This month marks twenty years that I have lived in New York City -- nearly half my life. It's quite an accomplishment, really, when you consider that New York is excessively noisy, grossly overcrowded, ridiculously inconvenient, and monstrously expensive.
It also happens to be the greatest city in the world.
I showed up in a rented U-Haul on a blustery day in March of 1994 to the sound of blaring horns, hollering cabbies, and a cacophony of foreign tongues, all of which I am sure were cursing me out for double-parking on a busy downtown street. I was overwhelmed and exhilarated and completely unprepared for the unrelenting pace. Just ordering a sandwich in a deli -- the crowding, the yelling, the line moving at the speed of light and the deli guys all barking "NEXT!" at the exact same time -- was enough to send me fleeing without my food. Well, almost.
I didn't know a soul. I had never taken a subway before. I didn't know which neighborhoods were safe, or where to get a decent bagel, or how to negotiate the city's mangled sidewalks in heels. "Evens go east, odds go west," I'd mumble to myself as I attempted to navigate the bustling canyons. I didn't dare look up or stop to consult a map, lest all of my NYC nightmares come true at once: I'd tumble into an open manhole, get hit in the head by a falling air conditioner, be mowed down by the passing crowd, and have my purse stolen . . . but not before the thug beat me with it for good measure.
My first New York apartment, on 26th Street
I was young and brave and stupid all at the same time. I'd never been jostled by so many people, bombarded by so much noise, or exposed to so many casual and creative uses of the F-word in my entire life. (Once, in SoHo, I saw a young father carrying his toddler on his shoulders. When I passed by, I heard him mutter, "Goo-goo, ga-ga . . . what the f*ck does that mean?") Worst of all, I was not at all sure that I'd made the right decision in uprooting my comfortable life in Pennsylvania for one that seemed to promise nothing but hassles.
P.J. Clarke's, on 55th Street
In fact, the only thing I was sure of . . . is that I was in love.
Empire State Building
And much like love itself, the energy here is a drug (and the only legal one you're likely to encounter): It draws you in, gets you hooked, and keeps you coming back for more. Living in this city has changed me in more ways than I can count: I talk faster, walk faster, am faster to offer, er, opinions, and have been exposed to more wealth, poverty, diversity, art, culture, architecture, and amazing food than I ever dreamed.
Capital Grille in the Chrysler Building
Waaayyyy more amazing food.
Coca-cola carnitas at El Camion
Paella at Soccarat
Cheesesteak at Bobby Van's
Skillet sticky-toffee pudding with medjool dates at The Smith
Coconut sponge cake with passion fruit pudding at Buddakan
Fish gyro with lobster ragout at Anassa Taverna
Sparkling blood orange mojitos at Cafeteria
Steamed eggs with chèvre and sundried cherry tomatoes at Buvette
Wild mushroom dumplings with truffle foam at Breeze
French onion soup burger at Little Prince
Cocoa-pumpkin ravioli at Becco
Chicken pot pies at Parnell's
Tilapia with cherry tomatoes and shrimp at La Gioconda
Ground chuck and brisket burger at Hillstone
Veal parmigiana at Giorgio's of Gramercy
The Generous Pour event at Capital Grille
Birthday dinner at Maloney & Porcelli
Birthday milk and cookies at Jane
Birthday dinner at Le Bernadin
Of course, into the life of every food-lover, the occasional crapcake must fall.
My entire identity as an adult has been shaped by the grit and grind of this city, imbuing me with a sense of determination, confidence, sophistication, and good old-fashioned gumption that I might never have acquired if I'd stayed in Pennsylvania, or moved somewhere like Cleveland or Charlotte.
View from our bedroom
View from our living room
The city's skyline is always changing, and our view now includes the tallest residential tower in the western hemisphere: 104 stories.
Our favorite local park, Greenacre Park
Lining up for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
The famous tree arriving at Rock Center
It's almost ready...
Crowds gathered for the tree lighting, as seen from Angel's office
Cocktails at the Rock Center Rink Bar
Central Park in springtime
Macy's Fourth of July fireworks over the Brooklyn Bridge
In fact, New York has turned me into a walking contradiction: I swear like a sailor and argue like a lawyer, but I also know my Prabal Gurung from my Proenza Schouler, and could pick David Chang or Andrew Carmellini out of a lineup. I speak fluent "restaurant-menu" Italian and have a small vocabulary in both Spanish and Yiddish. (It's mostly curse words, but whatever.) I can talk with some authority about the latest exhibit at the Met, or we can debate whether the dirty-water dogs are better at Yankee Stadium or CitiField. And I completely agree that New York pizza is the best you will ever have (Lombardi's) . . . and the worst you will ever have (all variations of the "Original" Ray's).
Lombardi's coal-oven pizza
Restaurants along Second Avenue
Geographically speaking, New York City is an embarrassment of riches. Within a two-hour drive in any direction, we can be leaf-peeping in the Adirondacks, lounging on the beach in the Hamptons, sipping wine at a vineyard on the North Fork, relaxing in rocking chair at one of Cape May's Victorian-era "painted ladies," or biking the oceanfront bluffs on Block Island. Or, you know, watching people pee in the sand in the Rockaways.
And if we ever tire of road trips, there's everything from Broadway musicals and world-class museums to dive bars in the East Village and designer boutiques in SoHo.
Oh, and roughly 24,000 restaurants, which means I could eat at a different one every night for the next 65 years, and still never hit them all. Not for lacking of trying, of course.
Our summer lunch spot, Dos Caminos
Our Friday-night date spot, China Grill
The Saigon-tini at Le Colonial
Dinner at Tao
Our Sunday morning brunch spot, Le Bateau Ivre
Our favorite snowy-evening spot, Café Joul
View down our block
There are so many "only in New York" things to love about this city that it's hard to even name them all, and everyone's list would be different anyway. Mine would include everything from bodega cats and the Comedy Cellar to chocolate-chip-cookie delivery until 3am and nail salons open 24 hours a day. It would include the fact that there are nearly 200 bars in the East Village alone, and the fact that you can eat anything here from roasted crickets to ant caviar to goat-eyeball tacos (not that you would. It was hard enough just typing that). It would include a local moving company called Schleppers and a Chinese takeout place called Wok to Walk.
Views from my office (with a cameo by my desk lamp)
Outside my office building
On my way to work
Views from Angel's office
My list would also include the Manhattan Mini Storage ads for space-challenged New Yorkers. At least we can laugh at our shared misery.
Also making the list would be the inside-baseball references on Seinfeld and Law and Order, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, living within walking distance of Bloomingdale's/Bergdorf's/Bendel, spring in Central Park, sending our laundry out for fluff-and-fold, the bacon burgers at Corner Bistro, and dressing extra-fashionably when I know they're filming on my block. It would include the free(!) ferry ride to a Staten Island Yankees game on a balmy June evening, as the boat glides by the Statue of Liberty, and even the most jaded among us whip out our camera phones and snap away.
It would include being surrounded by art, culture, fashion, law, publishing, real estate, finance, and all the other industries that make this city pulse with bright, interesting, creative people. And people like me and Angel.
Sunset from our apartment
Indeed, the only downside to living in New York City is that I'm turning into one of those entrenched New Yorkers who won't ever be able to live anywhere else.
Park Avenue, midtown
Not that I'd ever want to.
It's always hard to tear ourselves away from the Big Apple, but this is still a travel blog. Up next, time with friends in Charleston, time alone in Paris, and time with tequila in Mexico. Click here to subscribe and you'll be the first to know how it's possible for a savvy New Yorker to become trapped in a public restroom on the swankiest street in Paris.
Want more NYC? Click here!