My feelings fluctuated between excitement and terror as I sat there waiting at the gate. Excitement because of the possibilities and terror because of the uncertainty of it all. I didn’t want to waste my in-flight entertainment before I even boarded the plane, so I spent the hour and a half on my iPhone instead. I texted family and friends, feeling so appreciative of everybody’s love and support.
Claire sent me a line from a Hunter S Thompson novel: “With the palms zipping past and the big sun burning down on the road ahead, I had a flash of something I hadn’t felt since my first months in Europe–a mixture of ignorance and a loose ‘what the hell’ kind of confidence that comes on a man when the wind picks up and he begins to move in a hard straight line toward an unknown horizon.” Nicole sent me a line from a Taylor Swift song: “When we first dropped our bags on apartment floors, took our broken hearts, put them in a drawer. Everybody here was someone else before, searching for a sound we hadn’t heard before.”
Soon enough I boarded the plane and located 15B. An aisle seat– booyah! The time flew by as I got lost reading Gary Vaynerchuck’s Crush It and Richard Bandler’s guide to NLP. I listened to Bret Easton Ellis’ podcast featuring a conversation with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. Coincidentally, he brought up moving to New York when he was twenty three. Kim Gordon had done the same. They discussed this grand tradition of Angelenos spending their twenties in NYC, and then returning to California. Hearing that felt like validation, like I was participating in a rite of passage. There was no more fear. It was pure, unadulterated excitement and motivation.
We landed earlier than expected. I met my driver, retrieved my luggage, and sat in the back of the limousine as we drove to Ridgewood, Queens. It was dark when we arrived, 9:00 PM, so I couldn’t tell which building it was. I stepped out of the car and right at that moment, two girls walked up and unlocked the door of the apartment building in front of me. I recognized them from Facebook. “Oh my gosh! Hey!” We excitedly introduced ourselves. There was so much to talk about. Both of them are named Anastasia. Russian. Anya is twenty seven and works in a law office. Anny is twenty two and pursuing a Masters degree in International Relations. We went inside and I met a third roommate I didn’t know about–Archie, a gorgeous and gentle three year old collie! The girls gave me a quick tour of the place, then I dropped my bags on apartment floors, and we walked to a pizzeria for dinner.
After enjoying a delicious pie and covering every topic under the sun, we returned home. The apartment is pretty spacious and cute, seriously a steal at only $700 a month, plus utilities. I’m paying month to month, and planning on staying until spring, then I’ll find a place with a more desirable location. It’s a safe residential neighborhood, bordering Bushwick in Brooklyn, but there’s nothing special within walking distance.
I unpacked and sorted my life in thirty minutes. I was exhausted and got ready for bed. Thanks to the amazing heating system, I was able to get by with just a thin blanket over me, nothing between my body and the rubber air mattress (which was surprisingly very comfortable–reminiscent of the waterbed I had as a kid). I lay there for a while, thoughts swirling in my mind. “I can’t sleep,” I texted Amber at midnight. “Reality is better than my dreams.” An hour later I drifted away to the sounds of sirens.
I was up at 7:30 the next morning buzzing with energy. So much to see and do! First stop: IKEA. My iPhone directed me to the subway station, an eight minute walk. I passed a handful of cheap delis, run-down auto repair shops, and two graveyards. Lining the walk were gorgeous trees with falling yellow leaves. So this is an East Coast autumn, I thought.
I arrived at the station and purchased a MetroCard, $150 for a month of unlimited rides on all city trains and buses. A good deal if you’re riding at least twice a day. Carefully following my phone’s directions, I took the L to the G to the B61 bus. I was enthralled with images of Downtown Brooklyn zooming past me. We arrived at IKEA and I started filling the cart with a duvet, pillows, kitchen utensils, and toiletries. At some point during the shopping it really hit me: I was shopping for my first apartment in New York. I just couldn’t believe how everything had aligned so perfectly in my life to get to this point. And then, “Sometimes” by Britney Spears began to play and, and I could have wept. It was such a pinch-me moment.
