Okay, it’s not what you think. I am fully aware that a “street walker” is just a mean name for, you know, a lady of the night, or whatever. (“Lady of the night” is the nicest-sounding nickname I could think of for a profession that doesn’t really have a nice-sounding name.) I’ll explain what I mean by “street walker” by-what else?-momentarily changing the topic.
For those of you who don’t know, (not sure if I’ve mentioned it,) I was born and raised on Long Island. And let me just say right off the bat that, yes, some of the stereotypes are true: My dad occasionally sounds like a mobster when he talks, and we really do have some of the best bagels in the country. Don’t question me on it, just go to Bagel Boss and see for yourself.
Now don’t get me wrong: I love being a Long Islander. Yes, everyone can be loud and rude and terrible at driving, but it’s my home. I live for sweaters and pumpkin patches and all those crunchy East Coast leaves in the autumn, the icy roads and near-constant snow days in the winter (not to mention the ceaseless holiday music on Walk 97.5!), and the back-and-forth freezing to humid temperatures in the spring. I love it all, but let’s get real: With the promise of both fantastic beaches and fantastic seafood joints scattered across the island, summer is truly where Long Island shines.
Which makes it all the more difficult to admit that, when I close my eyes and imagine what my future could look like, I do not only see seagulls and Ralph’s Italian Ices. I also see pigeons and lox and, I guess, even louder terrible drivers. I see the city.
As an aspiring writer, a little voice in the back of my head has always whispered “New York City.” Ever since my 8th grade English teacher cocked her head to the side and said, “You should look into this writing thing,” I knew deep down that, self-confidence be damned, I would have to move there one day. It’s the only way to take the “writing thing” seriously and see what it’s like to struggle in the middle of a city that doesn’t give a damn about who you are or that your carefully-preserved dreams are the only thing keeping you motivated. That, and endless episodes of Friends and Sex in the City that gave you unrealistic expectations of New York City life.
I mean, I guess I COULD just commute to the city every day like every other Long Islander, but have you SEEN what’s happening to the train/subway system there? It’s truly a #Summerofhell.
What I’m getting at is, as a native Long Islander, I’m so used to having one of the most culturally-diverse and soul-crushing cities right next door (technically it’s about an hour and a half away, but still. We’re friendly neighbors,) but if I’m being honest, how often am I really there?
The answer: Not as often as I should. I’m so accustomed to the city being right there that I forget what it really represents: Independence. Strength. Struggle. The promise of adventure, of travel, of newness and history blending together to form a whirring hodge-podge of voices and cultures and stories.
It represents Adulthood, with a capital “A.”
BUT. The fact that I do not visit the city very often does not have to squash my own carefully-preserved dreams. Which brings me to…
(Just looking at this gives me hives.)
…Adulthood Goal #4: Mastering the Art of City-Walking
I’m going to get candid with you guys: Going into the city always makes me a little nervous, because I am a complete DUNCE when it comes to navigation. And if you don’t know how to navigate yourself around the city, you may as well just call it quits at Penn Station.
So my adulthood goal #4 is to learn how to navigate myself through the city. My geography professor my freshman year of college once told me, “If you get lost in London, you’re doomed, because the sidewalks are nuts and the taxi drivers unintelligible. If you get lost in Tokyo, you’re screwed until you find someone who can understand the subway maps. Then you’re golden. If you get lost in New York City, slap yourself, because you’re a moron.”
What he meant was, it’s literally the easiest city in the world to figure out. I mean, yes, the grid system is easy enough to comprehend: We all learn in elementary school that odd-numbered streets go west and even-numbered streets go east. (Or is it the other way around? Crap!) The east-west-north-south thing hardly helps, though, if you’re like me and the word “south” means Texas and cowboy hats, not streets or addresses.
We also learn as kids that, on a map of Manhattan, everything on the left of Central Park is considered the west side and everything on the right is considered the east side (unless I mixed those up? Crap!)
These little tips, however, mean nothing when you’re actually IN THE CITY, not looking down at it from a helicopter.
I was always jealous of those women on TV who looked so self-assured in the city. You know, the Carrie Bradshaws and the Rachel Greens and the Olivia Bensons. They were fashionable, confident, tough. They knew where they were going and they didn’t sweat the small stuff, unlike little 8 year old Me, who cried when dad left for work every morning because I didn’t want to see him go. No, the women I admired didn’t need anyone navigating their lives. They didn’t need someone instructing them on where to go. They just KNEW.
Sure, I “just know” a lot of things. I know the best days to go to the beach over the summer based on typical crowd sizes. I know where to get the best bagels (BAGEL BOSS, I SWEAR TO YOU) and how to respond to a Long Island mom when she’s frantically trying to find a pair of shoes for her daughter’s Sweet 16. I even know to disregard my hometown’s train station and to drive to Ronkonkoma’s instead because you don’t have to transfer at Jamaica there. It’s a smooth ride.
But I want to be able to know things about the city, too. Sometimes I feel like I missed out on learning everything there is to know about New York City when I was a kid still at the acceptable age to not know stuff.
My goal is to no longer look like a tourist in the city I grew up right next to. I don’t want to feel nervous walking the streets of the city. I know that experience is the best way to master new challenges, so I’m keeping my dream of living in the city and struggling in the city and thriving in the city carefully preserved in the back of mind. It’s seated between my dreams of going to Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival and of one day eating a full pizza pie all on my own. It’s THAT important.
And if it means saying tourist-y stuff like “street-wise” and “street-walker” in the meantime, then so be it. At least I have one thing Carrie, Rachel and Olivia, who must have started out as tourists themselves, never had: Google Maps.