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Ten Years A New Yorker

Today marks my official New York Birthday. In 2004, I flew into JFK, a young, fresh-faced college graduate who finally accomplished one of my major life goals up until that point: Get a job at a major magazine in New York City.

That magazine was VIBE and the first job was as a fact-checker. As for residence, well, I didn’t have my own place yet, but I had a plan. My brother was already living here and would let me crash on his couch until I found a place of my own. Within a month of me landing in my new home, I was moving into a two-bedroom apartment in Washington Heights with my friend Ashley, who I met the summer before when we were interning at VIBE. For two years, we stayed there on W. 164 and Broadway, a block away from the ballroom where Malcolm X was assassinated.

Life was good, and even in hindsight it seemed too good to be true. Hugh, one of my best friends from college was living in Fort Greene, not far from three other former classmates of ours E, Neems, and Ash who shared an apartment. Every day, we would go back and forth exchanging emails, debating, talking smack, cracking jokes, then gather on the weekends at the girls’ apartment, the five of us acting out a real-life version of “Living Single.” Since I was the lone Uptown resident, I would either pack my stuff and take it with me to work or I would go home, pack, and then make the long trek from Uptown to Bed-Stuy.

I like to look at those first two years in New York City as an incubation period, my version of graduate school. Aside from the unexpected murder of my uncle, which happened in California two months after I left, there were very few real moments in my reality within those first 730 days I was here.

But then, very suddenly, everything started changing.

Hugh was leaving NYC for a new job opportunity, and my roommate was doing the same. This meant I was going to be here without one of my best friends and I had to look for a new place (and possibly a new roommate).

As luck would have it, I was able to secure an affordable one-bedroom apartment in Central Harlem, on 150th and Frederick Douglass (or, as the native New Yorkers call it, 8th Ave). I signed my lease and moved in, turned 25, and began a new chapter in my career as an editor at KING magazine all within the same week.

This morning, I woke up in that same apartment. It is one of the few things from my time here that has remained the same. Most of everything else around me has changed. Some of the changes were part of my plan, most of them were God’s plan for me, the only thing that has never been on the agenda is an exit plan. I’m sure that day will come, but one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned since moving to this city ten years ago is that this city and I are a good match.

I will always make sure people know I grew up in Seaside, California and that I am a proud alumni of Howard University, because my Pop told me to never forget where I came from. But today’s post is about where I am and have been for the past 10 years.

No one can seem to agree on how long one must live in New York before they become a New Yorker. I’ve heard some can become one in six months, but that’s a lie. In my first six months here, I still thought the train ride from Uptown to Brooklyn wasn’t too bad. Instead, I would like to think today, ten years after I picked up my luggage off a carousel and told a cab driver to take me to 792 Columbus Ave, I can now claim I’m a New Yorker. I’m not from here, but I am of here, and just like people tell me to this day they can hear the California accent when I talk, whenever I travel out of this city, people will think it makes sense when I tell them I’m visiting from New York.

To commemorate my 10th New York Birthday here are ten lessons I’ve learned about living in the concrete jungle.

I can’t stress to you how important it is to have your own bodega, or what is most commonly known throughout the rest of the country as a corner store. A bodega is more than a store, it’s a pantry/refrigerator with a cash register. Make it your own by going there as often as possible for the little stuff you forget to buy on a grocery store run like milk, eggs, and condoms. Most don’t accept payment through plastic, but if you get in the good graces of the folks who work there, they’ll let you take your items and pay them back on your next visit. Always pay them back, don’t make them ask you.

Nothing makes me more frustrated than seeing someone hail a cab, and before they get in, tell the driver where they are going. Nothing makes me happier than seeing the cab driver tell them no and then drive off. That’s what you people who do this sort of thing deserve. When I get a cab, I walk to the back door, open it, sit down, put my stuff down, close the door, and then tell the cab driver where I’m going. That’s how you do it.

Bro, I know you want to make it a guys night out. You don’t want any chicks ruining your crew’s swag with your fresh pressed buttoned down pinstriped shirts. But unless you and “the team” are willing go eigthies on one bottle, you’re probably not getting in most places where the pretty women are, so take some ladies with you just to better your chances of getting inside.

