The Empire State of Mind: Life in New York City


I had a sushi lunch with a friend in DC last week who works for a big accounting agency in New York City and was working from his Washington, DC office because he was down to see some mutual friends for the weekend.  I’d been seeing his online status away messages for the past two weeks.  One of them read “24…ugh.”  Mr. B saw it too, and asked me if he didn’t like the show.  No, I said, my friend just worked really, really long days.  So, I was curious to see how he was doing.  He’s only been at his job for four months, but already, he said that he’s started to feel “aggressive.”  Puzzled, I asked him why.

He lives in a 3-bedroom apartment that was converted from a 1-bedroom apartment.  He lived in the living room, his friend lives in the dining room, and a third roommate lives in the bedroom.  He pays slightly more  than what I did when I lived alone in a one-bedroom in Alexandria, VA.  Since he doesn’t have a dishwasher or much of a kitchen and works about 60-70 hours a week, he doesn’t have time to cook and eats out about three times a day, as do his roommates.  Since he’s low on the totem pole at his company, he’s always on call for work, and at lunch, his Blackberry lay silent and waiting on the table.

“The worst part is when you wake up on a weekend and the red light is blinking, ” he says, rubbing his eyes.  “I’ve gotten calls before on my birthday-which was a Saturday-and on Thanksgiving. People sometimes e-mail at 2 in the morning.”

He walks to his office in the Financial District, but when he takes the subway, he, like everyone else, stands at the edge of the platform, waiting for the car to come, pacing anxiously. In Dc, he said, he noticed that most people stand back, reading the paper or a book. I’ve seen a quite a few people knit on the Metro, a fact I’ve never thought about before. Impossible in New York-if you miss the train, the next one’s in three minutes-forever in a New Yorker’s day.  When he gets a chance  for lunch, he tries to go early to beat the crowds and get what he wants.

He works until 7 or 8 and comes home , exhausted.  On weekends, he’s fighting the fight again-to get on the train, to get into bars, to get the bartender’s attention, to fight for a drink, to pay $7-$8 for a beer, which is not unusual at all in the city.

No wonder he feel feels himself becoming aggressive.  Since I saw him last, he looks completely different from the guy I used to talk to in college-more assertive, more adult. And he reflects what many say about how hard it is to live in New York.

It’s an interesting idea to reflect from my perspective because Washington DC is far from a fast-paced town in the traditional way, especially if you don’t work in politics.  It’s not as slow as other southern cities and I still feel the rush every day at work, but it’s nowhere near the New York that my friend lives in.  As I talked to him, I felt he was exhausted from the constant hustle, but that there was no place he’d rather be, and, as in the song, he really did feel all the possibilities of living in New York.

He feels the same way about New York life versus DC as I do about DC versus Philadelphia, where most of my relatives are.  I fight harder than them and I am exposed to more culture than them-there is no better place in the universe to be than DC if you want to be in the place that influences foreign policy around the world.  I know that the hustle that I experience in DC is harder than what I’d have to deal with in Philadelhpia. But at the same time, they are less stressed, and they see their family and friends more than me.  And that is the trade off. And that’s why there is the Broadway song from 42nd street. There’s no song about Connecticut Avenue in DC or Broad Street in Philly.

Also, this song does not have the same effect as Jay-Z: