Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 4-26-2020
“In NEW YOOOOOOOORRRRKKK! Concrete Jungle Where Dreams are MADE Of! There’s nothing you can’t DO!!!” Okay I will admit I screamed these lyrics singing along with Alicia Keys quite a bit when I arrived in New York city. I also recalled my many times watching reruns of ‘Friends’, ‘Seinfeld’, and ‘Sex and the City’ as if that were somehow supposed to prep me for the big move. I was to live in Rockaway Beach and attend NYU Silver School of social work. I was young (just 24 at the time), I was done with the military and I was ready to live a stimulating, exciting life vs the monotony and excruciating boredom that I was subjected to living in small towns in the states of Arizona, Texas and California throughout the course of my childhood. Many were surprised as they thought that the Air force would have given me the opportunity to spice things up. No such luck there, I was stationed in Texas for six years, my one and only big trip was an all-expense paid vacation to Afghanistan, but I will save that for another blog post.
The culture shock was extreme, and I found myself getting many slices of “BIG apple Humble Pie!” Now, I could go into an endless series of paragraphs, but I felt that maybe it would be more fun to compile a list of in-depth culture/ mental/ emotional shocks as well as embarrassing anecdotes:
- People in NYC literally just… say exactly what they are thinking– Yes, I got made fun of quite a bit for my shyness, awkwardness and my lack of ability to take a joke or even understand the blunt humor that comes with living in a city. Some people looked at me like I had two heads due to the fact that I would not laugh after they ‘insulted’ me, rather I would walk away and avoid the confrontation as my southern roots had taught me. A line I was known to say early on in my move: “Oh my goodness why would you curse out a friend like that??” I have since learned that making fun of friends and cursing them out is often associated with caring and many of the ‘insults’ are considered terms of endearment. (5.5 years later I crack jokes on my friends and fiancé nonstop!)
- New Yorkers are the politest assholes you will ever meet- If you have lived in a rural or suburb area for most of your life, chances are you either heard about New Yorkers or came across them. The reputation is that they are rude assholes. On the contrary, I would say I have come to learn that they have a different moral code and different set of values vs someone from a small town or rural area. Values and morals get shaped by where we live, and in the inner city you must learn to be polite and respect people’s space. They are literally living on top of each other. So, in turn what you will often see are polite people who try their best not to ‘cross’ someone else, but if they get crossed or taken advantage of you can rest assured they WILL let it be known and often with a loud/ blunt tone so that they can get their voice heard and have their needs tended to. Unfortunately, when I was new to the city people often mistook my slow southern inattentiveness with being ‘rude’, complacent or not giving a shit about others. In my defense, I was not used to competing with people when it came to space, pace, resources etc.
- The lifestyle is so fast paced it will run up your blood pressure and wear down your shoes- From the beginning of your day to the very end it feels like being an energizer bunny, but without the energy. There will be long commutes in trains and/ or buses, packed into public transport like being in a can of sardines. Most likely there will be a look, a bump, a person mad or screaming about personal space. This is just the commute, before the school and/ or workday has even started. My cheap Walmart and Payless shoes were not surviving the long walks to and from the train either. I had to step it up on the shoe and coat game and get quality items that could endure the fast pace and the COLD weather. Some people laughed at me and told me I dressed like a Russian all year round with my puffer coats and snow boots. I also get sick 3 times a winter now, even six winters in! I equate this with high stress, lower immunity due to stress, frequent weather changes and so many people.
- It is somehow, even MORE expensive than they tell you- Financially speaking I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I understood that rent would be high. What I did not understand was high taxes, high car insurance, my car getting ticketed for any and every reason imaginable: parking in a bus lane (oops!), running red lights (I beg to differ… okay maybe), speeding (barely), overdue state inspection, not moving the car for street sweeping, 5 popped tires in the first 1.5 years due to raggedy rundown roads and Tolls, tolls, tolls! Depending on where you live (I have lived in 5 apartments so far between Rockaway Beach and Brooklyn) you may not have the option for laundry so that becomes an added expense. I also had no idea NYU would raise the tuition every… single… year. Every restaurant you go to will be pricier vs your suburb/ rural counterparts, every movie you go to will be pricier too.
