I’m a big fan of Ray LaMontagne. About the time I decided to move to New York City, I also coincidentally discovered his single “New York City’s Killing Me.” A telling prophecy of what was to come? Surely Ray was telling me not to move.
Still, the idea of a small-town boy moving to the country’s largest city was an enormous amount to process. For 13 years, I lived in Milwaukee, which is, by some standards, just a very big town. But before that, I grew up in a town of about 2,500 people. Located just 30 miles south of Green Bay, it was (and very much still is) the epitome of Republican values. “Traditional” and “conservative” are vastly understated adjectives to describe life in that neck of the woods. And speaking of woods, the town’s skyline is actually a tree line, marked by quaking aspens, birches, maples and pines, with the occasional silo piercing the horizon.
It’s the kind of town where bars outnumber stoplights (just one in case you’re wondering), yet the sum total of churches has kept pace with the bars (the local drunks need a place to confess their Friday-night libations). It’s a place where, to borrow a line from Cheers, “everybody knows your name.” Everybody knowing your name can be both comforting and disturbing — comforting in the sense that there’s always a wave or “hello” as you walk down the street, disturbing in that those same friendly neighbors will then gossip about where you’re headed on foot.
Where I come from, hunting, fishing, and farming are common ways to pass the time, as long as the Green Bay Packers aren’t playing that day (and if they are, the town, much like the state, shuts down to take part in the weekly religious experience). And so you can imagine, the fashionable locals believe that cheeseheads, coupled with flannel and blaze orange, are always in style — winter or summer.
And if it is summer, watching the corn grow is a favorite pastime (which is slightly more exciting than watching paint dry). Perhaps that’s because, as I often joke, the town just got electricity, still no Internet. Yes, the stereotypes of Northeastern Wisconsin are hated by most that live there, yet the locals have learned to embrace the cheese-eating, beer-drinking, brat-loving idea that the rest of the nation has of them.
Now that you understand my roots, you can also understand my trepidation. I feared New York’s towering skyscrapers. I was nervous of never seeing grass again. I hesitated becoming just a number, a stranger in a city that eat could my hometown several times over. I came to terms with being mugged at some point or another; it’s just a New York City rite of passage. I didn’t know how I’d adjust, and I worried that I’d miss home, family, and all those Wisconsin stereotypes that I hate and find comforting at the same time. Like Ray LaMontagne sings,
“I was just kicking along the sidewalk.
No one looks you in the eye.
No one asks you how you’re doin’.
Don’t seem to care if you live or if you die.
I just got to get me somewhere,
Somewhere that I can feel free.
Gotta get out of New York City…
New York City’s killin’ me.”
What?! Were people really like that in The Big Apple? Did life really kick your ass in the concrete jungle? What had I just signed up for? You see, living in New York means everything — and I mean everything — has to weighed, pro versus con. Every detail of living, which we often take for granted in small Midwestern towns, has to be accounted for. The cost of beer at the local tavern (not your run-of-the-mill Pabst Blue Ribbon pricing), the time I’ll never recover from one-hour morning commutes, the practicality of owning a car in NYC versus selling it, how I’ll get all my groceries to my shoebox-size studio apartment without a car, the complexity of the subway station and bus routes, the preconceived unfriendliness of New Yorkers…
With all that swirling in my head, I forged ahead, too proud to admit I may have bitten off more than I could chew. Despite all those fears and doubts, I also carried a heavy load of excitement over moving to the media capital of the world, where careers are born, opportunities are forged, and young professionals are groomed. Ironically, empty promises and broken dreams also line the very streets where tomorrow’s leaders walk every day, all united in their quest of an aspiring career. Which side of the sidewalk would I fall?
I want a family. And I want to raise my kids where they can run in the yard with a dog, while a tire swing hangs poetically from the type of tree you only see in an Ansel Adams photograph. It doesn’t take a genius to know that New York City isn’t the ideal destination for family life, or at least as I imagine it. To me, “the NYC” would always be a temporary solution, just a place to tolerate until I could establish my career. As I internally rationalized my decision weighed against things like family, I continued to remind myself, “If it doesn’t work out, you can always move back.”
The seesaw of emotions and indecision. Up. Down. Go. Stay. It’s the chance of a lifetime. It’s a big mistake. Thankfully, my boss, already relocated from Milwaukee to NYC with her family, permitted me to work remotely from Milwaukee for the summer months. That way, I could better plan my move as well as say a drawn-out, three-month goodbye to my family, friends and girlfriend at the time. Over the next three months, I’d fall further in love with my job, yet grow increasingly skeptical of NYC, with a little help from the very one in charge.