Welcome to NYC: How I Got Here
I was not always the sleek, sophisticated, urbane New York City woman you see today. (Actually, I’m still waiting for most of those adjectives to kick in…). In fact, the first time I ever came to New York for a visit was a mere three weeks before coming here to live, and it’s safe to say I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
Back in July of 1999, just a month after graduating from the University of Texas, I booked my first trip to the Big Apple. It was an open-ended ticket, and I was determined to stay until I’d found either a job or an apartment, whichever came first. I came alone and took my very first cab ride straight to an international youth hostel just outside of Times Square, in the part of 8th Avenue that still remained just a little bit seedy.
It was a real gem of a place. There was no air-conditioning, and I slept on a rickety metal bunk bed with a mattress so thin I could feel its coils pressing into my internal organs. I shared a unisex bathroom with a major drainage problem. If I ever develop hookworm, I can pinpoint its exact origin.
Because I was the only American staying there, I was also the only one fluent in English. I quickly bonded with anyone who spoke Spanish, a language I had an embarrassingly nominal grasp on despite eight years of study.
When my new friends from Madrid weren’t
trying to put their hands down my shirt around to show me how to use the subway, I traveled alone on a double-decker tour bus. I rode around for hours and hours, afraid to get off and get lost on the mean city streets. I remember meeting a woman and her two daughters visiting from Georgia, and crying to them about how lonely and overwhelmed I felt trying to navigate the city by myself. They let me tag around for a few hours with them. That was nice.
Another day, I put on the suit my dad bought me the week before, and interviewed with a headhunting agency. I’d majored in magazine journalism and was intent on finding a position as a writer or editor. A very straight-forward woman told me I would probably do just fine here, but my hair looked terrible and I really needed to spring for professional highlights.
Before the week ended, I had one last thing to do–find a place to live. I found an ad on Craigslist for an open house in Hoboken, NJ, just across the river from Manhattan. Two single girls in their early 20s were looking for a 3rd roommate. The room had no windows and was so tiny that when you opened the door, it hit the edge of a twin-sized bed.
The two girls who lived there hung out casually in the living room while 25 desperate women vied to capture their attention. It was like The Bachelor for apartment shares. I got the final rose that day, and felt like I had just signed onto the craziest adventure of my life.