Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bright Lights, Big City

By Brian Solis (b_d_solis), via Creative Commons
The first time I went to New York City, I hated it.

Well, maybe that's a little strong: I was completely overwhelmed by it. I grew up in a laid-back beach suburb of Los Angeles where the surfers far outnumbered the taxis and the tallest building was the water tower. I'd been to Paris, Florence and Washington, DC but none of them had prepared me for the sheer energy of NYC. Whereas Washington carries a feeling that something's in the wind, that you shouldn't underestimate what you can accomplish, New York is in your face, electric and somehow determined. New York isn't hoping it can do something big; it knows it's going to.

I enjoyed parts of my first trip to New York - visits with my family in Brooklyn and Manhattan, the American Museum of Natural History, glimpses of Central Park - but the main reason I was there, as a rising high school senior, was to look at NYU. The information session was crowded and impersonal and, despite the school's impressive programs, nothing about it spoke to me. Thinking about the crush of people outside and the few school flags I'd seen flying from halfway up tall buildings, I didn't see how the students could connect with one another in such a maze. Did person-to-person interactions all take place nine stories above the sidewalk? I didn't stay for the campus tour.

My next trip to New York was five years later, after I'd gone to college in Washington, studied abroad and generally become much more comfortable with city life. That time, I couldn't drink in the atmosphere fast enough.

I strolled across the Upper West Side, people-watching and browsing street art. I explored the exhibits at the Met and wandered through Central Park. I stopped to watch rollerbladers put on a demonstration and made my way to H & H (after searching through half a dozen books in the Met's bookstore for the address) to sample a bagel.

In the past three years, I've spent more time in the Big Apple than 17-year-old me ever dreamed I'd want to - a week, a weekend, sometimes just a day - and every time I leave, I wish I had just a few more hours. I love the crush of Times Square, the sidewalks overflowing with people and stuff for sale in Chelsea and the fact that I can walk as fast as my legs will carry me throughout the city and no one will look at me like I'm crazy (which is not the case in the South Bay, where the California stroll is king). I've eaten enough New York pizza and pasta to feed a large Italian family for a month, wandered Rockefeller Center after dark, sipped frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity 3 and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge into lower Manhattan, eavesdropping on conversations in a myriad of languages.

Rather than overwhelm me and make me want nothing more than to crawl into bed, preferably in a dark, sound-proofed room, New York's hustle and bustle has become infectious, making me want to dive into the thick of things and fully experience all the city has to offer. It's a city where everyone jockeys for their piece of the action and diversity is celebrated, not seen as an oddity. In a world that all too often looks for homogeneity, New York is a bright flash of individualism, to the nth degree, that can capture anyone's imagination - you just have to find the right angle.


Cathy Sweeney said...

So glad that you've now really embraced this wonderful city. Like you, I always wish I had a few more hours (at least) to spend there when it's time to leave. It's the energy, vibrance and feeling that there's so much more to explore and experience that makes no amount of time seem like enough.

Jessalyn Pinneo said...

That's it exactly, Cathy - there's always something else waiting to be discovered and between that and the city's energy, it's so hard to leave.

zablon said...

New york city is pretty intense, but i like it, it has personality and uniqueness

Jessalyn Pinneo said...

It certainly has both of those, Zablon. I really enjoy that it's a city that seems to throw itself into everything head-first.

Drew Meyers said...

I too am a huge huge fan of NYC -- and wasn't one the first time i went to Manhattan. There's a good chance I'll move there for a few months in 2011

Jessalyn Pinneo said...

Good luck with your move, Drew, I hope it happens for you! I'm in the same boat, NYC is now on my list of places I'd be very happy to live for a while.