New York City Here I Come

New York City has charmed and delighted me since I was a 13-year-old, and my father took me there for my first visit. That was more than a half century ago. From then on, every time I visited NYC, I felt that catch-your-breath thrill at the sight of being in its environs.

For a girl raised in St. Louis, Mo., Manhattan was a jumble of all kinds of unexpected wonders:  Buildings reaching to the sky; fast-moving, underground subway rides; the Staten Island ferry and the majesty of the Statue of Liberty in the harbor; the wonder of looking down and out from the Empire State Building; make-believe scenarios staged in store windows; crowded aisles at the former FAO Schwarz store off Fifth Avenue; and seeing my first Broadway show, West Side Story. Subsequent visits led to far more memories of ballet, opera, and concert performances at Lincoln Center; tea at the Plaza Hotel where I felt like Eloise; a hot fudge sundae almost as big as Manhattan island at Rumplemeyer’s; a stroll through Central Park, and celebrity sightings.

Then there were the sounds—people conversing in different languages, frantic car horns and the wailing of police and ambulance sirens at all hours of the day and night. Of course, there were also the odious smells of fish, garbage, burnt meat, and inexplicable subway fumes juxtaposed with pleasant aromas of fresh baked goods, coffee roasting, laundry soap, garlic, pretzels and hot chestnuts emanating from food carts long before they became chic and selling every kind of ethnic cuisine.

As a middle-aged woman, the sensation of NYC caught me again when I’d visit my two sisters and my three children, all of whom went to college there. I wasn’t surprised that the city would captivate them with their musical and theater interests. My late husband and I would later visit our younger son, a jazz musician, who at one time lived in hip Brooklyn, the up-and-coming borough back then, and regularly played in jazz clubs.

After battling the crowds everywhere, struggling to hail a cab, walking miles, spending a fortune on food and transportation, and waiting hours to get into restaurants and museums, my husband would say after we left (pardon the cliché): “Nice place to visit but I’d never want to live there.” I’d kind of shrug my shoulders and agree. That was then. We had a certain calm and predictable rhythm to our lives in St. Louis, and we knew we could always go back and visit, or so we thought.

When my husband died in 2011, the rhythm of that life was irrevocably broken. I began thinking of moving away from my hometown. I decided I wanted more in my new life, however long it might last. But I couldn’t leave when my parents and mother-in-law were still alive. I was the primary caregiver and my elder son still lived in St. Louis. Slowly over the years, my parents, mother-in-law and most recently sister-in-law died, and my elder son moved to NYC for a wonderful job opportunity. Suddenly, I was the last person sitting, as if I were part of a game of musical chairs.  

As a 70-something, I began to see NYC in a different light. Most people my age opt to move to a place that is less expensive rather than costlier. They also move to an easier locale, maybe in a warm climate or an active retirement community. That didn’t seem right for my circumstances. A year ago, I spent a month in Los Angeles, where my daughter lives, to try that city on for size. It wasn’t a good fit. And the timing wasn’t right. I was still waiting for the right moment. That time finally became now with my older son’s move, as well as the fact that I’m healthy and able to make the move.

I began tossing out the idea to my family and close circle of friends. All thought it was fabulous. Then I spread the net wider and most agreed but were very surprised.

Here's why I think it will work for me. First, I am not wearing rose-colored glasses. I see NYC not as a place of postcard loveliness or a laid-back paradise. It’s dirty, cramped, messy, loud with its cacophonies of sirens, construction sites and jackhammers, or people pushing, shoving and shouting “taxi,” fighting or talking loud on their smartphones.

On the other hand, as I wrote in an earlier blog (Oct. 26, 2018), it’s a great city for seniors, especially this senior who dislikes driving and is directionally challenged. NYC was organized on grids. I can walk or take public transportation, there is access to multiple hospitals, museums, libraries, public parks and every type of entertainment or restaurant imaginable. And while it can be pricey, there are also half-priced or reduced fares and memberships for seniors that are widely available, including on the buses and subways.

After I decided I would take this huge step and try to be settled by the end of the summer, I knew I had to learn more about different neighborhoods where I could rent an apartment and not be too far from my sisters and son, all of whom live on the West Side.

