two minutes ago. No one is hiring to play piano – well, they would rather get Robert Glasper or his protégé on the gig than you. I write a lot and people read it, but I’m underpaid… so is your friend who has a graduate degree from Columbia’s Journalism School and is a producer at notable news source as well as all the talented people you know.
More than anything, it was the collective dance between the city herself, the people living in it as a whole, and your personal dance with the place and the people – plus all the other combinations that you can make up with that set of parameters. At times the performance was a poised ballet dance at a Juilliard recital hall. Sometimes it was a break dance on a cardboard box off a G train stop. If you were at a certain part, then it was a merengue or a salsa. Whatever it was, there was always this give and take between your partner(s). As you moved the city and its inhabitants moved along with you.