Posts tagged “new york city

Hello Again, New York

On Thanksgiving Eve, while most New Yorkers eagerly shuttled out of the city, I befittingly found myself glued to my couch in Alphabet City, alone, milking a bottle of wine. Solitary gulps couldn’t replace my family’s embrace but somewhere between the self-pity and nostalgia, I found a silver lining. This week marks my 2nd year of living in New York. Bottoms up!

20131130-004650.jpgShould the occasion warrant celebration or consolation? In the past month a number of authors have written emotionally wrenching tales about their breakups with the city. “Why I’m Glad I Quit New York At Age 24” likened the city to the overrated “prom king”. Most recently, “The Long Goodbye“- a NYT commentary on well-known writer’s broken love affairs with NYC – prompted me to ask whether it was time I cut the cord soon too.

2 years is not a long time, but it’s enough to begin embodying characteristics unique to a place. Certainly, my expectations of the city have evolved since day 1. I still remember arriving on a bus with an oversize suitcase that could barely fit in the aisle. Scurrying to the dinner I was late for (the beginning of a recurring New York theme) only to have my dinner date keep me waiting for an additional 30 minutes. Within 24 hours,  I had learned an important New York lesson: never wait longer for someone than they will wait for you.

The rest of it reads like a once-poignant-now-trite Thought Catalog riff. But in New York’s defense – or perhaps I’m stuffed with Thanksgiving propaganda at this time of year – I’ve learned lessons which can only be attributed to New York’s hard-knock teaching style. Here are a few:

1. The city moves fast, but you still need to wait at the station.

*applies to more than just commute times.

People can respond to your emails in a heartbeat, but getting anyone to do anything is like moving a mountain. When you’re young, resistance finds you at every corner. You have to pay your dues.

In a literal sense, you need to add at least 20 minutes to a projected commute time because the R or F train will likely be delayed.

The moral is that plans, ambitions, and dreams often get derailed by unforeseen obstacles but usually (God willing) you get to where you need to be. It just takes patience and waiting for the train to come.

2. The city gets smaller, while the world gets bigger.

New York City is the center of the universe and there’s always people to meet.  But as my network has expanded, I’ve experienced a shrinking of the “center”. This simultaneous shrinking and expansion of worlds is interesting. The more people I meet, the fewer degrees of separation I am from other people in the city (and the more I treasure my close circle of friends). Neighborhood establishments become part of the routine and former strangers become friends. New York City essentially becomes one big town and way more manageable.

Then I flip to an article on Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe and never does anything seem farther away.

3. The hero is redefined.

Few places embody beauty, wealth, and status more than New York does.  I arrived here as starstruck as the worst of Bieber groupies.  But after meeting a handful of personal role models- some as impressive as I imagined and others rude as rats – I’ve had to destroy my gods. Working in media taught me that so much of what we see is a marketing blitz and once all the fluff is stripped away, well – celebrities are mere mortals too.

Perhaps because of the preponderance of celebrities in this town, titles and money are a dime in a dozen. What’s harder to find is genuine compassion, a desire to listen, and an ability to think deeply about meaningful issues.  While I’m not immune to the allure of wealth and its impact (we all need to make a living), New York’s in-your-face inequality reveals the inflationary value of certain attributes and a gap in appreciation for the everyday heroes who display value beyond the short-lived hoopla of models, millionaires, and moguls.

——-

For the past two years, I’ve raced to keep up with NYC’s speed, size, and glitz. It’s kicked my ass. But I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished overall: building a network within the tech and startup community, writing for one of the most-read US digital publications, working for the government of this grand city of cities, and most importantly, learning more everyday about this intricately woven world. While I have acquired certain archetypically New York characteristics, the hardest part about living here hasn’t been about becoming more assertive, professional, or socially savvy. It’s been refining the qualities that often aren’t associated with New York: patience, humility, and compassion. In its own prickly way, New York City has forced me to reconcile its somewhat contradictory nature (movement-stillness, expansion-shrinking, glitz-poverty) in a way that tamer cities simply can’t.  

Saying “Goodbye to All That” is justified. For my friends wondering when I will leave, my answer is not yet. Two years ago, I came to audition. Two years later, I’m still perfecting my routine. I’m still naive enough to believe that, more than anywhere else, New York City is the place for reinvention. Tomorrow, I will say “Hello again, New York” – like I do everyday – and audition for the next month, year, future. The show is yet to begin.

Advertisements

Why NY

Image

 Tell me one last thing. Tell me why New York. You could be anywhere with what you’re trying to do – find your place – but why NYC? L.A., Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, these would all work just as well. So tell me what it is about New York that you love. Why it speaks to YOU. Don’t give me a watered down Woody Allen script either. 

