Exactly one year ago today, Catherine and I took a Bolt Bus up to New York. The trip was one we had been saying we would take for a long time; more and more of our friends had moved there, and we had promised all of them that we would be coming to visit at some point. We were finally making good on those promises.
We arrived around lunch time, and headed over to Murray Hill, to our friends Peter and Jordan’s apartment, where we would be staying. Peter, Jordan, and I had gone to high school together, and Peter would be my best man at our wedding later that year. We’re close, and we were happy to have the chance to spend some time together.
It was a lighting tour, as we came up Saturday morning and returned to DC Sunday evening. Other than a trip to the MoMA, we did basically no tourist activities. We had lunch in Peter’s neighborhood, and walked around a bit. That evening, we went to an Italian place called Bianca that had a two hour wait, but it was worth it. We met up with our friend Laura, who Peter and I had gone to middle school with. The next day, we met up with our friends Alanna and Nasira for brunch; Catherine had gone to middle and high school with both of them. Alanna would be her maid of honor at our wedding, Nasira one of her bridesmaids.
As we sat on the bus ride home, our minds drifted to the same thought. We had never really seen New York as a place you could live, in all the times we had visited it before. It just seemed too big, too fast, too overwhelming. Great place to visit, but live there? Forget it.
But spending time there with residents, rather than as tourists, had shown us a whole other side to the city. Both of us could, for the first time, imagine living there. The idea even seemed a bit appealing. I, personally, had had this curiosity growing since we visited San Francisco the year before, about what it would be like to live in another city.
But at the end of the day, we had no reason to move. Nearly all of my friends and family were still in the DC metropolitan area, and Catherine had been there for about eight or nine years. Her family was mostly concentrated in the Boston metropolitan area. And we both had jobs already. Neither of us are the kind of people to just pick up and move because we felt like it.
That very week, Eric Litman reached out to me about the possibility of working for his company, Medialets. A company based in Manhattan.
The recruiting process ended up taking about a month. Since I was leaving a very small company, I set my start date for Medialets at about a month after that, on June 4th, 2012.
That week was the first time of many that I would take Amtrak from Union Station in DC to Penn Station in Manhattan, and then spend my nights at the Yotel near Hell’s Kitchen. It was one of only three times that Catherine would come up with me, during the four months between when I took the job and when we moved up here.
We stayed that whole week, and after that, I would work from home for a week, then come up for two or three days, and repeat. It was an exciting, but difficult time. I was caught between two cities and Catherine was dealing with the logistical run-up to our wedding. At first it was quite fun to come up, maybe see Peter every other time or so. But it got to be very tiring, and—I learned—there are few things more depressing than going to a tiny (but so efficiently designed!) Yotel room alone. More than once I monopolized Peter and Jordan’s time far too long because I didn’t really look forward to heading back to my room.
In DC, we had only ever needed to look to Craigslist to find a place to live. As far as we could tell, it was totally unreliable for Manhattan, and we weren’t too confident in what we could see in the alternatives, either. So on the advice from a few people I worked with, we got a broker. The results were mixed. Since we weren’t in New York yet, it was good to have someone to arrange viewings for us before I was in town. I think I saw over twenty apartments, something like fifteen of which I saw in a two day span in September in which we finally picked a place and jumped on it.
In case you had any doubts, the New York rental market is insane. No one lists square footage, because the buildings are so old that the information isn’t readily available. And in the time that it would take the broker to go in and measure the place manually, they could have already rented out the place. I saw so many places there were 40% more expensive than what we were paying in DC but only about a quarter the size, with ancient appliances and few amenities (other than location, of course).
As a result, we ended up very, very upper west, but the place is quite good (especially compared to most of what I saw) and it’s basically the same amount that we were paying in DC (not as big a place, of course!).
The broker cost a small fortune, and the broker on the other side of the transaction took forever to process everything. We ended up having to pay for movers and arrange a move out date with our DC building before we even had a signed lease! It was…stressful. But we made it, and my intercity commuting days came to a merciful end.
It is a very, very different place than anywhere I have lived before.
To begin with, I sold my car before coming here and commute entirely by subway. The Metro in DC is just incomparable to the subway system here. You can get almost anywhere in Manhattan so quickly from anywhere else there. In DC, ten minute waits are not uncommon, even at rush hour. In Manhattan, when you see that there is a four minute wait it often means that you only just missed a train. You also get the life experience of more than occasionally being packed into sardine can-like subway cars during rush hour, something you do not really experience in DC.
Nearly everywhere I’ve been in Manhattan has so many amenities within a couple of blocks. Our apartment is two short blocks away from a ton of stores—including a grocery store—for instance; there wasn’t anything that close to us in DC, and we were in a fairly dense neighborhood. There are an enormous number of lunch options literally on the same block as the Medialets office.
Living in the Upper West Side also means we have great access to parks; Riverside Park is right across the street from us and Central Park is five long blocks away. We enjoyed this to some extent when we first moved here, though it got to be winter quite quickly. Looking forward to spending more time walking around these parks—and the different neighborhoods around the city—as it starts to actually feel like spring.
The level of intensity is several notches up across the board. People here will run you over on the road and walk over you on the sidewalk if you do not get with the program and move your ass. Catherine was interviewed and given a job offer within the space of a week and they insisted that she start almost immediately. The sheer level of energy and churn in the business world here is astonishing.
It’s only been six months now that we moved here. Some things came more easily than expected, but it’s safe to say that we still have a lot of adjusting to do.
Is it Worth it?
After we got back from our trip a year ago, and before Medialets was on my radar, I wrote the following:
We spent the weekend in New York City. Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if you were living it in another city? I do that more and more lately, and this trip to the Big Apple just served to fuel that all the more. I think it really started after our trip to San Francisco last year; that city really worked its charms on me. In the end, it’s just fantasizing—the people I care about are more important to me than the particular attractions of particular cities. Still, who doesn’t wish that they could take everyone they care about and relocate them to their ideal city?
My friend Lauren reblogged this and added:
There are a lot of cities I’d rather live in, but my family is here. Life is too short and I already see my family too little for me to intentionally do something to put more distance between us.
I agreed with her at the time, and in many ways this is still how I feel. I am very close to my immediate family; for most of my life my family would have dinner with my paternal grandparents and my aunts and uncles on that side every Sunday. I miss being able to do that. We both miss our friends in northern Virginia and in DC who we could see a lot more often than is practical now that we’re up here.
However, we have a lot of friends and I have a fair amount of family both in and near Manhattan. It is nice to be able to see them more often. And we’re much closer to Catherine’s family, who live in the Boston area, so we can make more quick weekend visits than was practical when we were down in DC.
One thing I can say is that there are more career opportunities in New York for both Catherine and myself. A lot more. She’s in market research, and I’m in digital advertising—there is just nowhere on this coast that can compare to New York in those industries. And of the alternatives, DC does not rank high.
All of life is trade-offs, and it’s not always easy to say when you’ve struck the right balance, if such a thing exists. But we were aware of the trade-offs coming into this decision, and however long we end up staying here–whether it’s a couple of years, five years, or more–I know we’ll have gained something from it.