In the past, I have stayed with my sisters when I visited. Most recently, I decided I needed to be on my own. I rented a VRBO for a week near Times Square, which I thought would provide a different lens and give me a taste of what it’s like to “live” as a resident, cooking for myself, shopping in the local grocery store, picking up toothpaste at the corner drug store, sipping coffee in the morning at one of the many local shops, walking or taking a train to get to various destinations and just browsing, popping into some ramshackle café or interesting art gallery, passing glamorous old and new hotels, watching crowds of hispters surfing the streets, and peering into the windows of local boutiques and pastry shops on almost every block. 

The VRBO turned out to be cute, clean and comfy. It wasn’t the Ritz, but hey, that would be too “bougie,” as one millennial son would say. It was in a four-story former townhome owned by an Israeli artist. Her studio and store displaying her artwork were on the first floor with the rooms on the second and third floors. The location was terrific and smacked of old NYC. It was loud and crowded and the streets nearby streamed with people, many of whom were actors on their way to the nearby Actor’s Studio or to their gigs on or off Broadway. Every day for me was a wild game of lost and found or new and undiscovered:

Day One: I checked into the VRBO. It was tiny…not even 400-square-feet but had all that I needed in miniature. I’m tiny so it was a good fit. At least it was warm and toasty on a cold January afternoon. I met one sister at the rental who helped me schlep my bags up one flight and then she took me on a tour of the hood. My other sister met us, we grabbed a bite and looked at some apartments in the 30s with an agent that were in my rental price range. We loved what we saw, but I wasn’t yet ready to move. At least the agent started getting an idea of what I like. He told me to give him two months’ notice before I want to move. 

Day Two: I ventured out to a pie place one sister recommended and was delighted by smells of cinnamon and butter wafting in the cold air. I bought a slice of apple pie with a cheddar cheese crust. I then bobbed and weaved my way through a local grocery store, which can be akin to visiting a foreign country when you don’t know the layout of the aisles. I dropped off groceries at the rental and walked to the Port-Authority subway station to head uptown to meet one sister for breakfast. I tried to buy a ticket but couldn’t figure out how to use the machine. I’m not proud about asking for help and grabbed some kind passerby: How do I work this? I implored. Even though she was walking at a fast clip, she slowed down to walk me through the process. Mental note and lesson #1: New Yorkers can be friendly and helpful and found that to be the rule every time I stopped someone to ask for directions or recommendations.

I wended my way through the subway tunnels to find the right train, hopped on, hopped off after one stop, got on another subway, got off and walked to what I thought was Broadway. Inadvertently, I was going in the wrong direction. I finally found the restaurant and plopped down in a chair ready to rest my aching feet. Lesson #2: Bag the chic shoes and wear comfortable sneakers. The rest of the day my sister and I walked, ran errands and then hung out at her Upper West Side apartment. I took a subway back to the VRBO and then met that same sister and my son for dinner. To get there, I walked through the theater district where the razzle-dazzle of the lights made it look like it was daylight. I braved the crowds and street activities and made it to the restaurant on time. I was proud of myself.

Day Three: After making breakfast and doing some work, I jumped in the shower. I was in NYC also to help celebrate Barbara’s milestone birthday. I was taking her to the New York Philharmonic for a morning concert. My elder son works there and was joining us. I marched up 9th street to 65th to meet Barbara and my younger sister, who was attending the concert with us—Beethoven’s Piano Concert No. 2 featuring pianist Yefim Bronfman and Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2. Both were conducted by the new conductor Jaap van Zweden, who had recently been profiled on a 60 Minutes segment.

After the concert, we went back stage and met Jaap, who was completely charming. Then it was off to lunch at Lincoln, a sleek and stunning restaurant down the street from the back entrance of David Geffen Hall. My younger sister was treating us as another celebration for Barbara. We sat and chatted until late in the afternoon. After, my sister and I walked to her apartment where we started making plans for my move and selecting some dates when she, my brother and his wife would be able to come into St. Louis to help clean out my condo. By the time I got back to the VRBO, I was happy to heat leftovers and read.

