My very first E-mail handle (big up, AOL) was NYCGirl217. I was 16 years old and obsessed with what us denizens call "the city" (thanks for stealing our flavor, MTV. Oh, and, incidentally, the 217 is my name spelled numerically -- and backwards). Both of my parents grew up in Brooklyn (pops Williamsburg, mum Greenpoint), but followed protocol and bought a house in the suburbs a few years after marrying. They chose a neighborhood right on the border of south shore Queens because of it's accessibility to Manhattan where they both worked (pops downtown, mum midtown). Though the nearest subway station is in Jamaica, a twenty minute drive, our house is within walking distance of a Long Island Railroad station. Thirty-two minutes later my mother, sister and I were climbing the steps of Penn Station to the corner of 34th and 7th, across the street from Macy's of Herald Square, on our way to the theatre, a museum, or a restaurant. We visited the city with ritualistic fervor, at least 3 weekends a month. There was always something to see, always something to do, and we weren't going to miss out.
My mother never wanted to leave New York. Even now, with it's criminally high tax rate, the thought of living down South or in the Midwest makes her shudder. When I question her about this, she tells me that she'd be lost without public transportation, and she'd miss the activity -- the art galleries, the foreign films, being able to walk everywhere (she's over 60 and has never been ill a day in her life -- I think this is because of all the walking she's done). This predilection rubbed off on me -- as a teenager, I couldnt wait until I was old enough to rent a 5th floor walk-up of my very own, taking the subway to work in sneakers only to change into heels once I arrived at the office, eating lunch in Central Park.
People are always surprised when I reveal I went to college all the way in Michigan, and though Flint was a far cry from New York, the quiet, country life found a place in my jaded, New Yorker's heart. My apartment complex was across the road from a corn farm, there was a farmer's market near campus, one of the most popular majors was Agriculture.
At the time, none of this appealed to me, I was isolated and lonely and dreaded the 8-month long Winters. But absense always makes the heart grow fonder, and something struck me when I moved home and interned in Manhattan. After a tiring day, I was so grateful for the train ride from Penn Station back into the suburbs, where it was quieter, greener, more calm. It was like exhaling a long breath after a particularly difficult Yoga pose.
When I worked in Brooklyn, I craved the country even more. And Brooklyn is great -- beautiful parks and quaint neighborhoods, but there's also a lot of industry and a lot of trucks, which can be frustrating. The city is exciting, but it can also get on your nerves very quickly, for it does find clever ways to make your life impossibly inconvenient. Some people don't mind, they're just happy they escaped provinciality with their dignity still intact. New York is a transient city, populated with more foreigners than natives, and I suspect it's because all natives are anxious to get as far away as possible. I think people expected bubbled over excitement from me when I told them I was now working in "the city," but all I could offer was a discontended sigh followed by the response: "I just want to live on a farm in Montana and grow my own vegetables."
Yet if I was ever offered the opportunity to move away from New York, I'm not sure I'd take it. And it's more than residential loyalty -- it's the access I've always craved: to the arts, to culture, to really great food, and a pretty decent public transportation system, all things considered (I live for the day I can get rid of my car).
For now, I'm content with living in suburbia -- it's my happy medium, the best of both worlds: quiet enough to substitute for the country, and close enough to the city.