When I Informed my well-traveled but inherently midwestern mother that I was moving to new York, she was enthusiastic but quick to warn: “Watch out in Central Park! That’s always where almost all the crimes on Law & Order take place!” I assured her that I would be careful, that I wouldn’t walk with headphones in or take the subway after 2 a.m., and that I would take care of myself physically. I was going to be original and daring and I would stand out amidst the crowd of other midwest transplants who had no clue how to navigate the city. I didn’t know that in my first weekend in new York I would behave like a classic wannabe, testing my amateur city skills and doing some irreversible liver damage.
Cut to Saturday numero uno in the city: My first real chance to escape the entertainment of my hometown, which often included a 30-minute journey to a nearby mall. Screw getting mugged or lost; I was in new York fucking City and there were greater things in store than cow tipping!
I met up with my friend Addy, and we commenced to catch up over a drink or four. We made reservations at a Mexican place in Midtown (“Mexican restaurants are key to drinking underage,” my friend John had advised) and sauntered there, laughing about just how fabulous we were. The restaurant boasted legendary mojitos, which were $15—a helluva lot more than the dollar beers to which I’d become accustomed at college. I justified having just one: I only have 40 bucks in my wallet, but whatever, I thought, after this night, I’ll be super responsible about not spending any money at bars.
My first mojito went down smoothly, although I can’t say the same for Addy: an errant hand gesture sent her near-empty glass sailing to the floor. But it was nothing a smile and a flurry of lo sientos couldn’t fix, and our waiter scurried behind the bar to bring us both a free drink. We were three deep when we got our ceviche, and I vowed to stop for the night; Addy ordered another. even in my tequila haze, my competitive nature got the best of me. By the time we’d made it to Addy’s and she had put me to bed, I was remembering how much less toxic cow tipping was.
The room was spinning when I peeled myself off the mattress the next morning. I had to get home, but the idea of waiting for the subway with a hangover was horrific. I longed for the days when, hungover, I could navigate my trip home by stumbling the 50 feet between dorms.
Years of carsickness had taught me the value of carrying a plastic bag everywhere with me, and I scoured the cabinets until I found an extra-large hefty. I mumbled thanks to Addy and staggered out to begin my journey uptown.
The four-block walk to the subway seemed possible from the elevator, where I had something to lean on. But stepping outside, I realized just how far away I was from anywhere I could call home: 60 blocks from my new digs in Morningside Heights and 500-plus miles from home. I thought new York would welcome me, that I would fit in with the skyscrapers, museums and outrageously-heeled women. Instead I felt friendless and alone to the verge of tears. At least extreme dehydration saved me that humiliation.
I was going to be original and daring and I would stand out amidst the
crowd of other Midwest transplants who had no clue how to navigate the
I hailed a cab and clutched my head until we pulled up to the subway station, where I found the strength to demand that he pull thisclose to the curb, then staggered to the escalator.
The Columbus Circle station, a labyrinth even when sober, was impossible to navigate. At one point, I waited for 30 minutes on the wrong platform because I was concentrating on not hurling. Thankfully a kindly man with a been-there-done-that look on his face pointed me in the right direction. I thanked him and boarded the car, seating myself in a corner and readying my hefty.
As I sat readying myself for another wave of queasiness, I realized that the thing about new York was it didn’t feel like home because it wasn’t. It was unlike any other place I’d been, and I had made a rookie mistake by thinking it was interchangeable with some town in middle America. If I wanted to find my place in this city, I had to accept new York for what it was—a mass of concrete and culture that attracted people from everywhere, a dynamic, vibrant city that, as I had learned the night before, was so much more intense than where I’d come from.
This revelation came to an end as the car squeaked to my stop. With renewed heart, I got up, my throbbing head held high. I walked off that subway car with a feeling of complete confidence—a feeling that lasted until I got out of the station and proceeded to puke wildly. It was then, a block from home, that I had a second noteworthy thought: If this is how new York City works, I needed to find an apartment closer to a Mexican restaurant.