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When I told people I was planning to move from New York City to Los Angeles, the reactions were often surprising, always funny.

“Oh, do you have to go?” whined a complete stranger, an elderly woman who’s called New York home for more than 60 years. She was very sweet and encouraged me to come back any time.

Later, sitting around at weathered picnic tables at a bar in an industrial part of Brooklyn, a couple of friends-of-friends insisted LA was dirty and shallow. I asked if they’d spent any real time there; one had a layover in LAX once. The irony was not lost on me. (It never is.)

At the top of my list of reasons for leaving were professional, personal, and temperamental needs. Job opportunities in event planning and administrative support in higher education and the arts are more plentiful in LA. I’m coming up on three years of cross-country long-distance dating with the nicest and most interesting guy I’ve ever met, and the only thing I’m sure of is that it wouldn’t work out if we stayed put. And New York is an aggressive city, not necessarily in interpersonal communication (though, that too), but certainly on the senses. The ambient sounds of sirens, car horns, brakes, construction sites, and conversations made for a brutal aural experience, from morning to night. Oddly, I got used to it in my sleep, but never in my waking life.

Some members of my family were surprised about the move because they thought I liked New York so much. I’m not sure if I preferred the idea of it or the actuality of it, but I definitely did like it.

I liked that walking was a part of my everyday life. I took hundreds of pictures on my iPhone of the funny signs, poignant street art, and iconic buildings I saw as I walked. And the sightseeing and exercise I so thoroughly enjoyed in the spring, summer, and fall months just by going from Point A to Point B made up for the difficulty of commuting in rain and snow in the winter. By the time I left, walking 10 miles wasn’t much of a strain.

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One of my many random finds in the West Village

I liked being a member of the Museum of Modern Art. For only $75, I could go to MoMA any time I wanted, and my guests paid only $5. I read in the gardens. I attended a chamber music performance. I brought out-of-town guests. I dropped by just to see if anything unusual was happening with the performance art. I perused the galleries with a little wine buzz on MoMA Nights. I spent a rainy summer evening partying at the satellite museum, PS1, in Long Island City. I went to other museums, too, but I was most attached to MoMA.

I liked the take-out. This was important because my apartment’s kitchen offered a one-inch strip of “countertop” between the sink and stove, limiting me to recipes that required as little prep space as possible. I made a lot of meatloaf and pasta. Also, grocery stores are formidably expensive in New York. A large can of soup, like Progresso or Campbell’s Chunky, will set you back $3.79. What was the point, then, if I could pick up a $10 order of expertly made Panang curry from ThaiNY and divide it into two meals? And I actually looked forward to picking up my orders from Iron Sushi; the owner, Dennis, liked to sing along to pop songs with the lyrics on his computer in his endearing Japanese accent, and after I joined him for an Eddie Money refrain one night, he always greeted me with, “Take me home tonight!” The staff of my Chipotle knew to squish my salads down into the paper bowls with their gloved hands to make room for as much corn salsa as possible, then used all of their strength to seal the foil around the edges before my dinner exploded all over them. The manager at Wild Greens instructed his cashier to comp my order when he saw me come in on the first spring day they were making gazpacho again after the winter chowders — he correctly predicted I would freak out and order it.

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A proper farewell from Gramercy Tavern, where I had my last meal before moving out, with my dad

And I liked the accessibility of restaurants. Some of the best restaurants in New York have no-reservation policies, and a seat could almost always be had at the bar. In 15 months, excluding salad bars, small delis, pizza-by-the-slice, and chain restaurants, I ate at close to 200 restaurants in 4 boroughs, about half of them by myself. (I also worked at two.) This included West Indian stewed goat in Jamaica, Queens, Mexican grasshopper tacos in the Theater District, and Cantonese jellyfish and cuttlefish in Chinatown. It also includes some of New York’s most beloved restaurants, like Gramercy Tavern, Craft, Lupa, Grand Central Oyster Bar, Union Square Cafe, Blue Ribbon, Red Cat, Malatesta Trattoria, Corner Bistro, and the Carnegie Deli. I got to eat at the now-shuttered Allen and Delancey, the John Dory, and Bar Blanc at their peaks. There were some hilarious misses, too. I managed to get a table at Monkey Bar as a walk-in on a rainy night, though the experience was somewhat lost on me — I had no idea what any literary giants actually looked like. I saved up to eat at Table 8 in the new Cooper Square Hotel, only to see it close a month later because — as I learned the hard way — it really wasn’t spectacular. And, of course, there was the hair in my dessert, and no amuse-bouches, at Jean-Georges.

