I spent some of my pivotal years living and working in NYC on the Upper West Side. I moved to NYC at the age of 24 and vowed never to leave. I loved walking out of my building into city life. I loved everything about it and rarely complained about the high price of living, particularly when I was making a mere 23K in my first job as an assistant. I thought I would never leave. I was home.
Fast forward to now. I’ve been living in the suburbs for the last 10 years. Don’t ask me how that is possible. Granted, I live only 15 miles from the city and go in often by train or car. Thankfully, I live in a village and can walk to the train and most of the shops in town. I can even walk to get a manicure or catch a movie at our local cinema, just five minutes from my house by foot. There are French, Italian, Mexican and Japanese restaurants in walking distance, as well as antique shops and a few bohemian clothing shops.
Still, this ain’t New York City, and I often pine for the city that I grew to know and love. After 9/11, I officially left my southern roots behind and became a full-fledged citizen of the city. No one could ever tear away that badge of pride, even though I’ve left.
So, with that, here’s a list of the top 10 things I miss about my town:
1. Not driving. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I didn’t have to drive all over Westchester. I used to love jumping the 1/9/2/3 train from West 72nd Street or the cross-town bus, and even more so, I loved walking all over town. My office was located in midtown, and it was a brisk walk into work. How I loved that walk. I’d grab a coffee and bagel from a cart on the street for $2. Since moving to the suburbs, I have never regained my passion for being a car owner.
2. My eccentric neighbors. There was Mimi, a very old woman, next door in apartment 302. She hailed from Egypt and her studio apartment was the size of my now living room. She used to invite me for tea and tell stories of her youth. There was Steve Eisenberg on the floor above me, who always made sure I had a place to go on Shabbat and that I never spent a Jewish holiday alone. There was Ethel, the Holocaust survivor I be-friended; her stories led me to volunteer with Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, one of my greatest accomplishments. It was a building of people with interesting lives and stories to tell, and I loved hearing them.
3. My doormen. There was one in particular named Edwin. He was my greeter, my safety keeper, my therapist (believe me, he heard every story of my sordid dating life and he kept it all confidential). If I needed handy work done in my apartment, he was there (at a price, but that’s NYC for you).
4. Cafe’ Luxembourg. If I wanted a drink or to be around people, I just had to step out of my apartment building and go 3 steps into this famous, elegant restaurant where I could hang out the bar and star gaze. I saw Cher once at the bar. Another time, Alan Rickman and Sandy Duncan fresh off the Broadway stage. And another time Liam Neeson, Vanessa Redgrave and Natasha Richardson, before her timely death. On another note, my husband and I celebrated our anniversaries and first pregnancy over the most delicious meals in the world (to me, anyway).
5. First-rate food. The first night we arrived in Westchester, my husband and I were hungry after unloading our furniture and boxes off the moving truck. Nothing was open. We were shocked. It wasn’t until we started going out to eat that I quickly realized my culinary options would never quite be the same, and I would never be able to step out for a late night kabab. It was no longer possible to get the quality of sushi I’d become used to, unless I paid damn good money for it. Unfortunately, to this day, I compare all food to NYC standards, even in Paris (don’t ask, I know that doesn’t make sense). In NYC, you can step into a dive and get the best food evah. The funny thing is that I’m not even a foodie, but I’m kind of scarred.
6. Living amongst other pop culture fanatics. Whether it would be at work or in the elevator of my apartment building, I could always talk about the French film I’d just seen or the symphony I’d just witnessed at Carnegie Hall. At work, we had pools to choose Academy Award winners (I always won). I had memberships to the Film Forum, Lincoln Center Theater, Symphony Space, the Public Theater, and so did my friends. It was the most cultural existence and I loved it. And I milked it.
7. Everything was right outside my door. One night, I walked to an independent book store called Shakespeare & Company to hear my idol, Gloria Steinem, speak a mere 6 blocks from home. Another night, I walked a few blocks to Central Park and waited in line to see Patrick Stewart in The Tempest at Shakespeare in the Park. Another night I wandered into Central Park to hear Elvis Costello, my idol at the time. Another time I walked six blocks to the Beacon Theater and caught Morrissey live in concert. I could walk down to West 56th Street to the Paris Theater on a Sunday to watch an old Frederico Fellini film or take the train down to the Film Forum to watch an old Catherine Deneuve movie.
8. Trips to Fire Island. Several summers in a row, I took out a time share on Fire Island, and fled to paradise. The boat ride out put my spirit immediately in a peaceful mode and I fell in love with Ocean Beach, my destination. I spent summer weekends on the beach, drinking wine, eating meals that we cooked together, telling stories, getting to know people my age who had to come to NYC like me to discover the world. One friend in particular I’ll have for life and the rest will remain forever etched in my memory.
9. Theater. I can’t tell a lie. Of course, I have a box full of Playbills in my basement. I went at least once or twice a week to the theater for each of the 8 years that I lived in the city. My sisters lived there, too, for part of my reign and together, we painted the city’s theaters red. Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway, we saw it all – from the premiere of Rent when it was off-Broadway right after Jonathan Larson died to every single play that Sam Shephard brought to the stage.
10. The Public Laundry. Isn’t it pathetic? It was kind of more exciting to do my laundry in my building. Of course, there was the hardship of always having quarters when I needed it, or maybe the fact that I didn’t have nearly as much as I do now, but I used to take a book and head down to the peaceful laundry room (and hope that a rat wouldn’t be joining me – trust me, they did).
That doesn’t really even sum it up. I can already think of another list of 10 things I miss about NYC, but the beauty of it is that I can head into the city tomorrow. And I will.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why I don’t move back, my husband isn’t interested and we’ve built lives for our kids where we are. NYC is terrific but, unfortunately, it’s not an easy place to go back to.