It was the summer of 2009. I was 21 years old, fresh out of college, tired of all the boys in Texas, and extremely antsy for something new that did not involve text books or sweat-filled jobs that made my hair smell like tortilla chips or barbecue sauce. This was the beginning of a tale of moving to New York.
So when a fellow waitress and homie told me she was thinking of moving to either Portland or New York, I told her to go to New York and invited myself to move with her. While I do not recommend this as a great way to find the perfect moving partner, it worked out spectacularly for us, so don’t rule it out.
And that was it. We were moving to New York. It was decided.
A Tale of Moving to New York
I found a room for rent in an apartment (cheers, Craigslist) in Queens for $1,000 a month with a third roommate named Chabard Chandramohan, and having never been to Queens in our lives, we sold our shit, had a hot mess goodbye party in Austin, kissed our mamas and hopped on a plane. Anna had never been to New York before, and while I had been there twice on vacation, it was very much a holy-shit-this-is-real-and-it’s-awesome moment when we landed in La Guardia. We hopped in a cab, gave sir cabbie our new address, and voila! We were home.
Home, as it turned out, was up four flights of stairs in an old apartment building in Astoria, the Greek neighborhood of Queens, and our room was actually a converted living room with a curtain as a door and a broken A/C. Word. We unpacked, and by unpacked I mean opened the lid to our suitcases, grabbed some cash money to fund our day adventures, introduced ourselves to our painfully shy roommate, and hopped on the first train we could into the city, about a 20 minute subway ride away.
On July 4th, we took a long ride to watch the hot dog eating contest at Coney Island, by far one of the strangest places I’ve ever been to this day, and watched grown men dip hot dogs in water for money or fame or whatever the hell reason you’d do that to yourself. Later that night, we met up with my friend Stacey, who had graduated with me from the Advertising program at UT and was beginning grad school at NYU, and climbed on top of random cars to watch the firework show over the Hudson. Magical.
The majority of our days were filled with long, lost walks in new neighborhoods, naps in Central or Washington Square Park with our purses wrapped around our necks (for safety, obviously), gelato, dive bars with $7 beers and open mic nights, gallons of blue Gatorade, bad rap songs and Whitney Houston’s greatest hits. It was lovely and exciting and everyday was totally different from the day before.
But after a couple weeks of buying cocktails in bars just to use the bathroom, it became clear that we were going to have to get jobs. So we did. Well, we tried. We literally applied for so many restaurant server positions that we lost count, and when it became clear that no one was going to hire us without having ‘New York experience’, as if the art of waiting tables is somehow drastically different from one state to the next, we made up nonexistent, conveniently closed-down restaurants that fulfilled our ‘New York experience’. And still couldn’t get a job. In one particularly hilarious interview at an upscale sushi restaurant in Times Square, the boss quizzed me on my knowledge of popular sushi rolls, to which I replied, “I really like the ones with avocado and fish.” Le sigh.
After a while, we got desperate and decided to apply to be cocktail waitresses at a strip club, figuring we’d at least make good enough money to not have to do it all that often. But it turns out 2 to 4pm is not a good time to apply at strip clubs, and after taking many trains to many strip clubs that were no longer there or locked, we decided to buy Obama condoms and call it a day.
When all else fails, there’s always Craigslist. In the first of many Craigslist ads we would use to fund our rent and pizza money, we applied to work at a lemonade stand at an upcoming music festival in Jersey and got the job. We met very nice dudes, served very shitty lemonade, made very awesome tip jars and stole very many twenties. As a side note, a year later we were invited back to work with the same company at the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee, where they told us their nickname for us was the “Texbians” – the lesbians from Texas. It probably had a lot to do with the hand holding (it’s an Anna thing) and sharing a bedroom and money and spoon and generally everything else, but still hilarious.
Soon after our lemonade stand success, I got hired as server at a barbecue restaurant in Union Square, and Anna got hired as a server at a pretentious Mexican-ish restaurant on the Upper East Side, both owned by the same company. And both terrible. We’ve collectively probably worked at over 15 restaurants, and these were probably the worst. As a server, you weren’t allowed to do anything for yourself, including pour your own coffee, carry your own dishes, make your own sodas, deliver your own food, wipe your own ass, etc., so essentially it was a whole lot of standing around and tipping out everyone in the tri-state area. While my menu was relatively easy to memorize (it’s fucking barbecue, it should be), Anna’s was a lot of words we were pretty sure didn’t exist and didn’t care enough to memorize. Gross. Neither of us worked there for long, and as we’ve done with many restaurant jobs before, we quit in the classiest way possible – never showing up again.
So, long story short, the central theme of our spontaneous New York adventure rapidly became poverty.