I liked reading the New Yorker, then being able to actually see and do what I was reading about. And I didn’t have to travel to attend the New Yorker Festival this year, as I had the previous. It’s funny, though. I told myself I would read the “Goings On About Town” visual and performing arts, music, and film listings before I moved to New York, but it really didn’t last. I worked so much for so little money to play with!

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The very vision of a New Yorker reader!

I liked my friends. They were smart and ambitious and challenging, and I sensed that they genuinely liked me and were happy to introduce me to their large social networks. They loved New York, and they exposed me to experiences I never would have had otherwise — block parties, underground concerts, speakeasies, high-profile events, basement dance parties, and so on. I was incredibly lucky to find them.

And I liked the view of the Empire State Building from my rooftop.

I wanted to do New York justice my last week there, so I set about doing some of the things I’d always kind of wanted to do, and doing some of the things I’d always done. It was a hard year in New York, and I was at peace with it.

(Note: given the “party of one” theme, I will be mostly excluding my time spent with friends. I did, in fact, socialize with friends before I left, but those conversations and experiences are best remembered, not recorded.)

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My favorite thing to do to get away from it all — figure skating at Bryant Park or Central Park, shown

Thursday, May 20: Storytelling

I heard that the internationally renown street artist Banksy had paid a visit to New York’s Financial District the previous weekend, when I was home in Virginia, and I was eager to see it. It wasn’t much, just another of his plays on the iconic “I [heart] NY” text. At the time, I was painfully unaware of speculations of more Banksies popping up around the city, so I happily planned my day around viewing just the one. If only I’d known.

I enjoyed a pleasant, late lunch at Robert DeNiro’s new-ish TriBeCa restaurant Locanda Verde before my Banksy field trip. In typical fashion when I dine alone, I arrived well outside of the lunch rush and brought a New Yorker to read. I ordered the Steak Tartara Piedmontese, with finely chopped walnuts and truffle essence incorporated with the impeccably tender meat, two slices of crispy guanciale, and lightly grilled crostini. Feeling a bit fancy — which was all too rare for me in New York — I paired it with a generous pour of Castello di Ama Rosato 2009. Even the complimentary bread was impressive — soft, almost under-baked focaccia with lemon zest and fresh dill sprigs. It was pricy, and worth it.

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Lunch at Locanda

From Locanda Verde, I walked downtown toward Ground Zero and peered through the construction blockades to see the slow construction of One World Trade Center. The New Yorker’s ever clever Lauren Collins just wrote a Talk of the Town piece about the status of construction and how New Yorkers — even its builders — feel about it, and the piece says it all better than I ever could.

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Art at historic Trinity Church in the Financial District — Alexander Hamilton’s grave site is a few yards away

And then I went to the site of the Banksy piece. I looked up and down each building on the block, and I traversed the block several times and rounded its corners, and there was nothing. I finally poked my head in a pub on the street and learned the piece was so badly tagged after the first day that it had to be completely painted over. Erased. Destroyed. I was crestfallen. Surely, there is poignant commentary to be made about the juxtaposition of street art and graffiti, but it won’t be from me.

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Where’s Banksy?

From there, I just started walking uptown. I passed the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall. I meandered through Chinatown and into the Lower East Side. And then I remembered something — Dessert Truck Works, the new permanent storefront of a revered, recently curbed gourmet dessert truck, was giving out free food. Not samples, mind you, but full portions of its best desserts. I was only blocks away. Now, readers, all four of you, I am a slow eater, and I rarely ever eat dessert these days. But after no more than a minute or two, I was scraping the bottom edges of the dish for the last of my chocolate bread pudding with bacon custard. Because I couldn’t give them my repeat business, with the move, I bought a bottled water and set about Tweeting, Facebooking, and now blogging to the world how amazing it was. (Vegetarians and cautious eaters: vanilla custard is an option, but the bacon is barely detectable and oh, so good.)