Dear MW,

I decided to write you about New York, strategically, in its absence. I’m not there now; in fact, I’m situated smack in what you may call its antithesis along a windy path bordering the Smokeys, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Here it seems like God is about to turn the seasonal switch, with time teetering gently between the late night shouts of children enjoying Summer’s last call and the swaying trees beckoning Fall’s cool breeze.  It’s beautiful.

So, why New York?

Being somewhere else has forced me to recognize its intangible value. Let’s be real – nothing absolutely pertinent to my existence is strictly in New York. I can find anything I need in any other big metropolitan city (with the exception of a really good slice of pizza and the view from the Brooklyn Bridge) but even then, there are suitable (albeit sub-par) replacements.

Image

So, the real question then becomes, why do I belong in New York? Because at the end of the day, all we really want in anything – a significant other, a friend, a career, a city – is a sense of belonging.

It boils down to a few things:

1. Ownership

In NYC, I have two walking limbs – rusty and badly in need of a       massage at the end of the day – but dependable. They’re just like the New York subway – slow, dirty, and always running late – but they get you where you need to be.

NYC is a city for walking simply because you canIf you really   wanted, you could walk from the northern tip of Manhattan (Harlem) to the southern end (Wall Street) – all 16 miles – and be back in time for dinner. What a sight you’d see along the way! In New York, I have to place my feet on the pavement, feel the hard concrete beneath and the subway rumbling below.  Jumping in a car is not an option, unless you’re rich and can afford a car or a hefty cab fare. In other cities, there’s the luxury of escape, A/C, silence. IN New York you walk because you have to, and it’s sometimes (actually, usually) really annoying because all you want is to sit and go for a drive and listen to your music in peace without all these barking wannabe comedians, pesky tourists, beggars, germs, not to mention the unmistakable smell of crap at the Chinatown subway stop…but you walk anyway.

In the griminess, you are forced to face an unfair world. There’s no easy drive to the gated community. Rich and poor, you see it all and with each pounding step, you hurt for the city. And so, you own it.

2.  Character

Better than the public transit system are the people you see on it. One night, near midnight, I was nodding off on the train when an odd-looking trio entered. They looked nothing short of the Circus Freaks from Big Fish: a morbidly obese woman, a dwarf, and a gangly man (who looked all the more gangly next to the dwarf) with a scruffy beard. Within minutes of stepping on the train, the man began to howl like a wolf (in fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised had he turned into one) while the woman sang like an opera singer and the dwarf awkwardly stood there. There were 2 other people on the train who didn’t even look up. I pinched myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream; the only other possibility was that I was going crazy. Eventually they got off, but it was one of the most bizarre things I ever witnessed.

I’m not saying that you should move to NYC to catch this midnight act. I’m sure there are similarly odd characters residing in other cities. But New York has a higher proportion of them. You’re bound to see an energizing and most interesting collision of cultures in the most densely packed American city.

Other memorable New York characters include the fashion-forward pink-haired women, the break dancers providing unsolicited stress relief on the N while crossing the Manhattan bridge, and the jovial Caribbean men spouting newspaper pickup lines. Seeing such off-the-wall characters means I cannot possibly be ashamed of my own weirdness because someone is sure to have already outdone me. Normalcy is relative; the city has seen it all. New York’s identity is neither classy Cambridge nor star-studded Hollywood; it’s all of the above, a hodgepodge of everything. I belong, simply by being me, a patch stitched next to the suited-up corporate executive overlaying the pink-haired fashionista sewn next to the Wolf Man. New York is a colorful quilt.

3. Possibility

It’s what we crave. Brett Nelson sums it up best in 50 lessons he’s learned from living in New York.

Whatever shape the economy’s in, millions of people continue to pay an absurd premium to toil and escape in New York City. That’s because deep down—more than any specific satisfaction or vice—we all crave possibility. In that sense, NYC might be the world’s greatest brand: It makes you feel (goofy as it sounds) like anything can happen.

New York, Boston, L.A., Miami, Chicago – they are all stellar cities. Wherever you decide, you can’t go wrong, for your needs will be met. But my question to you – is life about meeting needs? Choose the city that makes you come alive. For me, it’s New York. I said it 2 years ago in this post, and I’ll say it again:

There has to be a reason I feel so happy every single time I come here.  I feel alive. It’s not the same high I get when traveling; this feeling is more realistic, more sustainable.  I still waver between feelings of sadness and exhilaration, exhaustion and caffeination, drunkenness and sobriety like a swinging pendulum. But I think the unpredictability is more manageable because my surroundings are….well, unpredictable. Walking through the streets, I skim through tongues, cuisines, and faces around the world; my stress dissipates in the bubble of anxious energy surrounding the city. 

