NY State of MindA LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP
THE FAST PACE OF NYC PERMEATES ALL ASPECTS OF CITY LIFE, AND WORKING LIFE IS NO EXCEPTION. I HAD FORGOTTEN JUST HOW DEMANDING CLIENTS ARE HERE, AND HOW WORK LIFE BALANCE IS AN UNATTAINABLE MYTH FOR MOST PROFESSIONALS IN THIS CITY.
It takes a certain kind of crazy to live in New York City. This was never so apparent to me as when I temporarily relocated from New York to Washington, DC for my job. For the same amount of rent that I had been paying in NYC for a tiny studio, I was able to afford a spacious one bedroom apartment in DC that came with an underground parking spot, a walk in closet, and – the Holy Grail of all New Yorkers – a washer and dryer in unit. The apartment was located across the street from a ‘real’ grocery store that did not charge 12 USD for a box of cereal, and I never had to fight my way through a crowd of meandering tourists to get anywhere. I enjoyed a manageable pace of life, and was usually able to come home in time for dinner on weeknights – a rarity when I lived and worked in NYC.
And yet, every time I came back to New York to visit my then fiancé, my heart would start beating to the pulse of the city the moment I got off the train. The lights, the billboards, the crowds, even the faint smell of urine – it all seeped through my skin and awakened the New Yorker in me. I started to walk at a brisker pace, expertly weaving between herds of pedestrians. I took note of all the new scaffolding that had gone up, and the new restaurants that had moved in. I jaywalked with confidence, leaving behind the tourists who waited until the light turned green. A certain urban swagger overtook me as I hummed along to the buzz of the city. “We need to find a way to move back,” I urgently texted to a friend who had also recently left New York. “Yes, we MUST,” she replied.
I was always on the go during those weekend visits to the city. Every meal was planned out in advance because there was never a shortage of friends to see. Even the hours between meals were accounted for, filled with activities that only the city could offer. We sought out little art house movie theatres that screened indie movies that weren’t showing anywhere else in the country. We wandered around the Union Square farmer’s market on Saturday afternoons and sampled goat’s milk cheese and homemade potato chips. In the summer months, we took the metro to Chinatown to eat soup dumplings, pick up some paper wrapped sponge cake, and browse the tropical fruit stands for mangosteens and lychees. We walked away carrying 35 USD worth of fruit and marvelled, “How is the fruit here so cheap?!”
New York is also home to many of what I call My Number Ones, which I always tried to squeeze in during my weekend visits. My Number One dessert spot is a confectionery store on the Upper East Side called Lady M, home of the wondrous mille crêpe cake. My Number One food truck is Bapcha in Midtown West, where you can get sweet marinated Korean short ribs for a couple of bucks. My Number One late night pizza place is Little Italy near Penn Station, while My Number One dinner date pizza place is Lombardi’s in Little Italy. I even have a Number One block; St. Luke’s Place, a tree lined row of romantic brownstones in the lower West Village. I love to stroll down that block on sun kissed afternoons, and wonder about the New Yorkers who live there and the stories they have to tell.
In such a fashion, my weekend dalliances with the city continued until finally, in the autumn of last year, I was transferred back from DC to NYC. I breathed a sigh of relief as I disembarked at Penn Station for the last time, thinking about how those jam packed weekend trips were now behind me. Now, I thought to myself, I can enjoy the city at my leisure, properly savouring everything it has to offer without any time constraints. The issue, as I soon realised, was that I had even less time once I moved back. The fast pace of NYC permeates all aspects of city life, and working life is no exception. I had forgotten just how demanding clients are here, and how work life balance is an unattainable myth for most professionals in this city. With no time to grocery shop or cook at home, I eat out or order delivery every day of the week. Every once in a while, my now husband and I squeeze in a quick dinner at our local gluten free restaurant before heading back to our respective offices. On weekdays, we barely get to spend any time in our unjustifiably expensive apartment, and on weekends, we’re busy running all the errands we weren’t able to run during the week – including doing loads of laundry using the overpriced machines downstairs. Ironically enough, it dawned on me that I was able to enjoy the city more when I lived outside of it rather than in it.
Recognising that this lifestyle is neither sustainable nor affordable in the long run, we have started researching where we might want to settle down outside of the city. On one such night, after having perused some New Jersey real estate listings online, we met up for a late Wednesday night dinner. Instead of our usual haunts, my husband wanted to take me to Ivan Ramen on 11th Ave., having gone there for the first time the night before with his work colleagues. The restaurant is located at Gotham West Market, which is a hip space that is home to several other bars and eateries. As we approached, I noticed that the windowed walls were flung wide open to let in the evening breeze, revealing the chefs on the other side boiling handmade noodles in mesh strainer baskets. Aromatic smells wafted through the air along with sensuous lounge music. We walked in, ordered two bowls of ramen, a donburi, and two speciality drinks (a yuzu lemonade for me, a celery soda for him), and sat down at the monochromatic bar alongside some sharply dressed finance types. Behind us was additional bench seating, where twenty and thirty somethings were chit chatting over cleared bowls and plates. The vibe was decidedly cool and relaxed, and it felt like everyone had checked their work related stresses at the door – myself included. As our steaming hot food was placed in front of us, I took my chopsticks out of their wrapper and said to my husband, “How can we ever live anywhere but here?” He raised an eyebrow at me. “I mean, where else could we have all this? It’s 11 o’clock on a Wednesday night, people are out and about, and this ramen looks delicious! ” I declared. My husband nodded and said “We’re really lucky to live here.” “Really lucky,” I echoed. Then we put our heads down and indulged in some of New York’s finest noodles.