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Dessert Truck Works’ special

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Great street art across Clinton

It was getting to be late in the afternoon, and I needed to rush home for a business call and then go stand in line for The Moth. I was in sandals, and it was hot. I probably should have taken the subway. But I walked all the way back to 29th and Lexington, drinking it all in along the way.

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Little Italy

The Moth is a forum for storytelling. Go to a venue, pay a small fee for a ticket, put your name in a hat if you want to tell a story on the night’s theme, and otherwise sit and listen to the life stories of perfect strangers told in five minutes or less.

I knew about The Moth from This American Life podcasts, which sometimes feature recordings from the events, and from passing The Bitter End on my way home from work, a historic Bleecker Street bar that was an occasional venue. By the time I was finally finished with the job and available to do things before 7:00 at night again, there were only two New York Moth events left. I opted to go to the one themed “Good Intentions,” both because it sounded interesting and because the venue was three blocks from my 6 train.

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The Moth

Apparently, the night I went was special. Every storyteller that was selected poured their heart out, sharing stories about sex and religion, estranged family, reconnecting with friends after years of separation, world travel. The woman who won recounted a hilarious anecdote from her childhood about naively attempting to dress up as Whoopie Goldberg for a school theme day (she was white), and for as much as we laughed, I think some of us were a bit wistful that it didn’t go to someone who had just shared their deepest, darkest secret with 300 strangers. Although, in retrospect, I suppose she did.

I ambled home late at night feeling completely exhilarated — and excited for the next day’s activities.

Friday, May 21: Brighton Beach and Coney Island

Brighton Beach is often called “Little Odessa,” and yes, yes it is. The Q train ride south from Manhattan through Brooklyn was quite pleasant, if long, mostly through residential areas above ground and shared with retired couples. When I left the subway at the Brighton Beach stop, though, I felt utterly transported. At the street level, some signs for restaurants, electronics stores, and bodegas were in Russian — and only Russian. Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts were hardly more reassuring. The conversational words being spoken around me weren’t recognizable, save an occasional “spasiba.” (I took Russian for a summer in high school.) Teen boys wore the distinctive attire of Russians and eastern Europeans: track pants or long black shorts, white t-shirts, sideways oversized caps, a little bling. I didn’t linger near the subway to look around, though. I was hungry, and I knew where I was going.

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Tatiana

I used Yelp to determine that the quintessential Brighton Beach restaurant was Tatiana. It was expensive, though, as it also enjoyed a reputation as a popular Russian nightclub, so I used the tips and went to Tatiana Grill, its inexpensive sister restaurant with a slightly more western menu. American food was the last thing I wanted, though. I flipped through a sushi menu, a beachy seafood menu, even pasta before I saw what I was after.

Smoked meat soup solyanka, and cold beef tongue with homemade mayonnaise. Readers, it was bliss. I even ordered a Russian beer to wash it all down. Not like it needed help.

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Soup solyanka, beef tongue, Russian beer, the tablecloth

I enjoyed taking in my surroundings. The tables were topped with silky yellow cloths that tickled my bare legs, and colorful toy parrots loomed overhead. Older Russian couples sat under umbrellas, and I read the universal body language of gossiping. Two other young female tourists were eventually sat near me, and I was sort of sad to be back in the company of my ilk so soon.

I walked west along the beach toward the Coney Island carnival attractions, past men in Speedos and women without bathing suit tops, and eventually put my towel down in a fairly isolated area to read and sun myself. I received a call from a good friend with the not-at-all surprising but nonetheless thrilling news that he had passed his naturalization tests and would be sworn in as an American citizen on July 4 at Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia. It made my afternoon, and I felt like I was in a very appropriate setting to get the call.

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The beach, with a huge barge in the background — soon a tugboat would arrive to navigate it into the harbor

When I was finally convinced I was horribly sunburnt (I wasn’t), I picked up my bag and finished the mile or so walk to Coney Island. The amusement park was being renovated, and I suspected it wouldn’t be ready for its grand reopening the following weekend, but it was exciting to see the iconic Wonder Wheel in use, and Nathan’s Famous Coney Island Hot Dogs counting down to its hot dog eating competition.

