How to Survive Your First Year in New York City
When you arrive, buy a subway map, an unlimited Metrocard, and copies of Time Out and The New Yorker. Buy a bagel. Go home to wherever you’re staying, eat the bagel, and read your magazines from cover to cover. Highlight the things you want to do and see. Get a good night’s sleep. Remind yourself that you live here now. There is no need to rush. New York will wait for you.
Buy a phone. Call your parents and assure them that you’re still alive. Take yourself out to breakfast. Walk around. Go to Times Square, stand and stare at the buildings like a tourist, and then resolve to never go back unless you really have to. If anyone offers you free music, free comedy, or free Obama condoms, don’t take them. They’re not really free, and they’ll ask you for money, and it’ll be awkward. Go see a show.
Jetlag death day. Stay in bed. Watch cable. Order food from Delivery.com. Yes, you can get McDonalds delivered here. Welcome to New York. Send an email to that friend of your friend who lives here. Let them take you for a coffee. Let them give you their ideas about where you should live and work. They might not help. But they won’t hurt. Just remember – no man is an island, not even here. You can’t do this alone.
Find somewhere to live that’s not your friend’s cousin’s college roommate’s couch. Spend your days on Craigslist. Go see a few apartments. At least one of them will be in a neighbourhood other than the one advertised. Harlem is not the Upper West Side. Bushwick is not Williamsburg. The West Village is not affordable, so just give up on that dream for a while.
Begin looking for a job to keep you going until you find whatever you came here to find. Steel your heart against sleazy restaurant managers, rude bartenders, and Craigslist scams. Be prepared to be let down, strung along, lied to, and promised things that never happen. Everyone wants a job just as badly as you do, and they’re probably more qualified than you, and are able to carry three plates at once. If you don’t have a work visa, be prepared to wait a while before you find something. Also, remember that if you say you’re willing to do anything to get a job, you have to mean it. It’s okay if you’re not. But there are people who are. And they’re probably legally allowed to work here. Yes, people work for $8 an hour here. Yes, you earned that working at Coles when you were 16 years old. The sooner you get over that, the quicker you will find a job that will allow you to spend the savings you brought with you on your rent and still have some money left over to eat and see shows.
Accept an invitation to your friend’s friend’s rooftop party. Get over the initial fear of going to a party where you don’t know a single soul. You’re here to make friends. Your host will introduce you to someone and they’ll be fascinated that you’re from Australia and you’ll be able to regale them with stories involving kangaroos and cricket. Feel free to add a little Australian colour to your no doubt average suburban upbringing. People love to know that you’ve held a koala or that you live in the outback. No need to let them down, right? Charm people with your adorable accent. Don’t play down your achievements. You’re not in Australia anymore: people are genuinely happy to know that you’ve done things. Let them know you need a job. Offer to babysit their children. Don’t feel weird about offering; people need good babysitters more than you think. If you hate children, offer to walk their dog or help them with their filing.
Move into your new apartment. Resolve yourself to making do without a car, and schlep your groceries back from the supermarket on the subway. If you live in a 5th floor walkup, just think about how strong your arms and legs are going to be after a few months. Buy a bike if you have room to store it. Learn the city by riding through it.
Find an Aussie cafe or bar – Ruby’s, 8 Mile Creek, Tuck Shop, etc – and go eat a meat pie or some toast and Vegemite. The waiter won’t be as excited to hear your accent as you are to hear his. But he’ll probably make a decent latte, and quell your homesickness a little. Maybe he might know of somewhere you can get a job.
It’s okay that you still haven’t found a job. You’ve only been here three weeks, but it will feel like longer. Don’t get disheartened. New York has a magical way of making things work out. You just have to give her time. Skype your parents.
Enjoy the company of your friends who are visiting from back home. Show off how well you know the city by taking them somewhere fabulous to eat or drink. Let them gush about how cool it is that you live here now. Make them buy you dinner: you live here and you’re poor. Tell them that Magnolia cupcakes aren’t that great, that the top of the Empire State is crowded and windy, and that everything in midtown is a rip off. Go with them on one of their touristy activities that you’ve been secretly wanting to do as well.
Accept an invitation to someone’s beach house in Long Island, or their cabin in Woodstock. Enjoy the freedom of being away from the city; of being in a place where you can see the stars. But don’t be surprised by how much you miss the city while you’re gone. She has already dug her claws into you and she shows no sign of letting go.
Celebrate the two month mark by buying yourself a new pair of shoes. If you still haven’t found a job then maybe don’t buy shoes. Maybe just buy a magazine instead.
With a bit of luck, you now have a job, roommates you like, at least one friend to meet for coffee on your day off, and a subscription to New York magazine. You start feeling comfortable – happy, even. Like finally all the hard work and trudges through snowy streets and nights spent babysitting spoilt children has paid off. Enjoy this new-found sense of contentment. Do not get complacent. Just when you start to feel like everything has fallen into place, you will slip and something will happen to shatter your confidence. Your boss will fire you in a voicemail, or your apartment will become infested with bedbugs, or you’ll leave your iPod on the subway. Don’t panic. This is just the way the city works. You never really have everything you want at once. Take a deep breath, adjust your armour, and resolve yourself to moving on.
Fall in love. It’s wonderful.
Make a video for your friends back home. Show them your bedroom, the cake you baked in your tiny kitchen with the bung oven, your roommate’s cat, your celebratory shoes, your neighbourhood. The soundtrack should probably incorporate at least one insanely cheesy New York-related song. Probably Alicia Keys and Jay-Z singing Empire State of Mind.
Run into someone you know. Take comfort in the fact that even in a city as big as New York, you at least know enough people with whom to have awkward conversations on the street.
Have dinner at a restaurant and realise that without thinking about it, you’ve ordered a pizza with “tomayto”, “baysil” and “oreggano”. Immediately go wash your mouth out with Milo.
Give someone directions on the subway and remember you know the city better than you think. Recommend them your favourite brunch spot or mojito bar. Pat yourself on the back.
Get really sick if you haven’t already. Despair at the ridiculous cost of going to the doctor just to be told that you’re sick (like you didn’t already know.) Pay $120 for antibiotics. Realise that for millions of Americans, this is a daily reality. The words “bulk bill” mean nothing here.
Go out for drinks with some friends and meet some random Australian who’s visiting here. Find out that not only are you from the same suburb back home, but he’s your high school history teacher’s cousin. Realise the world is way tinier than you think, and that Australians are everywhere.
Find yourself back at the deli where you bought your very first New York bagel. Take a moment to reflect on how far you’ve come in the last year. Think about the friends you’ve made and the shows you’ve seen and all the things that this city has made possible. Buy a bagel, a copy of Time Out and a copy of The New Yorker, and go sit in the park and read.
(c) Avi Lipski 2010