The Yin and Yang of New York (both photographs immediately below representing the yin, to keep things pretty)
(Apologies ahead of time for the awfully generic observations found below, but I made a promise.)
One of the funny things about spending significant time in the south is that you meet a lot of smart, well-traveled, interested people who ask for a defense (of sorts) of New York. I’ve been here almost six years now, and one of the deepest truths of the place is the fervent belief among young(ish) people who come here that it’s where they need to be. They complain about the more taxing aspects of the city on occasion, but you get the sense that they couldn’t live anywhere else (at least for a while). So the longer I stay, the odder it seems when someone -- especially someone who has a lot in common with my Yankee friends -- asks me to describe why I choose to live here. But I’m glad they do, because, probably more than the average place, New York causes you to take stock every now and again, and rededicate yourself to the project of hanging in here (or to the project of fleeing in some way that won’t feel like giving up).
As the humid season approaches, when I spend every other day wondering why I don't move to Saratoga Springs (aside from dearth of employment opportunities, lack of social options, and a better than even chance that I would become a degenerate horse gambler within a year or two), it's time to briefly answer a friend's recent question about just what's so great about living in the city. (Calling New York the city is a pretty surefire way to piss off people who live elsewhere. It's fun. Try it.)
First, if you love street living -- walking down the block for pretty much every practical need, and several highly impractical needs as well, at just about any hour -- then there's nowhere else in America for you. In this sense and others, the positive aspects of living here are so broad as to verge on cliche. Just think of the communal, continually adolescent group fun fetishized in shows like Seinfeld and Friends, but with real beauty around you instead of plastic L.A. sets, and with, you know, real people, too. (The beauty, of course, takes the form of the pristine -- Lincoln Center, the Chrysler Building, the bridges, the broader skyline (see above), residential streets (also see above) -- but also what one friend calls "picturesque urban decay." The perfect phrase.) Not excluding myself by any stretch, I've found that New York is an incredibly provincial place for a certain group of people in their 20s and 30s, where they can extend their college experience to its breaking point (which point, for many, doesn't seem to exist). This is enjoyable and incredibly annoying in all the ways you would expect, but you can wring a lot of the former feeling from it before you hit the latter.
Every day, there's something to seek out. My recommendation today (though it doesn't actually happen for another couple of weeks) is the opening of the redesigned Morgan Library and Museum. And every day, something seeks you out. Another friend recounted a cab ride last week, during which the Russian driver had a fender bender with a Chinese counterpart and ended up screaming at him, "I will kick you in your brain! In your brain!" If that doesn't sound like a good time, don't come here. It might come down to this: New York is perfect for people who need constant stimulation, regardless of the type, and probably ruinous for anyone else.
I walked along the east side of Central Park the other night for the first time in a long while, for the last hour or so of sunlight, and was giddy. That said, I needed the reprieve it gave me. Because here's the yang: yes, the place can drive you crazy.