Thinking About New York, Twelve Years On

In August, 1996, Julie and I went to New York. It was our first big trip together–10 days and across the continent–and my first big trip without my parents. We stayed with my aunt, a fashion designer (you should become a fan of the Facebook page I made for her) with a quirky railroad apartment in Nolita in lower Manhattan.

Never have I felt more like a country bumpkin. The city was an intimidating place for a naive 22-year-old Canadian. A lifetime of film and television had taught me that New York was home to serial killers, crazy homeless dudes and acerbic, mean New Yorkers.

Though I was a bit uneasy about the Big Apple, we had a great time. We took the subway at all hours of the day and night, rambled through the darkest corners of Central Park and managed not to be murdered, in serial or parallel. Amid a garbage strike and the August heat, it was an exhausting, exhilarating trip. It nurtured the sapling that was my growing love of travel and living abroad.

For no particular reason, it took me twelve years to get back to New York. What a difference 1.2 decades make. Manhattan now seems friendly, clean and of an entirely manageable shape and size. I found the people to be unilaterally friendly, and was only intimidated by the frigid temperatures on New Year’s Eve.

The difference is mostly me, in that I’m twelve years older, have traveled a lot more and lived in a bunch of different places. Still, the city is famously safer and cleaner than it was 15 or 20 years ago. And I wonder how much 9/11 changed the mood of the place? I really don’t know what long term impact a catastrophic event has on an entire city, if any.

It’s easy to imagine living in New York for six months or a year. My only real concern would be how difficult it must be to get some place where you are truly alone. That’s something I’ve loved about the west coast (and didn’t like about Dublin): quiet solitude is only an hour away. Still, I could easily live without that for a year. Do you live in New York? Have you ever lived there?


  1. I’ve never lived there, but after a visit, I was in love. I ended up having dinner near Union Square and was instantly hit with the feeling of being “home.” It was strange, and wonderful, and I’ve been architecting my life around eventually living there ever since.

  2. My first trip to Manhatten was in ’96 when I was 18 years old. I felt completely enamoured with the diversity but freaked out because the streets seem to empty once the sun went down – I couldn’t fathom ‘the city that never sleeps’.

    I have been keeping an eye out for job opportunities – getting seconded from my current position for 6 months to a year would be idea for me.

    I keep a google notebook full of things I want to do when I move there…

    Hopefully the universe provides!

  3. I grew up near New York City and my first memory is from the bad old days of the mid-1970s. My father was taking us via bus (probably from Port Authority Terminal on 42nd Street) to the very upper part of Manhattan to see a museum called the Cloisters (which actually features some pillaged cloisters from a medieval European church). Anyway, somewhere is Spanish Harlem a bunch of teens opened up a fire hydrant just as the city bus was passing, soaking each and every rider and just about knocking the bus back on two wheels. Memorable experience. Back in those days every subway car was covered in graffiti. New York has changed a lot since then. But then New York will always be New York–it’s in a class by itself.

  4. @Craig I saw the Cloisters back in ’96, and thought they were pretty remarkable. I feel less impressed, having traveled quite bit in Europe. Still, they’re a remarkable calm and quiet oasis on such a busy little island.

  5. I’ve never lived in NYC but I have been there a couple of times. I come from a rural area and I remember being fascinated by the high rises and the pace.

  6. Having grown up in northern NJ all my life, I can honestly say that there are some much quieter places within an hour’s drive of NYC — or even an hour’s NJ Transit train ride from NYC. Lots of (richer) city dwellers have homes in the northwest corner of NJ, for example, which remains less developed. There are also quieter areas in NY State, itself, and some beautiful areas along the Hudson.

  7. I visited a friend from drama school (2 years pre 9/11), a native New Yorker, on my first trip to New York in 2006. I also was surprised at how clean the city was, and how friendly New Yorkers were.

    She told me she had observed a change in New Yorkers for the friendlier since 9/11. Perhaps a sense of shared experience / loss? Whatever it might be, it seems good.

    Glad you enjoyed your trip!

  8. You get used to having all those people around. And after living in N.Y. for a while, places with more space and less noise feel eerie, like no one else there is alive but you.

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