My Five Years in New York City. Holy Crappers, I Did It!
It's been five years in New York City as of December. Any way you slice this meatloaf, I did it! To celebrate, last weekend we went out for a night on the town. However I've been remiss to update this blog where my great NYC adventure was initially documented (well, on the previous version of this blog that is), launch and all. Looking back at the earliest postings I am reminded of all the doubt and fear that preceded the actual move, let alone the anxiety of the move itself.
Recounting the Consumerist Article
My "bible" for the move was largely this Consumerist article from 2007, Move to New York City Sane and Not Broke, and it's been interesting to compare my experience with the points raised in it.
Going point for point here are some things worthy of my resonating:
Tap Personal Contacts
Check. I expressed an interest in moving to NYC to an aunt and uncle who already lived in Queens. When I finally got serious about advancing that idea, meaning, serious enough to overlook the indignation of becoming the household lard of a non-productive couch surfer, they were still gung-ho to let me crash. I larded nearly all the time they could tolerate me in about three months, landing an actual job in the 11th hour after I had already packed my things and jetted the city.
Scope out the Rental Market
I didn't have the luxury of money in the bank to be spending so much time precisely and smartly scouting the local rental market. As per above I landed a job on Monday, having already left the city, and needed a place to stay by Sunday. My research amounted to little more than snapping up the first clean floor with an air mattress which turned out to be in Sunnyside by grace of my first two friends, Anna and Octavio. And yep, found on Craigslist.
I didn't know then what a wonderful neighborhood I had shimmied into by chance. I mean, the Empire State Building was in complete eye-shot down the street and I was just blocks from the 7 line. Anna and Octavio were both hardcore professionals in their respective artistic fields and in time it became pretty clear that these were the personalities that succeeded around here. I knew it from recovering my college career once that success often means obsession, and Anna and Octavio demonstrated perfectly. I could never achieve their ongoing level as a generalist but just knowing of the component has come in handy more than once. Living with them was a "situation" as I called it because it seemed so ad-hoc. I determined over the years that this was not the exception but the rule for yonks of my class who try to pull off NYC living with virtually no money. Roommates are mandatory as is renting the weird room in back, offered aplenty by those just as poor as you are. Or they rent you the living room and never go in there again while you exist. Whatever, it works and it's NYC life. The reality is far more chaotic and desperate than the Consumerist article depicts but at the same time opportunities in these comprised situations are plentiful on Craigslist, just as it does say.
This went without saying. In my case I plowed through all my money hunting for the job that would buy me the weird room in someone's apartment month to month. But I was able to acquire a family loan in exchange for my car which worked out because a car is not at all compatible with NYC living. The loan replenished the coffers at just the pivotal moment and was not unlike Ben Franklin's acing of French support during the Revolutionary War. Were it not for that, I would have miraculously owned a job offer but have had no money left to action it. That loan included, it took about $6,000 to move and settle NYC before ever receiving my first Corporate America paycheck. I was completely reset financially. My EQ (emotional quotient) is quite low by my assessment, but someone with much more discipline could probably stretch $6000 well beyond 3 months to give it a better go. But I like to think I represent the model dreamer most likely to try this sort of thing, and that dreamer is going to be buying banana splits and booze instead of sticking to a steady diet of Ramen noodles each night. That's just how I feel most people are going to behave so, yes, save like a mother before coming here if only to protect against your own fallibility. And if you have a decent car as I did, know it will probably be best to sell it or offer it up for collateral than bring it here where it will be paralyzed by a culture that taxes you in more ways than one for trying to keep it. In most cases as an average person car ownership will only burden more than help you.