- Everyone else in the world will start to believe you live ‘lavishly’- To follow up on the above paragraph, the irony is that although I suffered blowing through my savings and racking up a ton of debt, everyone else in the country accuses New Yorkers of living lavishly in their city lifestyles. Quite the contrary, I have come to realize that NYC is so expensive, you must learn to make hard choices, become more frugal, cut back, sacrifice outings, sacrifice space and learn to be more of a minimalist. Between my five moves, I have ditched more and more items. I have less than half the amount of clothes I used to, less shoes (closet space is a luxury), I RARELY go out to eat, the old apartment buildings force you to deal with critters you may have never seen before and the neighbors will always kindly remind you how much of an asshole you are and they are.
- Never tell people you have a car and… do not have a car! – What do people in NYC really love? A nice, sweet, southern pushover girl that has a car and has no clue how tell people no. I gave way too many rides to too many people. And trust me, they do not all offer to pay the tolls or gas. They are often so sick and tired of taking public transportation a ride in a car is an absolute luxury. Especially if they are not paying 50-80 dollars for a taxi or Uber! If Paragraph number 4 did not teach you enough about my car expenses, let this one! A car is not worth it! Unfortunately, I had to have one. I had switched over to the Air Force reserves and had to go do weekend military drills once a month in Massachusetts, I needed my car. And now? My fiancé needs a car as he owns a contracting businesses/ requires a trunk to carry tools. However, if you are not in a situation like that, a car is not worth it! Mine costs us roughly 750 a month. (And that is not including those tickets!)
- Live in the borough you work in! – There are many reason’s I have lived in 5 different apartments in my first 5.5 years of living in NYC, I am not going to get into that right now, but one huge thing I decided was I needed to live in the borough I work in. Why? Time is precious. My first few years in NYC consisted of me spending close to 3 hours a day on commuting alone! Many will justify this by saying the borough they live in is ‘cheaper’ therefore it is worth it. Listen, time is money too. If possible, shorten your commute as much as you can so that you free up time for a side job, or for your own personal sanity/ self-care!
- Okay, the food really is better- I recall all the times I was stationed in TX and someone from the upper east region of the country would get stationed in my ‘hometown’ and talk trash about how much ‘Texas food sucks’. I would get defensive back then, ‘like what, why?’ Who doesn’t like fried shit that’s been soaked in fat?! Hands down and hats off to you NYC, the food here is amazing, much better quality overall. If it weren’t for you NYC, I would have never experienced authentic Latin food or Halal! However, I miss my BBQ and Tex-Mex!
- This city alone smokes more weed than perhaps the entire state of California- I mean, it’s the neighbors, it’s your friends, it’s your lovers, it’s your in laws, it’s grandma and grandpa, it’s the clients, it’s the people on the streets around every block you turn. This entire city smells like weed and rotten cheeseburgers. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s not legal yet. In many cases Cali people are smoking for fun/ freedom. In NYC, they are smoking due to ‘stress’ and not wanting to ‘blow the fuck up on someone’.
- The city has PTSD- As a mental health therapist that has specialized in trauma for most of my career, I have officially diagnosed NYC with Post traumatic Stress disorder. So many people, tensions are high, exposure to community violence or witnessing violent acts is practically inevitable, many people are forced to pack families into small households which creates a higher risk of domestic violence. Chances are if you are anywhere from poverty stricken to middle class, New York city is going to traumatize you to some extent. The rich seem to be a bit more immune to this exposure, as they live in those areas you see on Friends, Seinfeld and Sex and the City. That lifestyle is a rarity reserved for the rich and famous. The shows/ movies certainly do not give people a realistic idea of what the Big Apple life is like. Despite all of this, the city is safer than ever before. (Ask anyone that has grown up in NYC through the 80’s and 90’s). You will not necessarily get robbed or “shanked” as many of my southern friends/ family members were concerned would happen to me.
I hope everyone enjoys my Slice of the Big Apple Pie! I have Colorado on my radar next! (Maybe in a few years 😉)
3 thoughts on “My Slice of “The BIG Apple” Pie”
Enjoyed your perspective of the BIG Apple.
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Sure, NYC is rough and we have a bit of a reputation (I’ll openly admit that I CANNOT STAND people who don’t move on the sidewalks, even if I’ve got no place to be) but there’s an energy about this place that can’t be matched. It definitely changes with the seasons, too. My favorite is NYC in the summertime. Truly one of my favorite places to be. Sure it’s extra hot but it’s also kinda romantic when you’re with the right person and just about everyone has a favorite memory revolving around summertime in NYC.
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It’s over stimulating for sure!
Despite many of my struggles I have no regrets I’ve learned so much from living here so far and it’s built my character in so many ways! I just need to leave eventually and get back to that slower pace that I miss so much! That and a little more nature 🙂
Thanks for reading!
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