April 24th, 2023
The year was 2013; I made the decision in March of that year. I was working at a ski resort in Park City, Utah that winter and saved up quite a bit of money. As a nineteen year old this was easily the highest paid job I had at that point in my career. It was grueling though- I didn’t own a car at the time and while Park City does have a free public transit system, there were bitterly cold days where I was absolutely miserable waiting for the bus. Most of the customers I dealt with were nice- even the wealthiest clients could be down to earth and were a pleasure to be around. The job was seasonal though, and my contract was to end in mid-April. I had a couple of choices; either move back home to California or try out something new. Debating whether to move to New York City or Chicago, I decided to go with the former since I had never been to the East Coast.
I consolidated all of my possessions- at the time I could fit everything into a large suitcase and duffel bag. The only items other than clothing were my laptop (a tiny underpowered Dell netbook,) Playstation 2 and a handful of games. By this point I was a seasoned traveler and knew how to pack well and tight. I was renting a room from a nice family in Park City and when the time was up, a friend picked me up and took me to the Salt Lake City airport. Flying with JetBlue, another first, I began to ponder whether the decision was the right one. I had never even been east of the Mississippi River and yet now I was flying straight across to the Atlantic. There were a few concerns from friends and family- mainly, that I didn’t have housing or a job set up yet. I looked on Craigslist for rooms, but didn’t hit anything good and was mostly dealing with scams. Pushing these concerns aside, I told myself "nothing lost, nothing gained."
To begin my residence I booked a week at a hostel in Manhattan and figured I would hit the ground running with job and apartment interviews. If I ran out of time I would extend it another week- it was cheap at the time, maybe $30 a night, and I could stretch it out as long as three months if need be. Looking back this seemed daunting and perhaps even dangerous; I knew absolutely nothing about New York City outside of what I saw in media. I knew that there were five boroughs, but was not familiar with the layout of the city at all. Preliminary research showed that the hostel was in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and since it was a red eye flight I would likely need some transportation outside of what the MTA could offer me. I found a shuttle service and figured it was all good. My bank account was padded from the winter’s work, and I’d surely be fine from any potential disasters. At least that is what I told myself.
I didn’t sleep at all during the roughly five hour flight. It was a mixture of excitement and nervousness- I drank Diet Coke and figured I’d buy an energy drink upon landing to perk me up. My laptop kept me entertained- there wasn’t wifi but I tried writing. I wasn’t productive at all though, just staring at the blinking cursor on the white background of Microsoft Word. I had a window seat and looked out- seeing the deep darkness of the Mountain West turning into the bright lights of major cities as we inched closer to the Atlantic. Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland. Eventually 7:00 AM EST came and we exited the plane- even though it was still chilly, the air at JFK felt much warmer than back in Salt Lake City. The bright natural light from outside stung my weary eyes and I found the shuttle booth. Within thirty minutes I was in a passenger van with several other people, and I was the last person to be dropped off on the route. Most of the passengers were being delivered downtown and I got a nice driving tour from the Financial District all the way up to Harlem. An older couple sat in front of me, excited for their first trip to the city. They asked about me and I told them it was also my first time- they asked if I had family there and I said no. At first concerned, I told them my plan and they seemed a bit more relieved. But just slightly more. I bade them farewell as they unloaded their luggage and I sat in the empty van, heading uptown on Broadway at a frightening speed.
The hostel was plain but serviceable. I shared a room with three other guys- the hostel also offered coed rooms but I opted for the typical gendered rooms. Bathrooms were clean and the water in the shower ran very hot. I remember the hand wash sinks being those deep metal ones you see in kitchens to wash dishes. I wasn’t supposed to check in until 3:00 PM- the front desk let me store my luggage in a service closet and said I could probably check in at noon since the hostel wasn’t completely booked. Exhausted but fueled by excitement and curiosity, I walked out onto the street and decided to explore a bit; even though I was not familiar with the city, I simply retraced my steps if I needed to return somewhere. There was a subway station a few blocks from the hostel and I bought my first MetroCard day pass.
I got my money’s worth that day; I first headed downtown toward the Financial District where I marveled at the tallest buildings I had ever seen. I shopped at a Duane Reade- though owned by Walgreen’s, it still felt different than the stores I typically shopped at. I bought an energy drink at a CVS, a couple of dollar slices at Two Brothers for lunch and just walked around and enjoyed the simple sights. I’d say I walked at least ten miles that day- there was no way for me to track it at the time since I didn’t own a pedometer or a smartphone. I only had a crappy pay-as-you-go Blackberry, which technically had a web browser but was very slow. Back then I had to write down directions from Google Maps and then backtrack when I wanted to go home. This was a huge challenge, but really tested and improved my internal GPS skills.
I returned to the hostel at around 1:00 PM and the front desk let me check in. I took a three hour nap, woke up and then applied for some jobs. I emailed a few people regarding rooms to rent, finally contacting someone in Brooklyn that had a room available at a reasonable price ($500 plus electric.) I also got an interview with Whole Foods- I was surprised by how fast I was getting responses, but also pleased with myself that I was making progress. I had some apprehension during those first few days; afraid that I wouldn't be able to make it in the city, or that something bad would happen to me. But the return calls and emails were a good sign that things may just work out. I was also surprised and pleased that most of the people I interacted with in New York were friendly and helpful.
The apartment story is a bit lengthy, but basically I had to hoof it over to Brooklyn. I got the building mixed up with one across the street- knocking on the door of some poor lady that was confused and perhaps a bit scared. I apologized for disturbing her and asked about a room to rent- she pointed me across the street to the correct building when I gave her the address and I headed over. Long story short, I got the room. It was a few blocks from a Target, Rite Aid and some other businesses to make grocery shopping convenient. There were two subway lines within a few blocks too, making transportation to Manhattan for work easier. Which, speaking of, I got the job at Whole Foods which is a whole other adventure (and one of my favorite jobs ever.) As a night job I worked part time at a movie theatre- though quit when Whole Foods offered me a full time position. I won't name the theatre, but it was a famous arthouse theatre off Houston that no longer exists.
To wrap this up, it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time moving to New York without any sort of connection to the city. This was before I owned a smart phone and had to use information gleaned from the internet to survive. It was an awesome adventure and I would totally do it again- though I can definitely understand why those around me were initially concerned. Within three days I was already moved into a place and had two jobs. The big city didn’t seem so big anymore, and I had so many great adventures over the next year exploring the city and surrounding area. Sometimes I miss it, though I know realistically living there wouldn’t make me happy today. I value my creature comforts far too much- like owning a car and having access to several huge supermarkets within a few minute drive of my house. I also can't believe it was ten years ago that I made that trip and turned twenty while I was living there.
As I quickly approach thirty I look back at where I was then and where I am at now. I will never forget my time living in New York, and look forward to returning for future visits.