“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

-Henry Miller

If you’ve lived in one place your whole life, can you really be prideful of it?

Ever since I was young and my family would take annual summer vacations to the southern United States, I have been fascinated with travel.

The fundamental similarities interwoven with all of the considerable differences in each state intrigued me to no end. How something as insignificant as a few hundred miles and a border drawn up on a map could make for such large distinctions in the way people acted, thought, and lived, injected me with wanderlust.

Seeing a chain of grocery stores or gas stations that were foreign to me had my young mind entertaining the thought that we all live in slightly parallel universes, as did seeing completely different stories take the front page of newspapers depending on what state I was in.

Daily life is rendered anew again through the lens of travel, and something as simple as figuring out where I am going to eat dinner becomes an adventure to me.

The idea that travel gives perspective is not a new one by any means.

I have been fortunate enough in the past year to acquire a job that allows me to go to many new places for both work and for pleasure. And while so far it’s only been within the continental United States, travel has given me an immense appreciation for both where I’ve come from originally and where I live now.

Living in Ohio for the first 22 years of my life, a place that in my head was as mundane and plain as one could get, working in New York gave me levels of pride about my home state that I had never had before. I began to see my old home in a new light and began to really take notice of all of the unique and great things it had to offer.

There is certainly nothing wrong with not having the travel bug and wanting to stay close to your roots. I actually admire the level of contentment people can have with staying in one place compared to my gross addiction of change and new experiences.

However, I find the the hubris of some of those that have lived in one place their whole life baffling. Because in reality, it was the travelers (moreso in the pre-internet age) that dared to venture outside their borders that ended up defining a place’s identity by discovering what was unique about it.

Only from travel could the true character of a place be cultivated. Having points of reference to other places on the map allowed discoveries like “they’re the only people that do this” or “wow, this dish I ate every week as a child is actually a really unique thing to where I am from” to be made.

I realize travel is a luxury and that my situation is incredibly fortunate compared to most.

However, I can’t help but shake my head when I encounter bullheadedness towards even the idea of travel combined with stubborn ethnocentrism towards the randomly-determined home that the offender happened to be born into.

The ideal they cling onto so proudly only exists because someone else has traveled and seen the differences in how they and others live and don’t live.

Would Southerners boast about their corn bread, sweet tea, and grits if people in the Pacific Northwest were making the same dishes? Highly unlikely.

And not only does travelling give me a kind of geographical and cultural perspective, but also a personal one.

Travelling takes me out of my daily routine, and as much as I love what I do every day, when I get taken out of this groove it allows me to view how I am going about my life from afar. This gives me a new angle on what I can do differently when I return, or just simply reignites my drive after a mini-vacation of sorts.

For instance, the majority of this post was actually written in an airport cafe (one of my favorite places for reflection) on the way back from a trip that ended up helping me re-discover how grateful I am for my current life situation and location.

But had I not shined the light of awareness on how others are living, objectivity towards my own life would still be in the dark.

If not by travelling, how do you personally gain perspective about your life and the world?

I Love NY (but only as a friend)

This past January through the first week of July, I served as an intern for Major League Soccer in Midtown Manhattan.

I had never lived outside Ohio nor been to New York prior to this, so needless to say it was an eye-opening and life-changing experience. The two weeks I’ve been back have been a whirlwind of catching-up and figuring out what’s next, but I finally found time to reflect on and summarize the experience.

The People

New Yorkers have a reputation as cold and gruff, and while I am not going to dispute this, I will say that to live there you have to be that way at times. With the number of people that approach you on any given day asking for money, trying to convert you, or peddling their rap CD (that they will autograph for FREE), you would be broke and make it about five blocks in an hour if you welcomed everybody with open arms.

Unfortunately this sternness can carry over to when you do need to approach someone on the street with a legitimate question, but I am not going to pretend that people in Columbus, Chicago, or anywhere else I’ve been are that much more friendly and “stranger-tolerant.”

Hardly anybody is actually “from” New York. The city is made up of people from Long Island and New Jersey, and then of course transplants from around the country and world. When out and about it was not uncommon for four or five different conversations to be going on around me, with none of them being in English.

“Bad” experiences include being regularly cold-shouldered when saying ‘good morning’ to whoever I was sitting next to on the train that day, two NYPD officers shooting me daggers and being not at all helpful when I asked where the nearest newsstand was, and a random homeless lady screaming that she was going to beat my ass if I came back her way again (I was innocently walking by and texting). Again though, in my limited travel experience you will find that kind of thing anywhere.