I paid for the items and left the store, a giant blue shopping bag on each arm. I caught the bus just before it pulled out. At one point we get stuck in standstill traffic. I think there was an accident ahead. The driver started to yell: “Well shit, it must be freaky Friday!” I laughed to myself, then I tweeted: “@StephenWickhem “well shit, it must be freaky friday!- amazing bus driver.” After a couple of minutes of not moving, he opened the doors of the bus. “I’m not telling you what to do! I’m just opening the doors. I’m not telling you what to do! Just getting some fresh air up in here.” Half of us remained in our seats, and a few minutes later we were driving again. We got dropped off at the subway station. I took the G train to Lorimer and transferred to the L.
I was sitting next to a man who appeared homeless. He pulls out a pair of earphones, turns to me, and says, “You know how you can tell these are expensive? Two ways. First, you see the jack at the end? It’s gold. Those kind are very expensive. You know how else you can tell? They untangle really easily!” He grabs the end and starts trying to shake it loose. It takes a few minutes. “See? See how easy that is? These are really expensive. The best quality. Listen.” He inserts an earphone in my left ear before I get a chance to wipe it off. It’s a slow, gorgeous instrumental that wouldn’t sound out of place on the (500) Days of Summer soundtrack.
“What song is this?” I ask.
“Can’t you tell by the lyrics?” Nope, that part hadn’t come yet. He started singing: “Us, us, us, and them, them, them. And after all, we’re only ordinary men.” I handed him back the earphones, thanked him, and told him the sound quality was great. I downloaded the song later. It’s Pink Floyd.
I got off at my stop, Hasley, and walked the ten minutes home, one heavy bag on each arm. I could see how this would be a problem when the snowfall came. The whole journey to IKEA and pack took three and a half hours. I unpacked my new purchases and sorted everything. Then I laid on my bed, and let out a long, happy sigh. Almost settled.
Next order of business: grocery shopping. I searched for a nearby store. Food Bazaar Supermarket looked promising and was only one stop away, so I off I went back to the subway. The supermarket had everything I wanted: oatmeal, spinach, kale, almond milk, chicken breasts, eggs, and rice. I gotta counterbalance all the late night pizza! I trekked back with full bags once again, dreaming about living closer to a subway station.
I unloaded my groceries and took a forty minute nap. My final goal of the day was to buy a Magic Bullet blender. I took the L and got off at the 6th Avenue stop. I exited the subway and took in the scene in front of me. Thousands and thousands of people packed in one spot, moving slow as zombies, like the Manhattan version of the Coachella exodus, without the dust. Macy’s at Herald Square at six o’clock on a Friday night was maybe not the wisest decision I’ve ever made.
Ffter riding the escalators to the eighth (!) floor, I arrived at the home goods department. I bought my blender and turned to the train, which was packed. Bodies rubbing bodies, everyone saying “sorry” each time they’d step on a foot or bump hard into someone.
I walked home from the Hasley stop, cooked dinner, and figured out my plans for the evening. I told Anya I was tired from a non-stop day, but she said, “You have to go out! It’s your first Friday night. You’re young.” She was right. I had been talking to a lot of people through a certain iPhone app, and one of them asked if I wanted to go to a bar called Phoenix in the East Village. “Sure!” I wrote back. I showered, got dressed, and hit the train.
Phoenix Bar was packed with good looking homosexuals, and Janet Jackson blaring from the speakers. I was so into it. I went to the bar and ordered a vodka cranberry. Ethan arrived shortly after, and we hit it off immediately. He’s a cute Harvard grad who moved to the city two days before, from Boston. He’s working at a start-up for a genuinely amazing sounding new website. We spent the whole night together, talking, laughing, dancing…kissing. Everyone naturally assumed we were a couple. At one point a drunk queen comes up to us and slurs, “You guys are GOALS. Just GOALS.” Thank you, stranger.
We left the bar at closing time, 4AM, and went for pizza. Then we caught the M Train back to his apartment in Brooklyn at around 5. I was excited to be riding the M for the first time, because it reminded me of Patti Smith. Ethan and I cuddled on his loft bed for about three hours, dosing in and out of sleep. I left before his roommates woke up, because he’s not out to them. We didn’t talk at all the next day. Nor the next. WELCOME TO NEW YORK.