This past weekend, I took the bus from Boston to New York City to meet up with my husband, who was there for work reasons. Now, I know this probably isn’t the most common view in the world, but I kind of hate NYC. I’ve never lived there, but I usually find myself visiting once every couple years, and every time I arrive with high hopes and depart feeling angry, stressed, and overwhelmed. I hate the ubiquitous skyscrapers that block out the sun, darkening the streets even when skies are blue. I hate the garbage piled on sidewalks; the smell of piss and trash in alleyways; the scaffolding and construction on every other street. And most of all, I hate the crush of humanity elbowing me aside, reminding me that I am nothing, as important as a single drop of water in a vast ocean. In New York, I am anonymous, meaningless, and hopeless.
But something about this visit was different. Maybe it was because the weather was perfect. Maybe it was because we had no stressful itinerary, nothing we had to do or see or visit. Maybe it was because we avoided Times Square like the plague. But for whatever reason, I actually enjoyed myself in New York City. Relaxing in Bryant Park, I could close my eyes and hear the rhythms of New York: the steady heartbeat of a million footsteps on pavement; the thrum of a thousand subway trains rushing through underground tunnels; the syncopated beeping of hundreds of impatient yellow cabs. Gazing at the skyscrapers, I didn’t see ugly monoliths but the syncretism of history, architecture, and industry. Instead of a pockmark on the face of a nation, I saw instead a beating heart, vital and alive.
I wasn’t always a city girl–I grew up in a small town in the South. But since I graduated college I’ve lived in Washington DC, London, and now Boston. I’ve come to love cities, with their contradictory personalities and fast-paced cultures. And the longer I’ve spent living in cities, the more I’ve realized that each one has its own identity, individual and unique. They are like people, complicated and hypocritical and beautiful, and you never stop learning new things about them.
London, for example, is like an elegant grande dame. She is beautiful, but a little staid, and though she once had many conquests the world has, to a certain degree, passed her by. Washington DC reminds me, appropriately enough, of a politician; buttoned up and patriotic on the surface, but once you dig a little deeper you find all sorts of dirty secrets, scandals, and juicy tidbits that you wouldn’t have guessed were there. And New York–New York reminds me of a teenager. She’s young, and energetic, and sometimes she throws tantrums or sneaks out in the middle of the night and wears too much make-up and changes personalities like outfits. But she has a soul, and although you might not always be able to hear it, under the clashing colors of her neon clothes and the yelling and the dirty fingernails, she has a heart, and it beats proud and true and strong.
Do you have a favorite city? Do cities every remind you of people? Share you thoughts in the comment section below!