Now sitting in Chattanooga, things are calm and good. I can live here just fine. But this age does not call me to be just fine. When I’m back in New York I’ll fall in love all over again. That’s my NY.


Lesson #3: Beyond the transaction, connecting is key.

How did we ever find good restaurants and services before the Internet?  I remember the days when observations like “Mrs. Smith told me that her friend’s son’s girlfriend’s mother’s ex-husband recently opened an Italian restaurant that’s pretty decent” were considered highly useful.  Based on these sole recommendations, off we’d go to the pizzeria- such adventurers- usually only to be…disappointed.  Ah, back to the same old Chinese takeout then.

These days, not a whole lot has actually changed.  We still discover places through word of mouth but the web of connections is definitely not single-sourced, and certainly not expressed so confusingly.  Instead, the tangled web of connections is known simply as “Yelp”, “Foursquare”, or “Foodspotting”.

I’ve always been a fan of trying new places. When I reviewed food in my little college town of Gainesville, I was like Mowgli exploring the Amazon.  So you can imagine what fun I’m having exploring a metropolis like New York.

Yelp and Foursquare have been my travel partners in crime. They’re like those trendy friends who know the ins and outs of the city. They are the go-to experts on everything ranging from the best peppermint cocoa in Brooklyn (Gimme Coffee!- thanks Yelp) to the cheapest salon in the area for an urgent eyebrow waxing need (thanks Foursquare).

However, amid all the plethora of choices, I’ve begun to yearn for a regular go-to place. You know, like that favorite neighborhood diner you frequent far too much?  In Gainesville, that was my dear Maude’s (coffeeshop with the best cheescake).  Today, I think I found the first locale to start my New York list.  The Masala Wala is located on the Lower East Side just a block away from the famous Katz’s Deli. It greeted me with rich brown decor, reminiscent of the aromatic spices of India.  The place is small, but that adds to the appeal.  I felt comfortable whipping out my laptop and working like I was at Starbucks, even while people around me formally dined.  Certainly helped that there was free wi-fi.

My first night here, the waiter gave me a free sample of mango lassi.  I ordered the Masala Chai (their staple drink), which paired well with the vegetarian kofta (a pan-fried dish with carrots and beets, pictured above).  I returned for the second time today not so much because the food was delicious (though it certainly was), but because of the impeccable service. My waiter last time was so attentive and I couldn’t forget the owner’s welcoming smile, a friendly Indian man who encouraged me to stay as long as I wanted for good food or even just the free wi-fi.

While sipping on Masala Chai today, I met the vision behind the restaurant, Roni Mazumdar, who emerged from the kitchen to tell me the story behind its opening just a month ago. A joint venture between him and his now-retired father, The MasalaWala is the product of years of experimenting and loving authentic Indian food.  With a flair for India’s street food, it brings you fast-casual with the usual naan but also some lesser known dishes found under Chat-Pat (Street-Side Favorites).  The menu is a mere two pages, not too overwhelming, which thankfully means it might actually be possible to try every dish here at least once.  Deliciousness cannot go to waste.

As if I didn’t already like the place enough on taste and decor alone, after hearing Roni’s passionate recount of why he opened the business, I felt more compelled to write and share the goodness of it to all.  Roni is a man of many trades- engineer by day, an actor on the side, owner of a production company, and now entrepreneur- but that’s not much of a surprise because you can see all of this incorporated into the restaurant with its sustainability (100% biodegradable tableware) and technological know-how (e-receipts and iPad point of sale!) Super impressed. This is how local business should be done.

I should mention that I stumbled upon this place through a TastingTable newsletter titled “Triply Good Chai in New York” (which by the way was forwarded to me from a friend in Florida).  After reading the article, I perused Yelp for reviews (perfect 5-star rating!), Foursquare for tips, and the restaurant’s website for general information and presentation.  When a place gets high marks from nearly all parties, you’ve found a gem that cannot be missed.

With the unveiling of some exciting new additions in the near future (Happy Hour with South Asia-influenced drinks, plus Indian-Chinese fusion dishes?!?!) , I am certain that The MasalaWala will be at the forefront of some up-and-coming fast yet sophisticated Indian street food movement.

——————

In a city like New York where transactions are done in 1-2-3, connection is still key.  Most customers will come back to a place for its great taste and value, but the most loyal ones are baited for far greater reasons: strong purpose translated into action, a vested interest in customers, and serving them well.  Beyond the transaction, connection is key.

My experience today would not have been possible without modern social digital tools. Thanks to TastingTable for notifying, Foursquare and Yelp for verifying its legitimacy, and the thousands of people for writing, rating, and recommending, allowing places of real value to surface.

By the way, The MasalaWala hasn’t had to spend a dime on advertising.  When the product is good and you have an engaging online presence, there’s no need. May the word continue to spread.