30 Days in New York – An Outsider’s View From the Upper West Side

  Last modified on February 9th, 2019

Growing up in a small town in South Central Pennsylvania, New York seemed like a million miles away. My family and I would watch movies where New York was not only a location, but a character, and my step-father would go on and on about how badly it smelled, how crowded it was, and how far away it was from everything. I took this all in as fact; you know, the sky is blue, the world is round, and New York is a terrible place where drug deals and murders happen hourly in this crowded, sweaty world.

Then, while going through my John Cusack phase (which, let’s be honest, has never really ended) I saw a movie called Serendipity. New York didn’t seem sweaty – to be fair, it was set in Winter. New York didn’t seem obnoxiously crowded, it seemed full of life and adventure and romance. Not just full of the kind of romance Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack encountered with each other, but the city itself seemed romantic. Parks full of people sitting on benches reading, buildings ambitiously reaching toward the sky, tree lined streets that offered seclusion in a place of variety. To a teenage girl who grew up with a 3 ½ acre pond in her front yard, a half mile long driveway, and a thirty minute drive from the grocery store, this sounded perfect.

I put New York in the back of my mind, and went on living the small town life. The same restaurants, the same people, the same ‘adventures.’ I found myself becoming restless. Tired of seeing the same things day in and day out, a girlfriend of mine who shared a lack of adventure and a need for a change of scenery and I took a bus trip to the city for the day. It was December, and on the four hour drive (a million miles away, huh?) we watched Christmas movies and plotted our tourism while studying the giant fold out map we had been given.

Dropped off in Times Square, my eyes were opened. Wandering purposefully, my eyes soaked in the sights and felt a sense of belonging I didn’t realize I was missing. Here, amid the brownstones, the modern buildings, and the brilliant array of people, at twenty-two years old, I felt I was finally home. We did the regular December tourist gambit for our first visit; Central Park ice skating rink, Serendipity (although, we bypassed the two hour wait to have the best Italian food I’d had yet, with complimentary dessert and after dinner drinks sent over by very cute waiters), a trip to the Waldorf Astoria, and a look at all the Christmas windows. It was perfect – cold, idyllic, and even the sounds of taxi drivers honking their horns were music to my ears.

I was addicted. I visited every chance I could; going so far as to talk that same friend with whom I had taken the bus trip, to go to the city for my birthday weekend. It was the end of July; and my expectations were high. She booked the hotel for us, finding a great deal on the Upper West Side to the west of Columbus, on a street I can’t recall. Everything about that trip was a beautiful disaster.

For starters, no one in my small town warned me how much hotter it was in New York in July and August than my town. No one warned me that trains sometimes break down right outside the city and that you have to jump from one train to another, careful not to touch them both at the same time or you’ll die. (I wish I was making that up.) No one warned me that while this is the city that never sleeps, this is a city in which you need to be decisive, or you’ll end up walking for hours, drinking coffee drinks from Duane Reed and ordering pizza at 2 a.m. that comes directly to your hotel room. No one warned me that sometimes the Subway train you need is under construction, so paying attention to the stops are crucial so that you don’t wind up in an area that has no cabs, no people, and you begin to wonder if a tumbleweed or a murderer is going to come at you at any moment while you’re standing on the platform alone, filled with anxiety, and holding a black trash bag with what you’d like to believe is a real Chanel bag from Canal Street. No one warned me how beautiful and open the UWS was compared to so many other parts of the city. Wide streets lined with more independent stores, artsy people, and fresh air than nearly anywhere else in the metropolis, it was like a giant small town where I could have both quiet seclusion and varietal adventure.

After a while, the trips with that friend went by the wayside as life became full of promotions, insane work hours, and boyfriends. I started to come to the city with my boyfriend, Timothy; the only person I had ever met who was as restless as I was. Our relationship became road trips; weekends to Atlantic City, trips to North Carolina, and countless trips to New York – for dinner, for the weekend, for whenever we were feeling bored and in need of a reminder that we weren’t the only ones in the world who felt boxed in.

That boyfriend eventually became my husband, which surprised no one more than me. Marriage was never high on my list of priorities. In fact, growing up I had the impression that marriage was about sacrifice, suffocation, and shrinking yourself to fit the other person’s needs. My life wouldn’t become that small, I promised myself. When Timothy proposed, I knew that my life would never be small, for his crazy ambitions and seemingly over the top goals wouldn’t let it. After we got engaged, I left that small town to move to Pittsburgh, where Timothy’s work was and I figured it would be a good way to transition from small town to big city before we made the eventual move to New York; a goal I’d had for years, that thankfully he got on board with. I learned that Timothy had no intention of me being anything less than the crazy, independent, travel junkie, slightly feminist individual he fell in love with. More trips to New York ensued, of course, but we eventually branched out. A honeymoon in the Mediterranean; Rome, Naples, Barcelona, Marseilles, Mallorca. Ending the 2013 year in New York; a crazy decision given how frozen we became. A vacation to Paris in the spring; a dream I’d had since I was a little girl learning French and putting up pictures of the Eiffel Tower in my bedroom. A birthday celebration in Las Vegas; a place I can cross off my bucket list, but never need to see again. Somehow, after all those travels, we keep coming back to New York. Every visit is different, every day in New York is dissimilar to the one before it.

Timothy and I don’t celebrate things with gifts very often. Instead, we gift each other trips; quality time, and new adventures. The end of the month marks one year since we said ‘I do’ and promised each other we would embrace our restlessness. So, while traditionally the first anniversary is ‘Paper,’ my husband has gifted us with a month in New York. We haven’t reached the goal we set for ourselves to move to the city that never sleeps, but that doesn’t mean we can’t practice. We’ve rented an apartment on the Upper West Side, near Central Park (his stipulation), and plan to take this month and take our time. While my work allows me to be anywhere at any time thanks to Gmail and Wi-Fi, his takes him back to Pittsburgh three days a week, which he is more than happy to do. Days in Pittsburgh without me allow him to indulge in his workaholic ways, and allow me to indulge in my city, working in café’s, taking in the beautiful transition from Summer to Autumn, and welcoming him home with open arms, homemade meals, picnics in Central Park, and exploring the city we both adore.

So, thirty days in New York begins. It seems like such a long time, and yet I know it isn’t nearly long enough. I can’t wait to explore and experience on my own terms, from the eyes of someone who thinks a bad day in New York beats a good day anywhere else.

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