Dump Your Junk
This jives with my experience in living arrangements. The "weird situation" you wind up living in will also turn out to be surprisingly fragile and you will, at some point, need to move. Chances are some odd arrangement is at the root of you renting from renters and that arrangement will, in time, fall apart. Or a roommate will skip out fatally on the rent. Or, if you're shacking with a lover, will need to get packing when you break up. Until you're earning enough to have a stable apartment you can call your own with money in the bank to back up a protracted job loss, you will bounce from weird situation to weird situation. The last thing you need at any time is stuff. Ideally you need to keep your life to a suitcase of a week's worth of clothes, toiletries, and a laptop computer. Until you sign your own lease do not buy shit -- assuming shit outside food and your cut of the rent is something you can swing in the first place. Acquiring more things other than the bare essentials is not a problem you'll likely have while setting up. Unfortunately I did have this problem because I did not follow the article's advice to bring virtually nothing. Hint: a carload is too much.
Line Up Job Prospects
True also. For all the trouble I had in getting hired, I actually had a decent interview lined up when I green-lit the NYC move. I knew the gig was a long-shot but it was real and a navigational star. The move to NYC was less a dream and more a concrete maneuver having the interview lined up than if not. Of course, that particular job didn't pan out but it's purpose in my overall story was more than helpful and motivating.
Rather obvious but the Consumerist article was making a rhetorical point. You will at some point, having made the decision, need to follow through with it. I set a date, 30 years late to be sure, dumped most of my things on the street (to the near-instant claim of neighbors), and went for broke all in a span of about 4 months. But I should have done it when I was much younger and as unattached to anything as I found myself at the time I left Tampa. New York City is much more lively and interesting for the young and the physical resilience much greater. You can be happy flopping on a series of couches if you need to at 21 whereas the middle-aged man seeks and expects his old routine and a certain order to the world.
The biggest problem I have with talking about this item is that I didn't fundamentally pay attention to Maslow's hierarchy of needs back in Tampa, let alone NYC. I imagine life is better anywhere if you take the advice here and apply control. The more discipline you can exert, the more you believe in yourself, exclusive of negative external signalling by competitors, determined detractors and run of the mill naysayers, the better off you will be. That's not NYC, that's life. But NYC is competitive. Those TV dramas featuring New York City politics and infighting you suspect are exaggerated for TV will turn out to be pretty much spot on after all. The superstar class is real and so is the notorious "New York City snub". Sex and selfishness drive many social interactions at an audacious level and if you're not "in" or cosmopolitan enough to be drafted, it can be painful until you are capable of seeing it for the game that it is and are able to re-focus on the truly life-bearing support beams that make you honestly happy. Your craft, your lover, your mission, your story -- whatever the flip. Don't make the mistake of believing that beautiful powerful people are keeping you down. New York is an elevation in and of itself and you "make it" here only after you've demonstrated excellence in a way that may or may not be highly custom to your nature. The common New York City street bum is as crafty and perceptive as the CEO of the building he pees on because only great bums survive here (and he and the CEO both know it). Having done so yourself you can't be kept down and in fact that's the allure of the whole damn place. Nobody works to "keep you down". What the lovely competitive people and the controlling institutions of NYC will do, however, is drive home the perhaps more dreaded message that you are irrelevant. This will be done with such precision and force, and with such a desperation the keen eye will note, the non-Maslowed-tended may in fact be crushed in fair due course. You need to be confident enough and emotionally supported enough to maintain a certain resilience or bitterness and defeat, as you define it, will likely come.
Get a Job
This is sort of high on the obvious scale, but the Consumerist appears to be driving home the point that a job, any job, will get you started. I'm probably one of the (eerily) lucky ones in that I didn't wind up unloading boxes on the dock at 6:00 AM or pushing fries over a counter. I had an idea that I'd work with computers and networks again, and had even made a tepid addition to my formal credentials to keep everything fresh before arriving. I thought I had a few things in my favor so I turned down the first 2 solid job leads which I felt diffused the possibility of a "real" job in IT working "normal" hours. That turned out to have paid off, but it was crazy to risk the NYC dream particularly while watching the last few dollars go down the proverbial drain. Had it not been for the bizarre last-minute job offer fitting my exacting requirements in terms of salary and conditions (of which the first did not include prosperity but merely survival, and the second meaning working through daylight hours), my NYC journey would have been over. Quite frankly I am not sure looking back I could have lived up to the "do anything" mantra of the article, but I was, as I note, not tested in the end by whatever weird stroke of luck.