Day Four:  After doing some work, I took a subway to the East Side to meet Barbara and her family for a birthday lunch at Freds Restaurant at the store Barneys, a busy hangout for New Yorkers and tourists and a great people-watching spot. That evening, I took an Uber to attend a birthday dinner for Barbara hosted by close friends of hers. The apartment was adorable. The owners had reconfigured the floor plan and the furnishings and artwork were lovely. After several hors d’oeuvres and an unbelievable spread for dinner, we gathered in the living room. I had written a song in Barbara’s honor, passed out copies, and we all sang in unison. 

Day Five: I walked to Lincoln Center to meet one sister for coffee and then we were joined by the other sister to see, “On the Basis of Sex,” the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hollywood drama. Afterward, we walked back to my youngest sister’s apartment where we talked while she made dinner.

Day Six: Brrr. Wind chills at 13 degrees below zero seem more uncomfortable in NYC than St. Louis because you’re out and walking about more. It was good, however, to get a real blast of what winter life there would be like. I donned three layers of clothing and headed to the subway. I took it to the Upper West Side where I met my sisters to see two apartments. The first was spectacular…. gorgeous finishes and would accommodate some of my furniture well. The other apartment had only one bathroom; I would like 1 ½ bathrooms. It was nice but looked more like a young singles pad. The kitchen would be better for someone who only wanted to eat take-out food rather than cook and entertain. It was also too early to get serious and fall in love with any apartment. We then saw another apartment on the Upper East Side but on the ground floor, which didn’t appeal for safety.  

Day Seven: Before leaving for the airport, I met my sisters for breakfast, and we brainstormed more about how I’d start downsizing all my stuff. My financial planner suggested that I digitize some of my old articles that were in print to save them rather than the actual articles, as well as tax records. Two hours later, I took an Uber to LaGuardia Airport. While on the plane, I thought about what I had to do to prepare for the move and made notes and felt slightly overwhelmed. Closet cleaning was at the top of the list. I cringed thinking about all I had.

Almost three hours later,  later I was back in St. Louis. It was eerily quiet compared to the hustle and bustle of NYC. I found it strange straddling two worlds sort of like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I just hope once in NYC, I won’t want to click my heels to go back to St. Louis. I doubt I will but since I’m renting, at least I’m free to leave if I don’t like the apartment I choose, the neighborhood and even the city. Time will tell.

Back Home: As I rethought my visit, I tried to come to some conclusions as I looked around my condo and sighed. First, much of the furniture and trappings I’ve lived with for years will have to go. Tall, decorative pieces that flank my entryway, hallway and bedroom will find a new home. It seems only yesterday I was moving from my home to the condo.

Second, I know myself…it will take me a while to adjust to new and strange spaces and places, I will miss some members of my husband’s family and the many close friends I’ve made through the last few decades.

Third, I will be dizzy with choices once I’m settled in NYC and can’t wait to partake of as much as possible. I plan to meet new people while exploring my new neighbored and new city. I know I might have to learn greater patience as I push through crowds and wait in lines longer than I’m used to. A quick trip to the drug store for Tylenol might turn into an hour-long endeavor. I plan to pay more for some things but will be shedding other expenses like homeowners’ insurance, car repair costs and gas.

Will I feel lonely at times? Possibly, at first, but then I hope to revel in all that the city has to offer. Up to now, moving from St. Louis has been mostly talk. Now is the time to act: Watch out, New York City, here I come! 



  • Jeff Stiffman

    NYC is our favorites destination. It has everything! I hope that you enjoy being there more and more. You’ve made great contributions to society here and I bet that you’ll contin ue this in the Big Apple.

  • Susan Witte

    How exciting- I think it sounds wonderful. You’ll be living near dear family, in an amazing city. I think you’ll thrive there. Go for it!

  • Xenia Urban

    Meg, it was so good to meet you at B’s party after having read your co-authored books & blog. I recommend finding a NYC home within walking distance of a park, for Nature’s respite from the city.

  • Ann

    What an amazing adventure! Loved reading the details about your experiences of New York! I admire your openness and courage to pursue a dream! Will miss you here in STL, but will smile thinking of you as you immerse yourself in this new and very different environment!

  • Leslie

    Wow Meg I am so impressed with your plans. It seems so brave and full of energy to make such a big change. Good for you and the very best wishes as you navigate the busy months ahead. Bravo!!!

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