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Coney Island

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Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel

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I love this sign

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Nathan’s hot dogs

Satisfied with my day, completely exhausted, and slightly more tan, I boarded the Q at the end of the line and headed back to Manhattan, a world away.

Saturday, May 22: Last big walk

The next afternoon, I decided to start at home at 29th and Lex, head uptown, then walk the entire length of Central Park, from 59th Street to 110th Street, before joining a friend for a Brooklyn pub crawl and seeing a college classmate turned singer/songwriter perform in the Lower East Side. I’d walked Central Park many times, several times weekly in good weather, monthly in the heart of winter. I usually covered the distance between 59th Street and 96th Street (and then some), but doing the extra 14 street lengths mattered to me. So off I went.

And, of course, I had a very fun night.

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The mall in full bloom

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A part of the park I’d never seen — you can see the shadow of a bird flying across the path, a lucky shot

Monday, May 24: Magic

I spent the day on Monday doing an entirely futile exercise in writing, and I sort of knew it. At least I had Monday Night Magic to look forward to, though.

Monday Night Magic at the Bleecker Street Theatre is a showcase of three performers who cover the spectrum of illusion, mentalism, and the sideshow arts, and close-up card tricks are performed by amateurs during intermission. I went by myself before I ever moved to New York, I went with my boyfriend when he visited before Thanksgiving, and I returned by myself my last Monday in New York. My favorite magician I’ve seen there is Asi Wind, but I definitely appreciated my last line-up of debonair illusionist Jeff Grow and eccentric (!) mentalist Rob Zabrecky, and I’d seen the headliner Todd Robbins hammer enough nails into his nose as an emcee for me not to freak out when he added sword-swallowing to the full routine. Matthew Holtzclaw was the emcee this time, and my only regret is that he didn’t do more sleight of hand. He’s great.

It was sad to end the tradition, but I knew I had the Magic Castle to look forward to in LA.

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The stage for Monday Night Magic — it’s generally frowned upon to take pictures of magic performances

Tuesday, May 25: Worldliness

In the midst of all the packing, I was excited to make Tuesday a relaxing day.

I barely had time to get to know a friend of my boyfriend’s in New York, but I am so glad for our lunch date at Wo Hop, which opened in 1938 on Mott Street in Chinatown. The older part of the restaurant is underground, a small, fluorescent-lit room whose walls are lined with mirrors, and otherwise covered with yellowing post cards, faded actors’ head shots, and initials etched with dull utensils and ballpoint pens. It was neat to see, but the seating was far more comfortable and better lit in their newer dining room upstairs. I went straight for their Cantonese specialties — roast pork wonton soup and chow fon (broad noodles) with roast duck. She had fried wontons and roast pork with broccoli, as I recall. It made me wish that I’d checked this restaurant off my “to do” list much sooner so I could return, and that I’d gone out to eat in Chinatown more often in general. My noodle dish alone could make two meals for less than $6, and it was so flavorful and comforting. We stayed for a long time, just talking. It was really, really nice.

To continue the “relaxing” theme of the day, I had an appointment for a Swedish massage later in the afternoon. Months before, I had purchased two extremely discounted massage packages from Vada, a Russian spa I liked in the Village, and I only used one. The woman who did the first was okay. Forgettable. When I made the second appointment I was asked if I wanted a male or female massage therapist, and so as to avoid getting the same woman, I said male. I said I wanted someone really strong.

Enter Ivan. Tan, light blue eyes, muscular, tight t-shirt tucked into track pants. “Allo, I em e-von. Are ready?” I could just see Ivan hanging out with his boys at Brighton Beach, trying to keep his three Russian model girlfriends from finding out about each other. I took a big sip of my complimentary red wine and followed him upstairs.

Ivan was a total professional. Me, less so. There were times I had to keep from flinching, or worse, cracking up. He was certainly strong. He checked in from time to time by asking “ees good?” and ordering me to relax while he reconfigured my spine and wedged his fingers under my skull. At one point the pressure on one of my legs was uncomfortable, and Ivan persisted, saying “ees good for you, means ees working.” When his wind-up alarm announced an hour had passed, Ivan said, “Uh-oh, ees wake up time. But I keep going.” When it was all over with, I looked at the clock and saw that I’d received about an 80-minute massage. Not bad for a coupon. But also, not exactly what I’d call “relaxing.”

