Sometimes I think of my city like an old friend. Most of the time, I love her. I know her quirks, I respect her traditions, I enjoy my time with her and I feel that she understands me. But I also have those days where we just don’t get along. She gets on my nerves. She annoys me. She does everything wrong. In those moments, I know I still love her, but I also know she’s pissing me off. Does your city ever feel like this—with its on-days and off-days?
I’ve been enjoying nearly every moment of my time in New York City. This weekend, for instance, I visited six different neighborhoods, spent time with half a dozen friends, ate diverse and delicious foods, took in a jazz club and checked out the Museum of Modern Art—all for no more than a few dollars each. Yesterday I attend what is probably the most fabulous event in New York City this time of year: St. Francis Day at St. John the Divine Cathedral. Feel free to debate me on my use of the superlative, but I watched a kangaroo, a llama, a camel, a turtle and hundreds of other animals parade through the Cathedral accompanied by a five-hundred voice choir and a dance troupe, all praising the Lord for the goodness of creation. So that tops my list.
But a couple weeks ago I also had the unpleasant experience of standing in a crowded store, surrounded by angry people and suddenly feeling incredibly ill. All I could do was drink some water and stumble towards the subway, where I waited—then stood for half an hour on the hot, packed train until I finally reached my apartment and collapsed. It is moments like that which shift my outlook on my city, if ever so briefly. I want the people and the odors and the hurried atmosphere to melt away.
I know I come across as someone who is enamored with cities. I am the one constantly reminding my friends to soak up the joyful experiences available in their cities. I also appear especially in love with cities in comparison to my college friends, many of whom would be content to spend the rest of their lives in the wilderness, trekking merely infrequently to a nearby town for provisions. And of course, I write this blog about cities. However, despite my urbanist persona, I am not immune to occasional grumblings or frustrations with my city. Sometimes this place is just too much.
If enough of these moments pile up, one might strategize about how best to escape. For instance, after feeling sick last week, what I really wanted was for that subway to take me straight back to my parents’ house where warmth and family and homemade food would be waiting. Alternatively, I would’ve liked the subway to arrive in some seaside village where I could start a quiet, peaceful life anew.
When you’re faced with the ugliness of your city, these fantasies about other places might tempt you, but you have no guarantee that a new destination will be any more idyllic. There must be thousands of people who hold romanticized visions about cities across the globe who—upon arrival—find them less perfect than they had dreamed. “In Paris I will eat baguettes, wear fashionable clothes and speak immaculate French,” they think. “In Los Angeles, I will rub shoulders with the rich and famous and make enough connections to get me into Hollywood.” “In Tokyo, I will own all the latest technology and dine on sushi with models…” Those cities will never live up to your fantasies. Conversely, your most negative emotions about big cities are probably also unfounded: “Everyone in London is stuck-up.” “Everything in New Delhi is dirty.” “Every city in the Middle East is dangerous.” These are obvious exaggerations, but they show how foolish it is to label our cities as “bad” or “good,” or to give such stereotypes free reign in our heads.
The truth is, we will never love these places one hundred percent and even when we are utterly happy with a place, it still rains a few gloomy days on us. (Watch this clip from 30 Rock and you’ll see what I mean.) Of course, every individual may be more suited to one place over another. However, in this economy most people don’t have endless choices about where to live, so my word to you is to make the best of it. Remember that your bad days have their converse of good. Remember that a city can be your best friend if you forgive her for her occasional faults.