Learn to Enjoy Solitude
Solitude is what I am all about, but I admit this became even a problem for me. Everything the Consumerist said here applied absolutely. It may not if you're more attractive or just younger, but as I've noted above this town is driven on carnal charisma. If you're not hot, you're just, not. Or, if you're just odd. Or, if you're a threat. Or if you incessantly pick your nose, (dammit). You won't be egged to turn up at house parties, you won't be recruited for the inner circle at work, you will have no need at all, in fact, for that social streaming app that seems like, with an active social life, would be really, really, cool. As explained once, your Maslow will need to be ordered to maintain resilience against being ignored or trampled over by people, as the article says, too busy with their own lives to be puffing up yours. That's NYC. My tip here would be to avoid the bars and the Craigslist ads as quick fixes and find yourself a solid girl (or guy?) easy on the eyes and filled with exceptional love and caring. My bar stories get a little weird (and expensive), but in a string of nonstop luck I found the perfect love, who, as I type these very words, is snoring blissfully away by only a few feet bearing title as my crown NYC achievement. Now the only weird stories I create for myself happen right here in our apartment where the outcomes can be safely contained to the witness of her and two cats.
Yes but it's presumptuous to even pretend I am even a fraction there. Still, going back to the examples of my first two roommates Anna and Octavio (and later from that camp, Fernando), being awesome doing your thing will ultimately rescue you from irrelevance. It took only a few years into it to realize the job I have will never be a conduit to be awesome except in some generalized way that I might be a better faster employee by corporate America standards. I have value at my job as evidenced by the fact that I'm still there after 5 years but value is not excellence, it's just convenience for all parties involved. If I am not actually I am certainly always feeling expendable - and that might actually be my value. Corporate America is shrewd; when it chooses to it rudders pre-determined success and failure in countless subtle ways. You will stay sane by remembering that everything at the core is an opportunity. Still if you come to NYC, land a job in the commercial sector and prove highly valued against the smartest people you've ever teamed with (make no mistake, I work with the best and brightest) that's your path then. The rest of us can only hope to be optimized, productive, and valuable if not valued, while we work on whatever will actually make us shine for real. I'm a long way off but I find my coding is a little more driven, my communication sharper, and my writing deeper and more engaging, all thanks to being ground up against superiority in this unholy town of competition and snobbery.
The article would have you wisely using the resources of your existing job, whatever it is, and whatever your value station, to somehow land your next "up" if you want. Aside from broadly educating myself on procedures and processes I never knew existed before corporate life, I have not done this and can afford no meaningful insight. For me, having lasted this long is the tunnel. Even if I am jetted as layoff fodder, I'm solid corporate. That's got to be at least worth the title of Managing Dishwasher in any other town I may so happen to crash in. For better or worse, I'm content with that.
Don't Move Back
And finally, the Consumerist tells everyone starkly: Don't move back. I think it means in the context of getting in and playing the game for awhile, but surely it can't mean staying forever beating your head against a fire hydrant. I came to this town to evolve and then, strangely after all that work and anxiety, to die. That's what will happen by my ongoing projection. But at some point maybe I will have had my fill, or maybe my girlfriend will have other ideas she can talk me into. Moving back or out at some point is on the table as a viable option in the long future. But give yourself a fighting chance first, ignoring all the hell and tribulation to be foisted on you. Ultimately this is another category I feel ill-equipped to coach on because, as I have noted several times by now, many things went my way, even after having fumbled the ball a few times. NYC seems to have been chasing me as much as I, it. Had things been as gritty as I initially thought they might be, had I needed to sit through a summer or two in a non-air-conditioned roach-infested slum of a room, working nights for minimum wage with no wonderful woman to call my love on top of all this, maybe I would have run away in short order. Ultimately, I have to reason that all of that is just a series of ideas based on fear which stepping forward deflated instantly. If my experience is at all relevant to the reader here it is that perhaps there is always a way and always some mechanic that proves visible and viable, the moment you take that step.