What does it take to become … A NEW YORKER???
Ever since September 8, 2008 I have pondered this question. That was the day I moved into a rented room in a dilapidated house in Forest Hills, Queens. My first day as a New Yorker.
8 million people live in New York City. Or maybe it’s 8.5 now? Are we counting Staten Island? More importantly, Are all 8 million of us “New Yorkers?”
Exclusivity is what makes it cool. And as I am fond of saying, “Rules Make Fun More Fun.” So there has to be a rule, there has to be! There’s gotta be a rule about who can be a New Yorker and who can’t, and once you’re in, you’re IN, baby! After 24 years of being just a boring whatever non-New Yorker, I was desperate to be reborn in the Greatest City on Earth, as a person who mattered, you know, a New Yorker.
Sorry/not sorry. Exclusivity makes these things more fun. Like I said.
But at what point does one become a New Yorker? What rite of passage is there to prove one’s mettle, to deserve the lofty title?
Is it being able to swipe a Metrocard flawlessly every single time? Too easy.
Is it the ability to throw up in a sewer gutter without causing a scene? I feel like we’re getting closer.
There’s a saying in New York City, a saying that WE NEW YORKERS HAVE, and it goes a little something like this:
“IF YOU SEE A SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY ON THE PLATFORM OR TRAIN< DO NOT KEEP IT TO YOURSELF> TELL A POLICE OFFICER OR AN MTA EMPLOYEE> REMAIN ALERT AND HAVE A SAFE DAY>”
If you read that sentence aloud in your head in a man’s robotic voice, you might be a New Yorker! Might be. Don’t get too excited. We still haven’t gotten to the part where I lay down the ground rules for who it/isn’t a New Yorker.
New York is full of a thousand daily catastrophes. At any given point, I’ll bet you at least a half million of us 8 million are going through something truly fucking horrible, and very publicly. There’s nowhere to hide! Your worst vulnerabilities are exposed because everything is public. Expecially public transit. Oh, expecially public transit. Which leads me to the rule:
You’re not a real New Yorker until you’ve lived out your own private hell on public transit.
For some, that means pooping yourself because you thought you’d recovered from the norovirus a day earlier than you actually had. For others, that means finding out a relative died while on the train and bursting into tears while nobody offered you a tissue (real New Yorkers always offer a tissue, in my experience). So let me tell you how I, four years after I first arrived in NYC, became a true New Yorker.
It was a month after I had been dumped. Dumped hard. It was the kind of soul-crushing breakup that only young kids in their 20’s who shared their first piece of real estate together can possibly understand. One minute we were soul mates…the next minute, he was threatening to call my parents to have them come pick me up and remove me from his life and from New York City forever.
Yep. Read that one again, and absorb how FUCKING HORRIBLE that is. That’s like, literally returning a human being to their manufacturer: “Hi, this girl is damaged? I don’t want her anymore. This is covered under warranty, right?”
In all my darkest nightmares, it was the one thing I had always thought would ruin me. Hey, I was young and in love! I had invested so much of my life into this partnership, I was certain that if anything should ever break us apart, it would mean the worst thing possible in the world had befallen me.
And I was right, because it plunged me into the famously horrible New York City Real Estate Market! Step right up to the carnival of horrors! Catch yourself a roommate from the Barrel of Similarly Miserable 20-somethings Trying To Escape Their Own Horrible Housing Situations! Visit the Building That Housing Codes Forgot! Witness the Magic Tricks of The Broker with his sleight-of-hand Litany Of Hidden Fees and Costs! It’s Exhausting! It’s Expensive! And! You have no choice but to ride it.
I lucked out renting a closet-sized bedroom 40 blocks south of my former love nest. Still in Manhattan, because I refused to let that cheater cheat ME of my Carrie Bradshaw dreams. In fact, it was along the same bus route. Aaaaand, now you’re all caught up to the relevant bits.
I was all alone in New York, working 2 jobs to afford to stay there, with no money and no one to help me. BUT I DID have an Unlimited Metrocard. *insert angelic choir* Ah, the Unlimited Metrocard! It’s like a super power, which imbues the cardholder with the magical ability to ride as many buses and trains as one can for a 30-day period.
And that’s how I decided I was going to move apartments via the M4 bus.
Dig this INSANE plan: I was going to…
- Pack up all my stuff into FlexForce trash bags and shopping bags
- Carry it down four flights of stairs and out of my former apartment
- Drag as much as I can schlep up the steep hill at 181st & Fort Washington
- Wait for the bus with all of my personal belongings on the sidewalk
- Ride down to 145th & Broadway and get off outside the McDonald’s
- Lug my earthly possessions across the busy highway that is Broadway
- Scale 4 more flights of stairs with trash bags full of clothes, boxes full of dishware, suitcases full of books, etc
- Deposit myself in new apartment
- Wait at the bus stop on 145th to go back up to 181st street and do this again until I CAN’T ANYMORE
By now, it’s getting dark. It’s my only day off in the whole week, and I’ve spent it riding the M4 up and down through Harlem/Washington Heights. Reality starts to set in, and my sore muscles give way to a deeper sadness as I’m finally forced to confront that my relationship is OVER. On the final trip, I grab my guitar case, a trashbag full of linens, and a full-length mirror that I brought with me to New York City all the way back in 2008. It’s late at night now, and I’m all alone at the bus station in not the best part of town. Getting on the bus was a relief….at first.
Until I realize I’m on the bus with a whole bunch of strangers, eyeing me up and down. Me and my garbage bag & my guitar & my five-foot mirror & my tear-stained eyes. I am weird. I am scary. I am
“<A SUSPICIOUS PACKAGE OR ACTIVITY ON THE PLATFORM OR TRAIN>”
I am living my personal hell on public transit.
I look in the mirror.
I mean, it’s big, and it’s on my lap. It’s kind of hard not to take a long look at oneself in the mirror under these circumstances.
I thought about the future I’d dreamed of, which once felt so certain and secure, now gone and leaving nothing but fear in its place. Would anyone ever love me again? Would I be able to love again? How could I trust someone new, when the one person I trusted with my whole heart just tossed me aside like a FlexForce bag full of old garbage?
(This post was NOT sponsored by FlexForce bags. They’re just really good bags. They hold sturdy, even when your life is falling apart! —I’m sorry, I’ll get back into it.)
It may have been the hardest ride I’ve ever taken in my life, but by the time we pulled into sight of the Golden Arches, it was over. Bah-dah-bah-bah-bah, I’m lovin’ THAT.
At some point or another, all 8 million of us are going to experience catastrophe on public transit. We’re going to get caught by police hopping the turnstiles because they weren’t working and we just really needed to catch that train. We’re going to puke into our own handbag because it seemed at the time the polite thing to do, and then we’ll have to replace everything in it when we can’t scrub the stench of emesis out. We’re going to bite our lip and pray we make it home once all those drinks hit our stomach and worry that we won’t make it home in time to relieve ourselves (if we’re lucky!).
Humiliating ourselves on the MTA is a sacred rite of passage. If you’ve been there, you’ll know it when you see it. When you see it, do be kind and offer that fellow a tissue? It’s the New Yorker thing to do.