We owe to our first journeys the discovery that place is nothing.– Ralph Waldo Emerson
My wife and I recently moved to New York City from Fayetteville, Arkansas. In many ways, it was a decision that was a long time in the making – my wife has a fashion business that wasn’t gaining much traction in a city where people are more interested in using their money to buy homes with four bedrooms and five bathrooms than they are in buying designer clothing, and research showed us that most of the up-and-coming clothing labels likely rely more on local followings than might be suggested by their rather large national Instagram followings. For me, I realized that my career had hit a standstill, and I wasn’t that interested in making a sideways move to another organization in Arkansas – and I definitely wasn’t that interested in working for the commercial behemoths – i.e., Walmart, Tyson, J.B. Hunt – that dominate the area.
So – we decided if making a change in scenery that mainly involved pursuing new opportunities – why not just move to the city with the most opportunities in the country?
I’ve been asked several times about just how different things feel from like in Arkansas. It’s been surprising how things haven’t been that different – really the only time it’s hit me was upon discovering the lack of availability of coarse-ground grits in grocery stores (apologies, but if the corn’s ground fine enough to be labeled grits and polenta, then it isn’t grits).
Perhaps to me the biggest difference that isn’t related to food availability is in the variety of money-making schemes to be found in New York – Fayetteville doesn’t have guys setting up tables on the sidewalk to sell burned CDs, and its panhandlers definitely don’t rework the lyrics of television theme songs and commercial jingles to make them about giving spare change to the hungry performer.
For the most part, the contradictions of experience found in New York are found in nearly any American city or town. New York sprawls out in much the same manner as the suburbs, its cultural institutions abutting vape shops, high-end retailers spilling out next to discount divorce lawyers. The sprawl is more compressed and you can walk past it faster, yes, but that also means one must be much more vigilant in avoiding sidewalk perils like wadded gum and pet refuse.
I am having difficulties understanding the strong emotions that the city stirs in so many. Many people despise the city. You hear that the city is indifferent and that people aren’t as friendly as they are down South; I’d say the city isn’t exactly indifferent, as much of the city has been designed to be helpful, and at every wrong turn, I’ve yet to encounter a crowd without a helpful person. Sure, there’s an incessant honking of impatient traffic on every street, but I’d sooner step out in front of oncoming traffic in Manhattan than I would in some residential neighborhoods of the South; I suspect the Manhattan driver is more likely to stop.
Then there are people who love the city. Some love the city having never left it. Others love the city because they find in it something they say they can’t find in other places. It is true that one can likely find in New York the full spectrum of Americas that exist – so long as those Americas don’t include coarse-ground grits, perhaps – but I’m not sure if people love that the city includes the full spectrum or if they’re just happy to have found the America that they always wanted but could never find back home.
Creating bubbles is nothing new and exists everywhere; that said, I’m perplexed at how people construct a city that is so large in a way that makes it so small. In reading about the city, it seems like many rarely venture out of the neighborhood they live in (I’m excluding work in this broad characterization). To be fair, most of my life in Fayetteville was restricted to a small section of the city, but in my defense, it’s not like you encountered a change of scenery by heading north to the strip malls of Springdale or Rogers or Bentonville. Perhaps I’ve misread the situation, though, as I’ve already discovered many things that you read are wrong.
It might sound from these initial impressions that I’m not enjoying my time here, but, in fact, there are many things I enjoy about the city. There are signs of life everywhere – conversations on street corners, arguments on subways, encounters between friends in stores (which seem far more common in a city of millions than they are in a city with less than 100,000) – that one rarely overhears in suburbia.
We’ve started discovering things in the city we like, places to go, and the like. We’ve lived in a variety of neighborhoods and are beginning to discover the things we want – and don’t want – out of our location. We’ve walked along the water, through parks, through beautiful neighborhoods, past artwork with (cue Monty P. Moneybags voice) perfect censorship. We survived a snow squall and were rewarded with a terrific sunset.
I’ll write more once I have more impressions and photography to share. For now, though, we’re enjoying our time in the city, and I’m looking forward to exploring the city – and my ideas about it – further.