Empty NYC

It is this weekend, isn’t it — five months since I’ve been in Chicago; five months since I moved to New York. Five months since I said anything here too. I’d apologize, and I do, but it’s been an interesting busy, a sometimes staggering busy, the kind of readjustment I haven’t had to do since after I left college for a brief and ill-advised move to San Francisco.

I miss my camera. I have this great camera that I love using, but time management is a lot of work when you’re trying to just straight-up find your feet. I do love Instagram, though, and I recently got my first iPhone. It’s no Nikon, but it helps me do a thing I love in little bursts.

I notice this about my Instagram feed, though: It doesn’t take place in the city I see every day, but some sort of post-apocalyptic quiet, with very few people and interesting light. I think this says less about my state of mind than about when I’m comfortable snapping pictures in public — I don’t have the instinct to whip out my camera phone when I’m just hanging out with friends, most times.

I remember, when I came to Chicago from my small college town in Appalachia, how worried I was that I would never experience silence again, that somehow a city would be nothing but noise and lights and I’d never get a reprieve. But of course those moments and those places and times do exist, and they’re a good time to remind myself that I can spare a pause, and that I really can do something other than hurry to wherever I’m going. That it’s okay to be in the world and observe it and frame it to keep for later. New York is neat. I really do like it here.

I yelled and screamed about coming here before it actually became a possibility. New York believes a lot of its own hype, which is infuriating if you have lived in the places it considers not real or inferior. But coming here, I’ve thought less about the self-obsession (which is surely a coping mechanism for the cost of living) and let myself be surprised (and proved wrong). The light, when there aren’t clouds, is always like an Edward Hopper painting — I think that must be the effect of the ocean somehow, all that light bouncing off all that water. I’d always loved the Chrysler Building, but it’s the Empire State that I’ve come to regard as a friend. I saw Don Cheadle walking toward me on a sidewalk as I made my way to work. I’m not going to lie — that’s neat.

I’ve seen almost none of this city, is the thing. In five months, I haven’t yet been to Central Park or Coney Island or most of the museums. I’ve ventured into Williamsburg and Park Slope, though not a lot. But I got lost in the Financial District in a snowstorm, and fell in love with the twisting streets and surprise federal-style buildings. I know where to get good duck in Chinatown and great mofongo in Washington Heights. I’ve already spent too much at Forbidden Planet and the Strand. I know where to pick a straight line and just walk.

The days are getting longer now. I keep joking that I’ve only ever seen New York in the dark, after work, and that I won’t recognize any of the places I do know in the light. What a thing, to get to be in a new place. We should all be so lucky.

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3 thoughts on “Empty NYC”

  1. New York seems kind of lonely and desolate, based on your photos. Perhaps when Spring does come it will come to life.

  2. I know what you mean when you describe “the self-obsession.” Most people who live in cities have to live there, and convince themselves there is no other place to be. Material beauty is like a flower pushing through a crack in concrete, framed by the austere cathedrals of capitalism which compete to shut out the sun – hence Edward Hopper’s paintings of neon or filtered glow. For me, the beauty of New York is the people – those wry, observant, tough souls with whom a casual conversation becomes a delight. I’ve lived in Chicago and New York – now I live in Florida, surrounded by New Yorkers who’ve “seen the light.” Now I have New Yorkers without the press of the crowds and Chicagoans without the screech of the “El.” I also have alligators in my backyard and Sand Hill Cranes as close neighbors. It’s a kind of happiness.

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