We worked other odd jobs, including a private bartending gig at a mansion a couple hours outside of Queens, where all I remember was drinking lots of Patron XO and having a mini orgasm at the sight of their kajillion dollar wine cellar, and simultaneously developed a weird rash on both of our hands, to which the lady in the cosmetic department of Rite Aid seemed concerned about yet did not want to get anywhere near. Anna, perhaps as a reaction to the aforementioned poverty, also developed recurring hives for the first time in her life, so our nightly ritual became one of calamine lotion, Benadryl, Nilla wafers, 2 liters of Pepsi and David Letterman. The perfect storm for hosting self-induced pity parties, if you’re ever looking to do so.
I eventually got hired as a copywriting intern at a marketing studio in the Fashion District, where our paychecks seemed to be distributed approximately every 4-8 weeks (what the double fuck), and Anna got a job saving homeless children by standing on the street and asking strangers for money. Needless to say, it was one very sad baby step above unemployment, and we were piling what little cash we had on a table in our room, each taking a $20 for the day until our sad pile was no more.
When my sister from another mister from Dallas came to visit, we took a brief respite from pity and partied our asses off, staying up till morning singing karaoke, kissing boys in bars, watching outdoor movies by the Brooklyn Bridge, getting things pierced and drunkenly wandering into fast food restaurants just to sit down and eat a chocolate crepe.
During one particularly unfortunate evening for Anna, she got locked out of our apartment, and after several failed attempts to turn down a neighbor who kept bugging her to wait for me in his place, she went in, only to be horrified to discover it was filled with action figures from floor to ceiling on every wall. Grown men, take note: that is not the way to get a lady.
I should also mention that our roommate, Chabard Chandramohan, typically locked the door to the kitchen in our apartment, so we had no way of making food or keeping groceries. He also took at least an hour long shower in the mornings – what the hell, Chabard? – and because of this, and Anna’s spectacularly small bladder and the fact that everywhere in New York makes you purchase something to pee, she texted me at work to tell me she had peed in a Gatorade bottle in our room.
We also had dinner with a very old, seemingly kindhearted Greek man one night, who seemed to take pity on us and wanted to treat us to a nice meal, only to end the car ride home with an invitation to “penetrate our minds”. No thank you, very old Greek man. No. Thank. You. It was time to move.
Turning back to the only trustworthy thing we knew, we found a new room with new Craigslist roommates in a three bedroom, dude-infested apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Our first real night in the new place happened to fall on the same day we accepted another random Craigslist gig, this one much, much, much, stranger than the others (don’t ask, just know that you don’t want to be a part of it), and we promptly arrived to our new home dressed in stolen, hideous K-Mart lingerie to be greeted by our new roommates. I could explain more, but the only people I really trust with this story (and most likely many more who I do not) already know it.
Summer turned to fall, and as the leaves fell from the trees in Central Park, so did our collective souls. We had nearly let New York beat us down – we were eating the cheapest, shittiest slices of pizza we could find on the daily, got caught by the subway police sneaking through the turnstile two at a time, had no way of affording appropriate clothes for the approaching winter, shared forties of Coors for comfort, ran out on a shared meal in a restaurant (I still feel bad about that one), sprinted away from a cab because my subway card no longer worked and I’d lost my wallet (I still feel bad about that one, too), and generally felt disgusting and ill and itchy more days than not.
On the days we weren’t near tears, we had a freaking blast. We went to museums, spent entire days in movie theaters (might as well make it a triple feature when it’s nearly your last $15), met cool people in cool bars, got lost in Central Park, took the ferry to Ellis Island, walked the Brooklyn Bridge, read books for free in Union Square, danced with sweaty hipsters watching sweaty bands, and shared ice cream cones in the sunshine.
But sometimes you have to know when to go home.
And as much as I didn’t want to give up on somewhere I’d dreamed of living for so long so quickly, I also didn’t want to stay there alone to continue along my terribly poor path or accept money from anyone in order to do so, which my mom kindly offered to help me with. Anna went back to Austin right after her birthday, and I spent the next couple weeks taking advantage of open bars in expensive shops alongside superhuman models during Fashion Week (a particularly awkward thing to do if you’re 5’2″ and wearing lots of American Eagle), hanging out on our apartment rooftop, and trying to soak in my last moments of my miserably wonderful time in New York before going home to Texas.
Following my move back to Austin, Anna and I were roommates for years (and still shared a room some of the time), the majority of which were hive-free and glorious. I’ve been back to New York once since then for Christmas (my absolute favorite time of year to be there), and while I don’t miss the unmistakeable fragrance of human urine on every city block, I still miss the hoards of people on a mission, the ability to always find new things to do in new places, and more, most of which I can’t find the words to describe.
So if you’re thinking about moving to New York, here is my advice – just do it. You may end up wondering if a mysterious hand rash can kill you, rubbing calamine on your roommate’s butt cheeks, existing solely off of Pepsi and Coors and cold pizza, watching in horror as the homeless man across from your work tries to have sex with his own dog, and calling frantically for someone buzz you into your apartment building after bailing out on cab fare, but that’s New York, and I still love it all the same.