I’m fond of saying that I did not move away from New York, I broke up with it. And for several years afterward, when I would return, it knew I was there. There was a bitterness about it that exes can have – as if it were saying to me, “See, I’m getting along just fine without you. I don’t need you. Look at how I have barely noticed you’ve been gone.”
But this time, I found it had changed. It had left behind its wanton ways, and its rough edges had softened a bit. The city had turned to creature comforts; it had become more careful, more kind; it seemed almost to nurture its brood, somehow. As if it had settled down, enjoying the very lifestyle it has always eschewed. Something I read recently put into words this feeling:
[T]he streets the mayor and his friends have turned into faux piazzas… [are] an insult to those of us whose notion of New York City still includes dark corners and hard surfaces. These changes, applied with the superficiality of decals or appliqué, signify a new city, a lowercase city, where blocks are crowded with gelato and yogurt shops, traditional Neapolitan pizza restaurants and cupcake bakeries, where we can all pretend life is beautiful all the time.
There’s a farmers’ market in Port Authority. The traffic islands that guide drivers through the Broadway/5th Ave. crossover on 23rd Street look like the Tuilleries in Paris. My friend’s street in SoHo, once home to sweatshops and sketchy characters, now boasts a Vespa store, a surfboard shop and a Bloomingdale’s. On the corner of my old street in TriBeCa, which had the “bad deli” that smelled like dirty mop water and spilled cat food, now houses a Quiznos. You could conceivably sunbathe in Times Square.
I’m happy for New York, I really am. I feel like my ex-city has finally gotten its act together, and I’m glad it can be less grueling to live there. But there is a part of me that wishes it still was a city that had expectations of you. You had to be of a certain caliber in order to win its attention. It could put you through hell sometimes, but it could also give you the kind of life-changing experiences that legends are made of.