My five days in New York City this past weekend have shown me a lot. One of the biggest things I’ve realized is that its energy is on a different wavelength when compared to Toronto. It makes Toronto seem boring, too timid. On our first night in the city (Friday), I remember going out for dinner and then going to Katana Kitten for late-night cocktails. I felt a different energy walking around the city that night than I normally feel walking around Toronto late at night. Maybe it was because it was a Friday night. Maybe because it was a Friday night during the long weekend. Maybe because that is just how New York simply is, be it Friday night or Monday night.
I’ve realized this weekend that there is no average in New York. There is no average rent price, no average meal price, no average income. There is certainly no average New Yorker. The standard distribution feels so large that it doesn’t feel fair to give anything in the city an average measure. I saw apartments on the Upper East Side with a doorman out in front, smiling at each passerby. I also saw apartments in the Lower East Side and Chinatown that had trash piled out in front, the iron railings of its fire escape covered in dust. I know that disparities exist in all cities – big and small – but the difference feels much more pronounced in New York. Life for some people can be really, really good. I’m thinking of the people who go to SoulCycle every morning and buy an overpriced bagel and smoothie for lunch on a daily basis. But life for some people can be really, really hard. The city does not go easy on the fainthearted, and certainly not the poor. I’m thinking of the number of homeless people I saw, sprawled out on pieces of newspaper they laid out on the sidewalk. I’m thinking of the ones who have to live (not choose to live) in a 5-storey walk-up, all to save money on their monthly rent. I’m thinking of those who work long, gruelling hours at the jobs they probably hate, just so they can afford to breathe the expensive Manhattan air. It’s exactly in a city like New York, where there are the high highs and low lows, that stories are made.
But I’ve also realized that New York is filled with the feeling of striving, and I think I see it more because of how scary of a place the city can be. Everybody is striving to become a better version of themselves. Everybody is striving to make a living, to do that thing they came to New York to do. On Tuesday morning – my last day in the city – we went to an 8AM SoulCycle class at Hudson Yards. The guy teaching our class was named Bryan and mid-ride, he’d talk about how his dream was to be on Broadway. He was sending in audition tapes for Hamilton, going to auditions to sing, and teaching at SoulCycle classes all so that he could make that dream – his dream – happen. On Sunday night, we went to Times Square at night to stand at the top of the staircase. I watched people dressed up in Disney costumes, trying to make a dollar by posing for a photo with somebody. I watched a group of three boys put on a routine for a huge crowd and were trying to collect as much money as they could. This, I thought, is a city for hustlers. For those who aren’t afraid to work up a sweat to do the hard thing. All throughout the weekend, I feel like I’d look around at all the faces I’d walk past and ask myself, “What’s their story?” What’s their hard thing that they’re trying to get done in the city? What kind of life are they striving for here in this place that has so much beauty and so much suffering?
I’m not sure how I feel about moving to New York City and living there. I loved it as a visitor, as somebody that had no job to get to every day and as somebody who could just focus on finding the best eats + views. The possibility of adventures could easily convince me to pack my bags and move here. But, how would life be here, with work + with the hard days? While I admire the striving and the ambition, I’m not sure if I could handle New York. What I’ve loved about Toronto this past year is that it’s a very livable city. You have your corporate life, but you also have lots of peace and quiet. It’s easy to keep a good routine, it seems easy to raise a family in the city. But New York seems to harbour too much chaos. The exciting and “non-average” lifestyle comes at the expense of a more steady, normal life, at least in my eyes. So even though I’m not sure, this trip has at least opened my eyes to the possibility of living in a new city. I’m not turning it down quite yet.