Having lived in Manhattan for 40 plus years there’s a few things I know for sure about this burg that never get remarked upon.
Let’s start with a riddle. What’s the one thing you need to live in New York City?
No, not money. Sorry, that’s the B answer. Most everyone struggles financially when they first come to the Big Town.
When I first arrived in Manhattan in 1974 the subway cost a quarter and I was so broke I still walked everywhere. Saving a quarter bought me a street vended hot dog with kraut for lunch. Eating on the cheap and getting by on next to nothing didn’t make me miserable, however, because I had the one indispensable thing needed to make a go of it in the New York City.
I had a good reason… the A answer.
Here is the key point. If you can do what you want to do elsewhere, as well as you can do it in New York City, by God you should do it elsewhere. Full stop.
Because New York City extracts such a high daily toll on everyone who lives there that without a good reason paying that toll eventually becomes untenable. Money makes it easier, of course, but all of us, no matter what our resources, must contend with the relentless pounding that New York City serves up.
People living in Manhattan get up, go to work, come home, and at the end of the day wonder to themselves:
“Why the hell am I so tired? I didn’t do anything special today. I just got up, went to work, and came home.”
Yeah, but you did it in Manhattan, sport.
Research confirms that Manhattanites walk faster, much faster, than people anywhere else in the world though they’re certainly not trying to win a contest with the citizens of Mexico City or Cairo or Beijing.
They’re just always in a hurry. Always on the make. Madly dashing all over town doing everything they can, as fast as they can, to succeed in a place packed with millions of others trying just as hard, or maybe harder, to do the same.
Some say New Yorkers are rude. This is a careless fiction. New Yorkers are not rude.
If you ask a New Yorker for directions, they’ll respond, and almost certainly without rudeness. But you’ve most probably interrupted someone who’s what?… in a hurry, and now you’ve slowed them down. So you’ll receive your directions alright, and likely good ones, too, but you may to have to walk along side of them, at their pace, going in their direction, in order to get them.
And they’re not apt to ask where you’re from or how you like the City. They don’t have the time, or rather likely the remotest interest. But this doesn’t make them rude. Just preoccupied and harried, desperate to pack 25 hours of hustling into 24 hour days.
New York is the busiest, densest place on the planet. Dense with people, buildings, vehicles, noise, angst. But it’s also dense with synapses and opportunity. There’s simply more going on here, so naturally it’s more of a struggle to make your mark. Which makes sense, just like paying more for a ringside seat than for a seat in the nose bleed section makes sense. Peddling your papers in Manhattan is simply more challenging, and almost certainly more exhausting than peddling them elsewhere.
But, if you have a good reason for being here then the higher price will make sense if and only if you’re able to balance the equation between what you “give” up by living here with what you “get” in return. And you do that by unapologetically exploiting the City’s boundless resources which, after all, is presumably what drew you to the City in the first place.
But remember the worm turns.
You might have a good reason for slugging it out in Manhattan this year but lose that good reason next year. Once you stop drafting off the resources of the City that “give-get equation”will quickly become imbalanced and you’re well on your way to losing your good reason. It’ll soon be time to get out of Dodge before becoming a dysfunctional puddle of bile.
Still, if you leave you will almost certainly return, probably dozens of times with a special love for the City. Forevermore you’ll proudly tell anyone who’ll listen:
“New York’s my town!”
You’ll carry around the powerful street cred that attaches to anyone who has lived for a stretch in the Big Apple. And these are rarefied bragging rights. Tell people you lived in New York, even for only a few years, and see what happens.
“You lived in New York City?! Wow!”
And this reaction makes sense because living here does deliver life-changing experiences unavailable elsewhere.
But as we’ve said, the tuition at the University of NYC is dear and is collected without surcease. So living contentedly here requires a periodic, sober review as to the currency of that good reason of yours.
When I no longer had to be around Madison Square Garden every day my wife hoisted me by my own petard, asking what exactly was our continuing “good reason” for living in Manhattan.
I didn’t have a good answer. I had stopped drafting off the City’s resources and the give-get equation had gone askew. My meter had expired.