Going on Year Three: A Pictorial Peek into the Life of a St. Louis to NYC Transplant
Looking down on my new city from a 7th floor perch on the Upper West Side, I turn my head to the left and see across the Hudson River to New Jersey. I turn my head to the right and glimpse the New York City skyline rising like Oz in the distance. It’s a glittering reminder of why so many people want to live here.
After moving to NYC from St. Louis, MO., in September of 2019, I discover quickly this is a city that cries out: what you see is what you get so deal with it. Here, the stocking has been rolled all the way down to see all, both its benefits and its deficits.
When I first arrive, I am determined not to miss the party and partake of NYC’s buffet of opportunities—museums, concerts, theater, restaurants, retail stores, libraries and bookstores, festivals, parades, classes and volunteer openings. And then there are just so many people to see—young, old, short, tall, wearing all kinds of clothing and outfits. The days follow each other as variegated and glorious as a string of colorful beads until six months into my new life, the pandemic puts on the brakes.
I ask myself, “Can I afford to live here still and be so isolated?” A check of finances shows that I can live comfortably and ride out the pandemic. It takes a few months of emotional ups and downs, but I realize that I, like my new city, am temporarily emotionally broke, but not permanently. Nearly two years later, thanks to the vaccine, NYC is opening again, much like its Broadway shows, and people are flooding the city’s streets.
Living here, despite the pandemic, has been a departure from much of what I knew growing up in St. Louis with its small-town vibe. I lived most of my life in quiet sleepy suburbs in single-family homes with large backyards, rarely venturing far for most of my needs and driving a car to get around.
NYC is the antithesis. It’s city living at its finest and most challenging. People live basically on top of each other. I own no car and rely on either public transportation (bus or subway) or my two legs to get me where I need to go. Within little more than a mile radius of my apartment, I can walk to parks, restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries, Urgent Care, pharmacies, physical therapy, to doctor’s appointments and hospitals, grocery stores, a library, an independent bookstore, cleaners, movie theaters, concert halls, small businesses and each of my family members’ apartments.
Despite the downsides--dirt, smells, noise and trash in containers everywhere, the weather at times, rising crime rates, the plethora of bikes and scooters on the streets and sidewalks that can be dangerous to pedestrians, the crowds of people often with dogs and long lines, I start to see all in a positive light. This is a fascinating fast-moving city of daily drama and great stories. So many people eat while they walk and talk—whether buying hot dogs, pretzels, Middle Eastern fare, ice cream (Lactose-free dairy in some cases) and even lobster rolls from street vendors and food trucks. My imagination is on overdrive as I observe life around me.
Today, I see a man standing next to his mixed breed dog who is perched obediently on a small square of dirty cardboard in front of a nearby pizza restaurant. The dog doesn’t move as if a wax figure. The man and dog make eye contact. I marvel at the connection.
I walk through a housing project two blocks from my apartment where I see a naked man on the ground who is drugged and begging for help. A woman walking behind me makes a call to the police who arrive shortly and drag him away. What happens next? I wonder and am sad for him.
I go north on Broadway, a main thoroughfare on the West Side, when a biker whizzes by wearing a beret and blasting French music. On most days, all kinds of music wafts through the air as musicians play live in front of buildings to augment their income which took a hit during the pandemic. I always throw some change into the tip jar or an open instrument case.
This city serves also as a drama within a drama as film and TV programs use it as backdrop. I am walking one afternoon and spot crowds gathering. I ask a stranger, “What’s going on?” I find out that the TV show Billions (about wealth and power in the financial world) is being shot. I get a tiny glimpse of two fabulous actors, Damion Lewis and Paul Giamatti, having a heated dialogue. This is another reason NYC is fun; you can see famous people at every turn, and ones of an age I recognize. In this city, you even can talk to them without feeling intrusive.
Ironically, on the other side of the street, the homeless are lined up in their usual places shaking paper cups full of coins as an audible plea to throw some money into their pots. A woman stops me pleading, “Can you buy me a meal?” I stuff a dollar in her palm. I’ve learned to carry dollar bills in my pocket for such cases, so I don’t have to go into my purse and risk someone passing on the street and grabbing it. I saw this happen one day to a woman who was paying for her produce at an outdoor stand. She took out a wad of cash to pay and it was yanked from her hand faster than a New York minute.
Again, in contrast, I turn the corner and take a side street where grand luxury tall towers are lined up and doormen stand guard outside and escort well-heeled residents inside. Some say “hi” as I stroll past or tip their hats. I like these interactions. Some say New Yorkers are cold. I disagree. They’re just usually busy rushing around.
As I get near my apartment, I spot two young men with a dog. They see the camera around my neck and ask if I’ll take their photo. “Will you send this to us to help publicize our new dog walking business?” “Sure.” I comply. They hand me a card and I later email the photo.
Then there are the doormen in my building, the clerks at the corner grocery, dry cleaners and pharmacy who now know me as “Meg” and often comment, “Be careful, it’s hot out there.” Or “I love your blue eyeliner,” or “What a cute top. What fabric is that?” I’ll chat them up about their families and always ask how they’re doing. They ask me in return; they’re my village of friends.
And there are the strangers I have met serendipitously and developed more of a rapport with such as a woman I sat next to on a bench one summer Saturday evening. I start talking to her while admiring her fluffy snow white Bijan in a stroller. I discover that she’s a nurse. We enjoy each other’s company and set up an informal "get together" at 7 p.m. every Saturday night for several weeks. Because we’re both masked, it gives the illusion of invisibility; I am safe as she reveals to me that her husband is abusive. A contractor, he is working on Saturday nights to finish a job, which allows her to get out. I suppose it’s easier to bare all to a stranger, as many do on planes and trains. I have learned in my old age to keep my mouth shut and not judge or suggest, unless asked. I attempt clumsily to acknowledge how she must be feeling. That is as far as our “friendship” will allow, or for now.
NYC has changed since the pandemic. It has slowed down. There are several empty storefronts. For more than a year, the streets were devoid of heavy vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Even now, there is less traffic with people still working remotely, but it is slowly coming back. More important, what hasn’t changed is its strength, its sustainability.
This limited pictorial blog of people in parks, working, tutoring, volunteering, relaxing, reading observing, learning, eating and surviving is a celebration of my ability to start a life anew in my 70s within my means—in one of the most expensive cities in the world, but one rich in abundant vigor, energy, opportunity, curiosity and so many possibilities.
When you feel safe, come experience it. Even if you don’t want to live here, as the cliché goes, it’s a wonderful place to visit!