One book laying around my apartment is My First New York: Early Adventures in the Big City.
In essays as short as a single sentence or rolling on for several pages, artists, chefs, comedians, rockers, and writers who all call New York home describe what it was like to arrive in the Big Apple and how they made it work. From the editors of New York Magazine, this collection is a fun read cover to cover, or to just pick up randomly and see what Colum McCann or Danny Meyer faced (and paid) when first deciding to move to New York.
During summer break in college, I signed up for a writer’s workshop at the New School in Greenwich Village. I commuted in each day from New Jersey, taking the subway from Port Authority down to 14th Street and walking east to 6th Avenue. Here I often started my day at Murray’s Bagels — no toasting! — and finished up last minute reading or homework for class. I remember on the first day making my way over to the library to get my photo taken for a student ID. I walked into Union Square and Washington Square Park for the first time. Everyone seemed so stylish and rushing to get somewhere. I fell for the city immediately.
The summer session at the New School was full of great classes and workshops, but it also included field trips. We would go to a bar nearby called Spain on a Friday afternoon and discuss our poems over stubby glasses of red wine. In this slightly tired, downstairs bar, free tapas are served with each drink. We would sit for the entire afternoon, sipping and nibbling on tortilla espanola or little meatballs.
One Friday I signed up for a literary walking tour of the West Village. Led by charismatic poet Joshua Beckman, a small group of us got lost in the brownstone-lined streets, our minds wandering to the times when poets and writers could afford to call this neighborhood home. We snuck past a gate to see the former home of E.E. Cummings on teeny Patchin Place off West 10th Street. We had a drink in the White Horse Tavern. I remember these two examples because they are two of the best known, but I’ve forgotten others. We had a drink in a bar that Fitzgerald liked, and of course, another that Hemingway used to frequent (so many bars across the globe seem to wave this badge of honor). We browsed in second hand bookstores and drank coffee and climbed stairs into secret watering holes and spread blankets in the grass of Washington Square Park to lay down for a snooze.
There was a Korean student in our class who knew where to get good Korean barbeque. He was tired of slices of pizza and bagels and brought the group to one of his favorite restaurants. I wish I remembered the address, although this experience was a unique one, as he ordered in Korean for the table when we arrived. I ate whatever barbequed morsel was placed in front of me.
This was June in New York City, and a hot one. One day I had a break in my schedule and wandered over to the famous Strand Bookstore. I was so taken with its miles of books, I missed an afternoon session offering question and answers with literary agents.
During that hot month, I first experienced the punishing humidity of the subway, I stopped becoming (intensely) panicked seeing rats scurry along the subway tracks, and I drank my first cold beers at sunny sidewalk cafes in the village.
This is the New York that lured me back from Europe, the city that one day can eat you alive, and the next can get you one step closer to your dreams.
“I started to appreciate how in New York, as opposed to Paris, you can have an idea in the morning and make it happen in the afternoon.” — Michel Gondry
“I paid $150 a month for a raw loft on Greene Street and all my friends who were already living here laughed, thinking it was outrageous to pay that much.” — Chuck Close, arrived in New York 1967
“It’s a vast mystery to me, like it is to most New Yorkers, how this ugly lovely town became my lovely ugly town, this gorgeous rubbish heap of a place, this city of the timeless Now, with little the style of Paris, little of the beauty of Rome, little of the history of London, and not even much of the dear dirty dereliction of my hometown, Dublin.” — Colum McCann