Is There Ever A Time To Leave New York?

by Stephanie Maida · December 27, 2017

    (I think) I remember the first subway ride I took with my father, who brought me to the first car of the D train, to look out through the only front-facing window on the whole giant thing. Every other view is peripheral, but there he showed me, excitedly, everything that was coming next. Given the fact that this particular run of the D train, in Brooklyn, was above-ground and outdoors, what came next was sunny and new and a little bit terrifying since we were speeding ahead of rooftops and towards people who were leaning over the edge to watch us approach. Miraculously, we always managed to lurch to a halt right on time, great metal mouths opening for the newcomers. Closing again before meeting the next batch. This was all very thrilling for a child.

    If the most ubiquitous things in New York are its subway trains, then the experience of riding them can also be the most defining. You step on with a clear destination in mind (usually, at least), but the trip is always different. Panhandlers, delays, Showtime!, a mariachi band, total and complete silence, a too-loud conversation you can't help but eavesdrop on, a tourist asking for directions who somehow tells you their entire life story between Grand Street and West 4th. Only in New York, you think, before shaking your head and rejoining the masses. But what a strange adventure that was!

    A few years ago, everyone was reading and talking about Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, a collection of essays inspired by the titular Joan Didion piece about, well, loving and leaving New York. I bought a copy for my most New York friend before she left for Austin, but I couldn't bear to flip through its pages (as I usually do before handing over the books I buy for people). As a native of this city, I felt offended. Why would anybody want to leave? As if sensing my flinch, the editor, Sari Botton, published a follow-up a year later: Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for New York. This one I bought for myself and held close. Finally, some gratification.

    Perhaps it's due to some natural hometown pride or perhaps it's because I've never known anything else (I went to NYU and only ever spent one semester abroad), but whenever my peers (who are now approaching 30) look around and say, "I think I'll move to LA," I can't help but take it personally. I feel slighted. I feel attacked. "But you can't!" I scream. "You'll become one of those people," by which I mean, of course, an un-New Yorker. Far worse than a simple non-New Yorker, an un-New Yorker is someone who had it, who was it, and then chose to give it up.

    Logically, I know some people can't help their situation. New York isn't what it used to be in terms of fresh starts for the young, broke, and altogether aimless. No one can afford to find themselves here anymore - both literally and figuratively. I once went to see Patti Smith give a talk at the old Cooper Union (with aforementioned un-New Yorker currently residing in Texas), and even she, queen of the Chelsea Hotel, godmother of the CBGB punks, said it was time to establish a new colony of creativity, a new hub, somewhere else. I was shocked she could say such a thing just a block away from St. Mark's Place - then again, this was before Trash and Vaudeville could no longer afford their rent.

    Growing up here, I never had a New York to run away to, like in the movies and the books. My small town was the capital of the world, and my identity, for better or worse, was set in concrete. So maybe I just resent every transplant who could "live the dream," come to the big city and start again, and then have the nerve to say they were over it. How can this stupid and glorious skyline become a landscape you could leave for, what, an affordable living space and the chance to lead a normal life?

    Now that's not to say I don't ever get bored with this place. It's just, when I do, I head back to the first car on the D train, stand near the front window, and look towards the rush of every exciting thing ahead. The day that stops giving me a thrill, I guess, is the day I'll leave New York.

    [Photo via @fashionismyfortee, @yoichiuzeki]