Published: March 17th 2008March 12th 2008
For me, the best thing about New York is that it's where I had my worst ever relationship and my worst ever job. The reason that's a good thing is because both those situations ended there, with me plenty the wiser. But even without my experience of the city being coloured by this, New York had worn me down by the time I left at the end of summer in 2005. I'd originally bought into the idea that living there would give me the best chance of forging a successful career, but once I'd realised that my ambitions in life were not tied in to my work (and in fact my work was preventing me from achieving them), there wasn't much point in staying either in the firm or in the city. Cue this current career break.
New York is powered by a relentless capitalism that attracts hordes of ambitious professionals from all over the world, encourages the kind of superficial friendships that only networking can provide, and issues a challenge to either find your niche there and adapt to the pace or get the hell out (my favourite New York T-shirt, for its success in summarising New York attitude,
bore the slogan "F*ck you you f*cking f*ck"). At least that was what I saw, in a job in which I encountered more than my (un?)fair share of people with 7 figure salary tunnel vision, and where my life pretty much WAS my work. In other circumstances, maybe I could have grown to love the place. And, like in any large population, there are numerous reasons why people are living where they are, and the city does have its undeniable charms. But, like London, I just don't think I could live there again. Short visits will not exceed the novelty period before the worst of memories start to resurface.
As if to show the city's displeasure at my return, the temperature was flirting with acquiring a minus sign and my first 2 days saw an excess of rain. The winds gusting down Manhattan's concrete canyons were no different to what I remembered. More fool me for not visiting in the couple of weeks of the year when the weather's actually pleasant. Facts I thought had disappeared from my mind, such as the order of subway stops on the 1/2/3 lines, dusted themselves off and presented themselves when needed. The
familiarity of the streets and avenues was comforting, the ready availability of DCMs to be treasured.
This trip was about meeting people rather than sightseeing, with the main tourist zones having been "done" several times over during my period of residency, however I made time to relive some of my favourite memories - a stroll across Brooklyn Bridge and back, a stomach-stretching diner meal, and a ramble among the cavorting squirrels in Central Park. And there's still a thrill to be had when spotting the Empire State or Chrysler buildings from an unexpected angle.
Any given group of people will, over a period of 2.5 years, experience a mix of good and not-so-good events. I heard about new partners, recently-arrived babies, adopted cats, life-changing jobs, job satisfaction, job dissatisfaction, firings, long hours, low morale, weight gain, and massage misunderstandings in China. I was updated on the progress of existing offspring, as well as had to sympathise with the notion that there are no mature, available mid-30s guys in Manhattan (there weren't any when I was living there either). I was offered (welcome) tips for where I should look for work next in the IT field, and told not
to return to IT any time soon. I was told I looked thinner and told I looked taller - a shared streak of diplomacy omitted to mention greyer and balder.
I was immediately back in the world where I had known these people before, whether it was through work or badminton or whatever. Those were the things that had brought us together in the first place, and hence were natural topics of conversation, and it felt awkward to blather on about long periods of travelling when that was an experience I'd shared with none of them. I guess there'll always be some level of discomfort when you've abandoned a lifestyle in search of something different and then meet up with people who you knew through that old lifestyle. But it's still heartening to be able to reconnect, especially as that isn't always an option - there's a long list of people for whom I may as well have died when I left New York.
Apart from friendships, there are a couple of other things for which I am still thanking my previous company - one of these is airmiles, and it was courtesy of an airmiles-bought ticket that
I was going to be arriving in Buenos Aires for the first leg of my South American jaunt.
There are more photos below