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moving to nyc

Suburban Connecticut Kid Moving to NYC For The First Time

I had been living in New Haven, Connecticut for a few years at this point, having grown up in the state my entire life.  The only place I had lived otherwise was for college in Philadelphia but has always dreamed of living in NYC.  I had heritage there, my mother’s family were New Yorkers having grown up there during the Great Depression so we had visited often as I was growing up.  As spring arrived and with it the antsy hyper feelings of excitement and anticipation for the summer grew, it gave me the motivation to finally take a shot at looking for a new job in city which would allow me to make my big move.  After weeks of speaking and interviewing with headhunters, my break finally arrived.  I was offered a contract to hire position in midtown for $50K and took it immediately. 

nyc apartment

I didn’t want to waste any time and I rationalized the quick decision with the notion that if I didn’t end up liking the job, at least I was in the city and I could look for a new opportunity much more easily since I was already living there.  I accepted!  One of the guys I knew from New Haven also wanted to move to NYC but needed a roommate to afford it.  It seemed fate had given us our answer and we decided to move in together given my news.  We immediately began to scour apartment listings.  As our search continued, we continually and incrementally kept lowering our bar and standards as the dream of having a nice, airy spacious apartment began to wither… this was not New Haven where large apartments and even houses were available for moderate budgets.  Quickly we realized that places that fit reasonably within our budget either did not exist or flat out looked decrepit. 

This was clearly going to be a challenge and we were going to need to adjust our expectations.  As the search began to push further and further out of the ideal zone, which at the time was central Manhattan between Chelsea and Tribeca we began to find some luck on the Upper West Side in Morningside Heights, just below Harlem.  This was 2000 — Brooklyn, FiDi, Hells Kitchen and Harlem had not yet begun to be regentrified.  For a couple young, pale kids from the suburbs, most of those locations were rough and posed a much greater risk so we avoided them to keep our drama to a minimum.  FiDi on the other hand simply didn’t have the amount of residential housing it does today.  Morningside Heights was an ideal neighborhood because it was already on its way to changing, relatively safe if you didn’t stray to far north past 125th Street, the top of Central Park was not far and it was close to the Red Line subway 1 and 9 trains then. 

 Morningside Heights

We lost count how many places we took a look at and missed for one reason or another… the place rented out before we got to the day we were supposed to take a tour (some were even rented while we were on our way to visit the place!), our credit wasn’t good enough, we couldn’t come up with the deposit, dates were wrong, the place smelled, weird people hanging around the building or simply just didn’t like the spot.  After a couple months of looking, visiting and having no luck we finally located a deal that just seemed too good to be true on Clairemont Ave, one block west of Broadway and one block south of 125th Street.  It was a first floor apartment, two bedroom, large living room with the added bonus of a finished basement the entire size of the apartment!  It rented for $3300… a complete steal for the amount of space!  Living in the city was a complete dream for us… warm summer nights with the windows open and the sounds of the city, a roomy and comfortable apartment, close to transportation, short 10-15 min walks to Central Park and some cool new bars and restaurants right around the corner on Broadway.  It was a struggle to make ends meet but we were on top of the world. 

My first lesson on living in New York City came when I got curious about Harlem and all the cheap stores and restaurants that lie just on the other side of 125th to the north.  I was hurting for cash and really needed a cheap meal that filled me up but nothing in the local “safe zone” would be adequate other than some cheap snack type food at the local corner mini mart.  I decided I was going to make the trek and check things out, after all I lived here and I was a New Yorker now, right?  I took my regular route as if I was going to the 125th and Broadway subway station and paused at the foot of the stairs.  Being foreign to me, this looked like the demilitarized zone — trash on the streets, shady characters walking in every direction giving you side eye, homeless people begging for money, run down or dilapidated fast food restaurants like Popeye’s and McDonald’s or the local bodega.  It was like a whole other world, and it was.  I worked up the nerve to start walking north on Broadway, straightening up my posture, puffing out my chest and walked as if I knew where I was going. 

Mcdonalds 125th and Broadway subway station

Mind you no smartphones then.  It felt as if everyone was watching me, in reality no one probably cared other than the fact I was the only white kid on the street and clearly out of place/looking nervous.  With every new block I crossed, I became more and more anxious and concerned in the way someone might feel scuba diving for the first time and looking back at the surface thinking that is where safety is getting farther and farther way.  It got to me and finally I turned around to make my way back before something bad happened.  As I approached the subway station on 125th again, a sense of relief started to take over me and also disappointment that I didn’t do anything but walk into the area, so I decided to stop at one of the fast food places by the station.  As I looked around, nothing looked inviting to me but I settled on McDonald’s because it was the most familiar.  When I entered, it felt as if all eyes were on me and the place was filled with all kinds of characters. 

Some were eating, some were loitering, still others were arguing and just horsing around.  There seemed to be many people in line to order and I felt like I kept getting stares and looks as if to say “What are you dong in here kid?”  I pretended to act like the place was too busy for me to waste my tie waiting in line, turned around, walked out and directly to the mini mart just one block from my new apartment.  That evening I had a fine dining experience in my living room consisting of a Sobe drink, a bag of Cool ranch Doritos and some cheap Voortman cookies.


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