When I lived in Chicago, there was a time when I had no automatic clue as to what subway (oh, sorry, “L”) stop were closest to my destination. But over the years I was able to guess that sort of thing pretty well — without looking at a map — and could do the same for a fair number of bus routes. I don’t know when ignorance turned to confidence, but it happened. Chicago seemed less of a mystery then, perhaps spurring my eventual move east.
By the time I left — 10 months ago, now — I was confident that everything I’d once found magical had become mundane. There’s only one thing I’d always wanted to do in the city and had never done — visit the Osaka Japanese gardens — and even that is something I could die today and not regret missing.
I’ve reached the point where I know the Manhattan subway system as well as I think I ever will, and I know it from walking through tunnels and sometimes making wrong turns and often looking at a tiny subway map I keep in my purse. When strangers would ask for directions I’d often have to fumble, not knowing the right thing to say.
All of that’s changed, which affords me a lot less stress about how to get from Point A to Point B. It’s also easier to run on autopilot from transfer point to transfer point, not to mention a confidence boost from being able to travel in the fast pedestrian lanes rather than stuck behind tourists from Idaho or Belgium or Argentina — all of whom I’m sure are very nice people but also very confused and slow.
Despite the comfort this knowledge offers, I still wonder whether it’s a sign I’m assimilating (which, I’m told, takes seven years, which I prefer to chalk up to experiences by people whose incomes don’t depend on being intimately familiar with all the goings-on in NYC, as mine definitely does) or that I’m growing bored.
Part of me thinks that a certain nonchalance about NYC is part of becoming a New Yorker. It’s exhausting, seriously, going back to Chicago and hearing one stereotype after another about what my life must be like here. I also hear a lot about how NYC doesn’t have alleys and therefore there’s garbage piled on sidewalks. I stopped noticing this almost immediately, save for the fact that it’s much easier to find cool stuff people are throwing away if it’s on the curb on your walk home from the subway.
Mostly, though, I think this is what it’s like to grow used to a new home. The things that were once exciting are now just part of daily life. You learn how to jostle and how to refuse to be pushed around by almost everyone, from the guy hogging two seats on the subway to the bodega owner trying to charge extra because he thinks you won’t notice. You learn a different attitude, one that may have served you well in another place but now seems ill-fitting at best. If by moving to Wyoming you might learn patience and how to move at a slower pace, in Manhattan you learn how to move — and think — quickly in a way that’s not easily described. It becomes not a bad thing, no matter how negatively those who don’t get it might see it.
I’m meeting for coffee tomorrow with a friend from graduate school who’d emailed me a month ago for advice on moving here. She took almost all of it and now, a month later, she’s actually here. This is the first real proof that the things I have to say are inspiring and helpful. I wish there’d been someone to give that to me when I arrived — partly why I’m writing my book — but I’m also glad there wasn’t. Because my transformation from newcomer to where I am today means something deeper and different than it would if I’d had a road map. Besides, taking someone on a journey you’ve already taken yourself means you can remember how rough things were without reliving them yourself. And, believe me, there are many, many times I absolutely don’t want to relive. So I’ll be happy for the growth — and for no longer being stuck in the slow newcomers lane. 🙂