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.
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.
I am sorry to report that New York pizza (minus Grimaldi’s) is vastly overrated.
Everything else is not.
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.
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.
With 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
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.
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.