Why I won't leave New York City

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The first time I remember being in New York City I was about 10. I recall exiting Grand Central, looking around, and just feeling giddy. Not in awe or amazement, exactly, more like a deep attraction. And, not for nothing, this was the early 1980s. It wasn’t exactly Gotham in its civic prime. It was dirty, dangerous, remarkably grungy and also perfect.

It was with sadness that I read Karol Markowicz’s farewell to New York City column in these pages. She is a good friend who loves the city, in fact she consistently claims I’m not a real New Yorker because I was born and raised in Philly. Maybe. But in any event, unlike Karol and so many of my friends of late, I have no plans to leave.

Obviously, I get it, right? I’ve been to Florida and Texas over the past two years. I understand how normal it is compared to the still COVID-addled streets of New York. I hate the masks, the vax cards, and the whole hodgepodge of bizarre restrictions no more rooted in science than a Mad Lib horoscope. But it’s New York.

By my early 20s I fell under the sway of the East Village and the visual art scene. Flickering windows in enormous buildings served as our stars in an endless cosmos of late lurid nights. I have a theory that people tend to think the real New York, the authentic New York, is the New York from when they were about 25. It’s a city for young people. On some level in the city you either find a way to stay young or you get out of the way.

What is meant by young here is foolish, undisciplined, headstrong and arrogant. New York City is all of these things, and frankly you do probably have to be crazy to want to live here. Dozens of little infuriating things happen every day. And I too, in my darkest moments, thinking, about the future of the city, have given real consideration to leaving.

The reason I can’t is very simple, really. It’s the only place where I feel like I belong. It’s 9 million weirdos packed in together who somehow think that’s normal. It’s not that I think Florida wouldn’t be welcoming, or that I couldn’t adjust, but it still puts images of Ray Liotta at the end of “Goodfellas,” living in the burbs, in my mind.

New York, New York (iStock)

The other thing that I know, being on the wrong side of 40 now, is that New York City always comes back. When Rudy Giuliani took office in 1994, New York was a crime-ridden mess. Those of us who remember it can tell you it makes today look like Disneyland. Five years later it was the safest city in America. So it can happen fast.

The city is trending in a bad direction, there’s no doubt. It’s why voters elected former cop Eric Adams, the most centrist Democrat available, to replace socialist Bill de Blasio, who in eight years has defiled the diamond of American cities in every way possible. 

Adams is a sign of sanity. It’s not a promise, but he’s a serious person and some reason for hope that saner policies may come. In the meantime, let’s not exaggerate the situation. Nobody should be scared to visit New York City; this is decidedly not the “bad old days.”

I don’t judge anyone for choosing to leave, in part because I want invitations to visit, but I don’t know where else I would go. So I’ll be here amid the mandates and madness, the masks and myopia. I will mock other cities and walk very fast. I will eat bagels and fold my pizza.

And sometime tomorrow, some 10-year-old is going to see Gotham for the very first time and think, man, I need to live here. And someday, he will. 

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