You know that saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same?” Well, the past five days have totally supported the cliche.
That glorious view of the skyline from the LIE was still glorious; the barber next door to my apartment still popped his head out, raised his scissors and said good morning; the kickboxing fiends in the Wednesday Zen Combat class at Equinox were still all in their same spots in front of the mirror; the old man with the mustache and a hard hat was still sitting on the sidewalk managing the construction on Seventh Avenue.
And yet, there were some things that may seem same-y, but for whatever reason stood out as new to me.
For starters, the streets here really are filthy. Not so much that there’s garbage thrown about, but the concrete itself is just dirty! I never noticed all the black gum remnants.
This city is tall as! I always forget to look up because I’m often so focused on Straight Ahead. Not only was the light so incredible on my first night back in the Apple, but it became so apparent how much more industrial and vertical this city is compared to London.
There are bikes! Lots of them! This was the case before I left, but not for the masses. In London, they’ve got the “Boris Bikes,” named after the mayor who brought the rent-and-ride cycles to the city. Unfortunately, I was never brave enough (nor was it warm enough) to give them a try, but I did do in Tel Aviv. Now I can do here, too, with “Mike’s Bikes”! There’s even a station on my corner.
It really is loud. I don’t think I realized how quiet it was in London. Despite being high up on the 5th floor, and on a relatively small West Village block, my apartment here faces the street — a NYC street. I hear the subway roar underground, the garbage truck pick up the trash, the back-up-beep of a bulldozer, the swish of taxis driving through puddles from last night’s rain, the tour guide on a double decker bus pointing out the “pre-war brick buildings of Greenwich Village” and whatever that other noise is that I can’t quite place. It never really bothered me before. In fact, I barely heard it.
Service is stellar. Now, this doesn’t go for every dining establishment on the island of Manhattan and its boroughs, of course. But for the most part, the whole 18% tip-required thing is earned. At the two restaurants I went to with waiter service this week, I never had to ask for a menu or flag someone down to refill my water glass as I so often had to in London and throughout Europe.
Pedestrians rule. I was always afraid to cross the street in London. Not just because of the whole “look right, look left” other-side-of-the-road factor, but because the cars don’t wait. Despite this being aggressive, we-stop-for-no-one NYC, those on two feet have the right of way. Sure, if you find yourself in the middle of a crosswalk when you’re not supposed to, you’ll be honked at and cursed at to no end, but you’ll still make it to the other side in one piece. In London, I was never quite certain that’d be the case.
As the weeks go on and I settle back in for the time being, I’m sure I’ll notice more Sameness that to me, because of the time away, seems more like Newness. And there’s nothing like Newness to make all the Sameness feel more exciting.
You hear it time and time again when returning from travels, a pout on your face and an empty page in your passport that you’re aching to stamp:
“Try to live and see your city the way tourists do. It’ll be different! New! Better! Brighter!”
Heck, I’ve even said it to others! And it sounds simple, right? Like, what’s so hard with striking up a conversation with dapper chap at the bar? Or appreciating the way the light hits a skyscraper?
If only we could always notice the Newness. But we settle in and things become routine; customary. We forget to smile at strangers. To look up.
While reacquainting myself with this city over the past five days, my senses were on high alert. And while most of what I was seeking and craving centered on the familiar — eating certain foods, taking a certain gym class — the Newness that I discovered in between the cracks of it all made the transition smoother and the experience of the past few months as a whole even more worthwhile.
For those curious about what this New Yorker Gone London did after five months away, here’s the play-by-play.
- Went for classic New York Chinese food with the ‘rents. I’m talkin’ chicken with bok choy, crispy whole fish and an egg roll. They don’t make ‘em anywhere like they do at “So Far, So Good” in Lynbrook, Long Island.
- Took a morning bike ride over to Grandma’s house in the town next door for a massive hug. No one gives ‘em like she does.
- Went for Bagel No. 1 with my mom at 24-Hour Bagel in my hometown. Their bagels are the real deal — perfectly plump and soft with a bit of crispness around the edges. Had it with tuna fish, which was perfectly blended with mayo and celeryless, thankyouverymuch.
- Unloaded some stuff from storage, remarked about how much unnecessary stuff it all is and then spent three hours knee-deep in dustballs before unpacking said stuff into my apartment.
- Took a yoga class with Arnold, who was subbing for Nadia. Both two of my favorites, so it was a loss AND a win.
- Went to Joe’s Pizza for dinner where I slowly ate two slices. It really is all in the sauce.
- Had a spritz on the house at Gottino, my local downstairs.
- Went to the London-inspired Elephant & Castle on my block for my “FAVOURITE” salad: iceberg lettuce, smoked chicken, hazelnuts, apples, avocados, cherry tomatoes and the most sweet ‘n’ tangy orange dressing EVER.
- Went to Zen Combat with my girl Violet. Sweat my butt off.
- Walked to Pepe Verde, my cheapie Italian spot that I normally order in, and dined on capellini and tilapia with a limonata — for $15! Score.
- Caught up on Game of Thrones. Sat with my hand over my mouth in complete disbelief for a good 15 minutes. Holy hell Red Wedding.
- Met a friend for lunch at The Grey Dog where I strayed from routine and did not get the “Grey Dog Breakfast” (home fries, eggs any style, french toast or pancakes, & bacon, sausage, or ham), but rather a veggie burger and sweet potato fries, which paired nicely with a pitcher of sangria. Hey, it was Friday somewhere!
- Got my nails done at Eve. Expect a dedicated post on this next week!
- Met some of my besties for drinks at Highlands, a Scottish pub (Holla Eimear!) around the corner. Ordered the sausage roll and Scottish egg, which were not even close to being as good as I once thought they were. Guess that’s what happens when you have the real thing for so long.
- Ate Bagel No. 2 — this time with olive cream cheese and tomato — at Murray’s Bagels.
- Went to yoga with Nadia, whose classes I’ve missed the mostest.
- Hopped in a car and headed out of town for the weekend…
Now where am I going, you want to know? One of the reasons I came home when I did was for my best friend Jen’s “hen do” (bachelorette weekend). As I write, I am sitting on a leather couch in a log cabin (OK, maybe it’s more ‘house’ than ‘cabin’ but it’s definitely made of logs — albeit new and shiny logs) looking out at tall pine trees, a blue sky and a range of mountains reaching high up into its cloudless reach. I am only two hours from NYC and very very lucky.
How new (and sweet) it is.