I am on sip number three of vodka lemonade number two, when he tilts his head and asks: what is it exactly, that I love so much about New York City? And I have so much to say, but no real way of explaining myself without sounding crazy. Not in this small, dark bar, that’s made for even smaller talk with strangers, anyway.
What I want to say, is that I like how the air hangs low and heavy with noises that I didn’t even know existed before I came here; sounds so loud they cut through my headphones. Sounds so surreal I want to slice them up and ship them off to my friends and family back home, so they know just what I mean when I say:
New York City is just so noisy.
I’d play them the almighty roar of fire-truck engines in the evening. And the slow, steely yawn of the heavy doors that guard the city’s biggest buildings. I’d let them hear the bump-and-rattle of the laundry carts on the side-walk, groaning under the weight of somebody’s clothes in summer. And the determined thwack of a snow shovel, slicing through the ice in winter. I’d explain that yes, NYC hums the same late-night lullaby for everyone; sirens and shouting, bachata and rap. But that when I listen closely, I’m certain it’s conducting a special symphony, just for me, above the din.
I love how the atmosphere in New York is a perfectly blended, bitter-sweet cocktail; two parts possibility and elation, one part danger, with frustration and ambition mixed in equal measure. I want to say that I never grow tired of people-watching here; that I love to observe the openness and familiarity with which New Yorkers talk to one another, and their never-phased, always-resilient attitude which I see mapped on their faces – especially on the subway.
The NYC subway.
If New York is the epicentre of the world, then the subway is surely the centre of the centre; the urban nucleus which fizzes and whirs with the eclectic energy of the people conducting their lives within its carriages.
You’ll see everything on that subway – and you don’t have to look hard for it, either. There are people busking and begging and flirting and fighting and at first you’ll stare in open-mouthed indignation because you won’t believe it. But after a while you’ll plug your ears and drop your eyes and it will become a little less extraordinary.
This summer, the subway stopped working whilst I was still on it, in Manhattan. My skirt was damp with sweat and I had no clue how to re-route myself back to Brooklyn, but the entire carriage joined forces to get everyone home, combining knowledge and swapping stories. I tagged onto a team of three people going in my direction (one elderly lady, two guys in their twenties) and we talked politics, gentrification and family until it was my stop and I had to get off.
I want to say these interactions are common. That the thrill of them can super-charge me for hours, temporarily stemming the loneliness that rears its head at unexpected points here, when I think of the 8.5 million other people here who don’t know my name and never will.
If I told this guy that I love New York City for its sidewalks too, he might look at me funny.
Although I avoid walking across the city’s patchwork of subway grates, I do get a real kick out of stepping on those basement cellar doors that block off the belly of the city’s bars and restaurants. I like how they groan and dip temporarily under my weight, before spitting me back up to the sidewalk, safe and in one piece. It’s not a good idea to test them all out, I know, but I like the risk. And isn’t that what NYC is about, after all? Risk. Luck. Chance.
Every New York transplant believes that New York City has spoken directly to them at some point and has assured them that their hustle will be worth the risk. If we can only make it work a little while longer, we’re all certain that the city will spill its rainbow of sweet secrets to us, like a piñata cake, sliced in half.
We’re all here with the same backstory, in pursuit of the same pleasures (money, entertainment, recognition, pizza). We’re all certain this city has been calling our names for our entire lives.
New York is where I should be, we’ll say.
Except, that the more people who flood here, the smaller everybody’s slice of cake gets. New York City gives zero fucks about breaking promises to us but we still hold out.
We’re waiting for the city to invite us to Greenwich Village for brunch. To cradle us when we feel overwhelmed. To hold our hand on the Brooklyn Bridge, as angry cyclists curse our name because we’re not watching where we’re going because we’re too busy.
Too busy trying to Snapchat the last few seconds of sunset, as the light shimmers across buildings so big they could break your filter, turning them pink and picture-perfect, before the sun slowly melts into the Manhattan skyline like a mirage.
Too busy trying to capture something – anything – to prove to others and ourselves, that; yes, I was in New York City.
Even if it was just fleeting.