But for the most part, once you get past the necessary, tough, outer shell, New Yorkers are kind, and would love to talk to you about their neighborhood, the Yanks, or their favorite places for happy hour.

The Food

I am sorry to report that New York pizza (minus Grimaldi’s) is vastly overrated.

Everything else is not.ny1

From what I remember, I tried Cuban, Dominican, Northern Chinese, Argentine, Indian, (real) Italian, Korean, Venezuelan, and Thai. And of course the options I missed out on are limited to the number of countries you can name. Seriously. . .it is all there.

The selection of food trucks alone on any given day gives most city’s restaurants a run for their money. From these- to name a few- I sampled kimchi tacos, lobster macaroni, and salted caramel ice cream that sat between two oatmeal and butterscotch cookies with potato chip crumbs sprinkled in the dough.

 Favorite eats included spicy lamb sandwiches at Xi’an Famous Foods in Chinatown, the famous Gray’s Papaya, and the wild boar burger at Bareburger.

The Nightlife/Entertainment

Nothing really needs to be said. I drank hot cider and vodkas on a rooftop bar on Fifth Avenue with Frenchmen, took a tap-dance/beer tasting class (called Tappy Hour of course) in the backroom of an East Village bar, and happened to be strolling through Times Square when Nicki Minaj decided to give a surprise concert.

 ny2With so much variety to offer, it’s almost a shame to go anywhere twice, but some of my favorite haunts included the oldest tavern in New York (1854), a Belgian Trappist beer bar where loud talking is prohibited, and a sports bar with a flea market’s-worth collection of random memorabilia on the walls. For perspective’s sake, all three of these were on the same block.

That said, my first ‘oh-shit’ moment in the city as far as expensive living goes was when I was at a friend’s birthday party and stuck to drinking the cheapest available option: $6 cans (8 oz.) of PBR.

There is endless amounts to enjoy, as long as you have the means to do so.

Fortunately, there is more than enough to do for free in the city (if you are bored in New York, you have failed).

Museums, free concerts, and just exploring various neighborhoods kept me more than busy on many weekends where I needed to watch my spending. Trying to see everything in Central Park alone takes up most of a Saturday.

Even though I had the opportunity to live there for six months,  I merely scratched the tip of the iceberg of all there is to do and see- I can’t imagine the exhausting whirlwind it must be to visit as a tourist for a few days and try and see ‘everything’. You simply can’t.

The Day-to-Day Life

It’s scary.

As someone whose experience with public transportation was limited to occasionally taking the bus from Ohio State to downtown Columbus, riding a train and/or subway to work and around town everyday was a completely new experience.

With 45-90 minutes of every day eaten up by the commute (depending on whether I took the subway or train), the days were gone before they began.

I realize this is a relatively short commute compared to what many New Yorkers face, and even for those that drive themselves to work in other cities around the country.

However, this rush-around does not lend itself well to a healthy lifestyle, and adults 15-20 (or much less) years into their professional careers looked visibly more worn compared to those of the same age in the Midwest. My best reasoning for this is the endless stress of always trying to make a train, grab-and-go eating, and just general constant overstimulation.

Working 8:30 (or earlier) to 6 is the rule and not the exception, and with the commute added in, little time or desire is left to cook a hearty meal or get in a proper workout.

This was easily my biggest caveat with the city, however, I very well may be singing a different song if I could have afforded to live closer to work and had the means join a gym (rather than resorting to bodyweight workouts for six months).

Planning a rendezvous with friends was always an ordeal, and despite high gas and maintenance costs, I craved the simplicity of hopping in my car and meeting somewhere without worrying about train schedules, delays, and switches.

Call me soft, but I also felt that if I stayed there I would wake up one day and be 40 in the blink of an eye. It’s that fast.

The Most Important Thing I Learned

Talk to everyone. Period. Through random small talk, I met the first openly transgender athlete in college sports, a chef who had made appearances on the Food Network, and Uruguay’s top female golfer.

And this guy:
I recognize that such an eclectic mix of people is found in seldom few places around the world, but the point remains that you never know the story of the person next to you, and more often than not they have something of value they can teach you.

Overall, I loved the experience of living in New York and I don’t regret for a second taking the internship there. My pay and living situation, as well as my inability to afford a gym and quality food wore on me at times, but also made me realize just how important those things are to me.

It also just never felt like ‘home’ to me; instead it seemed more like a 6-month work-study program. In this, I gained a new appreciation for Ohio and the Midwest.

But, if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere, right?

I look forward to returning in the future, as New York is a special, special place.

It’s just not especially for me at the moment.ny5