New York is a lot of things. It’s a traveler’s paradise — well, not like the glossy magazine photos of some far away tropical getaway. It’s a place to escape from the confines of the suburbs in the Tri-State area. It’s a place of wonder, art and exceptional food. It’s a global center that people travel to, from far and wide, just to get a glimpse.
“Remember that crazy weekend in New York,” guys reminisce about over a beer at their local suburb bar.
But for the wearied New Yorker who spends every waking minute — remember New York never sleeps — in a 24-hour-party state, the city carries a phenomenal feeling of hope and opportunity that one day fades into monotony and hatred. Those initial feelings of wonder disperse and fizzle along with memories of first experiences. The shine and gleam of the glass windows gives way, and all that’s left is haggard and graffitied buildings caving in.
I don’t mean to be pessimistic. But it’s hard not to be as I sit behind the smudged glass at Starbucks, looking out at the tour groups chock-full of overzealous incoming freshmen. They quicken their pace to keep up with their tour guide who trots down the block spouting fun facts and anecdotes about that one time in Washington Square Park.
Hey freshman, remember that one time in Washington Square when that creepy old guy tried to sell you some weed?
Oh, that hasn’t happened to you yet? Well, give it a week. And make sure you hang around the park after dark.
I remember that time, way back when. It was my third time in New York — my first time alone. I was here for orientation and only knew one person in the city. Everything was exciting and fresh. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the tippy tops of the buildings. Everything was a new adventure, a new opportunity. I had my fingertips in it all. I was poised and ready to pounce.
That feeling of adventure and opportunity held through my first year. But come the following year, after a long summer in the suburbs, I was a bit more jaded. New York didn’t seem as bright as it used to be. Sure, some of the shop fronts on University changed, but it was all still the same, old New York.
I let the protective shield, we, as New Yorkers, put up every day when we walk out the door, envelope me. I started to put my ear-buds in as soon as I got in the elevator of my dorm and didn’t take them out until I had a foot in the door of my first class of the day.
Life became regular, monotonous. I was going through the same motions everyday, and started eating the same meals at the same times every week; Familigia’s pizza on Monday evenings; Cosi’s soup and sandwich combo on Tuesdays; Whole Foods’ salad bar on Wednesdays; Chipotle burritos on Thursdays… Well, you get the picture.
As you can tell, my second year in New York was pretty bleak. I went back to the suburbs again, for the summer, and vowed I would not lose another year to monotony and routine. My next year would different. It would be better. I would try new things and make time in my busy schedule to go out and grab New York by the balls (yes, by the balls). I convinced myself I needed a change of location and a new atmosphere to try out. So I moved to Brooklyn to took a stab at the hipster thing.
It was fun while it lasted, but I found my shield popping up again on the subways in the morning; sunglasses on, iPod in one hand, newspaper in the other.
I guess all New Yorkers develop a shield; a shield that protects the outside world from colliding with their safe inner ones. But those shields don’t hold up forever. There is always a crack — whether it be a new art exhibition, a smile from a kindly stranger or a perfect day in the park. And somehow, the light always gets in.