Nina In New York: I’m Back, And I’m Not Going Anywhere. Until I Go On Another Trip.
A young professional’s take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.
By Nina Pajak
Thursday. 6:00AM. Los Angeles
I am zipping through Santa Monica in my little eco-taxi on the way to LAX, when something occurs to me. My driver just dropped a stink bomb from the front seat. I crack a window. Now I realize something else. After only a few short days in Los Angeles, I’m struck by the similarities and differences which link Angelinos and New Yorkers inextricably and make us incredibly compatible, yet keep us entirely and fundamentally at odds with one another.
Sure, in our hearts, we are all city folk. We require lots of stimulation, constantly moving on to the next new, best, better thing. We’re social and ambitious and everyone is plugged into some media scene or another. Not to mention the incredible rate of cross-transplantation between the two metro areas. But that’s about where that ends, and the “us” and “them” begins. I approached my trip with an anthropological curiosity and came away with a few major observations, which I believe neatly sum up the NYC vs. LA comparison.
1. Walking. We do it. They don’t. Seriously, this is not a stereotype or an exaggeration. They hop in their cars to get to destinations three blocks away. Appalling! To be completely honest, while I enjoy walking here and certainly accept it as an efficient route from A to B, I will just as often come up with a reason to take a subway, bus or taxi. But among my LA friends, I suddenly became an aggressive proponent, all self-righteous and principled. My genuine desire to walk intensified accordingly. I made a big point of walking half a mile to the bank from my friend’s apartment, in spite of her dubious looks and her husband’s offer to give me a ride. “I want to walk!” I chirped, a little defensively. “It’s not far, what’s wrong with you people?” It doesn’t matter that when my closest bank branch was 10 blocks away from my old apartment, it obviously meant that I didn’t live near one. And that I argue with friends who live 12 blocks away over whose “neighborhood” we should pick for dinner. All that was irrelevant! I was bound and determined to walk wherever I could to prove a point. Yep, just me and all the homeless people out for a stroll, leaving tiny carbon footprints behind us.
2. Friendliness. They are. We aren’t. Whether it’s genuinely being helped in a supermarket or sincerely thanked for your excellent patronage at a coffee shop, this all made me extremely uncomfortable. What did these people want from me? What’s their angle? Are they flirting? Are they trying to pull one over on me? Am I about to be the victim of some sort of scam or joke? If any of these kindly customer service folks behaved in New York as they do in LA, they would be considered exceptionally friendly and therefore up to something. But apparently this is “normal” behavior out there.I still think that salad guy was flirting, I don’t care what anyone says.
3. Work. We do it. A lot. They…don’t? I don’t get it. With all that wealth abound, there must be plenty of people holed up in offices, right? But I took a hike in a lovely canyon at about 1:30 PM on a Monday and it was jam-packed with young, virile, healthy people chatting with their friends and jogging with their dogs. This wasn’t exactly the lunchtime gym crowd, speeding around to jam in 45 minutes of exercise before housing a sandwich on the way to the next meeting. These people were relaxed. Tan. Well-rested. WHO ARE THEY? Really, who? I demand to know.
4. Humidity. We have it. They don’t. I’d always heard my California friends touting their “dry heat” and dismissed it as West Coast agenda-pushing rubbish. Dry heat. Pssht. I mean, what is that even? Nothing, I bet. Well, now I know. It’s glorious. You can wear shorts and a sweater and be perfectly comfortable. Your hair will stay the way you put it when you walked out the door. The sun will be shining and you won’t feel sticky or sweaty, you’ll just feel the warm glow of summer. The what? What is this black magic? What is this magical land where outfit and hairstyle optimization are entirely unobstructed? Where “temperature” and “feels like” are nearly the same number? It’s a tiny bit life changing, I must admit.
Thursday. 4:30 PM. JFK.
Upon my arrival to JFK, I feel the East Coast humidity like a slap in the face before I’ve even made it off the jetway. On the other hand, as soon as I hit the gate I begin huffing in frustration and zipping around slow people like a jerk—without feeling like a jerk! Equal trade? Toss up! Throw the California earthquakes and mudslides and brush fires into the equation and New York takes it, easily. It was in the bag anyway.
Yes, California offers a few lifestyle conveniences which I felt compelled by profound East Coast smugness to reject out of hand. But I could only ever live here. Despite my Cali friends’ entreaties, there’s simply no contest. Too much nice makes a person soft.
I feel that without any hesitation as I sit in a cab, stuck in Van Wyck airport traffic in the 80 degree-feels-like-95-degree heat. I feel it when my driver begrudgingly interrupts his phone conversation to turn on the AC, which is mostly a trickle of lukewarm air limply dribbling out of a tiny vent which can be aimed anywhere from my upper ankle to my upper-middle shin. I know it in my bones as he narrowly avoids rear-ending another driver and I narrowly avoid a concussion when I fall into the Plexiglas divider. And when he does it again. And a third time.
It’s good to be home. Really, it truly is.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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