It’s late as I write this, so I hope it all makes sense. But I just returned from a bonfire with my family, sitting fireside with drinks as meteors danced across the heavens. Mysterious cries from the wilderness behind us were the backdrop. Gentle breezes. Even the mosquitoes, while annoying, offered a friendly reminder of my humble roots. As I gazed at my family from across the burning embers, I realized that nights like this would’ve been missed too much had I moved to NYC. But I came awfully close.
Turning back the clock to September 2011 and my mother had just visited to help pack my belongings. I’m not sure what it says about someone and his accomplishments when his entire life can be packed up in a Saturday afternoon and thrown into old boxes from the neighborhood grocery store. Like the entire summer leading up to that weekend, it was bittersweet. Excitement and fear. Anticipation and regret. Hopeful and sorrowful.
My mom spent the night, and we enjoyed a bonfire (I’m beginning to worry that I like fire a little too much) and some reminiscing. The next day, we said our goodbyes with an embrace and some tears. Again, I tried holding them back, but I knew I’d miss her and the rest of the gang so it wasn’t something I really needed to mask too well. And just as the summer heat gave way to falling autumn leaves, she was off.
The next week marked my solo trip to the East Coast in search of an apartment. The plan was to fly in, rent a car, find a place to live, and fly back to Wisconsin, thus making this move officially official. Oh, and the moving company would appreciated an actual address where to ship my stuff. Up to this point, I had never been to NYC, let alone the New England coastal region. I am intimidated about venturing to “the big city,” especially alone. Are New Yorkers really rude? What if I get lost? What if I have to parallel park downtown NYC? Do people even parallel park there? So many questions cross my mind, which only increases my level of intimidation.
As soon as I land at La Guardia, I hate New York. I’ve been in my fair share of airports, and this one is a step back about 10 years. Much smaller than I expect. Worn down. Ugly. Inhospitable. Walking outside the terminal, I immediately start sweating. Why does it seem 20 degrees warmer in NYC? I push through the speculation and self doubts, eventually finding my way to my car rental. From the sorry sight of that airport, I make my way to Stamford, Connecticut — an area supposedly experiencing revitalization, yet only a one-hour train trip into the heart of NYC.
The time is nearly 11:00 P.M. So why are the freeways congested at this hour? From where I come, the roads at that hour are barren, except for the straggling second-shift worker making his or her way home. If you’re out at that hour, you own the roads. The traffic manages to get under my skin (I self admittedly have the worst road rage and should probably seek some help for it), and it somehow tames my NYC intimidation for just a bit. As I pass over some bridge (I immediately wonder if this bridge is a major landmark) and peer onto the city lights of The Big Apple, I think to myself, “How can such a beautiful sight scare the living bejeezus out of me?”
I finally arrive at my posh hotel a little after midnight, even spotting a deer in the hotel parking lot (that sighting is all too common in Wisconsin — we even named our pathetic NBA team the Bucks — and it fills me with a sense of “Hey, I’m going to like it here”). The hotel is a Marriot with a lavish lobby (the fake waterfall seems a bit over the top) but rooms that are just adequate. I can’t complain, though, because I found a great deal on Hotwire.
It’d be a short night’s rest, as I have preparations to meet an apartment broker the following day. Huh? Am I incapable? Do I need someone to drive me around the area like a senior citizen? Why can’t I just do this myself? In my neck of the woods, renting an apartment or condo is simple: We call to schedule a showing, we show up for the showing, we sign the rental agreement. On the East Coast, apparently I need someone to hold my hand. It is a foreign concept, and I am apparently a foreigner in a strange land. So I guess it makes sense.
My broker is a nice woman. Pushy but nice. Tactically aggressive but nice. A sterile, hollow East Coaster but nice. She drove me around the city in her BMW, as I try not to dirty her leather interior. She goes on and on about her marital problems and how her husband is upset because she went to the Hamptons with another man, somehow hoping I’ll justify something I really don’t think she was justified in doing. But I play along, trying not to aggravate the woman who is responsible for my safety and getting me back to the hotel.
I enjoy Stamford, though. It is my kind of city — manageable yet defined, big but small enough. The kind of city I’d feel comfortable driving in, walking down the street, and talking with complete strangers. It has everything I need — all the stores, all the luxuries of big-city living in a hometown-type setting. But after a day of seeing one studio apartment after another, I come to the realization that spending $2,500 on shoebox-sized living quarters is inevitable.
I then take matters into my own hands. I don’t need someone showing me around. Look out, I have GPS, and I’m not afraid to use it! So I search Craigslist from my hotel and find several qualified listings. Then, I make appointments. The next day, I hop into my non-BMW rental car and show up for those appointments. Easy enough.
Traveling around Connecticut, as far north as Hartford, enables me to take in the autumn countryside, and I really grow to like my surroundings. Much of what I see resembles Wisconsin highways, with changing foliage, endless woods, and single-lane highways. Quaint, even rural in some places. Old-fashioned stone bridges beckon me. It definitely isn’t NYC, but I can commute if it means living somewhere with parks and running trails, where people greet you, where life isn’t in the proverbial fast lane. The only leg of my Connecticut journey that doesn’t enthrall me is Bridgeport, and I immediately regret entering the city limits. You can certainly get more than a studio apartment for $2,500, and there is a reason why. Let’s just leave it at that.
My two-day excursion finally comes to a close with no rental agreement signed. It’s not that I can’t find a place nice enough (many of the units in Stamford are in newly constructed buildings due to the area’s rebirth), but I can’t stomach spending so much on so little. Another example of my Midwest roots instilling a little frugal guilt within my conscience. I remember asking one landlord about extra storage. “Why would you need that?” she asked. “For example, I have a fake Christmas tree. Where would I put that?” Her look said it all, “We’re too busy to celebrate Christmas. And those of us who do certainly don’t put up trees. We only store what facilitates our nomadic lifestyle.”
I know I like the area, but I want to weigh my options a little before coming to such a major decision. I only want to move once, so the place has to suit me. Still, a part of me feels like I’m returning home empty handed, and that translates in my brain as failure. You see, I’m a follow-through guy: very determined and motivated, always getting the job done if I say I will, ever mindful of the tasks before me. So when I don’t do something I say I’ll do, the aftermath is difficult to stomach.
But as they say, “Everything happens for a reason.” On a conference call the next week (remember, I’m working remotely until my move), my boss asks me if I found a place to live in NYC. I break the news to her that I hadn’t signed a lease. Her response, “I’m not sure I’m going to stay with the company.”
You’ve got to be kidding me.