Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Sasha’s New York City tips for Michelle

A woman at work is leaving to take a job in Manhattan -- Dave said, "she's taking our place!" -- and this is my good-bye present to her:

Trust your instincts
The number one most important thing I learned in New York. If you don’t feel safe, even if you can't figure out why, you probably aren’t. Take action right away. Switch subway cars, change seats in the movie theater, get out of the cab and find another. You’ll figure it out later. This goes for every possible situation, really, not just the obvious ones.

Don’t get cynical
So many people are too cool for school, especially in the city. But there is still beauty in the world, even in New York. Don’t forget about love. In the end, it's all that matters.

Get enough sleep
Yes, it's the city that never sleeps, but that doesn't mean you have to up all night, every night. Be sure to get your beauty rest. You’ll need it and the city will always be there (although it’s definitely fun to take the subway home when everyone else is going to work).

Remember, you can do or be anything you want in La Grande Pomme
New York is a great place to try on different identities. I’ve been a 6th Avenue magazine editor, an off-Broadway stage manager, a PTA volunteer, a budding chef. Once I decided I wanted to be a contra-dancing Vermont hippie, and sure enough, I found those folks too. It didn’t last, but it was reassuring to know they were there.

Look for your heart's desire
New York has at least one of everything. Don't settle. If you look hard enough you’ll find what you are looking for.

Never pay full price for a bag on the street
Or pretty much anything you buy on the street, other than food. But do not give your money to the Three-Card Monte guys. You will always lose.

Visit unusual places and get out at odd times of day and night
There’s nothing like a foggy Village street at 6:00 a.m. Take the ferry to Staten Island. Go to a city pool—the one in Red Hook is enormous and on the weekends there’s an array of Central American food for sale along the soccer field across the street. It’s a huge city and the nooks and crannies are surprisingly wonderful and wonderfully surprising.

Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
You must, must, must do this at least once. It’s a lovely walk and a stunning view. Dusk is perfect time, with the lights all twinkly and pretty. Think of us—that’s where Dave proposed to me and we often walked it with Lily, or friends, or visitors.

Get to know your neighbors
Half the city was born in another country. Got a hankering to travel? Ever wanted to visit Russia/India/Italy/Central America/Asia/ Greece/the Middle East but couldn’t afford it? Jump on the subway and head for Brighton Beach/Jackson Heights/Arthur Avenue/Sunset Park/Flushing/Astoria/Atlantic Avenue. Eat, shop, and just sit and listen. You can travel very far in just 30 minutes.

Go to the Atlantic Antic, the best street festival ever
Just a little Brooklyn ethnocentricity here, but this happens to be true. In a couple of miles on a Saturday in late September you go through about 20 different communities. Get off at Pacific Street and walk the entire length. Pace yourself! There’s a lot to take in. When you get to around Bond Street, look for the PS 261 table and say hi for us.

Eat everything you can
One of the great reasons to live in New York is the incredible food. If you are interested in expanding your palate, here’s the place to start. Love your corner pizza place/café/bar, but be sure to venture outside your usual culinary boundaries. Street food is safe, and usually interesting, especially if there's a crowd.

Check out the classic sights
Living in New York can be wearing and sometimes it’s important to remind yourself why you do. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are totally worth it. Take a Circle Line tour. The Metropolitan Museum, Lincoln Center, Broadway shows—it’s all really fun and you get a thrill no matter how jaded you are. Check to see when museums are open late—and offer free admission. They can be a great place to unwind after work.

Spend an afternoon at Coney Island
Ride the Cyclone and the Wonderwheel (get in a swinging car), stroll the boardwalk, eat at Nathan’s, walk down the pier and watch the kids fish. Check out the Mermaid Parade in mid-June.

Find the parks near you
All that concrete and steel can really wear you down. New York has among the least amount of green space in any city, but what it does have is extraordinary, especially Central Park and Prospect Park. But there’s lots more than just that, from community gardens to vast open spaces in the outer outer boroughs.

Don't stare at the celebrities
And for god’s sake, don’t ask for autographs. They’re here for the anonymity, just like everyone else. They do seem to like being recognized and admired from afar, though, so feel free to gawk discretely.

Appreciate New York's long, deep history
It really is unlike any place else. It’s an odd and interesting mongrel mix of commerce and high finance, much of it non-Christian, non-white, and non-European, as well as amazing arts and food and music. It's old, by American standards. All of that helps make it unique.

Read books, watch movies, listen to music, look at art about New York City
A lot of people have had a love affair with the city for a very long time. Some of my favorites are E.B. White, of course, Russell Shorto’s The Island at the Center of the World, Luc Sante’s Low Life, Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind, Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie—and the movies! The Naked City, West Side Story, Sweet Smell of Success, Taxi Driver, Hair, Annie Hall . . . Wikipedia even has a list called “New York destroyed on film.” New York is an endless topic and many artists have explored it. See what pulls them here.

Remember, if you can make it here you'll make it anywhere
And if you find you don’t care for it, you’ll be in good company. There’s no shame in trying it a year or two and then finding you want to move to, say, San Francisco. Now there’s a livable city.

Godspeed, Mitch.

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