Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

New York, I Think I Want To Break Up

Saturday in NYC was a glorious, sunny, and unseasonably warm February day.  After having an amazing, locally sourced brunch with friends at Black Barn, my fiancé and I opted to spend the afternoon outdoors running errands and walking city blocks.  At one point, our errands took us to 34th St., which is a notoriously crowded intersection of the city at any given time.  It’s a part of the city that I avoid like the plague. Especially on a Saturday.  I’m a typical New Yorker, so I often wear over-the-ear headphones in this neighborhood to block out all of the Empire State Building ticket sellers.  But I didn’t have the luxury of ignoring them today.  While some salespeople sold to the crowd, one particularly ballsy saleswoman stepped directly in front of us to offer ticket deals while we were momentarily stopped to decide on the best train line to take home.

“No thank you.  We’re not tourists,” I said politely but with my usual bite of snark.

As she turned her back and walked away, she said, “Well you were standing on 34th street, so I was confused.”

Still with my back turned as well, I mustered up something to the lengthy effect of having the right to say no to a sales pitch without facing backlash, how being rude was surely not helping her sales, and that it wasn’t my fault that she was having an unsuccessful sales day.  And I may have added that with her winning charm, it was clear where her opportunities lie. 

My frustration with New York was more than apparent in this exchange.  Clearly, “no thank you” would have sufficed. But as someone who has lived in New York for 9 years, I am constantly the victim of unwanted sales propositions.  From the Showtime dancers on the subway hellbent on collecting tips for resurrecting 80s b-boy culture to the numerous tour ticket sellers to the overwhelming amount of homeless people asking for money and food, there is always someone asking for something.  And it’s the only city I’ve been to in America where this is standard business.  My fiancé instantly wondered why I couldn’t just let it go. After all, I consider myself a mature adult.  But I also consider myself an autonomous adult that has the right to decide when I want to buy something and when I want to say no.  I was angered by the fact that this saleswoman felt justified in being nasty and rude because I declined her offer.  Surely, on a street where thousands of people have undoubtedly passed her, I can’t be her first rejection.

But this interaction, even in how unnecessary it may have been, had bigger implications beyond being momentarily annoyed by a rude ticket seller.  It led me to think that I may have outgrown this city.  As I close in on a decade in the Big Apple, I no longer feel the pride in wearing my city survival as a badge of honor.  I’m ready for a normal life.

My relationship with New York has been the longest one I’ve ever had, and it has been one that segues back and forth between love and hate on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis.  It’s a city that redefined the way I interact with people.  After splitting my formative years across the Midwest and the South where people actually talk to each other in public, New York taught me to block everyone out.  To shield myself from unsolicited conversation with sunglasses and headphones.  To get angry at people who tried to penetrate my personal sound barrier by making small talk or asking for directions.  Where a tourist would marvel at the Showtime dancers’ 80s b-boy culture revival on the A line or the mariachi band making its way through each subway car, I became annoyed, moved to an empty part of the subway car, and turned my music up to a deafening volume level as a symbol of my right to choose my transportation entertainment source.

New York also rationalized absurdly high rent payments for shoebox-sized living spaces.  For the price of a small mansion in North Dakota, I could live in a 700 square foot studio in Manhattan. The current average rent for a New York studio is hovering around $2500. My first New York apartment had a bedroom so small that I had to take my closet door off the hinges to have access.  And I had to forgo using the bottom two drawers of my dresser in order for my bed and dresser to coexist. At one point, I even lived in a room with no windows, A/C, and any sort of relative ventilation just so I could call a covetable neighborhood home.  

The city has also taught me it’s okay for the price of mandatory services to grow exponentially while the growth of my salary remains stunted.  When I first moved to NYC, the price of a monthly subway card was $81.  Now the pass costs a cool $116.  And what does this $35 increase get me? Filthy subway stations and train cars.  Constantly delayed and interrupted service.  Overcrowded trains at all hours of the day.  But there have been some awesome new map kiosks that display inaccurate transit information about train arrivals and departures.

In a city where people work so hard to earn their money, New York has taught me that it’s okay to offer the worst service possible and still expect to be paid top dollar while receiving repeat patronage.  Here’s looking at you, Duane Reade.  

You see, New York has always been this place full of trick mirrors.  You’re drawn into the glamour and grandiosity that the city has to offer only to learn that you can’t afford any of it.  In order to make it in this city, you have to overlook a lot of shortcomings that would never be tolerated anywhere else. Life in the city is nothing like Sex and the City but every bit like Girls. If you want to live here, this is the price you have to pay.  And if you don’t like it, live somewhere else.  Which is just what I think I’m ready to do.

After 9 years, maybe the thrill and passion of our union is gone.  Maybe I need to see other cities first, and then I’ll come back after realizing I can’t live without you.  In the last year, I’ve seen some beautiful, captivating cities like Tokyo and Mexico City.  There’s a life out there where I can pay less for more space, ride cleaner and more efficient transportation, and walk the streets without being harassed.  At 22 years old I never would’ve believed it, but there’s life beyond New York.  And now, I’m finally ready to see it.

The irony of it all is that I’m finally at a point where I can enjoy the city the way I wanted to when I first moved here.  When our lease is up this August, my fiancé and I are planning on relocating to Long Island City in Queens-the first step in the separation process.  But after leaving my beloved Manhattan behind, all that’s left is to leave NYC altogether, right?

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