Afterwards, ambling slowly up bustling 6th Ave (but otherwise feeling tingly and rejuvenated), I called my mom to ask about internal bleeding. “Is your leg purple?” she asked. “One second, I’m wearing a long dress, I have to face a doorway to check. No.” “You’re fine, but he might have pulled the muscle.” “WHAT?!” “Can you walk?” “Yes.” “Then you’re fine.” And sure enough, after two full days of discomfort, my leg felt looser and better than ever. My mom, by the way, wonderfully helpful woman.

From there I took the High Line to Colicchio & Sons one last time, just for a glass of wine and some quiet time with my New Yorker. The bartender let me sample about half of their offerings of wines by the glass, an impressive selection from all over the world, and we talked about making it in New York. Soon, an older woman sat next to me and, having beat the rest of her family to the restaurant for a birthday dinner, she wanted to make conversation.

I had to have a sense of humor about it all. What was I thinking, trying to relax? In New York?

Wednesday, May 26: Artistry

Seeing a Broadway show was on my “to do” list, so I waited in line at the Times Square TKTS booth hoping for a very inexpensive matinee ticket to West Side Story or Phantom. I set a price in my mind of the lowest I would pay, and when the cheapest seats available were double that, I ducked out and headed to MoMA.

Home sweet MoMA. Performance artist Marina Abramovic was in her last hours of sitting in the main atrium, and her re-performance artists on the 6th floor were likely relieved to be just days away from clothes, restroom access, distance from skeletons and bicycle seats. In the permanent collection galleries, I took my last looks at Van Goghs and Picassos and Dalis, and I relished watching schoolchildren see them for the first time.

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Persistence

I spent a lot of the later afternoon packing, and I was just kind of emotionally exhausted. I received bad news about a freelance writing gig (namely, that the very involved piece I was commissioned to write wasn’t going to be run) and generally feeling emotional about the move.

What I needed was a good rush of endorphins. And boy, did I get it.

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Meatpacking

Kitty Cavalier runs New York’s Burlesque Boot Camp, a one-hour class incorporating a cardiovascular workout, flexibility training, and dance elements. Clothes required, high heels optional. My class was full of women just like me — 20- and 30-somethings who bought a discount pass to the class and were a little shy, but quietly thrilled, to be there. Kitty built our inner and outer strength and confidence, encouraging us to watch ourselves and feel pretty in the studio mirrors, while showing us flirtatious dance moves to my favorite golden oldies. At the end of the class, I felt the satisfaction of a really good work-out, but I also felt completely happy and sassy, which no Stairmaster has ever done for me. I told Kitty she was doing a public service — and I don’t mean for men.

Thursday, May 27: Human connection

My day started as many do, with a bottle of Coke Zero from a bodega, and an everything bagel with plain cream cheese. But I decided Thursday called for smoked salmon, red onion, and capers, too. On my way from the bodega to the bagel shop, I passed an older woman, sitting on her stoop greeting everyone who passed with a smile and a “good morning!” The people walking in front of me didn’t seem to flinch, but I turned and smiled at her, and she called after me, “If you smile, you can do anything you want!”

A couple of hours later, on the subway, I debated whether or not to tell a sort of awkwardly dressed young woman that some of her bright pink lipstick was on her chin. Finally, as we rolled into Union Station, I decided to tell her. “Oh my God, thank you so much,” she said. “Today’s my first day of work, I’m on my way there now. Thank you!”

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A good day

In the evening, I needed to meet a girl friend for wine at Bar Centrale, one of my favorite spots, in the Theater District. I was near the Empire State Building at rush hour, though, and no cabs were available. I took the first one I saw, a pedicab. I negotiated down a steep fare for the 2 avenues and 12 blocks I needed to travel and hopped in. People stared. My friend thought it was a little embarrassing. But it was a gorgeous day, and I reveled in watching my diligent driver navigate the little cart around black SUVs, taxis, and mail trucks. I felt bad for haggling and tipped what I was originally charged. The driver was so appreciative.

It was days like those that I loved about New York. New York is often impersonal, but it allows for incredible moments of intimacy — if you’ll allow it.

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Catching an intimate moment in Bryant Park

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