If you want to live at home, stay there because home is not here and when you arrive, I would suggest you don’t even bother looking for it. Get over the fact that this city is not like where you come from, because remember, most of you chose to move here and leave where you’re from. So the people here are more rude, there’s less space, it’s louder and a lot of times smellier than where you come from. I know, but htere are the only two things I could to fix this: 1) Try to run for mayor and pass a Smell Better Act by City Council. 2) Move back home where everyone is nice, there’s a lot of space, things are quiet and it smells like good Earth. I am doing neither of those things. When I first moved here, I refused to go to the beach because it wasn’t like the beaches I grew up near. Then, I decided to visit the beach for the first time three years ago and I was PISSED because while they were nothing like home, it was nice, I appreciated it and I was mad I subscribed to this prejudice for seven years. Now I go to Rockaways Beach every Summer.

I’ve written about this before, and it’s not anything I am proud of, but I’ve lived in one of the world’s most expensive cities unemployed. This made for some very hard times, and harsh realities, one of which was almost getting evicted. I had to go to court, and I thought for sure it was going to be hell but as it turns out, while housing court is nowhere that you ever want to be, if you find yourself there, trust me, it’s not hell. If anything, it’s a wake up call. As you sit and wait for them to call your case, you will be sitting next to other people and overhear other people’s cases. I thought I had it bad, and then I saw other people falling behind on $500 a month rent. New York City may be expensive, but expensive is relative.

Jay-Z once said, “You was who you was ‘fore you got here.” Keep that in mind before you move here thinking ou’re going to be going out on dates every week. People forget it’s still a jungle out here, YOU have to hunt for yours. Just because there’s 8 million people doesn’t mean you get to go out on 8 million dates. You go on the dates you earn, and if you’re not the type to work for it you’re going to end up as lonely as the dude living in Omaha, Nebraska.

There are a good amount of friends I have made who have lived in New York City their entire lives. My brother is one of them. These people are good, but you have to understand, no matter how well you get along with them, there will be one major disconnect: You had to work your way here, they were born here. I was a kid who grew up looking at New York City as a mountaintop, which is why my conversations with transplants can sometimes be different than the ones I have with natives. The latter group will tell you what it takes to stay here, they can never tell you what it takes to get here.

It doesn’t matter how nice the suit, or if you have a limousine chauffeuring you around, at some point, you need to go to Duane Reade to get something. Don’t fight it, just go and get your nail clipper or toothbrush or phone charger.

Nothing irks me more than when people talk about this city as though it’s a person. Save that crap for Sex and The City and a rap song. If you come here thinking that New York City will make your dreams come true, you’re sleepy. YOU make all your dreams come true. NYC is a setting, a backdrop in your life story. It is not the story. Don’t let New York City make you. Make New York City yours.

“Empire State of Mind” was a rap song about New York City for people who think this place is all about Broadway shows and the Statue of Liberty. Don’t get me wrong, Jay-Z definitely gets into some pretty vivid details about what life is like here. Hell, I live within walking distance of the McDonald’s on 145th that he mentions. But that song is about living here. If you want to listen to a Jay-Z song about making it here, go with “So Ambitious.”

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  • FrankieBeverlysNephew

    Nice article mane. Spoke the truth. I’ve been in and out of this city. But something draws me back. The backdrop as you say, is too vibrant to pass up.

  • Nakisha Williams

    Love this! Great lessons.

  • Simone

    Yes!!! And I miss all of these things, especially my bodega!!! 7-11 just isnt cutting it!

  • dtafakari

    I’m considering a move to the area (for better or for worse). Definitely trying to take to heart the admonishment of leaving home where it is.

  • Paris

    Great write-up!! 2014 marked my 8th year as a New Yorker. Still can’t believe I live here sometimes 🙂

  • Mr. SD

    Doooo it! We’d love to have you!

  • cam

    Thanks for hiring me to write that Jon B article. That was motivating.